Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. — Benjamin Franklin

“Why do you want to be a great writer, Nyalee?”

“Doesn’t everyone, Nana?”

Nana scoffed as she hung the wet clothes on an old line, stretched taut between the gray farmhouse with its red roof and peeling siding, and the sweetgum tree that stood, casting shade and pointy little seed pods, like miniature mace balls, throughout the late summer. That tree never could seem to make up its mind whether it loved us and wanted to shield us from the unrelenting heat of the sun, or wanted to run us off its property with tiny medieval weapons. I loved to climb that tree — to read books among the branches — and to imagine that the falling seed pods were lobbed at us by angry fairies.

Nana had married a great writer, once. Grandfather was famous for three things: books, bees, and booze. Around town, it was the booze that cemented his fame, and brought the flow of words to an abrupt halt, instantly doubling the value of his books. “Nobody’s a great writer till they’re dead, Nyalee.” Nana let the clothes flap like flags in the wind, as she donned her netting and went to check the hives. “That’s how we earn our money, Honey,” she said, with a wink. She kept us fed and clothed with the sweet nectar, and she kept the bees housed and fed on a field of colorful wildflowers.

“Maybe I’ll be the first,” I said, quietly, thinking of all the definitions of “great,” and wondering if Nana and I understood it the same way.

Late in the afternoon, when all the chores were finished, I scrambled up the sweetgum tree with a copy of Mr. Smithfield’s Field Guide to Northeastern Fairies and Other Woodland Folk. My arms were dappled beige and brown and gold as the breeze wiggled the leaves around me; my skin seemed to shimmer with sunlight and shade. I dozed off in the heat, straddling a sturdy branch, resting my spine against rough bark and a thick, tall trunk.

“Why do you want to be a great writer, Nyalee?” chirped a bright and melodious little voice, startling me awake. The voice came from a tiny green fairy, no bigger than my hand from wrist to fingertips, perched atop the leather-bound spine of my Field Guide. She sat cross-legged on the edge of the book, resting her chin in the palm of her hand, her elbow propped on one knee.

“Who are you?” I asked. I longed to open the book and thumb quickly through its pages to figure out what sort of tiny creature this was, but I did not want to startle it. Her.

“I am Leiliaticia. Your book, here, says that I am a ‘Common Green Hardwood Fairy’ often found among sweetgums and maples, which sometimes uses seedlings for caps when working in the fields. In case you wanted to know,” she added. “I have been reading while you napped.”

“Is that — is that what you are, then?” I asked, stupidly.

“Not really, but I suppose if you are ‘Human’ than I can be a ‘Common Green Hardwood Fairy.’ Does that feel — adequate, to you?”

“Not really,” I said, frowning, thinking of all the sorts of Humans there were in the world. I was not sure which sort the fairy thought I might be, and it bothered me a little. “So what are you, really?” I asked.

The little fairy thought for a moment. “I suppose you might call me a ‘Guide,’” she answered.

“A guide to what?” I asked.

“What would you have me guide you to?” she asked, contrapuntally.

This was becoming a very circular conversation. I wanted her to guide me out of it. “How did you know that I wanted to be a great writer?” I asked.

“I heard you talking to your Nana, of course.”

“You were eavesdropping?” I asked.

“You were speaking very loudly,” said Leiliaticia, wrinkling her brow and covering her tiny ears with her hands. “You humans have very big mouths.”

“I suppose you have a point. But then, you must be shouting for me to hear you so well with your little bitty mouth!”

“Perhaps I am. Or maybe I just know how to project my voice, so that it carries on the breeze.” Leiliaticia looked around the yard. “If only you humans ever listened to any voices but your own,” she added.

She made a little clicking sound with her tongue, and began to grow swiftly larger, until she and I were of the same height. The tree, though, was now a giant thing — the branch I sat upon had swollen to the size of my grandmother’s rooftop; I could no longer straddle it at all! I scrambled to my feet as it grew larger and larger beneath me. Now, Leiliaticia sat on a pebbled crimson ledge looking down at me and laughing.

“Wait, what — ” It was no “ledge” she sat upon; it was my book! Suddenly, the world around me had grown vastly bigger.

Fluttering her delicate wings as softly as any butterfly, Leiliaticia hopped down and stood before me, holding out her hand. “You asked for a guide?”

“No, I asked you what you were a guide to!” I exclaimed. “What have you done?” I think that I had been extraordinarily calm, up to now — for a human, at least. “You’ve shrunk me,” I cried. “Put me back to normal size, right this insta — oh! Brownies to Beelzebub, what in creation what is that?” I shrieked, pointing at a giant black and brown, softly furred bird with gigantic black eyes that hovered next to us, as if awaiting something.

Leiliaticia laughed. “Don’t you recognize Fazitz? He’s a Gatherer — what you and your Nana call a ‘Forager bee.’”

Oh, no no no no no… I had my doubts about going into the family business, but giant bees that were almost as big as me? No. Hmm mm. I backed up and pressed my body into the bark of the sweetgum tree, trying to hide in its deep crevices. I stared at the bee. It stared back. I swear, if bees could laugh, it laughed. Sort of a cross between a buzz and a hiccup, with a little wiggle in its wobbly flutter-hover.

“Humans are so weird,” said Leiliaticia, rolling her eyes. Fazitz landed on the branch in front of us, and Leiliaticia instructed me to climb up on its back.

“NO.” I balked, shaking my head. “I am not riding a bee.”

“Why not? Think he’ll sting you?”

“Won’t he?”

“Well, if he does, he’ll die. Does he look stupid to you, Human?”

To be continued…

%d bloggers like this: