ne wish," the genie said , and just like that- every regret, every mistake I'd ever wished I could take back, bobbed up in my mind and tangled together like a river choked with weeds. Everything I could think of seemed insufficient. As if no one wish would be enough.
"I wish," I said, the golden lamp heavy in my hands. "I wish... "
"I wish I could go back in time and change the biggest mistake of my life," I said, the words spilling out of me.
I closed my eyes. "My biggest mistake. Whichever one it was."
"As you wish, O Mistress," the genie said, and there was a rush of air, my ears popping, as I tensed and felt the world reverse around me.
I let out a breath, and opened my eyes.
"Wait," I said, and blinked. I was standing in the exact same spot, the lamp still in my hands, the genie floating in front of me. For a moment I wondered if anything had happened, if I had just slipped into some fugue state for a second.
Then the genie nodded to me. "Your wish, O Mistress?" he said.
"Wait, fuck," I said. "You're screwing with me. You - Did you just take me back in time to before I made my wish to go back in time?"
The genie made a little shrug. "As you say, O Mistress. I am but a humble genie. If my future self sent you here, I am yet to know of it."
"Oh fuck this!" I said, "You know what this is like? This is like that guy who gets to ask one question to the smartest guy in the world. So he asks, 'What is the best question I could ask you, and what is the answer to it?' And then the smartass says, 'That was the best question you could have asked, and this was the answer to it.' That asshole!"
I flung the lamp down anyway with a resounding clang, and it bounced off the ground, dented. The genie flinched, and looked at it sadly.
"That was my home, O Mistress. I shall still have to live in it."
"I don't care!" I yelled back. "I wanted -" There was something crazy bubbling up in my chest. "I thought I was going to be able change my biggest mistake! I - I thought I had a chance, you piece of shit!"
I swung at the genie and there was a burst of sparks, and the sensation of all the little hairs on my arm being singed off.
"Fuck! Fuck!" It felt like an open wound dipped in alcohol. "It's all this recursive, pseudo-philosophical bullshit! And the real answer is: fuck you, you're a fucking idiot for trying! You're an idiot for trying to be better than yourself! You're an idiot for actually trying to do some good for once!"
My eyes were stinging. "Here's your answer: I'll spit in your face and pretend I'm being wise!"
"Ah," the genie said, and reached for my arm. I kept it cramped up, holding it tight, but finally relinquished it to him. His massive hands were warm, like heating pads, and somehow drove the stinging down. "I believe I understand, O Mistress." He looked at me hesitantly.
"What?" I said. "So what? So spit it out already."
"That was no rebuke, O Mistress," he said. "That was simply the truth of your wish."
He released my arm and spread out his hands and grew like a bonfire, like a forest fire. Like what Moses must've seen at the burning bush. He'd been holding my hand. I collapsed, expecting to be swallowed whole.
"I have been gifted the boundless capacity of the universe," he said, his voice echoing like a bell. "And pressed into service of mortal souls. I am limitless potential. I am a heart's desire. I am the burning wish of humanity made manifest." His burning eyes met mine. "And now I am made yours."
He cooled, still bright as an ember, and once more took my hand, helping me up. "No matter what you have done previously, no matter your greatest regret, it pales in comparison to what you have yet to achieve. If you were to waste your one wish on mere regret, that would indeed be your greatest mistake." He released my hand and floated backwards, arms folding into position. "That mistake has yet to be made. Your wish remains intact."
I swallowed hard, and so as not to look at him turned my eyes to the discarded lamp. I picked it up, turning it over, seeing the ugly dent I had made. "I - I'm sorry about your lamp."
"A moment's error," he said, "and now it has passed, and still you remain." He laid his hands over mine and pressed his fingers into the soft gold, smoothing it out.
"You see? Nothing that cannot be fixed." He met my eyes and smiled. "Now, are you prepared to make your wish?"
I held his lamp, rubbing my thumb over the newly-smoothed surface, seeing my own reflection looking back at me.
"No," I said. "I'm not ready. Not quite yet."