By Arianna Ashby
I ran around the holly bush several times before stopping to catch my breath. Panting, I sat down and looked at it. There was something fascinating about the glistening leaves that looked as if they were made from hard wax. The bush also had shimmering red berries that I used to pretend were poisonous, even though I didn’t actually know whether they were or weren’t. Many times I would reach out to touch the leaves, wondering if they were really just leaves or if they were something more magical. I knew everything had magic in it, sometimes it was just hard to find because you weren’t looking right. I would hold the leaves in my hands and rip them in half, trying to figure out what was magical about them. Then I would pick another and repeat the process as if I somehow forgot that I had just tested them.
It was too perfect to be real, yet there it sat in the front yard just next to the concrete driveway. I would often sit on the edge of the driveway where the cement ended with a sharp dip into the dirt below. Often, I found myself staring at the bugs that crawled around down there and sometimes, I would join them by sinking my feet into the rich, moist Mississippi soil. I would submerge my toes, wiggling them up and down, caking my feet into the earth. On days like those, my mom would make me wash my feet from the garden hose before coming inside.
I liked the dirt. But more importantly, I liked the things that lived in the dirt. Back then, I didn’t see the bugs as just bugs, but as something more. A city. A home. Of tiny bugs and humans. A place where fairies lived among nature, just like the fairies that decorated my room. There were stickers of fairies in lilac flower petal dresses that flitted across the matching purple drawers of my desk. I also had a painting hung in my room that showed a small person in a green outfit made from leaves riding a snail. She had her legs up in the air and a scrunched up face from smiling. The snail had a harness on that connected to its mouth. I liked the idea of small people, like me, out there. They were more powerful and beautiful than anyone; even those who were bigger than them. I wanted to be a fairy more than anything, so that I too could ride snails and wear dresses made from different types of flowers.
It was nearing dusk now and I knew that was the only time they would come out. In my mind, the fairies were always there, but for some reason I couldn’t see them during the day. Only when it became dark would their yellow glow alert me to their presence. I could hear them in whispered giggles that would float on the breeze. I was waiting for the dusk to take over and for the yellow streaks of light to appear when my friend Tyler ran up behind me.
Tyler and I had been best friends since I could remember. We saw each other a lot because his mom worked for my parents. Usually we would play tag or have whispered conversations in the back seats of cars about how we were never going to grow up. Sometimes I would go over to play with his lizard and sometimes he would come over my house and play dress up. Sometimes I had to wrestle him into my costume dresses which he was never happy about, but I was. There were lots of times I told my parents that I was going to marry him and I believed I was going to even though I didn’t really understand what marriage was or meant. I couldn’t imagine life without him.
He ran toward me. He had deep black hair and pale cheeks that were flushed red from running in the sticky air. He was pulling up his tan cargo shorts as he half jogged toward me.
“Tag! You’re it!” he screamed in triumph while looking down at me and poking me in the shoulder obnoxiously with his finger.
“Hey!” Irritated at him, I pushed the sweaty, fine, pale hair out of my face. “Not fair, I’m on time-out.” I folded my arms across my chest and looked up at him in a determined way, knowing he would argue back. I was smaller than him, like I was in comparison to most people, but I knew I could win any argument.
“Who said there was times in this game?” He shifted his weight onto one hip.
“I did. And you can’t make me be it anyways,” I turned my attention back to the holly bush. It was growing darker by the second in the surrounding sky, and the streetlights in our neighborhood had already begun to turn on. Tyler looked down at me before sighing.
“Well, can you hurry up and un-times so that we can get on with our game? Lad and Alex are waiting.” Lad and Alex were his older brother and sister who were also over and playing out back.
“No,” I replied stubbornly.
“Why?” His anger was returning.
“I’m waiting for something.”
I hesitated at his question. He might laugh at me if I told him. I knew most people didn’t believe but I did. I knew they were real. I sighed.
“What? Those aren’t real.” He giggled at me.
“Are too! And I can prove it. Just wait.”
“Wait for what?” he asked.
“Them to come out.” Even as I spoke I saw the yellow glimmers begin around the holly bush. “See!” I pointed at the streaking yellow specks in front of me. Tyler looked to where I was pointing, and giggled again.
“Those aren’t fairies! They’re fireflies!”
“Nu-uh! They’re fairies! How else could they light up like that?” I knew he would try to do something like this; I knew he wouldn’t believe it.
“Well … uh …” Tyler stammered, “I don’t know but somehow that’s what they do. That’s just how fireflies are.” I just shook my head at him. He didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how he could look right at them and still not believe.
“Well clearly, they’re fairies,” I repeated again.
“No, they’re fireflies.”
“Fairies.” I was determined.
“Fairies!” My voice rose in tone as my annoyance grew.
“Fireflies!” he screamed back. I stood up this time and looked him right in the eyes.
“They’re not — ” but he never got to finish his sentence because then I punched him. Right in the stomach. I was stubborn and used to fighting with him to get my way.
“Ow!” Tyler glared at me. I knew I hadn’t punched him hard enough for it to really hurt, but it did knock the breath out of him.
“They’re fairies,” I said with defiance and waited to see if he would argue with me again.
“Okay. Fine,” he said, rubbing his stomach and frowning slightly. “They’re fairies.”
“I know.” I smirked and turned my attention back to the ever growing lights that were circling the holly bush. I watched as the glow illuminated the now darkened twilight. The shadows danced off and around the bush, making the coating on the leaves shimmer. I was mesmerized by the rhythm of the lights. As I watched the lights float up and down through the air, I could have sworn I saw little figures inside the glow, dancing with one another and laughing. I imagined myself with them, glowing and twirling into the night with a dress made out of flower petals.
I was too busy imagining what life as a fairy would be like to notice Tyler had run off. By the time I did notice, though, I saw him coming back with his brother, Lad. He was about two years older than us but to me, he seemed older than that. Tyler was tugging at his arm.
“Tell her, tell her,” he said, jumping up and down in time with his tugging. He smiled down at me, but I knew what he was going to say.
“Tyler’s right, Ari. They’re fireflies.” Tyler grinned from ear to ear and puffed up his chest behind him. I glared back at him, and crossed my arms. “Here, I’ll show you.” And with that, he went to go catch one of my precious fairies.
“Don’t hurt them!” I cried out and ran over to make sure he wasn’t going to be mean. I watched as he gently cupped his hand around one of the glowing dots.
“Now, look closely. It’ll probably fly away after I open my hands.” I peered over his cupped hands to try to see what he was holding. He slowly opened them, and there sat a little glowing speck. I swore I saw a little person sitting there, confused and waiting to continue her dance before she floated off. “You see?” Lad asked me. I nodded even though I didn’t. “Good.” He turned to leave.
“I told you so.” Tyler continued to grin at me, and I noticed he had a gap in his teeth at the bottom. The tooth fairy probably even gave him money for that when he lost it. I thought and rolled my eyes. Big kids and adults were so weird.
I shook my head and turned back to the bush. As I watched the lights continue to float in a methodical dance, I wondered if they really were just fireflies, or if some of the fireflies just joined the fairies in their dance. Or what if the fairies turned into fireflies to protect themselves. I smiled to myself. What I saw were small people with crystal wings and glowing dust that trailed behind them. I continued to watch them that night until Mom called me to come inside from the front porch. In my warm bed, I watched my beloved creatures dancing just outside my window frame, their trails of sparkling dust lulling me to sleep.