Monday, February 25, 2008


Life in the comfortable suburb was straightforward and unexciting, or as the residents would usually describe it, “normal”. Normality overlaid life like a quilt or blanket of snow, suffocating and all enveloping, although everyone knew more or less what lay beneath it. A common consensus ensured that this air of ordinariness was busily maintained by means of household chores, sports fixtures, car maintenance, television and church attendance. Below this stratum of activity lurked superstition, gossip, criminality, domestic violence, fantasy worlds and magic, all kept carefully submerged. Occasionally the equilibrium was disturbed and older, blacker ideas and powers escaped through rents in the surface fabric into the everyday world. So it was, one evening when, secure in his conventional home, the young man greeted his visitor. It was a friend he had not seen for a long time due to work commitments abroad who brought with him the excitement associated with long expat residence. Emboldened by a few drinks, he began showing off about a talisman of supposedly supernatural powers that he had acquired from a colleague in India. Its powers allowed three men to make three wishes and have them fulfilled, although not usually in a straightforward or predictable way. They had a long discussion about this. According to the classical view they would be challenging the Gods whose right it was to decide men’s’ fates. They would be jealous and take vengeance. According to scientific opinion they would be trying to defy the laws of probability. Faced with this temptation the young man’s modern instincts struggled with fears of much older origin. Besides, he didn’t really believe in magic powers anyway, and even though his visitor seemed to take it all seriously he was vague in his warnings and unforthcoming when pressed for details of his own wishes. He at last managed to coax his visitor into handing over the talisman in exchange for some more drinks and a small sum of money.

The next morning in the cold light of day the mundane atmosphere was all pervading and the young man’s fears had subsided. Although he didn’t have any real needs a mixture of curiosity and greed drove him to try out the talisman, so he wished for a thousand pounds. As he shouted his wish in a jocular way he was disturbed to feel the talisman twist in his hand but he put it out of his mind and waited to see if his wish would be granted. It was; by way of the insurance money for his much loved car, written off after being flattened by a heavy lorry. Coincidence or something more? Since he could not replace the car from the insurance claim he used up the second wish to get his car back. At first this seemed to succeed but it was swiftly followed by the insurance company pursuing him for a false claim. The resulting court case, which he lost, cost him a great deal of money.

Now there was only one wish remaining. Dare he use it? He had a brainwave; he would wish for a thousand wishes. That should take care of the future. Amazing that nobody else had thought to do it. Chaos ensued. Not only did every word spoken have to be checked beforehand to be sure it didn’t contain a wish, but also every thought and idea that occurred during the course of the day seemed to trigger action from the talisman. Money, chocolate puddings, hot curry, and bottles of wine rained down on him, whilst the weather changed from hot sun to rain and wind as his thoughts wandered. Trains ran extra fast and crashed, sports results were reversed and television programmes departed from those advertised much to the consternation of everybody else. People began a witch hunt to find the source of these disruptions. The whole episode could be considered as a supernatural attempt to usurp the powers that be, or as an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Only one escape presented itself; to wish away the remaining wishes. He did so and once again the suffocating quilt of normality closed around him.

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