A Golden Thing

By Laura Schiller

Based on: the Weetzie Bat series

Copyright: Francesca Lia Block

Fifi McDonald was dying, and it worried her.

It was not necessarily death itself; after all, she was over seventy and had lived a rich, colorful life. It was mainly her grandchildren she was worried about – or rather her grandson Dirk and his friend Weetzie, whom Fifi regarded as an honorary granddaughter.

"I don't know what to do," she told Kaboodle the dog, who was curled up in a patch of sunlight on the dining room carpet. "They're such sweet children, really. Showing me their new clothes, bringing me flowers, chauffeuring me around...but Kaboodle, darling, must they stay out all night for those punk concerts of theirs, and come back with their clothes smelling like cigarettes and alcohol? And why haven't they found true love yet? What can the men be thinking of? I do wish I could be certain that once I'm...gone...Dirk and Weetzie will be all right."

As she spoke, she ran a polishing cloth lovingly over the smooth curve of the old-fashioned oil lamp on her mantelpiece. She had been cleaning house all day – slowly, but thoroughly, as she had been doing for most of her seventy-odd years. In spite of all her care, however, her small white hand shook with fatigue as she reached up.

And when the smoke began to rise from the lamp, she snatched her hand back and held it over her heart to stop it from jumping right out of her chest with shock.

The smoke formed itself into a small, dark-skinned man wearing white robes and a white turban; he had a ruby stud in his nose and his eyes were a very bright blue – the same shade as Fifi's own eyes.

"Hello, Fifi," he said, in a kind deep voice somewhat at odds with his height; he was no taller than Fifi herself. "By the look on your face, I suppose you haven't heard of me."

Once Fifi had recovered enough to speak, she cleared her throat and said: "I think I have, perhaps. You certainly look a great deal like...Mother's stranger."

The Genie smiled. "Is that what she called me? Yes. I am exactly who I appear to be."

Fifi had never known her father; once she had asked her mother Gazelle who he was, she had told the tale of a mysterious man who came to commission the most lovely, precious, creamy-white wedding dress for a woman who had turned out to be none other than Gazelle herself. He had left her with three gifts: a golden lamp, the child inside her, and a memory which had supported and warmed Gazelle for the rest of her life.

"Then I suppose that means you're my father," she said, surprising herself with the hard, brittle tone of her voice.

The Genie nodded.

"And you wait until now to appear? Well, thank you very much!"

Fifi had always considered herself a peaceful sort of person, who had made peace with her inner demons long ago and was too old to let them trouble her. Yet apparently, her resentment had kept on smoldering after all, like an ember buried under a pile of ashes, and now, at the sight of his dark, inscrutable face, it flamed up with a scorching rage.

"So tell me, where have you been all these years?" she said shrilly. "Hiding in your lamp? Were you there when my mother cried herself to sleep at night? Did you know she refused to move away from San Francisco after thirty years because she was waiting for you? Where were you when my husband died? Where were you when my son and daughter-in-law drove their car off the edge of a canyon, or when my grandson was attacked by a bunch of skinheads? Where did you go? Why did you go? Tell me that!"

While she stood there with her hands on her hips, her high quivery voice rising to a shriek that made her throat ache, her father simply stood and waited. When she snapped up her head to glare at him, one snow-white curl falling into her eyes, the rest of her tirade stuck in her throat. His blue eyes were pools of wistful affection, shimmering lakes of sorrow.

"I was right there," he said. "In the lamp. Believe me, my daughter, if I could have come out, I would have. It was your wish that set me free."

Fifi felt herself shrinking to the size of a cricket on the rug under that velvety blue gaze. Her anger fizzled out in a cloud of white steam.

"Really?" she whirspered.

"Yes." The Genie placed a hesitant hand on her shoulder, as if afraid she would shrug it off.

"You must understand, Fifi," he said, "I am not of your kind. I was sent to your mother to help her, to free her from the cold, bare, soul-starved existence she had. It was against our laws for me to fall in love with her."

As he spoke, she could see them – Gazelle, wearing the bright confection of satin and lace she had made, and the Genie, eye to eye with her in a dark, dusty Victorian parlor. She was like a white rose growing in concrete, wilting for want of the sun. He was about to turn away and leave, but she touched his arm and her lips formed a single word. Please.

"I left my lamp with her," the Genie went on, "Because I knew my brethren would imprison me inside it once they knew what I had done. This way, at least, I could watch over my love, our daughter," he smiled at her, "our grandson and great-grandson, and grant any wishes you might make."

Fifi was stunned. Her head was spinning; she had not felt so upside-down and inside-out for decades. He had willingly doomed himself to decades of imprisonment, for the sake of a few hours with his beloved. He had been with his family the entire time, unheard, unseen, a guardian spirit locked inside a golden lamp.

"And is there no chance of you being freed?" Fifi asked, aching with pity for this Genie, her father, whom she had wasted so much time hating when she should have been loving him.

"Dirk will father no children in this lifetime," said the Genie. "When he finds his mate, my duty to my bloodline will end and I shall be free."

A weight lifted off Fifi's chest at that. "I'm so glad," she said impulsively. "You see, those are my only wishes...for Dirk and his dear friend to find love and happiness. I know I'm old...I know I haven't much time left. It's such a relief to know you'll be taking care of them when I'm gone."

"And so will you," he added. "When you leave this world, my daughter, I shall take you with me to the Land of the Djinn, where golden palaces float on the spiced desert winds, where your loved ones wait for you with sunlight in their eyes. And we will all watch over our descendants from there, and they will not forget us. This I promise you."

Two tears slipped from Fifi's eyes like transparent pearls. She hugged her father for the first time, breathing in his cocoa-powder scent, feeling the strength and comfort of his arms around her. Then she found she was holding a cloud of white incense smoke, and the smoke was streaming back into the golden lamp, and then it was gone.

Fifi collapsed into her pink velvet armchair, sobbing and laughing, breathless and exhausted and as happy as she'd ever been.

*

"I have a present for you, Miss Weetzie Bat," said Fifi the next morning, holding out the lamp.

The young girl's eyes, sky-blue behind their pink sunglasses, widened with awe and admiration as she gently accepted it. Weetzie lived for beautiful things; this golden treasure, holding four generations of love in its polished sheen and elegant curves, captured her imagination as only true beauty could.

"Lanky lizards!" exclaimed Weetzie. "Fifi, this is...it's awesome. Thank you so much!"

If Fifi had not known before, she knew it now: this quirky Los Angeles woman-child, with her punk princess wardrobe and her eyes full of stars, was the perfect person to have the lamp.

"Take good care of it, won't you, my dear?" she asked. "Keep it shining. It's an old family heirloom, you see."

She kissed her adopted granddaughter on the cheek and watched her ride off with Dirk in Jerry, his red and white Pontiac. They were going to the beach to surf; they promised to be back for lunch by one p.m. Fifi, as tired and worn as she'd ever been, did not know for certain whether she would see Jerry round the corner of the street again. But one thing she did know was that Dirk and Weetzie were in the best of hands.

I love you, my darlings. Take care. Father, Mother, Derwood, Dirby, Silver...wait for me. I will see you soon.