12+ Handcuffed in the police car, I wished the lamp hadn't been magical.
"That, sir, is a genuine antique," the stallholder had asserted when I'd stopped and inspected it at the secondhand market.
The oil lamp looked like a prop from Disney's Aladdin. But though tarnished, I thought the embossed metal would polish up nice and shiny and earn me a tidy profit.
"My grandfather, may he rest in peace," the stallholder added, "brought this lamp back home with him from the middle-east after World War One."
I turned the lamp upside down, searching for a modern welding seal.
"He served in the desert with Lawrence of Arabia," the stallholder continued. "And the lamp was a gift from an Arabian prince Lawrence and my grandfather rescued from the Turks."
I couldn't find a weld, so I opened the lid and ran a finger along the dark inside of the lamp, feeling for imperfections.
"My grandfather reckoned the lamp was magical," the stallholder expanded on his story. "He said it saved his life in the desert when the Turks ambushed him and Lawrence. And on the way home when a German U-boat torpedoed his troop ship."
I closed the lid and fixed the stallholder a wary look. "It must be difficult to part with," I suggested, "being a family heirloom."
"Oh, yes, sir," he agreed with a sad-faced shrug. "But times being what they are, we all have to make a sacrifice. Like my grandfather during World War One."
His story was plausible. But in my experience of antique and secondhand markets, most sellers used family connection spiels like this to pluck a potential buyer's heartstrings.
"I might be interested in buying it," I said, replacing the lamp and fixing the stallholder with my negotiator's stare, "depending on the price."
A foxlike smile creased his face. "I tell you what, sir," he replied. "Knowing my grandfather's lamp will go to a good home, I'll make you a special deal."
The stallholder named a figure, and I countered it with a substantially lower offer. We haggled for a few minutes and settled on a sum midway between the two.
"You drive a hard bargain, sir," the stallholder congratulated me, wrapping the lamp in old newspaper and exchanging it for my cash with a handshake. "But if I may give you some advice," he added with a wink. "Don't polish this because you might release its magical powers!"
We both laughed at his joke and parted. But, of course, I ignored the stallholder, and the lamp shone so brightly after a good rub with Brasso that I set it on my mantlepiece instead of reselling it.
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And while Aladdin's genie didn't appear from the lamp in a puff of smoke, as if by magic, my side-hustle buying and selling antiques and secondhand goods without questioning their provenance suddenly boomed.
But my good fortune proved short-lived and risky. And now busted and handcuffed by the police, I wish I'd never seen the so-called magical lamp.
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
Thanks to Kerim Sarıgül for the image of a magic lamp from Pixabay.
I wrote The Magical Lamp for the Australian Writer's Centre's quarterly Furious Fiction writing competition in December 2022. The brief was:
- The 500-word short story has to begin with a 12-word sentence.
- The story has to include the sale of a secondhand item.
- And contain at least five different words ending in the letters "–ICE".
The Furious Fiction brief arrives on the first Friday of the quarter at 5 PM, and writers have 55 hours to write and submit their stories before the Sunday midnight deadline.
I like to quarantine the weekend for devising, writing and editing my short stories. However, this quarterly weekend, I had a lunch date with a friend on Saturday and an all-day family event on Sunday. And the Socceroos played Argentina in a do-or-die World Cup game at 5 AM on Sunday.
Consequently, I wrote my Furious Fiction entry more furiously than usual, with even less time for reflection and proofreading. And the short story I'm sharing on Tall And True is a reworked version of the original.
For instance, the 12-word first sentence in December 2022 was: "Sitting handcuffed on my sofa, I wish I'd walked past the lamp." But I reworded it to introduce the magical element of the lamp and its consequences from the start of the story: "Handcuffed in the police car, I wished the lamp hadn't been magical."
There are other subtle differences between the versions (like fixing the spelling of double-d "Aladin"!), but I've respected the 500-word brief. And I hope you enjoyed this Furious Fiction-inspired short story.
N.B. You might like to read about my latest Furious Fiction short story collection, Twelve More Furious Months. And you can listen to The Magical Lamp on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months. And in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.