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Burning the Wishing Minute
I peel back my lids from my gritty eyes and slap at the beeping clock on my nightstand until the high-pitched drone stops. Is it time already? I think blearily. I disentangle my right arm from the sheets, which are making me sweat despite the night, and peer at my wrist. The glowing display of my watch reads 11:00 p.m. Yes, it’s time.
I place my feet on the cold tile of my floor and stand up. I have eleven minutes.
First, clothes. There are piles of garments all around my room, strewn there during past nights. I pull a t-shirt and shorts from a pile and sniff them: not too bad. They slide over my dark skin as I walk to the kitchen.
The clock on the microwave reads 11:03 now. I gulp some water straight out of the tap, washing away the metallic taste of wakefulness. I grab a biscotti from a cupboard, which I munch on as I walk to the back porch. My watch now says 11:09.
The night is hot and sticky, almost a rainy night, but not quite, for which I am grateful. I begin searching my disorganized porch for the coffee can: not in the pile of flower pots in the corner, not on the table, not by the door… I begin worrying I’ll find it too late, but then I see it, battered and silvery, glinting on a shelf. I pull it down and walk to the railing that closes off the porch.
I peer over the side. I can’t see the ground, nor do I expect to. I check my watch – 11:10:15 (seconds count now) – and brace in preparation, holding the can ready in both hands.
The minute changes, and my watch beeps once, and they start to fly.
Polaroid shots, pages, birds, silver, paint, jewels, so many things, fly upward from seemingly nowhere, shooting up around me. I throw myself from side to side, catching everything in my can. They keep coming, faster and harder and wilder, less aim more hope, smiles and tears and trembling toys, and everything goes in the can, the can never overflowing, but getting heavier, so heavy, and I move blindingly fast and blindingly hard and everything goes in the can, and my watch beeps again, and the last thing, a silver neck-chain, clinks into the can, which is now so heavy I must use every ounce of strength I possess.
I haul the can back into the kitchen, dragging its weight, and set it on the grimy tile floor at the spacious center of the kitchen.
I fumble through several drawers, not looking at the can if I can avoid it. Finally, my hand closes around the plastic Zippo, and I pull it out and take it back to the can. My watch says 11:16.
I look into the can for the first time, stare into it. I can’t see past the silver neck-chain, coiled on top like a snake, that last, prayerful toss.
I spit in the can.
I sit on the floor, Indian style, and close my eyes. The lighter is clenched in my fist.
One of the perks of this job is unlimited access to the can, any time of day, not just for that one fateful minute. I close my eyes, and wish. I start by wishing my wishes won’t end up in the can, that some will fall to the Earth and grow and thrive, which is a ridiculous thing to wish, because my job is to make sure wishes don’t, because people aren’t careful what they wish for, but I wish it anyway. And then I wish for so many things I don’t want to discuss, and I hear them fall, with a dull clink, into the can.
I don’t move for a long time. I know because when I open my eyes again, the microwave clock says 11:56. I roll out the stiffness in my neck and shoulders and release the Zippo so it clatters on the floor. I look into the can and see my wishes, especially the first wish, which is laughing at me in the form of a cigarette.
I spit into the can again.
I say the ritual things, which I hate. I walk a ritual pattern, which I hate. I sing a single not, which I hate. I check my watch again, which I hate. It is 11:59:32 (seconds count again).
I let the lighter flare up with a click, illuminating the white kitchen, and lean towards the can. The minute turns, my watch beeps, and I light my cigarette-wish.
The can is full of flames. It blazes for 60 seconds, then dies out, smoking faintly. I peer into the can again, which is full of ash, and – and the silver chain, which is shorter and charred, but still there.
I am horrified. I go to light it up again, and click the Zippo, but it clicks once, twice, three times, and no flame to speak of.
I am no longer horrified. I have stopped thinking, and am nothing but resolve. I fish out the chain and walk out to the back porch, where I drop the chain over the rail, letting it fall into infinity. I spit after it.
I walk back to my room, quickly and still not thinking, now just fear. I curl up on my bed, waiting. I know He’ll be here soon. I’ve known He will come since I saw the half-burned chain and decided to throw it back. He’ll come, and I find I don’t care. It’s not like I can stop Him, or stop me from dropping the neck-chain.
I wish just one more wish, then. I wish to know who wished that chain.