Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fairies for today

I wanted to share this article from today's New York Times. I love fairy books. That's a terrible generalization, isn't it? But it's true. I like them all and I read just about every one I can get my hands on. Fairies were a big part of my childhood. In fact, the first short story I ever wrote was about the fairies I believed were in my back yard. I think I was eight years old at the time.

Last year, during a memoir class, I revisited that fairy glen. I haven't made a habit of displaying my work on this blog and I don't think I will but today I thought I would make an exception. I hope you all enjoy the below and if you get a chance check out the website for The Night Fairy. Beautiful, isn't it?

There is a path that leads from one place to another. I know because I have been down it before. There was a time when I followed it everyday. I still do, now and again, but the path I use is a replica. The real one has been covered by cement and years. No one travels down it anymore. No one even knows it exists. Before, when it was visible, the path wound from my house down to the backyard. It is a small path, big enough only to walk single-file, if you are traveling with someone else. If you follow it directly the path delivers you to an old oak tree. Right to the base. When we used to wander down it the path’s existence was validation, proof that what we searched for really existed. There was no sense of cause an effect, no idea that our imaginations took flight because of where the path delivered. There was simply that lovely dirt path, the old oak tree and our illusive friends.

We walk on tiptoes through the snow, trying not to make any footprints as we go. “We don’t want anyone to find out,” Bethany says, as she did the first time we went. We are at the spot in about ten minutes. It might have taken us only three if we hadn’t been so worried about leaving tracks. The spot is an old oak tree right down the way from my house. The bark is peeled in places and there is a gash in the trunk that appears like a little open cabinet, the perfect place to store a hidden treasure. We drop down at its base, pulling off our scarves and setting them down.

I peek inside the cabinet.

“They aren’t home,” I tell Bethany, “should we wait?” She considers it and then nods her head.

“It’s cold out,” she says, “maybe they’ll come back soon.”

For about a year now the fairies have been our friends. We leave them presents in their home in the cabinet. We know they like chocolate and granola bars the best because they are always gone when we come back to check. They also keep the things we make them. We have laid down moss in the cabinet for a floor and we made them some furniture out of acorn shells and flower petals.

We never see them. It used to upset me that they didn't want to say hello but Bethany says they are shy and don’t really like people. Together we come here once a week to give them some gifts and see if they will show themselves. In the summertime we braid dandelion crowns from the grass and leave them strung around the tree like Christmas lights. We wait for about an hour each time depending on the weather. There are some days it rains, of course, and we have to go back inside.

Today we have brought two Thermos’ of hot chocolate that my mother made us and we hold them in our un-gloved hands to warm us up. I wish we could leave some for the fairies but we don’t have a cup that small. “Next time we should bring one,” I tell Bethany, and she agrees. We speak softly, there is something about the place that makes us feel we should whisper. Sometimes we tell stories about the fairies, where they have been and where they will go. There is one named Zelda who likes to travel to far away places. We suspect she is the one who likes the chocolate best.

It is cold and we go inside early today, taking care with our footprints on the way back as we did on the way there. When we get inside my mother asks us where we have been but we don’t answer. No one knows about the fairies. They are our secret.


My family moved from that house, the only one I had known, that coming summer. There is an entire photo album dedicated to our last day there. I made my parents take pictures of me next to every piece of furniture, in every nook and cranny. There is a photo of me kissing my bedroom door, one of me standing looking out of the kitchen window. There is a series of photos of me pointing to my favorite stairs, at least four taken around the dining room table. There are pictures on the porch, by the stream in the backyard. There is one of me with my favorite rose bush on our lawn and a rock I named “Barbara.” Yet nowhere is there a photo of my old oak tree and the cabinet fairy home. I know this is on purpose. I would never have revealed their hideaway, never have given the secret of their existence away. Yet still I wish I had something. A confirming glance of what my memory has worked so hard to hold onto all these years.

The day Bethany and I say goodbye we do it there, at the old oak. It is spring and we bring down a blanket to lie on at the tree’s base. Our pockets are stuffed with granola bars, cookies, and some chocolate for Zelda. We have just an hour before I have to be in the car. Bethany has told me that I shouldn’t worry, that she will still come over and take care of them even when I’m gone, but I cannot help feeling a little anxious, there is so much they rely on us for.

“I wish they would come,” I tell her, “I just want to see them before I go.”

We are lying on our backs looking up at the sky. It is blue today but there are more than a few clouds. I wonder if there are clouds in Hawaii. I have been there before but I cannot seem to remember. It is always so sunny.

“Shh,” Bethany says, putting her finger over my lips, “be quiet.”

We continue to lie with our eyes open and our mouths closed. Soon I hear my mother calling to come back up. It has started to rain, a light drizzle. I sit up and see her on the back porch, waving away the raindrops like they are nats.

“I don’t want to leave,” I tell Bethany, tears in my eyes.

“Me either,” she says, taking my little hand and putting it in hers.

“You will visit,” I tell her and she nods fiercely.

“All the time,” she says.

We embrace then, her soft blonde hair tickles my nose as we lay our heads on each other’s shoulder. If I could I would stay this way forever: on a blanket at the foot of our tree with my best friend in my arms.

“We should go,” I say, pulling away and wiping the back of my hand over my eyes, “my mom is waiting.”

We both sit up and Bethany gathers the blanket, scrunching it in a ball and tucking it underneath her arm. We start walking back up towards the house, our footsteps as heavy as our hearts.

“Wait,” Bethany says, spinning around, “stop.”

I freeze in my tracks, my heart racing.

“What?” I whisper.


It is difficult to make out above the slight patter of raindrops but I hear it too, the hum of wings in the distance. Our eyes widen as we look around, trying to place in what direction they are moving towards us.

“They’re coming,” Bethany says, “they’re coming to say goodbye!”

Sure enough a moment later they fly right by us. They move so fast we are only able to catch a glimpse. A colorful blur above our heads.

“It’s them!” I yell, delighted. They do not go into their cabinet but instead continue on, down past the tree and into the forest below. We stand in silence, our hearts pounding, our eyes wild.

“They are practicing,” Bethany says, turning towards me, a gigantic smile on her face.

“For what?” I ask.

“For the trip,” Bethany says, “so they can fly the long way to see you.”

We link arms and walk side by side up to the house, following the path as we go.

I often wondered when we moved whether the people who bought our house had any children, whether they ever took that path down to the oak tree and saw those fairies. As I grew older the question changed and I wondered what they discovered when they journeyed down, what made the tree special for whoever came after us. And, similarly, what had made it important for whoever came before.

Five years ago when my mother and I were visiting our family in Philadelphia we decided on a whim to make the journey down to our old house in New Hope. I hadn’t been back in eleven years. It is a very odd feeling when memory is tested. In my mind I knew those old roads too well, every curve and pothole, but as we drove down our street and driveway I saw that time had evolved the memory of those roads in a way the actual roads had not. They were the same as when I had left them yet they felt unfamiliar, not nearly as real as the ones I had been meandering down in my mind all these years. I sat in the car wondering if I would feel the same way about the path. Would it look the same as I recalled? Would it be smaller or bigger? And then: would it even lead to where I thought it did?

We stopped at our house and knocked on the door. No one was home. The house had been changed a great deal. An additional den had been added on and a garage stood where there used to be just gravel. My mother went strategically around the house, peeking in any window she could to get a better glimpse of what the interior had become. I, however, took off for that place, the one I hoped more than anything that my memory had stayed true to. I was so caught up in my excitement, imaging my feet on the path once more, my fingers on the bark, holding onto the ridiculous notion that there would be some mark of my past existence there, perhaps an acorn shell or a small ribbon, that I didn’t notice the pool until I had almost fallen inside. The entire backyard had been leveled and filled with cement. In the middle was a black-tiled swimming pool surrounded by white plastic beach chairs, round wooden tables and large, thick canvas umbrellas. The old oak tree had probably been knocked down and split. Perhaps used in the fireplace to keep the house warm or maybe even crafted into this furniture, the trunk with the cabinet now a leg of a table.

I stood there, staring inside at the dark water, trying to find my reflection. I wondered when this had happened, for how long my memory had been calling up a ghost. And then, just like that, I began to weep. There was no more path, no more tree. There was no more future or past, no possibility for the path to deliver someone else to something entirely different than what we experienced there or for me to re-experience the same. Worse still, there was no more Bethany. I didn’t even have the courage to call her on this trip back. I didn’t even know if she still lived there.

The owners came home a few minutes later. There was some confusion and then they understood. They recognized my mother from all those years before. They didn’t have any children, just a big, brown dog I heard the man call “Paul.” I turned around from the pool and watched them walk inside. The house was bigger, whiter, the backyard unrecognizable. In truth, I could have been anywhere. And then I had a thought. I remembered that seeing and believing never had any correlation at this place. We believed in those fairies long before we ever saw them. We knew their names, the color of their hair. We imagined them to be true and they were. Perhaps the path had never existed, perhaps it had never led from one place to another. Right next to that black tiled swimming pool standing on the cement I closed my eyes. I imagined I was wandering down that path to where the old oak tree still stood, the cabinet filled with moss and chocolate, waiting for the fairies to come home again.

When I open my eyes I see exactly that, and for me, it is real.

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