Online Exclusive Fiction: Knots by Amber Velez

// Illustration by Alejandra Paton

     You cock your head at me and ask,

     “Are we too old for fairies?”

     Both your hands clutch a paper coffee cup. Your sweater sleeves are pushed to your elbows, orange and pink stripes bunched up and overlapping.

     “What kind of fairy?” I say. “Because I don’t think the real sort would have you.”

     I watch you over a half-eaten chocolate glaze donut, green sprinkles on top. You frown.

     “The pretend sort, then.” You sip coffee, thinking. The shop smells of sugar and baking donuts, but our pastel-colored booth is not sticky in the least. We are too old to buy a dozen simply because no one can tell us “no,” and yet we linger here, sheltering from the cold, sometimes glancing at the menu and trading wicked grins.

     “The kind we’d make houses for in the knots of trees when we were little,” you say. Your eyes fall through the wide, glass windows, onto the rush of the road. “The kind that were only around when our parents weren’t. You know?”

     “I never believed in those.”

     “Did anyone? They were like Santa Claus. Just a game, but if you believed that you believed it, then you got somewhere.”

     I like the sound of that, and while dunking my donut in coffee I tell you so. Then I have to say, “That’s how you felt about Santa? I reveled in the knowledge that he was a lie.”

     “Well. You would.”

     “What’s that supposed to mean?”

     But you are just laughing. You reach across the table, take my hand in yours. Your palm is warm from cradling coffee.

     “Let’s go hunting for fairies.”

 

     I have never figured out how so many trees grow in this city. We leave the warmth of the donut shop and hunch our shoulders against the wind. You shake out your sleeves. Dark curls brush your cheeks. I turn up the collar of my grey denim jacket, toying with my long flaxen braid. The closest copse of trees is not far, mere minutes away, nestled in a park. Soon we’re kneeling in the grass, heads bent over an anomaly in the bark.

     You have long since finished your coffee, and the mug, turned over, makes the house. I wish suddenly that I had saved a few green sprinkles. I ask again if there is chocolate on my mouth, and you gaze at my lips, answer, “No.”

     “This isn’t really hunting,” I protest, glancing surreptitiously at a lady walking her Pomeranian down the sidewalk behind us. He wears little booties designed for owners to coo over, too thin to provide much warmth. “‘Hunting’ means you go somewhere secluded and sit in total silence for a long, long while, and when you spot something, you kill it.”

     “Shh.”

     “This is more like trapping.”

     “We’re not trapping them, silly.” You are tearing a door out of the cup, big enough for an inch of a person, although no person an inch tall would have the strength to open that door, or shut it. “We’re inviting them.”

     “Bird watching.” I settle on my heels, observing two joggers in layers of nylon. But I am enjoying the fairy house, in the way the nerd in movies enjoys being sat down and made pretty.

     “If there were fairies,” I say, “why this park?”

     “Why not?”

     “I mean, what sort of ecosystem would they have? I’d imagine fairies are horribly threatened by humans, children especially — wouldn’t they stick to deep forests and high mountains, where they can’t be abducted by snotty five-year-olds?”

     When you laugh, your shoulders cave in. “You’re not allowed to be too old.” 

     I turn away from the path, lean over the fairy house with you. Two girls huddled amongst the trees; passersby must think we’re smoking. 

     “I’m not. I am asking age-appropriate questions.”

     You remove one hoop earring, use the sharp end to poke holes in the roof of the fairy house.

     “Skylights?”

     You nod, pushing your sleeves to the elbow. I do not tell you that the leaves of the tree prevent direct sunlight from penetrating.

     You look up, your eyes nearly black in the shade. “Let’s try your trap idea. Over there. I bet a fairy or two will show up.”

     So we push deeper into the copse of trees. I sit against a tree trunk, spreading my long legs before me, while you draw your knees to your chest. We can just spot the overturned cup, litter to anyone except you and me.

     “Do you think fairies hibernate?” I ask. “Actually, no, they’re so small. And they aren’t exactly birds, or rodents — more like butterflies. I bet they die.”

     “Die?”

     “Their bodies are too small to withstand the cold.”

     You say, “What’s the matter with you?” and you mean it as a joke, your shoulder knocking into mine.

     “You wanted fairies. I’m just trying to fit them into this world.”

     “Your world is too cold.”

     “I think it’s better this way. Don’t you? Not seeing any fairies doesn’t prove they aren’t real — because if they are real, they’ll be dead this season anyway.”

     I feel a funny thrill when you stiffen at the word dead, as if a part of you is hurt by the natural expiration of imaginary things. I realize I am sitting beside you, staring at a coffee cup set upside-down in the grass.

     “But they’ll have laid eggs,” I say. “Little fairy eggs, inside the knots of trees. They’ll glue them up with spit and sticky vomit, to keep them warm all winter. And when temperatures reach a certain degree next spring, they’ll hatch, so many fairy larva squirming toward the sun…”

     But you aren’t listening. You have gotten up, sleeves flopping over your hands, and are striding toward the coffee cup. You are looking for a trash can.

     “They aren’t real, anyway,” you say. “I shouldn’t litter.”

     “It’d probably compost.”

     You, however, walk over to the nearest trash, chuck in the mutilated cup. You come back to me, rubbing your arms. “Sorry. I thought it would be fun.”

     I let you pull me up, and you are looking at the woman with a baby stroller on the walkway as she quickens her step past us. But I am looking at the tree trunks. They are slender, without really any space for the invisible dormant eggs of fairies.

     Maybe they lay eggs higher in the trees.

     We have disproved nothing.


Amber Velez resides in Tucson, AZ, and enjoys running in the desert heat. Her other work includes short stories in Theakers Quarterly Fiction and Silver Blade Magazine.

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