Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer Black on 21 June, 2013
Physical activity has a way of freeing the mind to wander as the muscles engage in their pursuits. Thus it is with cutting grass, an activity that Megan does not mind in the least, but one that grows more difficult as she ages.
This year has been particularly difficult. Her mom has been sick, and the kids have their busy schedules to keep. The responsibilities fall upon her shoulders since her husband, Patrick’s passing a year ago. She ran the push mower over a patch of sweet grass, the smell eliciting recollections of picnics on sunny afternoons with family and friends, the hum of bees tickling the ears while gentle breezes caress the hair.
Megan hums a half-remembered tune from her days at various Girl Scout Camps, smiling at her eager, younger self indulgently, feeling the indomitable optimism of youth for a moment before she negotiated around a planting of sweet peas and wintergreen, climbing a copper cage. How her husband used to complain about the hap-hazard placement of such little tableaus. “Now instead of mowing in a straight line, I have to make circles with the lawn to avoid all of your obstacles,” Patrick would tease, knowing that his wife enjoyed imitating the random way that nature would produce beautiful displays. She could clearly remember his voice, and the recollection was bittersweet, and a different smile played across lips that longed for kisses.
She slowed her progress to stoop and move some water guns faded from sun and use. They made a pastel arsenal on the front step, then she continued to the side yard. The evergreen trees provided deep shadow, and the grass here had a different texture and a deeper vibrancy to the green. Her feet seemed to sink a bit as she marched to an imagined beat, a song sung in the sighing of the rhododendrons and the chiming of the Canterbury bells.
She wiped the sweat away from her bangs with the back of her hand, pushing her way back into the sun-filled front yard, past the herb patch and the berry bushes, and to the second side lot. The grass here grew in wispy patches surrounding burnt-looking abstract circles. Grubs, Megan suspected, caused these unpleasant additions to her lawn. Patrick always knew how to keep the lawn lush and full, but since she had not acquired his knowledge, Megan would inquire at the local hardware store how best to deal with such interlopers.
Then, up a slight incline to the long, gravel path she preceded, cutting back the weeds that lined the driveway. Although the incursion of the plants here made little difference to her, Megan liked to keep the carport and driveway the way that Patrick liked it. Cars were his indulgence and passion, and this little action seemed to keep a bit of her husband present at their little home.
The motor of the oft-used Husqvarna moaned as Megan made her way to the back yard. When properly trimmed, the yard was a park-like retreat, but because her recent time was otherwise obligated, the neglected grass reached midway up her calves. She raised the cutting level on the machine to ease the passage of the mower, but the engine stalled frequently despite this action. She reached under to clean out the blade base with each pause.
Brilliantly golden in the sunlight glistened a delightful patch of buttercups shading vibrant little garnet wild strawberries. Megan admired the beauty of the contrasting colors and left the patch undisturbed, sweeping an oval around the patch as she imagined how Patrick would roll his eyes at this sentimental indulgence.
The children, Stephen, Grace, and Heather, armed with the freshly assembled squirt guns, enthusiastically engaged in a good-hearted water battle in the side yard. Their squeals which were louder than the motor of the lawn mower delighted Megan. She glanced at them indulgently as she swept the perimeter of her yard, noting a patch of poison ivy near the pussy willow bush which she would spray with a killing agent after she finished cutting the grass.
As she proceeded, a rustling in the grass, and then a great rush of furiously-beating bird’s wings startled Megan into releasing the mower’s handle, which stopped the engine, as she threw her hands over her face and head. After she laughed the shock of the situation away, Megan checked to make certain there was no nest that the black birds were protecting in the high grasses ahead. She saw none, only a grass, clover, and a circle of mushrooms.
When she restarted the engine, flies bit her legs and annoyed her face. She blinked and slapped them away, rushing to finish the project, unaware as she did of the sudden silence that settled on her little valley. Gone were the sounds of the neighbors or the road traffic of their suburban neighborhood. Gone too were the battle cries of her children so eagerly engaged in water play. It was as though the whole area held its collective breath, stunned by her merciless pursuit of lawn maintenance. She did not realize that her actions inadvertently destroyed something precious, a fairy ring, grown in her own back yard.
A timelessness hung like a fog, obscuring Megan’s thoughts. She shook her head, hoping to thereby clear the suddenly onset headache that besieged her. From the bushes that defined the northern border of her yard, Megan imagined a multitude of eyes casting judgments as she worked toward completing her yard work. The sun did not seem to warm her skin, nor did the breeze provide comfort. Breathing labored in her upper chest, and a hopelessness unfamiliar to her otherwise optimistic personality settled between her aching shoulder blades.
An angry battle raged around her, stealing the mortal’s joy. Each leaf provided a blind for pixies and sprites. Within the puddle in the shade of the hawthorn bush, a pooka malevolently pushed his face forward. The unseen, deeply offended by the destruction of their portal, cared little if the fairy ring created of toadstools in the high grass was intentionally or innocently removed. Though wee described their stature, intense was their dissatisfaction.
“We will take her children,” declared an angry sidhe, adding, “and not leave even a changeling to comfort her treacherous self.” Rumblings of approval for this plan were prevalent, but a tiny sprite named Joya recollected the recent sparing of the buttercups and strawberries. Although the lifespan of the fair folk is long, their memories tended toward the immediate. Then, with a voice like an aged and crumbling rock slide, a wise and revered dwarf called Aromine explained that the danger of modern society lay in their lack of understanding of the wild ones and the old ways.
Intent on understanding all that was taking place, Joya skipped along the continued wake of the mower, ignoring the stench of the burnt fuel, gathering thoughts that fell from Megan’s distracted mind.
Meanwhile, the children slept beneath a lilac, three innocents bound with spider silk, drugged with tainted honey suckle nectar, their dreams laced with wild dances around impossibly bright fires, fireflies spelling mysteries into the night, and night hags comforting hideous, skeletal hags. They were uncomfortable and yet at home, suspended in a primitive past and imagined future, unknowingly concerned about their fates.
Increasing numbers of invisible creatures formed a ring around the lilac, arguing their thoughts on the destruction of fairy property, concerned about being stranded in this mortal realm and craving their more savage abodes. The formation of a fairy ring took time and concentration, they reasoned, fueling the desire for revenge that swelled within the body of the mob.
But then, again spoke Aromine with undeniable authority, explaining that clumsiness and ignorance need not meet such harsh penalties. Within this family Aromine saw a potential ally, and he turned to and aged fairy soothsayer, Sybal, for confirmation. When she fortold that Aromine was accurate in this assessment, he then asked Joya to share the knowledge recently gathered while following the willow-the-wisp distracted Megan. She swept the mortal’s thoughts into a portrayal of a good person, one unlikely to purposefully harm another being, one already dancing through grief and responsibility with a child-like assurance that the world, though difficult, was a decent place peopled with enchanting creatures.
Aromine determined that he would undertake educating Megan and her children, as well, to prevent such an unfortunate occurrence in the future. With his ministrations, the mob dwindled and became distracted by various interests, because the fairy mind is often that way, utterly consumed by only what is prevalent and at immediate hand.
Thus, Megan and her children were spared further grief without even knowing the danger that they faced, nor comprehending why such peril floated along the periphery of their imagining. They were bewildered that midsummer afternoon, confused how they came to be where they were, be it beneath the lilac or asleep under the crabapple. Yet from that day forward, their reading tended toward the fantastic, their taste for the exotic increased, and their knowledge of the hidden realms and ways of the fair folk increased. They preserved the buttercup and strawberry patch lovingly and when grew a circle of toad stools, they knew to give it a wide and respected berth.