THE FAIRY HOLLOW (STORY)
I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before. I must have walked past it a hundred times.
“Head in your clouds, that’s your trouble,” my Aunt Gwen always said to me.
Well, on this particular day, she was right: I was looking up at the clouds. There were some particularly fine, delicate cirrus clouds in the sky that day, almost like angel’s wings. Some people say that clouds are nature’s messages and it would be wrong to ignore a message.
But maybe, it would have been better if I had ignored that particular message, because the next moment ….
Whoosh! I was flying through the air. Some idle passer-by had thoughtlessly left a plank of wood lying in the path and had sent me flying, without any wings to keep me afloat.
My arms darted out to protect my fall. I landed in an undignified heap, and sat down, sorrowfully picking out small stones from my grazed, reddened palms, and feeling relieved, at least, that there was no-one around to witness my embarrassment.
It was then that I spotted it: a gnarled oak tree with a huge hollow. And, inside the hollow, something pink caught my attention.
Having satisfied myself that I was still in one piece, I gingerly stood up. I peered in, and there it was.
“Just a piece of paper,” I thought to myself, “A bit of litter, probably from the same person who left that plank. People these days, honestly.”
I was about to walk away when curiosity got the better of me.
“After all,” I reasoned to myself, “It can’t hurt to have a look. It’s probably just some old leaflet for a local takeaway, in which case I shall take it away and recycle it.”
And, with that noble thought, I reached in and picked it up. But it wasn’t a leaflet at all: it was a letter. I started to put it back. After all, it might have been personal …
“You’re so nosy, Saffy,” Aunt Gwen always chided me, “Always into everybody’s business …”
But this wasn’t nosiness: I was just curious, and, well, interested.
I looked at the letter. It was written in a child’s handwriting, with multi-coloured letters, and some of the S letters written back to front.
“Dear Fairy,” the letter ran.
I smiled to myself. “I know that you’re there and living in the tree but Mary-Jane says she doesn’t believe in you. She says there are no fairies. Please could you give me a sign to prove you are real.” And she’d signed it, Daisy aged 7, with three kisses.
I looked at the letter again. There was a date at the top: 12th May. The letter had lain there three days, undiscovered and unanswered.
Oh dear, I thought to myself, walking away thoughtfully. A little girl who doesn’t believe in fairies? Well, we couldn’t let that happen, but what to do?
I could hear Aunt Gwen’s voice in my head again: “Don’t be ridiculous,” she’d scold, “She’ll have forgotten all about that silly letter by now. Kids get up to all sorts of stuff. And it’s got nothing to do with you anyway.”
She was right, it hadn’t. But nonetheless….
I walked a bit further along, and then I noticed it, lying on the ground, slightly away from the path. A slim, white feather: probably left there by a local pigeon. But still, couldn’t it just look a bit like …?
“A feather from a fairy’s wing,” I thought to myself, placing the feather gently onto the letter inside the hollow. What better sign than that? That would show Mary-Jane, I thought, grinning to myself.
I had no occasion to visit the wood for the next three days. Gwen had insisted on some serious spring-cleaning and she didn’t tolerate slackers. Every nook and cranny had to be “Spick and span,” she’d insisted shrilly, like a harsher version of Mary Poppins.
When I finally did go out, I made sure my walk took me to the oak tree. And there it was: another letter – this time on yellow paper.
“Dear Fairy, Thank you so much for the feather,” wrote Daisy. “Mary-Jane still doesn’t believe you’re real though. She says the feather is just from some old bird. She even says there isn’t a tooth fairy and that it’s your mummy who puts the money under your pillow. But she only says that to hurt me because she knows I don’t have a mummy anymore ….” And here, there was a wet mark that looked like a tear. It almost obliterated Daisy’s name and robbed the letter of its kisses.
Oh, that Mary-Jane! What a nuisance she was becoming. Well, this time I’d better do something better than a feather. But what could I do? What would a fairy do?
I pondered for a while. A fairy would sit down on a magic toadstool and …
I looked round me and then, to my surprise, spotted a small red and white protuberance in the grass. Surely, it couldn’t be? But yes, it was, I recognised it from a book I’d had once when I’d been out mushroom picking. Red with white dots: it was a fairy toadstool.
This would have to do. Proof, I thought. I laid it down next to the letter, and just hoped Daisy wouldn’t try to eat it. After all, toadstools, though pretty, were very poisonous, the book warned. Oh dear, what had I started?
It rained the next day but on the Saturday, I was able to go out and do some errands for Aunt Gwen. “And make sure you come back with what’s on the list. Last time I sent you to buy bread you came back and said you’d fed it all to the birds because they looked hungry. Honestly, Saffy.”
Well, this time, I had a list of my own. I walked purposefully to the sweet shop and bought some coconut mushrooms, some rainbow drops and some multi-coloured little sweets, decorated with glittering fairy dust.
I did the rest of my shopping, and walked home, clutching Aunt Gwen’s groceries. I’d remembered everything except the sour lemons. Oh well, it’d give me an excuse to go out tomorrow, I thought to myself.
I looked expectantly into the hollow.
“Dear Fairy, Thank you so much for the fairy toadstool. I showed it to Mary-Jane and she didn’t know what to say. You’re magic! Have some tea. Love Daisy xxx.”
And she’d left a little plastic pink tea set out for me. Well, I just couldn’t resist. After all, I was thirsty from all that shopping. “Hmm, this is good,” I slurped, drinking pretend tea. “Thank you, Daisy,” and then I took the sweets, and filled each cup and plate with a few goodies.
This was working out well. Daisy believed in fairies. Well, a girl needs something to believe in, doesn’t she? After all, I still believed that Jerry was coming back. And it already had been six months …
“I don’t know why you don’t forget that layabout,” Aunt Gwen had scolded me, the last time she saw me sobbing over the end of my first romance. “He’s gone and you’d better get used to it. He wasn’t right for you and I’m sure he’s better off with that Lynette. Such a pretty little thing…”
For that reason, I always kept my pain to myself. Still, at least I now had a new friend, courtesy of the tree hollow, and thinking of that happy little girl made me smile more and more these days.
The following Saturday, when I went to the tree, there was a surprise awaiting me.
It was a white card. “Dear Fairy, Thank you for the lovely sweets. Would you like to come to tea for real? It’s my birthday next Sunday at 3 o’clock. I live at number
4, Brookfield Grove. You can come into the garden if you’re too shy to come into the house. Love Daisy xxx.”
How funny, I thought to myself. But I couldn’t possibly. I mean, how could I? What was she going to say when she saw it was a plump, ungainly, dark-haired, 17 year old woman standing there and not a delicate, little fairy? She’d be disappointed and I’d feel ridiculous.
It was out of the question. I put it out of my mind. Monday went by then Tuesday, Wednesday…
What I’d do, I decided in the end, was to buy her a special present. Then I’d write a polite letter saying that I couldn’t come because of – urgent fairy business. And then I’d leave her a little fairy doll that I’d seen in the toy shop on the high street.
So on the Friday, I bought the fairy doll which looked lovely in a pretty lilac dress with shimmering wings, wrapped it up and walked through the wood.
But it wasn’t the quiet, peaceful walk I was expecting. The sound of a chainsaw penetrated my whole being as the sound of its metallic insistence reverberated through my ears. It couldn’t be – it just couldn’t.
I walked towards the tree in despair.
“Nah, had to come down, this old tree. Been on the cards for ages, just hadn’t got round to it yet,” explained the man from the council, holding his clipboard importantly. “Best stand back love, it’s not safe.”
“Was there anything inside it?” I asked in a rush, thinking that Daisy might have left another message for me.
“Hang on a minute, love, I’ll just check with the foreman,” and went off to confer with a tall, muscular man, wearing a yellow safety helmet and protective eye wear. The foreman shook his head.
“Sorry love,” said the man from the council. “Now, we’d best get on ….”
All of which meant that Daisy would still be expecting me two days later. I had no choice…
On Sunday afternoon, I walked to Daisy’s road and spotted the house straight away. You couldn’t really miss it: fairy lights in the windows, fairy balloons on the gate …
What had Daisy said? If I was shy, I could just come into the garden. Perhaps I could do that: tiptoe into the garden, leave her present there with a little note saying I couldn’t stay and then quietly disappear. She’d see that the tree had been demolished next time she walked past and realise that that was the end of our fairy correspondence.
Yes, that’s what I’d do, I thought. Until …..
Thwack! I tripped over a piece of elastic tied between the trees: Daisy’s skipping elastic, no doubt. This time though, I couldn’t save my fall as I was still clutching Daisy’s present. Smash, crash, clatter…
No chance of getting away with it now ….
I grabbed the large, tanned hand that reached down for me and placed my newly-scratched hand in his.
“And what have we here?” And I gazed up into a mass of brown curly hair, two twinkling blue eyes in a broadly-grinning face.
I looked down shamefaced at my soiled dress. He gazed at the present lying on the floor beside me with its torn wrapping paper.
“I think you’d better come in and clean up,” he said, kindly. “I take it you’re a friend of Daisy’s?”
I nodded dumbly and followed him into a rustic-looking kitchen with its wooden Welsh dresser and brightly-coloured porcelain mugs. “You’ll probably want to clean up before you go into the lounge,” he said, pointing towards a small cloakroom, leading off the kitchen.
Red-faced, I looked in the mirror and then cleaned myself up as best as I could.
“That’s better,” said the young man, as I went back in the kitchen. “My name’s Dan, by the way. I’m Daisy’s uncle. And you are …?”
“Saffy,” I replied, shyly.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Saffy. Now, ready for the fray?”
I followed him into the lounge. “Daisy’s over there,” he said, pointing to a pretty fair-haired birthday fairy in the room. Not that she noticed me immediately, she was far too busy playing musical chairs with her other fairy friends. Even one bigger child, who kept trying to boss the others round, was dressed in a fairy outfit: “Mary Jane,” whispered Dan knowingly.
It wasn’t long though till she came over. “I’m Daisy,” she said wandering over, “Who are you? One of Uncle Dan’s friends? You’ve come at the right time, I’ve invited a real fairy to join us this afternoon. She should be here any moment now.
I groaned. Oh dear. What to say? I couldn’t let her down but I felt I owed her an explanation.
“I’m sorry, Daisy, I began …. “But I’m actually….”
And then the lights went out and, for a second, I felt something soft and velvety being fastened gently round me. And then, a few minutes later ….
* * *
“How did you know it would fit me ?” I whispered to Dan as he drove me home afterwards.
“I didn’t but the lady in the fancy dress shop assured me that this fairy cloak fits everyone.”
“It’s so pretty,” I said. “So lovely and silvery with its fairy gossamer wings. Did you see Daisy’s face? She was thrilled to see a real fairy in her lounge. And as for Mary-Jane …”
“But what if I hadn’t turned up?” I asked.
“I had faith in you. I knew from Daisy that someone was leaving out nice things for her in the woods: someone who cared. And then, when I saw you that day at the tree …”
At the tree? And then I gulped. I guess I just hadn’t recognised him without his safety helmet and goggles.
“And if you hadn’t turned up today,” Dan continued, “Well, I’d have just had to put on the cloak myself. But somehow I don’t think I’d have looked half as pretty in it as you. And, in any case, I knew the kids would be too excited by the little presents in the fairy basket to ask too many questions. Even Mary Jane!”
And then he kissed me lightly on the nose. “How about coming out to dinner with me one night next week, Saffy? After all, even fairies have to eat.”
And that’s how I came to believe at last, like Daisy, that fairies and magic really do exist. But just how was I going to persuade Aunt Gwen? I laughed to myself. Somehow, now that I’d met my own wizard, I was sure our future together would be enchanted enough to tame any dragons along the path.