By Klara Woldenga, Entertainment Editor
You can’t buy happiness, but you have to buy everything else. This was a fact Alex Clerk was still getting used to. In a little less than two college semesters, she had already burned through her savings and was barely getting by on her part-time tutoring job and strong intuition for lost change. She had already cut down on everything: Makeup for her blotchy fair skin, clothing for her short small frame, shoes, shoes again, but she was still barely scraping by with just enough to buy ramen for her stomach and toothpaste for her teeth.
Nearing the end of her next winter semester, in her worn, bundled grey coat and holed black boots, Alex had taken to collecting discarded cans for change. In the cover of darkness, she leaned over yet another large trash can, hoping for recyclable aluminum cylinders. She pressed herself against the fresh dust of snow and eventually pulled her hand out with success, placing two more into her already overflowing plastic bag. She bent down to tie a plastic knot before slinging it over her shoulder to carry it back to her shared apartment.
“Collect this, sweetie!”
The young male voice came from a passing vehicle, followed by a whizzing, followed by a painful CLUNK as a can made its way from the young man’s hand to Alex’s head to the cold ground. Grumbling, Alex picked it up with one hand and rubbed the side of her head with another.
“Idiots,” she said, before sticking the can in her pocket and making the trek back home.
The creaking door greeted Alex as she slowly and quietly entered her shared apartment. She quickly took off her shoes before navigating down the dark hall and to the smallest room on the left. She pressed her way past her white door and into her overly-filled space. She dropped the full plastic bag into the corner with the others and herself onto her single messy bed. A soft crunch reminded her about the can in the jacket she was still wearing, so she took the can out and the extra clothing off. The can was red, dirty, and now half-collapsed from her weight. It also displayed a language unrecognized by her or a lazy Google search. With her thumb, she rubbed the dirt off the back label in search of more information.
The can reacted to the attention by shaking violently. Retching this way and that, trying to escape from her hand. Alex yelped and threw the can towards her computer desk. She scrambled under her pink covers as the can bounced across her desk, knocking over stacks of paper and empty ramen cups.
“SHUT UP, DON’T YOU KNOW WE’RE TRYING TO HAVE SEX IN HERE?!” her roommate yelled from the other bedroom. Alex was, in fact aware; she had heard circus music when she came home, just like every time her roommate had sex.
The can finally stopped on its side at the desk’s farthest end as grey smoke began pouring out and onto the floor, covering Alex’s piles of papers and dirty clothes in a thick mist. Finally, a small man crawled out from the can—well, sort of a man. He was two inches tall and wore black sweatpants and a white shirt that read “No Fat Chicks.” He had a brown long beard and man-bun to match. He raised his arms and head to the sky.
“GREETINGS!” he said to the heavens in a deeper voice than his size would have suggested. “I am the genie from the can, and you have been granted three wishes!”
Alex quickly dropped the covers she had been cowering under. Three wishes! Just for her! The answer to all of her problems! She scooted to the edge of her bed and pressed her hands into her knees with excitement. The genie turned his gaze to Alex. He looked her up and down as he lowered his arms, crossing them in front of his chest. A long silence followed. Alex stared, waiting for his mystical words to fill her room.
“Oh,” he finally said.
Alex’s energy and expression dropped.
“What do you mean, ‘Oh’?” she asked.
The genie tightened his stance and looked at a pile of papers on her desk as he began.
“Well, I was hoping the next person I would be giving wishes to would be… more…”
“More…?” said Alex, her arms now crossed.
“Look, it doesn’t matter, okay?” He looked up at Alex with a stern eye. “You get three wishes. Make ‘em.”
Alex decided not to press. She’d be annoyed if she lived in a can too, she assumed.
“Okay…” she began. “I wish for…” she looked around her small room until she spotted an empty ramen cup. “An infinite ramen cup! That always fills up again when it’s empty!”
The genie snapped his fingers, and a Styrofoam cup filled with warm instant noodles appeared in front of Alex. She grabbed it and began eating with the attached fork. The genie sighed and turned his body away from her.
“What’s your problem with me, dude?” Alex asked with a mouthful of processed wheat.
“I said it was nothing,” the genie snapped.
Alex strongly postured herself on her bed, looming over the small mystical man from her pink sheets. She pulled a stray hair back behind her ears.
Living in a can was no excuse for this rude behaviour, Alex thought. Then she had another thought.
“My second wish is that you tell me why you have such a problem with me!” she said.
The genie raised a brown eyebrow. “Alrighty then. My problem is that I would prefer to give my wishes to a man instead of a woman.”
“Why? Are you a sexist pig or something?”
The genie plunked himself down onto her computer’s keyboard, causing the word program open on her screen to type an infinite number of Ns, then Bs.
“That’s really none of your business,” he said. “Unless you want to waste another wish.”
Alex clenched her teeth and slammed down her infinite ramen cup on her cheap white nightstand.
“Are you kidding me?” she said to the ceiling. “I get a genie that can solve all of my problems and he’s a sexist asshole.”
The genie held his space, moving to the keyboard’s space bar and pressing his palms together.
“This is a business interaction,” he said. “My preferences shouldn’t concern to you. They don’t affect your ability to get what you want.”
She jerked up and pointed a finger at the spirit.
“No!” she said. “We need to demand respect from individuals like you so all women are treated equally. We shouldn’t tolerate people like you and your fucking ancient attitude.”
“Well,” the genie began. “I am over ten thousand years old and live in a small can-”
“That’s not an excuse!” yelled Alex. “We need to stand up to individuals and shame those who act like this.”
She took the step between the bed and her desk and stood over him. The space was small enough to hold her and her anger.
“I wish you were no longer sexist and treated everyone equally regardless of their sex or gender,” she said.
The genie glared at her. “How altruistic of you.” He said as he snapped his fingers. Alex stood and waited for a change in his posture, his mood, anything, but found nothing in her momentary search. After a few moments what little patience she had was gone.
“Are you less sexist now, or what?” Alex asked. The genie and the mist began to slowly disappear back into the dented can.
“Yes, thank you.” he said. “I realize not that it’s best to treat everyone equally regardless of sex of gender.” He looked down at his T-shirt and snapped his fingers, removing its sexist slogan. Alex finally relaxed her shoulders as she watched her new friend fade away.
“Okay great, are we cool now?”
“No, not at all,” he said flatly, now only half-visible.
“What the hell?” she said, her shoulders rocks again. “Why?”
“Because you forced me to change my mind through magic,” he said, only his voice remaining now. “I don’t like anyone who forces me to change my perspective against my will, regardless of their sex or gender.”
“But that’s so stupid!”
There was a quiet laugh heard from the can, then silence.
Alex picked up the can and threw it into her trash. Recycling isn’t for every can, she thought before dropping back down onto her bed. She picked up her endless ramen cup and thought about her wishes as she ate. At least she had all of her meals figured out forever. Her roommate’s voice was suddenly heard through the wall.
“SEXISM CANNOT BE SOLVED THROUGH SHAME AND FORCE! IT CAN ONLY BE HEALED THROUGH COMMUNICATION, CONNECTION, AND TIME!”
“SHUT UP SANDRA!” Alex yelled back at the wall before going back to her meal.
Alex died of malnutrition three months later.