If you haven’t read the first part of this story, go to: Dr. Frankenstein and the Curse of Self Awareness. Then return here for the conclusion.
The phantasm was your standard-issue genie in some respects: very tall; with a long, twirling mustache and broad shoulders. But the creature’s bug eyes were friendly if you could get past just how imposing he was, and he had a welcoming smile. In other words, the sort of genie you wouldn’t mind having a beer with.
I am at your service, Master. You may request one wish and one wish only. But I must warn you. The maker of this lamp wanted to be sure that no one would use it to cause harm. He therefore required me to tell its possessor that any wish that would damage another will cause just the same type of injury to the person who makes the wish.
The genie then took a deep breath before speaking again:
OK, now you’ve heard what my maker required me to tell you. But, over the 3000 years I’ve been doing this work, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands in between people finding the lamp and making wishes. So, you should know that I once took a junior college course in psychology, and I’ve dabbled with being a therapist. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll dump this gig and get a real job. What I’m trying to get at is that if you want, I will give you 50 minutes of my time to discuss your possible choices before you make the one wish; breakfast included, no extra charge!
With that, the food appeared. “Wow,” said Ralph. “Thank you so much. I never could get my wife to go to marital counseling and she almost never cooks, so this is great! I kind of thought maybe I should go to therapy myself, but never seem to have the time.” Ralph was not used to anyone showing him consideration, so his interest in talking was as much for the semi-human contact with a congenial genie as it was to help him with the job of choosing how to use the gift of the lamp.
“So, what’s on your mind?” asked the genie. Ralph proceeded to describe his marital life and how his wife now had the appearance of a sex-pot, but no interest in him except to bankroll her lifestyle. The genie listened patiently. Ralph was definitely not used to that.
“Well Ralph, have you considered returning your wife’s appearance to what it was before? That would be no problem for me.”
“No, I don’t want to do that to her,” replied Ralph. “She would be so depressed and she’d never forgive me either.”
“Then how about if I make you as handsome as she is beautiful?” offered the genie.
“No,” said Ralph again, “I don’t think that would make her appreciate me. She’s never been bothered about how I look. My appearance is probably the only thing she has accepted from the start of our time together. Besides, she’d get used to any change in that department pretty quickly and then the status quo would be reestablished, with her complaining about other stuff or asking me to spend money on her. No, I don’t think that is the answer.”
Ralph was quiet for a while, and it was clear that the genie had no more suggestions to offer. Then Ralph brightened: “You know, I think I figured out what I want. I’d like Fox to see herself in the mirror. Not the outside, external stuff, but the inside stuff. I’d like her to see how self-involved she is, how much she complains, how she is never satisfied with things as they are, and how much I love her. Just for one minute — one minute of self-awareness. Maybe that would change her forever. Can you do that, genie?”
“Absolutely, Ralph. Bring her here tomorrow just before dawn with a hand-mirror and it will be done.”
Ralph spent an anxious day and a sleepless night waiting for the morning. It took some doing to persuade Fox to get to bed early for the beach surprise he promised, especially because her eye and skin sensitivity caused her to avoid sunny places. But she was intrigued by Ralph’s request, he assured her they would only be there for a little while after the sun came up, and she thought maybe there was a luxury car or trip to France that he would spring on her. So, she came along the next day, uncharacteristically quiet in the short car ride to the sand and water, except for an occasional attempt to wheedle the surprise out of her husband.
As instructed by the genie, Ralph carried a small satchel and walked with Fox to the empty beach a few minutes before sunrise. The genie, who could make himself small, was resting in Ralph’s ear, where he whispered precise instructions. Ralph laid out a large beach towel and asked Fox to sit on it facing the water. The lamp stayed in the bag as Ralph removed the mirror and asked Fox to hold it to her face and take off her sun glasses. “Oh, Ralphie, are you going to give me some jewelry?” Then came the dawn.
In the first second, Fox saw in her reflected image not her finely drawn and expensively achieved features, but her personality as it really was. By the fifth second, she realized how vain and narcissistic she was. In the eighth she became aware of her lack of kindness. By the fifteenth, she concluded that she had been a poor mother, neglectful of her children. By second 30 Fox knew that she had betrayed Ralph with her physician and had no excuse for doing so. At second 40 she saw her life as empty, meaningless, and selfish. And in the last 10 seconds of her single minute of self-awareness, Fox realized how much she had taken advantage of and hurt her husband, who, it finally dawned on her, loved her more than anyone else in her life ever had or could. At second 60 — crying the non-stop, can’t-catch-your-breath tears of catharsis — Fox’s heart broke and then stopped beating. She collapsed in Ralphie’s arms, already dead.
For an instant — enough time for a horrified, heart-rending sigh and the formation of a single tear — Ralph sat staring at the devastation wrought by his attempted salvation of his marriage. His wish had been benign, after all — to make Fox as beautiful inside as she was on the surface; a person whose self-awareness would transform her into the compassionate, loving wife and mother Ralph and his children still ached for.
But his gasp signalled only the dawning of Ralph’s own self-awareness, just as the genie had warned and just as unexpected by Ralph as what he had witnessed in his wife. In the first second he realized how weak he had been with Fox; by the 10th, how much he had hurt his kids by not providing them with a strong role-model. Thirty-seconds into his minute of searing insight he recognized himself as an enabler. And in the final part of the 60 seconds that were played out in excruciating slow-motion — like pulling a band-aid off along with the skin to which it is attached — Ralph saw himself as Dr. Frankenstein, the creator of a monster, one body part at a time; and how much his life with Fox would have been different if he had learned how to say “no” and commanded more respect. At the end of Ralph’s single minute of enlightenment, his heart also stopped. He slumped over his equally dead wife; ironically, physically closer than they had been for some time.
In that last fraction of a second before Ralph’s heart broke, he finally figured out that he and Fox had not been badly matched at all. In fact, they were perfectly matched, as if made for each other, like a glove that has been custom-cut and sewn to fit one’s hand. They were so utterly wrong for each other that they were right. Fox could not have become “herself” without Ralph, and Ralph could not have fulfilled his potential to become a good-hearted, but beaten dog without her. Like two intimately bound elderly people in a long marriage, they had to die close in time. One could not live without the other.
The genie crawled out of Ralph’s right ear. He assumed his full height and stood over the wreckage of the magic lamp’s painfully illuminating wish-fulfillment. Gosh, this never happened before, he thought to himself. Criminy. Maybe I need to get out of the genie business. Three-thousand-years is enough. I don’t want this to happen again. And I’ve long wanted to be a therapist. What about marriage counseling?
Hmm. Let me think about this.
The top image is a poster for the Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein. The Arabian Nights Entertainments by Milo Winter, published in 1914 by Rand McNally and Company is sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The final image is a Magic Lamp.