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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 13 - An Unexpected Encounter

The children catch a brief glimpse of the mysterious Mrs Seraphina, then they receive surprising news from Pete Garrity the taxi driver...

Elizabeth Varadan's novel for children of all ages is a sympathetic blend of magic and the effects of a marriage break-up on children. Start reading the story, and you will want to go on and on... Please click on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page to begin at the beginning.

As the bus made its way along Eighth Street, Melanie stared glumly out the window. She would have liked to read that letter. She would have liked to just rip open the envelope and find out the worst. But no, she had to be responsible, as usual, and make sure everyone else did the right thing.

Next to her, Erin was swinging her feet, kicking the empty seat ahead, all worries forgotten. Melanie wished she had an older sister who could be stuck with everything—someone else for her mother to remind and for Cory to argue with. Then she could be carefree. Outside, the ribbon-wrapped lampposts looked like giant peppermint sticks, but Melanie didn’t bother to point that out to Erin like she normally would have.

Behind them Arthur whistled tunelessly. He kept popping his knuckles. Finally he said, “Anyone wanna hear a good joke?”

“Not really.” Melanie said. She stared moodily at Erin, who kept swinging her feet.

“Hey, I know how you feel about your father being gone and everything.”

Melanie turned around in surprise.

“It’s like when my mother died,” Arthur said. “For a long time I didn’t believe she was really gone. I kept expecting her to come back.”

His words were oddly comforting. That was how Melanie felt about the divorce. Even now, she’d catch herself expecting her parents to change their minds.

“It was like my mom must still be in another room somewhere in the hospital,” Arthur mused. “You know. Not really dead from the crash. I kept thinking the doctors would find out they’d made a mistake, and when my father came home from the hospital, she’d be with him. Like, maybe a miracle would happen. Really dumb, huh?” he muttered. He popped his knuckles again.

“It isn’t dumb at all,” said Melanie. It was just the way she had felt. Even after the divorce was final, she had nursed a secret hope that it was still only a separation, that the papers hadn’t meant anything permanent. “It’s the forever-ness that’s so horrible, isn’t it?” she said.

He nodded, then started glancing around the bus as if he were reading ads above the windows.

Melanie turned back around, jabbed by guilt. Never once in all these years had she considered how Arthur felt about his mother being dead. When her family moved into the apartment building, she had been a little older than Erin. Across the alley, Arthur and his father and their landlady were just new neighbors in a new neighborhood.

Arthur had been a real pest, too, right from the beginning. He had emptied a bucket of water over Cory in the alley soon after they met—because, he said, it was funny in a cartoon he’d seen. Now the realization hit Melanie. His mother had been killed just a few months before that.

“That’s our stop,” said Arthur. He gave a little tug on one of Erin’s ponytails. They all got off and walked the short block to the mall’s Seventh Street entrance.

“Can we go to The Disney Store first?” asked Erin, as they passed the revolving guitar outside the Hard Rock Café. Melanie nodded.

“You wanna hear something really weird?” said Arthur, as they ambled along. “When you moved next door and your mom started inviting me over, I used to kind of pretend she was my new mom.” He gave a crooked grin.

Melanie stared. “You’re kidding.”

“Sort of a cross between an aunt and a mom, it’s hard to explain. But sometimes, when your dad was on a trip, I’d kind of pretend she was, oh, my step-mom, I guess.”

Melanie couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

“See, you all looked like this big happy family,” he went on. “I mean, I’m happy with my dad, he’s okay, but….”

“April fool!” said Melanie. Her voice cracked a little. “See what a big happy family we turned out to be?”

“You’re happier than you know,” he said. “You still have your mom.”

For a scary moment, as they walked toward the store, Melanie tried to imagine what it would be like if something happened to her mother. A shudder ran through her.

“When your parents first broke up," said Arthur, in a cheerier tone, “I thought about trying to get my dad and your mom together, like in The Parent Trap. I mean, I know they were never, like… married to each other, but….” It must have been the look on Melanie’s face that stopped him. “Never mind,” he said.

In The Disney Store, Erin started oohing and ahhing over some green canteens shaped like seahorses with pink smiling lips and large blue eyes painted on their horsy faces.

Melanie pondered life with Arthur as a stepbrother. Part of her wanted to say, “You don’t need t o get our parents together. You’re at our place all the time anyway.” Instead she said, “No offense, Arthur, but, I just want my own dad back.”

“I told you it was weird.” Arthur stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets. “I’d never think that way now. Besides, then you’d be my sister, and I’d probably have to end up baby-sitting you.”

“Baby-sitting me!” Melanie sputtered.

“C’mon, Erin,” he said, snickering. “Let’s go look at those Goofy slippers.”

Melanie took one of the green seahorse canteens to the cash register, still fuming. That Arthur!

Next they went to The Gamekeeper where Arthur found an Egyptian picture puzzle for his father. “His next mystery is in Egypt,” he explained.

By the time they had been to Kay-Bee Toys, Sun Coast Videos, and The Home Store, Melanie was in a holiday mood. They stood at the rotunda rail, arms full of packages, watching the shoppers below. Erin sucked on a peppermint cane.

Melanie’s thoughts drifted to Bill Drexel. Remembering Arthur’s idea, she poked him with her elbow. “Do you think Mrs. Seraphina really would let you have a first wish, a second wish, and then another wish for three more wishes?”

“Why not?” asked Arthur. “Think of Cory’s wish—read minds, pull rabbits out of hats, and make people float. That’s three wishes.”

“Not really. He said, all those things, and then he just said what all of those things were."

“Okay, look at your wish, then. You said you wanted Mondo to lose all his magic and get his job back. That was two wishes right there.”

“No, it wasn’t; it was one. It was a package.”

“Well, mine’s a package,” Arthur said. “I’ll say it real fast—My-own-iPod-a-Go-Cart-three-more-wishes. You gotta admit it’s worth a try."

Melanie weighed her next question carefully. She gave Arthur what she considered her friendliest smile. “Did you, um, mean it when you said you might let me have one of those wishes?”

“Yeah, I’ll give one to each of you,” he promised, as if he already had a boxful of wishes that were his to pass out.

“Would I have to tell you what I wished?” Melanie pictured Bill Drexel in his black pants and black jacket rolling up to her on his blades for the couples skating.

“Well, sure you’d have to tell me.”

The picture vanished. “Why?” she demanded.

“You might wish for Cory to lose his voice for a month or something.”

“I… I….” Melanie squeaked. “I would never!”

“You always complain about him.”

“No, I don’t,” she said. “Do I?”

“You never say anything nice about him.”

“Yes, I do.” Melanie wrinkled her forehead, trying to think of something nice she had said about her brother.

“Look!” Erin pointed below with her half-eaten candy cane. “It’s Mrs. Seraphina! Mrs. Seraphina,” she shrieked. She pulled away from Melanie and Arthur and started running for the escalator.

“Erin, wait up, you come back here,” yelled Melanie.

They dashed after Erin, catching up to her at the top of the moving stairs.

“But she was there!”

“Where?” they both asked in unison, breathless and panting. Erin pointed again.

Sure enough, Melanie saw the small figure threading through all the people below, her walking stick thrusting forward like a long needle as she headed toward Seventh Street. At that moment Mrs. Seraphina paused, turned, and looked up. Melanie could have sworn she smiled at them before the crowd gathered around her like a ruffle and she disappeared.

“C’mon!” She shifted her bundles to one arm and took Erin’s hand.

“We haven’t figured out our wish,” said Arthur.

“I just want to talk to her.”

“Cory’s not here,” he pointed out.

Melanie stepped onto the conveyor with Erin. Arthur followed, muttering, “We should wait till we know what we’re doing….”

When they reached the pavement, they rushed over to the sidewalk and stood under the giant guitar, looking this way and that. There was no sign of Mrs. Seraphina anywhere.

“I seem to run into you everywhere,” called a familiar voice a few feet in front of them. Melanie looked up to see Pete Garrity’s amiable face peering out the open window of the red cab parked at the curb. Now he leaned over from the driver’s side to open the passenger door. “Can I give you all a lift?” he asked.

“It’s Mondo," cried Erin in a voice that suggested this was even better than finding Mrs. Seraphina.

“Oh, hi, Mr. Garrity,” said Melanie in her grown-up-I’m-responsible voice. “Thank you very much, but we were just on our way to....”

“Call me Pete,” he insisted.

“Way to go, man.” Arthur put his packages on the front seat, climbed in, and opened the back door before Melanie could finish. “Yeah, we’re on our way home,” he told Pete. “Tenth and V. Well, Tenth between V and W—where you took us yesterday. Mrs. McCormick’s place.”

“The apartment building? Wouldn’t you know I just got a call to pick up a customer not too far from there?”

“Ar…thur,” said Melanie from the door, and her words felt like chipped ice. "We…were…on…our…way…to…Soup… du… Jour, remember?"

Arthur frowned at Melanie. "We were? When did we decide that?"

Erin scrambled in and slid across the back seat.

"Soup du Jour?" Pete inquired.

"Her mother’s restaurant," Arthur explained. "On K Street."

Melanie closed her eyes. Didn’t boys ever pick up on anything? Now she would have to either hurt Pete’s feelings or let him give them a ride none of them could pay for. She opened her eyes again. “We were going for lunch?” she prompted Arthur.

“Are you crazy?” He tapped his clunky watch. “It’s three-fifteen. They won’t give us lunch now. And your mom won’t want us hanging around until five.”

Erin bounced up and down in the back seat, happily grinning. With a sigh, Melanie climbed in and closed the door.

“Your mother owns Soup du Jour?” Pete pulled away from the curb.

“She works there,” Melanie explained.

“She gets off at five?” Pete looked thoughtful. “She must be tired by the end of the day.”

“Uh-huh,” Melanie said, trying not to seem worried as she went through her pocketbook for loose change. How much did taxi rides cost, anyway? “She says on a busy day she doesn’t get to sit down much,” Melanie added, then stopped, as if a familiar image had suddenly been thrown onto a movie screen in bright colors, seen clearly for the first time.

Her mother probably was pretty tired when she got home. Maybe that was why she didn’t like to hear Melanie’s latest complaints about Cory or Erin. “But, it’s the busy days that make the bucks,” she finished, using her mother’s words and sunny tone. Only now the words had a sad, tinny ring to them.

Pete cleared his throat. “Your tree all decorated yet?”

“Yeah.”

“We put an angel on top,” Erin told him. “And you know what? My daddy used to call me his little Christmas angel.”

Pete laughed. “Did he, now?” He had a nice laugh, Melanie couldn’t help noticing. They were at the corner of Eighth and R.

“See over there, two blocks over?” Pete pointed down R Street toward the Majestic. “The Fox and Goose, across from the theater. I had it all lined up to do a magic show there.” He fell silent.

Nobody said anything.

“I’m going to have it there, too, one day,” Pete insisted, as if convincing himself. “My friend at the Houdini Club—he’s another magician—he’s going to hypnotize me and find out why I’ve lost the knack.”

“But you know what? Maybe Mrs. Seraphina….”

“Erin, watch your feet, stop kicking,” Melanie interrupted. Erin’s face puckered in surprise.

“Who’s Mrs. Seraphina?” asked Pete, as if he had never asked that question before.

“Just someone in our neighborhood, Mr., um, Pete,” said Melanie. “You probably don’t know her.”

“Kind of in our neighborhood,” Arthur added. “She hangs around, since Saturday, anyway.”

"Saturday," Pete mused. “Is she sort of a bag lady? Wears a black cape? Walks with a big stick?” They nodded. “I’ve seen her.” He gave an embarrassed chuckled. “She read my palm Saturday.”

Arthur sent Melanie a nervous glance. “Did she, uh, mention any names?”

“Funniest thing,” Pete replied. “I can’t remember what she said. But I saw her a few minutes ago.”

Melanie nearly choked. “Where?”

“She passed my cab just before you kids came out of the mall and made these motions for me to roll down my window….” Pete took one hand from the wheel and made a circular motion in the air. “You won’t believe what she said.”

Three voices chorused, “What?”

"She said, ‘Lucky is fine, don’t worry’. What do you think of that? Lucky is my rabbit,” he informed them, when no one answered. “I haven’t seen Lucky since Saturday. Then this woman comes up and tells me not to worry about her. Kind of peculiar, huh?”

“X-Files Five.” Arthur sent Melanie an evil grin.

“Here we are.” Pete pulled up in front of the apartment building. He sprang out and walked around to open the doors. An incoming call made him dash back to the driver’s seat to answer. Listening to directions, he tipped his red cap toward them. "It’s my customer,” he called. “Merry Christmas." He gunned the motor.

“Wait,” began Melanie. She was going to remind him that they hadn’t paid. But he pulled into traffic, steering with one hand and giving them a cheery wave with the other. They all waved back.

Melanie watched the cab turn the corner at W. “That was nice of him.”

“I hope Cory’s thought of a wish,” said Arthur.

“Our fix-it wish,” chirped Erin. She did a little side skip and hugged her packages.

Melanie looked at Arthur. “I thought you had it all figured out.”

“I still haven’t figured out the part for Pete’s magic,” he admitted. He gazed at the corner for a moment, then turned and started toward the rooming house, his shopping bag bouncing against his leg.

“Aren’t you coming with us?” For some reason Melanie felt deserted. “It’s supposed to be a group wish,” she called after him.

“You guys have that letter to talk about,” he called back. “Maybe I’ll get my dad to take me out for tacos. I’ll come over afterwards.”

That letter. Melanie’s shoulders slumped. For a little while, she had almost forgotten about it.

© Elizabeth Varadan 2006


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