December 2018 story : Genii in a Box

Every December a reader asks me to please run this story again. So here it is.
Be careful what you shop for.
Genii in a Box
 It sounded like the perfect gift for a twentieth anniversary. Her husband was one of those men who was absolutely never happy with what he had, you know, the neighbor had a flashier car, his fellow workers received better promotions, his father gave his brother the set of golf clubs her husband had always coveted. Didn't matter that they had a nice house, above average income, two super kids, no debts. He only saw what he didn't have. So when the local department store did a special on an item called Genii in a Box, and guaranteed the genii's authenticity, it sounded like a can't fail gift to her.
 She cleaned out her savings and came up with the price.
 On their anniversary they went to dinner at a favorite restaurant and probably that was her first mistake, giving him his gift in a public place.
 They had one of those nonstop talkers for a waiter. He constantly interrupted and Alfie was looking annoyed. After they finished the meal, she pulled the box out of the shopping bag she had slid under her chair and set it in front of him.
 "What's this?"
 "Open it and see."
 "But I thought we agreed, no presents."
 Alfie hated shopping. Years ago they had agreed that anniversaries should be celebrated by going out. No gifts.
 "We did, darling, but I found this and it is so perfect and I could have waited for Christmas except I couldn't. I am too excited."
 He gave her a small smile and started to undo the gift wrapping. "Who wrapped this? The store? I can't get this ribbon off."
She reached across the table and untied the bow and folded back the glossy paper enough to allow him to see the bright red box with its decoration of glittery gold stars.
 He read the label on the lid.
 "Genii in a Box? You're kidding. I've heard about these and I've heard they work! Wow, but they cost a fortune!" He had his hand on the lid prying it loose, and paused with it half open. "You didn't put this on our credit card, did you?"
 "No. It's a gift, Alfie. I paid for it myself."
 He stared at her, obviously trying to decide whether to smile at her generosity or frown at her extravagance. "You paid for it how?"
 The waiter picked that moment to appear. "Presies? Ooo, how fun! Is this a birthday? If it is, cake is on the house."
 Alfie frowned and his wife said, "No, but thank you. Leave the dessert menu and we'll look at it."
 "I can tell you what we have," he said, and recited a long, complicated list of choices. "Now I'll give you good folks a minute to think about it while I help the next table, but my personal recommendation is the chocolate cream pie. It is fabulous."
 As he walked away, Alfie said, "That guy is such a pest. I wish we had a better waiter."
 "Yes, well, go ahead and look inside your box."
 "Uh, you don't suppose the genii appears in a cloud of smoke and is ten feet high? Maybe we should take this thing home to try it out."
 She hadn't thought about smoke or a ten foot tall genii. She agreed that giving her husband the box in the restaurant had probably been stupid. Alfie pushed the lid back down and she put the box in the shopping bag. A different waiter appeared and quietly handled the rest of their requests. Neither of them wanted dessert, they were so excited about getting home and seeing the genii.
 The kids were out for the evening, daughter on a date and son at a friend's house, so they had the privacy such an event required and just as well. When Alfie opened the box, nothing happened.
 "Stupid fake," he muttered.
 "Genii, are you in there?" she called.
 A gruff voice answered. "Of course I am in here. Where else would I be?"
 They stared at each other. "Out here where we can see you?"
 "You want me to come out?"
 "Of course we want you to come out!" Alfie roared.
 Blue smoke and a few lightning flashes filled the room. Sure enough, from out of the box rose a genii and he didn't stop until his head bumped the ceiling. In billowing silks and bare chest and large earring and colorful turban, he looked exactly as expected.
 He bowed. "Your wishes are my command."
 "There must be some limits."
 "Yes. There are. I cannot make anyone ruler of the world and I cannot give actual cash, so don't waste wishes on wealth or power."
 "Typical. The advertising never gives a true description of the product. Oh all right, what can you give me?" Alfie asked.
 The genii ticked off the list, reminding her of the waiter with his memorized recital of desserts. "A deluxe house, any make and model of car, a swimming pool in your backyard, an all expense paid vacation, a sexy blond girlfriend--"
 Alfie interrupted with a laugh. "I've always wished for one of those!"
 He meant it as a joke but that girl wasn't any joke. She popped out of thin air, all curves and barely enough clothes to be legal in public. She rolled her eyes and puckered out lips that had to be artificially enlarged. Alfie's wife suspected that could be said of other parts of her, too.
 Alfie stared, speechless. When the girl wound her arms around his neck and began smooching him, he didn't exactly respond, but neither did he push her away.
 Like every wife in the world, her tolerance had its limits and that girl was the limit. "I wish you'd take her away right now, and him, too!" she screamed.
 As soon as she said it, she regretted it. They both vanished.
 "What's going on? The wishes belong to Alfie, not me."
 The genii shook his head. "This is a community property state. What's his is yours."
 And then he slowly began to shrink.
 "I didn't mean it. Keep the girl but give back Alfie," she whimpered.
 He was down to her height, arms folded across his bare chest, face devoid of expression. She looked him straight in the eyes.
 "Come on, Mr. Genii, a joke's a joke. You know I didn't mean it, not about my husband."
 He shrank until the top of his turban was at her shoulder height. Still no response.
 "All right! So I blew it! I wished them both away! I get another wish."
 He shook his head.
 As he was rapidly disappearing, she said, "Stop right there. Alfie wished for the girl and I wished them gone. That's two wishes, right?"
 He nodded.
 "You win. Here's my third wish. Give me my husband. Now."
 He looked up at her and spoke in that gruff voice. "Making the girl appear was the second wish and making them disappear was the third wish. Sorry."
 And that's the last she saw of the genii. Or her husband. She ripped open the box and it was empty, an empty cardboard box, nothing there at all.
 What was he talking about? The girl was the first wish, wasn't she?
 Oh well, by now I am sure you have figured it out, although it took Alfie's wife all of the next day to find the manager of the restaurant and have him tell her that one of last night's waiters had quit.
 "Right in the middle of our busiest time. Simply disappeared, didn't even tell anyone he was quitting. Left me a server short. Why? Is there a problem?"
 She couldn't answer. All she could do was go home, put the box in the shopping bag and take it to the department store.
 So there she was, standing in line at the Return and Refunds Counter. There were several people in front of her and the line wasn't moving. The customer at the counter obviously had a complicated return.
 She watched him leaning toward the clerk and whispering and the clerk was saying repeatedly, "I am sorry, really, we can refund your purchase price. That's the best we can do." Whatever it was he wanted to return, he wasn't satisfied with a refund. He kept arguing.
 Alfie's wife turned and looked behind herself. The line now stretched all the way back to the escalators. Everyone appeared to be upset or angry or murderous and she was glad she didn't have that clerk's job. And then she noticed several people who weren't carrying shopping bags. They simply carried their items, red boxes decorated with glittery stars, clutched in their arms.


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