Big Alabama tells me she's found the Holy Grail. I look at it and I recognize it. It's one of the cups from our cabinet.
"Since when," I ask, "did Jesus start drinking from a Snoopy cup?"
"The problem with you, Pete, is that you have no faith."
"Faith in a Peanuts cup being the cup of Christ?"
"I'm not saying that it's the cup that Jesus drank from. I'm saying the Holy Grail changes. It moves from cup to cup, from cabinet to cabinet. Like the Eucharist. Is that the same bread and wine Jesus ate and drank?"
"Do you know what the Holy Grail can do?"
"Yeah," I said. "They say it can cure all diseases and make the old young again and things like that."
"No, that's not right."
I looked at my sister. Of all the ridiculous scams she ever came up with, this was by far the most ridiculous. Worse, it bordered on sacrilege and heresy. She had to know I wasn't going to buy into this one, but nevertheless maintained her straight face.
Still, it had been a boring day. I didn't see any harm in humoring her.
"What does the Holy Grail do?"
"It makes wishes come true."
"Of course," she said. "You can see how people got confused. If you're sick, what do you wish for?"
"To get well."
"And if you're old?"
"To be young...Um, maybe."
"Definitely," she said. "So people don't know the Holy Grail is really a wishing cup. One wish and you can get anything you want."
"And how much will this wish cost me?"
She told me.
"You've lost your mind. I've been saving that money for years."
"Okay," she said. "But don't say I didn't offer you a sip."
The glass sat between us, perfectly dry. I must have drunk out of it a thousand times. It was a tumbler from McDonald's. What was left of the faded paint showed Snoopy wearing a red bow around his neck and dancing. In the bubble above his head he thought, "Civilization is overrated!"
I wanted to drink from that cup.
"How do I know you're not lying?" I said. "Like always," I added.
"Would I lie about something to do with Jesus?"
"Yes," I said flatly.
"Well, I'm not," she said. "Here's what happened. While I was sleeping Tuesday night, I had a dream. In this dream I was visited by an angel who told me that for a short time a glass in our cabinet would be the Holy Grail. The angel told me that it would grant any wish to the person who asks. He described the cup to me and it was exactly this cup."
"The angel was a man?"
"He called himself Michael," Big Alabama said. "I didn't believe it either. How can you believe something that insane? But when I opened the cabinet there it was."
"So what? Mom and Dad have had that cup since before I was born."
"Sure," Big Alabama said. "But it was glowing."
"Like the Star of Bethlehem."
"Why isn't it glowing now?"
"It is," she said. "But only I can see it because only I had the dream. You only see a Snoopy cup because you have no faith. I see the Holy Grail."
I had to admit that it made a kind of loopy sense. I still didn't believe a word of it, but this scam was at least as well thought-out as the time she told me she had two hearts.
"But if you don't believe me," she said, "ask Vera."
Vera was our cousin, a homely girl who suffered from unfortunate acne.
"Why should I ask her?"
"Did you hear the news?"
I nodded. Nobody could believe it. Vera had gotten a boyfriend. And not just any boyfriend but Lyle Mauer. Lyle could have almost any girl he wanted and he chose Vera. It didn't make any sense. Some people speculated that Lyle was up to no good, but nobody could figure out what his angle was. If he wanted to take advantage of a girl, there were prettier and richer girls than Vera. It seemed almost unthinkable that he liked her, but there he was everyday walking her to school, the two of them holding hands, laughing.
"Are you telling me she drank from that glass and wished for Lyle Mauer?"
"She's not the only one..." Big Alabama went on to list several more improbable events. Uncle Hank getting a job. Mrs. Ortiz winning the Pick 3. Tom Flynn making the baseball team at Ferris High when he could hardly swing a bat without knocking himself out. Big Alabama shook her head. "Such amateurs. When I make my wish, I'm going to wish for something big."
"Something like my life's savings?"
"Oh no," she said. "That's just to tide me over until I make my wish. So what about it? Do you want to make a wish or not?"
"You only get one wish?"
"That's what the angel said."
"What if I ask for more wishes?"
Big Alabama shrugged. She had baited the hook, she had a nibble, she damn well wasn't going to ruin it now. "I don't know," she said. "I don't see why asking for a lifetime of wishes would be out of bounds, but I'm not sure Jesus will appreciate you being greedy."
"Like you selling drinks from the Holy Grail?"
"I'll tell you what," she said. "In the name of Christian clarity, you only have to give me half your money."
"You mean 'Christian charity'."
I thought it over. I knew she was full of it. I absolutely had no doubt. And yes, and yet...There was that little bit about Vera and Lyle dating, walking down the street, holding hands, even kissing. This was unthinkable even a week ago. Insane. Turning water into wine was child's play compared to Vesuvius Vera scoring the most popular guy around. Miracles did happen in the world. I believed this. If anyone other than Big Alabama had had this dream and if it had been in any cup other than a dancing Snoopy cup, I would have had an easier time believing.
"I need some time to consider this," I said.
"Okay, but keep in mind I don't know how long the Grail will stay with us. It might turn back to a Snoopy cup any minute. I suggest you decide fast and while you're deciding you think very hard about what your wish will be."
* * *
By noon I had decided to pay Big Alabama to sip from the cup, though I managed to talk her down to a third of my money. I spent the next hour coming up with wishes. I had so many. Should I wish for Dad to stop drinking? Mom to stop blowing our money at Bingo? Should I wish for lots of money, or brains, or good looks, or the best curve ball on the planet? Should I be altruistic and wish for peace on earth, or the end of pollution, or feeding the hungry, or...I wrote all my wishes down and spent an hour trying to pick between them. Every time I decided on one, I immediately regretted not picking something else.
I needed more than one wish and that was all there was to it.
I paid Big Alabama the cash. She filled the glass with water and handed it to me.
"Do you know what you're wishing for?"
"Okay," she said. "Then make your wish and drink."
"Do I need to drink it all?"
"Best if you do," she said.
I made my wish for more wishes and downed the cup.
* * *
Three hours later I found Big Alabama and let her have it. She was incapable of telling the truth. I should have known. Not one of my wishes was coming true. I had gone through my list several times, wishing and wishing and wishing, and I was still ugly and poor and not a bit smarter. My curve ball was as straight as an arrow. The radio news said the hostages still weren't home and Jimmy Carter was still president.
"I got nothing," I said. "Nothing at all. You stole my money. And you made a mockery of Jesus and all that. You're a rotten person."
Big Alabama sighed. "Yeah, I'm so rotten I let everyone else wish and I never made one myself."
"Are you saying—?"
"Yep," she said. "It's just a regular Snoopy cup again. Yours was the last wish. I should have saved it for myself."
"How convenient," I said. "But you still have my money."
"It's a small thing for what I lost."
We sat there, both of us sulking.
"What did you wish for?" she said finally.
I told her. "I wished for a lifetime of wishes."
Big Alabama laughed. She laughed and laughed.
"Oh Pete," she said. "You got your wish."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Look at your list," she said. "You got a lifetime of wishes."
BIO: James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His poems or stories have appeared in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Chiron Review, LA Review, Ploughshares, River Styx, The Sun, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. In 2014 he was awarded a King County 4Culture Grant for the Arts. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.