Where Genies Dare . . .

Nobody would have guessed that the farmer, our father, had the genie. He’d fought buyouts from the corporate farm giants, wanting to turn the land into a factory. He knew that it was only a matter of time before the tide would turn in his favor. Just like clothing fashion, which always looked so bizarre on the TV, would come round to the same styles over and over again. Like the food industry, declaring practices sanitary, then unsanitary, then sanitary again; certain food is healthy, then it’s not; he knew that his old family farm would once again be the norm that people aspired to. 

Us, his children thought he was crazy, but lovable. WE were off to college in the cities. Turns out that, given the choice, people would rather live where the farm products end up. On the farm there was regular seasonal help. His wife tended the home and garden, painted the fences, repaired appliances, even worked on the car, while he was out in the field, or more often, the barn.

The farmer’s grandfather had fought on the Mesopotamian front in WWI. What to him were very strange lands are to us the subject of headlines. He brought a few trinkets back with him which settled in the barn under a tarp. There was a bottle we used to play with as kids. A square base with curved sides, like those fancy bottles that hold oil and peppers. The glass was clear with a light aqua stain and the whole thing was about three and a half inches tall. An adult could hold the base on his thumb and just barely press the cork with his middle finger.

Our dad said he used to play with this bottle as a kid as well. This bottle was theoretically unbreakable, and even the cap would not burn, tear, or pop. We did all the normal kid things. Throwing it off the loft in the barn, stomping on it. Banging it against the side of the well. But nothing. Even leaving it under the car tires. Dad caught us doing that because he said he did it as a kid. The day after he gave us the bottle he checked the tires before heading out to the store. He called all of us outside. We thought we were in for it, like we broke the car or something but instead, he just demonstrated that the car would drive right over it. He even backed up and did it again. Then he told us to put the bottle away and get our chores done before he came back. If we did, he’d demonstrate something else.

You bet we were ready and waiting. Us older ones chipped in to make sure the younger one’s chores were done better than ever just so we’d get another demonstration. The first thing he did was take us into the tool shed with the largest serrated kitchen knife he could find. ‘Don’t tell your mother,’ he said. We loved keeping secrets. He set the bottle on the ground and had us stand as close as he thought was safe and he knelt by the bottle. Like a magician setting up the audience he took a bit of sod and jabbed one of the serrated edges into it, just to show that this was not a trick knife. ‘Your mom’s gonna kill me,’ he said, to our laughter. ‘Oh well, too late now.’ He held the bottle with one hand and proceeded to saw at the cork with the serrated knife. The knife gained speed and nearly flew out of his hands every time. ‘Like opposite magnets,’ he said. ‘They repel each other. Fire’s the same way.’

Our oldest, myself, wanted to take it into school for Show-And-Tell, but dad said no. ‘They’d never let you demonstrate something like this in class.’ Then why not take it to a science lab? I asked, even then a technology junkie. They knew I was headed for wherever the most gadgets were as soon as I could leave the farm.

‘Because they’d forget all about it and move onto something they can understand,’ said dad. ‘They’re just like us, when a real mystery comes along, they’ll invent a new type of knowledge-box to put it in and there it’ll stay. I’d rather have it here, in my grandfather’s box.’

The television show I work for, Ancientreal (ain-chen-chre-al) {a combination of the words ‘ancient’ and ‘real’ [shut up, the pay is good and I get to travel]} got to my neck of the woods and asked if there was any technologic local lore.

The type of thing we do, there’s an inventor in every town. Maybe an eccentric artist who creates unique work whose devices can also be used for something practical, maybe an accidental combination of two machines because someone built something wrong. Or a device designed to do one thing in mediocrity turns out to be able to do something else with an efficiency that should be purely theoretical. I didn’t want the TV show around my town, and didn’t think much of it because these towns are dotted all over and my dad is not famous at all.

‘The day you got hired, didn’t you mention something about - ?’ asks the smug little prick. It’s my fault. He's right. He looks like he’s twelve. And like a twelve-year-old he can spend hours getting dirty looking for something that’s not actually there. Still, he is a certified genius so I felt like I had to impress him and I told him the story of my dad’s bottle. He would not let up and the producers were interested so I laid some ground rules. Just me and the kid go alone. We’ll take my dad out to lunch, assuming he’s got the time for it and he’ll either say yes or no. If he says no, that’s the end of it.

Of course, I’m gambling quite a bit with this strategy. What if the network says ‘fuck you, we’re going to bother him until he says yes’ what do I do then? Do I walk? Everyone on TV is replaceable. And necessarily so. Plus, I’m not even actually ON the TV. I didn’t have a leg to stand on and was just relying on common courtesy.

I’m not sure what happened to the kid much after that. He left the show and became reclusive. He had a good brain on him despite the shock and I think he could eventually find a way to live comfortably.

We took my dad to lunch. He was happy to see me. He knew I talked to mom on the phone sometimes because she likes that, even if I don’t think she’d understand much about my life. My dad was more old-fashioned, a man’s business is his own (to be Godfather-esque about it) and if he raised people who could go about their business, then he’d fulfilled his duty. I feel like I have to explain to the modern crowd that of course he didn’t want us to be serial killers or anything like that. For men of his time ‘doing business’ was synonymous for ‘being a good person.’ Functionality and goodness were intertwined. Which is why he never should have gotten that bottle open.

For a man who could have anything he wants, who could smite whomever he chooses, anyone would be in the right to refuse such power. But this was a playful spirit. Maybe it was just bored from being in the bottle for so long, but it would answer questions. Sometimes visually to help you keep track of all the variables. As official next-of-kin, my dad was the only one who could command it to act. But it would speculate for you all day if you wanted. And whatever it whispered in answer to the kid’s question, I’ll never know, but it drove the kid out of sight forever. The kid’s question was something math-y that had some ancient person’s name in it and had to do with a proof and a few stipulations with alternating possibilities, anyway, the creature seemed to keep track of everything.

Dad couldn’t decide what gifts to bestow upon his children, or if even that was the right thing to do. Also, the spirit was so playful that he feared misinterpretation or using the wrong wording. Turns out, despite no college education or widespread media exposure, these Faustian bargains are part of all our subconscious. He was right to be scared in my opinion. The spirit is bound to him and cannot leave until he commands it. Is it one wish or three? We’re not really clear on that. When my father passes, the responsibility will go to me.

I’m increasingly unsure if that will ever happen though. If my father makes a wish, we may all be doomed. The news has gotten more frequent and upsetting as more networks need things to keep viewers tuned in and advertisers paying up. My father is from a different era and a different lifestyle and has no antibodies against this media bombardment. He’s also been forgetting to perform certain chores, or insisting he’s already done them. Mom has become more of a caretaker and sold some animals without his knowledge. He never noticed. I think she’s been in the barn as well, because she does everything she can to keep his eyes off the news. When every atrocity strikes you fresh every day, and every headline and story has been engineered by psychologists to produce maximum outrage, then all of our fears are justified. If she’s been in the barn she hasn’t mentioned it to me. My mother was from an era where giving birth was something you did in between laying the bricks for a new chimney. Although the ‘strong silent type’ is a masculine stereotype, it is much more applicable to her type of woman. So far, her head still seems all there.

I like technology, and unlike the kid, did not have a mile-a-second brain always concerned with universal issues. I think, whatever the creature’s answer was, the kid found acceptable but unimportant, and that had never happened to him before. He never considered that all the power in all the world was consolidated in the barn of an increasingly senile midwestern farmer.