I found the faerie on the twenty-first. I didn’t make the connection with the summer solstice, though, until a lot later, and I don’t know, even now, if it’s a coincidence. Just because some of the old stories are true doesn’t mean all of them are.
Vendetta, the ginger she-cat, brought her prize up to the mud room door to show off and eviscerate. She was such a lackadaisical hunter that normally I allowed her to keep her prey, no matter how rare the songbird, but something about the way this particular find of hers rested in her jaws caught my attention.
I rested my bag of feed on the ground and crouched beside her. “What you got there, Ven?” I gentled prised open the cat’s jaws and into my grubby hand tumbled the faerie. If she had been human-sized, she would’ve probably been more reedy than I, but no prettier. She was surprisingly ordinary, covered with dirt like I was, and looking very much like something out of nature rather than folklore. She was tiny enough that I had to hold her quite close to my face to see if she was breathing.
Vendetta meowed, fiercely, at my feet, her head tilted back to watch my hands.
“Sorry, this one’s mine,” I said, not looking from the motionless body draped across my palm. “Tithe.”
As I pushed back into the mudroom and made my way to the kitchen, Vendetta slipped through the door behind me, still yowling. I put the kettle on with one hand, got the phone, and then sat at the battered round kitchen table, trying to decide if Vendetta had broken the faerie’s neck.
At the other end of the phone, Henry picked up, his mild voice conveying surprise. “Carmen?”
“Mmm hmm,” I said, “Come over here. The house, not the barn.”
“Now?” Henry asked, but I was already hanging up.
By the time I heard his truck crunch on the gravel drive out front, his brakes squealing faint and high, I had laid the little faerie into a butter dish lined with a cloth napkin, made a pot of tea, and put Vendetta outside to yowl by the window.
She ran back in under Henry’s feet as he knocked on the door and came in. Eyes still squinted from the memory of sun, he frowned at me. “Well, you look alive. More than I can say for me. I about died of shock when I heard your voice –”
I pushed a cup of tea and the butter dish in his direction. Gesturing to the faerie, I said, “Sit down.”
But he didn’t. He stared first at the cup of tea and then at the butter dish, with its recumbent occupant. He inclined his head as if he’d see the faerie better that way.
“I said sit,” I repeated.
He sat, and looked at me. “I’m not sure what to say.”
“Ven caught her,” I said. “I don’t see any blood, but she’s not responsive. I thought you would know better than me.”
Henry removed his wireframes and pressed one of the ear pieces against his lips. “I’m a veterinarian, Carmen. I’m not — I don’t — this.”
We both looked at the faerie. She was dressed in a curious striped smock; fabric that I now recognized from one of my lost dish towels. Over the top of the smock she had a coil of tiny wild daisies wound onto a rope of dead nettle. Her hair was a fine blonde fluff, like a tinted dandelion puff. All of her was odd, but I was peculiarly fascinated by her perfect, tiny bare feet, toes tipped with pollen.
Henry’s exasperated voice made me jerk in surprise. “Oh, fine. I’ll look.” He lifted the butter dish to chin level to observe, and frowned. “You do know this isn’t safe, right?”
I was completely taken aback. “What?”
“You know what she must be, right? Mingling with them never turns out to be a good idea. They’re always up to something, even when you think they’re not. Maybe we should just put her out in the field. Up in a tree where she won’t get eaten.”
“That is possibly the stupidest thing I have ever heard you say.” I’d never believed faeries existed, but I’d never believed they’d not existed, either. I’d always put a bowl of milk with some berries in it out by the barn, just in case, at the same time that I put down the mousetraps in the feed room and filled the water buckets in the stalls for the night.
“All right, just putting it out there,” Henry said. He poked and rolled the faerie with this finger, releasing the a scent like wind blowing over a hayfield as he did, and finally said, “I think she’s faking.”
“Playing dead. Or just having us on.” Henry set the butter dish down and picked up his tea cup instead.
I leaned over to look at the faerie again, laying nestled in the blue napkin. Perhaps her eyes did look a little like she was holding them shut. I sat back in my chair and drummed my fingers against my own tea cup. “Well, that would be anticlimactic.”
“You’d prefer there was something wrong with her?” Henry asked. He sipped his tea. “Mmm. Perfect. You always did make the perfect cup.”
“No, I don’t wish there was something wrong with her,” I replied, thinking now of the bag of grain by the back door and all of the chores that still needed to be done. “But it would’ve meant you’d come over here for a good reason.”
Henry’s eyes were on the faerie, not on me. “You never used to need a reason to call me.”
For some reason it was very difficult not to look at his mouth when I looked back up at him. He had it set in that very perplexed way that he always did when looking at a case he wasn’t sure how to solve. I remembered it from the first time we’d met, when he’d stared at my mare who had been in labor for days, who wouldn’t foal until he’d led her out of the circle of dull white mushrooms she’d stood in.
“Don’t start that,” I said. “You know we can’t get along. We just don’t work.”
On the table, a small sneeze caught our attention, but by the time we both started and looked down, the faerie was motionless, although in a slightly different position. I made a rueful noise. “For instance, I despise when you’re right.”
“Luckily not too often,” Henry observed.
“That’s a patent lie,” I said. “You’re very good at what you do.” I sighed. “Should we put her outside, then, Dr. Conklin?”
“You don’t want to preserve the novelty of having her on your kitchen table any longer?” Henry asked, but he stood up at the same time I pushed my chair back.
“I thought you said it was dangerous,” I said.
Henry came round to my side of the table, close enough that his elbow pressed against my elbow. He smelled like sweet feed and citronella, mud and cologne. “I said it was not safe. That’s not the same thing. Do you think that–”
I kissed him. I probably looked like a mess and I noticed then that he had straw stuck in his hair right where my hand was knotted in it, but I didn’t care, because I was remembering. Henry reached behind himself to find the edge of the counter and his balance, still kissing me, and then I heard the distinctive sound of cat feet landing. On the table.
“Henry,” I gasped, saying the word right into his mouth, and we turned just in time to see Vendetta jumping from the table and the butter dish empty. The back door was open — I didn’t remember Henry leaving it open — and just as Vendetta leapt through it, I saw the faerie in her loose jaws twist to wave at us and grin, cheekily.
Henry stared, and I said, finally, “Would you like another cup of tea?”
Author’s Note: I thought I’d actually start the New Year with a happy ending. Weird, huh?
image courtesy: broterham