Dryden wants to ride the towpath trail round trip between Akron and Cleveland -- a distance of almost eighty miles. He has been training for four months, and is sure he can reach his goal in two more weeks. His target for today is sixty miles, and he has ridden almost thirty so far.
The trail escapes from the forest into the afternoon summer sunlight. Dryden clips on his sunglasses, and smiles when he sees the thirty mile marker. A narrow canal on the left and a two-lane road on the right keeps the towpath straight and flat.
A tall, fifty-ish woman studies ducks' tail feathers as they fish. She sits on a large red and gray Ohio State University blanket beside a picnic basket. In addition to her large brimmed, straw hat, she wears a pair of washed-out jeans with a red bandanna dangling from her waistband, a gray T-shirt emblazoned in red letters with Genies Have Been Doing It for 5000 Years, and yellow sneakers. Since her hat cannot corral all her curly hair, and she wears black rimmed glasses, she looks like a very large raccoon. However this image has a finite lifetime; after herding her hair into a bun, and stuffing it into the bowl of her hat -- it escapes in only a few minutes.
When she senses Dryden's presence, she rises from the blanket, and spins toward him. Then calls his name. But he doesn't respond.
"Say there, Dryden. Stop. Please stop. Accept my invitation to speak with thee!"
But he is focused on today's objective, and apparently doesn't hear her.
"Dryden! Stop! Please cease thy bike ride."
But he continues without noticing her.
So she jumps onto the towpath directly in front of him.
"Whoa!" he squeezes the brakes, turns the wheel, and rides smoothly over the green bank into the canal. Startled ducks honk their displeasure, snapping their wings to escape this monster.
She runs to the top of the berm overlooking the canal.
"Oh my, thou disrupted the duck's meal. Is thy bike still in order? Dryden I hope thou have not suffered? Do thou require my assistance?"
"No! I can get out myself," he says trying to spit out the muddy canal water. "Phtew. Phtew. What the hell were you doing? "
"Sir, thou has my sincere apologies. I welcome thy company so I may speak to thee on an important matter."
"Well, I don't recognize you, I am soaking wet, and you ruined my ride. I don't know if my bike is OK, and that is more important to me now, than anything you might have to say."
He wades back into the water and retrieves his bike.
"Would thou join me for some refreshment, I set it on yonder blanket?" She points to the picnic basket.
"No. What is wrong with you? Can't you see what you did to me?" Dryden's anger emerges.
He begins inspecting the wheel and saddle alignment, and the brakes. Then he picks off the wet weeds wrapped around the seat and handlebars, and continues to inspect the wheel axles, chain dérailleurs, sprockets and spokes. He is relieved that his bike seems to be OK.
"Thou take great pride in thy bike."
"You better believe it. She has been with me for forty years."
"Oh, thy bike is so old. Would thou like a newer one?" she inquires hopefully.
"Not really, this one has lasted through four years of graduate school, raising three teenagers, two marriages, and a foreclosure."
He finishes his inspection and adds, "I'm all right, and I think my bike is all right too. I would tell you it was nice to meet you -- but it wasn't," and he begins to remount. He knows his clothes will dry before he gets home if begins the return leg now. However, the bottom of his pants where his butt meets the saddle will remain damp. Chaffing might be an issue today.
"Sir Dryden, please do not refuse my request to speak to thee," she says with a tone soaked with assertiveness.
"How do you know my name?"
"Naturally thou must be curious about the origin of my request. I understand, but it is unimportant."
"Like hell it is." He wants to keep his muscles warm. The late afternoon shadows will sap the warmth from the forest, and chill his homeward ride. "And why do you speak like the Amish? You don't dress like one."
"Sir, if thou would accept my invitation, take my arm and we shall sit on the blanket set with thy favorite fruit. Please look at the pear I brought for thee. It is like the ones thou purchase at the fresh market known as Szalays. Also, while speaking with me, thy clothes might dry a bit.
"Uh, wait, no one knows about my stops at Szalays. How do you know about that? Look, I want to finish my ride now, so just tell me what you want. Make it quick."
"Thou hast but little copper, and no silver or gold, so thou do purchase a single ripe pear as a reward for attaining thy daily goal. Do I not speak the truth?"
Dryden ponders, "How does she know that the ripe pear juices re-energize my muscles? How does she know about Szalays? How does she know I don't have a lot of money?"
While his mind floods with questions, she answers, "Sir, I have great knowledge of thee."
"Have you been talking to my wife? Did she send you here?"
"I have not yet made the acquaintance of thy lovely bride."
"Well then, what on God's earth do you want?"
"I am thy genie," she says with a overly gracious bow, "and I am here to grant thee two wishes."
"That does it, thanks for nothing," and he continues his ride.
He goes about half a mile to his turn-around point, and then decides to ride an extra mile, to distance himself in time and space from this interloper. Then, with trepidation, he heads back down the towpath, gaining speed to reach escape velocity, and re-enter the forest before she can intercept him.
"Not again." He dreads seeing her waving at him, and running toward the towpath. He pedals even faster, and stands up to increase speed. He hears her call his name, but he still keeps pedaling. Then as he is about to pass her by, she throws her entire body across the towpath.
"Oh no!" Bud-dumpy-dump! "Oh my God!" He jumps off his bike, and runs back. "Are you all right?" he says, out of breath.
"Indeed I am. My body has not been bruised or broken by thy bicycle."
"You can't be serious? I am sure I broke something. I'll call 911."
"I responded in truth to thee, I am in no pain." She gets up, brushes her self off, then walks over to collect her hat, gathers her hair on top of her head, and pulls her hat down tight.
"Lady -- genie -- whatever, are you sure you are okay?" He can't believe she is not hurt. He studies her movements, and his fear subsides. The only evidence that he ran over her are the tire marks across the back of her T-shirt. "Okay. Now you've got my attention."
"As I mentioned during our previous encounter, I am thy genie, and I am here to grant thee two wishes."
"You said that before."
"Please sit nearby me. Eat this ripe pear."
"Only for ten minutes," he says sternly, as he notices the coolness of his wet shirt on his chest, and worries that the ride home will be cold and damp.
He takes the pear, squeezes it lightly, and it gives way like a ripe peach. It is just how he likes them.
"Thou will need this towel. 'Tis made of paper, not cloth as it should be."
He loves how the pear juices erupt with the first bite and feed his tired muscles.
"What wish may I grant thee?"
"Aren't you supposed to pop out of a bottle or something? Is this a joke? Sounds like a scam." Dryden rolls his eyes and wrinkles his forehead. He is incredulous.
"Perhaps thou would like coinage since thou has so little. Thou may wish for some."
"That sounds terrific, but totally unbelievable. Let me repeat myself: Why me? And what's in it for you?"
"I would be grateful if thou would address me as Jenné. I have been a member of the Guild of Genies for the last 3,200 years."
"Jenné. Where to do you live? Is anyone looking for you?"
"Sir! I am not lost. I am not a lonely dowager seeking companionship. So what wish may I grant thee? How much gold dost thou expect from me?"
Dryden then recalls the discussion with his wife about being more sensitive of others' feelings -- especially when he is immersed in one of his projects.
"Thy wife speaks rightly! Now tell me how much does thou request?"
"You mean money? And . . . How do you know what I am thinking?" he says sheepishly.
"Indeed I do."
"Okay, I'll take a million dollars. I am going to finish my ride now," he replies and starts to get up.
"I apologize, but the extent of thy wish greatly exceeds my authority."
"Sure, of course, that must be way too much. Let's see, how about a wish that I can have more wishes?"
"Indeed not! A wish asking for more wishes is forbidden by the High Council. It has been deemed a circular wish."
"How about a wish that we will always have enough money."
"That is an incipient circular wish."
"This is going nowhere. I have to go now." He starts to get on his bike. "By the way, I thought genies granted three wishes. I guess I got stuck with a second class genie," he says, and begins to pedal away.
"Thy words have deeply cut my heart," she whimpers and stifles a sniffle. "Why did thou have to utter such a hurtful comment?" Her eyes leak. She dabs her nose and eyes with a paper towel. But her hair gets in the way, and she tries to stuff it back into her hat, and pulls down hard on the brim.
Dryden glances back at Jenné sobbing while standing in the towpath, and realizes he can't leave her while she is so upset. He rides back.
"Sorry. I am frustrated playing this game with you." Dryden is torn between his urge to get home dry before dark, and the possibility that Jenn$eacute;'s stability is uncertain.
Accepting Jenné's hospitality may have led her to believe that he cares for her. He knows the pain inflicted by even mild betrayal, and he knows that he cannot abandon her now. Besides, he never met anyone who seems to read his mind, and her weirdness has piqued his curiosity.
"Dryden, I am not a strange person. I am of sound and sharp mind. And yes, I thought thou did care for me, but thou can re-mount thy bike, and complete the sixty mile ride today, should thou truly want to. Still, I have two wishes for thee."
As he digests Jenné's offer, she continues.
"Now I shall be honest with thee."
"You mean you haven't been honest?"
"Do not vex me further! I've been honest but not open with thee. I chose thee because thou be a goodly person who cares for others, and thou could use some assistance, and I need to help someone so I can get re-moted."
"And what is re-moted -- is it like remote control. Are you under someone's control?"
"No one controls me. I speak for myself. Just grant me thy attention, and thou will understand. About 500 years ago . . ."
Dryden has to remind himself to listen, and stop his critical intrusions.
"I violated genie protocol 3.b.1, paragraph 14: Genies are prohibited from granting circular wishes: a wish that would provide additional wishes. Protocol 3.b.1, paragraph 15: A genie disobeying the previous protocol will be de-moted and wish-granting authority limited for not more than 500 or less than 250 years. I really thought it wouldn't matter."
Dryden says, "So you violated the circular protocol?"
She exhales, "Yes. Well, not exactly. If I grant thee two wishes, the High Council will 're-mote' me to full genie status."
"You granted never-ending wishes to somebody?" he asks.
"I perceive why thee might think so, but I swear to thee that be not the case. The Genie High Council set down rules for all the genies to follow because wish granting had descended into disorganization.
"I came upon a slight lass of no more than nine years, known as Irina -- I shall never forget her dark, clear eyes embedded in wonderful tan-brown face which hosted a toothy smile.
"It was just outside of St. Petersburg in about 1510 AD. Her family was walking to the next town. They were gypsies who got separated from their clan. She carried a small doll made of cloth remnants with a black string for a belt, and a heavy ragged satchel slung over her shoulder. Her father and mother carried everything else they owned on their backs, and her older brother limped along slowly carrying a small bag over his shoulder.
"I waited till she was alone, and met her while she washed clothes. I told her I was her genie, and I had three wishes for her. Without a moment to think, she turned to me and said, "I want a horse and carriage for my father, and five beautiful dresses for my mother, and I want my big brother's leg to get better so he will be able to walk faster."
"So, I granted her three wishes. But since she did not ask anything for herself, I granted her an extra wish. I didn't think it would matter. She said she wanted a house for her whole family to live in, and be happy. I granted her that wish. That extra wish caused quite a commotion at the next meeting of the High Council."
"I am sure it did," Dryden said sarcastically, adding, "Are you feeling a bit dizzy or disoriented?" in a condescending tone.
"Dryden, I shall continue. Every genie knows that the smart ones, like thee, will request a wish that grants more wishes, so we are prepared to deny those. No genie ever granted more than three wishes before, and the High Council had no precedent to instruct them what to do about my extra wish. After debating for 23 years, they decided to charge me with a violation of the circular wish rule. For now, I am permitted to grant only two wishes."
"So, you think you need to grant me two wishes so you can show the High Council that you can be a good genie?" Dryden suggested.
"Thou do seem quite perceptive. But, I know it, I don't think it," she said, "so please immediately tell me thy two wishes."
"Wait. You said you had other limits. Right?"
"Indeed, I can only grant money wishes not greater than $5000. And I can grant one non-monetary wish. However, I still do not have the authority to offer thee a wish for granting world peace, or eliminating world hunger."
"Okay, I will take the $5000."
"With reluctance I cannot proceed. Thou has to make it a real wish following the timeless format of 'I wish for. . .'"
"Can you put it in my checking account?"
"How about half in my checking account and half in my savings account? Can you do that?"
"Indeed!" sounding perturbed she tugs hard on her straw hat.
"Yes, indeed. Thou hast to be specific. Thou will get exactly what thou wish for," Jenné says with exasperation.
"Okay, I wish for $2500 to go into my checking account, and $2500 into my savings account. Do you need the routing numbers? Don't want to mess anything up."
"Oh, thou do ridicule me," She puts her finger on her nose and snaps her head from one side to another and says, "Done!" and her hat flies off, but she catches it before it is swept away by the wind.
"I played along with you, and I want to finish my ride." As he is about to get on his bike he reaches for his cell phone to check his account balance, and thinks, "Oh my god, I am starting to believe her," and pulls his empty hand from his wet pocket.
"Thou will have time to prove that money has appeared in thy bank. Thou have one more wish to request. So what is thy next wish? Would thou wish to ride the entire forty mile towpath round trip, including the three mile hill up Sand Run Parkway -- tomorrow?
"I know all about thy rides. Thou like to ride through the dark green forest along the Cuyahoga River, and imagine thyself to be a mountain man or a Native American portaging his canoe through these forests. Sometimes thou imagine riding alongside Lance Armstrong during the Tour de France. Thou know I could make that happen."
"I'll be able to ride the trail in a couple of weeks," he says, but then an amorphous cloud in his mind stops him cold.
"Sir, remember this be Cleveland, where the weather is controlled by capricious powers. There mightn't be sufficient dry time to build thy stamina. I know it to be true that tomorrow will offer dry weather suitable for a long ride."
Sure, he thinks, I could ride the eighty miles. But how would I feel? Would it mean the same thing? What if I wished for a PhD, and got it? Would that be right? I would have missed the excitement, camaraderie of fellow researchers, long nights and longer days, and riots, tear gas, and of course the revolution in Berkeley.
Dryden gazes toward the canal. His consciousness fishes for answers, then hooks a dilemma. But he is reluctant to reel it in. He needs more time to play the choices.
"Wait, I don't believe this stuff."
"To satisfy thy curiosity please review thy account balance if thou doubt I speak the truth."
He reaches again for his phone, this time pulling it out of his pocket, and flipping it open. "Damn! My phone is dead. It's soaked."
"Thou could consider making a wish that would repair thy phone?"
"Now you're telling me I can wish to ride the towpath round trip, or I can wish to fix my cell phone."
"Well, that's what I want to do," he says brightly.
"I am greatly relieved. Please make thy wish, and I will return from whence I came."
"Okay, I wish . . . for . . . Wait. Let me think about this." His brightness dims.
"What! What more is there to ponder? Quickly, in earnest, give me thy final wish!"
"Don't be so pushy," he says as she interrupts his fishing expedition. "I like to do the work to able to finish this ride, and at my age it takes a lot longer than it did forty years ago. So if I ride the eighty miles without building up to it, I wouldn't feel complete. Besides I can get my phone fixed; it is under warranty. I don't want anything else. Thanks anyway."
"Oh, I am sure thou desire something. Dryden, thou can't merely spurn my gift without remorse. Now make thy wish and be quick!" and poof her hair escapes again.
"Cool down. Remember you made me ride into the canal, and you made me ride over you. You have nothing to be angry about. I should be the one who's angry."
"But all thou need to do is instruct me, and I will regain full status. Thou were just about to request it, and thou stopped. Thou boils my blood with anger," she blurts out while tugging on her hat.
"Making a wish to ride the towpath round trip would make me unhappy. It wouldn't be a good wish for me, would it?"
"Thou speak truly, it would be so," she says with embarrassment.
"So, how would you feel if you granted me a wish that made me unhappy?"
She looks at the ducks' butts again. She turns to Dryden and starts to speak, then returns her gaze to the ducks. She tries one more time, but can't find the words.
Dryden says, "Now it looks like you are a bit confused."
"Yes . . . Uh huh." She still gazes at the ducks.
"Let me know if you want to talk."
"Yes, I would be grateful for thy attention," she says as she stuffs her hair in the bowl again, and grabs its brim with both hands, and pulls down firmly.
"The first genie protocol requires that as a result of our wishes we leave people happier than when we met them."
She begins to tear up again. "If I grant thee a wish that thou don't want, I would be a failure. My status would not improve. After receiving a wish almost everyone is happier. I hadn't met anyone who wasn't. I truly want thee to be happy." Jenné recognized something in her last comment that made her face glow with an open smile.
Dryden notices the change.
"Tis true," she says, "this is what I like best. Thank thee, fine sir," and she bows.
As Dryden smiles at Jenné, a woman emerges from the forest, riding a tandem bicycle alone. Like Jenné, she has a well-brimmed straw hat that is securely attached to her head. She slows down, rides over to Jenné, and gently embraces her. "Sounds like you re-learned what being a genie is all about."
She wipes the sweat from her brow, and takes off her hat, and her hair shoots out in all directions. "We are waiting for your return."
Jenné walks over to Dryden, and gives him a warm hug, and a kiss on the cheek, and whispers, "Thou are truly a special person, and has repaired my wounded heart. Thou still has one more wish. Could I grant thee a wish for something special?"
"Yes, I wish that you are re-moted to full wish granting status."
Jenné's face freezes, and turns white. She begins to cry, then she laughs with such joy that her hat shoots into the air, and lands in the canal.
The lady riding the tandem calls to Jenné. "Come on now. Hurry up. Get on this stupid contraption. I am tired of driving it by myself.
Jenné wipes her eyes, nods to Dryden, gets on the tandem, and rides down the path.
Dryden stands alone by the towpath collecting his thoughts. He tries to replay what just happened. "A real genie? No way; couldn't be; but how did she know so much about me? How could she read my mind?" He looks up as Jenné's image shrinks as she moves further away.
In a few minutes he gets on his bike, and pedals back into the forest where the chill has begun to fill the shadows. But he warms up easily, and arrives at Szalays in an hour.
He nests his bike in the rack, and heads directly for the pears. Great! He finds an extra soft one. On the way to the check-out line he picks up a navel orange, and convinces himself that today he earned it.
As the checkout outline moves forward, he sees a straw hat bob along the top of crowd outside the market. He stretches himself, and leans in every direction to see if he recognizes the hat's owner.
Then the cashier startles him, "Hi, how are you today? Did you find everything you need?"
"That'll be eighty-nine cents, please."
He searches for change in his damp pants pocket, and feels something strange. His cell phone is vibrating.
* * *
Ben would like to recognize the Akron Writers' Group for their criticism and tolerance during the creation of A Wish for Remotion.