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|Four Sisters, Three Wishes, Two Hearts, And One Million Tears
Written By Brian Herbst
Surrounded by billions of grandfather clocks, four sisters sat around an ivory table, playing cards. It was a ritual they enjoyed often in a realm which time had no meaning and the human eye had never gazed upon.
The four sisters took turns hosting their card games, with this one being played at the house of Sorrow. Golden goblets encrusted with jewels kept their lips moist with wine, while each cup, without any apparent assistance, refilled itself after every sip.
The colossal sized room was a marvel to behold, even for an immortal. Brilliant light from the dazzling stars overhead illuminated their card playing, for the room had no ceiling and was open to the darkness of night.
The ancient flooring and walls, chiseled from an immense piece of gray and black marble, were encircled with the clocks, with each clock disappearing when a human dies and another clock appearing when a human is born.
The clocks made no sound, just flickering images that vanished and materialized in a paradoxical random pattern, making the border of the room a continuous shifting background that blinked in and out of existence. It had taken numerous sessions in Sorrow’s home before Desire, Fate, and Hope developed the concentration needed to focus on the cards and ignore the phantasmal chaos of clocks that played havoc on the borders of their vision. (Plus, the more wine drank by the three sisters, the more normal looking the room became.)
Another abnormality that the three sisters eventually became accustomed to in Sorrow’s domain were the tiny droplets of water that fell from the blackness above and directly into the clocks. Sometimes only a sporadic dripping sound could be heard and other times it would escalade into a titanic downpour, yet the four women always remained dry, for the clocks served their purpose by capturing and storing each salty drop.
It was on this particular occasion that a startled Desire, Fate, Hope, and Sorrow stopped in mid-play, staining the cards and ivory table red from spilled wine, and ever so slowly turned to face a clock that stood behind them.
In appearance, it was exactly the same as the billions of others that filled the vast void of a room, but this specific clock had just accomplished something that no other clock in the history of Sorrow’s dwelling had ever performed.
This clock was full and had chimed.
James rose from his time machine (actually it was a stool that he used to relive memories) and left the bar at closing, stumbling into the cold and dreary rain. His body shivered and he instinctively hugged his wet leather coat closer for warmth.
Even though he was chilled and damp, James really didn’t mind finding his way home in the rain. Tears running down a grown man’s face were less noticeable in an early morning drizzle, not that he much cared about what people thought about him anymore.
How long had it been? Several years? Decades? He no longer knew. Ever since her last phone call, the one where Antoinette informed James that their relationship was over, days, weeks, and months turned into years of nothingness, a downward spiraling nightmare laced in depression and nursed with alcohol, a disaster of a life heading full speed ahead with the final destination being a lonely grave.
James had been a good-looking man with a decent paying job. Not a heartthrob playboy that owned a mansion and drove exotic cars, but definitely not a troll who lived under a bridge with his trusty raft either. His friends insisted after the breakup that he’d find someone else, the whole “lots more fish in the sea” pep talk, but James wasn’t a naïve fool and knew that you cannot replace something and something that’s irreplaceable.
So at the end of the day, James would say farewell to his coworkers, and go “home” to a place he knew that wasn’t. He would fix himself something to eat and then either watch television, or play around on the computer, or listen to music, or maybe even read, but the end result was always the same: Whenever James found himself close to sleep, the tears would find him. These tears weren’t casual visitors that would stay for a bit and then leave. Instead, these tears that traveled the winding road from his broken heart dug their imaginary claws into his soul and tormented him until the morning light.
James turned to vodka in an attempt to dull the pain enough to breathe. Sometimes, if he drank enough, he would find himself dreaming, but eventually Antoinette haunted him in those dreams, teasing him with what might have been, until he awoke sobbing and clutching onto his pillow for dear life.
Time passed, and his health and job performance eroded to the point where he no longer had either. So instead of waking up each day to be greeted with a job and friends that wanted him (the whole time turning down blind dates and dinner invitations), his normal day eventually transformed itself into James waking up past noon with a raging hangover and crawling (while being covered in his own vomit and urine) to the calendar to find out if this indeed was the day he’d receive that monthly government check in the mail, the one that was supposed to supply him with an entire month of food and electricity, but he would drink up in one week instead.
Realizing that it wasn’t Check Day, James would peel off his clothing and put on something that didn’t smell absolutely disgusting, maybe a shirt with a slight stain and pants that had the lesser stench of an outhouse, run his fingers through his greasy thinning hair before covering it with a sweaty ball cap, and heading on down to the local bar, the Midnight Cigarette.
Like Norm from Cheers, James had a stool waiting just for him, but nobody ever gave him the warm welcome accustomed with the sitcom. In fact, due to his appearance and unique aroma, the patrons of the Midnight Cigarette avoided James like he had the plague.
Upon entering the bar, James would bypass his stool and head straight into the kitchen, where he would wash dishes for two hours in an attempt to reduce his growing tab, splashing his clothing with soap the entire time in a feeble attempt to simulate a bath and clean laundry. After aiming the hand dryer upon himself for fifteen minutes, James would claim his throne, adding to his tab with shots of vodka and wolfing down any burnt food the cook in the back hadn’t thrown in the trash, the entire time reminiscing in his mind about a time when life had meaning. The vision of her face was always interrupted by the announcement of closing time, which meant the tears ambushing him as soon as he began his drunken voyage towards hell (home).
Tonight, his soggy coat stuck to him as he plodded and tripped though puddles and broken pavement. He was so numb from the cold and the booze that James didn’t realize the deep bruises to his knees and elbows after missing the sidewalk and plunging headfirst into the street. His cap was knocked from his head during the splash and James helplessly watched it float away and disappear into the depths of the sewer while he spit out a cracked and bloody tooth. Shrieking at the top of his lungs, James shook a balled fist at the sky and limped away like a wounded animal.
After a left turn into a familiar alley, he stopped and rubbed his eyes because he had a hard time comprehending what he was seeing.
Standing side by side and blocking his path were three women. The rain seemed to evaporate right before it touched them, giving them an aura of steamy mist.
The one on the left wore red hair as bright as burning flames. Dressed in a black leather top that covered nearly nothing, her ripe and creamy breasts called him like the sea to a sailor, promising that they’d fit perfectly in his hands and mouth. Her green eyes sparkled and her luscious full lips blew him a kiss as James’ eyes roamed lower, taking in the hot pink thong nestled between the flawless roundness of her cheeks. She was the ultimate blend of erotic elegance, a beauty that songs of legend hint about, and James had never physically desired a woman more.
The woman in the middle, her presence radiating authority, was dressed in a long flowing dress of light blue. She did nothing except stare, her face expressionless, yet her eyes seemed to bore into his very being and extract any hidden secret. She appeared almost regal, maybe a queen, with a poise that suggested that whatever she declared, would be.
The woman on the right seemed barely old enough to be deemed a woman at all. Tattered rags that once were a white dress hung from her famished body. Her dirty blond hair was ratted and gnarled, highlighted by a broken daisy stuck behind her ear. Her face was tired and plain, followed by wiry legs attached to bare and calloused feet. It pained James to look at her, her exhaustion embarrassing him for the wasting of his life, until he saw her smile. It reminded him of a past sunrise, the promise of a new day where anything is possible, and with proper rest, nourishment, and attention, he understood her unlimited potential.
The sister in the middle stepped forward and spoke.
“Mortal, your pain has made you the first of your kind, for none until you have ever cried a million tears. At the house of my sister was the millionth tear recorded and we are here on her behalf to ease your suffering.”
James looked around, his head still in a hazy stupor, and realized what had happened. He must have knocked himself unconscious, maybe even dead, and this was all an illusion. He spied a crumpled newspaper with an advertisement for a play at the local theatre entitled Aladdin and decided to play along with this fantasy.
“Ease my suffering huh? And how do you plan on doing that?”
“By whatever you request”, replied Fate.
James pointed at the soaked newspaper. “Whatever I request? Okay, Miss Leader Of Charlie’s Angels, I want a genie in a magic lamp that’ll give me three wishes! Also a pizza with cheesy bread because I am getting kind of hungry.”
Fate, with Desire and Hope behind her, asked, “This is your request?”
“Yeah, three wishes… and some food… ought to do it,” said James between belches.
“So it shall be” and with that, Fate nodded her head and the three women disappeared. Where they once stood was now a lamp made of silver and jade and beside it a square cardboard box that smelled delicious.
James ripped the lid open to find a large Chicago style pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and onions. Wrapped in wax paper beside it sat a piping hot order of cheesy bread, along with ranch dipping sauce.
He dove into the meal with a ravenous hunger, but his partial missing tooth warned him to slow down. James did, savoring every bite while repeatedly glancing towards the lamp. After finishing off every crumb, he placed the magic lamp in his lap and began rubbing vigorously, harder and faster until the lamp trembled and erupted with a blast of smoke.
James dropped the lamp and covered his eyes while coughing. When the smoke cleared, he stood up and met the genie face to face.
The genie appeared as James once did, back before he’d given up on the wonders of life. He stood strong and defiant, ready to take on anything that came his way, with a sparkle in his eye and kindness of heart to match. Finally, with a calm and reassuring voice, the genie spoke.
“James, I have the power to grant you three wishes, however, this will differ from the fables and cartoons you’ve grown accustomed to.”
The genie stuck his hand into the lamp and pulled out a miniature wheel of fortune. He held it out to James as if offering a gift.
“You’ll get three spins on the wheel, one spin for each wish. When the wheel stops spinning, the pointer will rest upon a name of a goddess. You may bestow your wish request upon her and it will be granted as long as it presides within her area of expertise.”
James dumbly nodded his head, mentally debating if this really was happening.
“And yes, this is indeed real, so I strongly suggest that you put much thought into your choices. You may spin the wheel for wish number one.”
James did as instructed, the whirl of the wheel’s pointer slowing and eventually stopping with the name Festival underneath.
“You have chosen the goddess of festivals. Request your wish and choose wisely.”
Festivals? What in the world am I supposed to ask from the goddess of festivals? The more questions he asked himself, the more confused he became. If only he hadn’t had so much to drink, so he could think clearly…
“Genie, a festival is basically one big party, a celebration, and my wish is to have the goddess cleanse my body from alcohol so my last two wishes are made with a clear head.”
The genie tilted his head to the side, as if listening to a voice only he could hear.
“Your wish has been granted. You may now spin the wheel for wish number two.”
Instantly James began to shudder. The alcohol, which he had used so long as a crutch, was completely gone from his system. He felt almost naked without it, but his thoughts were the clearest they’ve been in a decade and his uncertainty slowly gave way to confidence.
They wheel was spun and stopped with the name Redemption underneath.
“You have chosen the goddess of redemption. Request your wish and choose wisely.”
Redemption? Who do I need redeemed from? Antoinette is the obvious choice, but think this through. If I redeem myself in her eyes now, what will happen? Too much time has passed. Is she still alive? Where is she? Is she married? Would she want US again or would it be I Forgive You And Have A Nice Life? Way too many ways choosing her as my choice could end badly and a second rejection is not an option. So who else..
The answer was so obvious that he felt slightly foolish for taking so long. “Genie, from the goddess of redemption I wish to have an address book with the names and numbers of my former coworkers listed inside. That way I can contact them and apologize for taking them for granted and ignoring them during a time when I needed them the most.”
Again the genie tilted his head to the side, confirming with an unseen entity.
“Your wish has been granted. You may spin the wheel for your third and final wish.”
James inhaled a deep breath, closed his eyes, and spun the wheel. He waited until the spinning had stopped and only then reopened his eyes.
James exhaled a sigh of utter disappointment. The genie returned the somber gaze, as if two brothers sharing an exact thought.
“James, you have chosen the goddess of thievery for your final wish. Although it would gladden me to witness you spinning again, I must abide by the rules that bind me. Request your wish and please choose wisely.”
James slumped against the alley wall with nothing except blank thoughts coming to mind. Thievery? Isn’t there a goddess of true love out there? What about commitment or faith? Thievery?
“Genie, how long do I have before I can request my wish?”
The genie looked a tad alarmed. “I honestly don’t know. Let me check.” A head tilt to the unknown was made and once again the genie faced James. “I can give you twenty-four hours, tops.”
James turned his back on the genie and headed towards home. “Genie, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll try and have something figured out by then.”
He walked the last few blocks deep in thought. Upon returning home, James scrubbed himself clean with a hot shower, shaved, brushed his teeth, and closed his eyes to dream. The tears sought after him again, but he was a little stronger than he was yesterday and he needed time to think.
“I take it you have your third and final wish in mind?”
“I do, but I would like to make my request to the goddess of thievery in person.”
The genie scratched his head in puzzlement. “An odd favor to ask, but your favor is granted.”
A form emerged from the alley’s shadow like a whisper of smoke. An ethereal woman shrouded in black stopped before James and acknowledged him with a slight bow.
“Goddess of thievery, Antoinette stole my heart the moment I first saw her. My wish is for you to steal me a piece of time.”
The shadow goddess and the genie became engaged in what appeared to be a heated argument, with both of them flailing their arms and pointing at James. Finally the disagreement came to an end.
“It saddens me to report that your request has been denied. What you ask is beyond her reach.”
“Then reach further.” James gently took Thievery’s translucent hands into his own and closed his eyes. With sheer determination of will, James traveled back in time to when he first saw Antoinette as he walked down the steps, how everyone and everything else melted away and all that remained was her, in that purple shirt and white shorts. Next came their first kiss and then the first time they confessed their love to one another. James bombarded Thievery with memories upon memories, each one proving how important Antoinette was in his life and how empty it had become without her. His final vision was a glimpse of what he planned to do and hoped to accomplish with his last wish.
“I believe that you can do it and hopefully you know that my intentions are true. Please, I’m begging you. For me to make new memories, I need a piece of time.”
Thievery bended light to her liking and was gone. Before James could speak, she was behind him, reappearing from a cloak of shadow and holding a small box made of pearl. Thievery laid the box at his feet, bowed, and was never seen by mortals again.
The genie grinned from ear to ear. “Your wish has been granted.”
Ten Years Before The Piece Of Time
Antoinette lifted the phone from the cradle and began to dial. She absolutely dreaded making the call and had talked herself out of making it several times in the past, but enough was enough.
She loved James, loved him dearly, but his failure to totally commit himself towards their relationship had cornered her into making the only decision that seemed right. Gathering her strength, she readied herself to push the final digit.
Ten Years Ago, After The Piece Of Time
Antoinette’s finger stopped just short of dialing James due to a knock at her door. Relieved for not completing the call, she replaced the phone on its receiver and answered the door, expecting to find the mail lady or paperboy, but instead being surprised by James on one knee.
“I had a dream last night that I spent the rest of my life without you and words can’t begin to describe how hollow of an existence it was. I know you deserve the very best and I know that’s not me, but if I could ever deserve you, it would be an honor and a privilege to be known as your husband and to have you as my wife, not for just today, but until the end of time.”
As he reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring, the mail lady who was delivering across the street witnessed the entire scene. With a smile, Fate reached into her bag, placed the magazine in the mailbox, and continued on her way, proud of a job well done.
My imagination, true events, and two songs inspired this short story. The first song was originally written by Todd Rundgren and covered by Alison Krauss:
The last time you called me
To say we were through
How it took a million tears
Just to prove they all were for you
The second song is on Bon Jovi’s latest cd and goes a little something like this:
You wanna make a memory
You wanna steal a piece of time..
Anyways, any comments and criticisms can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for using your piece of time on me.
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Comments 1 to 7 of 7