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Ask Our Genie

I’m a teenage boy, Mac Roebuck, senior in high school. I have acute lymphatic leukemia. I’m anemic which swings a hammer to pound in my ears. I faint. I work to breathe—when’s that verb going to change to struggle? My hunger for pizza died.

An organization, Ask Our Genie, represented on the telephone by Clare, who puts bubbles into flat life with her sunny voice, told me they have compassion for the dying. If I’d yearned to do something, and if it were possible for them to allow me to do it, they would find deep meaning in it. In return for this generosity, they would use my name and story in publicity releases.

“I’d like to diddle Kate Winslet while I still have the strength. Since I saw her in Titanic, I’ve wanted her.”

Clare laughed and I heard Willie Nelson singing, “When the party’s all over . . . .”

“That would play hell with Genie’s image. Give me something else.”

“I’ll have to think about it. No second choice ready.”

“You do that, and when a wholesome one flags you down, pick up the phone and dial our client-friendly 800 number.” She gave me the number.

I thought and thought about wish two. Do something about my nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if I have chemotherapy again. Ha, ha.

One evening while I was watching a dirty movie at my friend, Ralph’s house, I noticed a book of Borman Stone illustrations on the coffee table with one of his most famous pictures on the dust jacket—a farmer shows a boy how to bait his hook as they sit in a boat on a pond.

The next day, I called Clare. “Hi, Mac Roebuck, with my exciting second choice.”


“Mac Roebuck, small town, middle America, dying of leukemia.”

“Oh sure, what’s up?”

“Ready with my heart-expanding second choice. Give me fifteen minutes with Borman Stone.”

“Great choice, Mac. He’s a Genie special friend. You’ll find him compassionate without any unctuousness. A fine artist and a real super awesome guy. Did the illustrations for our Camp Genie brochure.”

Ask Our Genie seated me on a plane and limousine to wheel me to Stone’s estate in a small town in western Connecticut’s hills. Entering the great man’s studio, I could smell oil paint plus cherry aromatic pipe tobacco. I looked up at a skylight streaked with grime.

Lots of “people” around, illustrations like photographs—barbers, truck drivers, old ladies, kids, soldiers, teachers, policemen, men and woman in business suits, farmers, preachers. All the wholesome people you might find in five cities all there in one room. What you would have if Barney had gone to an art school instead of a dinosaur school.

The great man himself was as ordinary as a small town merchant held in his store for long hours by the need to feed and educate a family. He was slightly pudgy with smooth white skin. His thinning hair was gray. He kept lighting his pipe with kitchen matches. If you saw him on the street, you would never think, There goes one of America’s most famous men.

I held out my hand. “Mac Roebuck.”

“Borman Stone. What can I do for you? I’d use you for a model except you look a little sick.” The old man chuckled.

“Yeah, that’s the point of my being here.”

He turned serious-faced. “Oh, sure, how thoughtless of me. Your request to Ask Our Genie brought you here. Macabre outfit, agree?”

I nodded. “I want you to draw a dirty picture I can use for a tattoo on my arm.”

Stone sat and rested his head on his hand. “Hmmm. I haven’t done anything dirty since high school. Hope I haven’t lost the knack.” He laughed. “I’ll relish it. Fifty years of living conventionally is enough. I’m a damn tourist attraction. People wait around to see me leave my studio to go for a walk.

Ooh and ahh over me as if I were Robert Redford when I could model as a faceless bureaucrat.”

“With a Borman Stone tattoo on my arm, I’ll die happy.”

“One condition.” The old man deflated. His smile disappeared.

I leaned toward him and made a steeple of my fingertips.

“Post tattoo, contact a tabloid about it. Mr. Respectability? No way. He’s a dirty old man. That kind of thing. After fifty-four loyal years to my wife, I’d like to slide out clothed in a scandal. Watch me though. I might do something sneaky and underhanded.”

“Small matter. Remember, I’m the tragic dying boy.”

“I know a fine tattooist here in town, a master of living, mobile art.”

I ran my fingers over the finish on Stone’s perfectly-restored, turquoise-blue Packard. It felt like Steuben glass. On the inside, the black leather upholstery smelled new. In this car lover’s treasure, we glided to the tattooist.

In the tattoo parlor, I heard the tattoo gun’s hum and, on the walls, saw photographs of fresh tattoos—a rat, snake, and a dragon—the colors intense, the flesh around them angry. I had expected the parlor to smell like a doctor’s office, but I smelled nothing when I took a deep breath. The artist himself, Axel Nash, small but muscular, tattooed a large woman.

After a wait for Nash to finish with his customer, he told me I looked sick. “Are you?”

My first thought said lie, but I told the truth.

“You’ll be demanding that your sick body heal the tattoo,” Axel said. “I’ll be putting thousands of tiny holes in your skin. Your body’s failing now. If we load it further, it will fail.” Axel touched my shoulder with his hand. “I’m sorry. I know you had your heart set on a Borman Stone tattoo.”

My head drooped.

In silence, we rode back to Stone’s studio. Riding in the old Packard gave me a secure, solid feeling I never get riding in my hatchback. However, that did nothing to ease my disappointment.

“I’ve got it,” Stone said, his frown turning to a smile. “I’ll draw the tattoo on your arm with permanent ink markers. Keep soap and wachcloths away from your art, and it’ll stay long enough for the tabloid picture.

“I’ll give you my unlisted phone number,” Borman said when he finished. Give me a call to let me know how you’re faring. My mind’s a lot dirtier than people think, but I do have a golden heart.”

Post tattoo creation, for a few seconds when I stood before Stone’s mirror in the walnut frame with angels and devils carved in it, I forgot I was dying. I owned a freckle-faced farm boy sitting on a pond bank. Everything—with one exception— looked like your normal Borman Stone wholesome illustration including the little dog beside the boy. Have you ever seen an illustration in which an erect penis was used as a fishing pole? Neither had I until that moment. The world possessed one soul with a Borman Stone original work breathing on my body. The boy’s fishing-pole-penis extended above his head.

Once home, I phoned The Interrogator. They said they’d send a reporter- photographer.

The reporter popped his purple bubble gum. It smelled like grape. When he saw my tattoo, he whistled. “if a kid had a pecker that size, he’d have all the exercise equipment he needed.”

The reporter made a face when he smelled me.

I grinned when I saw The Interrogator’s headline.


To protect him, The Interrogator has changed his name to Del Penix. Who’s he? A real, brave boy dying of leukemia awarded a last request by Ask Our Genie. “A Borman Stone tattoo,” spilled out of Penix’s mouth in a nanosecond! sources say.

“This reporter was shocked when he saw the tattoo on Penix’s arm. Interrogator readers know to look for us on the high road, that we would never print a picture shocking even for a madam!

In my published picture, they’d black-rectangled my eyes and the picture on my arm.

A week later, The Interrogator screamed—


I called Stone’s unlisted phone number.

“Yeah,” he said. “I told them that. Remember when I told you you might have to deal with the unexpected and tacky?”


“Wasn’t shitting you, was I?”

“Not in the Borman Stone book of family values.”

“You counter what I said. Say I’m a liar, senile old dissembler. I’ll counter your counter. We’ll see how many weeks we can keep it going.”

“This might be even better than screwing Kate Winslet.”

“How’s that?”

“My first choice to Ask Our Genie.”

The old man cackled. “Damn good one. Anyway, now we’ve got an accusations-trading project that’ll get you thinking about something other than yourself and your problems.”

“If someone tells you that once he died, but never cried, he lied.” (I prepared this one in advance.)

“Hey, my friend, good—“

I hanged up the phone.

In my mind, I saw Kate Winslet naked on a bed. She moved a forefinger back and forth, up and toward her hand. I shook my head, afraid my thing would never—

I would call Clare, the always-up telephone personality at Ask Our Genie. This time she remembered me and my nemesis.

“Would you guys send me on another ride?” I said.

“Mac, I wish.”

“Could I call you just to talk? Say whatever?” Please. There are buzzards in my dreams.

“I could lose my job.”

“Then we could have an authentic time for sharing.”

“Tying up our client-friendly 800 number. Clearing it with corporate could take weeks.”

“Put the humanly-possible on fast forward.”

“I don’t want to give you false hope.”

“Give me all you’ve got with extra hot fudge and nuts.”

Clare laughed.


Lincoln Swift has written for a number of years.  This is his first published story


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