Daylight. The next memory Emily had after lighting candles for her parents was daylight. She was laying in a very comfortable sleigh bed with sheets softer than anything she’d ever slept on. The room around her was nice but undecorated. It was just enough of a finished space with the suggestion that a new occupant could move in and make it their own. To add to this suggestion Emily sat up and saw that her boxes neatly lined one of the walls and her suitcases had been set closer for easier access.
Emily laid back down and rolled over in bed. There beside her was a side table with a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers and snapdragons. Just in front of the flowers was a note.
“Sweet Emily I hope you slept well! You went out like a light! I wanted very much to be here when you woke up to treat you to a good Hathor boarding house breakfast, but alas the summer solstice plays out in different ways for everybody and I have to go sooth some ruffled feathers this morning.
“You have your own private bath with everything you might need to start off your day. Please take your time getting up. When you’re ready come downstairs. Everyone in the house knows you’re here and will gladly look after you. And if you choose to explore alone please be mindful of the woods to the east and know that the town to the west is also a bit of a trek for us. There are quite a few things to discover within the boarding house and around it. I will be back before sundown. I’m so sorry I’m not here for your first true day.”
It finished with love your Miss Emma.
Emily took her time getting up. This place was not her aunt Jen’s cramped apartment. This was a spacious room with large windows and the possibility of putting some character in it. Even as Emily thought this she felt guilty. In all of her huffing and (what she considered justified) puffing, she didn’t think about that long and defeated ride her aunt took back home alone.
“Best to not think about it right now” she whispered to herself. Today was today. Yesterday was the past. This was a lesson of her mother’s.
Emily dragged herself from her comfortable bed and went to the suitcase that held her most comforting and familiar items. She took it into the bathroom with her and spent the next thirty minutes righting herself for the world around her.
The trip downstairs was a minor maze. The outside of the boarding house looked large but it failed to give scope to just how large it could be inside when a crafty architect was able to add hallways and strange directions to a grand structure. When she finally found the kitchen on the first floor she was almost grateful to be in a place where she could at least request food. Thankfully there was someone to request such things from.
There was a mother and daughter duo in the kitchen. The mother was stirring a pot of cream of wheat and her daughter was jumping up and down wanting to know if she could go to the back door yet. The mother added a handful of blueberries to her pot and stirred. She finally found her breakfast stew complete and set it to the side. Only then did she turn towards her hyper daughter.
“Yes. But be quick. And bring the bowl back one way or another.”
The little girl squealed and darted out of the kitchen. Emily couldn’t be sure but it barely felt like moment had passed before the little girl returned to the kitchen with an empty bowl in hand.
“He took it! He took it!” The little girl chanted as she jumped up and down.
The mother smiled. “Wonderful! Do you think a little cream will get him to clean up the play room you refuse to neaten up?”
“Mom!” The little girl protested.
The mother shrugged her shoulders. “What? Dusting is one thing. Let him smell that homemade
rotting play-dough you have hidden in your play room and see if a bowl of cream is enough. I mean really Sigrid… haven’t I taught you the value of fair trade?”
The little girl looked put off, but clearly what her mother was telling her made sense. When she noticed Emily looking on her demeanor seemed to change though. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked defiant.
“Joao would do anything for me, cream or not!”
The mother looked up and noticed Emily as well. Her eyebrow arched as she looked down at her little girl and gave her a crocked smile.
“Let’s not play things up for the new person in the room.” She poured cream of wheat into a bowl and handed it to the little girl. “No more Joao talk. Now go sit and eat your breakfast –and mind your manners! We have a new guest to the house.”
The woman turned to Emily and motioned for her to come closer. “Come on in and have a seat. This is my daughter Sigrid. My name’s Sonja. Would you like something to eat?”
Emily smiled, slowly moving into the room and realizing she was unsure if her stomach was ready for new food after last night’s spicy meal. She finally decided no. “A glass of milk maybe?” she asked nervously. She didn’t want to offend Sonja by refusing her kind gesture.
The woman nodded her head and moved to a massive refrigerator. She hefted one of the big doors open and reached in for milk. Emily was just able to glimpse a shelf that held a large cardboard sign taped over it. It read Absolutely no one is to touch the contents of this shelf under penalty of death! It caught the young woman off guard.
Sonja filled up a glass of milk and set it on the table opposite her daughter. “Come sit!” She motioned towards a chair.
Emily was by nature a shy girl. She was slow to warm up to adults and often awkward around children younger than herself. Her shyness was especially bad around kids her own age. She was hyper sensitive to embarrassing herself around them before they’d had a chance to get to know her. She felt a mixture of all these things as she took a seat at the table.
Sonja took a bowl of cream of wheat for herself and joined her daughter and the new comer. The mother daughter duo were both quiet at first as they tucked right into eating their breakfast. It left Emily feeling the odd person out as she sipped her milk and wondered if she was supposed to be the one filling in the conversation. Thankfully the tension was broke when the little girl suddenly squealed “Ta dah!” and offered her empty bowl to her mother.
“All done! Can I talk now?”
Sonja nodded as she continued to eat her own food quietly.
Sigrid’s eyes were now on the new person in the room. There was a bit of mischievousness to her expression. Emily had no doubt this child had the potential to cause mischief equal to three of her child counterparts. There was just something about her demeanor that screamed this.
“Who are you?” she asked bluntly after staring the young woman up and down.
“I’m Emily. I’m Miss Emma’s great niece. I got here last night.”
“Okay Emily, here’s a question for you: Do you believe in fairies, sprites, kabouters, mermaids, tree spirits, ghosts, daemons, John Lennon, gnomes, grouchy old immortal men, that my mom should let me have a dog, and that grape soda is the best soda there ever was and will be?”
Emily stared blankly at the little girl. “Pardon?”
“Oh Sigrid. Let the poor girl have a few days to get settled in before you start your nonsense.”
Sigrid gave her mom an exacerbated look. “But mom! These things are important! We need to know these things right from the start.” She looked back at Emily to further impress upon her point. “Seriously! We have to get this stuff hashed out otherwise this is going to be a really strange place for you to live.”
Sonja began to scold her daughter again but Emily interrupted her. She liked the little girl’s bluntness. “I believe in selkies.” she said very softly.
Sigrid’s face lit up and she smacked the table excitedly with both hands. “It’s a start!” She turned towards her mother and gave her a snotty stare. “See mom –she gets it.”
The mother shook her head slowly but she was smiling. There was a sternness about the woman but perhaps she needed it to manage a child that seemed more than a bit thoughtful for her tender age. She couldn’t have been more than five years old.
“Selkies are sadly the only thing we don’t have here.” The mother offered sheepishly.
“Only because Anya forgot where she hid her skin.” The daughter chirped back.
This caused the mother to snap her finger sharply and point at her daughter. “Enough of that Sigrid. This is a new guest to the house. You keep your stories in check and give her some time to get settled in.”
Being reprimanded in front of a stranger was too much for the little girl. Her lips set into an impossibly deep and tragic looking little pout. She was up and running out of the kitchen a moment later.
Sonja shook her head slowly as she gently slid her empty breakfast bowl to the side. She looked towards Emily and offered her a smile that cut through the sternness of her features.
“I’m sorry about that. Sometimes you have to cut Sigrid off before you let her get a full head of steam worked up. Once she gets there she becomes a train that cannot be stopped or derailed. You’ll get the benefit of steam-train Sigrid soon enough.”
Emily nodded her head and sipped her milk. Honestly she didn’t know what to say in response to this. Her eyes drifted around the kitchen and came back to the refrigerator.
“So um… what’s up with the death shelf in the fridge?”
Sonja scoffed. “Oh yes, the shelf of doom. That belongs to the General. He occupies rooms in the attic that were meant for storage. A bit of a nutter that one. Don’t let him catch you stealing peanut butter fluffs from his private shelf. He’ll have your head… or at least berate you until you wish he’d just take your ears.”
“Why would anyone want to live in an attic?”
“A man who –no matter the discomfort his surroundings bring- must maintain a position where he can literally look down upon all those around him. In the case of this boarding house that place is the attic.” Sonja smirked. “Plus –I did mention he was a nutter didn’t I?”
Emily found herself laughing and relaxing. She finished her milk but remained in the kitchen for the next half hour getting to know the mother a little bit.
Sonja offered a very no nonsense overview of the boarding house. Everything about her seemed very no nonsense. She spoke in a very matter-of-fact way no matter the topic. At that moment such a personality trait wasn’t such a big deal. But as the conversation eventually dipped into more eccentric things this matter-of-fact tone would become a little disconcerting.
The single mother of one worked for a tailor in town. This was apparently a very busy job for her. She claimed most of the people who lived in the area were almost from a different era and didn’t go about things in a modern way. Like in the good old days of Sears & Roebuck, if a town’s person couldn’t find what they needed locally they ordered it out of a catalog. This left a lot of room for clothing alterations since catalog purchasing was apparently far from an exact science. Sonja was a confessed wizard with scissors and a sewing needle. This kept her in high demand.
She tried to describe the local area to Emily. Orange Moon Downs was apparently the only town in the immediate area. It consisted of a very long and prominent main street with a maze-like series of streets and alleys that branched off from this central hub. Much of the area was built when it was first settled around 1692. The history books say it was founded by two families fleeing their home village but historians of the time felt no need to explain what they were fleeing from.
Murky beginnings aside, the founding families were well known for their love of great architecture and most of their homes were built to be as beautiful to look at as they were designed to be thoughtful on the inside; not to mention meaningful. Sonja explained there was supposed to be a purpose behind the placement of every house, structure, park, landmark, and eventually buildings of government and even the main street. This purpose was not readily known to newcomers though. As Sonja said “Everything in town is supposed to be mapped out the way conspirators say the Masons mapped out everything in the country’s capital. Problem is from our vantage point on the ground it just sort of looks chaotic. I imagine you have to get high enough above to make out any order. And that’s all well and good but it still means navigating the town outside of the main street is a pain. The locals are used to it. As for me, well, I can still get lost taking Sigrid to day camp if I forget my turn.”
Speaking of Sigrid, the little girl darted in and out of the kitchen as the mother and newcomer talked. The imp moved and talked so fast she was like a little cornsilk colored wind breezing through the room. Most of the things she grabbed were food. Emily couldn’t quite catch much of what the little girl said as she blazed through but the general gist seemed to involve feeding a variety of local wildlife. This reminded Emily of the navigation signs by the parked cars.
“So the forest next to us is enchanted?” She asked, trying to maintain a serious face.
Sonja nodded her head and didn’t even skip a beat as she answered. “It is. I don’t recommend venturing into it without one of the locals to escort you. The local fae are relatively alright if you treat them properly and with respect to their nature. Some of the rehabilitated fae are a little angsty though. They tend to be revenge driven for their first few months back in nature.”
Emily sat there smiling stupidly waiting for Sonja to offer the punchline to her joke. It never came though. The woman had cautioned her daughter to give the newcomer time to get used to things before she told her tales, but she sat here and very earnestly spoke of things far more unsettling.
The mother, after realizing the time, stood and began clearing the table of empty bowls and silverware. As she did this she offered the young woman a quick outline of where everything was in the kitchen cupboards and what things were boarding house foods in the fridge and available to her to eat. Finally Emily had to speak up.
“You were kidding about the forest right? That’s a joke?”
Sonja looked up, her face somewhat quizzical as if she were thinking over everything she’d just said to find anything she might have not been clear about. Eventually she decided there was nothing. She shook her head –again, in that matter-of-fact way.
“No. I’m quite serious. There’s quite a few beautiful things to see in the forest and I do recommend you get to know it at some point when you’re more settled in. But always go with someone who knows it well. In fact…” she looked out the kitchen window to see if she could find her daughter. Little Sigrid was playing out in the lawn underneath the massive weeping willow tree. “If you don’t have anything you have to do right away, I suggest you go ask Sigrid to introduce you to Mab. She can give you an outline of the area.”
Emily had more questions but the mother had no time. She politely excused herself and moved through a door to the back of the kitchen that let out into a small mud room. She took a bag and hat from hooks on the wall before moving out into the yard to say goodbye to her daughter.
The young woman was left alone in the kitchen wondering what the heck just happened. The conversation had been quite mundane until that last bit.
Slowly Emily got to her feet and followed the path Sonja had walked. She moved into the mud room and noticed mostly shoes and coats that must belong to the little girl. There were also roller-skates and the random doll thrown carelessly among the shoes.
Outside the fresh country air was like its own entity. It rushed around Emily’s face and kissed her cheeks. It slid its warm, fragrant arms around her waist and pulled her close. Every little intimate detail about it was perfection. Emily could have stood there in the doorway forever just drinking it down.
The little girl Sigrid was still playing under the weeping willow tree. There was something unseen that she was talking to. She almost looked like she was scolding it. Emily moved towards her.
“You’re supposed to be helping her out! She doesn’t have any friends here. There’s no one like her.” She paused, listening to something Emily couldn’t hear. Whatever was said it upset the little girl. “I don’t care about that. You don’t need to be their messenger all the time!”
Sigrid’s face was set into a deep pout when Emily interrupted her conversation. “Someone up there giving you a hard time?”
Sigrid looked up and immediately the irritation was gone. A wide smile drew her face up into deep dimples and narrow eyes. She clapped her hands, obviously very excited to have Emily there. There was no mother to keep her tales in check. There didn’t seemed to be a babysitter either. Emily assumed she was watched over by others in the house.
Sigrid pointed towards the tree branches. “Rata is being a little jerk. I asked him to do one thing and he won’t do it. I promised him an extra bag of nuts if he helped me but he’s not being very helpful aaand he took the nuts anyway.”
Emily moved over to the spot where Sigrid stood and looked up into the tree. On one of the lower branches was a very cute little squirrel enthusiastically chewing on a nut. Next to him was a small pouch of mixed nuts. Emily assumed this was Rata. Though seeing a squirrel was not strange, this one seemed out of place. He didn’t look anything like the Eastern squirrels she was used to. It looked more like one of those disturbingly cute Asian squirrels she’d seen in books –the kind that almost looked like they were meant to be in an anime.
“What won’t he do?” Emily asked.
“I found Bauda in the forest. The forest fae didn’t think she belonged there so they were being mean to her. I brought her here so she could be friends with Rata, but Rata is too busy being a jerk and stealing nuts he didn’t earn.”
Almost on queue a full walnut dropped from the tree and bounced off the little girl’s head. She squealed “Hey!” and kicked the tree trunk with her little foot.
Emily had to chuckle. She didn’t imagine the squirrel was carrying on too much of this conversation but it seemed to have brilliant timing or perhaps it did understand her words.
“What’s Bauda like? Is she a squirrel too?”
Sigrid thought about this a moment and shrugged her shoulders. “Sort of. I don’t know what she is. She’s kind of like Rata though so I thought they could be friends.”
Emily looked around the tree branches. “I don’t see Bauda.”
“She’s hiding. She doesn’t like when the top and bottom are fighting. I think Rata’s up and down makes her nervous.”
“Top and bottom? Who are they?”
Sigrid got real quiet and stepped closer to the young woman. She motioned for Emily to kneel down so she could whisper in her ear. Emily dipped down to meet her.
“I can’t say the names of the top or the bottom. I’m not allowed to. If I say their names they may notice me. If they notice me they might realize this isn’t their tree.”
“Where is their tree?”
“It’s hidden right now. Miss Emma says we’re looking after the top and bottom until their tree isn’t hidden anymore.”
It was a strange conversation but Emily was young enough to remember the weird things little girls could come up with. She was curious though, over something else Sigird had said.
“You found Bauda in the forest… are you allowed to go in the forest?”
Sigrid’s head bobbed up and down. “Yes, but only with Mab or KeeKee. Sometimes I help them in the glass house. And then I get to go with them to the forest to say goodbye to the little ones! I like doing that.”
“Is Mab in the glass house? Your mom said you would introduce me to her.”
This was all the little girl needed to hear. She squealed in excitement and grabbed Emily’s hand and began pulling her along. They went around the side of the house and the backyard came into view.
Emily would have stopped and sat gasping if little Sigrid wasn’t so enthusiastically leading her. Much of the backyard was dedicated to the small gardens Miss Emma had pointed out the previous evening. It was something to see them in the light though -Emily wanted to take a moment and look around. The little girl had a mission though and there were no stops for sightseeing allowed.
Set a little ways beyond the back of the house past the gardens was a very large greenhouse –or glass house as the little girl had called it. The glass was frosted so she could only make out the greenish shadows of the tall plants growing inside.
Sigrid stopped at the front door and put her finger to her lips. “We have to be very quiet. Some of the fae get startled if you get too loud. And Mab doesn’t like anyone startling her peepers.”
Emily nodded that she understood. She watched little Sigrid go to the door and gently rap on the front door. Very carefully she turned the door knob and pulled the door open. She motioned for Emily to follow her. Emily did as instructed and found herself almost mimicking the cartoonish way the little girl was tip-toeing into the green house.
Inside the green house was everything a Victorian garden was meant to be. There were small showers above that were letting off a very fine mist to replicate the somewhat cool and moist conditions of a London day. The floor below was a very beautiful, decorative marble that spread out in a checker pattern of sepia and pearl. Short, matching marble walls curved around outlining the edge of all the gardens. There was every type of plant and flower spreading through these neatly laid out scenes.
“It’s beautiful” Emily whispered breathlessly.
“Isn’t it?” Sigrid agreed as she moved over to an ornate little sculpture. The sculpture looked like a little art deco woman carved out of mother of pearl. It turned out it was actually a small bell. Sigrid tapped the sculpture’s little hand and a small bell hidden within it jingled.
There was a noise coming from deep within the green house. As the noise grew closer it seemed to bring all the life of the greenhouse with it. As if to announce the arrival of the noise-maker a little line of chickadees bounced towards them over the marble floor. Butterflies fluttered from the plants and came to rest on lily sculptures that doubled as butterfly feeding stations. Behind them was an older, friendly looking woman dressed in an outfit Emily would describe as autumn’s aunt.
“Sigrid!” She exclaimed. “Come over here and give your ole’ Mab a hug!”
The little girl raced over and threw her arms around the woman’s waist and bear hugged her.
“And who is this you’ve brought with you?”
“This is Emily but I heard Miss Emma call her Emmers. She’s Miss Emma’s great niece. She’s going to be staying with us and I like her a lot! She didn’t call me silly when I was talking to Rata.”
Mab nodded her head approvingly. “This is good. Maybe she can help you get Rata to be more friendly to Bauda.”
The prospect delighted Sigrid and she squealed yet again –only this time it was a muted sound like the world had turned the volume down on the rather loud child.
Then the room became very quiet. Sigird stood along side of this woman with a sense of calmness that seemed quite foreign to her personality as far as Emily could tell. As for Mab she was standing there silently observing the young woman. It was an intense sensation to stand there with this woman’s amber colored eyes staring intently and being so quiet. Emily wanted to say something to break up the tension but she realized there was probably a test being taken here. Judgments being made. The young woman felt it was best to remain polite and quiet until the keeper of the glass house was ready to address her again.
Eventually Mab looked away from Emily and focused on Sigrid once more. She knelt down next to the little girl and very softly asked her if she wanted to show her new friend the peeper she’d been helping rehab. Sigrid’s head bobbed up and down excitedly.
She skipped back over to Emily and took her hand again. Gently she pulled the young woman across the marble floor until they came to the edge of one of the garden beds. Sigrid took a seat on the short marble wall and motioned for Emily to do the same. Once they were both sitting Emily asked the little girl what a peeper was. She was expecting to be told this was a pet name for a chickadee or something similar.
“Peepers are fae. My peeper is a fairy. She came in really sick but I talk to her a lot and she’s been getting better.”
Emily found herself grinning ear to ear at the idea and wondered what type of pet this Mab had offered the little girl as a fairy.
Very quietly Sigrid said “This is how you call to her.” She leaned over and very softly began to whistle a little tune. Not long afterward something was moving through the small garden of gardenias approaching the little girl.
“There you are!” Sigrid put her hand out and something climbed into it.
Emily was trying to get a good look at the creature but only saw the wings at first. “Aww, what is that, a lunar moth?”
Sigrid carefully brought her hand back and offered her peeper for a better look. Emily just stared at it trying to take in exactly what she was seeing. The wings, the shape of the body… the little outfit made of dried flowers that covered it.
“What the hell…” Emily whispered as she reached out towards the creature in the little girl’s hand. When the fairies little hand reached back and touched the young woman’s finger all conclusions finally came together and there was a sudden mental block that overcame all her senses as she looked on in disbelief.
“It’s a… it’s a fairy…” she stammered. Then the lights went down and a very overwhelmed Emily tipped over and fell to the checkered marble below. The young woman fainted.
– Part I Meeting Miss Emma
– Part II Stars, Sunflowers & Snapdragons
– Part III A Fainting Violet
Snapdragon Tea is Copyright ©2013 Bethalynne Bajema. All Rights Reserved.