“No fair!” screeched Abby from the Cheerio-encrusted back seat in the windup to a tantrum that would guarantee a fairy visit that night. “I’m angry with you, Mommy. I want to play on the yellow slides.”
Marsha clenched her hands on the mini-van’s steering wheel that had worn smooth and shiny under her palms. She forced a deep calming breath as she waited for the thumps of Abby’s feet against her seatback to subside.
“It’s winter, Abby. It’s cold and there’s snow on the ground. We can’t play at the park in the snow.” Marsha made a mental note to find a route to the grocery store that didn’t pass the playground.
“But I can put my boots on, and get all toasty in my furry coat that Grandma got for me and….”
Marsha drove on. Abby would run out of steam, eventually.
“Maaaaahmeeeee?” The shrill query penetrated Marsha’s stupor and the van jerked. She shook her head, disturbed that she didn’t quite remember making that last turn into their neighborhood. Damn fairies.
“We’ll be home soon.”
“But, I’m thirsty!”
“You’ll have to wait.”
The steering wheel got a bit shinier.
The fairies were only supposed to come for “naughty children.” They didn’t, however, see fit to exclude entirely age-appropriate expressions of toddler frustration from their definition. Marsha’s fate had been sealed with the very first “No fair!” of the day. Just once, she’d like to have a solid six hours of uninterrupted sleep. How long had it been? A month? Two? Since Abby’s birthday?
Marsha pushed the button on the opener and pulled into the cluttered garage, feeling more thumping as the little girl again expressed the indignities of being three.
“We’re home! You can get a drink now and you can help me put the groceries away. Then we’ll read some stories.”
Abby was silent for a moment, clearly assessing the implications. “I don’t WANT to take a nap!” she announced.
Marsha slumped and rested her head against the smooth steering wheel.
Marsha fell onto the couch. The TV was blathering the 10 o’clock news and she stared at the announcer, letting his hearty, earnest words soothe her. It didn’t quite pass for adult conversation, but the words were comfortingly complex.
“The FBI is reporting that local Fairy abductions are up by 3%. Most experts attribute the increase to winter wiggles: children cooped up by bad weather understandably acting out more than usual. However, the Fairy Bureau of Intervention is complaining that the increase is due to an alarming lack of parental defense, and indulgent discipline—“
“I hear they’re talking about raising the fine for Fairy rescues,” John mumbled from the doorway.
Marsha yawned as he flopped onto the couch next to her, still slightly damp from cleaning up Abby’s bath-time dolphin impersonation.
“It’s a crock if you ask me. There hasn’t been a fatality in years. Idiot fairies take the kids to the same fairy ring every damn time. How expensive is it to drive by once a day and pick them up?”
“Uh, huh,” said Marsha.
“Kids probably even like staying up all night with the little pests.”John sighed deeply. “I’ve got another killer day, tomorrow, hon, so don’t wait up. Case goes to court on Tuesday so we’ll probably pull an all-nighter. I’m sorry, hon. I promise I’ll spend more time with Abby once this trial is over.”
John patted Marsha’s knee apologetically, then heaved himself off the couch to wander upstairs. Marsha swiped away tears. Another sleepless night and another week of single parenting.
The grandfather clock chimed midnight, and Marsha startled from a doze. She dashed into the kitchen to snatch a cup of nickels from the counter then blundered up the stairs. She raced down the hallway to Abby’s door, turned the knob as quietly as she could in her haste and tiptoed into the darkened room willing her eyes to adjust. Once she could make out Abby in her flannel PJs sprawled sideways across the bed, she shuddered in relief. The first fairy always came soon after midnight. She’d nearly been late.
Marsha sat down in the padded rocking chair just opposite the window.
Sure enough, only a few heartbeats later, a silver glimmer fluttered outside Abby’s window and hovered just beyond the glass. Surprisingly, this fairy was tall, nearly six inches by Marsha’s guess, but no less beautiful. They were always beautiful.
Marsha dug into her cup to pinch out a nickel. The fairy peeked into the room, passing through the glass as easily as air, then inched its shoulders through. Marsha bit her lip, waiting for the right moment to throw. The fairy’s wings dipped, Marsha flicked her nickel.
The fairy zoomed away as the coin clattered against the glass.
“Damn!” Marsha hissed.
Marsha sagged into the chair, limp with defeat. She’d woken up Abby. It would be even later before the fairies tried again, and she could go to sleep for the night. Marsha’s eyes stung.
“Mommy? Why you in my room?”
Marsha just sat there, tears leaking onto her cheeks.
“Mommy, will you rock me? Mommy, read me a story.”
“No sweetie, you need to go back to sleep, I’ll see you when the sun wakes up.”
With effort, Marsha stood up and walked out ignoring Abby’s whines. It was best to leave, then slip back in later. In the hallway, she leaned heavily against Abby’s door, listening to the little girl snuffle and talk herself back to sleep.
It would be at least fifteen minutes before she could sneak back in. Marsha turned and walked down the hall towards her own room. It was cool and dark and blissfully quiet. John was snoring softly, so she went around to her side of the bed. She stared at the pillow and the fluffy comforter and the soft, flannel sheets.
There hasn’t been a fatality in years.
She pulled off her jeans, tugged off her sweater.
Experts attribute the increase to winter wiggles. It’s understandable.
Marsha sank into her bed and crawled under the covers. She closed her eyes and felt herself drifting away.
Kids probably even like staying up all night with the little pests.
Naughty, just one night.