Was That the Tooth Fairy, or Just Bad Acid?
D. J. Belt
Copyright disclaimers: original story, copyright D. J. Belt, 2011.
Rating: Who knows? It’s got humor, it’s got pathos, it’s got love. It’s got a mildly neurotic heroine, a cute kid, and a totally bizarre story line. “ALT”, if labels be needed.
Comments, insults, throwing of rotten fruit: comments can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy. That’s my job, and I delight in it. Insults and the throwing of rotten fruit can be directed toward Congress. They probably deserve it.
Misc: Dear and gentle readers: This story was not inspired by me dropping acid. Just wanted to make that clear. It was inspired by me drinking half a bottle of wine. Just kidding. Okay, I’m not kidding. It was also inspired by thinking about forest fairies, those delightful, mischievous mythological creatures, and wondering what would happen if...well, you’ll see. Hope you enjoy!
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
–Puck, a fairy, in Wm. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“Mommy, I lost my tooth.”
Alice glanced up from her book. “Oh, my. You did, didn’t you? Let me see.” Little Callie obediently opened her mouth, and Alice smiled. A front tooth was missing. It wasn’t bleeding, either. She sighed, a bittersweet sigh of resignation. Nature was at work, and her little girl was growing. Before one knew it, little Callie would be a big girl, with curves and make-up and attitude. She wasn’t looking forward to that. She enjoyed her daughter now, at a delightful, childish, mischievous, creative age. A thought crossed Alice’s mind, and she brightened. “Oh! Do you have your tooth?”
Callie opened her hand. In her palm, the tooth rested. “Yes.”
Alice stifled a laugh. The ‘yes’ came out with a hiss, a lisp caused by the gap in her front teeth. It was charming. “Well, go put it under your pillow.”
Callie made a face. “Ick. Why?”
“Because if you put it under your pillow, the tooth fairy will come tonight and take it, and she’ll leave a shiny new coin in its place.”
“Really?” Callie’s eyes grew wide.
“Oh, yes. When little girls lose their baby teeth, that’s what the tooth fairy does.”
“What does she do with it?”
“With what, dear?”
She huffed. “The tooth, Mommy.”
“Oh.” Alice thought about it, then looked at her daughter’s inquisitive face. “I really don’t know.” She leaned closer to the little girl and whispered, “Something magic, I imagine.”
Callie giggled. “Like what?”
“Well, what do you think?”
“Oh! I know! She puts it in the sky, and it becomes a star!”
Alice laughed in delight. Great answer. Leave it to a six-year-old. “That’s right, dear. Now, it’s time for bed. Put your tooth under your pillow, and brush your teeth and wash your face. Then, I’ll read you a story.”
With that, Callie ran from the room. Alice watched her go, then smiled and returned her attention to her book, even as she kept an ear open to hear the running of the water and the eventual squeaky announcement that Callie was in bed and was awaiting her story.
Fresh from her shower, Alice padded across her bedroom. She stopped when she passed by her full-length mirror, and she considered her reflection. How plain I am, she thought. She dropped her towel and studied herself. An average body, in every way. Average height, average weight, average curves, average face, average everything. Not pretty, not ugly. Just...there. And no color. Brown hair, brown eyes, light brown skin tone. She looked down at her chest. Hell, she thought. Even those are brown! How monotone. I could be in the middle of a crowd and be invisible. It would have been thrilling, she thought, to have had beautiful red hair, alabaster skin, blue or green eyes. But nope. Alice gets monotone. I’m so boring. She looked down at her feet. Maybe I should paint my nails. Get some color on me. Let’s see...brown, brown, brown, brown...red. Nah. Who am I trying to kid? Alice, quit the pity-party. You are what you are. Just shut up and go to bed. She stifled a huge yawn.
She lifted a worn, thigh-length nightgown from her chest of drawers and slipped it over her head. God, but she was tired. Every day is a long day for a single mother, and today was no exception. Had she known then what she knew now, would she still have had Callie? Alice smiled. Yeah. Absolutely.
She made one more trek through the house, checking the locks on the doors and making sure the lights were out. Then, she felt her way through the darkened house toward her bed. On the way, she stopped at Callie’s door one more time. The curtains were open, and silvery moonlight lit the room. She could see that Callie was asleep, her favorite stuffed tiger in her arms. What a kid, Alice thought, as she found her own bed. Her head hit the pillow, and she was dead to the world before her exhausted mind could form another coherent thought.
Some time later, Alice woke. Slowly, she sat erect in bed. The bathroom light was on in the hallway. Callie must have gotten up. Alice pulled aside the covers; her feet found the floor, and she plodded down the hallway, rubbing bleary eyes. It’s just as well that Callie’s up, she thought. I’ve got to take that tooth and leave a coin. Now might be a good time.
She stopped at the open bathroom door, and she stifled a shriek. Her back thumped against the wall, and her heart pounded in her chest. Her mouth moved, but at first, no words were forthcoming.
A voice from the bathroom said, “Aw, shit! I am so busted.”
Alice sputtered in shock. Eventually, she managed a squeaky, “Good God!”
“Nope,” came the reply. A snicker followed, then the voice said, “Not even close.”
“Who–?” Alice pointed and stammered. “Who–?”
“Who am I?”
“Yeah! And what–? What–?”
“What am I doing in your house in the middle of the night?”
“Yeah! That, too!”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m sittin’ on the can. So sue me. I had to pee. Um, do ya mind?”
Alice looked away. “Oh. Sorry.”
The toilet flushed. A moment later, the bathroom’s occupant stepped into the hall and faced her. Alice stared in amazement, even as she backed up a few paces. She was speechless.
A young woman stood before her, short and slender, almost pixie-ish in appearance. She couldn’t have been any more than five feet tall, and maybe eighty or so pounds. Her torso was covered with a short–very short!--dress of–what material was that? It looked soft, glittery, and woodsy. Her arms and legs were bare, and her feet wore flimsy, ancient-looking leather sandals. Most eye-catching, though, were the gossamer-like wings which arose from her back and formed a halo about her head and torso, and her hair, cut in a chaotic, freaky style with streaks of blue and scarlet and who-knows-what-else running through it. And her ears were pointed! And pierced. At the top. And the bottom. Her nose was pierced, too, and–was that a tattoo winding around one thigh? It looked intricate, gorgeous even. And what’s with those eyes? They’re the oddest eyes I’ve ever seen, Alice thought. Is this chick on drugs? Alice looked her up and down, then found her voice.
“I repeat my question. Who–?”
The apparition raised an eyebrow. “So who do I look like to you?”
“You look like a cross between Mister Spock and Lady Gaga.”
The apparition laughed. “Close. Real close.” She puffed up her chest and spread her arms wide. Her wings flapped a few times. “I’m the tooth fairy.”
Alice’s jaw dropped. “Yeah, right.”
“No, really. You’re lucky, y’know. Most humans don’t see me. I go invisible when I’m in their houses. Like this,” the fairy said, then nodded. She disappeared. A moment later, she reappeared. “See?” The apparition shrugged. “You caught me with my pants down.” She laughed. “So to speak. I was so into reading your Cosmo.”
“Holy shit!” was all that Alice could find to say. She rubbed her eyes. “That didn’t just happen. I don’t believe it. You didn’t just disappear.”
“Boy, you’re a tough sell.” The fairy thought for a second. “Okay. I’ll prove to you that I’m the tooth fairy. You’ve got a daughter named Callie, right?”
“She lost a tooth tonight, right?”
“How did you know that?”
The fairy shot her a ‘Duh!’ look. “I’m the tooth fairy. I’m supposed to know these things.”
“So, here I am.” She pointed to a purse on her waist. “I pick up the tooth, and–” She tapped the little purse. “I leave a coin.” She shrugged. “Hey, it’s what I do.” She pointed a slender finger toward Alice. “What do you do?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do. What do you do? What’s your thing?”
“I, ah, do freelance writing.”
“Oh, cool! What do you write? Dirty books?” She snickered. “I love those things.”
“Magazine articles, advertising copy, stuff like that.” The fairy looked a little crestfallen at the news, so Alice shrugged. “Okay, yeah. You got me. I do write romances under a pen name.”
“Radical! I knew it. Real bodice-rippers, huh? You know, where the hot dude and the heroine ravage each other?”
“Well, actually...” Alice blushed a little. “Yeah. That, and lesbian romances, too.” The fairy cocked her waif-like head in question. Her eyes, large and sparkly, studied Alice. “You know,” Alice continued, “where the hot gal and the heroine ravage each other?” She shrugged. “Yeah, I know. Literary porn. Potboilers. Hey, it pays the bills.”
A slow smile crossed the fairy’s face. “I think that is so kickin’!” she said. “Are you writing something now?”
Alice shook her head. “No. My agent’s all over me to start something new, though.” Actually, she thought, I’m being slowly crushed to death under a massive case of writer’s block. Just shoot me now and get it over with, before my agent sends Guido over to my house to break a kneecap.
“Have you ever written anything for Cosmo?”
“Yeah. They did buy an article from me.”
“Trippin’! That is so neat! Is it in here?” She held up the magazine.
“Yeah. That’s why I have that magazine. I don’t buy it, normally.”
“You just write for it, huh? Which article is it?” She looked at the cover. “Is it: Bikini Waxing for Dummies?”
“Oh, I know! It’s this one: When Your Man Won’t Tell You What He’s Thinking.”
“Um, no.” That would be an easy one to write, Alice thought. He’s not thinking anything. Zero. Zip. Nada.
“Okay. This one?” She pointed at the cover. “Obsessed With Your Ex?”
“Definitely not. Not me.” If my ex ever shows up again, I’ll put a boot up his ass. Or her ass, depending on which one shows up.
“Oh! It’s gotta be this one.” She puzzled over the words, then looked up. “Why would anyone write about having sex at the back door? Don’t they like their bed?”
“Um, I don’t think...that’s what that...means, exactly...”
The big fairy eyes studied Alice. “What’s it mean, then?”
“It’s rather difficult to explain...” Alice covered her face with a hand. I can’t do this. God, I am so embarrassed. That’s why I write under a pen name.
“Oh! I got it: Cosmo’s Guide to...”The fairy squinted in puzzlement, and began spelling out, “F-e-l-l-a-c-i...”
“No! No, no, no!”
“Whoa.” The fairy blinked. “Touchy tonight, aren’t we? Okay, I give up. Which one did you write?”
Alice softened. “It’s the one on achieving closer emotional intimacy.”
“You’re an expert on that?”
“Hardly.” She actually managed a weak smile. “I think they wanted a romance writer’s point of view, though.” A fantasy writer would have been better, Alice thought.
“Oh.” The fairy studied a page, then said, “Hey, this is weird. Why would you want to give anybody a head? Don’t they have one already?”
Alice covered her face with a hand and sighed. God help me, she thought. I can’t do this now. “I don’t mean to seem rude, but can we please change the subject?”
The fairy shot her an injured look. “Boy. Sorr-ee!” She perked up, then studied Alice with wide, imploring eyes as she placed the magazine aside. “Hey. Could I have something to drink? It’s been a long night.”
Alice blinked in surprise. She considered the wide, questioning eyes before her. The irises seemed liquid, sparkly pools. They were mesmerizing. Alice saw nothing to fear in them. But more important, she felt nothing to fear from them. In fact, she felt a warm comfort radiate from the strange creature before her. Those eyes! God almighty. She felt her irritation melt away.
“Um, yeah. Sure. The kitchen’s–”
The fairy turned and headed down the hall. “I saw it on the way in.” She waved a hand. “Come on. Join me, why don’t ya?”
Alice followed the fairy into the kitchen. The strange creature walked silently, lightly, almost as if she weighed nothing. Her wings seemed to move of their own accord, expanding and then closing as she walked. She could see, on the fairy’s bare back, the places where the wings erupted from her skin, on either side of her spine. Alice was fascinated. They were real. They had to be.
Good God, she thought. This is the real McCoy. She’s actually a fairy. Either that, or that acid I dropped in college is coming back to haunt me...again! Oh, no! Well, at least I’m not seeing cross-dressing zombies this time.
The fairy opened the refrigerator. “Oh, neat. A whole six-pack. You want a beer?” She peeked around the open refrigerator door.
“Ah, sure. Why not?” This whole situation was so unbelievably bizarre, she just had to go with it.
The fairy, a bottle of beer in each hand, nudged the door closed with a toe. “Back porch,” she said. “It’s nice out tonight, and we can talk without waking Callie.”
In a moment, they were sitting on the back porch, just within the halo of soft light emanating from a nearby security lamp. The fairy perched on the wide arm of a wooden bench, kicked off her sandals, and tucked her legs under her, Indian-fashion. It allowed Alice to lean back, stretch her legs across the seat, and watch as the fairy took a long, satisfying drink of cold beer.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you in there,” Alice said. “I’m really a very gentle person, most of the time.”
“Think nothin’ of it,” the fairy said. “I can tell you’re a sweetie.” The fairy grinned, a little self-consciously, and confessed, “Besides, I know I can be a royal pain-in-the-ass sometimes.”
“Nonsense.” Alice put on her best smile. “By the way, I’m Alice.”
“Well, I’m pleased to meet ya, Alice.”
“Likewise.” She watched the fairy swig her beer again. “Do you have a name?”
“A name. I mean, tooth fairy is your job description. What’s your name?”
The fairy shot an embarrassed grin at Alice. “Sorry. I’m kind of scatterbrained tonight. My name’s Cobweb.”
“Cobweb? You’re kidding.”
“Why would I be kidding?” She cast a hurt look at Alice.
“Oh, I didn’t mean–it’s a nice name, really.” Alice nodded. “Yeah. It’s totally you.”
The fairy brightened. “Ya think so?”
“Neat.” Cobweb reached into her little pouch and pulled forth a ancient-looking clay pipe, long-stemmed and with a small bowl. She clamped it between her teeth, then snapped her fingers. The pipe lit. She took a luxurious drag, then blew the smoke into the air.
“You smoke?” Cobweb shot Alice another ‘Duh!’ look, and Alice shrugged. “I mean, aren’t you scared of getting cancer or something?”
“I’m a fairy,” she said. “We’re indestructible.”
“You don’t die?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that.” She took another drag on her pipe. Slowly, she exhaled. The smoke curled up into the still night air.
Alice took a sniff, then said, “That’s not tobacco.”
“Nope. Forest herbs. A very old recipe.”
“Interesting. But if you’re indestructible–”
“The normal stuff won’t kill us. Not like it kills humans. We usually live a long time.” Cobweb laughed, a tinkling little laugh. “For instance, one night, I smacked into the windshield of a Mack truck that was honkin’ down the interstate. Man, I was sore all over and covered with bugs, but all I got out of it was a few bruises. He got a cracked windshield.”
“Thank God you didn’t get hurt worse than that.”
“Oh, I think it went worse for the driver. I saw him a little while later, pulled over on the side of the road. He was pouring out half a bottle of booze onto the grass. I mean, how would you react if you saw a fairy splat against your windshield?”
“I guess I’d swear off the cheap whiskey, too.”
“Right.” Cobweb scratched behind one ear with the tip of a wing. “But wouldn’t you at least slow down or pull over or something, right away?”
“I guess so.” Alice said. “What, he didn’t?”
“No. The lousy bum turned on the windshield wipers.” She puzzled in thought. “Maybe I shouldn’t have flipped him off.”
Alice cackled in laughter, then quieted as she noted Cobweb’s silence. “I’m sorry. I’m sure that wasn’t funny to you.” Alice giggled again, then said, “It’s a good thing it was a Mack. You’d have been in trouble if you’d hit a Peterbuilt.”
Cobweb laughed at that, a delightful sound reminiscent of the tinkling of myriad little bells. “That’s a fact,” she said. “Knocked down and knocked up, all at the same time.”
“Gee,” Alice said. “I wonder what their hood ornaments look like?”
“Now that’s a scary thought.” Cobweb shot a smile at Alice. “You’re pretty okay for a human, Alice. You’ve managed to keep your sense of humor. That’s no small feat, these days.”
“Gee, thanks.” Alice smiled at the compliment. “What, most people don’t?”
“Nope. Humans, I’ve noticed, have become a distinctly crabby bunch over the last century.”
“I think,” Cobweb said, “that it’s because you guys are living longer.” She cast a glance Alice’s way. “Not better. Just longer. That’s got to suck. And you humans live so fast, these days. Always buried in your technology and hurrying here and there in your cars. The worst invention you humans ever came up with, in my opinion, was the time-piece. It’s become your god. Everybody’s got one strapped to their wrist. Gotta be here now, gotta be there ten minutes ago. An hour for this, fifteen minutes for that, but no time for the ones you love. No time to enjoy the sunset, no time to watch the snow fall. No time to see the deer run, or a rabbit forage, or listen to a bird’s song. No time for quiet thought in front of a warm fireplace. No time to just be. Hurry, hurry. And in the end, you still die. All your technology can’t help you there.”
“Yeah.” Alice took a sip of beer as she considered that. “Tell me about it,” she finally said, a sudden tinge of sadness to her voice.
Cobweb studied Alice as she swigged her beer, then offered an observation. “I see hurt in you. You’ve recently lost someone, haven’t you?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“I can tell. Want to talk about it?”
Alice shrugged. “Why not? For one, my father died a year ago.”
“And you miss him.”
“Tell me about him.”
“Oh, gosh. He was a delightful man. What wisdom. And talk about your sense of humor. He always had some witty comment to make.” She smiled at the memory. “Often, to Mom’s horror.”
Alice laughed at the recollection. “Oh, I remember once, Mom, Dad, and I were at the funeral home making arrangements for an aunt’s funeral. Now forgive me for saying this, but this aunt was a pain-in-the-ass, and when she died, some relatives quietly breathed a sigh of relief. Anyway, the funeral director was discussing the headstone, and he says that we can have a personal remembrance carved onto it, and what would we like to say? So Dad says, ‘How about: “I told you I was sick! But did you listen? No!”’”
Cobweb cracked up. Her bell-like laughter filled the little porch, and Alice smiled. It was a captivating sound. Cobweb finally quieted and said, “I’d have loved to have known him.”
“You’d have liked him, I think.” Alice sipped her beer, then said, “Do you remember your father?”
Cobweb shook her head. “I never knew who he was for sure.”
“Your mother didn’t ever say?”
“She probably wasn’t sure, either.” Cobweb shrugged, then shot Alice a grin. “Y’see, we fairies are a pretty free-spirited bunch. We don’t marry. Children happen every so often. And when they do, the fairy community raises them.”
“Your dad was a fairy, though?”
“He must have been, ‘cause I’m a full-blood fairy.”
“So, do fairies and humans sometimes...?”
“Bang, d’ya mean?” Cobweb said. “Oh, heck yeah. It’s been known to happen. In older times, especially. Not so much now. Back then, farm girls seemed to fall for a fairy like a hooker for a gold coin. If a kid resulted, they’d be unusual in some way.” She laughed. “Usually, just short. Small, like me. In old times, that was enough to start rumors going. Any tiny child, any teen who was under five feet tall or had odd-lookin’ ears, they were teased as ‘fairy-bastards’. And if they showed gifts, like smarts or insight, they-- and their mothers--were often tried as witches.”
“That’s horrible.” Alice watched Cobweb sip her beer while she thought about that. Then, she asked, “How about your mother?”
“Oh, I love Mom. She’s a sweetie.” Cobweb grinned. “She’s nothing like me. She’s soft and shy and gentle. I often thought that she was the most gorgeous fairy I’d ever seen.” Cobweb took a drag on her pipe. “I must have taken after dear ol’ Dad, huh?” She laughed. “Whoever the hell he was.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Alice said. “I think that you’re very attractive. A total cutie. I’ll bet there’s more of your mother in you than you think.”
“You really think so?” Cobweb brightened at the compliment. Her wings flapped a couple of times, and she seemed to glow for an instant.
“I do. So, you must have some idea who your dad was, if he was a fairy. I mean, there can’t be that many fairy men around, can there?”
“There’s enough of ‘em. Personally, I’d always suspected that it was that rascal Robin Goodfellow. That was his name, but everybody called him Puck.” She snickered, and shot a glance at Alice. “Never trust a fairy whose nickname rhymes with f–”
“Um, yeah. Good advice,” Alice said. “So, is your mom still alive?”
Cobweb blew a smoke ring. “Yup. She was young when she got knocked up with me. She’s more of a forest fairy, watching over bunnies and mushrooms and stuff like that, in Europe.” Cobweb gave a snicker. “Me, I get exiled to the New World to pick up human teeth. Out of the woods and onto the mean streets, huh?”
“Lucky you,” Alice observed.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it that way. I like human kids. They’re neat little creatures. And it makes them so happy, what I do. I can feel their joy and wonder when they wake up and find that their tooth is gone and there’s a shiny coin in its place. And that is so cool.” Cobweb smiled, an apologetic smile. “Trust me, there’s worse gigs.” She scratched her head. “I guess.”
“So you were born and raised in Europe?”
“Yeah. There’s still thick forests in some parts, but they’re less and less. Right now, my people are in Sweden.”
“That explains the trace of accent in your voice.”
Cobweb raised an eyebrow in question. “You can hear that? I thought I got rid of it, that I sounded like, totally American, dude.”
Alice laughed. “I can hear the accent. It’s charming. Sexy, even. I like it.”
“Oh.” Cobweb brightened, and glowed for an instant. “Thanks!”
“So, who decides what job you get?” Alice asked.
“Titania, the fairy queen. She rules every fairy’s destiny.”
“And she gave you this job because...?”
Cobweb shrugged. “Ah, who knows? I guess she thought I was a pain-in-the-ass, too. Plus, I’ve never been afraid of humans, the way a lot of forest fairies are.”
“You guys are afraid of us?”
“Oh, hell yeah. I mean, wouldn’t you be scared of big creatures who dress up in camouflage and stomp around in the woods, pissing on trees and shooting at everything?”
“I guess I would be. I’ve never thought about it like that.”
“Sure. Hunting season sucks if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. More than one fairy has spent an afternoon picking bird-shot out of their ass.”
Alice sipped her beer as she thought. Then, she said, “Tell me about your childhood. What’s it like, growing up, for a fairy?”
“Like any kid, I guess. Back then, the forests in the Old World were vast, dark, tangled things, y’know? Few humans lived in ‘em. They stuck to the villages and the farms. They saw forests as filled with hobgoblins and nasty stuff. That was our stomping grounds.”
“So you never dealt with humans?”
“Oh, yeah. We did. Sometimes, they’d come into the forests to hunt, or to search for rare herbs and plants and mushrooms and stuff. And then there was the odd human who lived there. I guess they didn’t feel comfortable with their own kind. They were usually pretty cool, once they got over the initial shock of seeing us.” She laughed. “I remember this one old human. She lived alone, and she was a real gem with herbs and potions. She had wonderful books, too. We kids used to love to go around to her place. She’d always have some fresh-baked bread, and she’d serve us tea and tell us stories about the human world.”
“Oh, kings and queens, and beautiful castles, and hot princesses, and busy cities. I so wanted to go to a human city and see all the sights. Dear ol’ Mom was horrified at the idea.”
“She didn’t like humans?”
“She was afraid of humans. She thought you guys were violent, nasty critters. She’d heard the stories of the Black Death. She’d seen humans burn each other as witches.” Cobweb puffed on her pipe for a moment, then said, “I mean, we fairies have disagreements too, but if somebody’s different in our community, we’re not afraid of it. If they have a gift, we honor that, even if they seem a little nutty. If they’re causin’ a ruckus, though, they get exiled. Go somewhere else.”
Alice said, “Is that what happened to you?”
Cobweb didn’t answer right away. She just puffed on her little clay pipe, seeming deep in thought. Finally, she said, “That’s neat, Alice. You’ve got a way of cuttin’ through all the crap.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” Alice said. “I just meant–”
“It’s fine.” She nodded slowly. “And you’re right. I’ve always been a wild child, always had a knack for getting in hot water. I remember once, sweet, gentle Mom was actually chasing me with a stick, red-faced and screaming.” Cobweb lapsed into her childhood dialect. “Fie! Out upon thee, thou wanton sprite, thou shameless baggage! Hie thee home, or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither! Thy mischiefs wilt be the early death of me!”
“Good Lord. What did you do?”
Cobweb laughed. “Just never you mind. The other fairies were lovin’ it, though. And Mom tanned my butt good when she caught me.” She looked at Alice. “That’s when I learned that there’s nothing stronger or faster than a pissed-off mother.”
“Oh, come on,” Alice teased. “‘Fess up. What did you do?”
“Okay,” Cobweb sighed. “I, um...”
“Well, it’s like this. There was this tavern at the edge of the forest where the usual gang of idiots used to gather. Woodsmen, hunters, outlaws, farmers, ne’er-do-wells, and the odd priest or two. At night, the lights were bright, and it was noisy with voices, laughter, and music. It fascinated us young fairies. We’d sneak around and watch the shenanigans on a regular basis. One of the tavern girls–serving wenches, they used to call them–took a liking to us and fed us ale. Well, we were just into our puberty, and we were pretty curious about...things. Turns out, it was a brothel, too.”
“You said it. Anyhow, I stole a tablecloth and wrapped it around myself, then snuck into the brothel and caught the local bishop in the act with some gal. As he’s doin’ the deed, he looks up and sees me perched on the window-sill. Man, he totally freaked. He thought I was, like, an angel from on high come to chastise him for his wanton ways.” She snickered. “He was right about the ‘high’ part. Man, that ale is strong. Anyhow, he freaks out and takes off and runs stark naked through the tavern, moaning and weeping his repentance and mumbling the odd Hail Mary or two, with me hovering just above him, wrapped in this sheet, and the gal is right behind us, screaming that he hasn’t paid for her services yet. That tavern emptied quicker than rats out of a hole, with drunks running everywhere, wenches screaming, humans jumping out of windows, crossing themselves, yelling that ‘the end is nigh upon us’.”
“And that’s when your mother caught you?”
“Nope. I chased the bishop into the forest, right into where Titania was holding court. Picture this: a naked human streaks through her entourage, followed by little ol’ me shouting damnation upon one randy bishop, followed by the brothel-keeper, beating him about the head with her stick and screaming for her money, followed by a seriously-undressed hooker cussing him like a dog. There was a lot of shrieking, and the place totally exploded with fairies.” Cobweb puffed on her pipe. “The fairy queen,” she said, “was not amused.”
“I guess not. And your mom?”
“Hell, she was part of the queen’s entourage.”
“Ah. That explains it all.”
“Anyway, it didn’t change when I grew up. I guess Titania decided that I needed to get lost for a while.”
“So she sent you here? To the, ah, New World?”
“Yeah. Oh, I’m not exiled. I can still live there, but my job keeps me away most of the time.” She laughed, a tinkling little laugh. “And the commute sucks.”
“You can’t live here?”
“Where would I live? Fairies are a social animal, Alice. Like humans. I need that contact, just like you do with your own kind. And we’re an Old World animal. That’s been our home since the ages began.”
“It must be tough on you.”
Cobweb shrugged. “I’ve learned to love it. And humans fascinate me. They always have, they always will.”
They lapsed into a momentary silence. Alice sipped her beer and thought about what Cobweb had told her. Then, she asked, “So fairies don’t die?”
‘Huh?” Cobweb looked at her.
“You said that fairies don’t die.”
“Oh. We do die, usually of old age. But there is one thing that will kill us.”
“Nah. I really shouldn’t say.”
“Okay.” Alice studied Cobweb, then asked, “So, may I ask how old you are?”
A silence fell over the porch, and Alice snickered. Cobweb was a tease. “Okay,” she said. “How old are you?”
Cobweb shot Alice a teasing glance and a grin. “Oh, I’ve been kickin’ around for maybe three hundred years.” She cocked her head as she considered Alice. “How old are you?”
“Thirty. But you’re really that old? You don’t look a day over about–I don’t know–maybe early twenties.”
Cobweb brightened. “Thanks. Once we hit puberty, we fairies don’t age. Not like humans do.” She took another drink of beer, then asked, “So, are you married, or what?”
“‘Nope’ to married, or ‘nope’ to ‘or what’?”
Alice glanced up at Cobweb’s face. She had an impish twinkle in her expression, one that made Alice snicker. “That’s a ‘nope’ to married, and a definite ‘could be’ to ‘or what’.”
Cobweb laughed, a sound which Alice found reminiscent of the tinkling of little bells. Her voice resumed its smooth, high-pitched purr. “Alice, you’re one of the most delightfully interesting humans I’ve ever met.”
That gave Alice pause. She had never thought of herself as ‘delightfully interesting’; indeed, she thought of herself as plain as dirt, an unnoticeable, faceless nobody in a world that didn’t care to know her. A smile slowly spread across her face. She locked eyes with Cobweb, and was once again fascinated, drawn in by those big, sparkly, liquid irises. God, those eyes! They could make a person lose their religion. If they had any to begin with, that is.
“That,” she said, “is probably about the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you, Cobweb. I sure needed that tonight.”
“Really! Well, you’re welcome.” Cobweb cocked her head in question as she studied Alice. “Did it make you happy, what I just said?”
Alice swigged her beer, and nodded as she swallowed. “Yeah,” she finally said.
Cobweb squeaked in delight. Her wings flapped, and she actually appeared to glow for an instant. “Oh, goody!”she gushed. At Alice’s surprised expression, she explained, “That’s one of the things we do. Fairies, I mean. We make people happy. If I made you happy, that is such a coup for me. Yes!”
“I thought fairies were mischievous, that they played tricks on people.”
“Oh, yeah. That, too. Sometimes it’s so much fun to mess with people, you know? Especially a real asshole. I just love to dust somebody who’s bein’ a total jerk.” Cobweb took a swig of beer, then rumbled with a musical little belch. “I guess that’s just my daddy in me.”
“I imagine so.” Alice thought for a moment, then asked, “What do you mean, ‘dust’?”
“Oh.” Cobweb laughed. “You know. Fairy dust. Like this.” She waved a hand in front of her. A little trickle of sparkly, glowing dust tracked through the air, then dissipated.
“What does it do?”
“Whatever I want it to do. It can take away your pain, your sadness. And it can bring justice.”
“Well, it’s like this. There’s a cosmic justice in the universe, you know?”
“What goes around, comes around?” Alice asked.
“Yeah. And we fairies help that along. When some schmuck gets what they deserve, it’s often because a fairy dusted them.”
Alice thought about that as she drained her beer. As silence fell over the porch, Cobweb knocked out her pipe, and rose. “You want another beer, kiddo?” she asked.
“You’re my guest. I’ll get it.”
Cobweb waved a hand. “Relax. I’ll get ‘em. I’ve got to pee again, anyway.” As she headed for the door, she muttered, “I swear, I’ve got a bladder like a chipmunk.”
Alice heard the door whisper closed behind her. In the momentary silence, she downed the last of her beer and considered what she’d learned. Nobody would believe this. Nobody. If she started telling people that she was having conversations with the tooth fairy, they’d lock her up for sure. She could hear her mother now: ‘Honey, maybe you need some more of that Prozac stuff.’
A moment later, Alice smiled. There was one person who would believe this: Callie. She’d squeal in delight at the story. Now that would be something to see.
The door opened, and a slender hand passed Alice a cold beer.
Cobweb perched on the wide wooden arm of the bench, at Alice’s feet. She looked totally comfortable there, one leg dangling free, one foot tucked against a thigh. Alice wondered if that was a forest fairy thing, sitting like that. Maybe they grew up sitting in trees and such. Her balance and flexibility must be extraordinary. Fairies should do yoga, she thought.
Alice studied Cobweb carefully. “That’s a gorgeous tattoo around your thigh. It’s a Celtic chain, right?”
“Bingo. You’re sharp.”
“How old is that?”
“Old. Really old. It’s a magic charm.”
“Wow. And your skin seems to glow sometimes,” she noted.
“Yeah. That’s a fairy thing. Touch it.” She extended a leg and rested her foot in Alice’s lap. “Go ahead. It’s okay.”
Cautiously, Alice brushed her fingers along Cobweb’s leg. “Oh, my God. It feels like velvet. And so smooth. I’m jealous. You must spend a fortune on wax, huh?”
“Nah. Don’t need to. We fairies don’t have a hair on our bodies, except for our heads.”
“Yeah. See?” Cobweb turned toward Alice, spread her knees apart, and held up her little skirt. “Bald as a billiard ball.”
Alice choked. “Ohmygod!” she wheezed. “Cobweb! I can’t believe you just flashed me. I almost shot beer through my nose.”
Cobweb was cackling in laughter, a litany of little bells. “That was so kickin’!” the fairy said. “Your reaction was priceless.”
Alice felt a broad grin stretch across her face. “I’ll bet. So the tooth fairy goes commando, huh?”
“Well, it’s not like I can just walk into Victoria’s Secret and shop, y’know.”
“You ought to do that during Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. You wouldn’t look out-of-place there at all.”
“Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras once. Had a tooth to pick up. What madness! I loved it, until I got smacked in the head with a handful of beads and fell to the street just behind a police horse.” She looked over at Alice. “Trust me, you don’t want to fall to the street just behind a police horse.”
“I suppose not.”
“It got ugly after that. I got stepped on, groped a few times, and pick-pocketed. Two dudes tried to pull my wings off. Somebody else asked me which bar I performed at. I even got a marriage proposal. I finally got out of the main crowd, down a side street, when this drunk staggers up to me, holds up some beads, and says, ‘Show me yer boobs.’ Then, he blinks at me with those drunken, stupid eyes of his, and says, ‘Ah, never mind. You ain’t got any.’”
“How insulting! What did you do? Dust him?”
“I damned sure did. Hey, he wanted boobs, so he got ‘em.”
“Cobweb! You didn’t give him--!”
“I did. Big ‘uns, too! It damn near started a riot.”
“Well, this dude taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can do that for his girlfriend. She got pissed and threw her beer in his face, and he swung on her, but she ducked. He hit some biker guy instead, and before you know it, everybody’s fighting. Then some chick yells, ‘She started it!’, and the next thing I know, I’m bein’ roughed and cuffed and thrown into the back of a van by this great big constable. I landed on top of a hooker and three drunk chicks.”
“You got arrested?”
“Yeah.” Cobweb laughed. “For inciting a riot.”
“Did you go to jail?”
“Nah. I went invisible. When they opened the doors to throw somebody else in, I snuck out of there like a church deacon leaving a saloon.” She took a sip of beer, then said, “Mom was right. Humans are crazy.”
“I can’t deny that.” Alice snickered. “It sounds like you need to stay away from New Orleans.”
“Tell me about it,” Cobweb said. “I guess it’s no shopping for me, huh?”
Alice considered Cobweb’s statement, and a crazy thought flashed into her head. “I’ll go shopping for you, if you want.”
“Really? You’d do that for me?”
“Sure. It’ll give you an excuse to visit again.”
“I’ll be back. Callie’s going to be losing more teeth.”
Alice smiled. “When you do come back, don’t you dare leave without waking me up and saying hello. We’ll sit and have a beer.”
Cobweb puffed up and glowed a little. “I’ll just do that. Thanks, Alice. You’re a doll.”
A moment of silence passed, a moment which felt pleasantly companionable. Finally, Alice said, “Thanks for hanging out with me tonight.”
“Oh, hey. Thanks for the beers.”
“You don’t have any more kids to visit?”
“Nah. Callie was the last one tonight.”
Another moment of silence passed, then Alice spoke. “Cobweb?”
She turned toward Alice. Her wide, liquid eyes studied the human for a few seconds. Finally, she raised a slanted eyebrow in question.
Alice’s voice was scarcely above a whisper. “Can you really take away pain? Sadness?”
Another silence fell, one in which Cobweb peered, really peered, at Alice with those sparkly, knowing eyes. The fairy loooked at Alice, looked so thoroughly, so intently, that Alice was convinced that Cobweb was seeing into the deepest crevices of her soul. God, those fairy eyes. They were liquid, swirling pools of...of light. Finally, Cobweb spoke.
“It’s no wonder you asked that question. There’s a lot of pain and sadness in you.”
“I’m not asking for me,” Alice said.
“Callie. She really misses her daddy.”
“Where is he now?”
“He went off to the war last year.”
“When is he coming home?”
Alice was silent for a moment. When she spoke, it was a whisper. “He’s not.”
“Does Callie know?”
“I’ve tried to explain it to her. I don’t think she wants to believe me.”
“She loves him?”
“She adores him. She asks about him all the time.”
“And you love him?”
Alice gave a weak shrug. “I don’t think I ever loved him. I liked him, I guess. I didn’t know him very well. He was just a fling; we were never married. And when I turned up pregnant and gave birth, he would visit for Callie’s sake. He doted on her, and she ate it up.” Alice felt a warm tear trace a path down her cheek. “Most guys wouldn’t have done that. He did. He must have really loved that kid. Our kid.”
An identical tear sparkled down Cobweb’s cheek. “I hate war so fuckin’ much,” she said. “And I’ve seen three hundred years of it in Europe. Poor Callie. The innocent always suffer.”
“Can you fix it for her?” Alice asked.
The fairy nodded. “Yeah,” she answered. “You bet I can fix it.” She stood, grasped Alice’s hand, and pulled her up from the bench. “Come on.”
Together, they entered the house. Cobweb led the way, her tingly, velvet fingers grasping Alice’s hand. When they reached the door of Callie’s room, Alice pulled Cobweb to a halt.
“She won’t forget him, will she?” Alice whispered.
Cobweb smiled, a reassuring smile. “Nope. She’ll just lose that hurt. For the rest of her life, whenever she thinks of him, she’ll feel happy.”
“Oh, do it! Please.”
“Hey. I’m a fairy. It’s what I do best.” Cobweb glided across the floor and stopped next to Callie’s bed. For a long, silent moment, she stood there, her eyes closed, concentrating. She waved a hand across the bed, and a thin cloud of luminescent dust settled over the sleeping child. Then, she returned to the door. “All done,” she whispered.
“That’s it for her.” Cobweb grasped Alice’s hand in both her own and led her down the hallway, away from Callie’s room. They stopped just outside Alice’s bedroom.
“Now,” Cobweb said, “let me take your pain away.”
Alice was silent for a moment, a moment in which she looked down into the fairy’s face. God, those eyes! “No,” she said. “My pain is a part of who I am. I’m afraid that, without the pain, I won’t feel the joy, either. And I don’t want to lose the joy.”
The fairy eyes gazed at Alice. Cobweb’s head tilted as she considered the human face before her. “Alice,” Cobweb finally said, “you’re one in a million, do ya know that?”
“You, too. You’re the coolest fairy I’ve ever met.”
“I’m the only fairy you’ve ever met.”
“Still makes you the coolest.”
“You got me there.” Cobweb stepped closer to Alice. Their chests were almost touching. Her huge, liquid eyes were mesmerizing. “If I can’t take away your pain, then let me take away your sorrow. Your regrets. Your loneliness.”
“Oh, yeah. You ache with it.”
“I do, don’t I?”
“You don’t need to.”
“Let me fix it. Please. Let me comfort you.”
Cobweb’s irises were swirling pools of energy. To Alice, it seemed as if someone else’s voice answered. “Okay.”
Cobweb’s expression reflected a radiant joy. She drew even closer to Alice, and she seemed to grow taller even as she wrapped her arms around Alice’s neck. Then, Alice realized that Cobweb’s feet were planted on the sides of her pelvis. She reached down and touched them. “You’re standing on me? You don’t weigh hardly anythi--”
Cobweb kissed Alice, and Alice saw stars. She saw galaxies, she saw swirls of radiant, living color. She felt joy, she felt warmth and love. Her entire body tingled. Her knees almost buckled. She felt the softness and warmth of Cobweb’s lips, and the hot sweetness of her breath. Oh, my God, Alice thought. I’ve died and gone to heaven. And I think I’m going to pass out any second now.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. Cobweb’s face was in front of hers, those liquid irises considering her with humor, that face crinkled into a smile. “Hey, doll,” the fairy said. “I thought I lost you for a minute there.”
“I think you did.” She blinked a few times, then focused on Cobweb’s face. “How did you do that?”
“Simple. I just puckered up and–”
“No. I mean–Jesus! I’ve never been kissed like that in my entire life!”
Cobweb grinned. “It’s a fairy thing.” She raised a fairy eyebrow. “And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. You up for some more?”
“Oh, yeah. Oh, hell yes!”
Cobweb laughed, a tinkling swirl of little bells. “Well, in that case...” She put her mouth near Alice’s ear. Alice felt a pointed fairy ear press itself against her cheek. Silken threads of Cobweb’s hair touched her face. Her fragrance was delightful, a scent of spring woods and wild-flowers. Cobweb whispered a few words.
Alice felt herself blush. “Fairies Gone Wild, huh?” she said, as her hand found the knob of her bedroom’s door and turned it. “I just hope you know CPR, because I’m probably gonna need it.”
The next hours seemed dreamlike to Alice, a lush, whirling, roaring storm of sensory and tactile and emotional beauty which defied description. Later, she would remember being overwhelmed by it all, by the sweetness and intensity of their intimate communion, by the touch, the taste, the soft, tender words and mesmerizing eyes, and by the velvet, tingly, perfect body of the fairy. She would recall that Cobweb was able to coax a riot of sensations from her, both body and soul, that no man or woman ever had before. She was sure that she had blacked out at least a couple of times from its intensity. And she remembered the emotions; how loved she felt, how filled with joy and contentment. And how she relished dozing with Cobweb tangled in her arms, a fairy’s wing draped over both of them and offering them warmth and protection. The silken hair against her face, the warm, incredibly soft body pressed against her own skin, the slender hand resting on her chest, the pointed fairy ear near her eyes, the sweet breath against her cheek; it was all too dreamlike, too intense, too right to be real. And yet, it was real. It had to be real. This was no flashback. LSD wasn’t this damned good, not by a long shot.
No, this was so beautiful that it made Alice’s soul ache. Quietly, very quietly, she wept as Cobweb slumbered against her. Then, after some time, she drifted into a peaceful sleep, remembering nothing beyond the moment that Cobweb stirred, whispered something soothing into her ear, and touched her with a fine sprinkling of sparkling dust.
“Mommy! Mommy! Look!”
Alice felt a heaviness on her chest, and a small hand patting her cheek. She opened one eye. It was dawn. Callie was in bed with her, perched on her chest. She held up a shiny half-dollar. “The tooth fairy came last night.”
“You got that right,” Alice mumbled, then rubbed her eyes. Suddenly, they popped wide open. Oh, my God! Cobweb! Alice glanced to her left. The bed sheets were rumpled, but there was no sign of Cobweb. A feeling of relief mingled with a deep sense of loss washed over her. She was gone. Well, at least she wouldn’t have to explain to Callie the presence of a naked fairy in her bed. Hell, she was going to have a hard enough time explaining that to herself. Instinctively, she pulled the covers up to her chin, even though she was modestly-enough covered.
Callie climbed off her chest and lowered herself to the floor. “I’m hungry,” she announced.
Alice groaned. “You know where the cereal and milk is, honey. I’ll be out in a bit.”
“Okay. Can I watch cartoons?”
“Yeah. Sure.” As she heard the patter of little feet head down the hallway, she lifted her head and mumbled, “Close the...aah, never mind.” Her head flopped back down on the pillow, and she groaned again.
“Man, you don’t do mornings well,” a voice said. Alice’s eyes popped open again. She turned her head to her left, and she blinked a couple of times in surprise..
“I thought you were gone,” Alice said.
Cobweb shot her an injured look. “I wouldn’t do that to you, doll. I’d at least say good-bye.”
“Yeah. Sorry. I just didn’t see you there a minute ago.”
“I made myself invisible when Callie came in.”
“That was quick thinking.” Alice leaned up on her elbows. “You can really do that?”
“Sure. Don’t you remember?” Cobweb grinned, then vanished. A moment later, she reappeared. “Hey, it’s a fairy thing.”
“I need to close the door,” Alice said. She made a motion to rise, but the door slowly swung shut by itself and latched. She looked from the door to Cobweb, who shrugged and offered an explanation.
Alice snickered. “Yeah. A fairy thing.”
“Damn,” Cobweb said. “I’m gettin’ too predictable, aren’t I?”
“Cobweb, the last thing I’d ever call you is predictable.”
Cobweb sat up in bed. “Really? Thanks!” She arched her back and stretched, a slow, luxurious stretch, and her wings expanded and beat the air a few times. Alice felt the breeze from them. It was the first time she’d seen Cobweb’s wings in the morning light, and she was awestruck by the deep, beautiful splashes of color in them.
“Can you really fly with those things?” Alice asked.
“Yeah. I’ll show ya sometime.”
“Okay.” Alice thought about that, then asked, “Does that mean that you’ll be back?”
“Man, you’re used to gettin’ loved and left, aren’t you?”
Alice turned toward Cobweb. “That’s what people do. Isn’t that what fairies do, too?”
“Not all of ‘em.” Cobweb’s expression seemed suddenly vulnerable. “Do you want me to come back?”
Cobweb’s entire being glowed for an instant. “Umm. That’s nice,” she said, then turned and considered Alice. “So, did I make you happy?”
“You’re kidding, right? I mean, if sex got any better, it would kill me.”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean,” Cobweb said, as she grasped Alice’s hand, “did I take your loneliness, your sadness from you?”
Alice smiled up at Cobweb’s face. God, those eyes. “Yeah. Yeah, you did. Thank you.”
“I’m glad.” Cobweb glowed in satisfaction, then asked, “So how do you feel right now?”
Alice thought about it. “Loved. Content. I really feel good.”
“No sadness? No loneliness? No regrets?”
“No. It seems odd to be without it.”
“Then you’ve carried all that crap around for too long.” She smiled at Alice, then rose from the bed and looked around. “Where’s my dress?”
“I don’t know. Probably on the floor.” She watched Cobweb walk around the bed. “Cobweb?”
“When you’re gone, I’m going to be sad and lonely again.”
Cobweb approached her and sat on the side of the bed next to Alice. She looked down at Alice’s solemn expression, and she smoothed the tangled hair away from Alice’s face. “No, you’re not.”
“Yeah. I am.”
Cobweb considered Alice with her big, liquid eyes. “I’ll fix it.”
“Are you gonna dust me?”
“No. I’ll do something better than that.” She watched Alice raise an eyebrow in question, and she said, “I’ll make you a solemn promise.”
“I promise you that I’ll be back.” She grinned. “A lot. ‘Cause, Alice, you’re one in a million.”
This time, it was Alice’s turn to beam. “You, too!”
Cobweb leaned forward and kissed Alice, then stood. “Now, I could so use a wee-wee and a cup of coffee. How’s about you?”
As Cobweb snuck into the bathroom, Alice pulled on some comfortable old jeans and a tank-top. As an afterthought, she dug into her chest of drawers and drew out a pair of just-a-little-too-small sweat pants and an old t-shirt. She stood at the jamb of the open bathroom door and extended her arm to Cobweb. “Clothes for you. We can’t have a naked fairy running around the house while Callie’s up.”
“Gee thanks, doll. Oh, I might have to alter the back of the shirt so’s I can wear it.”
“The wings, huh? No problem. Do whatever you need to do. It’s an old t-shirt.”
Alice headed toward the kitchen to make the coffee. As she passed the family room, she could hear cartoons on the television, and she could see Callie sitting on the floor.
“G’morning, Mommy!” Callie called.
“Good morning, honey.”
A cereal bowl was in the sink. Callie had eaten. Alice filled the water pitcher and was measuring coffee into the machine when she heard Callie’s voice again.
A moment later, Cobweb walked into the kitchen. She was wearing the sweat pants rolled up at the waist and at the ankles, and a t-shirt with the faded message ‘Cute But Crazy’ on the front. The fairy looked down at the front of the shirt.“You’re a laugh riot, Alice,” she said. Then, she pointed at her head. One of Alice’s baseball caps was backward on her head, the bill touching the back of her neck. “Hope you don’t mind. I’ve got a massive case of bed-head this morning.”
Alice was standing, open-mouthed, in the kitchen. “It’s fine.” She pointed in Callie’s direction. “She–”
“Yeah. We met last night.”
“Sure. She was awake when I went into her room. Man, she totally busted me. We had a fun chat.”
“Was she scared?”
“No way. She’s a kid, Alice. Kids accept. They believe. To them, nothing is impossible. Not even the tooth fairy.” Cobweb peered over Alice’s shoulder. “Now, where’s that coffee?”
“Oh. It’ll be ready in a minute.” Alice slapped the lid shut on the machine and hit the button. It began gurgling and hissing and dripping, and she looked up. Cobweb was not there.
She walked into the family room. Cobweb was standing near Callie. With the fairy’s back to her, Alice could see that Cobweb had ripped the shirt down the back, then knotted the halves together above and below her wings. It worked, in a strange sort of way.
Cobweb looked down at Callie. “What’s cookin’, kid?” the fairy asked.
“Cartoons,” Callie said. She patted the carpet next to her. “Come, sit.”
“Oh, cool. I love the road-runner. Beep-beep!”
Cobweb plopped down on the floor next to Callie, and the little girl scooted closer to her and leaned against her leg. As they focused their attention on the television, Cobweb’s wing slowly folded itself around Callie, who giggled in delight. Alice smiled, then walked into the kitchen. As she was pouring two cups of coffee, she spoke to herself, a soft, heartfelt statement.
“Oh, crap. I think I’m falling in love.”
Alice stood on the back porch. She bit her lip. Damn, she thought. I’m going to cry, aren’t I? She looked up when Cobweb stepped out on the porch and approached her.
“You found your dress,” Alice said.
“Yeah,” Cobweb said, as she located her sandals and slipped her feet into them.
“Where was it?”
“It was hanging off the ceiling fan.”
“Just kidding. It was in the bed sheets.”
“Oh.” Alice felt her eyes water. “So you’ve really got to go, huh?”
“Yeah, doll. Hey, it’s okay. I’ll be back.”
Alice sniffed. “When?”
“Oh, a couple of days.”
Alice nodded, then wiped her cheek with her knuckles. “Hurry back.”
“You got it. Shh. Don’t cry, now. Happy, remember?”
“I am happy.”
“Okay. Well, here I go. See ya ‘round the town, kiddo.” Cobweb kissed her on the lips, then stepped back a few paces, and Alice knew that she was going to disappear.
Cobweb paused. “Yeah?”
Alice held out a paperback book. “I thought you might like something to read.” She shrugged shyly. “You know, for the next couple of days. Until you come back to me.”
Cobweb beamed. Her wings flapped a few times, and her body glowed for an instant. “A book? Neat! Thanks, doll.”
“You seem to like to read.”
“Yeah. That’s my mom in me.” She accepted the book and studied the cover. “A hot romance. Oh, yeah.” She pointed at the name on the cover, then looked up in amazement. “Is that your pen name?”
“Titania loves your stuff. She’s got all your books!”
Alice’s jaw dropped. “The fairy queen reads my books?”
“Damned straight. In English, even. And this is your latest?”
“Yeah. I inscribed it.”
The fairy flipped open the front cover and read the inscription. “Wow,” she said. “Inscribed to me. That is so neat. You rock! Titania’s gonna be so jealous, and I am just too cool for school.” She did a little dance on the porch and sang, “That’s the way, uh-huh! Uh-huh! I like it, uh-huh! Uh-huh!” With a shrug and a grin, she stuffed the paperback book into the little pouch by her hip. Then, she stood on tiptoes and kissed Alice again. “Thanks, doll.” She stepped away a few paces, and jerked a thumb toward the sky. “Well,” she said, “I got to hit the road.”
“Wait! How can I find you? I mean, do you have a phone or an e-mail or anything?”
Cobweb shot her a ‘Duh!’ look. “I’m a fairy. Do I look like I’ve got a computer or a phone?” Alice shrugged, and Cobweb smiled. “Just think nice thoughts about me. I’ll hear you.”
“Can I hear you back?”
Cobweb considered the question. “You? Yeah. Other humans? Probably not. But you can. So can Callie.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. Adios, baby.” She nodded, and transformed into a bright little ball of light which flittered around the porch. Alice watched in amazement, then called out.
“Cobweb? One more thing.”
The ball of light transformed back into a fairy. Her wings beat the air as she descended to the concrete. “Yeah?”
“I’m really curious. What do you do with all those teeth?”
Cobweb pointed at the sky. “I scatter them over the heavens. They become stars.”
“Oh, my God! That’s just what Callie said you did with them.”
“See? Kids know.”
“That one thing that can kill a fairy; what is it?”
“Man, you’re curious, aren’t you?”
Alice gave a weak laugh. “It’s the frustrated journalist in me.”
“Okay. I guess I can tell you.” Cobweb grew solemn. “It’s when people stop believing in us.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
Cobweb’s expression crinkled in humor. “Me, neither. Not with you and Callie around.” Again, she nodded, and again, she transformed into a bright little ball of light. It flittered around the porch, circled Alice a couple of times, and shot like a streak into the morning sky.
Alice watched it go, then walked back into the house. As she passed the kitchen, her cell phone rang. She stopped, lifted it from the counter, and held it to her ear. “Hello?”
“Alice, honey. Is that you? It’s Mom.”
“Sure, Mom. Why wouldn’t it be me?”
“Well, I called earlier, but I must have gotten a wrong number. I rang Joe’s Pool Hall by mistake.”
“Let me guess,” Alice said. “The eight-ball answered the phone, right?”
“Yes. How’d you know?”
Alice grinned. Cobweb! “Lucky guess. So what’s up? It’s good to hear from you.”
“Oh, I was just wondering how you girls were doing today. Is anything new?”
Yeah, Alice thought. I either had another acid flashback, or I had screaming sex with the tooth fairy last night. “No, Mom. Nothing new. Oh, wait. Callie lost a front tooth.”
“Oh, gosh. Did the tooth fairy come?”
You bet! Three or four times. “Yes. She left her a half-dollar.”
“A half-dollar? My, my. When she visited you, she used to leave you a dime.”
Alice had to smile. “Well, when I see Cobweb next, I’ll ask her about that.”
“Cobweb, Mom. That’s the tooth fairy’s name. Ah, I’m starting to work on a book about the tooth fairy. What do you think of the name ‘Cobweb’?”
“Oh, Alice! You’re such a kidder. But Cobweb’s already been used for a fairy’s name.”
“Sure. Shakespeare, four hundred years ago. Check out A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cobweb was one of the fairies who attended the fairy queen, Titania.”
“Hey, I didn’t teach English Literature for thirty years for nothing. Go read the play, honey.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks. Talk to you later, Mom. Love you.”
“Love you too, honey. Bye.”
Alice hung up the phone. Four hundred years ago. Could it be? But didn’t Cobweb say that she was three hundred–? She smiled at the thought. Well, she decided, what the hell. Every girl lies a little about her age. She thought of Cobweb, and she smiled.
A sudden pout replaced the smile. Oh crap, she thought. I think I’m falling in love again. No, I’m definitely falling in love again. Damn it! I hate it when that happens. I always get my heart broken, every single damned stupid time. I never learn.
After a moment’s thought, the smile returned. No, I don’t really hate it. In fact, I’ve rather missed it. And somehow, I think it’ll be different this time. She snickered at the next thought. If Cobweb does break my heart, she can just...dust me or something. Yeah. That’ll work. Okay. I give myself permission to be in love.
She lifted the coffee pot from the machine, then froze. But was that real last night, or was it just a hallucination? She rested the coffee pot on the counter and walked down the hall to her bedroom. Cobweb, she wondered, were you here, or was it my imagination? Please, please tell me you really exist, and that you weren’t just bad acid coming back to haunt me. She cast a glance around the room, then thought: But there’s nothing here to reflect you, is there?
Alice lay down on her belly on her bed, propped on her elbows, and held a pillow to her face. It smelled like Cobweb, spring wild-flowers and forest. Cobweb! But that could be her imagination, too. She lowered the pillow and thought, desperately thought, of anything around her that could reflect Cobweb, that could make her real. Nothing came to mind. A hollow feeling began to grow in her gut. Maybe it was just the acid talking.
Then, she looked to her right. A t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants lay neatly folded on the bed. Alice grabbed the t-shirt and held it up. The back was ripped open. Yes! Alice laughed, rolled around in the bed, held the shirt to her face as she wept a tear or two of pure joy, as she felt her heart swell so that she thought her chest would burst. She rose, scurried back to the kitchen, and looked into the sink. A second coffee mug sat there, a remnant of coffee in it. Never again, she thought. Never again will I ever doubt the truth of your being, Cobweb. You are so real.
She shook her head at the next thought. And I’m in love with the freakin’ tooth fairy. I’ve got to be totally bat-shit crazy. Nuts. Certifiable. Meshuganah. Where’s the guys with the net, come to take me away? Hoo, boy. The next stop for Alice is a padded cell and some serious medication.
And Callie likes her. That is so neat. But how am I going to explain Cobweb to Mom? Nah. I don’t need to explain. Mom will delight in her. After all, Mom’s just a big kid herself.
And Dad? Boy, I can just imagine what he’d have to say about it all, if he were here. ‘What, you’re seeing a skikse?* I keep saying: you want to be happy, you need to find a nice Jewish girl– unless you marry a Unitarian, like your papa did. Okay, so what do I know?’ She laughed. He’d have loved Cobweb, too.
As she fixed her second cup of coffee, she hummed a little tune. Then, she headed to the living room to watch cartoons with Callie before eventually retreating to her study to begin work on a brand-new book. And she knew in her bones that this book would be her best-selling book ever.
-djb March, 2011
*Yiddish, for a non-Jewish female
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