He walked along the beach, shivering a little in the chilly spring wind that blew off the channel. He was supposed to be ruminating about his next steps in this brand new life, but all he could think about was how nice it would be to sink into the hot tub in the new place. His shoes were full of sand and his hands were freezing, even tucked into his jeans pockets. He looked out onto the choppy water, and his loneliness engulfed him.
He’d always been lonely. He often wondered why he wasn’t used to it by now. He’d spent his entire adult life waiting for the perfect woman, stubbornly not settling; nope – one annoying habit, one sarcastic remark, one little argument, and the girl-of-the-moment lost any chance she might have had to become Mrs John Dunster. The only person still willing to play cupid to his heart was his sister, Felicity, and now he swore under his breath at her for talking him into moving here.
“It’s a new start, John,” she had said to him. “I’ve found the perfect house for you. It’s a nice little town, and I’m here. What a bonus for you!”
“Yeah, now you can fix my life face to face instead of over the phone.”
“Stop it. You need change. Big change. You have no job now, and you have to fill up your time with something. Fill it up with something new.”
And that was the big difference between them. Felicity was always moving faster than everybody else; a new house every two years, a new career every five. The only thing she kept from one new version of Felicity to the next was the same old husband, whom she loved dearly, probably because he sat still and let her run everything.
Felicity’s latest big career change had put her into real estate, and she threw herself into it with her usual passion, flipping houses up and down the coast, and raking in money and prestige all along the way. She was also the first to admit that she would tire of it eventually, and find a new passion. She could never understand how her brother never got bored with geology. When he started teaching at the university, he considered it a huge change from being in the field, or in the lab.
“Yes, but John, it’s still geology! You’re still staring at rocks. Now you’re teaching other promising human minds to spend their time staring at rocks. A career should be challenging. Yours is boring. Admit it.”
John found geology anything but boring. Although it didn’t exactly set him on fire, he found his studies, then working in the field, and finally, his lab work to be comforting. Geology was an interesting pursuit, and it suited him. When he got the chance to teach, he jumped at it. He loved teaching, and when he finally gave up his search for that perfect woman, his students made up for his disappointment. He would have been content to teach until he died. And then the money for his program ran out. He took the settlement offered, and that, along with his investments, and the money his parents had left him, allowed him to stay home for the time being, and mope about his loss.
When Felicity insisted he buy the house she’d found for him, and pull up stakes and move to a teeny-tiny coastal town to start over, it seemed like a good idea. There was nothing left for him where he was, but to stare at the University every time he drove by it, and feel sorry for himself.
Now that he was here, though, he felt more lost and lonely than ever. He hadn’t made any friends, a fact that didn’t particularly surprise him, really, but there wasn’t anything to occupy his time. He wasn’t used to the whole town closing down at six o’clock in the evening. “The whole town” consisted of a barber’s shop, the post office, a gas station, a five-and-dime, a grocery store, a bakery, and a dusty bowling alley sporting three warped lanes. The only venues open on Saturdays were the bowling alley and the bar that operated on the floor above it. He spent most of his evenings after supper strolling on the beach just below his new house.
And that’s where he was, freezing, hands in his pockets when he tripped over the rest of his life.
The toe of his sneaker caught on something in the sand, and down he went on his nose, unable to pull his hands out of his pockets in time to catch himself. He lay there, staring at an out-of-focus shiny something poking up out of the sand, knowing that his nose was bleeding, and wondering why he couldn’t raise himself up to a sitting position.
“What is that?” he said out loud and tried to reach out and touch it. That’s when he realized his hands were still in his pockets and rolled onto his back to free them. He sat up and stared at the shiny thing.
“You had better be a magic lamp,” he said to it, poking at his nose and wincing. Blood dripped down his jacket in copious amounts. He reached over and brushed sand from the thing he’d tripped over, and started to laugh. Half buried in the sand, it certainly looked like a magic lamp, the kind of lamp that a genie might pop out of when it was polished and wished upon. He grabbed it by the protruding end and shifted it back and forth, working it free of the beach that buried it. When he finally pulled it free and held it in his hands, he laughed out loud again.
“You are a magic lamp, aren’t you?” It seemed perfectly natural for him to speak to the lamp, even though it didn’t answer.
“Do you have a genie in there?” he asked it. He rubbed the lamp with the sleeve of his jacket, half-expecting a genie to really materialize out of it, engulfed in a hazy mist of green smoke, and was almost surprised when nothing happened.
“Ah! Of course. I’m supposed to make a wish, aren’t I?” He closed his eyes and smiled. He rubbed the lamp again, wishing very hard; I want The Perfect Woman to come into my life.
He opened his eyes slowly and looked up and down the beach. No woman, real or imagined, perfect or otherwise, walked toward him. The beach was empty. He thought he should feel disappointed, but surprisingly, he felt rather hopeful. He stood up and held the lamp between his hands. He shook it.
“Hey. Where’s my woman?” He laughed again, and cradling the lamp in the crook of his arm, he started up the beach to his driveway.
“I hope you’re not broken,” he said to the lamp. “I’m going to take you to my brother-in-law. He’ll know.”