Sunday, June 8, 2008

Killing Fairies

It was early June, and already the sweltering heat of summer had engulfed the northern suburbs of Washington DC. The honeysuckle, which had climbed up the backyard fence and spread itself out over the dilapidated chain-linked barrier, sat just below my kitchen window. It was in full bloom…and the scent of its flowers was completely intoxicating.

On this particular June morning, I began to enter deep thought as I made fresh squeezed orange-apple-grapefruit juice with my newest prize, a Jack Lalanne Power Juicer…musing how those fancy Oriental Teas sold at the natural foods grocery stores were sometimes made with the tantalizing flavor of Jasmine flowers, then packaged and marketed at too high a price for too low a quality. As I considered this, my mind drifted back to when I had once visited San Diego California, and had quite by circumstance discovered plants bearing Jasmine flowers growing freely in the back alleyways of the city and over many of the residential fences. It was then that it dawned on me that “Honeysuckle” was simply, for all intents and purposes, an East Coast Jasmine.

The thought was so strong in my mind, that a desire came upon me to capture the taste, the scent, and the glory of fresh Honeysuckle tea in my own teacup. I had, after all, been drinking the nectar of honeysuckle flowers for years, starting as a child. I’d done this ever since my mother had first shown me how to gently pinch and pull slowly at the base of the flower until the drop of nectar revealed itself enough for me to quickly press my lips against the glistening sweetness and absorb the flower’s precious ambrosia. To do this often, one by one, would probably be considered tedious by the youth of today, but I learned to do this in a time before the existence of Game-Boys, Play-Stations, Computers with access to My Space, or Mega Shopping-Malls. It was a pleasant way to pass the time. I remembered doing this for what seemed like hours, as a child, just sipping and enjoying the sweetness of those flowers. The older yellow flowers were always the best to suck nectar from…better than the white blossoms that had just opened up and not yet filled with flavor. Even the Bumblebees knew this. I recalled watching them buzz from flower to flower...always taking time to bury their heads into the slightly wilted golden flowers…never stopping at the white.

In my newfound excitement at the prospect of making my own floral tea, I grabbed a blue-tinged plastic 2-quart Dixie container, and headed outdoors to where the honeysuckle grew profusely against the rusty fence below my kitchen window. Plucking the blossoms enthusiastically, avoiding the bees, and careful to gather mostly yellow blossoms (I didn’t mind plucking a few white ones here and there), I inhaled their heady fragrance while all the time anticipating the very first taste, the initial precious sip, of my own homemade honeysuckle tea.

A recent rainstorm had blessed the yard with a shower of water a few hours before I had begun plucking, and so I reasoned that the honeysuckle was probably quite clean and wouldn’t benefit from any extra rinsing. I didn’t want to take the chance of diluting some of the flavor either, and so as I brought my container into the house, I immediately went to the kitchen, grabbed a handful of flowers from my gatherings, took the lid off my Brown Betty tea pot, and pressed the flowers into the wire mesh tea strainer. Almost as quickly, I dispensed the sub-boiling hot water over the blossoms from my Japanese style hot water keeper, almost absentmindedly noting the curious high-pitched sound that tickled my ears as the water hit the blossoms. I then covered the teapot and waited.

How long does one wait for honeysuckle tea to brew? Unlike Jasmine tea, which I’d seen made with a mixture of black tea and jasmine flowers, my homemade tea consisted of pure blossoms. ‘More time, or less?’ I wondered. ‘Perhaps more…’, I thought, and let the time pass as I emptied the dishwasher, put away the dishes, then washed the dishes that were sitting in the sink with Lemon Fresh Joy before putting them into the dishwasher along with a pressed powder square of automatic dishwasher soap and switching the machine on to the regular washing cycle. I eyed the steaming brown pot, as I wiped down the speckled blue and white Formica countertop with a damp sponge, then sprayed the counter with bleach, and wiped it down again to make it smell more sanitary. Additional minutes clicked by as I opened the windows to clear the bleach smell out of my nostrils and once again introduce the sweet scent of honeysuckle into the air. I then closed the white trimmed window, and gazed on the beautiful brown pot as I glided over to the cupboard to select a worthy teacup.

Picking up the Brown Betty teapot by the handle, I poured the essence of the flowers into my cup. The scent was heavenly. Placing the curve of the cup to my lips…tasting the tea the very first time…well, the flavor of honeysuckle exploded across my mouth, my tongue, and my inner cheeks. It was so much sweeter than I had ever thought it would be, previously believing that I might have to add some honey to it to enhance the taste. I was delighted to have my experiment work out just as I had imagined.

As I lifted the lid off the Brown Betty, and prepared to remove the wire mesh tea strainer, which held the blossoms,I glanced down at the wilted flowers and was immediately… horrified. There, resting on top of the honeysuckle was what appeared to be…I mean, at first I wasn’t sure, but then, well, …I thought maybe a small dragonfly, or a white butterfly…until my right index finger reached down to touch it and move it around just a bit…and yes...there were two tiny legs, two tiny arms, two miniature wings…and all of those alabaster limbs were flat and lifeless.
In a panic, I sucked in what seemed to be a gallon of air and covered the body up again with the top of the Brown Betty, furtively glancing toward my kitchen window. If there was one fairy, logically, there must possibly be more. ‘Had they seen what I’d done?’, I wondered. My heart sank down to my toes…my elation at having made and sipped my own homemade honeysuckle tea completely extinguished with the newfound realization of the crime I’d just committed. And now, I was sickened at the thoughts that began to fill my mind, as I pondered what would be best thing to do with the deceased fairy body.

‘But did I really commit a crime?’ The thought DID come to mind, of course… I mean, there are no laws against killing fairies, because supposedly fairies don’t exist. ‘Wow, I could prove fairies exist!!! What a discovery!!’ I could barely contain my elation with this idea. Then my joy quickly plummeted as I realized I would forever be labeled in history as the first human to both find and simultaneously kill a fairy. My poor family! How could I saddle myself, and them, with such a historic disgrace? No, showing the world that fairies existed wasn’t the best option this time, not if I wanted my children to avoid being labeled the prodigy of a fairy killer.

‘What to do, what to do….’ I tapped my fingers to the question, drumming them on the top of the pot. Burying the body outside wasn’t an option. What if the other fairies, (IF there were other fairies), had seen me accidentally take one of their pale comrades into the house? They would surely be waiting and watching me when I came out of the building again. I considered just dumping the body with the blossoms into the garbage like I always do with the waste from tea.

But then, that type of burial is certainly unbecoming for a fairy, and what if one of my family somehow discovered the body? ‘That is an option that is out of the question, as well as grinding the winged creature up in the garbage disposal’. I made detailed calculations concerning the results of each disposal method. I could not imagine how many fairy parts would be scattered and squished against the plumbing below my kitchen sink and who knew what the fairy blood might do to the pipes? ‘I could flush it down the toilet’ came another thought, ‘…like the burials frequently reserved for goldfish’. Yet, I couldn’t see flushing a fairy body down the toilet. Certainly, if fairies existed in the honeysuckle, then other creatures quite probably existed in the sewers as well. What if the fairy body was found by some honest sewer creature, and the murder reported to the fairy police?

My ponderings, while seemingly insane, I assure you, were quite sane since prior to my experience fairies were considered only mythical creatures. Now that I knew they existed, anything was possible. ‘Well, there’s only one way I can see out of the dilemma’, I concluded, ‘…only one way to dispose of the body and not leave a trace.’

I lifted up the Brown Betty, and went in to a room in the center of the house, a small study, where there were no windows. I shut the door, and turned out the lights, and opened the teapot. Though lifeless, the fairy body presented my eyes with a faint, residual iridescent glow. I used my thumb and index finger, and gingerly picked the body up. Before I could change my mind, I rapidly placed it in my mouth drinking the wilted limbs down in a flash by placing my lips over the spout of the Brown Betty and pouring the honeysuckle-fairy tea down my throat. It all went down surprisingly well, tasting pleasantly sweet.

When I was done, I confess, I felt quite pleased with myself that I had solved the problem. My husband and children would come home to a house in order, and they would be able to try some of my latest refreshing tea without any guilt. I do admit, though, I had a glimmer of remorse…but then, I also found myself feeling increasingly angry. All of these years of living on this earth, and no one had ever warned me that fairies might live in my honeysuckle! This tragic outcome certainly wasn’t my fault! It WAS an accident, and it wasn’t as if I had any proper legal authority to report the incident to. In order to clear my conscience, I managed to say a prayer or two, mumbled a mantra and wished the fairy spirit well in the afterlife, as I drank down the rest of my cup of tea and went to lie down on the sofa for a quick nap.

The dreams I had during that nap were, well, disconcerting. I dreamt of angry fairies stinging me like bees, crying out to me that I was a murderer, and chasing me over bushes and trees, catching me and strangling me with honeysuckle bush vines. When I awoke, I didn’t know where I was. At first, I thought I was still in the dream, but as I moved my body and looked around, I gradually became aware that I was indeed awake, however my surroundings had completely changed. Sometime in my sleep, I had been transported outdoors, to our backyard. ‘Did I sleep-walk here?’, I wondered.

Our back yard used to have a really large Oak Tree. I had paid a contractor last summer to cut it down because its huge branches hung directly over our house, and I didn’t want the tree to fall on my daughter’s room, (or the rest of our roof) and hurt one of us. It was a very practical decision…I’m sure you’ll understand. Well, the leftover stump remained there after the cutting (I couldn’t afford to have it leveled to the ground), along with some large sections of the trunk, which had been arranged in a circle around the stump. I had always assumed my daughter had created the circular arrangement. She insisted it remain there, and called it her ‘fairy ring’.

Well, there I was, in the middle of the fairy ring, standing low on the stump, while a huge number of winged creatures stood on the taller leftover sections of the cut up pieces of trunk that surrounded the stump. I had a sinking feeling that my situation wasn’t a good one. My body had shrunk considerably, down to fairy size. I could feel the hostility emanating from them in waves as each fairy moved, and I noticed that their bodies all blended in easily with their surroundings. Looking down at my own arms and legs, I was shocked to discover that I could barely see my own appendages due to the camouflage effect of my new fairy body. I looked around, but there was no creature there that would meet my eyes. They simply looked down, or avoided my gaze, quickly looking away. It seemed as if everyone were waiting for something. While I was thinking of a way to affect a not-so-heroic escape, just then a grey squirrel came bounding up to me, and on its back was a slender green fairy. She looked more like a long graceful blade of grass at first glance, but when the sunlight hit her just right, I could see she was beautiful.

The emerald fairy dismounted from the squirrel, and commandingly walked up to me. I felt a hand roughly push my shoulders down, causing my legs to buckle and kneel.

“I am Blade” she said.

I was quiet. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

“You murdered one of our treasured family…” she said with increasing authority…

“No, no, you don’t understand…” I began.

“…and for that, you are sentenced to remain a fairy for the rest of your life” she finished.

I waited for more. ‘Remain a fairy for the rest of my life…AND…” …but nothing else came after her words. The squirrel readily returned, Blade mounted it, and swiftly rode away. The others turned their backs and flew, or crawled or walked away, leaving me all alone.
I didn’t understand. Just then, I noticed that one of the fairies had remained. He seemed very old, like a dry stick that would crack and break with the slightest touch.

I looked at him, “I don’t understand”, I said.

He smiled sadly. “The punishment always fits the crime” he said in a brittle paper voice, and I watched as he slowly faded into the air.

‘Punishment fits the crime?’ I questioned to myself. I thought of my dear family who would come home to a warm pot of honeysuckle tea, and no wife, no mother to greet them. ‘Perhaps I could see them at least one last time tonight’ I thought, and I made my way toward the rusty chain link fence, working furiously to make my new wings behave enough to lift me over and let me gain access to the front door area. I struggled to learn to fly, bumping against the wooden deck, garbage cans and the outdoor shed until I finally got the hang of it. I heard our SUV pull into the driveway. With an adrenaline rush (‘Do fairies have adrenaline?’ I wondered), I managed to propel myself over the fence into the front yard and toward our front door. It then occurred to me that if I hid in the peppermint bed that grew just to the right of our door, that I would be able to see my daughter and son, and my dearest husband, very well. ‘How can I tell them, how can I explain, what I’ve done? My tears wouldn’t come. ‘Do fairies cry’? I pondered.

Just then my children emerged from the vehicle. There was Bri and there was Bodhi! My beautiful daughter and son! I’d taught them well about herbs and plants. Recognizing rosemary and thyme, finding wild blackberries, identifying varieties of ripe mulberries in the wild, and the making various uses of the forest walnuts.. they had learned all of it. I was so proud of them. My dearest husband, patient and loving, opened the door and let them in. The front door soon closed behind them all leaving me once again alone and despondent. ‘I think I’d rather die than live without them’ I thought. I sat down on a peppermint leaf, and tried to cry again. Still the tears wouldn’t come. I knew my family would think I’d perhaps gone for a walk when they found me missing. They would wait and wait, and I didn’t want to think about the sadness that would come next.

‘I imagine this is just how some of the fairy family felt when I accidentally took their loved one’ I thought. Just then, the door opened. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see the faces of my children again. But as they came out of the door, I saw a container in my young son’s hands. “Here” my daughter said, as they both reached down into the Peppermint. I tried dodging their fingers, but for some reason, my new fairy body didn’t respond as quickly as I’d hoped, and I soon found myself being mashed in a plastic container with the Peppermint leaves. They giggled, while unknown to them I struggled in the foliage, happily planning to make a batch of their own herbal tea. ‘Perhaps they were inspired by my honeysuckle tea’ I thought.

I didn’t know what to do. The Brown Betty had since been emptied and cleaned, and was ready for the next batch of tea… and as my daughter and son moved toward the hot water pot I knew what was coming next. I tried not to think about it, but I discovered at that moment that fairies DO cry as my tears poured down my new fairy face.

I screamed, I cried, but neither child could hear me among their excited chatter. I knew that the inevitable would occur as they began to take the handfuls of peppermint leaves, with me in the middle, and mash us all down into the wire mesh holder of the Brown Betty teapot. My greatest dilemma at this point was this… ‘Do I climb to the top of the batch of peppermint leaves and have my children perhaps notice me as I noticed the fairy I had unwittingly killed? Do I let them discover the existence of fairies? Or do I burrow down into the leaves and fade from the memory of the world, leaving their conscience clear?

Without hesitating, I dug myself down into the middle of the leaves and cried even more fairy tears as I waited for the searing water to bestow the punishment for the crime. My last thought was that of wondering whether my dear children’s ears tickled with the curious high-pitched sound that began to emerge from my throat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Escape

“It hurts you, doesn’t it?”

The boy nodded, looking around from where he was seated. Surprised, he saw no one was there. He leaned back once again on the Willow. This was HIS spot. No one else came here. Not ever.

A few feet away, the cool, green water of a brook meandered by. It gurgled slowly like a soft lullaby. The emerald rushes and reeds clustered together along the edge of the bank, whispering gently in the August breeze. For him, this was paradise.

No pain could touch him here. No anger, no threats. There was simply the dream of peace and the sweet air of silence. That’s all that filled this place. This spot was his entrance to a world of quiet magic. Here, he was anything he wanted to be. Here, he was free.

The willow felt solid, yet comforting, against his back. She…(he always thought of her as she)…fluttered her long, wispy branches around him, caressing his face with her leaves.
“Sleep, my young Jarin” an airy voice murmured inside his head. “Sleep and dream with me”.

Jarin started to turn once again to see who had spoken, but felt too tired to move his small, slim body. Smiling, contented and calm, he fell into a restful slumber.
George slammed the door to the front of the apartment as he lumbered into the tiny living room. It smelled awful in there, like a combination of stale beer, dog piss and month old garbage.

“Ella!”, his impatient voice boomed.

Ella stuck her head out of the doorway, which led to the kitchen.

“Yeah George, what do you want?” She paused to snap a piece of chewing gum between her coffee stained teeth. “I’m on the phone!”
George moved his large body a little further into the room, shifting his fat beer belly to the left so he could put down his tool box. He wiped his greasy hands on his pants and barked, “Have you seen Jarin? The little shit was supposed to help me fix Dunbar’s Vet this morning.”
“Saw him earlier,” Ella replied, covering her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, “ but the brat ran off like a bat out of Hell. Don’t know where he went.” Ella resumed talking on the phone, leaving George to stand fuming in the middle of the room for a minute or two.

Finally, he shrugged his shoulders, and pounded his feet towards the kitchen, popping Ella on the behind as he passed her in the doorway. She glared at him.

“What’d you do to scare him off this time?” George questioned. He opened up the fridge and pulled out a long neck Bud.
“Damn it! Hold on a minute, Carol,” she said covering the phone once again. “What do you mean, what did I do to him? Everything that kid gets, he deserves! Just so happens he started bugging me about what happened to his real mamma. This time, I told him.”

“What’d you say?” George asked, pulling a long sip out of the bottle, enjoying the way it fizzled coldly against the back of his throat.
“I told him his mamma was a whore bitch that gave him up, and probably OD’d on drugs soon after” Ella snapped. She gave George a long hard look, and began talking on the phone again.

‘Probably slapped the crap out of him too, just for asking’, George thought. He’d never questioned Ella about the bruises or burns he’d seen from time to time on Jarin’s body. ‘After all, an eight year old boy is bound to get some of those things playing with other kids’ he reasoned.

George ignored the fact that Jarin didn’t play with other kids. That he was a quiet, sensitive boy, though George’s term for him was “a pussy”. Sometimes he caught himself almost feeling bad because Ella was so hard on him. But, what the hell? The kid was there only as a favor to Mr. Dunbar. They’d taken him in, hadn’t they? They’d given him food and clothes. ‘Stupid bastard should be fuckin thankful, that’s what he should be’, George mused. And, of course, Mr. Dunbar paid them good money to keep him. Enough for extra beer, cigarettes and other things.

“I’ll be at the Garage”, he told Ella, as he made tracks though the living room.

“What time you gonna be home?” She called out.
“Round five or six. If you see Jarin before then, tell him to get his ass over there.” George grabbed up his toolbox, and headed towards the door. Passing by a plant stand, his large frame caught a corner, and sent several orange clay pots crashing to the floor.

Quickly opening the door, and throwing it shut, he hurried away from Ella’s harsh voice, which by now was assailing the walls with a barrage of swearing.

“Gonna be one of those days” He sighed to himself, as he drained the last of his Bud and tossed the brown bottle into a nearby ditch. He got into his rusted Ford, turned the key, and in a couple of minutes he and his truck were headed down the dusty country road.

Jaren laughed. He was flying! Turning, and twisting among the clouds, and ‘She’ was with him. She held him tight in a warm embrace, ..soft white arms secure against the base of his body. Her ebony wings fluttered silently as they flew, and her speed was incredible! Jarin gazed up at her face. She was so beautiful! His lips drew together to softly form her name. “Deirdree”.

She bent her head next to his, and he heard her voice inside his mind. “Yes, Jarin, together once again.”

She never failed him. Every time he came to the Willow to dream, she was there. Somehow, she always found him. Somehow, she always know when he needed her.

Now, he could see they were headed toward a mountain. The hills on it were covered with lush green grasses, and everywhere there were Willow trees growing by sparkling brooks, their branches waving in the balmy breeze. He admired how their trunks bent low in a gentle dance.

“Welcome to my home”, Deirdre whispered to him as they floated down to a grassy hill. On this hill there grew only one Willow. It seemed to be the biggest, and oldest willow he’d ever seen. Deirdre folded her wings, and drew him towards it. “Come sit with me” she said softly.

She drew him beside her, within the nest of large bulky roots, and then reached out with her slender hand to gently caress his chin. “I cannot bear to see your pain.” Her voice flowed like honey to his ears, as he met her mossy eyes, and suddenly he felt dizzy. Jarin knew that she was aware of his world. How many times had he run to the forest after Ella had beat him, and cried on the roots of the Willow tree? How many times had he fallen asleep there, and dreamed of Deirdre, and the wonderful places she took him to? Places filled with magic, without beatings or burns. Tears began to well in his soft brown eyes, as Deirdre reached out to stroke his auburn hair.

Jarin stretched out his legs, enjoying the soft coolness of the grasses surrounding them. With mild surprise, he noticed his feet were bare. He must have left his sneakers by the riverbank. No matter. It never got cold enough to need shoes anywhere Deirdre took him. And they almost always flew, anyhow.

Deirdre spoke once again to him. “Stay with me Jarin. This time, don’t go back.”

Jarin looked down at his bare feet, and considered the thought. Could he? Could he stay? He glanced down from the hill, and noticed other children, young boys and girls, playing happily by the meadows and streams. He turned his eyes to hers, and slowly nodded in assent. Silently, she folded her protective wings and arms around him, rocking him, holding him, repeating over and over…..”Never the pain again, my young one. Never the hurt.”

Ella opened the door to find a uniformed policeman standing there. Her gaze went down to where his right hand held a crumpled paper bag.

“What do YOU want?”, she said impatiently, quickly checking behind her to make sure her ‘guest’ wasn’t visible.

“We found these by the riverbank a little while ago”, Officer Luck replied as he leveled his eyes at her.

“Yeah, what is it, and what has it got to do with me?” Ella grated.

One of our guys thought they recognized these, and thought they’d bring em back for your little one” he said gently.

He opened the bag. Nestled inside were a pair of small red tattered tennis shoes. They were soaking wet.

“Where is he?” said Ella. “That boy should have been home hours ago.”

Officer Luck struggled to choke back the water filling his eyes, while he dug his fingernails into his palms. 'Not again' he thought with anguish 'Not again....'. This was the seventh child to disappear this month, and the Force was still no closer to finding the cause behind the disappearances. He filed some initial paperwork with the woman who seemed more concerned with getting him out of her house, than finding her son. As Officer Luck pulled out of the driveway, it was all he could do not to speed home and hug his own children tight.