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.