Short story: Farmers’ Market Fairy

I remember our first Easter at our house a few years ago. It was a bit chilly outside, but we were comfortably warm in the sun. The grass wasn’t quite green yet, but it was all showing, at least. We sat on our deck out back and dyed eggs. This year, our backyard is still mostly covered in snow, as is our deck. Although it’s warm out today and a lot of the snow will probably melt, it’s too wet to sit outside on the deck. We just took a nice little drive up the shore of Lake Superior, and there is still plenty of ice as far as the eye can see. Fortunately, next week is supposed to be warmer, and on Wednesday and Thursday we are supposed to get thunderstorms. Real live thunderstorms, instead of snow! Yipee! In honor of spring finally arriving in Duluth, I’m posting this story I wrote that was inspired by the Duluth Farmer’s Market.

Farmers’ Market Fairy

a short story by Nicole Bollman

They held the farmers’ market each Saturday in a long, low building painted red and white like a barn, but its roof was pointy, not like a barn. Lily liked when there were lots of fresh flowers, how the row of stalls was populated with color bursts, like dancing cartoon princesses. Today, she followed Mama in, trailing behind with a loosely clutched hand, and saw that vegetables had replaced many of the bright flowers. Mama led her past the banjo player in the middle of the hall straight to a table full of red tomatoes.

Lily let go of Mama’s hand and went to the next table, where jars of honey sat next to jewelry beaded with tiny beads, all in different colors and arranged in geometric patterns. She picked up a bracelet, felt its texture. It looked like snakeskin, but felt bumpy. She knew that snakeskin didn’t feel bumpy, because her cousin Matt had caught a baby garter snake once and made her hold it.

“Do you like it? I made it,” said a girl Lily hadn’t noticed before. Lily thought she looked as tall as Matt, who was in fourth grade.

“Did you make the honey, too?” Lily asked.

“Do I look like a bee?”

Lily blushed and ducked her head. She set down the bracelet and looked for Mama. She spotted her several stalls past now, handling potatoes.

“Hey, I was just teasing. Want a sample?”

Lily took the offered honey stick, said thank you, and went to the seller with the potatoes, but Mama wasn’t there. The honey tasted sweet and a little like fruit. She would tell Mama to buy honey from the nice girl, and maybe she could ask for a bracelet, too.

She didn’t spot Mama at any of the tables on this side of the market, but she kept walking. Mama would find her when it was time to go. The market had filled up with more people now and Lily was too short to see past them. Now she had to pee, and she wished she could tell Mama where she was going.

Instead of a bathroom, the market had a door that led outside. Wooden stairs led to two blue portable toilets. Lily curled her nose but used it anyway.

When she came out, a movement caught her eye. The farmer’s market building was next to a creek that ran through the city, and at this spot a steep ravine led down to the water. Trees and dense underbrush blocked her view of the creek, but she thought she had seen a person disappear into it. She walked past the stairs until she came to it: a path, worn and narrow and almost invisible. Lily pushed aside a branch and headed down the path.

Trees and bushes crowded in on her. Their branches grabbed and clung, and she could hear them whip back behind her as she walked. The path went on smooth and at a slight angle for a bit, then Lily arrived at a clearing of a sort.

More than a clearing, it was the edge of the ravine, and not as many trees crowded the rocky ground that tumbled down to the creek bed below. But the path didn’t disappear here. It took Lily up to the top of a stone staircase, with boulders for railings and cracked stones that seemed as if they used to be flat but now heaved up at angles against themselves.

Lily had the thought that Mama would tell her to be careful on these stairs, and now she glanced back at the path through the trees. From here she couldn’t see the red farmers’ market barn at all. She bit her lip, but one look back at the stairs, and her feet decided for her. She tripped down the uneven stones as only a child could, handling their unevenness and jutting corners with ease.

She arrived at the bottom onto a carpet of gravel and moss. To her right, near the bridge where the street crossed over the creek, rushed a waterfall. Purple and yellow flowers climbed the jagged rocks on either side of the waterfall and drank from its spray. The water fell into a shallow pool. Lily thought it might be nice to take off her shoes and walk barefoot throught the clear water, but before she could do it, she spotted a bridge. The path led to it. She could now see that the path had started up again after the gravel at the foot of the stairs. Now that she saw the bridge, she had to cross it.

The bridge ended in front of a small wooden shack. It had one window in front next to the door, with a tattered curtain hanging behind dusty panes of glass. Lily pushed the door open and stepped through. The room inside was not dark, but not sunny, either. Sun filtered through the one window, but the room was lit by a different kind of light. It seemed bigger inside than the shack looked from the outside. Lily wasn’t sure how that could be. She stepped in among the tables. It reminded her of the farmer’s market, with tables lining each wall up and down, only they didn’t hold vegetables and flowers. Each table held a collection of glowing glass jars, so many that the light filled up the dim space. Jar stacked upon jar, with a tiny light flitting inside each one like captured fireflies.

“Do you like them? I caught them myself,” said the girl from the market.

Lily froze at the voice. She looked up, found her standing behind one of the tables full of jars. She relaxed when she saw that the girl still smiled, and that the dim lights glowing on her face only made it seem warmer.

“What are they?” Lily said.

“Fairies.”

“Fairies…”

“Here, look.” The girl plucked a jar from the top of a stack and placed it in Lily’s hands.

The glass felt warm to her touch. Lily could feel the impact as the fairy flitted around and struck the walls of the jar. She held it up to her face. The fairy was a tiny person, just like in cartoon movies, except she wasn’t wearing any clothes and her wings were much larger in proportion to her tiny body. The fairy glowed all over, but beneath the glow her wings held a delicate pattern, like a butterfly but lighter. The fairy paused for a bit in her efforts, then began to fly against the sides of the jar again.

“She wants to get out,” Lily said, and reached to unscrew the cap.

“Don’t let it out!” The girl clamped her hand over Lily’s. She took the jar back and set it back in place on a pyramid of jars. “You wouldn’t want that to happen.”

“Where did they come from? Why did you trap them?” Lily bent and peered into each jar, taking slow steps up the row of tables.

“It’s easy to get them. Just use a net, swish! Then it’s caught, and you dump it in the jar quick.”

“How do you feed them?”

A pause. “Just take the lid off, quick, I guess. Drop some leaves in there.”

Lily paced farther up the row and her eyes settled on a jar with a dimmer light. The fairy inside didn’t flit around like the others. She sat with her back against the glass, her wings folded forward and blocking most of her body.

“How much for her?” Lily said.

The girl picked up the jar and frowned, turning it back and forth. “I’ll give it to you for a dollar, but you sure you want this one?”

Lily pulled out a dollar and handed it over, cradled the jar in the crook of her arm.

“Just promise me one thing,” said the girl. She leaned forward so her nose was almost touching Lily’s. “Don’t let it out. Whatever you do, you never let one out.”

Lily promised, and ran out of the shop. She was at the bottom of the stairs before she thought that she had never asked the girl her name. When she ran back, though, the door to the shack was closed and locked. No matter how hard she pounded, she couldn’t get back inside. She put the jar carefully in her backpack and zipped it shut.

Back at the market, Mama rushd up to Lily. “Where were you? I’ve been looking all over!”

Lily wasn’t a good liar. “I went to the bathroom and I found a path to the creek.” She left it at that. “I didn’t mean to explore for so long. I’m sorry.”

“Just tell me where you’re going next time.” Mama’s wide eyes softened.

“I tried, Mama, but there were a lot of people and I couldn’t find you.”

Mama took her hand and trailed her out of the farmer’s market, out to the car in the dirt lot, and they went home.

***

Lily didn’t know how to take care of a fairy. She removed the jar from her backpack and transferred it to her closet. The fairy’s faint glow illuminated the shelf and the folded pants next to it. Lily sighed. The fairy still sulked and drooped. Every once in awhile, she would flap her wings a fraction of a millimeter, and tiny granules of glowing dust dripped off of them and onto the bottom of the jar, where they soon died out. The longer Lily watched the jar, the more she began to look and feel like the fairy. Finally, she closed her closet door, thinking the fairy could use some rest, and slumped on her bed.

The girl had said to feed her, but she had also made Lily promise not to let her out of the jar. If Lily took off the lid to put food in, would the fairy try to escape? Right now, Lily couldn’t imagine this fairy trying to do anything.

Lily collected small bits of her vegetables in her napkin from dinner and carried them with her to her bedroom. She closed her door and pulled the jar from the closet. The tiny fairy still glowed, but the light was barely noticeable with her bedroom light on. Nothing had changed. The fairy’s wings still drooped around her, her head hung down. Lily wished she could cheer the little thing up, and wondered if freeing her would do that. But she had been forbidden to free her. She frowned, wondering what would happen if she did.

She would open the jar just enough to put some food in, then. She unscrewed the lid a fraction at a time. She concentrated so closely on the lid that she hadn’t noticed the fairy’s posture change. Vegetables in hand, she tipped the lid back only a bit, but it was too late.

The fairy flitted to the top of the jar and squeezed out of the tiny opening before Lily could clamp it shut. She stood gripping the closed jar, smashed carrots and potatoes in one hand, following the fairy’s flight around her room with her eyes. All she could see was a bouncing light, speeding from one end of the room to the other, almost faster than Lily could follow. Toys and books fell from their shelves where the fairy hit, and it must have sounded as if a dog had somehow got loose in Lily’s room. After her first moment of shock, she dropped the jar to the carpet with a thud and started trying to catch the fairy in her hands. Her efforts were to no avail; the fairy was too fast and too tiny. After the first flurry of activity, the fairy settled on a shelf next to a painting of a flower that Lily had done in art class. Lily stood in the middle of the room and stared helplessly at the fairy.

“Lily?” Mama knocked at her door. “Is everything okay in here?” Mama pushed open the door and looked around.

“Yeah, Mama,” Lily started picking up the things that had fallen and forced herself not to look at the fairy. “I was just trying to get something down and I bumped this.”

“Okay, just make sure you pick it all up,” Mama said and left.

Lily ran to the door and closed it. She turned off her light and spotted the fairy instantly. Now she was on Lily’s desk, perched on the edge of a potted plant. From here, all Lily could see was the glowing light. It seemed brighter now.

“Okay, I give up,” Lily said to the fairy. “I won’t try to catch you anymore. Do you want some food?” She scooped up the napkin where she’d dropped it next to the jar and approached the desk. After she set the napkin down on the desk, she took a slow step back. From where she stood now, the fairy looked simply like a butterfly, but glowing. She could just see the wings, but her body was too small to see.

The fairy didn’t move at first, but then with a few gentle wing flaps she descended and climbed onto the napkin. Lily watched her investigate the now smashed carrots and potatoes, then take a few bites. Then Lily had a thought. She began to take a step forward, lifting her hand ever so slightly as she did. It was a msitake. The fairy tensed, then shot up into the air and ricocheted around the room again.

“Okay, okay! I give up!” Lily said. “For real this time.”

For the rest of the evening, Lily sat on her bed, drawing with her colored pencils, while the fairy flitted from shelf to shelf, between her dresser and her closet, anywhere except near Lily. Lily let out a sigh of relief when the fairy fled to her closet when Mama came in to read her a bedtime story and tuck her in. After the lights went out, Lily lay on her side and watched the dim light in the closet twinkle, wondering what to do until she couldn’t keep from closing her eyes.

***

The next day, Lily got Mama’s permission to rid her bike to Amanda’s house. To make it okay, she would go to Amanda’s house afterwards. First, she rode all the way to the farmer’s market building. The farmer’s market wasn’t open on Sundays, Lily knew, but she hoped maybe the girl would be there, in the fairy house. She had to know how to catch the fairy again, or what would happen if she never could. Maybe she could just let the fairy go. She must want to be free anyway.

Lily rode her bike across the loose gravel of the market’s parking lot and parked it behind the empty building. The big barn doors were closed now, and even the portable bathrooms were gone. She found the path easily enough, and went down the stairs. There it was, the little shack. She ran across the bridge and knocked on the door. It swung open with a creak when her knuckles hit it. Lily stepped inside; a hollow silence greeted her. No fairies anywhere. The twinkling glow that had filled the shack was gone, replaced only with a dusty darkness. The dusty window allowed bits of sunlight to stain the floor, but nothing else. Lily’s footsteps echoed on the wood floor. For good measure, she paced around the perimeter of the room, but nothing stood out to her besides cobwebs, dust, and dried leaves.

Lily sat down on the steps at the end of the bridge. What would she do with the fairy for a whole week? What if it escaped out of her bedroom? She couldn’t tell Mama about it. Even if she believed her, she would get in trouble for bringing home a creature she didn’t know how to care for. For such a tiny thing, she sure knew how to knock things over, too.

She forgot to stop at Amanda’s house, and when she got home, Lily was greeted by her mother.

“Lily, I just got off the phone with Amanda’s mom, and you weren’t there. Where were you?”

“I— I was almost all the way there, and then I forgot something. I just came back to get it.”

“You aren’t going anywhere until you clean your room,” Mama said.

“My room?”

“Yes. I don’t know what you were thinking, but there is no way I’m going to let you keep it like that.”

“Like what?”

Mama gave a short laugh, one that meant she didn’t think whatever it was Lily had said was funny. Lily climbed the stairs but was afraid to open the door to her room. She did it slowly, delaying the inevitable and hoping the fairy wouldn’t try to escape. Maybe she already had, if Mama had been in here.

Her room looked like a small tornado had contained itself inside it. Lily’s blankets were torn off the bed, clothes pulled out of drawers, papers scattered everywhere, her jars of paints knocked off the desk, the flower pot fallen over and soil spilled all over the ground. Nothing had been untouched. Lily’s backpack lay upside down with homework papers spilling out. Her stuffed animals lay scattered around the room as if one of them had stepped on a land mine and destroyed the whole group. Tears sprung to Lily’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mama. I’ll clean it up.”

“That’s right. And you won’t come out until you do,” Mama closed the door behind her as she left.

Lily picked up a teddy bear and hugged it to her, then sat on the bed. She searched the room for the fairy, but didn’t see a glow anywhere. Maybe she had escaped, and this was her way of saying goodbye.

With a sigh, Lily set the teddy bear on her bed and began to pick up the room.

“Why would you do this?” she said aloud. She kept picking things up. She put her plant in its pot back on her desk and scooped up all the dirt she could. She would wait until later to vacuum the rest up. Books went back on the shelves, she made her bed, and reseated her pile of stuffed animals in the windowsill above it.

A flicker of movement caught her from the corner of her eye. She froze and tried to look only with her eyes, but finally had to turn her head.

The fairy had landed on her shoulder, but she couldn’t even feel it. Her wings flickered and Lily felt them brush against her hair. She sat back slowly, careful not to move too quickly. She still faced the window after replacing her stuffed animals. The tree branch outside her window blew in the wind and cast shadows over the stuffed animals and the window seat. Having turned her gaze from the fairy to the window, Lily tilted her head. She looked at the fairy again, then climbed over the head of her bed to kneel on the window seat. She grabbed the bottom of the window with her fingers and hoisted it up as far as she could. Then she unlatched the screen from the frame and pulled it into her room.

“There. You can go now,” she said.

The fairy didn’t move from her shoulder.

“Here, look!” Lily said, gesturing at the window.

Still, the fairy didn’t move.

“Don’t you want to go? Want to be free? There it is!” Lily reached her hand up to her shoulder to grab at the fairy and the fairy flew away, disappearing into the clutter of the room.

Lily smacked her hands on her bed and flopped down. Her room still had a long way to go, but the fairy was still here. What would she do when she had to go to school tomorrow? Would she come home to her room as a disaster zone every day?

A sound came from the closet. It took Lily a moment to realize it was her cat, Simon, wailing. She heard flailing and thumping, and then Simon burst out of the closet door, the fairy clinging to the fur on his back.

“Hey, stop that!” Lily cried and leaped from the bed to chase after the frightened cat. She managed to scoop him up into her arms, and the fairy fluttered away before she could be included in that scoop.

Lily comorted Simon until he relaxed in her arms. He must have snuck into the room when Mama came in before. He loved sleeping on the pile of clothes on the shelf in Lily’s closet. Right next to where she had put the fairy jar.

The fairy had gone back into the closet now, and Lily, having gently set Simon on the bed, crept over to the closet and pried it open. The fairy’s glow brightened when she saw Lily, and she danced around in quick movements near her jar. Lily leaned forward and saw what the fairy was doing. She was pointing at the napkin, where Lily had left it the night before.

Lily smacked her forehead. “You’re hungry? Is that all?”

Of course. The only food she’d given the fairy had been from the night before. She snuck downstairs and got a snack, string cheese and an apple. Back upstairs, she peeled off a bit of the cheese and set it on her desk, then bit into the apple and put some of that there, too. The fairy flew over to it and began to nibble.

***

For the rest of the week, Lily and the fairy coexisted, but not always peacefully. Simon couldn’t sleep in Lily’s room anymore, because the fairy couldn’t help but pester him, no matter what Lily did. The fairy also seemed prone to tantrums. Lily didn’t always know why she knocked things off her shelves, tore up her homework, or stomped all over her paintings, leaving tiny footprints that Lily painted over. Lily took to thinking out loud to the fairy. It seemed as if the fairy understood what she said, sometimes. Other times, mostly during her fits of rage, she didn’t seem to hear anything at all.

“Tomorrow will be the farmer’s market again,” Lily said idly on Friday. She swiped her brush up and down with a whitish blue paint. “Maybe I can go and get another fairy,” she said. “Then you can have a friend.” Lily snorted a little laugh when she said this, but the fairy jumped down from her perch on the flower pot and began flickering wildly.

She flew over to Lily’s palette and began to stomp in the yellow paint.

“Hey! Stop that!” Lily said and shielded her face from the splattering paint.

The fairy didn’t stop. Instead, she crouched down in the paint and dipped her hands in it, too, then flew over to Lily’s paper. Standing on the waterfall, she began to make circles with her yellow-coated hands. Then she dabbed outward in small strokes, so that the circles looked like the glowing suns Lily painted when she was in kindergarten. After a few trips back and forth to the yellow paint, Lily began to understand.

“They’re fairies,” Lily said.

The fairy flew up into the space in front of Lily’s face and hovered as best her butterfly wings would let her hover, bobbing about in the air. She jabbed her yellow forefinger in Lily’s direction over and over, then flew away from the desk and into the closet. She often went to the closet to pout after one of her tantrums was over, but Lily had a feeling this time was different.

Lily peeked in the closet and saw the fairy, a little ball of light perched atop the jar where Lily’d left it when the fairy first escaped. When she saw Lily enter, the fairy began to flutter around the jar, jumping up and down on top of its lid and flying around it, tapping the glass with her hands. Lily picked up the jar and opened it, and the fairy flew in.

“What? You want to be in the jar?” Lily’s face scrunched up. Still, she screwed the lid on the jar, not sure why the fairy wanted to be in there.

The next morning, Lily stuffed the jar in her backpack, nestled in among a folded t-shirt.

When they got to the market, Lily looked around for the girl with the black hair, but didn’t see her. She stopped at the honey booth and pretended to look at the jewelry for a long time, but some boys sat at the both and kept trying to tell her things about the jewelry.

Finally, she was able to get away from Mama, on purpose this time. She felt a little bad about it, but she had to find the girl.

At the fairy shack, Lily knocked on the door softly. The fairies glowed in the dimness of the building, but Lily thought she noticed something different.

“Hello?” Lily said.

She got no answer. Lily looked closely at the jars of fairies stacked on the right side. Then she took her fary out of her backpack. Her fairy fluttered around the jar, and the fairies on the table sat dully on the bottoms. Lily frowned. Her fairy acted the opposite of how she’d been a week ago, and all of the other fairies now acted as Lily’s fairy had acted. Why?

All in one moment, Lily knew what the fairy wanted, and what she had to do. Looking at the dimming lights in the jars, and the bright, moving light in her own, she set it down on the table and unscrewed the lid. Her fairy burst out and fluttered around in flashes of motion almost too fast for Lily to follow. Lily laughed and took the next jar, unscrewed it. Then another, then another.

The inside of the shack began to glow brighter and brighter with the swarm of excited fairies dancing in the air. Lily laughed and spun, holding up her hands for fairies to alight on them. She opened more and more jars.

“What are you doing?” The girl with the black hair stood in the doorway. “You can’t!”

Lily stopped in mid stride, her mouth open and her hands gripping the next jar she had been about to open.

“It’s not right,” Lily said.

“They’re mine!”

In answer, Lily twisted the lid on the jar she was holding, then lifted it up above her head. The fairy flew out to join the cloud of other fairies.

“Stop it!” The girl flew toward Lily.

Lily stepped out of the way of the girl, toward the last table full of fairy jars. With both hands, she shoved as hard as she could, and the table toppled into the wall, the jars crashing and breaking open. Fairy lights sprung out from the shards before they had all settled, and the cloud of fairies drew together, then flew out the door. Lily pushed past the girl, who lay on the floor now, to follow the fairies’ path.

Outside in the daylight, the fairies didn’t look so bright now. Lily watched the swarm fly to the waterfall, then spread out to dance around it, to become part of it. After awhile, she could barely tell which lights were fairies, and which were simply reflections of sunlight on the crashing spray of water.

When she went back to get her backpack, the girl with black hair was sitting on the floor. In her lap, she cradled one last jar, its fairy still inside. She stared at Lily and shied away when Lily stepped over her to get her backpack.

“Please?” Lily said.

The girl just hugged the jar tighter, glaring at Lily. Lily sighed and stepped over the girl again on her way to the door. She paused before leaving.

“They shine brighter free. Just go look.”

“Farmers’ Market Fairy” copyright © 2014 by Nikki Bollman

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