Exercise #42: The Old Lamp

Exercise 42 Instructions

China Gravy Boat

Magic LampWhen I think of a magic lamp, I think of something out of 1001 Arabian Nights that looks a lot like my grandmother’s gravy boat, but made out of metal instead of china. Something where, if you rub it, a genie comes out to grant your wishes. But who ever heard of a magic Tiffany lamp?

You see, my friend Amelia Reynolds and I were visiting the Nook & Cranny, a hole in the wall consignment shop that seemed to have been around forever. Amelia was trying to get me interested in “antiquing” so she’d have a friend she could talk with about antiques. I’ve never been much for buying people’s old stuff. I’m a grade-A geek and proud of it. Send me into a room full of computers and video games and I’ll be happy as “a hobo at an all-you-can-eat buffet,” as my dad would say.

“Bernie,” Amelia pleaded, “you could find a real, hidden treasure, here. Some of these things could be worth thousands in the future. They could even pay for your kids’ college tuition.”

“I don’t have any kids,” I responded, wishing for probably the millionth time that she wouldn’t call me “Bernie”. My full name is Bernadette Elizabeth Greenough and I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked Amelia not to call me “Bernie.” I tell her she could call me “Birdie” or “Betty” or even “Beebee,” which was my goofy Uncle Roy’s favorite, but “Bernie” makes me feel like a New York taxi driver.

“Well, you might,” Amelia replied, picking up a silver teaspoon and examining the marks on the back of the handle.

“I’d have to have a guy first,” I grumbled, shoving my hands into the pockets of my jeans, “not to mention a few extra holes in my head.”

“Bernie,” she objected, putting her hands on her hips, “if you were going to be such a wet blanket, why did you come along?”

“You took my laptop,” I reminded, favoring her with a flat look, “and promised to give it back only if I came with you.”

“Oh, yeah!” she chuckled, setting the spoon back on its table.Tiffany Lamp

“What about this?” I said, pointing at a metal lamp that looked sort of like a willow tree with stained glass leaves.

“Oh, wow!” Amelia gushed, “Bernie, do you know what this is?” She looked over each shoulder like she was checking to see if people were listening to us. “This is an honest-to-goodness Tiffany lamp,” she muttered then. “Do you know how much one of these is worth?”

I shrugged, watching her reach eagerly for a paper tag that had been attached to the base of the lamp.

“Fifty dollars! Darn!” Amelia groaned, fingering the tag. “It’s out of my budget. Buy it for me, won’t you, Bernie? You haven’t bought anything, yet.”

“What?” I reply, all sarcasm.

“Buy it for you, then,” she sighed, throwing her hands up in frustration. “Buy it and I’ll take you right home. You’ll get your lap top back and everything. And, by the way, I promise you, the next time I go antiquing, I’ll take my niece, Gina, with me instead. She’s a teenager and she’s only difficult.”

So I blew fifty dollars to buy the lamp and Amelia took me and my laptop back home, as promised. When I got home, I set the lamp on my coffee table while I went to plug in my lappy to see if Amelia had done any damage to it when she yanked it from my fingers. Just about then, the lamp began to glow.

I’ll confess, it didn’t register with me at first. After all, if you’re working on something you’re passionate about, you tend to miss just about anything. Then I reached to turn the lamp off and suddenly realized two important things. First, I hadn’t plugged the lamp in and, second, there was no light bulb in the lamp. Then, abruptly, sitting not far away on my sofa was a man. He was dressed in a three-piece suit with a hat right out of one of those Dick Tracy graphic novels my dad used to collect, but gray instead of yellow.

Rex“Hello, miss,” he smiled, politely.

“Wh-who’re you?” I replied, staring.  My throat was suddenly as dry as last week’s saltines.

“My name is Rex Bailey,” he replied, removing his hat and placing it carefully in his lap. “My spirit is bound to that lamp there.” He pointed to the Tiffany lamp resting on my coffee table.

“What?” I responded, “You mean like a genie?”

“No,” he chuckled, genially, “nothing so bizarre. After all, I used to be a real live man. Genies are simply the product of someone’s overactive imagination.”

“Uh huh,” I breathed, edging away from him.

“Tell me,” he asked, turning more toward me. “I’ve been out of touch for a while. Who is president of the United States? Is Woodrow Wilson still in the oval office?”

“Um…” I floundered. “He died a long time ago. It’s 2012 now, the president is Barack Obama.”

“What a peculiar name for a president of the United States,” Rex mused, then shook his head. “I don’t suppose you could find out what happened to my wife, could you?” he added hopefully.

That snapped me back to reality. “What’s her name?” I asked, fingering my laptop’s touch-pad to bring up my web browser.

“Dorothy,” he responded, “By the by, I suppose I should beg your pardon.  I’ve forgotten to ask your name, miss.”

“That’s okay,” I responded, typing the name Dorothy Bailey into the Google search box. “It’s Bernadette Greenough, most of my friends call me Birdie. Can you tell me when your wife was born?”

“March nineteenth of the year 1886,” he replied, gazing quizzically at me as I added that information. “What’s that you’re doing, Miss Greenough?”

“Birdie,” I repeated, absently, adding “Husband Rex” to the search when I didn’t turn up anything useful. “I’m trying to find out what happened to your wife.”

“Curious,” he muttered, watching me with interest.

“She died April first, 1935,” I told him, finally. “There was a fire. An electrical short in a table lamp started it, apparently.”

“Ah,” he replied smiling. “Good. How apropos a way for my killer to die.”

“Killer?” I gasped.

“Yes, indeed,” he replied. “She hit me over the head with the base of that lamp.”

“Why?” I asked, shocked.

“Well, it was raining that day, traffic was bad and, to top it off, I had to change a flat tire,” he confessed rather sheepishly, “so I arrived home late, wet and covered in mud. Dorothy had spent the entire day cleaning the house. She was always meticulous about the housekeeping. She was cleaning the lamp and had removed the shade to clean the base when I arrived home. When she saw the muddy footprints I’d just left in the carpet, she lost her temper. That’s the last thing I really remember. Good day to you, Miss Birdie.  You have my thanks.” So saying, he nodded politely to me, replaced his hat, and disappeared.

There were no further visits from Mr. Rex Bailey, after that. As for the lamp, I’ve never had to plug it in or put a light bulb in it. To this day, it lights up all by itself every night at sunset.

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