This is a work of fiction. Names, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, names, places, businesses, trademarks, or events and incidents is purely coincidental.
Shakespir Edition Copyright © 2016
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“It was a day very much unlike today,” the old woman said, still telling a story I had lost interest in before it was half over. I only say ‘old’ because I was very young, then. All adults were old to me. Regardless, even then, I realized she spoke in circles, never directly, never plainly. If she were dying of thirst she would have dried up and withered away before making a plea for water plain enough to understand. Her house was the same; doors locked or stood open, walls painted one color, then another, some hallways led to other hallways, some to nothing at all. I only liked to visit at all because there was a small child, younger than me, who lived there. It was never explained why, and she didn’t look or act like the old woman or her daughter, a woman the same age as my mother. But I was attracted to her, the child. I tolerated the old woman because of the child, and tagged along every time my mother visited her friend. They would sit and talk, or walk around the massive back yard of woods and gardens, leaving me to look after the old woman. I imagined it such, but now I realize she was obviously charged with looking after me.
But still, the girl. She couldn’t have been six years old, because I was eight and she seemed a child to me, but in ways she also seemed much older than me, even older than the old woman. She was small and frail, with boney arms and legs, but the long curly mop of orange hair on her head seemed to have been growing for centuries, and in all directions. As she bounced through the house, never wearing anything other than a pair of panties, though modesty is something learned, I guess, she seemed like two beings, and the hair-being seemed to be mostly in charge. But it was her eyes more than anything else, her eyes that drew me in and at the same time made me question her origins. Not hereditary, her actual species. The old woman kept paintings on the walls of every room and down every twisting hallway, and they were all frightening, but strangely appealing at the same time. Not landscapes, really, not portraits, thinking back I can’t even describe exactly what they were. But in the paintings, every living creature had eyes just like the girl. I wasn’t familiar with many races, then, only white people lived in my little town, but even then I realized it wasn’t race, it was something far different. My only logical explanation was whoever painted them had used the girl as a model, for humans and animals.
She would bring me coffee as I was confined to the old woman’s room when my mother was obsessing over the daughter. Though I didn’t like coffee. I even mentioned it many times. She still brought me coffee. She had a very unpleasant laugh for a child, especially when she thought she was disobeying or being spiteful, but it made me smile. Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, on the rare occasions she spoke, but it had an unusual timbre and I heard every word clearly, as if my ears passed the sound directly in my head. Even later at night, home in my own room, I could lie awake in bed and still hear her voice like a ghost repeating the entire day, could still see her wild orange hair trying to consume her; and her unusual eyes, like staring at the sun or staring down a devouring beast; I couldn’t blink away the engraved image of her magical light gray eyes. And even sleep couldn’t break the hypnotic spell. I would toss and turn all night, sometimes waking up on the floor or sitting in the small wooden chair by the window, with no clue how I got there. I would even wake up sometimes and try to draw her, though the drawings never looked like her, probably due more to my lack of skills than my memorized vision of her every aspect, but the drawings were always of horrific monsters. I could describe her perfectly, from her hair and face to her bare chest and bare feet, but I couldn’t capture her on paper. I wonder now if even a camera would have captured her image.
But, by the next morning, I wanted to go back, to see her again. I knew about love, even the basics of lust, but whatever attracted me to her was neither of those. I didn’t want to touch her or kiss her; I only wanted to be in the same space she occupied. I wanted to know she was close. Luckily, or not, we visited nearly every day. I later understood my mother was romantically involved with the old woman’s daughter, but at the time, that summer, it meant nothing to me. I only thought about the child.
“And this day very much unlike today unfolded in the magical kingdom of fairies,” the old woman said. She pointed a chubby finger toward her bedroom window, as if the magical kingdom was just outside. The child brought me coffee and placed the cup on the table by the bed. I was standing on the opposite side with the old woman between us. It was as close as we ever got. There always seemed to be something between us, whether planned or coincidence, I was never sure.
“Coffee is good,” the child said. “But be very careful because it’s very hot.”
I nodded. I never drank it, ever. It would sit for a while, and then she would come back into the room and take it away. That was usually when she laughed. I think she realized it was a game, a tease. If I had ever taken a drink, I believe it would have annoyed her to anger. But, she would soon be back. I knew the routine. She would come back into the room moments later, put a small piece of candy in the place the coffee had sat, and then stand by the window. I wondered what she saw, whether the world looked different through eyes like hers. Could she see colors, or was everything as gray as her eyes? Perhaps she could see the fairy kingdom the old one imagined. We never talked directly, so I could never ask. It was always as if we spoke to an audience, as if our words were only meant to be heard as statements. It wasn’t something I was completely aware of at the time, though I must have understood what was happening on some level. And as I remember it now, even the old woman’s stories seemed more like soliloquies, something she would have said even if I had not been there.
But the stories always ended just as my mother entered the room.
“It’s time to go, Stephen,” she would say. There was never a goodbye, I simply followed her through the house and out to the car. And we never spoke about the house or the inhabitants, though we talked about everything else on the trip home.
“And the fairies were restless and not at all dead, as one would expect,” the old woman continued. “Though the kingdom had to move to another land where there was nothing green.”
“It’s time to go, Steven.”
I remember the day after. I had jumped out of bed late and quickly made it to the kitchen for breakfast before we went to visit the queer house and its inhabitants, but my mother was crying. Not openly, she was trying to hide it from me, but I could hear her shaking breath. I was a kid, an expert on crying. Still, though she didn’t say a word about it, I knew we were never going back to the house. And we didn’t. Days, weeks, months, years passed. I never asked why, though I eventually understood the fragility of relationships and the other things that undermine human contentment. And honestly, I didn’t miss the visits after a while. My dreams and fantasies about the child proved as satiating as her actual presence, and even they slowly became less important, like ever-diminishing waves, until the last shadows and flashes of orange and gray no longer held my mind and dreams captive. Something of the child she was remained with me, but that’s how memory works, I know; it’s a snapshot, not a movie. Nothing moves or changes in memories; it simply fades with age until only the faintest outline remains, indistinguishable and unimportant.
Once, in my later teen years, I thought to drive out to the old house, to see the child, to explain what I felt as a kid, but I couldn’t even explain it to myself. I was so overcome with fear, so afraid to see her all grown up, that I turned around and never attempted the journey again. And my existence, my adult life, eventually put her in a tiny corner, made smaller and smaller as years passed, until I wonder now whether she ever really existed at all. Were her light gray eyes and orange shock of hair something the boy created that eventually became real enough to create false memories? Or, just possibly, did she move to the land where nothing was green? I would never know. Her name was Beatrice.