The Good Fairy, by Ed Ahern
First published in Stupefying Stories.
Bartholomew didn’t like to drink, which is why ordering took a while.
He’d found a bar with long lost pretensions and marginal cleanliness, then found a stool in what he hoped was an unpopular section next to the bathrooms. Bartholomew wanted to wallow in depression and loneliness, and understood that bars were good places to foster both qualities.
“Um, maybe a rum and coke? No- too much sugar and caffeine. Scratch that. Gin and tonic? I hate the taste of juniper. Vodka tonic, that’s it, vodka tonic.”
“Whatever.” The bartender sagged pretty much all over, cheeks, jowls, arms, belly. Bartholomew suspected that the man’s ass sagged as well. The shot was poured with sloppy indifference and the glass overfilled from a multi-mixer dispenser. It tasted like rubbing alcohol. Perfect, Bartholomew thought, I can go blind as well.
He lifted the glass and sourly toasted himself. Men lost their wives half the time, lost their jobs a few times over a career, and lost their health a little while before dying. But he’d won the trifecta and would get to die relatively soon, broke and alone.
A woman plopped down on the bar stool next to him. She could have been the bartender’s spouse. Once clearly buxom, she’d gaunted down to an archetype for malnourishment.
“Vodka tonic, Harry.” Drink in hand she swiveled a quarter turn to stare at Bartholomew. Her face, originally attractively delicate, had coarsened into middle-aged rubble. When she opened her mouth again to speak, Bartholomew noticed missing and discolored teeth.
“Tastes like shit, doesn’t it?” She cocked her head toward him. “Feeling sorry for ourselves, are we?”
Just perfect, he thought. I want solitude and get the wicked witch of the east.
“Not a witch, dearie, a fairy.”
“Call me Laila. Hard to believe now, but I once looked like your favorite aunt, and handed out wishes like a whore offers out sexual favors.”
Bartholomew shrugged. A demented crone was just the right capper for his day.
“Laila, why aren’t you still cherubic and happy? Giving people their hearts’ desire should make you smug.”
“Not so much. Forcing someone into a relationship in order to satisfy the wisher’s infatuation inflicts pain. Ditto for money. It has to be stolen from someone else to provide the requested riches. Often from people who starve without it. Nothing is free.
“The wishers’ pleasures are usually transient, but the pain and suffering they cause is permanent, and tears me up. I developed some bad habits trying to cope- booze, crack, crystal meth. Still got ‘em.
“I’m here because you unwittingly called for me. But you need to think things through. Your job sucked. You knew it, you were just too timid to leave it. You haven’t felt anything for your wife in over a year, but didn’t want to give up the subsistence sex that passed for affection. You’re for sure going to die, just a little sooner rather than later.”
The ravaged woman seemed to glow, not with the pearly white luminescence Bartholomew had imagined for fairies, but with the distorted tints of a cheap motel sign. “Anyway, I can give you three wishes if you really think you’re worth what it’ll cost other people. You called me, and it’s still your call.”
The woman’s eyes were bleary, but held a soft vulnerability. She’d suffer with his demands.
Bartholomew stared at the drink he didn’t like and put it down. “Harry, I need to settle up. Here’s enough to buy her another couple drinks.” He leaned forward into the ruts and gullies of the woman’s face so he could whisper. “Laila, I think I should say thank you, but I’m not sure why. Keep the wishes. I know my problems, maybe I’m even comfortable with them. I don’t think I want to handle the problems your wishes would bring.”
She smiled, and Bartholomew saw how beautiful she’d been when wishes were innocent and the future didn’t exist. He slid off the bar stool and left before the image could fade.
Resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. Original wife, but after forty five years we are both out of warranty. Have had forty seven stories published so far, most also reprinted. Web site: swampgasworks.com