Five-year-old Gemma skipped across the sidewalk and leaped into the puddle. Splash! She looked around guiltily. Her brand new sneakers were soaked through and covered with mud. She might be wrong, but she didn’t think that was what Mama had in mind when she told her to go out and play and for heavens sake! Don’t get messed up!
She scuffed through the grass in an attempt to clean the shoes off a little, but it didn’t make much difference. Gemma sighed. It was going to be another one of THOSE days, as their neighbor, Mrs. Saffield, liked to say. Mama wanted her to be just like Annie Jones across the road, who only liked to wear dresses and never got muddy. But Gemma was Gemma and she liked to run and play, and —
Gemma skidded to a halt. I almost stepped on the fairy leaves again! I wonder– ? She bent carefully and peered under the plants into the space below, sheltered from the wind and filled with sunlight filtered into green.
“Hello, fairies? Are you there?” She whispered so that no one could hear her and run to tell Mama that she was making believe again. Mama didn’t like make-believe, especially now that Papa had left to be with God. Papa loved to hear her imaginings, but he had driven off to work and never come home again. Now it was just her and Mama and no one laughed or tickled her at bedtime or told her stories about jumping high enough to touch the moon or riding on the wind.
A tear rolled down her cheek and splashed into the area under the leaves.
“Excuse me!” An indignant tiny figure, with red hair and dressed in green to match the leaves, no larger than Gemma’s little finger, flew up in front of her amazed eyes. The fairy shook her head and miniature drops of water flew in all directions. “I TOOK a shower today, thank you! If I wanted another, it wouldn’t be saltwater.”
“I’m sorry. I just miss my Papa. I didn’t mean to get you wet.”
“Oh,” the fairy girl’s eyes softened, “I forgot that you mortals don’t stay together forever. I’ve never missed anyone, but it must be very lonely.”
“Where did he go?”
“Grandma said he left to be with God. I wish I could see him again.”
“Oh.” The fairy thought. “That’s pretty far away. I wonder if Darien could take you there?”
“Could she?” Gemma held her breath, hoping. “Who’s Darry Ann?”
“That’s HE, mortal.” There was a humming at her ear. “And the name is Darien.”
She gasped. A shining, iridescent blue dragonfly hovered at her shoulder, translucent wings humming. He flew up and down, surveying her.
“What do you think, Darien?”
“Well, maybe.” He sounded doubtful.
“Mr. Darien,” Gemma said doubtfully, “I don’t mean to cause trouble, but I think I’m too big.”
“Oh, you couldn’t go like that.” He darted to the fairy. “Alliesen, you’d have to release a wish to her.”
“Yes.” Alliesen looked thoughtful. “I think I will.”
“You will?” Gemma wished she could give her new friend a hug, but knew she couldn’t. “When can we go?”
“Tonight, when the moon is big and round. Fairy wishes only work on mortals in moonlight. Wait for us by your bedroom window after bedtime…” Allesien and Darien flitted away abruptly and a shadow passed over Gemma. She knew from the exasperated breath laden with the bad smell from the bottles that it was her mother and she cringed.
“Get up!” Her mother’s voice was icy with anger. “Is it too much to ask you to stay clean for once?” When Gemma didn’t move fast enough to suit her, her mother grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet.
“Mama, you’re hurting me!” Gemma said. “Please don’t hurt me.”
“What were you doing, laying in the dirt like that? What do you think the neighbors think of you?”
“I was only looking for the fairies …” the little girl whispered.
“Fairies!” her mother said in contempt, her face mottled with anger. “Your father spoiled you with all his silly stories and ideas. This isn’t ‘Never-Never Land’, you aren’t the princess he tried to make you believe you were and fairies die here all the time, no matter how much you clap your hands,” she raged. “And these stupid plants!” She stomped the leaves in anger, flattening them and grinding them into pulp.
“No, mama, no! Don’t! You’ll kill the fairy.”
“Shut. up.” She grabbed Gemma by the shoulders and shook her. “There are no fairies. Your father is dead and you need to give up all his nonsense.” A dragonfly zoomed by them and her mother swung at it. “Nasty thing!” It smacked into the pavement with an ugly sound, and the woman finished it off.
“Darien … no.” Gemma was dazed from a pain deeper than grief. Now her new friends were gone. She would really never see her father again, never ride on the back of a dragonfly. She didn’t put up any protest when her mother dragged her into the house and locked her in her room. Oh, Papa. Why did you have to go? she thought, as she cried herself to sleep.
* * * * * * * * *
It was after moonrise when she was awakened by a series of tiny taps against her window.
“Allesien! Darien! I thought … oh, I thought you were gone!” She struggled to raise the heavy window and slip the catches into place.
The two of them flew into the room.
“Nonsense, child. A silly mortal on a tear can’t kill one of us.” Darien teased her affectionately.
Allesien nodded. “Do you still wish to see your Papa again?”
“Yes, yes! I do.” Gemma laughed and clapped her hands. She didn’t bother to keep her voice down. She knew from the snores she could hear through her door that her Mama had drunk too much of the bad stuff again and wouldn’t wake up no matter how much noise she made.
Allesien fluttered down in front of her. “There’s something you have to know, mortal. This is a one way trip.”
Gemma surveyed her, puzzled. “One way?”
Darien hovered before her eyes. “If you go with us, you will have to stay there. That’s how fairy magic works.”
Gemma thought for a moment, but it wasn’t much of a decision. She raised her eyes to the two of them. “Yes, please. I want to go. I wish to be with my papa.”
“Then lie down, child, and close your eyes.”
She climbed onto the bed and did as he asked. She could see a twinkle of lights before her closed eyelids and she suddenly felt lighter.
“Open your eyes!”
She rose. “But I’m still the same size!”
“No, you aren’t. Child, you can be as small as a grain of dust or as large as that tree out there. You’re not tied to that body any more.”
Gemma looked back at the bed curiously. It looked as if she was still laying there, eyes closed, peaceful.
“That’s only a shell, little one. Now make yourself small and let’s go. We’ve a long trip and we need to get started.”
Joyfully, Gemma seated herself comfortably on Darien and the three of them left the room.
“You know which way to go, don’t you?” Allesien danced before them, smiling.
“Second star to the right and straight on until morning!”
And off they flew.