I jabbed my spade in the dirt at the base of a purple thistle, swearing madly. A feng shui consultant told me to neaten our front garden in order to keep the White Tiger happy. Or maybe it was the Turtle. Anyway, yet another quack got rich off our desperate attempt to conceive a baby.
A wasp buzzed near my ear. I swatted it away and felt my belly twinge. PMS cramps. Again.
I blinked the tears away. I jumped on the spade with both feet.
And I hit something. Thunk.
The impact vibrated through my feet and into my wrists, so it was something solid.
Maybe the people who sold us the house left behind a piece of pipe. We’d found weirder things, like a book on how to raise lovebirds. In Esperanto.
I jumped on the spade again.
My ears rang with the impact. I started digging in earnest, already imaging myself telling Danny, “Guess what I found today? Pirate treasure! Who knew they had pirates in Montreal?”
Fifteen minutes later, I lifted a little brass box out of the ground. No bigger than my hand, but very heavy.
Of course it was locked, but with a tiny little rusted padlock. I carried the box to the garden shed and lifted a pair of shears off a hook. If this didn’t work, I’d call on our local locksmith.
“STOP!” a tiny voice shouted.
I glanced over my shoulder, but we live on our own acre of land overlooking Mount Royal Park, so the wind whisks all sorts of conversations into our ears. I placed the box on the floor of the shed and knelt beside it.
“Arrêtez! Stop! Desist! Do ye not understand, ye overgrown witch woman?”
I peered out from the shed. Had someone tried to cross from the park into our back yard?
The wind flattened the grass and tickled my face, but I still couldn’t spot the source of the yelling, so I opened the jaws of the gardening shears and turned back to the box, only to meet the eyes of a knee-high man.
He looked like a small, skinny Santa Claus wearing an extremely fierce expression underneath the straggly beard.
“Ye found my treasure, ye great slattern! Give it back!”
I lifted the treasure in question to my shoulder level while I examined him from his doll-sized top hat and double-breasted jacket suit to his well-shined shoes, all the same red shade of a ripe apple. I said, “My name is Octavia.”
“I know who ye are, Octavia periwinkle snot-nose cavorter with beasts. You stole me treasure!” He pulled his beard and stomped his feet. “Now hand it over!”
The brass box felt heavy enough that I propped on top of my shoulder while I said, “Actually, the name’s Octavia Klein. And where I come from, we say please.”
“Where ye come from, the sun don’t shine!”
“Ah-ah-ah.” I backed out of the shed, keeping a careful eye on him. Since I don’t really garden, the only items he could access at floor level were potting soil and a few empty pots, but who knew what an angry imp could do?
I placed the treasure on the slanted roof of the garden shed, holding it in place with my hands.
The imp leapt in the air and tried to scale the beige aluminum wall. The wall thundered and reverberated under his soles, but he fell on his tiny behind and screamed.
I have to admit, I laughed.
The imp’s eyes narrowed. “Keep it up, ye upstart crow, and I’ll nae be giving you yer wishes.”
That got my attention. “Ooh! Do I get wishes?” That would make him a leprechaun, not an imp.
He held up three fingers. “Not that ye deserve them.”
“Hey, hey, hey. How am I any less deserving than any other woman out there?” My belly twinged again. Not now, I told it.
The leprechaun gritted his teeth. “I’ll nae argue with ye. Give me the treasure, or ye’ll never get your wishes.”
I shook my head. “It sounds good, but you could just be a crazy midget–uh, sorry, person of short stature. How do I know you’ve got any wishes to dole out? On the other hand, I’ve got this nifty box. It might have treasure or it might be empty. But even if it’s empty, some eBayer will want it.”
The leprechaun threw back his head and howled like a tiny, ear-shattering train.
My shoulders hunched up around my ears, but I tried to look bored. “Your name’s not Rumplestiltskin by any chance, is it?”
He swore at me so quickly, I didn’t understand the words, but I got the gist.
I said, “What if you did some magic to prove you’re the real thing?”
“I’m offering ye some magic! What more do ye want? Hand me the box, use yer first wish, and be done with ye!”
There was, of course, something I wanted more than anything else in my life. Something I’d been cradling close to my heart, that made me ache when I woke before the sun rose, while my husband snored beside me. Something that made me bring the box down to waist-level on me.
The leprechaun’s eyes sharpened with greed. He sprang in the air, but I yanked the box out of his reach and said, “Tell me a little about yourself.”
He stomped. “Do ye want to use up one of your wishes on that?”
“No, of course not. I just want to know what you are.”
He scratched his head. His fingers rustled through his hair, but somehow didn’t dislodge his little hat. “Are ye really so dinged ignorant ye don’t know?”
I shrugged. “Humor me.”
For the first time, his green eyes glinted and his mouth relaxed. “What if I told ye I’m yer fairy godfather?”
“I’d say you were lying. Also, I’d hope for one who swore a little less. Although your clothes are second to none.” I pointed at his shoes, which shone brighter than our mosaic-framed mirrors. Montreal girls know shoes.
“Do ye like them? I made the shoes meself.” He lifted the flaps of his jacket to reach into a hidden pouch on his waist. “Ye seem like a lass who appreciates the finer things in life. Why don’t ye take this gold and buy yourself something fine?”
Each coin looked bigger than a penny and shone twice as bright. “I’ve heard about this trick. The gold disappears after you leave, right? J.K. Rowling warned me about this.”
The leprechaun stamped his feet so hard, he made tiny dents in the grass. “Curses!”
The box’s corner pressed into my breastbone hard enough to leave it’s own dent. “Listen. Why don’t you come in and have a bite to eat. You eat, right?” I know you’re not supposed to eat or drink fairy food, but I thought it was okay to offer the leprechaun some tea. People used to leave milk out for Brownies, didn’t they?
He paused with one leg bent, ready to stomp.
“We don’t have to decide this right away. I’ve got your treasure. You don’t want to leave without it. I still have to pick my wishes.” I didn’t want to rush into this. I still remembered reading “The Monkey’s Paw” as a kid, too.
The leprechaun slowly straightened his leg. His breath hissed out between his teeth. “Ye’re lonely.”
I shook my head. “I have this great husband, Danny. I call him super deluxe Danny. He irons my laundry. Last Easter, he made an Easter egg hunt for me with nail polish instead of chocolate…”
The leprechaun clicked his tongue. “And where is this super deluxe husband of yers?”
“Singapore. But at Christmas, he bought this Charlie Brown Christmas tree–“
The leprechaun gestured at my front door. “Go on, then. I don’t suppose ye know how to make a proper cuppa?”
I kept the box tucked under my armpit while I poured boiling water over two bags of Earl Grey. I pushed a mug toward him over our maplewood table and said, “I figure you’re lonely too, or you wouldn’t have agreed to tea with me.”
“Woman, you have me treasure!” He banged on the table hard enough to rattle the teacups.
“Look,” I said, “Can you help me out here? Give me some tips about how to use the three wishes?”
The leprechaun shook his head, sniffed the tea and made a wretched face. “Could I have some lemon?”
I squeezed my last lemon and tipped two drops into his tea. “I want to call my husband. He’s the smartest guy I know. Is that allowed?”
“No indeed. Ye mustn’t mention my presence to anyone. And if ye don’t make up your mind right quick, ye artless fen-sucked lewdster, ye’ll get no wishes, treasure or no.”
That did it. I shoved the box across the table at him. “Here.”
His small mouth gaped open, revealing sharp, slightly yellowed teeth. His breath smelled like moss.
I said, “I’ll take those three wishes. But I won’t use them right away. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? I’m going to do some research. Once I decide, how do I get my first wish?”
He shut his mouth with an audible click and rubbed his nose. “Are all women as strange as ye nowadays?”
“So you’ll tell me how to get my wish?”
He seized the box. “Durn ye, ye bootless common-kissing mammet. If ye want yer wish, whistle three times.”
He disappeared, leaving me with the two mugs of Earl Grey tea and the promise of a wish.
Two months later, while I was still secretly teaching myself to whistle, I peed on a stick. For the first time, I saw two pink lines instead of one. I cried. Danny poured me apple juice in a champagne glass. I congratulated myself on saving my wishes.
Over the following three months, I struggled into my low-rise jeans until they no longer fit.
By November, people started betting on whether I’d have a boy or a girl, based on how fat my ass got.
In December, I went into labor. Despite the bed rest, despite the drugs dripping into my veins, I pushed a miniature baby girl out between my legs, too tiny to draw breath.
One year later, on Boxing Day, I locked myself in our bathroom and whistled three times, low and mournful, like a train.
The leprechaun materialized on the spotless marble bathroom counter. “Ye called?”
“I can’t do this anymore! I’m thirty-two years old. I’m going to die of menopause before I have a baby.”
The leprechaun shook his head. He still wore the same red suit, but had swapped his red shoes for knee-high boots.
Before I could change my mind, I started babbling. “Okay, I know menopause won’t kill me. But you know what I’m saying. You’re here and I want to use my first wish. I want to get pregnant with Danny’s baby, a normal, healthy baby who’ll live a long time.” I paused for a split second. “Preferably twins.”
He sighed. “If ye want twins, ye’ll use two wishes instead of one.”
I hardly thought that was fair. If I’d asked for a million dollars, would I use a million wishes?
He pulled his beard straight out from his chin, stroking it instead of looking at me. “Life wishes are the most dangerous.”
“Does that mean you can’t do it?” I avoided looking at my own crazed eyes and bed head reflected in the mirror behind him.
“Of course I can.” He pointed at my belly button. “Done.”
I stared at him. “I don’t feel anything.”
“Regardless, lass. Yer two wishes have been granted.” He disappeared, leaving me with my bottles of chamomile shampoo and vanilla bath crystals.
The January pregnancy test turned up pink double lines.
When I saw two hearts beating on the ultrasound monitor in March, I cried. So did Danny. He said, “It’s a miracle.”
He didn’t make it for the next series of blood tests or ultrasounds, because he was up for promotion and had to try and consolidate the South Asian market, but I didn’t care. They made DVD’s of the ultrasounds and Danny got to ask the doctors questions through texting me.
“He’s going to make it for the delivery, right?” asked my friend Brigitte, flipping through her fifth magazine in the clinic waiting room. The high risk maternity appointment ran ninty minutes behind today, which was about par for them. “He’s not going to pull a John Travolta, is he?”
I pulled my gaze away from the breastfeeding video on the waiting room TV. “What are you talking about?”
“You remember how John Travolta’s wife was, like, super old and about to pop and he went to Australia–“
“He flew back when she was in labor,” I informed her. No one knows celebrity baby porn better than I do. I probably should have done my Ph.D. on that instead of child labor in Thailand. “He was home in time for the delivery. She was forty-eight, which actually isn’t that old when you consider that the oldest woman to give birth was seventy–“
“Holy hormones, Octavia. Sensitive much?” said Brigitte, pulling a pack of gum out of her purse and offering me a piece.
“No. Thanks.” I bit off the rest, too angry.
She could probably see the steam coming out of my ears. “Look, babe. No one loves Danny more than me. I just hope he sticks around for the show. That’s all.” She chewed her gum and pointed at some wedge sandals. “These are cute.”
At that exact moment, they called me into exam room two, thus sparing Brigitte’s life.
By the end of July, I had to store my rings in my inlaid wood jewelry box and my face puffed up like a red pumpkin. When Danny brought me corn flakes in bed, I turned my head away. “I’m fat.”
“No, honey. You’re pregnant.” He grinned at me. “Times two.”
“No. Danny.” I stood up, pushing his arm away. Cereal and milk sloshed on to our Egyptian cotton sheets, but before I could bend over to clean it up, my vision blackened at the edges and my head swam.
I clung to my dresser.
Instead of grabbing the wood, I accidentally pulled the silk scarf off the dresser top.
My perfume bottle smashed on to the ground, but I barely heard it. Barely felt Danny grab me around the waist and call my name.
When I woke up, my mouth tasted like vomit. I tried to spit it out, but just that tiny movement made my head pound.
I felt a hand on my cheek. Danny. My husband. My forever love.
Tears squeezed out of my eyes and leaked out on to an unfamiliar, too-thin pillow. The room smelled like disinfectant. Fluorescent lights burned into my eyes.
I tried to say his name, but it came out more like “Unnnhn.”
“Tavvy, you had a seizure. You’re all right,” Danny said, but his hand trembled in mine. I heard him talking to someone else, but I let their words wash over me while I tried to remember what happened.
I closed my eyes. White lights still danced behind my eyelids.
I couldn’t feel the babies moving.
I clutched my belly, trembling with panic.
“Tavvy, it’s all right. The babies are okay. Better than you, maybe. Someone’s calling the obstetrician now. But the doctor thought you had pre-eclampsia.” Danny pronounced the word carefully.
I remembered reading about that. Remembered it was one of a dozen Bad Things. I couldn’t remember what it was supposed to do to you though. Give you seizures, I guess.
Twin A socked me in the ribs so hard, I gasped. Danny squeezed my hand and laughed. “They’re kickers, aren’t they? Just like their mommy.”
And their daddy. Danny had something to do tomorrow. Another flight. Somewhere. Couldn’t remember where, but it was very important. He had to go.
Everything would be okay. I still had one more wish.
I just had to whistle.
I tried. I blubbered instead. Twin B stirred.
“She’s making noise. I think she’s trying to talk!” said Danny.
I shook my head, but I could almost feel my brain slosh.
I asked for healthy babies.
I forgot to ask for a healthy me.
I pursed my lips and whistled once, low.
Danny squeezed my hand. “It’s okay, bunny. You don’t have to talk. Dr. Robertson’s coming soon.”
I whistled again, more air than melody.
Danny’s eyebrows drew together. He banged his free hand on the mattress. “Do you want to work out a code? You can squeeze my hand once for yes and twice for no. Are you hungry?”
Danny. Always problem-solving. Always–away. No. I shook my head, wincing at the sloshing and pounding and the lights. I squeezed my eyes shut and whistled a third time.
One minute it was just me and Danny and the blood pressure machine squeezing all the blood out of my arm.
The next minute, the leprechaun sat at the foot of the bed just out of kicking distance.
I called, “This is not part of the deal.”
Danny said, “I know, sweetheart.”
The leprechaun settled his butt on the gurney and kicked the hospital sheet while he talked right over Danny. “Oh yes it is, me darling. The twins are guaranteed healthy right up to thirty-seven weeks, no problem.”
My heart skipped a beat. That was better than I hoped for, them going right to term. “But if something happens to me–“
“Oh.” The leprechaun kicked the sheet again, flattening a tiny cotton-polyester sheet tent. “Modern medicine can work miracles of their own.”
I tried to process this. My head felt like it had been wrapped in cotton and then booted around by soccer hooligans. Even my arms ached. I flexed right my arm, but the IV catheter shifted in my wrist and the machine started to beep. Danny grasped my arm. “Nothing’s going to happen to you! Dr. Robertson is on her way. You’re going to be fine.”
He obviously couldn’t see the leprechaun. I saved my energy for the little guy. “Are you saying that if I die, they’ll just keep my body going until the twins are thirty-seven weeks?” I’d read about that. That, I remembered.
The leprechaun clicked his tongue. “I said nae such thing!”
He hadn’t denied it, either. And he was pulling on his beard again.
Danny said, “Tavvy! You’re not going to die! Please don’t think like that! You’re fine, the babies are fine. The ER doc even showed them to me on the ultrasound monitor.”
I squeezed Danny’s hand back. I loved him so much. My super deluxe Danny. The only man who never complained about my morning breath. The man who held me when our last baby, Helen, died.
And I said to the man in red, “I want to have a long and healthy life.”
“That’s yer third wish?”
“You know it is.”
He pointed between my eyes.
Twin A and B started hammering me so hard, Danny gasped, “I can see them through your shirt!”
The leprechaun shouted, “Done!” and disappeared just before Dr. Robertson’s white coat swished into the room.
I love my twins, Robert and Rita. Old-fashioned names, names for them to grow on.
They’re so different. Robert loves to build towers and ride on his toy cars. Rita spends hours talking to her stuffed animals. But they are both funny and gorgeous and occasionally infuriating.
“Do we have to visit Daddy again?” asked Robert, picking at his nose until I grabbed his hand. He wiggled away and rubbed the booger on his pants.
Rita looked up from her homemade paper dolls. She’d dressed the male doll in what looked like lederhosen. She complained, “I want to watch Kung Fu Panda.”
“One Hundred and One Dalmatians!” protested Robert.
“It’s Daddy’s birthday,” I said. “I made him a cake.” I tried to keep my voice steady. “Chocolate mousse. It was his favorite.”
Robert wiggled off the chair and ran into the dining room, while Rita said, “It’s not fair. I don’t want to go to the cemetery!”
Neither do I, I thought, but what I said was, “Rita. Robert. Come to the front door right now and put on your boots. In one…two…three.”
Three. The same age as the twins.
Robert raced Rita to the door and knocked her into the hallway frame. She cried, so I put him on time out while I nuzzled her curly brown hair. She giggled. I helped her into her boots.
At the cemetery, Robert dug around Danny’s grave with his little plastic green shovel. Some people might call this disrespectful, but I thought Danny would approve.
Rita placed her little mommy and daddy and two baby plastic dolls at the foot of the red granite gravestone. “‘And this is where my daddy lives now.’ ‘Oh. Is that your daddy? He’s very handsome.’ ‘Yes. I know. My mommy shows pictures of him all the time.'”
My last wish protected me instead of Danny.
Maybe the leprechaun could have stopped Danny’s plane from crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.
But he didn’t. Because I didn’t wish for that.
Even in my addled post-seizure brain, I knew I had to choose.
I chose myself. I chose the twins.
Maybe if I hadn’t dug up that treasure five years ago, Danny and I would never have had children. Or maybe we would have one our own and I killed my husband for nothing. I’ll never know.
When Robert shoves his plastic shovel in the gravestone dirt again, I hold my breath. You never know what–or who–might turn up. And this time I know I’ll do it right.
Melissa Yuan-Innes’s story was inspired by an Etsy.com article about an artist and her “super deluxe” husband. Melissa is familiar with stellar husbands (she married one), but couldn’t help wondering what it might be like to choosing between the people you love, kind of a magical Sophie’s Choice. In real life, Melissa is an emergency doctor who lives outside of Montreal with her husband, a happy boy, a loud toddler girl, and too many mosquitoes. Melissa recently jumped into the indie publishing fray with her imprint, Olo Books.