by Robin Weaver
Nicki trembled as she traced the golden lettering with her fingertips; the last time she’d opened the book, she’d killed her parents.
Nana had warned, “Be careful about wishes.” But little Nicki couldn’t help wishing she lived with her grandmother. After all, Nana was alone in her rambling old Colonial and her parents were so consumed with each other, they rarely noticed Nicki. When Mom and Dad died a month later, she did indeed move in with her grandmother. Only she didn’t go to her beloved Nana, she went to live with her other grandmother.
Fourteen years later, she’d earned a scholarship at a university near Nana’s house and even before she settled into her dorm, she had ridden her bike two miles to the hospital for a joyous reunion. When visiting hours were over, Nicki pedaled the extra two miles to the old Victorian and made the trek up the stairs to Nana’s attic. She’d started to leave when she noticed that some of the books had fallen, so she bent down, intending to return them to the shelf when she discovered the large volume lying behind the others. Her throat closed, and she struggled to breathe. She'd found the book with the hole. Again. The book that killed her parents.
She pulled the heavy hardcover from its hiding place, dislodging other books as she did so. She studied the gilded title, Book of Magic. She’d been unable to read the last time she held the book.
Pushing the book away, she remembered how she’d shrank when Nana’s gaze appraised her at the hospital. She felt heavier than ever with the extra forty pounds she carried and believed her own nose, and its pronounced hump, had overshadowed their special get-together. She felt embarrassed as her once beautiful grandmother ran a wrinkled yet still soft hand over her sallow, blemished cheek.
Her grandmother had whispered, “You’ll always be lovely.” The old woman had chuckled. “It was your birthday, last week, so that means you can have a wish. But only one.”
Nicki had been stunned. She’d expected her grandmother to dismiss her childish superstitions and tell her the book wasn’t real. She’d carried the guilt of her parent’s death too long.
“And, honey, don’t be greedy.” After that, her grandmother dozed.
Nicki’s hands still trembled but she opened the cover anyway, discovering the crude square area where someone cut a hole in the pages. She started to slam the book closed when she remembered her grandmother’s words, “Don’t be greedy.”
“Maybe one small wish wouldn’t hurt.” She placed her hand into the hole and chanted, “I wish I were thin.” Her hand felt like it had been licked by flames, but she berated her imagination, “I’m chemistry major, not some little girl who believes in magic.” She restacked the books and then pedaled back to school.
During the next months, she visited her Nana whenever she could and by the last day of the semester, the old woman had recovered enough to return home. Nicki went to say her goodbye. “I will see you in the fall, Nana.”
Her eyes teared, but the elderly woman smiled, “You will indeed child.”
Nana pushed a package at her and she protested, knowing her grandmother didn’t have enough money to buy presents. The bag held a new pair of jeans and a short little shirt—the kind Nicki could never wear and the kind grandmothers didn’t buy. She gave Nana a kiss of thanks but she intended to return the items and put the money in Nana’s secret jar.
“Try them on.”
Her grandmother smiled. Nicki swallowed, desperate for an excuse to forgo the fashion show. She would never fit into the skinny little clothes. Nana laughed, as if reading her mind, and pushed her toward the bathroom.
Nicki took the shirt and pulled it over her head hoping it would stretch, but to her amazement, the shirt fit. Like Angelina Jolie’s tank top. In a trance, she slipped on the pants and easily pulled the zipper to the top. She ran from the bathroom to stare at her reflection in the antique standing mirror.
“Good Lord. I’m thin.”
Over the summer, she had decided the bike riding, not the Book of Magic, had sculpted her hot new figure. When she returned to college, she decided to prove that the book was just a book. She had difficulty finding the leather-covered hardback in Nana’s attic. Someone had moved the book to another shelf, tucking it under a large dictionary. Almost as if the mystery person wanted to hide it. She wished for a pretty nose, knowing that wish couldn’t possibly come true.