Everybody, including myself, thought that Uncle George was crazy. I mean, do you have fairies at the bottom of your garden? Well, actually, they weren’t just at the bottom of his garden. According to him, they were everywhere.
“Like little angels, they are, three to four inches high, such beautiful faces!”
“What do they wear,” I’d asked.
“Well the girls have lovely dresses in bright colours – emerald green and dark blue mostly but I’ve seen them in red too,” said Uncle George enthusiastically, taking off his heavy, black-rimmed spectacles and wiping them with a grubby cloth.
“Have you seen any male fairies?”
“Oh, yes, I quite often see them. Not as much as the girls though.” He replaced his glasses, the lenses now surprisingly clean. “They wear long green shorts usually and a green or brown tunic, although they’re sometimes bare-chested. Even though they’re tiny, they look quite muscular.”
“Maybe they work out at a fairy gym,” I joked.
He laughed and swept a hand through his unruly mop of black hair. “Look, Daniel, you must come and see them!”
So, I’d go to my uncle’s, and we’d sit in his large, unkempt garden. Shrubs of all shapes and sizes bordered a long rectangular lawn that led down to a summerhouse by a pond, a favourite place for fairies, he said. So, we’d sit on the wooden bench in the hut, Uncle George with his sketchbook at the ready, and he’d smoke a cigarette, talking about his life in the navy and the incredible things he’d seen – sea monsters, two-headed children, Indians climbing ropes and disappearing. It was impossible to say whether any of his stories were true or if he lived in a fantasy world. Or maybe he had psychic faculties and could glimpse realms beyond our physical world?
“Look, there’s a boy and a girl!” Uncle George gestured excitedly over the pond.
Something had flitted over the water in the dusk, true, but it could have been a moth, or a bat even.
“I don’t want you going to Uncle George’s anymore,” Mum had said sternly, “he’s … er, he’s a bit strange.”
“Oh, Mum, I want to see the fairies!”
“If you want to see fairies go and see Tinker Bell, you won’t find them at Uncle George’s!”
Dad had concurred, so I’d grown up, missing those chats by the pond, breathing in the heady mixture of pond air and fragrant tobacco smoke, whilst listening to Uncle George’s fantastic tales. Then, years later, I heard he’d passed away.
A musty smell still lingered when I’d gone with Dad and my brother, Eric, to sort through Uncle George’s stuff. Having no other living relatives, Uncle George had left everything to Dad, so the idea was to identify anything worth keeping or selling individually and the rest would be taken by a house clearance company. How sad I thought, a lifetime’s acquisitions garnered with excitement and pleasure, all to be sold on, or just thrown away.
I’d been given the job of looking through Uncle George’s study – a somewhat daunting task – shelves of dust-covered books lined three of the walls. I was surprised to see many detective stories – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. D. James and so forth. Why were they always women? Predictably, there were a number of books on fairies. I filled a couple of boxes with books that looked more valuable or ones I thought Mum, Dad and Eric might like.
In his desk were piles of unopened letters from banks, HMRC and the like. Sitting on top were a couple of stone paperweights, carved from fossilised slate, full of ancient, impossible creatures. Then I noticed a tiny drawer. Inside was a matchbox. Opening it, I looked in awe at two minuscule ballet shoes, made from a luminescent pink fabric, with ribbons to tie around the ankles and on the underside, panels of a slightly darker pink.
In another drawer, I found a bulky sketchpad. As I turned the pages, I was astonished to see page after page of well-executed drawings of fairies. Their wings were sometimes butterfly-like, other times in pairs, narrower and more diaphanous. Some had been expertly coloured with watercolour. I noticed quite a number had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over the pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on the bench,’ etc.
“Daniel, how are you getting on?” Dad called from downstairs.
“Almost finished,” I called back. Then I turned a page and gasped. A pretty fairy in a pink dress was sketched in flight, her outstretched feet sporting a pair of pink ballet shoes. With the date was a cryptic note, ‘Rosina, Shoes, Present.’
I heard footsteps coming upstairs and quickly hid the pad.
Dad opened the door. “Found anything interesting?”
“A couple of old paperweights. That’s all really.”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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