Write What You Want
by Eric James Stone
I want to be rich.
The bells above the door to my magic shop jangle, and in walks a girl about fourteen years old.
She stops once she's inside and the door closes behind her. She looks around at my shelves,
stocked with card tricks, coin tricks, rope tricks, and a thousand more tricks for the aspiring
magician to amaze his or her friends.
I want to be a famous movie star.
From the haunted look on her face, I don't think she's an aspiring magician interested in tricks.
She's here for the real magic. I hope it's something as easy as a first love gone awry. My magic
has fixed a lot of those. I hold up a hand and say, "Don't tell me. You're here because you want
something so much it hurts."
I want the cancer to be gone so I don't die.
She nods. Her voice breaks a little as she says, "A friend said you could help."
I want to be head cheerleader.
"I'll help if I can," I say. "No charge." I point to a stool in front of the glass counter containing
the more expensive coin tricks.
I want to be straight.
As she sits, I pull the pad of paper from under the cash register. "Now," I say, "It's very simple."
I tear off a strip of paper eight-and-a-half inches wide by about one inch tall. "All you do is write
what you want on this magic piece of paper. When you're done, I'll burn it in a magic flame.
Easy as pie."
I want to be thinner and prettier than Jasmine Rawlings.
"Umm." She looks around nervously. "Do I have to write it?"
I want my wife to stop nagging me.
"You don't have to do anything." I shrug. "But if you want the magic to work, you have to write
what you want on the paper."
I want to be the star quarterback for my high school football team.
After a moment's hesitation, she pulls a pen with a plastic flower taped to it out of the cup next
to the register.
I want my son Peter not to be autistic.
"Before you write," I say, "you should know there are a few rules. First, when you walk out of
here, you won't remember exactly what the magic did, just whether you were satisfied with the
result." I forestall the usual objections by adding, "People are usually happier when they don't
remember that their happiness is due to a magic spell."
I want bigger breasts.
She nods, and I continue, "Second, you don't need to worry about tricks with the wording of
what you want. This isn't like evil-genie wish magic, where the genie will twist your words into
something terrible. The whole purpose of this magic is to make you happier."
I want Beth Larson to love me.
"Finally," I say, "this magic can only be used once per person, so you mustn't use it for
something frivolous, like 'I want a bacon cheeseburger,' just because you happen to be really
hungry right now. You should only use it if you desire something so much that you're sure you
can't be happy without it, something that will affect you for the rest of your life. If you think you
might want something even more later, then it's better to wait. You can only do this once."
I want the biggest big-screen TV in my neighborhood.
"I want this now," she says. She puts pen to paper, then looks up at me until I nod my approval.
She writes the first few words slowly, hesitantly. She pauses for about a minute, then scribbles
out a word and continues. While she writes, I put a red candle in a sterling silver candlestick and
place it on the counter. Finally she puts the pen down and folds the paper in half.
I want to have children.
I use the burning finger trick to light the candle, holding my hand at an angle so she can't see the
bit of wire that holds the flaming rubber cement. She picks up the piece of paper, but I snatch it
from her hand before she can put it to the flame. "Sorry, but I'm the one who has to put it in the
flame. And I have to read it first for the magic to work. Plus, I want to have the chance to talk
you out of wasting the magic on something that's not vitally important."
I want my husband Benny to be alive and healthy again.
She sags on the stool, but makes no move to stop me. I open the paper and read: I want my dad
to -- the word die is scribbled out -- stop having sex with me. My heart sinks and I feel
nauseated. "I'm so sorry," I say, knowing it's completely inadequate. "I'm sorry, but I can't do
I want to be the most popular girl in school.
The girl looks away. "You said you would help." Her voice is empty.
I want my wife to look like she did when I married her.
"If I could," I say. "But . . . the magic I do can't give people what they want. All it does is reduce
the wanting. My customers go away satisfied because they no longer want something so bad it
hurts. But you . . ." I held up the piece of paper. "I don't think your want is something that
should be reduced." I desperately try to find a way to help. "If you tell me your name, I can
contact a social worker, or the police, or someone."
I want my dad to be proud of me.
I'm hopeful she'll take me up on it, but after a long pause, she shakes her head, then slips off the
stool and walks out the door. I feel completely useless -- what good is my magic when I can't
help someone who really needs it? I rip her paper into tiny shreds and throw it out. Then I pull
out the slip of paper I carry in my wallet. I hold it near the candle flame, but, as always, I can't
bring myself to burn it. I return it to my wallet without reading it, because I know what it says:
I want to help people be happy.