She and her sister were fighting again; not that that was anything out the ordinary. However, the subject matter which brought on the argument was of something so extraordinary that even if you searched, you'd be hard-pressed to find any who thought it worth debate. Sarah did. In fact, she believed it was the most important subject of her young life, and in a fashion, it was, as fairies are so closely related to a child's innocence.
Sarah claimed that in the night before, she was visited by a whimsical child shrouded in shadows who climbed through their balcony window. Maria no doubt found this hard to believe seeing as how their room didn't have a balcony, but Sarah insisted she came through their parents window, adding that she remembered seeing two distinct lights cavorting with the child. And Sarah was certain they had had a long conversation on the matter, but now that the sun had risen over the hills, it was hard to recall what had been said.
Maria scoffed and continued brushing her hair for the umpteenth time that morning. "Grow up, little sister," she said. "There are no such things as fairies." And just as she said it, Sarah could hear one fluttering its wings for the very last time.
"Oh shut it, Maria!" she snapped, as Maria scoffed again.
For as long as Sarah could remember, her older sister always seemed to harbor a deep-seated resentment toward all things fabled. It was almost as if one of them had slighted her in some unforgivable, heartbreaking kind of way. And now on clear, starlit nights, one could almost always find Maria lying amongst a bed of wildflowers whilst gazing off at the heavens; and she would have a hurt expression on her face. Maria's was elusive heart, you see? Thus you could never quite tell exactly where it was from one moment to the next. Whenever Sarah inquired, Maria would simply dance around the subject, and then bow as if awaiting a round of applause.
"You know what, Maria," said Sarah.
"What is it?" she replied.
"Now that you mention it, I don't think I believe anymore either," Sarah said. "I don't believe you have a brain!" Sarah must have thought herself so clever, for right after, she stuck out her tongue tauntingly and stormed out of their bedroom so that she would have gotten the last word. And behind her followed a little black ball of fur she had named Plie.
Plie was a kitten who, though born a lowly stray, was adopted by Sarah and made into a proud and honorable house-cat of Ye Olden Lovely Mound. And now, whenever she purred, she did so with a slight dignity about her. Truthfully, Sarah was surprised at how easily her mother and father agreed to let her keep the cat. Mrs. Lovely was always the kind woman, but lately it seemed to Sarah that she was even more so. Which was a good thing.
This morning, Eleanor was comfortably in her bed, knitting away at something, when Sarah came knocking at the door. There were first two knocks, followed by three. This was Sarah's unnecessary way of letting her know who was at the door. "Come in, dear," said Mrs. Lovely.
As the door slowly opened, Plie spilled right on in, and Sarah stood pouting at the threshold. Her first sight was of thin white curtains shining in the morning light as they softly blew at the balcony window. That is also when Sarah caught her first glimpse of the flowerpot placed so dangerously close to the ledge, she feared it would fall.
"Good morning, Sarah," said Mrs. Lovely, garnering her daughter's attention.
Mrs. Lovely appeared as flower herself, planted properly in a well-made bed with kind hands forever waiting to coddle her daughter. But Sarah would have to come to her for that, as Mr. Lovely had Mrs. Lovely on bedrest that day. Eleanor had come down with something that left her cheeks a pale pink, when before they were a rosy red.
"What's wrong, lovely child?" she asked.
"Mother," said Sarah, quite disheartened. "Fairies do exist, don't they?"
"Well of course they do," she said. "Come here, darling." Eleanor placed her knittings aside for the moment and swept her daughter under her arm much like a swan takes its newborns beneath its wings. "What would make you question such a thing?"
"It's just - Maria seems quite certain they aren't real," Sarah replied. "I just wondered--"
Eleanor sighed, and then put on her wisest face. "Fairies," she said, "are such curious little things. Like the lines on a map that separate countries, or imagined frights, fairies only exist for that believe in them. At one point in her life, your sister believed as much as you do now, but I'm afraid something happened that caused her to push them aside."
"What happened?" Sarah asked.
"I'm sure I wouldn't have the slightest idea," Eleanor replied. "but I expect it must have been something that caused her a great deal of sadness." Eleanor sighed again, letting her eyes drift off towards the window. "As hard as we try, mothers can't protect their children from everything; least of all, the many heartbreaks of youth."
Now it was Sarah who sighed. "Mother," she said. "you're speaking in riddles again."
Mrs. Lovely laughed and gazed fondly at her daughter, as she ran her hands down Sarah's hair. "I suppose I've been doing a great deal of that lately."
A silence then settled in the room. Eleanor held Sarah, Sarah hugged her back, and Plie snuggled between them as they all three quietly watched the early light spill further in through the window. Across the whole of Umbria, a more peaceful moment could not be found.
Later, for keeping her mother company, Mrs. Lovely decided to reward her precious daughter with a story she had kept locked away in a vault for such a special occasion. Though in all honesty, had she not told the story by sunset, it would no longer have had the desired effect. There was a very good reason for this, you see? Much unlike a mother's love, fairytales have an expiration date, and the more fantastical they are, the more perishable they tend to be.
This particular story was one of a hidden island where children are forever at play; and somewhere along the shore you might be surprised to find, is a footprint left by you. Yes, you too have been there, though by now you must surely have forgotten your time on it. Yet the name of that magical place sits restlessly on the tip of your tongue, begging to be spoken back into existence. It is the Lost Island of Neverland.
Having said the name herself, Sarah seemed to already know the rest of the story. She even went so as far to correct her mother at times. For instance, when Eleanor talked about Marooner's Rock being close to the Mermaid's Lagoon, Sarah informed her that this was no longer so. In fact, no one has called it Marooner's Rock for quite some time; not since the day it woke up and all realized it was actually a giant sand crab.
Sarah had never been to the Island personally, but she was sure she had flown over it many times in her dreams and in her imagination. Though she wouldn't always remember the story. Some days she would only recall bits and pieces of it, and other days she would forget it whole. But this never staunched her excited when Mrs. Lovely began relaying the tale.
"Tell me more about the fairies this time, Mother," she begged.
"Oh? So they are what fascinate you the most?"
Sarah nodded. "They're just so many of them!" she said. "Like the Street Fairies that deal in urban legends, or the Brownies who battle Pixies in Fairy Circles." And as she spoke, Eleanor could see her daughter's eyes filling to the brim with stars and rainbows and butterflies, all threatening to burst out from her silly little head. "But my most favorite of all are the Fortunettes," Sarah said. "They are by far the hardest to spot, but if you do, Lady Luck will grant you any wish of your choosing."
"And what, pray tell, would you wish for, given the chance?" asked Mrs. Lovely.
Sarah thought long and hard, but honestly, nothing came to mind. This, you see, is the sign of a blissful childhood. Sarah was in the pinnacle of her golden days, which she, being so young and unseasoned, naturally thought would go on forever.
"Perhaps a scratching post," she said as Mrs. Lovely looked at her surprisingly. "-- for Plie, I mean. Or perhaps, another story?"
Mrs. Lovely could never turn away her daughter when she stared up at her with those bright amber eyes, gifted to her on her very first birthday. "I wonder," she said, consideringly.
"Wonder what?" asked Sarah.
In truth, there was no wondering going on at all. Mrs. Lovely just wanted to build the suspense. She was not just some ordinary house-wife, you see? Eleanor hailed from a proud English family of Tellers. In her family tree there were truth-tellers, storytellers, even fortunetellers. And somewhere, way upon the highest branch, you'd even find a bank teller, if you can believe.
Sarah pleaded now, bouncing on the bed with her hands and knees, as her mother feigned defeat with a sigh. "Oh, alright," she said. "I guess you are old enough to learn of the Unfair."
These are malicious fairies banished by Mab herself from their island on the horizon. The Unfair are notorious tricksters known for giving young children grey hairs, and infamous for holding back the hands of the clock on school days, and rainy days. It was they who spilled the milk and stole sweets from the cookie jar and hit your sibling on the arm when no one else was looking. And when you tell your parents the truth, you are criticized for having an overactive imagination. As if there were such a thing!
"I knew it!" Sarah shouted.
Now was time for Mrs. Lovely's check up, and it was promptly noted by the sound of Matteo's heavy steps coming up the stairs. Sarah ran to open the door, and Matteo crept in the room balancing a silver platter like a waiter at a fine establishment. There were three plates with various items on it, but for Eleanor, he had a sliver of Caciotta on a croissant, a sliced and seasoned boiled egg, a warm biscuit glazed with wildflower honey, and a glass of lemon water.
Today was the day of a midsummer festival commonly known as the Burnt Festival. As per rule, on this day, husbands had to make breakfast for the entire family. It gave mother's a day of rest, and also a clever conversation piece during the festivities. They would flock together like hens and compare meals to see which one had the "burnt" dish. And if their breakfast was not up to par with the rest, the wives would sometimes feel the need to embellish the story. Thus, husbands gave extra care in the task, lest they made liars of their wives.
As Sarah held the door open, she was repaid with an approving smile, but what she really wanted was to hear her name said. Mr. Lovely was quite the fish, you see? Out of an entire day he would average ten unsolicited sentences - short ones, but sometimes with conjunctions. But if you were lucky enough to catch him on one of his talkative days, he would gladly add two to his ten and tell you just how captivating Eleanor was on the night they first met.
The common story shared among their circle asserted that Eleanor's dance was so entrancing, she charmed the flames into dancing along with her. And of course every man hoped it would be they whom she placed the purple shawl around, but in the end, it was only Mr. Lovely who saw purple that night, while the others were left seeing a mix of red and green envy.
"You've outdone yourself this year, my love." said Eleanor as Matteo placed the platter on the night stand. Eleanor learned long ago to decipher her husband's unspoken language of the eyes. And so, whenever they conversed - like now - it was like only hearing half of a conversation. "I feel fine," she said. "Yes, that too. Honestly Matteo. I promise. Yes I took that too. At twelve, of course. Don't worry, love, everything will be fine. I love you too."
And that was how you knew their talk was over; love was always the period in which they ended all their sentences.
By simple chance that morning, Matteo also happened to catch sight of the potted flower at the window. He stared at it strangely, and then glanced at Sarah, who shrugged her shoulders. And he would have broken into his very first words that day to inquire about it, had it not been for a high pitch screech that split the moment in two. It startled all of them. Why, even Plie sprang from her nap with all claws drawn.
"Maria," Matteo said under his breath. And as much as she wished against it, Sarah had to place a tally on the board. It was the first sentence of the day.
"Matteo," Eleanor implored, but before he could move a muscle, Maria came rushing through the door and into her father's arms. Her hair had been blown out as if she had risen from the wreckage of a tornado, and her face was distraught in a humorous way; at least it was humorous to Sarah, who sat up on the bed with her hands over her mouth to keep from laughing.
Mrs. Lovely started coughing hard from the excitement of it all, and Sarah quickly handed her the glass of lemon water. "What happened?" she asked.
"There was someone in my room!"
"In your room!?" said Mr and Mrs Lovely together.
"Our room," Sarah interjected, though no one paid her any mind.
"On my bed!" said Maria
"On your bed!?" Matteo said through his clinched his teeth. "Are they still in there?"
Sentence two and three and four had now been spent.
"I'm not sure," Maria replied. "but I think it was a boy."
The manager of our word bank now rubs his greedy little hands waiting for Matteo to make another withdrawal, but we are proud to say he restrained himself and said nothing.
As Maria groaned and buried her face into her father's chest, Sarah rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on," she said, standing confidently on the bed. "It was only a boy, right? Shall I go in and smack some sense into him?" In mid-leap off the bed, Eleanor snatched her daughter back down on the sheets, and Matteo stormed off with fists balled tightly.
"Scardy-cat," Sarah mumbled.
"Shut up!" Maria hissed.
"Girls, stop it." said Mrs. Lovely. "Now tell me, Maria. What did he look like?"
"He was covered in brown leaves I think, or perhaps green. It's strange," she said. I can't really remember much now. It just all happened so fast. But I do remember seeing those blue eyes of his. Much too blue," she shivered. "I saw him sitting behind me from the reflection of my mirror, but when I turned, he was gone and the window was blown right open!"
Sarah sighed. "It's that time of year again," she said, casually. "The Unfair are at their most mischievous now." Maria frowned and blew at the wild strands of hair hanging over her face. With her eyes she threatened to say those words again should Sarah utter another ridiculous word. And so, for the safety of Sarah's winged friends, she quieted down.
Then came shuffling sounds from their room as Mr. Lovely was beginning to move things around. This prompted Maria to spring up in a fright, and race back into their room before Mr. Lovely found letters from you-know-who. "Father!" she screamed. "I'm coming."
Feeling quite helpless at the moment, Mrs. Lovely returned to her knitting.
"Mother," Sarah said. "Maria really doesn't believe, does she?"
"No, dear," she replied. "Not anymore."
"Tragic really," said Mrs. Lovely, "especially for him."
"For who?" Sarah asked, now intrigued.
"Hm? Who what, dear?"
"You said, `especially for him'. Who were you talking about?"
"Did I?" she said, innocently. Eleanor tried as hard as she could to remember, but the thought flew from her. "For the life of me, I can't remember," she replied.
That was the end of the subject.
The setting sun now drew back its light from the rolling, green hills, and all began moving about in preparation for the night's celebration. Sarah watched the whole affair from out her mother's window. A couple of Sarah's rarely seen friends even came by. They knocked on the door with nets and jars made for catching fireflies, but Sarah stood near the balcony and shooed them away.
Some children are born heartless enough to take flight whenever the winds favored it, but others are born heavyhearted, like Sarah, and thus remain fairly grounded. Her heart was filled with cuddles and kisses in the shape of Mrs. Lovely, and a firm handshake that smelled of Matteo.
Though it wasn't completely free of blemishes. See there in the left-hand corner; that Maria-shaped stain on the wall?
As the night approached, Sarah seriously considered forgoing the celebration on account of her mother being home all alone. In this you might now understand why it is that the heartless are filled with so many tales of adventure as opposed to you. Luckily, this adventure was one no child could deny, otherwise, we should have no story to tell.
Mrs. Lovely did try to encourage her daughter to live a little. "Why don't you take Plie and show her off to your friends?" she said. "I can finish my knitting while you're away."
"I'd rather stay with you," Sarah thoughtlessly replied.
In that, Eleanor stayed a single tear that she would never come to mention, except in a short, handwritten letter Sarah would find moments before walking down the aisle. It would start with these words: To my Little Amber Flame, forgive my absence. Mrs. Lovely finally got a hold of herself and pulled the sheets over her daughter. "Another story then?"
Sarah nodded and called for Plie, who had now been awake for several hours on the prowl.
"Hast thou seen the white moth?" she meowed. Sadly, none in the room spoke a coarse lick of feline, and just as Eleanor began into another story, there came a knocking at the door.
"Come in," Sarah said, rolling her eyes.
The door opened and in came Maria gliding into the room, wearing an elegant dress that flailed out like a blooming flower when she twirled. Her face glistened like an ice sculpture in the rays of the morning sun, and her hair was no longer unkempt, but combed nicely so that it cascaded in shiny waves. Had Sarah not known her sister so very well, she might have mistaken her for an angel. But she did know her and was not fooled - she was a little jealous though.
Mrs. Lovely's eyes lit up when she saw her, reminded of her own glory days. "Maria May Lovely," she gasped. "You look absolutely stunning! Doesn't she, Sarah?"
"Stunning," Sarah replied. The word came out begrudgingly, like the way she ate her greens.
Maria came over and gave her mother a hug and kiss on the cheek. "Father says we must start getting ready for the festival now," she dutifully reported.
That was sentence number six, given by proxy. Matteo would say no more that day, at least not to others. The last four he saved always for his wife. Each one would be sweeter than the last, and at the end of it, Eleanor would ask for the candle to be blow out.
"Yes, of course," she said. "Off with you now, Sarah. Time to get dressed."
"Perhaps I should stay," Sarah said. "I mean, someone should stay with you."
Eleanor smiled. "Don't worry, sweet child," she said. "Your father will stay with me tonight. Go and have fun with Angelo. And tell him not to eat so much bread this time."
Sarah's concern grew larger, but the concern was now for herself.
"Then, who shall take us?" she asked, afraid of the very answer she would soon hear.
"I will!" Sarah winced. The look in Maria's eyes was that of a gorgeous tyrant. "And don't be cheeky with me or I'll bring you back before you get to see your little friend."
Sarah defeatingly dragged herself from the bed and Plie promptly followed behind. "Nowah better not be cheeky with me," she muttered on the way out.
That last sentence sat strange with Mrs. Lovely, though she couldn't put a finger on exactly why. We guess it had something to do with the name as it was so very foreign to her ear. Eleanor wondered where her daughter could have picked it up. But had she stopped Sarah before leaving to make an inquiry, Sarah would have responded as such: "For the life of me, I can't remember," and that would have been the end of it.
Though Eleanor asked not a single question, she merely glanced at flowerpot now seated even closer to the ledge. She then sighed.