art by Liz Clarke
by Andrew Kaye
I unscrewed the bulb from the lamp. It rattled. "It's dead."
"What's dead?" my daughter asked.
I held the base between my thumb and forefinger, lightly shaking it to let her hear the tiny, metallic sound within. The glass was singed and clouded, obscuring the shriveled object tumbling around inside. "The genie in the light bulb died," I said, gently pressing it into her tiny hands. She cradled it like an egg.
"A genie died?"
I smiled. She was old enough to know our appliances were genie powered, but too young to know the specifics. Her knowledge of genies came from what I had told her about King Solomon in the Bible, or from the journal entries of Scheherazade I read at her bedside. And she knew vague details about Benjamin Franklin and his famous experiment, but public schools didn't teach much history at her age. "I'm afraid light bulb genies don't last more than four or five months," I said, rummaging around the drawer beneath the microwave. "And we're out of spare bulbs. We should buy more. Would you like to come to the store with me?"
She shrugged. I asked her to throw the bulb away, but she insisted it be wrapped in newspaper and placed in an empty box. She lowered the makeshift coffin into the trash bin as carefully as she could. I didn't interrupt, only watched, smiling gently.
I let her tell me when it was okay to leave.
"Are there genies in the car?"
I nodded. "One in the battery. One in the dashboard display. One in every light bulb. The engine runs on gasoline, but it's the genie in the battery that starts it when I turn the key."
She sat there quietly for the first half of the drive. Every now and then I peered into the rearview mirror to watch her listen to the rumble of the engine and the click of the turn signals, as if she was waiting for the voices of trapped genies to suddenly materialize.