Another very gentle short story, published in a woman’s magazine a couple of years back.
Not a crime in sight.
A Fairy Story
Under all the leaf mould, somewhere in the pile of logs at the bottom of our garden, there lives a fairy.
No, please, just listen, because I need your help. It’s all right, you don’t have to pretend. I’ve met your reaction before. You think this is just the ramblings of an old man. That’s understandable. I’ve never met anyone else who has seen a fairy, nor can I tell you if any others exist because she’s the only one I’ve ever encountered. I know it’s true and that’s all that matters. I do need you to understand though, if you’re to help me.
I haven’t seen the fairy in a long time, but I expect she’s still there. I first met her in the autumn of 1918 after I returned from four years in France, where everything had been so vivid.
Dorothy was waiting for me on the platform in her grey coat and a washed-out headscarf and though we kissed, I don’t remember what I felt, except numb. From the noisy trenches with their mud and blood and guts and vomit, I had come home to a fog-ridden, monochrome, English November in sleepy Suffolk.
Even the food was grey.
It was hard coming home; in a funny kind of way, it was harder than being in the war, if you must know. We’d grown used to it you see. It was a way of life that had gone on too long and home had become little more than a dream. It was difficult for Dorothy too. I realised that. I couldn’t tell her of the life I’d been leading, the conditions. It was all too awful. Anyway, she thought she knew. She’d seen it in the papers and on the newsreels. She’d watched the celluloid smiles of men in tin hats and thought that was how it was. I couldn’t explain. So we had little to say to one another and we fell into embarrassed silences. As a result, I spent a lot of time in the garden, with Pink.
I called the fairy Pink because she was: a little pink bundle in my black and white world. I suppose as marriage triangles go, it was better than most. Dorothy might have complained, although she never did, about the amount of time I spent in another’s company, even though there could never be any question of being unfaithful. Pink was my secret though, and I felt guilty. Looking back, I suppose I felt guilty about a lot of things: guilty for being depressed, guilty for being away so long, guilty for going at all. Guilty for coming back, without so much as a scratch when so many of my mates – but I’m not going to go on about the war and my story isn’t about that.
Pink didn’t do much at first. She just sat there with her head on one side and listened, while I rolled skinny cigarettes and rambled on. She listened to my disjointed recollections of lost friends and lice filled clothes. She saw my tears and heard my blasphemies.
And then in the Spring, she showed me the blackbird’s nest in the hedge. And the new sticky buds of the horse chestnut and the place where the deer had rubbed the bark off the apple tree. She showed me how to take the nectar from the white dead nettle, trickling sweet upon my tongue. Gradually, she reintroduced the world to me, colouring it in, a piece at a time. She came with me when I went out on the Hen reed beds and heard the boom of the bittern and she insisted I must bring Dorothy back to hear it too.
I had been sleeping on the couch ever since I arrived home, but that night Dorothy and I slept together in our old bed and made love again, and she cried and I have to admit to a few tears myself. Our Arthur dates from that night.
Pink has been there at the bottom of the garden, off and on, all through the years. In 1945, after I was demobbed, I went straight down the garden to find her buzzing about around the compost heap. Arthur had had a bad war. He’d joined the RAF and several of his mates had never come back. I tried to tell him about Pink, but he just looked at me as if I wasn’t right in the head, so I let it drop. I talked to Pink about it though and asked her to help him. I reckon she must have too, because it wasn’t long before he was back to his old self.
It’s been a good life, by and large. Two children, Arthur and then Molly, and they both married, with five children between them, and they’ve mostly got children of their own as well, so there’s fourteen great grandchildren altogether. I get muddled up and forget their names. I call them all ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’, or I used to. Some of them are getting a bit big for that now.
Dorothy died in 1992. She’d been ill for a while, but I reckon the treatments were worse than the illness. Once I knew she’d had enough, I took a trip down the garden. It was a struggle but I knew I had to see Pink. I’ve not had much time for God since that time long ago back in the Somme, but magic worked, I’d seen that in my own garden. Pink listened as always.
“Be careful what you wish for,” she said. It was one of the few times I heard her speak and I knew what she was trying to tell me.
I nodded anyway. I couldn’t leave my Dorothy in that mess.
That night, I turned in early and read for a while and I was about to switch the light out, when Dorothy put her hand on my arm.
“Thank you,” she said and then stopped breathing. Pink was efficient, you had to give her that.
This morning, Sharon, that’s one of the great grandchildren, came to see me with her husband Rob. He’s a teacher. She was too, until she stopped work to have a baby. That’s why they came: to introduce me to the new addition. Ruby they’ve called her. Funny how all the old names have come round again. I used to know a Ruby when I was a lad. The new baby’s a tiny, crinkled thing with black hair and my Dorothy’s eyes.
And that’s why I need you to help me, you see. My wheelchair won’t do. I can only get to the end of the path with that and I have to trundle right down to the bottom, beyond the compost heap.
You see, I have to go and see Pink, to tell her. I’ve taken them all out there; the grandchildren and the great grandchildren have all been to meet Pink. I find it’s best to do it while they’re little and stand some chance of believing. I won’t be able to carry little Ruby, I have a hard enough job carrying myself these days, but I can tell Pink all about my great, great grandchild, and maybe she’ll venture up to the house to have a look. I like to know that she’s keeping an eye on them all and will be after I’m gone.
Pink doesn’t grow old. When you help me to cobble my bones together to get out into the garden, I know that Pink will look exactly the same as she did when she painted my world back into glorious Technicolor in the Spring of 1919.