art by Steven R. Stewart
The Wishwriter's Wife
by Ian McHugh
In the days when fairies were still to be found in the world, and wishes could come true, there lived a wishwriter and his wife. The wishwriter was a clever man, but plain, and born with a twisted back that made him stoop. His wife was beautiful, gentle and generous, and she loved him just as he was.
The wishwriter was happy, for this was just as he had wished. His wife contented herself that her husband, too, was gentle and generous, and it did not hurt her to love him.
The wishwriter made his living because no matter how many fairies came into a person's possession, they could only ever have one true wish. A wish could only be for a single thing; a person could not wish for fame and fortune, or a beautiful palace and a handsome prince. It could not be an infinite thing--eternal youth or a purse that was always full of gold--or even too large a thing, or the wish would not bind and take.
"It is important for the wish to bind," the wishwriter said, touching his wife's cheek, "otherwise it might fade, or simply vanish.
"And that," he said, "would be heartbreaking."
His wife showed him a smile, and wondered what it would be like to not be bound.
"And a wish cannot make more wishes," the wishwriter said, always pleased to show off his expertise. "So if a person has more than one heart's desire, and many do..." He spread his hands with a self-satisfied grin.
"...they will come to a wishwriter," his wife obliged.
It was the wife's role to greet her husband's clients, and to flatter and fuss over them while--usually--the houseboy ran to fetch the wishwriter from his club or the baths or the gaming house. Then, once he had snuck in the back door and up the servants' stairs, she would take the clients up to his study, where the wishwriter would now be ensconced behind his desk, his features shrouded beneath a scholar's hood.
"It all adds to the air of mystery," he told her, "which is very important in this line of work."
The wishwriter's wife was fascinated by the many heart's desires of the people who sought her husband's services. One day, she might open the door to find a woman clutching a breadbox, inside which was the fairy she had caught raiding her pantry. The woman would tell of her husband, who could no longer ply his trade as a woodcutter since an accident that cost him his arm, and she wished for him to be whole. Yet at the same time she herself was barren and longed for a daughter. Then the wishwriter would send her away for a week, and when she returned he would give her a tiny scroll on which was written: "I wish, I wish, I wish to find at home my delighted husband holding aloft our infant daughter with his two strong arms." The woman would speak the wish, and the fairy would give up its magic and its bright tiny life to make the wish come true.
Or the wife might discover a young boy waiting on the step, who in desperation had traded his father's precious violin to a fairy trapper. The boy's father had been a great composer, but was now deaf, and the boy wished for him to be able to hear and make music again. At the same time, the boy felt himself a disappointment to his father, for he had not inherited his gift for music and, what was more, his father would certainly be furious when he discovered the loss of his violin. After a week, at the appointed time, the boy would return and read aloud his wish, which said: "I wish, I wish, I wish for my father to hear me playing skillfully on the new violin that is the equal of the one I traded." Then the fairy in its little brass cage would turn to sparkling dust, the dust would become his wish, and the boy would race joyfully home clutching his new violin.
The wishwriter always sent people away for a week, although it rarely took him as long as an hour to piece together their various desires into a single wish.
"Most people could write their own wishes," he confided to his wife, "if only they thought a little."
But of course most people did not, and so the wishwriter would send them away for a week. For although he was gentle and generous he was also clever, and knew on which side his bread was buttered.