Published by C.M. Weller at Shakespir
Copyright © 2016 C.M. Weller, All rights reserved.
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Sharon didn’t wish out loud. If it was real magic, then it should come true regardless of whether the words were spoken or not. And so far, no real magic had ever come true. Mom never got a raise. The rain never came when it was wanted, nor did it go away when it was unwanted. The best people went away and the worst people never did.
For Sharon, school was hell, being out of school was worse, and the only bright spots in her life were home, Mom, and Mr Numpuby. The nasty kids called him Mr ‘numb pubes’ which he always smiled at and ignored with a near angelic grace. He was so dark that, in the gloomy light of their highrise hallways, he looked like a shadow come to life. In the sunshine, in his rooftop garden, his skin… gleamed. The first words Sharon ever spoke without a lot of prompting had been, “You look like a peacock feather,” to Mr Numpuby.
People didn’t bother Sharon when she was helping him on the roof. She didn’t need to use her words, or pantomime instead of sign when the words wouldn’t come. And she never had to try and write a note, which was always trouble because her hands didn’t like to write, either.
Sharon was supposed to have a tablet to help her communicate, but the mean people broke her last one and the government wouldn’t get a new one or pay for repairs for another two years. And the mean people kept stealing her flashcards, so Sharon and Mom gave up on it at all. And Sharon became friends with the rare people who could actually understand her.
Mr Numpuby was kind, and let Sharon take her time. He listened. Not just to the words Sharon said, but the words she wanted to say. He listened to her hands as they flapped, or as they made words in the air.
And he was magic.
She’d seen it. Sharon had been minding her own business, taking the weeds out of his roof gardens, when one of the smokers decided to light up in the middle of Mr Numpuby’s plants. Sharon had sworn she had seen him go downstairs and not yet come back up. Yet there he was, emerging from behind the trelises and wiping his hands on a rag. “Excuse me, sir,” he had said, “There is no smoking here, my plants do not like your poison.”
The man with the cigarette had lifted a rude finger and told Mr Numpuby to bite him. Mr Numpuby had said some rapid words in another tongue and then… The cigarette flared. All the smoke went inside the rude man, and the rude man fell to coughing so hard that he turned faintly purple. When the rude man finally managed to recover, he ran off the roof and down the stairs like something really bad was chasing him.
Mr Numpuby was out of breath, and shaking. But the smoker never came back to the roof.
When it rained, and when Mom was out working, Sharon was allowed to visit in Mr Numpuby’s home. It was on the other side of the building from Sharon’s home and everything was back-to-front. The kitchen was a mirror of Sharon’s home’s one. And the bedrooms were off to the left instead of the right. And off to the right, was the bathrooms. And if Mom worked really late, then Mr Numpuby would let Sharon sleep in the spare room. Every wall was full of wooden faces from Africa. Long ones, wide ones, round ones, square ones. Ones with cowrie shells for eyes. All walls had the faces. Exept one. That was the wall where the Dresser resided.
It sat in barren elegance against the short wall next to the door of the spare room, and the oval mirror was always covered with a bright cloth. Sharon wanted to see why it was covered, but daren’t move the cloth. Not after what Mr Numpuby did to the smoker. Sometimes, she would just stand in the spare room and stare at it. Hoping some errant breeze would give her just a peek…
No such breeze came, but Mr Numpuby did. He leaned in the doorway and cleaned his hands on the rag, and he said, “There is magic in mirrors, little one. Especially that mirror. It must only be used if there is dire need.”
Dire need. Even the word ‘dire’ spoke of fangs and glistening in the night. Sharon understood, and left the mirror alone.
Until the day that Mom went to hospital because someone thought she was bad and hurt her bad. And the truant man made her go to real school that made her sit in a room all day. And there was no food and people called other people and Sharon would not talk to anyone but Mr Numpuby. The day that the mean people were everywhere and yelled at her and hit her and threw things.
The day that Mr Numpuby took her to his home and told her that Sharon’s home had been robbed, and there was no more television, and no more radio, and the thieves had broken lots of things that weren’t worth anything and ‘soiled’ the rest. The smell from the halway near the ruins of her door was enough to tell her what ‘soiled’ meant. And she cried so hard and so long that she didn’t remember Mr Numpuby tucking her in to the big bed that took up most of the spare room.
Sharon woke up in the middle of the night, facing the mirror. Lights from the city shone through the window and made it seem to glow, cover and all, in the night. Sharon got up, and silently crossed the bare floor. Reached up and pulled the coloured cloth down.
Underneath was a gold oval, made to look like a snake biting its own tail. The word ‘ouroboros’ entered her mind at the sight of it. Inside the glistening oval, there was mottled silver. An old, old mirror with its shine draining away under blooms of tarnish. And there were words across the upper arch.
They said, What do you wish?
Sharon thought as she stared. I wish they knew what it was like. I wish the mean people knew what it was like to be one of their own victims.
A voice, much like Mr Numpuby whispering a secret, said inside her head, For how long?
Sharon thought, Until they understand.
The whisper said, I can only effect the people you know.
Sharon nodded and thought, That’s okay.
The whisper said, As you wish.
Sharon put the cloth back up and padded back to bed. She would see if this was real magic.
But she woke up to the same old world and Mr Numpuby took her to the hospital where Mom was awake, but not allowed to leave. She was all over in buises and swollen bits. And the nurses let her lie on the bed with Mom and watch the local news session while Mr Numpuby dozed in the guest chair. The real school was in chaos as a rogue mystery virus swept the children and made them act -well- a lot like the way Sharon acted when her day was going wrong. And a police man was in hopital with bruises and bleeding that looked a lot like Mom’s. And a rich man had lost all his holdings in a freak audit.
And in other news, a local gang of kids had woken to find their houses trashed and many of their things broken and soiled.
These had to be the mean people. In the process of understanding what it was like. But the dire need had not given Mom the healing she needed, nor fixed the broken things, nor cleaned up the soiled things, nor repaired the door. It had not kept Mom’s jobs.
And when she got back to Mr Numpuby’s place, there were more faces on the walls. Very few of them were dark like Sharon or Mr Numpuby. None of them were happy.
That night, Sharon made sure to sleep with her back to the mirror, just to be sure she wouldn’t look and want another wish.
There was more news on the next day. News of the audit giving dividends to the people that the rich man had employed. Of a thing called ‘liquidation’ of the assets giving lots of people money. Sharon imagined buildings and cars melting down and turning into liquid gold, which people in suits poured into a big machine that spewed out money.
But the money for Mom came in a cheque. Accompanied by a man in a severe suit and with a lot of paperwork. He was a pro bono lawyer, he said, and he would help Mom do all sorts of things. Including a lawsuit against the police department for the wrongful arrest and resulting assault. Lots of grownup things that Sharon was sure she didn’t understand.
And when she got back to the building she shared with Mr Numpuby, there was a gang of kids with tools and things. And one grownup with a new door. They said that they were sorry for wrecking everything and stealing things, and they said that since it happened to them? It wasn’t nearly as funny as it had been when they were doing the wrecking and the stealing.
Mr Numpuby’s walls had five less faces, that night. Five kids in the gang. One grownup helping them, who had not been helping them be mean. There were so many white masks left on the walls. All of them miserable.
Mom came home in a wheelchair, and neighbours gave them things. Old things, but useful things. And more than one casserole.
The school full of mean people was reclassifying itself as a special school, and letting in anyone like Sharon, because all the kids who went there were like Sharon now. And all the kids were making things to sell and raise funding.
They welcomed Sharon, and Mr Numpuby, who had ‘valuable experience’. And they were amazingly patient with him because he was so tired all the time. And Sharon felt a gnaw of guilt. Mr Numpuby got tired when magic was playing itself out. Her wish was making him tired.
She said more words out loud, that night, to him. “Are there take-backs on wishes?”
Mr Numpuby sadly shook his head. He told her about Scheherazade, and her thousand and one tales. And the djinni, who were always bound to glass. The magic would play out, he said, until it was done with her wish.
And he pointed to two dark faces on the wall. One long one that looked like Mom, who was smiling. And one short one that looked like Sharon. The Sharon face was looking only slightly sad.
“The magic will not rest until that face smiles,” said Mr Numpuby.
But how could she smile, when she knew what her wish had cost? How could she smile, knowing what she wished for, and knowing that there were some people who would never understand?
They always say, "be careful what you wish for", and Sharon knew that better than anyone. Yet, when the need is great, temptation looms. What would you do, if you had the chance for one wish to come true?