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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 2 - Mrs Seraphina

Eleven-year-old Melanie McCormick has to baby-sit her brother, Cory, and their little sister, Erin. She persuades them to go to a magic show at the Majestic Theater so she can see her film idol’s new movie. Arthur Hensley, their pesky neighbor, joins them, and the day is set for disaster.

On the way they meet Mrs Seraphina, who, puzzlingly, knows all their names.

Has Mrs Seraphina the power to grant wishes?

Here is Chapter 2 of Elizabeth Varadan's splendid story The Fourth Wish. On reaching the final sentence of this episode you will be longing to read Chapter 3, which will be posted in Open Writing next Sunday.


“I want to thank you, Cory,” Mrs Seraphina said. “All of you, in fact.”

“That’s okay,” Cory mumbled. He pulled back the hood of his parka, then ran a hand over his bleached hair, the way he did when he was embarrassed. “It was my Scout deed,” he said.

“Good deeds deserve a reward.”

“Oh, we don’t need a reward,” Melanie said quickly. The woman was so oddly dressed. Maybe she was a bag lady and couldn't really afford things like rewards.

“I always reward good deeds.” Mrs. Seraphina’s delicate voice sounded surprisingly firm.

“What’s in those boxes?” Erin pointed at one of the small orange rectangles peeping out of the bag. “They’re pretty.”

“We should get going,” Melanie reminded everyone. “It's three more blocks. We’re going to be late.” No one was listening.

“What would you put in one of these pretty boxes, Erin?” asked Mrs. Seraphina. Melanie’s neck prickled. First Cory’s name, now Erin’s. She looked quickly at the others, but they seemed more interested in Mrs. Seraphina’s question.

“I could put barrettes in them.” Erin put her finger in her mouth and gave Mrs. Seraphina a shy smile.

Maybe, Melanie puzzled, the woman had eaten at Soup du Jour once. Their mother liked to talk to customers; that’s why she was a popular waitress. They might have by come the restaurant the day Mrs. Seraphina was having lunch, and their mother pointed them out through the window. Here they come now, that’s Cory, that’s Erin....

“I keep wishes in these boxes,” said Mrs. Seraphina. “One box for each wish. Of course, once a wish goes on its way, you can store anything you like, even when the wish comes home. They always do, you know. But, barrettes would do just fine.”

There was a long silence. Erin looked thrilled. The boys exchanged fleeting, embarrassed smiles. Mrs. Seraphina turned to Cory.

“Since you started this good deed, what will you keep in your box?”

“Huh?”

“After your wish,” she prodded.

“My wish? Um....” Cory put a hand over his mouth and made a choking sound, staring at his feet. Mrs. Seraphina waited.

“He’d probably keep Scout badges or detective badges in it,” said Melanie to be polite. The poor woman must be a little crazy to ask a question like that.

“It sounds like you can use a box, Cory,” said Mrs Seraphina. She took one out of the bag.

Cory’s face fell. “That's my reward?”

“After you make your wish.” Mrs Seraphina's mouth stretched into a long curve of a smile that looked downright crafty.

Into the new silence Melanie said, “Well, we really have to get going.” She took Erin's hand. “You don't want to miss the magic show. C’mon,” she told the others.

“Magic show!” cried Mrs Seraphina. "Oh, I love magic.”

“And guess what,” trilled Erin. “It's real magic. Because, you know what? The Great Mondo can read minds and pull rabbits out of his hat.”

“Is that right?”

"Mm-hmm," Erin nodded. “He can even make people float.”
Cory laughed. “That's his act, Erin. He doesn't do real magic.” Erin’s mouth quivered.

“Yes, he does,” she told him in a watery voice. “Melanie said.”

“Those are things the ad said he’d do,” Melanie told Erin. “But, even if Mondo can't do real magic, it's still going to be a lot of f….”

Erin burst into tears.

Melanie folded her arms, twiddling her fingers and glowering at her brother. “Thanks, Cory!”

“So, it's only tricks,” Arthur said to Erin. “So it's still a magic show.” Erin cried even harder.

Cory looked at Melanie, reddening, his face awash with guilt, then bent toward Erin, hands on his knees. But, Erin covered her eyes with her hands and kept bawling.

“Look, Erin,” Cory wheedled, “I wish Mondo could do real magic. I wish he could read minds and pull rabbits out of his hat and make people float, but he can't, okay?”

“Yeah, I wish he could too.” Arthur stuffed his hands in his pockets, a crooked smile on his face. "That’d be so cool!”

Melanie fluttered her eyelids. She might have known something like this would happen. She looked up the street where the Great Mondo was supposed to astound them with his powers—if they got there in time for his show. They could be there now if it wasn't for Mrs Seraphina.

Mrs Seraphina simply stood there, one hand on her walking stick, the other holding the little orange box, while she quietly studied them with a half-smile Melanie found unnerving.

“All of that, Cory?” asked Mrs Seraphina. “Read minds, pull rabbits from hats, make people float? Is that your wish?”

“Huh?” said Cory.

Erin looked up. Her sobs faded to a whimper. She wiped her nose on her red jacket sleeve. Melanie looked at Cory. Cory looked at Arthur. Arthur wiggled his eyebrows. All three of them burst into sudden smiles as the solution to Erin's crying became clear.

“Sure.” Cory grinned. “That's my wish.”

“You all have to agree,” said Mrs Seraphina.

Cory nodded; so did Arthur. Watching them swallow their laughter, Melanie hoped her own face was more solemn.

“We agree,” she said.

“Very well.” Mrs Seraphina drew herself up, closed her eyes, and knit her bushy white brows together, concentrating. She wore a strange air of authority, as if she really did have the ability to make something happen. Then she opened her eyes and blinked.

“That’ll do," she told them.

“Shouldn't you have said Presto, or something?” asked Arthur.

Even Melanie was disappointed that Mrs Seraphina hadn't made it more dramatic for Erin’s sake.

“Oh, we never say Presto, or any of that nonsense.” Mrs. Seraphina gave a disdainful shake of her head. “That’s for amateurs”. She peered at the top of her walking stick and made a clucking sound with her tongue, as if she had read something there. “Goodness, I’d better get going. And so should you,” she cautioned, “if you don't want to miss The Great Mondo.”

Arthur snickered and punched Cory’s shoulder. “Yeah, man, we don't want to miss The Great Mondo.” Both of them smirked.

“Because Mondo can do all those things," Melanie reminded Erin after glaring at them. “Read minds....”

“Some minds,” Mrs Seraphina cautioned. “Not all. That would overwhelm him. Oh! I'm so forgetful sometimes....” She handed Cory his box. “For when your wish comes home. You might not see it, but it will be in there, with plenty of room for your badges.”

“Thanks.” Cory looked away. Melanie could tell he was swallowing another laugh.

“Hey!” Arthur studied his watch, oversized like everything else he wore. “We have five minutes,” he announced, “to run three blocks.”

He and Cory took off. Erin's matchstick legs flashed as she tried to keep up with them, the hood of her jacket bobbing from side to side. Even though Melanie had wanted to leave sooner, it seemed rude to rush away without even saying goodbye. She hung back a moment and said, “That was nice of you to help us make Erin stop crying.”

“It was an interesting wish,” said Mrs Seraphina. “He might have put more thought into it, but....” Her eyes took on a veiled look. “Yes, it was an interesting wish.”

Melanie’s neck prickled again, and she gave an uneasy laugh. “Well, um... it was nice to meet you. Bye,” she said. She started jogging to catch up with the others. “Have a nice day,” she called over her shoulder, remembering her mother's pet phrase.

“Oh, yes. I usually do.” The woman’s voice floated back to her quite clearly. “I'm sure we'll meet again.”

A little shiver ran through Melanie at that, but she kept running. When she reached the others at the next corner where they waited for the light, she stopped for a quick breath and looked back.

But, Mrs Seraphina had already disappeared.


© Elizabeth Varadan 2006

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