Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Fantasy--Pretty Things (a fiction)

But do they look like fairies? From here

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’ve always had a weakness for pretty things. Back when we first moved to this house, I opened all of those boxes that I had been saving—the ones full of small figurines and china dolls and little pink tea sets. Oh, I loved dainty, and overstuffed cushions for the couches, and framed pictures on the wall. It was the prettiest house on the block, not for nothing. I guess I thought it was all practice. I was so sure I would have a girl someday, and that we’d look at all of that stuff together.

And then the boys came. One, two, three of them, one after the other. Those years were tough. No sleep, tantrums, worrying about them putting Draino in their mouths and ending up in a little coffin (those things gave me nightmares). Not that I didn’t…don’t…love them, because I do. They are still the most adorable things ever, even though I don’t tell them that anymore. They hate to hear it, duck their heads down like colts and sigh, “Aw, Mom…”. That’s my cue to stop it. They’re boys, after all.

During their toddler years, when they weren’t trying to plunge themselves head first down the stairs, my boys loved nothing more than taking all of my little dolls and my little dainties and smashing them on the ground, with a great big war whoop of triumph. “’Gain, ‘Gain, Mommy!” And what could I do? They were babies, couldn’t even talk yet. So I got out my boxes and I packed everything away again—all of the china dolls, and all of my little figurines, and my picture frames. I figured I’d take them out again when the boys got old enough to mind their manners around them, but somehow, days went around turning into years and I never got back to them. So the boxes stayed in the attic.

I didn’t expect to have any more children. Not that I was too upset about it. I got into a real comfortable routine with the boys—I understood them, their hurts and their games and their victories. It was home, my husband and my boys and I. And I was getting older, so it stopped looking like it made any sense. I don’t mean to give you the impression that I was resigned or anything. That makes me it sound like I felt a lack of some kind, and I honestly can say I didn’t. My boys were plenty for me, a gift, and they filled up my whole soul.

But when I found out I was pregnant again…and with a girl this time, well, I won’t lie about that either. It was like sunlight was curling around corners, streaming through every space in the world.

And she was a beautiful little thing, my Hazel—and I don’t just say that because I’m her mother. She was the kind of baby that made you feel like your insides were crumbling a little whenever you looked at her. Like you wanted to die, or something, to devote yourself to her.

I would take her up to the attic, show her the boxes, tell her what was in each one…all of the little ceramic horses, and tea sets, and all of the fun we would have with them all. I’d pull out a doll or two, and hold it next to her, the two of them almost the same size. And she’d reach out for the doll, and I’d put it away again, but with a different feeling than when I did it with the boys. This was temporary. I had hope again.

As Hazel grew up, though, she grew with her brothers. All rough and tumble, and scratchy edges. She wanted to follow them everywhere, spend all of her time with them. I swear, it was like she needed to be the most destructive one of all! So, again, I kept everything in the attic, safe. Until it didn’t make much sense to pull any of it out, at all.

This past summer, Hazel turned twelve, and the change was quick. She’d always been a big reader, begging me to read her Goodnight Moon until the boards fell apart, but now she was spending all her time holed up in her bedroom, reading these fat fantasy books—you know the kind, the ones with fairies on the cover, with long drapey wings, or magic wands shooting sparks that looked like dying stars.

The other thing that happened, happened more slowly. Hazel went from being a fat, rosy baby and toddler, to a tall, solemn little girl, to…well, I don’t know WHAT I would call her now. Awkward, I suppose, all angles and squints. “It’s a tough age, babe.” I’ve tried to tell her more than once. “Your body’s just trying to decide what it’s going to be when it grows up.”

She’d cock her head at me, considering. “What if it doesn’t want to be beautiful?”
And I’d rub her shoulders and hold her close, for what could I tell her? Nothing’s promised.

So all this is to explain when I didn’t think anything of the box she got in the mail yesterday. I just thought it was another box full of books—she gets those every now and again from her father. He feeds her those fantasy novels she loves so much.

But when she didn’t come down for breakfast this morning, I went up to her room. Mother’s intuition kicked in, or something.

I found her there, standing teetering by the mirror, staring anxiously at herself. On the floor was the box, half opened, with all sorts of tubes and potions and powders. Not quite makeup. Maybe what passes for makeup in those books of hers. It all looked like a science experiment.

“Hazel…?” I asked, trying to sound gentle. I got a tear stained face back. “It’s not working!”
“What’s not working?” Again, gentle. Four kids have taught me that they’ll confess in their own time.
“The magic!”

Ok, now I was flummoxed.

“The magic…I saw this stuff advertised in the back of one of my magazines. Guaranteed to work…”
“And do what?”

“Make me beautiful!” she wailed. I was caught up. I honestly didn’t think she cared all THAT much.
“I mean…the world…it’s so beautiful and I love to look at it, and I think that if I was beautiful, the world would love to look at me too. It’s only fair. Except it’s not working, so I’m just taking from the world and it’s not fair and…” and then the tears started again.

“But…who says the world doesn’t love to look at you?”

“You don’t.” she pointed out. “Look at our house. It’s the ugliest house on the block. Because you think that if you put out any pretty things, they’ll grow miserable because all they have to look at is…us. Because you know it’s not fair!”

What could I say to that? I wasn’t even sure I understood it. Until I looked in the mirror myself, looked and saw a woman who wasn’t quite pretty herself anymore. A woman who kept all of her dainties in the attic waiting for…what? For some fantasy to become a reality?

I looked at Hazel again, and the fantasy fell away with some shock and I saw her. As changable and beautiful as those magic fairies in her books. Sometimes fantasy can be a way of not knowing your own heart.

And after I assured Hazel that her magic box was already SURELY working, even if it took a little longer to finish up, I went up to the attic and got out my own magic boxes.

Maybe keeping beautiful things around us is a way of saying thank you to the beautiful things inside of us. Maybe it's a way of really seeing ourselves, after all.

Time to stop protecting my pretty things from getting broken, and give back to the world.

It's only fair.

For more fantasies, go here

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Blogger Remiman said...

This was fantastic. It broke my heart, and then you mended it. well told.

2:51 AM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous bella said...

This was just so beautiful an honest. I loved reading this little slice of your life.
Thank you for sharing it.

9:46 AM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger Bridget M said...

Simply gorgeous!

I have never thought of such a concept as giving back beauty because we take it in, ourselves. And you are right - it is only fair!

I think this could easily grow into an entire young adult novella!

12:51 PM, January 22, 2007  
Anonymous fern said...

"Time to stop proecting my pretty things from getting broken and give them back to the world."

Hmm..I guess I never thought about the things around us reflecting on ourselves. I guess, like the woman in your story, I've always thought of it the other way around...that if I didn't feel like I was worthy of the things I had, I had to wait until I was to make use of them.

This SS was truly profound, and it really shows the power of what we surround ourselves with. And the sweetness and akwardness of the girl in your story truly touched me...thank you for this!

3:12 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger Jerri said...

Wonderful, as always.

I agree this could be a young adult novella. I know a YA editor if you want to take a run at it.

8:12 PM, January 22, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

Again, you've given me goosebumps. Beautiful.

12:36 AM, January 23, 2007  
Anonymous Paris Parfait said...

Absolutely fantastic story! You are really good at story-telling and I agree, you should either write a book of short stories or a novel for young adults.

12:21 PM, January 24, 2007  
Blogger [a} said...

Exquisite! [I love it when I can use that word]

I agree with Paris Parfait: GET PUBLISHED!! I would love to read more and more of your gorgeous writing!

2:47 PM, February 03, 2007  

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