Star Bright

Everybody knows, wishes only come true under starlight....

Star Bright

by Wanda Cunningham

 

Back during the war, they rationed wishes. Most people agreed that wishes needed to be saved for the soldiers in the frontlines but the government decided that for the sake of civilian morale, a number of wishes would be allocated to each area, according to population. A certain amount of grumbling went on but by and large, people just put up with such inconveniences during the war.

Black market wishes could be had, for a price, but patriotism kept a lot of people from using such goods. Besides, with no inspection or certification the unrationed wishes had a reputation for being shoddy. Some of them, of course, were simply smuggled in from neutral countries but that source varied a lot too. Who would want a wish from some little place where they maybe ate their missionaries without benefit of proper condiments? Everyone agreed that the very worst wishes were the ones from unlicensed little backwoods wisheries where people had been wishing illegally since before the Revolution.

My parents sat on the local Wish Control Board back then, so it surprised me a great deal to be offered a black market wish by a classmate who should have known better.

Harley Georges slipped me a folded piece of paper on the bus one Tuesday morning in October. I nodded, not suspecting what might be on the note but figuring Harley didn't want to talk about it out loud within the range of the preternaturally sharp hearing of Mrs. Fernbow, the regular school bus driver ever since the war started and her husband went off to Corpus Christi to teach frogmen how to swim. I didn't want her to see me reading a note either so I unfolded it inside my geography book, pretending to consult one of the maps of places that probably didn't exist any more.

The note read, "I got a wish. You want one?" I followed procedure with passed notes, tearing it up and eating it while I thought about the implications of what it said. I wondered what the heck Harley could be thinking to offer me a wish--what with my parents being on the WCB but then I realized--well, that was just like Harley. He wouldn't hold anything my parents did against me and if he had a wish, then out of friendship he would probably offer it to me.

Harley's no-account parents hadn't instilled in him much respect for such niceties as social obligation and respect for the law. Mrs. Georges took in other people's wash when they weren't to home and didn't know nothing about it. And she didn't fold it neatly, linens in one pile, dish cloths in another and underwear separated out and discreetly concealed under piles of white shirts or blouses as the case may be. No, she took the ill-gotten laundry over to Williston and sold it to the Thrift Store for a nickel a pound. Then she took her nickels to people who dealt in black market goods and bought what she thought she needed most--usually, cheap gin. But maybe this time, a wish.

Harley's dad, Mr. Georges, never fooled with such complicated schemes as stealing union suits and selling them in another town. He believed in cutting out the middle man and if he wanted something, he just took it when no one was looking. Maybe he stole the wish.

Either way, black market or stolen, this wish had to be bad news. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't turn Harley in for having an unlawful wish, I didn't even know who I should turn him in to--my parents, I suppose. I couldn't do that. Mom, would look at me with those disappointed eyes for having a friend who would do such an awful thing as to have a wish that hadn't gotten a proper wartime rationing stamp. So I just looked at Harley across the aisle in the bus and nodded.

Harley grinned and pointed at his lunch sack, meaning he'd share his wish at lunch time but I shook my head and pointed at my books then turned them over so the backsides showed. I held three fingers against the books to show I meant we could meet after school, after three p.m. He nodded again, still grinning.

I don't know how I got through that day but I know I thought about Harley's wish almost every minute. At lunch, I sat across from him and ate my cheese sandwich (that's how I remember it was Tuesday) while Harley ate his cornbread cush. That's cornbread with onions, dill pickles, molasses and butter which is better than it sounds. We didn't talk about the wish but I don't remember what we did talk about.

Somehow, I got through the afternoon and Harley and I met at our regular place behind the cinder pile that kept getting bigger every winter the war went on since no one had allotted gas or tires for trucks to haul away cinders left from burning coal to keep the school warm. Mr. Nibberley, the custodian who took care of the furnace and mopping the gym and such things said, "At least we still got trucks to bring the coal so be glad."

"You want it now?" Harley asked me.

I shook my head. I knew that 347 wishes had been allocated for our county that month, most of them going to orphanages, churches and hospitals and if Mr. Georges had stolen this wish, I didn't want Harley pulling out an official government envelope with the WCB stamp over the flap and the big block letters that said, "One Wish, Approved, Inspected and Certified as fit and proper for all legal and moral purposes."

Something else occurred to me. "Your mom isn't pregnant, is she?" I asked him. Sometimes pregnant women could get an officially sanctioned wish if they filled out all the paperwork and attended all the training classes. I didn't want to think that Harley had stolen this wish from his own mother.

But he just looked startled at the idea. "Lord, no," he said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes at the very idea. "Why in the world did you ask that?"

I almost laughed but I couldn't tell him what I had thought so I just shook my head. "Nevermind," I said. "Let's walk home so we can talk."

It would only be a half hour walk for me, more like two hours for Harley but he didn't even hesitate. "Sure," he said and we headed north, across the grassy fields where kids had played baseball and softball in the summer. Back before the war, kids would have been playing football on those fields now but football had been rationed for the war effort, too. I found out years later that most of it got shipped to England where they called it 'bloody Yank rugger' and complained that it wasn't football at all.

Behind the playing fields, an old country dirt road provided a convenient short cut for us, cutting at least my walk in half compared to how long it would take on foot along the highway. Since the bus didn't even go by the most direct route on paved roads, walking home meant I'd arrive only five or ten minutes later than if I had taken the bus. And Mom knew I sometimes walked home with friends so she wouldn't be worried.

"Where did you get the wish?" I asked Harley after we were well away from the school and we could only be overheard by cows and blackbirds.

"It's from Wyoming."

"Wyoming?"

"Yeah. My uncle won it in a poker game out there back before the war so it's really a good wish."

I recognized this as being kin to some of the stories my parents talked about people coming up with to explain how they happened to have unrationed wishes. I didn't say anything about doubting him, though--Harley might cheat or even steal but he would never lie so he must believe what he'd said. I just asked the next question. "How did you get it?"

"It was in a box of stuff that belonged to my uncle, Uncle Clayton. He used to live with us but he joined up when the war started and got killed flying over the Channel."

I interrupted, "He got killed overseas while he had a wish waiting for him here?"

Harley nodded. "He planned to save it for when he got married, after the war, so he left it at home. But then his girl married someone else and he got killed and my dad took his stuff and put it in the attic but I found it and Dad said I could have anything in it that couldn't be drunk, shot or...well, he said I could have anything. So it's mine."

"Why do you want to give it to me?" I asked.

"Because I'm too stupid to use a wish as good as this one, Mac," he said. All of my friends call me 'Mac' because my last name is MacKinnery.

"You're not that stupid," I said.

He grinned. "You know I'd be failing this year and would have failed last year if you didn't spend time learning me stuff that I wouldn't have to know if it weren't for school. Besides, you're my friend and you don't think it's wrong to be my friend no matter what anyone else says, no matter whose underwear my mom has pinched or whose dog my dad has kicked."

"Your dad kicked a dog?"

"Well, it would have bitten him, elseways."

I nodded. In Mr. Georges vocation he must have frequent need to kick various dogs who only wanted to do their jobs but whose jobs threatened Mr. Georges livelihood and pants.

"But anyway, you're my friend and I want you to have this wish," said Harley.

I sighed. "I'm not sure I should take it."

"Since you're my friend and I ask you to, you will," said Harley.

I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Look, Harley, I know you believe this is a good wish but just because you believe something doesn't make it true. What if the man your uncle won it off got it illegally? How do you know about the poker game, anyway?"

"Uncle Clayton wrote a letter to his sweetie about the poker game and--other stuff. He wrapped it around the wish cause he wanted her to have it if something happened to him."

"Well, he got killed, the wish belongs to her," I said, feeling both relief and disappointment.

Harley shook his head. "He addressed the letter to 'My Darling Irene' and she ain't his darling no more since she married someone else before he got killed. So it ain't hers and Dad said I could have it and I want you to have it."

I followed his reasoning and unless I felt willing to turn him in for having a wish he ought not have, I would have to accept his offer or I would not be his friend. "Okay," I said.

He showed me a long cream envelope. It didn't have an official stamp, just a printed legend that said, "One Wish Granted to Bearer by Great God Almighty and All His Hosts." It made me think that maybe God ran a chain of hotels.

Harley had opened his arithmetic book to take the envelope out--probably only the second time the book had been opened, the first being when he had put the envelope into it--so I put the envelope in my arithmetic book. No one would expect to find a wish in a book full of numbers. "Maybe it has gone stale," I said.

Harley shook his head. "We'll find out tonight."

"Tonight?"

"You know a wish will only come true under starlight," said Harley.

I nodded. "Sure. But tonight?"

"We'll go to your house then I'll go to mine but I'll come back later, after dark. You can open the envelope and...."

"What if it's cloudy?" I asked.

"It won't be," said Harley.

"This envelope isn't sealed, what if someone has already used the wish?"

"No one has," said Harley.

We didn't say much more until we got to my house where my mom made Harley drink a big glass of milk and eat a ham biscuit before she let him go on to his home. Harley waved at me as he left, once with his whole hand and once with his thumb folded over so I knew he would be back at nine.

I did my chores and homework, not touching the arithmetic book, then we ate dinner and I asked if I could go to bed early so I could walk to school in the morning while the weather was still nice enough to do that. It made me feel funny, knowing I had a possibly illegal wish at hand and had decided not to tell my parents.

I went to bed but I didn't go to sleep, lying in bed listening to the night noises and thinking about the wish, Harley, stars, underwear, dogs and God.

Just before nine, I got out of bed and sneaked out of the house. I'd never gotten undressed so I didn't have to spend time or make noise getting dressed. I knew Harley would be waiting for me under the apple tree because I had heard an owl hoot one short and one long.

Sure enough, he stood there in the shadows, not wearing a coat, still dressed in school clothes. Well, so was I but I had added a jacket against the autumn chill. I wondered if he had even gone home at all.

"You didn't forget the wish, did you?" he asked.

I pulled the long cream envelope out of the jacket. "I've got it." We both looked up at the sky. Thousands of stars winked and twinkled at us. I looked back at the envelope and stared at it for a moment.

Harley half-led me, half-pushed me out away from the trees and turned me so no shadow from the moon or the porch light would fall on the envelope as I opened it.

"Don't forget the words," he whispered.

I nodded, closed my eyes and almost sang them:

"Star light, star bright,
I wish with all my might,
My wish to come true tonight."

Harley nodded. I could see his teeth in the moonlight. My hands shook as I opened the envelope. A small card almost fell out and Harley and I both gasped. I caught the card even though it surprised me by being there. But I'd never had a wish before so maybe there was always a little card in the envelope.

Harley waved at the card. "You have to read it out loud to make it come true."

"In the dark?" I complained. But I turned the card over and found the words, big enough to be read by moonlight. "I wish I was a girl," I read.

I glanced up at Harley to see him grinning even wider than ever. "What's this supposed to mean?" I asked in the fiercest whisper I could manage.

"Did it come true?" he asked.

"You jackass!" That came out a little too loud. "Of course it's true. I'm a girl, I've always been a girl," I said a little softer but still mad enough to bite him even if he kicked me.

"Well, who's to know?" he said. "I mean, what you wear to school?"

"What's wrong with what I wear to school?"

"Would it kill you to wear a dress now and then?"

I glared at him. “This was all a hoax to get me to wear dresses to school? Are you really that stupid?"

"Probably," he admitted.

He did it. I tried to suppress the smile but I couldn't. My mad evaporated like milk back into the can--or something. "Moron," I said.

"If you'll wear dresses to school for the rest of the week, I'll take you to the Hayride Saturday," he said.

"We were both already going to go to the Hayride!"

"Yeah, but I'll pay for hot dogs, pop and caramel apples for both of us."

"You want a date after tricking me?"

"Yeah, I guess I do," he admitted.

I giggled. Well, I didn't mean to but I couldn't help it. He was so ridiculous.

Just then I heard my mother calling my name. I looked and there she was, on the porch, yelling it again. "Caroline! Caroline MacKinnery! What are you doing out there?"

"Just talking, Mom," I said but I heard the lie in my own voice. "Oh, crap," I added, too soft for Mom to hear--at least, I hoped it was.

Harley took it as a cue. The envelope and card disappeared from my hands and into his pockets as he walked toward my mother. "I just came to ask Mac, uh, Caroline to the Hayride on Saturday, Mrs. MacKinnery."

She studied him in a new way. "Carrie's only twelve, Harley Georges." Only my family calls me 'Carrie.' And Harley winced when Mom double-barreled him; it's not just your own mother who can do that trick with your name.

My father came out on the porch behind Mom. What the heck were they both doing up after nine, they usually went to bed around eight? "Oh, Lord," Dad muttered. "Has it started already? I thought we'd have another few years of peace and quiet before the tomcats started coming around."

I felt my face go hot.

"You hush, Wilver," Mom ordered. Then in a milder tone she said, "Harley, Caroline isn't allowed to go on dates until she's...." Mom hesitated, no such policy had ever been mentioned before.

"Sixteen," said my father.

"Thirteen," I put in quickly.

"Fifteen," my father offered.

"Fourteen," my mother said, crushing any argument. "She's not allowed to date until she's fourteen."

"I was going anyway," I said, annoyed.

"And you both can still go, it just can't be a date," Mom clarified.

"That's almost two years," protested Harley.

"And no sneaking around in the dark," Mom added. "If you want to talk to Carrie here after dark, do it on the porch."

Harley and I both groaned.

"You can turn off the porch light," Mom conceded. "So you don't get et up by bugs."

"But not tonight," Dad said. "Carrie go to your room. You'll see her in class tomorrow, Harley. Soon enough."

"Or on the bus," Mom said. "No more walking to or from school, Miss Too-Big-For-Her-Britches."

"That's not fair!" I protested.

"Maybe not, but that's the way it is now," said Mom.

Harley grinned. "Make her wear dresses to school, Mrs. MacKinnery. Some of the kids think she's a boy."

"They do not!" I wanted to twist his nose for that one.

"Room, Carrie, now!" Dad glowered at all of us but I saw the corner of his mouth twitch. Myself, I didn't know whether to laugh out loud or bust out bawling. If I did one, I'd probably do the other, too.

"Goodnight, Harley Georges." Mom double-barreled him again.

"Uh, goodnight, Mrs. MacKinnery, Caroline, Mr. MacKinnery," said Harley.

"Goodnight, son," Dad said, putting an arm around Mom and me and guiding us toward the door.

"Goodnight, Harley," I called out while I still could. But I turned to look before I went inside.

He touched a finger to his lips and held it up into the wind. I blushed and did the same then Dad pushed me inside after Mom, and closed the door behind us.

"I'll drive you home, son," I heard Dad offer outside.

"That's okay, sir," Harley said. "I can walk it."

"Get in the truck," Dad ordered. "We can talk."

I heard two truck doors open and close but before Harley got in the truck, I heard him mutter. "Shoddy Wyoming wishes."

"How long has this been going on?" Mom asked.

I frowned. "Just tonight," I said. "I think I'm as surprised as you are."

Mom smiled. "Probably."

But I don't know. Since that night most of my wishes have come true. The war is long over, and rationing only lasted a little bit longer. I've been Mrs. Georges for some years now and I don't steal anyone's underwear and Harley never kicks dogs.

We've got two kids and when they're old enough, I'll teach them how to wish on starlight and they can have as many wishes as they want to make come true.

Sweet!

I enjoyed this one though I am wondering why it is here and not over at BC or SD. Neat story just the same Wanda. Hey where did you say those wishes came from? :)
grover

Stardusty

It's been on BC for a couple of years and caused some controversy there. ;>

I just posted it at Stardust also. Glad you liked it.

{{{;>
Wanda

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yaoxuemei20180918

Wanda, If Only

Such a story was possible, then I would make a few wishes for my friends.

May Your Light Forever Shine

It's true

Wishes are rationed. ;>

Wanda

Psst! Wanna buy a wish?

My kind of tale. A sweet story built on a strange but strangely consistant foundation, intangibles treated
as commodities, bureaucratic animism, something ........ all with a surreally skewed nostalgia to it.
Good storytelling, details, characters, the works.

My curiosity piqued, I went and read the controversy stream following this story over at BC. Them niggaz
are crazy! I know we BigCloseteers can get obsessive, alarmed, contentious & strange about fine points pertaining to utterly fictional events (they're called stories), but it's weird to see it was going on---exactly like it does now---way back in Ought Five. I mean, I got that the wish could have caused an instant global reality shift centered on "Caroline", but to me it's so unproveable one way or the other; and if this wish WAS a scheme of Harley's, who's to say he was even acting of his own volition, maybe it was
predestined- now THERE'S a subject for some heavy metaphysical paranoia! Anywho...
~~~hugs, LAIKA

You said it ;>

The controversy really caught me by surprise, I felt like I'd stepped in the middle of someone's unfathomable squick. ;>

But this is how I'd conceived of the story, as being a mainstream type fantasy rather than fare on a specialized site like BC. But Fictioneer didn't exist back then.

It is rather a Laika-like tale, now that you mention it. Something along the lines of your own Humor Me, which I also think could survive as a mainstream story.

{{{;>
Wanda

ah, did you...

... tweak this at all? I got pointed at it long after the posting and controversy, but not before the bruising had healed. I could sort of see both sides, but...hey, it is what it is. A gentle dream. Now exactly who's dream... well. We all have our prejudices and it aint always easy to leave them at the door. It's the trying that counts. This is nice.

Kristina

Not really

I corrected one typo, that's all. ;>

I think it has a completely different impact posted here on a general fiction site than posted in its original venue where some readers had a preconceived notion of what was going on.

Glad you enjoyed it.

{{{;>
Wanda

I wish ---

I truly do
Wish more stories from you.
I've read you for many years.
You've brought me much joy and some tears.
I most certainly have enjoyed this one too.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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