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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 10 - Five Ka-billion Crullers

... “Ever wish you could have just one more doughnut?” he boomed. “One more cruller? Well, tonight you're in luck. Here in downtown Sacramento, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson of Daisy’s Do-nuts are giving crullers away!”...

Erin, one of the McCormick children, has used a wish to magic up five ka-billion crullers, and now, to the delight of the citizens of Sacramento, these are being offered for free.

To read Eliabeth Varadon's magical story from the beginning click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

“What a mess,” said Melanie, as a cruller fell into her lap. The odor of fried dough and cinnamon made her feel dizzy.

The door opened again, and cold air whiffled over to them. A woman entered, wheeling a stroller. A little girl in red corduroy overalls peered out, her dark eyes widening at the spectacle in the shop.

“What’s all this?” The woman gazed in astonishment at the pastries heaped everywhere.

Daisy came out of the kitchen, carrying another large platter. She set it down on a table, shaking her head and muttering. The toddler clapped her hands and made a gurgling sound as the treats rustled and twitched, multiplying. Daisy’s eyes lit up.

“Free crullers,” she told them. “All you can eat.”

“No kidding! Did you hear that, honey?” the mother said.

“It’s our Christmas Special.” Daisy's eyes grew brighter. She grinned. “That’s it!” she yelped. She rushed to the phone near the cash register. “Tell all your friends,” she called over her shoulder. She started flipping through pages of the phone book.

The mother sat down and took two crullers from a platter, giving one to her daughter. She glanced around the shop. Melanie saw the crullers rustle again. Daisy dropped the phone book, dashed into the kitchen, and came out with stacks of paper bags that she placed on the counter and on tables. Mr. Jackson followed her out with another full plate and made a place for it on the counter, his coffee-colored face rippling with emotion.

“Take all you want,” Daisy urged the mother. She hurried back to the phone.

“All you can eat?” Cory grinned at Arthur. Each of them grabbed a bag and began scooping up crullers.

“C’mon, you guys,” said Melanie. “Let's go.”

But they wouldn’t leave until she and Erin filled two bags of their own.

As they went out the door, Daisy's excited voice was saying, “Hello? Information? Can you give me the number for Channel Fourteen? Uh-huh, that's right, KZXT.” The door closed behind them.

Erin gave a little skip. “Daisy’s going to be on TV! My wish is going to make her famous!”

“Now what?” Melanie asked the others. “We didn’t fix a thing!”

The sky was growing dusky. Porch lights were blinking on, and the street lamp outside the door cast a yellow halo over the wet sidewalk. Their arms filled with bags of crullers, they all trudged toward Tenth Street.

“Pete is still stuck driving a taxi,” Melanie fussed. “He can’t do magic. We don't know how much five ka-billion is. That Mrs. Seraphina! What are we supposed to do now?”

“Wait for five ka-billion,” said Arthur. They reached the corner.

“And then what? Every wish has gone wrong so far.”

“I guess it's up to me to fix things.”

Melanie fluttered her eyelids. “Like, your wish would be so great.”

The light changed and they started across V Street.

“It would,” Arthur said. “It will.” He gave her a superior smile. I already know what I'm going to wish."

“What?”

“An iPod, a Go-Cart... and three more wishes!” He cackled, then did a little shuffle and hop at the curb.

“Cool!” said Cory. “Way cool!” He sneezed. “I wish I’d thought of that.”

“It figures you’d wish a bunch of things for yourself,” said Melanie.

“Well, that's what the three more wishes are for, Scorpion Queen! I can still wish something for Pete. Two somethings, in fact. And then I can wish for three more wishes. It’s brilliant. Admit it.”

“Do you really think it could work that way?” Melanie felt a grudging admiration in spite of herself.

“I might even make a wish for you,” Arthur said. “Fix up your personality a little. Try and make you nice. Although, hmmm....” He gave her a pitying look. “Probably not even Mrs. Seraphina could do that.”

“Save that wish for yourself!” Melanie retorted. “It would take all three wishes to fix your personality. Besides,” she added, “We’ve already had three wishes. What makes you think we get another one?”

“There’s four of us,” he said. “I’ve been in on every other wish. I’ve had to agree. It figures the next one's mine.” They had reached the rooming house. He started up the steps. “I’ll just be a minute. I need to let Dad know where I am.”

“It’s dinnertime,” Melanie observed. “He’ll know.”

But Arthur was too busy juggling his bags of crullers and getting the door open to answer. The screen door banged behind him. Melanie had a glimpse of him pushing the front door shut with his foot before the latch clicked. There was a stumbling, scrambling sound from the other side, then the crash of something breaking and Arthur's voice saying “Oops!”

“It would take five ka-billion wishes to fix him,” she told Cory.

* * *

At six o'clock, Mrs. McCormick turned on the TV to watch the evening news. Cory and Arthur drifted into the living room, leaving the girls to finish the dinner dishes. Crullers were piled in plates on the table and on the counter. The breadbox and the cookie jar on top of the refrigerator were filled with them. Melanie had told her mother Daisy was having a special to get free advertising.

“Mom,” she called now, “make Cory come back and put things away. It isn’t fair. Why do we have to do everything?”

“Cory,” her mother’s voice floated from the living room.

“Aw, Mom.”

“Don't Aw-Mom me, Cory.”

He returned to the kitchen and started putting silverware noisily into the drawer after Erin dried it. The three of them rushed through cleanup as quickly as they could and joined Arthur, cross-legged, in front of the TV.

“Anything interesting?” asked Melanie.

“Nope.”

“Nothing?”

“Nope.”

Mrs. McCormick looked up from the skirt she was mending. “I guess a kidnapped ambassador isn't very interesting these days.”

No one answered. They waited through the national news. Then the local news came on. The anchor woman said, “And now, in the heart of the River City, a story to warm your heart. We go to Ken Atwood....”

“Oohh!” Erin grabbed Melanie's arm.

The familiar shop and its sign, DAISY’S DO-NUTS, had just loomed into view. Over the plate glass window a new sign promised FREE CRULLERS—ALL YOU CAN EAT. A crowd had gathered outside the shop. Voices buzzed. Ken Atwood, a thirty-ish man with a square jaw and a thatch of brindle hair, stood at the open doorway, holding a microphone. He grinned goodwill into the camera.

“Ever wish you could have just one more doughnut?” he boomed. “One more cruller? Well, tonight you're in luck. Here in downtown Sacramento, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson of Daisy’s Do-nuts are giving crullers away!”

The camera zoomed in for a close-up of Daisy and her husband inside the doorway, both wreathed in smiles.

“Well, look at that!” marveled Mrs. McCormick. Cory sneezed. “Bless you,” she said.

Mr. Jackson clutched a slotted spoon in one hand. Daisy pinched nervously at her flowered uniform. In the background, tables were littered with plates of crullers and stacks of paper bags. Melanie noticed there was no movement on any of the platters. She wondered if the crullers were still multiplying in the kitchen. Maybe they were leveling off.

“The Jacksons have struggled for years to make a go of their little cafe in this downtown neighborhood of old homes and historic buildings.” Ken Atwood managed to say all this around his steady grin.

Mr. Jackson suddenly dashed back to the kitchen and re-emerged with another plate of crullers, setting it on a small table by the door as the reporter continued.

“Today, in recognition of this season of giving, they've declared an all-you-can-eat special. They're giving away free crullers. The shop will stay open until midnight for this event! So…stop by before they run out.” With a flourish, Ken took a pastry from the table, bit into it, and closed his eyes, chewing. “Mmmm.... Delicious!”

Daisy beamed. “It’s Mr. Jackson's special recipe.”

“That is just so wonderful of the Jacksons,” said Melanie's mother.

“And, guess what?” Erin happily sighed. “It’s because….’

“Shhhh," Melanie hissed. “I want to hear what Daisy’s saying, don’t you?” She gave her sister a long look. Cory sneezed again.

On the news, Ken asked, “Mrs. Jackson?”

She smiled. “Everyone calls me Daisy.

“For Daisy’s Do-nuts?”

“That’s right.”

“Daisy, you've had to work hard all these years.”

“Yes, we have.” Her face turned serious.

“And yet, here you are, giving away free doughnuts.”

“Crullers.”

“Crullers, yes. How do you do it?” Ken asked. A funny look came over Daisy’s face. “How do you manage to be so generous?” The reporter held out the microphone for her answer.

“Well, uh....” Daisy looked down. “It's...kind of a secret.”

“Not anymore.” He chuckled. “It’s no secret you have a heart of gold!”

Daisy chewed her lip thoughtfully. “We might have a little help,” she admitted. Her husband rushed out with another platter of crullers.

“I notice your husband goes at top speed,” laughed Ken. “You could say he's cooking up a storm!” Mr. Jackson raced back into the kitchen. “How does he cook them up so fast?”

“Maybe we have a ghost,” Daisy said slowly, as if thinking out loud.

The reporter’s eyes bugged a little. “Excuse me?”

“When we bought this place, the former owner said...and some of the neighbors, too.... Well, there were rumors that this building is haunted.”

“Haunted!”

“That must be it.” Daisy gave a satisfied nod, as if a mystery had been settled for her.

Ken chortled. “Maybe the spirit of Christmas, who knows?” Quickly he boomed into the microphone, “And there you have it, folks. A Merry Christmas ghost? Or just the spirit of Christmas? One thing's clear. It’s the spirit of generosity for this hardworking couple to share what they have with the community!

“And now....” He paused. “Back to our studio. Betty-Ellen, what kind of weather is shaping up for us?”

“Not good, Ken!” In the studio, Betty-Ellen tossed her blond hair. She tapped a giant map of California with a long pointer. “Speaking of cooking up a storm, the forecast is snow in Sacramento tomorrow!”

“Snow!” Melanie exclaimed. She had never seen snow. As far as she could remember, it had never snowed in Sacramento. She imagined huge drifts of it, fluffy banks of white that she had only read about.

“Snow?” said Arthur. “That’s tight!”

“Mommy, can I go over to Gloria’s and make a snowman?” asked Erin. Gloria Rodriguez was in Erin’s kindergarten class. Her family lived in the tall Victorian next door to the McCormicks’ apartment building.

“We can make snowballs!” Cory's face brightened. He sneezed again.

“You’re not making anything with all that sneezing,” said his mother. “It’s bad enough that Elsie is out with the flu at the restaurant. I don’t want to come home to it. Tomorrow you don’t put a toe outside this building,” she told Cory.

“That’s not fair!” He thrust his chin toward Melanie and Erin. “Do they get to put a toe out?”

“You all need to stay inside.”

“That’s not fair,” protested Melanie. “I wanted to go Christmas shopping!” Her mother took in a long, deep breath and put her sewing down, getting ready to answer.

“With Erin,” Melanie added.

“Someone needs to look in on Cory.”

“We can be back by lunch.”

Her mother looked dubious, then sighed. “Well, I suppose.... If you’re back by lunch....”

“Man, tomorrow is going to be dead,” Arthur grumped.

“You can come over and watch TV with me,” offered Cory.

“And get sick? No thanks, I'll find something to do.” Arthur propped his chin on his palms, his elbows on his knees, thinking.

Melanie thought of their earlier conversation. Maybe Arthur was right about a fourth wish. But, what if those first three wishes had been McCormick wishes? What if the fourth one was a Hensley wish, and they didn't have to be with him? What if all Arthur had to do was say they agreed? She could picture Arthur going off on his own tomorrow to find Mrs. Seraphina. And if he found her, it would be just like him to ask for that iPod and Go-Cart and something else for himself.

“Do you want to come shopping with us?” she asked.

He looked up in surprise. After twiddling his fingers on his knee a moment, he said, “Okay.”

Cory stared as if they had both betrayed him. Then his eyes glazed over as his brain got busy. A crafty look came over his face.

“Good idea.” He gave Melanie a knowing nod. To Arthur, he said, "You probably didn't even buy my present yet.” Arthur shrugged.

“We can ride in on the bus with you, Mom,” said Melanie. Her mother looked relieved, and Melanie could guess why. It meant Arthur wouldn't get Cory to go out someplace with him as soon as she left the apartment.

“How early do you leave?” Arthur asked Mrs. McCormick.

“No later than eight-fifteen.”

He crossed his eyes.

“I have to be at work by nine,” she pointed out.

“The stores won't even be open,” he told Melanie.

‘Yes, they will. Lots of places will. It's vacation.”

“I guess I might as well,” he grumbled. “There’s nothing else to do around here, that’s for sure.”

"Good." Melanie sat back against the sofa, circling her arms around her knees. Tomorrow she could get most of her shopping done and keep an eye on Arthur. By Tuesday Cory should be better and they could all go looking for Mrs. Seraphina. It had all worked out so easily.

But, as she was to remind herself the next morning, nothing ever worked out easily if Arthur was involved.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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