So my husband says, out of nowhere, “Tempest in a teapot.” I said, “Why couldn’t you have said that an hour ago?” He said, “What’s the difference?” I said, “Because I’m already almost done with my story, and that teapot was my prompt! I had to think up a whole story idea all by myself, and I could have used yours!”
He was unsympathetic. I’m telling you, laziness is an invisible disability, and nobody sympathizes.
by Marian Allen
When Alex was four, two things happened: He saw a cartoon called “Mr. Magoo’s 1001 Arabian Nights,” and his little family moved back to his parents’ home town to be close to their folks.
His mother’s mother, Gramma Tasha, had a copper thing she called a samovar, but Alex recognized it immediately as a genie’s lamp. Gramma Tasha said it was okay if he touched it, as long as it was on the counter, but never when it was on its special mat on the table.
He wouldn’t touch it, though. He was afraid of the enormous, noisy, confusing genie that he expected to come out, and he was afraid of wasting the power of change. Mom and dad had changed his house, his neighborhood, his friends, his schedule, his preschool – his whole life – and that was without a magic lamp, even! What if he asked to see his best friends again, and the genie took him back to his old house and just left him there?
No, this was going to take some thinking about.
The grownups laughed and teased him about his fascination with the samovar, but Gramma Tasha said, “He has the deep regard. He sees into the heart of it. He has the soul of a Russian.”
By the time he was six, he had begun a game: What would I wish for? It went like this: Cool bike! I could wish for that! Okay, what if I did? I would be too big for it in a couple of years, and I used up a wish on a couple of years of bike riding.
Gramma Tasha had him over to visit some afternoons and some overnights. They played dominoes and walked her ancient miniature bulldog, Snorkle. Gramma told him stories about a witch named Baba Yaga that gave him nightmares – He couldn’t get enough of them. They drank tea from the copper samovar.
As Alex grew up, he acknowledged that the teapot was only a teapot, but the What would I wish for? game continued to be a comfort and a useful mechanism. Was a wish actually achievable by his own efforts? No sense wasting a wish on it; he’d figure out how to get it directly. Was the wish an impossibility? Probably a bad idea, then, and wishing for it would end badly.
Dear Gramma Tasha died when Alex was in college, and she specifically left him the samovar in her will. He cried like a kid, right there in the lawyer’s office. If rubbing the lamp could have brought her back, alive and well and strong, he’d have used all three wishes to do it.
His mom kept the samovar in his room so he could treasure the sight of it when he came home on breaks.
When he graduated and got a job and moved into an apartment, the samovar went with him. He bought a cork hotpad painted with Russian-looking roosters in red and yellow, and centered the samovar on it on a table just inside the apartment door. Every time he came in, he dropped his keys into the kettle and gave it a practice rub.
It was a little joy.
What would I wish for?
What would make life perfect?
Enough money, whatever “enough” happened to be.
So far, he had the first two. Well, he had them insofar as was possible without the third.
An antique appraisal show came to town, and Alex, on a whim, took the samovar.
He knew, as you know, that this was where all his wishes would be granted. The young woman behind him in the final line was petite but “had some meat on her bones,” as Gramma Tasha would have said with approval. He hair was dark and curly, and her eyes were dark and bright. Her name was Makayla, named after her great-grandmother from “somewhere in Russia.”
The appraiser unwrapped the samovar with delight, which melted into a scowl as he turned it and saw the shiny spot.
“Did you try to polish it?” It was an accusation, not a question.
“I rub it.” Lest anyone should get the impression he did what he actually did, he lied, “I rub it for luck.”
“Well, you’ve destroyed the patina. It might have been worth ten or twenty dollars. As it is….” He shoved the samovar aside with the tips of his fingers. “Next.”
Consumed with shame, Alex didn’t register what Makayla was saying until she had said it.
“I changed my mind. I don’t want you to look at my antique, you … you … you kulak!”
Alex laughed, grabbed his precious samovar, and marched out of the show in step with Makayla.
“My Granny Tasha used to call people kulak when she wanted to insult them. She said it meant they had more money than sense.”
“That’s what Babushka said it meant. Babushka is what I was taught to call my great-grandma.”
They went out for tea. One memory led to another, one story to another, one thing to another. It took four years of careful, patient mutual education and compromise, but Alex finally secured the last of his three desires.
And he didn’t even have to waste a wish.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: A tempest in a teapot.