My job is to fulfill wishes. I possess all sorts of powers that allow me to help my clients accomplish their life’s purpose. If you want, we can discuss a contract and… Excuse me?
How about me? My dream? Well, it’s a long story. Let’s get back to business.
No? You insist. So, you’re going to be that kind of difficult client.
Well, how to explain? There was that one day in spring when I went to the lake with someone very dear to me. It was a rainy, yet sunny day at the same time. The sound of the raindrops breaking the surface of the water inspired me a piece of music. Every time I played it afterward, it took me back to that day I spent by the lake.
The problem is, I’ve lost this ability, the ability to bring back memories by playing piano. Whenever I play my old pieces, or anything for that matter, it sounds empty and lackluster. It’s kind of weird.
The saddest thing is, I didn’t realize how important this skill was to me until it was gone. I would give anything to go back to that time when I could make people smile and cry with music.
That’s my dream, I guess. I wish I had the power to fulfill it but…that’s a long story, as I’ve already said.
Actually, it might reassure you a little if I told you about my work through the story of one of my clients. There’s one that’s pretty interesting. Not that I want to waste your time…
Oh, you want to hear about it?
Alright. Let’s get started, then.
I met Tara for the first time on a Monday afternoon. Or Tuesday. I mean, who cares. I was getting ready to go teach my first piano lesson of the day when the bell of my apartment buzzed. I went to the intercom, ready to tell off whoever waited downstairs. No one ever came by anymore, apart from people who wanted to save my soul. “Hello?” I muttered.
“Hey, are you Christine?” The person sounded like a teenage girl or a young woman.
“Yes. Who is it?”
“I’d like to ask you about…a service.”
“I don’t give services.”
I hung up. The girl rang a couple more times, but I let it be. Until a couple of years ago, I had been working as a freelancer. I did all sorts of things for all sorts of clients. When I say things, I don’t mean things such as mowing the lawn or fixing the plumbing. My abilities were a little more peculiar.
You may have already heard of us. Or maybe you haven’t. It’s true that our profession is rooted in secrecy. As freelancers, we pass the centuries by using our powers to fulfill dreams. In return, we ask our clients to give us something that matches the scale of their demand. We hide among humans as teachers, librarians, taxi drivers… Anything that allows us to go unnoticed as we look for our next contract.
That was all in the past, however. Usually, people took my refusal in a civilized manner. I expected this girl to do the same. Her voice hadn’t let out that she would be particularly uncivilized, even though it’s kind of hard to spot a psychopath just from the voice. When I heard a knocking at my door a little later on, while I was brushing my hair in the bathroom, my intuition told me to be on my guard.
A girl waited in the corridor. She was a couple of inches shorter than me; she wore a blue windbreaker jacket over gray sweatpants and her short hair was gathered in a half ponytail. And I was soon to learn that she was also the beginning of the majority of my problems.
“I saw your ad in a magazine,” she said. As I feared, she was the stranger who had buzzed a moment ago. No apologies. I started to suspect I might be dealing with what we refer to in the field as a “brat.”
I picked the piece of glossy paper she handed me. She must have torn that yellowed thing from the magazine in question. It was at least ten years old. “Did you find this in a dentist’s office?” I said, half-joking.
“This is you, right?”
It brought back memories. Here's what the ad said:
Lost hope? Need a miracle? I solve any problem. Call Christine…
And then it listed my phone number. “This is old. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I changed my number.”
“I did. A couple of your former clients helped me figure out where you live. I’ve been searching for you for weeks.” She admitted all this without showing any sign that she realized how creepy she sounded.
I heard that, if you meet face to face with a predator, like a wolf or a bear, you need to avoid making eye contact because it can make them aggressive. To put all chances of survival on my side, I crumpled the piece of paper without looking at the girl and I tried to close the door. To my horror, the girl pushed back. “Some people say that what you do is nothing short of miracles.”
Miracles? Yes, I guess you could say that.
The girl realized flattery wouldn’t change my mind. She resorted to another technique, “Other people say you’re actually just a scammer.”
That ticked me off. “I’m not a scammer.”
“Then listen to me. I really need your help!”
I let the door open wide, not without a rattling sigh to let her know what a spectacular pain in the neck she was. That girl needed a miracle to fix her attitude. “Please, come in,” I said, with quite a bit of sarcasm that went unheeded.
I led her to the sofa in my living room. She sat down and introduced herself, “I’m a dancer with the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre. I’ve been a member of the corps de ballet for three years and I need help getting promoted.”
I opened my old notebook at some random page and sat down on the armchair opposite the sofa. “Nothing some hard work and dedication can’t fix,” I commented.
“I’m already hard working! You don’t get into the MBT without hard work and dedication! My problem is that everybody there hates me.”
“I wonder why.”
My sarcasm wasn’t wasted on her this time. She drew herself up, “You don’t take me seriously.”
“I’ve retired. I don’t accept new clients.”
“I’ll pay whatever price you ask.”
I closed my notebook on my cat doodle. “Will you, really?”
She froze in her seat. I decided to expand on this idea; maybe it would cool her down a bit. “If I agree to help you, this means that we have to enter a contract. We must agree on a price you will pay in return for the service. However, my professional order also forces me to offer a penalty as a guarantee that I will do anything I can to fulfill your demand. This means that if I fail, I will lose something. This is a gamble I refuse to play anymore.”
The stranger faltered, “I don’t… I don’t want you to lose anything… I just want to be promoted.”
“The terms are the terms. At my old age, they aren’t worth it anymore.”
“Old age? You don’t look much older than me and I’m 19.”
“I am wise beyond my years. Now, get out. I’ve got stuff to do.”
I ushered her out of my place before she had time to say another word and I made sure to lock the door behind her.
Sorry for that rough introduction. It had been a while since anyone had asked me for my services. As I said, I used to work as what we call a freelancer: I performed all sorts of tasks for a price. Clients came to me with their problems and I used my powers to help them.
The issue for me was that my professional order, also known as the Order, had its way of making sure freelancers never botched a job. For every contract, I needed to offer something as a penalty in case I failed to meet the demand of the client. At some point, my past cheeky self failed one too many times and I decided I wasn’t going to risk losing one more thing as penalty.
Being a piano teacher was the cover I used to blend in among humans. After I retired from freelancing, I made it my full-time job.
My exchange with the girl stuck in my head for the rest of the evening and the cool autumn air did nothing to clear my mind. My first two lessons went by in a blur. It got a bit better by the third one, because Marco, a feisty six-year-old monkey, never let me get lost in my thoughts for long. “Marco, you’re going too fast,” I instructed.
We sat on the bench at the upright piano. His dad remained nearby and checked on us every once in a while. I played the little waltz to demonstrate the right tempo. When you hear a waltz, it gives this kind of sweepy feel that makes people want to sway a bit. Because, as I already mentioned, I had lost my ability to express feelings when I played, my demonstration accomplished no such thing. However, my technique remained correct and Marco had no excuse.
“It’s boring,” he complained when I asked him to play again.
“Let’s use the metronome,” I said, searching through the apps on my phone.
“No! Not the metronome!”
Marco started again, this time more slowly and carefully. When he was done, he let out a big sigh.
“Much better,” I encouraged.
“Christine, are you married?”
Who knew what kind of connections took place in that little brain on a daily basis? The lesson was almost over and we were both fed up, so I humored him a bit. “No.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m a hundred years old.” I was actually quite a bit older, but I just wanted to mess with him.
“No way! That’s impossible. You don’t look a hundred.”
He thought for a bit and came up with this ground-breaking conclusion. “So, you’re a hundred and you’re not even married? No wonder you’re grumpy all the time.”
Why was the universe putting all the brats in my way? Some days dragged by excruciatingly slowly, second by second. I couldn’t wait to be home again.
When the lesson was finally over, I headed back to my apartment. I never paid it much attention before, but my bus passed right in front of the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre. It was an imposing, rich building topped with a dome that dated from the mid-nineteenth century. The raindrops scattered the streetlights in red, blue and golden halos that floated all around it. Was the girl in there right at this moment?
Christine used to fulfill wishes for a living, but after one too many failed jobs, she vows never to use her powers again. That is, until an ambitious ballet dancer forces her to reconsider. Even though she's had enough drama for a lifetime, Christine slowly realises that this last task might in turn help her recover the most important thing she ever lost.