40 comments

American Funny Contemporary

Henry’s mother was the kindest, gentlest, and most beautiful person he’d never met. Sure, there were pictures of Henry and his mom the day he had been born and on his first day of kindergarten and some from his first few birthdays, but Henry had no memory of her outside the photos and keepsakes. But the stories. Oh, the wonderful stories. For as long as Henry could remember his dad would spend at least an evening or two a week telling Henry about his mother and just how amazing she was.  


Henry’s dad William had met Aolani, Henry’s mom, while stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu. At first she wasn’t interested in the dashing young airman, but over time the two had fallen passionately in love. A relationship that almost never started ended up with the most beautiful Hawaiian wedding ever. William and Aolani said their “I do’s” with a setting sun peaking through clouds surrounded by a perfectly red sky as the backdrop. The sand of the beach was whiter than snow, and the ocean was as blue as Aolani’s eyes.  


Just over a year later, Henry—named after his paternal grandfather—came on the scene to make the clan complete. They were the perfect family living in paradise until William's orders came. William, Aolani and two-year-old Henry were destined for Malmstrom Air Force Base in Cascade County, Montana. There was no way William could know when the wheels of the airplane lifted off the runway that his beautiful wife would never see Hawaii again. 


The cancer came like a thief in the night. It robbed Aolani of her energy, her passion, and eventually her life. William was left with the painful memories of a story ended too soon, but Henry didn’t even have that luxury. He had a hole in his heart only a mother could fill but all he was left with were stories of Hawaii and its magic.


It was William’s dream to take Henry to the exact spot where he had first laid eyes on Aolani. He wanted Henry to feel his mother's spirit, but just like so many dreams, it wasn’t meant to be. Three months before Henry’s 23 birthday, William lost his own battle to cancer, leaving this world with only one wish. On his deathbed, he made Henry promise that he would take William’s ashes and spread them on the beach where his parents had been married all those years ago. Henry, of course, made this promise to his dying father knowing he could never fulfill it as Henry had one of the worst cases of aerophobia, fear of flying, ever diagnosed. To add to Henry’s misery, he was also afflicted with debilitating seasickness. He couldn’t fly to Hawaii nor could he take a boat. William’s ashes would not be spread on the beach in Hawaii; they would sit on Henry’s mantle, reminding him of his unfulfilled promise.


To try to quiet his demons, Henry eventually moved to San Diego. Somewhere deep inside he hoped that the magic his father had found in Honolulu wasn’t reserved for just Hawaiian beaches. Henry was obsessed with finding the perfect wife, just like his his father had found in his mom. His lack of success was not a function of his effort as Henry had dated numerous young ladies. He had grown into a very handsome young man, taking the strong jaw and muscular build from his father and the darker skin and blue eyes from his mother. Everywhere he looked, there were beautiful, young, eligible women. Almost every time, he would ask one out they would say yes. Sometimes there would be a second date or even a third. A time or two the relationships would last for a few months, but no woman could live up to the standard set by the stories Henry’s father had told him about Aolani. To Henry the only way to find that perfect woman was to go to Hawaii.


To many California is paradise, especially where Henry called home. Almost every day in San Diego is exactly the same: sunny, low humidity, and 72 degrees. It was perfect, so perfect it was almost boring, so when Henry woke up that rainy, cold morning, he excitedly jumped out of bed and headed to the beach. To most, it was the worst day in months, but to Henry, it was different. He needed something different. Unlike every other day, Henry was able to walk down the beach alone with nothing but his thoughts to keep him company.  


His mind wandered from subject to subject, never stopping on anything important enough to remember until he began to contemplate giving up and moving back to Montana. He had come to California chasing Hawaii and had been totally, regularly, and depressingly unsuccessful.  


His mind was almost made up when he saw it.  


At first, he wasn’t sure what it was. It flashed a little bit of color, but from a distance it looked like trash. As Henry walked closer, he realized it was some sort of antique lamp. It had obviously spent years in the ocean as it was tarnished and green. Henry reached down to pick up the object. When he did, the detail, hidden by grime, was unmistakable. The lamp had to be the handiwork of a master craftsman, and, although not an expert, Henry was positive it was made of pure gold. Instinctively, Henry took his shirt sleeve and made an effort to rub some of the crud off the lamp. 

No sooner had he done so then it started to shake, falling from Henry’s hands. Before it hit the ground, smoke started to pour out of the front. In what couldn’t have been more than an instant, Henry was no longer alone. Standing in front of him, at least twenty feet tall, was what can only be described as a genie—just like the ones children read about in the adventures of Alibaba.


“Thank you for freeing me from an eternity of captivity!” The genie exclaimed with a voice both booming and authoritative. “What is your name?”

Henry should have been scared. He should have run, but he was a man at his wits end and had nowhere to go, so he stayed and answered the genie’s question.

“My name is Henry,” he responded without the hint of fear or trepidation. “Why do you ask?”


“Because Henry, my good man, you are to be rewarded for your kindness. For freeing me, I offer you one wish. You may have anything you like.”  


In all the stories about genies, the men and women who were granted wishes would always labor over how to best use those wishes. But not Henry.


“Here is the thing,” he started, as if he had planned every word in advance. “I want to, no I need to go to Hawaii. I made a promise to my father to scatter his ashes, and somehow I also know it’s only there that I will find my true love.”  


“Go on,” the genie replied, a look on his face that betrayed his confusion. It was as if his expression was saying: You don’t need me to get to Hawaii. But the genie hadn’t heard the rest. 


Henry continued. “Here’s my problem I am deathly afraid of flying, and I get dangerously seasick, so I’ve never been able to go. My wish, my only wish, is that I want you to build a bridge that goes from the beach here in San Diego to the beach in Honolulu so that any time I want to go to Hawaii, I can just jump in my car and drive.”


For what seemed like forever yet was only a minute or so, Henry and the Genie stared at each other in silence until the genie finally spoke. In a voice dripping with disdain, the genie replied, “Are you insane? Have you thought of the logistics of this wish? Do you know how much concrete it would take to build such a bridge?” The genie paused to gather his thoughts before continuing the inquisition. “How about the cable? How much cable would it take to build such a bridge? How deep would the concrete pylons need to be sunk into the ocean’s floor to withstand not just the regular waves but also the inevitable tidal waves? This is the most ridiculous wish I have ever heard. It can’t be done. You’ll have to wish for something else.”


Henry, headstrong just a few moments earlier, was visibly shaken by the genie’s response. It was a ridiculous ask, and he was ashamed for even contemplating it.  

This also created a problem. Henry didn’t have a backup wish. He had wanted to go to Hawaii for so long he hadn’t taken the time to wish for anything else. 


Then it hit him—he did have another wish. “I have it!” Henry said as he told the genie his new wish. “I have dated quite a few women in my life, and I am perplexed as to what makes them tick. They laugh when you think they should cry. They cry when you think they should laugh. They want you to know what they are thinking, but Don’t ask them! My wish, my replacement wish, is I want to be able to understand women.”


“Ok,” said the genie. “With that bridge, did you want two lanes or four?” 

March 01, 2021 22:46

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

40 comments

Zilla Babbitt
23:21 Mar 03, 2021

This is both beautifully sad and satirically funny. I have two major critiques but I hope you don't come away with the idea that I don't love this already. First I think you don't need to write out all the backstory. I would start in San Diego, maybe even start the story with "Henry moved to SD to quiet his demons" and then talk about how each time he sees the ocean and the sunset he remembers Aolani and her eyes and the red-sunset wedding. Next I suggest you have the ending tie a little bit more into the story. Aolani seems to be the -- y...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
00:00 Mar 04, 2021

Zilla!!!!! I want you to know I wait patiently for your feedback and when I get it it’s like Christmas morning, always a gift. I want to tell you about this story and then I want you to honestly tell me if it alters your feedback. I am a joke teller. I have a million of them and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to try to use one of my jokes to write a story. The actual joke is probably only the last few paragraphs. It starts with a guy walking on the beach. There is literally no backstory. My goal here was misdirection. Kind of lik...

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
00:54 Mar 07, 2021

Oh, that's cool! Didn't know that. I think (if you still have time before it's approved) the backstory could be somewhat condensed, but that's up to you :) By the way, I think your bio is hilarious.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Jonathan Blaauw
08:52 Mar 03, 2021

Hey, Thom. Loved this story! It reminds me of the time some guy wrote a book entitled 'Everything Men Understand About Women." It was full of nothing but blank pages 😂 It occurred to me as the story went on that it was a bit of a departure from your usual. You had the aspects you enjoy writing about - family, love, loss, etc - but genies are not your thing. Usually. By the end, it's clear why the genie featured and also why there wasn't much build-up or credible basis for the genie's inclusion - because it's a humorous observation of the ma...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
14:17 Mar 03, 2021

Dude, come to Virginia, I'll buy you that beer and take you on a tour of all things America!! Once again thank you for your feedback. One day when we are both old and gray and we are fabulously wealthy as a result of our prolific writing careers we will share another beer and laugh about our first days on Reedsy. Then we'll make up a few more stories, submit them and hopefully finally win. 🤣

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Julie Ward
14:37 Mar 02, 2021

This, my friend, is quite the tale! I laughed out loud. You took the old joke and wrapped it up in your magic...I almost expected the genie to disappear in a cloud of smoke as a beautiful Hawaiian woman stepped onto the beach and into Henry's arms. And your description of the weather in San Diego is spot on. I was just thinking about how nice a rainy, cold, cloudy day would be...just to have something different. It's been summer here in LA since June.

Reply

Thom Brodkin
14:40 Mar 02, 2021

I am so glad you liked it. I had such fun writing it and really hoped people would forgive the misdirection and have a good laugh. These days it feels like we could all use a good laugh. :-)

Reply

Julie Ward
14:41 Mar 02, 2021

I can tell that you had fun with it and you absolutely succeeded in your goal! I'm still chuckling.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Valerie June
15:54 Mar 03, 2021

This was amazing Thom! I thought that by explaining his parents relationship we were able to really feel Matthew’s sadness and loneliness. The twist with the genie and Matthews unexpected attitude toward it added the perfect amount of humor to balance out his grief. Yet another fantastic story!

Reply

Thom Brodkin
15:58 Mar 03, 2021

Thank you Jose. I'm so glad you are getting to read my stories. Your feedback always encourages me.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jane Andrews
05:43 Mar 02, 2021

I can’t believe I fell for this one, Thom. There were so many typical Thom ingredients that I read this as I do any of your other stories - until it got to Henry talking about his second wish and I thought, ‘There’s no way the genie can do that!’ - and then I realised I’d been suckered into a very old joke and kicked myself for not seeing it coming. That’s one of the things I like about this - it’s similar to the way you took the lateral thinking puzzle about the guy tied to his chair in the cabin and built a whole story around it, just as h...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
14:38 Mar 02, 2021

😊😊😊 For the longest time I've been wanting to take one of my dad jokes and see if I could make it into a whole story. I needed the right prompt to even try and when this one showed it was perfect. I'll admit I loved writing it. As is the case with most dads I crack myself up. That being said, when I was done I felt a little guilty because I set it up to be a real emotional love story and the pay off was pure funny. Your feedback validated my choice and alleviated my fears. I hope every one sees the fun I was trying to find. :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Doubra Akika
08:55 Mar 08, 2021

I loved this, Thom. Henry's replacement wish definitely made me laugh out loud, the people around me looked at me like I was mad. I loved how you stuck to what you're good at which is writing about love and loss but also how you were able to incorporate a bit of magic into it. It was such a beautiful tale and funny as well. Forever a fan. Hope you're staying safe!

Reply

Thom Brodkin
14:59 Mar 08, 2021

This could quite possibly be my favorite feedback ever. You made my day. Thanks for taking the time to read and more importantly to let me know what you thought.

Reply

Doubra Akika
18:53 Mar 08, 2021

I'm glad it made your day! Reading your work is always a pleasure. Your feedback on mine are always a pleasure, so it feels good that I was able to write something you appreciated Your story definitely was a beautiful one!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
H L Mc Quaid
10:52 Mar 07, 2021

Hello Thom! This was a cute story, and we get a feel for Henry's grief and loneliness. Plus the joke was pretty good. :) As for critique, I agree with Zilla's comments. When I'm reading a short story, I'm picking apart everything, looking for the underlying meaning and subtext. And it felt like you could give the necessary details in a paragraph or two, rather than 4 or 5. That being said, if your regular readers expect and appreciate those details, and your goal is to make them happy, then my critique doesn't really matter much. :) I did...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
16:07 Mar 07, 2021

I had such fun writing this story. I think I got lost in getting to the punchline and as both you and Zilla pointed out gave too much backstory. I’m glad you found it amusing and I will take your advice to heart.

Reply

H L Mc Quaid
16:57 Mar 07, 2021

We all write and share stories for different reasons, and it's even better when we enjoy what we're doing. :) The trick is to choose the critiques that resonate with you, and are true to the objective of the story (and why you wrote it). I'm happy that I could help a little bit, and look forward to how you develop your style.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kristin Neubauer
18:09 Mar 05, 2021

HAH! I loved this! I am so sorry it has taken me so long to read. I've been buried under schoolwork....and my dog might have a serious cardiac problem, so that's been weighing me down. This was just the story I needed for a laugh. As Jonathan said, you really veered from your usual style as it went on - with the lamp and the indignant genie. I love all your work but really loved seeing you branch out here. The humor was sharp and you pulled it all together so wonderfully, that it left us with a smile instead of feeling sad for Henry. ...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
18:37 Mar 05, 2021

I’m so happy you enjoyed reading it. I sure loved writing it. Knowing the punchline I laughed the whole time. I’m glad I was able to make you smile. I hope all goes well with your dog. That’s the most important thing.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
14:36 Mar 03, 2021

OMG! You made me laugh this week! I love it!

Reply

Thom Brodkin
15:10 Mar 03, 2021

Anything for you! 🤣

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zea Bowman
04:30 Mar 02, 2021

Haha! Nice ending. This story started out heartbreaking and saddening, but it was a very creative way to take on the prompt. I like how you made the reason that Henry needed to get to Hawaii a personal one, and I thought it was very creative as to why (to spread his father's ashes on the beach). You pulled this story together very nicely, and I enjoyed reading it. Good work, and happy writing! -Zea

Reply

Show 0 replies
Bianka Nova
19:09 Mar 24, 2021

I've never seen a joke developed into a story in this way. Especially with all the drama in the beginning. I kept reading and reading, and was thinking "OK, this says funny. Where's the funny?" Then I reached the part he mentioned the bridge and was like "Aha! I know this one!" XD First, I felt the backstory was unnecessarily detailed, but come to think of it it might have made the effect of the joke better for the people who haven't heard it. Great job! :)

Reply

Thom Brodkin
19:21 Mar 24, 2021

I needed a lot of backstory to get the 1000 words and to hopefully trick people into being surprised by the ending. I did feel like I let people down by not giving a real ending. Maybe one day I'll revisit this one in another prompt and give a true and happy ending. I really appreciate your read and feedback. I'm glad you kind of understood where I was going with this. :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Nina Chyll
22:54 Mar 15, 2021

I read the first comment on the submission willy-nilly and couldn’t help but agree with the points. I do think the title would benefit from compressing. I thought San Lulu sounds pretty nice but it’s a huge and intrusive change so that’s just a loose suggestion. I also thought that the story would benefit from starting at a point where the discernible, protagonist-oriented plot begins, and then, you can feed the chunks of information about his parents’ marriage throughout the story. Overall, it was a very fluent read with a lot of intric...

Reply

Thom Brodkin
23:16 Mar 15, 2021

First of all thank you so much for your time and feedback. Every point you make is spot on. This actually was a short joke that had no backstory and started with the main character walking along the beach. I’ve always wanted to use one of my jokes as a story but it really was unfair for the reader. The beginning promised a love story and in the blink of an eye it pivots to a joke. Part of me thinks I should rewrite the ending the beginning promised. I hope to keep reading your work and also hope you will give me a second chance. I think you’...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Radhika Diksha
14:41 Mar 14, 2021

The new part is out. Would appreciate your comments on this.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jonathan Blaauw
08:18 Mar 14, 2021

This is the best story I've ever read, Until your next one sees the light of day, Will it be this week or next week instead? With you, dear Thom, one never can say. 😂😂

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amélie Aspen
07:30 Mar 10, 2021

For a short story, this certainly took me through a long list of emotions! The first part so sincere and sad, and then what a twist that genie was. Granted, I should've seen it coming with that title. And that end punchline? Great stuff. :)

Reply

Thom Brodkin
20:33 Mar 10, 2021

I struggled a little with the heartfelt opening. I knew it would make the punchline more impactful but it also felt like I was cheating the readers out of an ending they wanted. Maybe one day I'll write the alternate ending. 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Anna Mosqueda
18:49 Mar 05, 2021

HAHA! This was hilarious and definitely one of my favorite stories of yours! Awesome job, Thom! When I picture the genie, I see the one from Aladdin, with his quick wit and booming voice. You really did a great job with the detail in this story as well, especially when describing Hawaii. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed *and* needed this today so thanks! Keep Writing:)

Reply

Thom Brodkin
20:39 Mar 05, 2021

Anna, Yay!!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I always love telling jokes so I was waiting for a prompt that would allow me to tell one of my jokes with a true backstory. I had a lot of fun writing this one. Thanks for reading. :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Willow Byrd
02:32 Mar 04, 2021

Hi Thom! This was a wonderful story, and quite different from the themes you usually write about. Very amusing and lighthearted. I wanted to let you know I published another story! If you'd check it out, I'd be most grateful!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Radhika Diksha
17:23 Mar 13, 2021

Hey, I have come back. Starting a new series. Would love your comments and feedback. Hope you love this story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
03:41 Mar 13, 2021

❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜❤️🧡💛💚💙💜YOU ARE AN AWESOME AUTHOR...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Claire Lewis
02:08 Mar 12, 2021

Ha! Slow claps for you, sir, I was completely duped. The misdirection was masterfully done. I forgive you completely 😂 Alas, I don’t have the gift of humor as a writer. I wish I did, I absolutely love a good funny story. Dealer’s choice for the next one. If you’d like a suggestion, ‘Baobab Trees’ is my one story with a joke in it. It’s bad, but hopefully you can forgive me my joke if I can forgive you yours!

Reply

Show 0 replies