It was early June, and the sweltering heat of summer engulfed the suburbs of Washington DC, making me sweat. The grasses and trees were a lush emerald, and the honeysuckle growing just below my kitchen window crept up my backyard fence and spread out over the chain-linked barrier to bask in the sun. The flowers were in full bloom, and their scent was intoxicating.
It was mid-morning, and I entered deep thought as I made fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice with my newest prize, a Jack Lalanne Power Juicer. I mulled over how fancy Oriental Teas, sold at natural food stores, were sometimes made with the tantalizing flavor of Jasmine flowers and marketed at too high a price for my low-quality budget. My mind drifted back to California days, where I had (quite by circumstance) discovered Jasmine flowers growing freely in back alleyways and along residential walls. It suddenly dawned on me that “honeysuckle” was simply, for all intents and purposes, an East Coast Jasmine.
Excited at the prospect of creating my own floral tea, I grabbed a plastic container and headed outdoors to where the honeysuckle grew in giant mounds. My fingers plucked the blossoms with rising enthusiasm, as I avoided the bees, and inhaled the flower’s heady fragrance. A recent storm had showered the yard a few hours earlier, so I reasoned that the honeysuckle was probably quite clean. I brought my container into the kitchen, grabbed a handful of flowers, took the lid off my teapot, and stuffed the blossoms into the wire mesh strainer. Almost as quickly, I dispensed hot water over the honeysuckle, absentmindedly noticing a curious whine that tickled my ears as the water hit the blossoms. I placed the lid on the pot and waited.
How long does one steep honeysuckle tea? Unlike Jasmine tea, a mixture of dried black tea leaves and flowers, my homemade concoction consisted of pure yellow blossoms. More time, or less? I wondered. Perhaps more. I emptied the dishwasher, put away plates and silverware, and then washed more dishes that were sitting in the sink.
I eyed the steaming pot as I sprayed down the speckled blue and white Formica countertop with a bleach solution and wiped it clean. Finally, I could wait no longer. Picking up the Brown Betty by its ceramic handle, I poured the flower essence into my cup.
The scent was heavenly. Tentatively, I placed the curve of the cup to my lips. The flavor of honeysuckle exploded across my mouth and wrapped its succulence around my tongue. It was so much sweeter than I thought it would be. My experiment was successful, just as I’d imagined.
I drained my cup and drank another, savoring the fluid inside my cheeks. The tea was so good that before long, I’d almost finished the pot. When I was done I lifted the lid, but when I glanced down at the wilted flowers in the strainer I 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 it was a small dragonfly or a white butterfly. That was until my right index finger reached out to touch it and move it around, and yes (believe it or not) there were two tiny legs, two tiny arms, and a pair of miniature wings lying right there. All of which were flat and lifeless.
In a panic, I sucked in a gallon of air and hastily put the lid back on the pot. My eyes darted over to my kitchen window, and I started to shake. If there was one fairy, there must be more. Then I had an awful thought.
What if they had seen what I’d done?
My heart sank down to the bottom of my toes, my elation from sipping honeysuckle tea extinguished by the knowledge of the crime I’d committed. Sickening thoughts filled my mind as I pondered what to do with the deceased fairy body.
But did I really commit a crime?
The thought DID come to mind. Well, of course, it did. As far as I knew, there was no law against killing fairies. But maybe that was because fairies didn’t exist.
And, I could prove fairies exist!
It was the discovery of a lifetime, and I barely contained my newfound joy until I realized I would be labeled the first human to simultaneously find and murder a fairy. My poor family. How could I saddle myself, and them, with such disgrace? Showing the world that fairies existed wasn’t an option unless I wanted my children dubbed the prodigy of the worlds’ first known fairy killer.
“What to do, what to do,” the words floated past my lips as I drummed my fingers on the top of the pot. Burying the body outside was no good. What if the other fairies (IF there were other fairies) had seen me take one of their pale comrades in the house? Surely they’d be watching and waiting for me to come out again.
I considered dumping the body, with the rest of the blossoms, into the garbage like I always do. But then, what if my family opened the garbage bin and somehow discovered the truth?
I could grind the winged creature up in the garbage disposal. That method didn’t appeal to me either. The idea of having fairy parts squished against the plumbing of my kitchen sink made me shiver, and who knew what fairy blood might do to the pipes?
As I stood there, hesitating, I made detailed calculations concerning each method of fairy body disposal.
I could flush it down the toilet, came another thought, like we buried Bri’s goldfish last month.
No, flushing a fairy down the toilet certainly wouldn’t do. If fairies existed in honeysuckle, then other creatures quite possibly existed in the sewers.
What if the body was discovered by some honest sewer creature, and the murder reported to the fairy police?
My ponderings, while seemingly insane, I assure you, were quite rational given the odd circumstance. Moments ago fairies were mythical creatures. Now I knew they were real, and therefore anything was possible.
There’s only one way out of this dilemma.
My brain came upon a brilliant idea. A foolproof method that wouldn’t leave a trace. I lifted the Brown Betty and carried it to a small room that stood in the exact center of the house. A room with no windows.
I shut the door, turned out the lights, and slowly removed the lid of the teapot. Though lifeless, a faint iridescent glow of the fairy body met my eyes. Using my thumb and index finger, I gingerly picked it up before I could change my mind, and stuffed the creature into my mouth.
Wilted limbs stuck to the sides of my throat, and I coughed and gagged and almost spit her out. Placing my lips over the tea spout, I sucked down the last drops of honeysuckle tea, which helped me swallow the body, wings and all. The fairy went down surprisingly well, and when I was done, I confess, I felt quite pleased I had solved my problem.
I admit, though, I had a glimmer of remorse. But, I also found myself growing increasingly angry. All of these years of living on earth and no one ever warned me fairies might live in my honeysuckle! It was obvious the tragedy wasn’t my fault. It was pure accident, and I didn’t have a decent way to report it.
In order to sweep my conscience clear, I mumbled a prayer or two and wished the fairy well in its afterlife. My eyes grew heavy, so I returned the pot to the kitchen and then stretched out on the sofa to take a nap.
The dreams I had were, well, disconcerting. I dreamt of angry fairies stinging me like bees, crying out the word “Murderer!” They chased me over bushes and mulberry trees. They caught me and strangled me with honeysuckle vines. When I awoke in a sweat, my hands at my throat, I realized I didn’t know where I was. At first, I thought perhaps I was still in the dream, but as I looked around, I became aware I was awake. My surroundings, however, had completely changed. Sometime in my sleep, I’d been transported outdoors, right into our treeless but grassy backyard.
Did I sleepwalk here?
Our backyard used to have a large Oak Tree. I paid a contractor last summer to cut it down because its huge branches hung directly over my house. I didn’t want one of those massive limbs to fall on top of my daughter’s room, or on the rest of our roof for that matter. It was a practical decision. I’m sure you’ll understand.
The large leftover stump remained in the yard, our family unable to afford uprooting it. Round wood sections, two feet in diameter surrounded the stump in a circular arrangement. I used to think my daughter had placed them there since she insisted they remain and called them her ‘fairy ring’.
Well, there I was, in the middle of the circle, standing on the stump, when a number of winged creatures suddenly flew right over me. They landed on the taller sections of wood, and I had a sinking feeling that my situation wasn’t good. My body was shrunken down to the size of a chipmunk, and I could feel the fairies’ eyes (sapphire and emerald) piercing me with outright hostility. As each fairy moved, their bodies blended easily with their natural surroundings. They were almost invisible. I was shocked to discover, as I looked down, that the camouflage effect included my own body. I felt the wings on my back flutter and twitch, and turned to regard each creature with a question in my eyes. None of the wood sprites would meet my face. They quickly glanced away and seemed as if they waited for something.
While I pondered how to accomplish some form of escape, a grey squirrel bounded up, skirting in front of me, and upon its back sat a slender green fairy. She was like a long graceful piece of summer grass, and when the sunlight hit her just right, her iridescent sheen was absolutely beautiful.
The scintillating nymph dismounted from the animal and strode up to face me. A pair of rough hands grabbed my shoulders from behind, causing my legs to buckle and kneel.
“I am Blade,” the fairy said.
I was quiet, not sure what was going to happen. Crickets started to chirp all around.
“You murdered a member of our treasured family,” the tone of the woman’s voice grew louder with authority.
“No, no, you don’t understand,” I wanted to explain. To make them understand the death was an accident.
“…and for that, you are sentenced to remain a fairy for the rest of your life.”
I waited for more. Remain a fairy for the rest of my life…AND…, but nothing else came. A breeze whispered through the arms of the neighbor’s maple trees. Somewhere across the street, a dog barked in a high yapping pitch. Then the squirrel returned to the fairy Blade’s side, and the slender pixie mounted it and rode off.
I stood up and slowly turned in a circle, but the other fairies only showed me their backs. They lifted their wings and flew away, and I felt so alone. That was until a small movement out of the corner of my eye, caused me to notice one of the fairies still remained. He stood near a disc of wood, a very old figure, dry like a stick threatening to crack open and splinter apart with a breeze.
I looked at him with confusion. “I don’t understand.”
A sad smile wrinkled his face. “The punishment always fits the crime.” Then his brittle paper voice faded into the air with the rest of him.
Punishment fits the crime? I thought of my dear family who would come home to no wife, and no mother, to greet them.
Perhaps I can see them at least one more time.
I jumped into the air and made my way towards the chain linked fence. It took great effort to get my new wings to work, and I struggled to grasp the nuances of flight. I bumped against my backyard deck and banged my head into garbage cans. My skin scraped against the rough siding of the shed, and I tumbled over vines of proliferative honeysuckle. It took time, but I finally got the hang of it.
It was then that I heard our van pull into the driveway. With an adrenaline rush (Do fairies have adrenaline?), I managed to propel myself over the fence and into the grasses of our front yard. It occurred to me that if I hid in the peppermint leaves that grew in a box just by our front door, I would get a clear glimpse of my daughter and son, as well as my dearest husband.
How can I explain to them what I’ve done? I felt like crying, but my tears wouldn’t come. Do fairies cry? I pondered.
Just then my children emerged from the vehicle. There was Bri, my daughter, and my son, dear Bodhi! My beautiful children! I’d taught them all about herbs and plants. They could recognize rosemary, thyme, and wild blackberries. They could identify ripe mulberries hanging in the trees, and knew several uses for forest walnuts. I was so proud of them, and my heart twisted in two as I realized I would never get to teach them again.
My husband, both patient and kind, opened the door and the kids ran giggling into the house. Then the door closed behind them, leaving me alone.
I’d rather die than live without them. I sat down on a leaf and tried to cry again. Still, the tears wouldn’t come. Would my family think I’d gone out for a walk when they found me gone? I knew they would wait and wait and wait. I didn’t want to think about the sadness they’d experience after all of that.
This must be how the fairy family felt when I took their loved one. I thought about their sorrow, and remorse filled my heart.
Just then the door opened, and I was happy to see my children at first, but as they came through the door I spied a plastic container clutched in my young son’s left hand. “Here,” my daughter said, as they both reached down into the peppermint plant where I was hiding. I tried to dodge their fingers, but my new fairy body didn’t respond as well as I’d hoped. I soon found my clumsy body mashed between wads of peppermint leaves, and squished inside a plastic container. The children giggled, while unknown to them I struggled in the foliage. They were joyfully planning to make their own herbal tea.
I didn’t know what to do. The Brown Betty had since been emptied and cleaned, and as my daughter and son moved towards the kitchen and the hot water pot, I knew what was coming. At that moment, I discovered fairies definitely DO cry, and fresh tears streamed down my new fairy face. I screamed and beat my small hands against the container. Neither child could hear me among their excited chatter. They began to take handfuls of peppermint leaves, with me in the middle and mashed us all down into the wire mesh strainer.
It was impossible to move. Once they poured the boiling water, perhaps I could climb to the top of the leaves and hope they noticed my body just as I noticed the fairy I had killed earlier. Or I could burrow down into the peppermint and elect to fade from their memory, leaving my children’s conscience clear. I chose to remain in the middle of the minty leaves and waited for the steaming water to bestow my punishment. My last thought was whether my dear children’s ears would tickle with that curious high-pitched whine as they waited for their first sip of peppermint tea.
“Dead as dead can be . . .” I whispered the words, a hint of irritation just barely perceptible under my breath. The older man across from me lifted his gaze away from the partly smashed body, which was bleeding profusely on the stainless-steel table, and gave me a quizzical stare.
He will never guess the hell I’ve been through.
If she were really dead, I’d rejoice, because I‘d know that tomorrow the relentless cycle wouldn’t start all over again. But the inevitable truth lurked on my shoulder like that ghastly raven of Poe’s, burning embers of certainty into my brain. The inescapable fact was that her death was a total a façade. As sure as the full moon would shine on me tonight, sooner or later she’d crawl out of her stinking hole and her calico butt would be waiting for me at my front door.
Mind you, I could never predict exactly when it would happen, but I already envisioned her waiting at the doorstep expecting me to let her in. And when I saw her? As usual, my heart would surely feel that odd glimmer of hope. A glimmer that flickered tentatively, then grew bolder and stronger, until finally, something would go horribly wrong. Until some strange chaos found her and dark deeds pattered in her wake. Until death finally snuffed out her odd, macabre light. Or not.
I thought about the pet owners in the waiting room and wanted desperately, so very desperately, to give them this advice: Never take a stray cat home from a graveyard.
The situation itself should clue a logical person into the fact that bad news is preparing to follow them home. Home to the gates of their personal sanctuary. Why the mere vision of a cemetery creature padding trustfully behind a person should cause a shrieking premonition of a demon chomping at their heels. By carting such a creature to the one place they considered safe, that person effectively guaranteed the beastie will never leave. I wish I’d known then, what I didn’t want to know now.
I turned to look at my boyfriend, Salem. He sat beside me. He still didn’t get it. He’d watched the Nine Lives Queen die twice now, but he still thought the vet had been mistaken. I’d seen the cat bite the dust and resurrect a total of six times. By this time I was banking on number seven.
In my mind’s eye, I had a flashback of the aftermath of the dead German shepherd who’d previously mangled her body when she was on life number four. He’d shredded her to bits with his long white teeth, his own flecks of fur and red spatters of blood later smashed on my sidewalk like a Rorschach ink blot. I shuddered as I remembered the two neighborhood boys who’d placed her in a sack and thrown her into their swimming pool; two boys whose mysterious disappearance a week after her watery death coincided precisely with the feline’s reappearance at my door.
“That’s it then.” Salem smacked his knees for punctuation. The firm conviction in his voice almost made me want to believe him. I studied Salem’s curly head, his calm blue eyes. He was the picture of serenity. I quietly sighed. Eventually, he would understand. Then he would leave me.
I shook my head, not in response to what he’d said, but more because of a queer feeling of dread and uncontrollable certainty that filled my mind. My sweaty hands trembled. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror which hung over the sink– just across from the steel table where Scraggles lay– and I recalled dubbing her with that name the first time her long feline hair appeared before me bedraggled with graveyard muck after a few days of dying, then living.
Dark circles looked as if they’d been painted under my eyes, the blackened half moons were so even. Every inch of my hair made a case for finding its own direction to travel. My greasy shoulder-length brown tresses suffered from my nervous fingers running through the strands several times in at least three unwashed days.
“What do you want to do with the body?” The vet wasn’t being cold about it. He was just trying to be practical. With a room full of clients, his method of making a living was waiting.
I hadn’t gone the route of fire yet; afraid of what kind of creature might come back from the flames. But maybe this time she wouldn’t come back. Maybe submitting her bones to a hellacious conflagration would do the trick.
“Cremate her,” I said. “I want the ashes in an urn. How soon can you get it done?”
The vet stroked his chin thoughtfully. “The bodies go out every Friday. We get them by Monday. You’re lucky it’s Friday. We can send her out this evening.”
I breathed an audible sigh of relief. Perfect. The problem was, I could never predict when her spirit would come back. It was as if the grimalkin blithely wandered in the spirit world and then made an impetuous decision to pester the living whenever it suited her best. What if she managed to pull her little stunt before the cremation?
I picked up the urn from the vet on Tuesday afternoon. The day was glorious, filled with the scent of decaying leaves, damp earth from last night’s rain, and the aroma of someone’s early chimney fire. The container was a simple black plastic thing, the size of a large apple, sealed with clear packing tape along the edges of the lid. Attached to it was a small card from the vet, decorated with little paw prints, pronouncing his sympathy for the loss of my loved one. I made a wry smile.
Placing the urn on the passenger side of my red Toyota, the vehicle paint chipped and faded, my brain’s only thought at the moment was:
What do I do with the urn?
I couldn’t take it home. Having it there, sitting on a shelf, would always make me afraid Scraggles would one day pop out of it and claim me as her human once more.
Driving along the winding country road, I realized I was near a part of the James River where a bridge crossed over one of the deepest areas of rushing water. I pulled my car onto the road’s shoulder. Grabbing the urn, I got out of the vehicle and strode somberly to the walkway of the bridge.
Autumn winds whistled through the arms of somnolent oak trees. Perhaps it was nostalgia or some weird need to say goodbye a bit more intimately, but I found myself pressing my lips to her urn in a goodbye kiss just before I pulled my hand back and chucked her remains into the frothing white rapids.
“Goodbye, Scraggles,” I murmured, as I watched the black urn splash down into the frigid October water, and let myself smile. Then I got into the car and turned it towards home, making a mental note to stop at the grocery store and buy more cat-food.