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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 9 - Erin's Wish

… “How long have you been here?” asked Cory. Mrs. Seraphina pursed her lips and examined the top of her walking stick, as if she were actually calculating the time….

The magical Mrs Seraphina once more makes an entrance – and so too do dozens, scores, hundreds, thousands of donuts.

Elizabeth Varadon’s all-age magical story piles wonder on wonder. To read earlier chapters of the novel please click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

The doughnut shop’s bright yellow light wrapped around them as they came in from the deep blue of late afternoon. This time they sat at one of the window tables. Carefully they went over every bit of Melanie’s conversation with Jenny.

Cory shook his head in disbelief. “We're the only ones who saw all that magic?”

“Weird, man,’ agreed Arthur.

“A rabbit eating a carrot,” Melanie repeated. “And she thinks Mr. Cottler just did a joke trick with the blanket and shoes.”

“Maybe Mrs. Seraphina made a special show just for us.” Erin's face dimpled up. “And we’re the only ones who could see it.” Melanie and the others stared at her.

“Think so?” Cory asked Melanie.

“We’re hallucinating,” Arthur gasped. “No! We’re in this bad dream together. No!” He put his hands to his head. “We're on Elm Street, caught in Freddie Kreuger’s evil web! Auugghh!”

Melanie flipped her hair over her shoulder with one hand, then looked at him again. “You are so pathetic.”

“Pssst. Get your money out and start counting,” said Cory. “Here comes Daisy.” He searched his pockets and came up with two nickels.

“We aren’t supposed to eat anything,” Melanie reminded him.

“Your mom just said not to spoil our appetites.” Arthur fished two dimes and some pennies from his own pocket.

Our appetites. Which meant Arthur was inviting himself to dinner. Melanie gave a sniff. “Nothing could spoil your appetite,” she groused at him. She looked through her purse, finding three more nickels.

“Let me guess,” Daisy grinned, setting down water glasses and looking at the jumble of coins on the table. “You're back for the dollar special.”

“Only,” began Arthur.

“Only what?” Daisy gave him a sharp look.

“We just have, uh, fifty-two cents.”

Her smile faded. “Hey, now, I can’t give our special away! Mr. Jackson and I have a business to run.”

“He’s kidding,” Melanie told her. “We only want two. We'll split them four ways.” She eyeballed Arthur. “We don't want to spoil dinner.”

“Y’all had me going there for a minute.” Daisy winked. “Two crullers coming up.”

As she walked off to get them, Erin whined, “But I want a whole one.”

“You heard what Daisy said. They can’t give them away. Anyway, we only came here to ask Mrs. Seraphina what’s going on.”

“If she comes in,” Cory pointed out.

Melanie pondered that. The way Mrs. Seraphina had kept popping up yesterday, she had felt sure the woman would come into the cafe today. But, what if she didn’t? Mondo—that is, Pete—would be in a mess forever, and they would always wonder about the magic show. Melanie let out a deep, self-pitying sigh. All she had wanted when they started out for the theater yesterday was to see Race to Tomorrow again.

“I wish they could give them away,” said Erin. “I wish they had enough to give all of us a cruller and then give lots of crullers away, like, about....” Her brows puckered. “Five ka-billion, I think.”

“Ka-billion?” Melanie rolled her eyes.

Cory snickered. “What's wrong with ka-billion?”

“Yeah.” Arthur nudged Melanie's foot under the table. “Don’t you know place value?" He grinned. “I wish they had a few ka-billion to give away, too, man. I'm hungry!”

“Not even that many would fill you up!”

“How would you know?” cackled Arthur. “You don't even know your ka-billions.” He and Cory slapped palms.

“One ka-billion, two ka-billion, three ka-billion, four,” they chanted in unison, as if they had rehearsed it.

“Very funny.” Melanie looked at the ceiling, as if she were bored. “You guys are so weird.” But she felt the corners of her mouth twitch. Besides,” she told them, “it's five ka-billion, not four. You can’t even count.” She dipped her fingers in her water glass and sprinkled Arthur in the face and laughed when he opened his mouth in surprise.

Erin looked more and more confused.

“Five ka-billion is a good number,” Melanie assured her. “Probably just the right amount for crullers. Eeek!” She squealed, as Arthur sprinkled her back.

“Hey, you kids!” Daisy called from the kitchen door. “Don't you start making a mess over there, now!”

They calmed down, but Melanie kept giggling. It was the first time she had felt so silly in ages. “I wish we had five ka-billion crullers, too,” she told Erin.

“Yeah,” agreed Cory. “Me too.”

Arthur rubbed his stomach. “Me too. Five ka-billion would just about do it.”

“I think five ka-billion is a fine number, myself.” A familiar, delicate voice floated over to them from the counter. The hairs on Melanie's neck stood up. Arthur’s mouth and Cory’s mouth made identical O’s as they turned. Mrs. Seraphina glided over to their table. “The four of you are coming along nicely,” she said.

“How long have you been here?” asked Cory. Mrs. Seraphina pursed her lips and examined the top of her walking stick, as if she were actually calculating the time.

Daisy came out of the kitchen, her burnished face intent on the two solitary crullers she carried on a plate.

“Why didn't you say anything?” Melanie asked Mrs. Seraphina.

“Ah.” Mrs. Seraphina placed a forefinger on her chin. “I've always felt you learn so much more by listening instead of talking.”

Daisy set the plate in the middle of the table and bestowed a grand smile on her. “My thinking exactly! I tell my grandkids that all the time. But, do you think they listen?”
Both women shook their heads in shared understanding. “Still....” Daisy cocked her head. "They’re only kids, right? They’re gonna find out everything soon enough! Like a menu?" she asked.

“No, thank you, I just stopped by to say hello to my friends.”

“Enjoy your crullers,” Daisy told the silent crowd at the table before she whisked off again to the kitchen.

Melanie looked over at Mrs. Seraphina. “Um, you didn’t.... I mean, like, we weren’t really...."

“That wasn't a real wish,” said Cory.

“No?” Mrs. Seraphina lifted her white fluffy brows. “It sounded like one. You all agreed. It was wonderfully specific—five ka-billion. My, my! And it looks like a real wish too.” She nodded toward the plate where the two crullers had doubled. Now there were four.

“But, you didn’t.... But you didn't blink and stuff,” objected Melanie.

“Just because you were all too busy to see me do it doesn’t mean I didn't.” Mrs. Seraphina leaned over and gave Erin a small orange box. “What will you keep in it?” she asked.

Erin’s eyes shone. “My barrettes.”

“Ah, yes, I remember.”

The four crullers on the plate had become eight. They doubled again. And then it was impossible to tell how many there were, because they were piling up in layers and spilling onto the table. A thick, greasy odor of fried yeast dough filled the air.

At the counter, a heavyset man gave a shout as crullers appeared next to his coffee cup.

A shriek from the kitchen curdled the air. Daisy came running out. “Call the police,” she yelled. “Call the fire department! We have an emergency, call 911!” She clasped her head. “Lord have mercy! Call someone!”

Through the open door, Melanie could see Mr. Jackson in the kitchen in his white apron and tall chef's cap. His dark face wore a look of horror. Crullers leaped out of a pot and piled onto the grill. A cupboard door popped open and more crullers poured out.

“I’ve gotta be seeing things!” The man at the counter rubbed his eyes. Pastries surrounded his cup and saucer. While Melanie watched, there was a rustling, and they multiplied again. He leaped to his feet. “I'm outta here,” he cried and ran out the door.

Arthur and Erin had each grabbed a cruller. Erin looked quite pleased as she chewed hers. Melanie folded her arms and stared accusingly at Mrs. Seraphina’s amused face.

Looking around the shop with wild eyes, Daisy implored to nobody in particular, “What is going on?”

Cory pushed the pile of coins toward her. “It’s still just fifty-two cents,” he apologized. Daisy tore her gaze from the cruller-strewn tables, glanced at the money, and waved him away.

“Never mind, it’s on the house.” Holding a hand to her forehead, she murmured, “I can’t deal with this.” She wandered back into the kitchen and Melanie had caught glimpse of Mr. Jackson swatting at crullers with a spatula.

“Goodness!” Mrs. Seraphina picked up her walking stick from where she had leaned it against the table edge and consulted its top. “I really must be going,” she said in a businesslike tone. “This is such a busy time of year.”

Melanie glared at her retreating figure. “I wish she'd stop that—all that I'm-late-I'm-late stuff.” But Mrs. Seraphina was already at the door, opening it. Her voice drifted back.

“It was a lovely wish, Erin.”

Melanie suddenly realized they hadn't asked about the difference in the magic show Jenny saw. They hadn't asked about how to fix Pete's messed-up magic, either. “Mrs. Seraphina?” she called.

"Yes?" The woman paused and turned.

But instead of the questions she had meant to ask, Melanie found herself saying, “When does this wish, you know...stop?”

“Why....” Mrs. Seraphina smiled and gave a little flutter of her fingers, as if the answer were perfectly clear. “At five ka-billion.”

The door closed and she was gone.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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