NOTE: I need you to help me here. This is a story I wrote years ago and sent out to several children’s book publishers. One of them said they loved it but couldn’t sell a story told from an adult’s point of view. Could I change it? Well, no, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
There is–or was–a sequel in the works. That project was abandoned when no one seemed to want the first one, but could be resurrected if there is some interest.
This is a case of blinding love. I love this story, I love these characters, I love that I got to be a part of it–but it could be that there is nothing here. It’s probably too long. The language is probably too old-fashioned. (Knapsack vs. backpack, though there is a difference.) The boy’s name probably shouldn’t be Christian but it came to me that way and I haven’t been able to find the one that suits him. The same with Esme. I could use some suggestions, some support, or, if all else fails, some kindly letting-down.
(One more thing: This story came out of watching my own woodswalkers, my daughter, Julie, and my grandson, Michael, grow up together and then, sadly, grow apart as Julie came into her teens. It was as sad for them as it was for me.)
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The Fairy Ring
Think, then, how the three of us felt!
It happened just a week or two after the last and final thaw, when we were finally able to follow our favorite path without being up to our ankles in marshwater.
The sun was cordial that spring day, even in the woods. The budding leaves made the merest polka-dots of shade and it was warm—perfectly, wonderfully, jackets-nearly-off warm.
And so, because the path we followed was just cushiony enough,
and because the birds were just cheery enough,
and because the gnats were being especially polite,
we ambled, wandered, meandered deep into the trees—farther, in fact, than we had ever ambled or wandered or meandered before.
We started as always: Christian, the youngest of us (going on seven at the time) skipping on ahead.
Next came Esme. She had grown tall that past winter, in spite of all her good intentions, and if I closed my eyes half way (hard to do and still stay on the path) the person I saw up ahead could have been another me.
I, the slowest due to the knapsack I’d been forced to carry, kept to the rear.
We had been walking for a long, long time and I was trailing by a good length-and-a-half when Esme and Christian entered a golden-green meadow surrounded by a perfect circle of tall dark pines. I stopped and watched, for at this distance the meadow seemed very nearly enchanted.
It was the perfect place to hold our Spring dance.
By the time I arrived at the meadow, the two of them were already frolicking in the glistening grass, dancing to the spring song of the birds. (They may well have been singing “go away, go away,” but I would never. . .)
I dropped the knapsack and caught my breath. Then I began to dance. I moved more slowly, I noticed, than I had at last year’s dance to spring, but I twisted, I turned, I lifted my face to the warming sun. . .
. . . and felt myself being nudged quite emphatically out of the direction I was heading.
Christian had seen, just in time, that my clumsy feet were about to come down on a nearly perfect circle of toadstools. I had come this close to stepping on a fairy ring.
He gave me a look—a “tsk, tsk” look—and, though I assured him not the tiniest toe had even so much as touched those things, he nevertheless sank down to the level of the tiny toadstools, inspecting that strange circle for damage.
“Magnifier, please,” Christian said in a no-nonsense voice, waving his fingers in my direction, his eyes fastened to the largest of the toadstools.
I should tell you that that very morning I’d packed the following things into the knapsack I’d been carrying:
Three apples; two red and one green,
a packet of graham crackers,
a tin cup for brook water,
a pair of binoculars for looking up,
a magnifying glass for looking down.
By the time we’d reached the meadow, we’d used everything but the magnifying glass. I fished it out of the knapsack and handed it to him.
“Thank you very much,” he said. Then he lay flat on the ground, his nose practically inside the stalk of the largest of the tiny mushrooms.
“What?” I asked.
“What is it?” Esme asked.
“Shhh. . .”
“Shhh–?” Esme and I said it together, and I remember thinking at the time that Esme must be standing on a slight hillock, for her eyes looked directly into mine.
“Whooo!” we heard Christian shout.
“WHAT?” we asked again.
“Wheee!” he yelled.
“Christian,” we laughed. “Tell us!”
He bounced up, flashing the broadest, widest grin we’d ever seen on that boy’s face.
“What is it?” we begged, “What did you see?”
But he left us, dancing off, skipping into the midst of the tree-bound circle, into the middle of that airy meadow, onto a hummock of green, green grass.
Where we never should have lost him.
But we did.
Christian was gone.
We blinked. We blinked again. We looked and blinked and looked and blinked.
We looked at each other, Esme and me.
And just as we began to run, our eyes filling with tears, our throats eeking out dreadful panic sounds, our chests clutching us from inside out, we looked again onto the circle of grass.
And then we really had to laugh. For, lying spread-eagled in the exact center of the circle, the exact place where we’d only just been looking, was Christian.
We really couldn’t have missed him.
But we did.
How in the world had we missed him?
As I went off to see about Christian, Esme, curious, went back to the fairy ring, dropped to the ground and lay flat on her stomach. She positioned the magnifier, which, even from that distance, caught the sun and sent off sparks that reflected in Christian’s laughing eyes.
I was nearly to the spot where Christian had seen whatever it was he had seen, when Esme sent up a whoop.
It shuddered the trees.
It send the birds squawking.
It stopped me short.
Again there was that smile. On Esme this time. The broadest, widest grin I’d ever seen on that girl.
“What?” I asked.
I ran back to where she was—or, rather, to where she had been, for she had already danced off, skipping into the midst of the meadow, onto the spot where Christian had seemed to disappear. She danced circles around Christian, who rested on both elbows now, watching her.
And she danced.
Faster and faster she spun, until I began to get dizzy just watching.
Then, when I began to think she would never, ever stop, she slowed enough for me to see that her smile had eased away and disappeared.
She slid to the ground and lay quiet.
First, Christian began to cry.
They fell into each others arms and sobbed.
The sound filled the circle.
It seeped into the forest.
The trees began to wail.
The brook began to weep.
The birds gave up their singing.
The sky itself began to pour down salty tears.
And I stood, wondering.
“What in the world–?” I said to myself.
Then, near the spot where Christian And Esme had taken up the magnifying glass, near the little toe of my right foot, I thought I heard a sound.
Yes! It was a sound. A tiny, tiny sound
The sound of paper flapping in the breeze.
It was coming from the tallest toadstool.
I knelt. I squinted. I lay as flat as I could on the soft, damp ground. I brought the magnifier into focus.
And there I saw, attached rather carelessly to the stalk holding up the umbrella of the tallest mushroom, a teeny, tiny poster.
A leaflet. A playbill. With writing on it.
Oh, how I wished for better eyes! How I had to struggle to read those words:
Attention! Look at this!!
AN ESPECIALLY EQUINOXIFUL CELEBRATION
IN THE RING! SUNUP TO SUNDOWN! COME AS YOU ARE!
TAKE A SPIN AND JOIN US!
Well! I blinked and looked again. I rubbed my eyes. Yes—that was exactly what it said!
But wait—what was this? Near the bottom, in much smaller letters—so small I could barely make them out, for Heaven’s sake—it read:
Children Only! No Grownups allowed!
Well! And well again! The nerve!
As I struggled to get up, I noted that the wailing had run its course. It dwindled to a whimper. The sounds around us softened to a sigh. In the center of the circle in the meadow, Christian and Esme found soft leaves and dried each others tears.
“Christian,” I asked my son when all had quieted down, “Did you go. . .? Were you there. . .?”
Well of course I might as well have saved my breath. He wouldn’t have hurt Esme for the world. He shrugged his shoulders in a way that might have meant yes and might have meant no. And that was as much as we ever got from him about where he was and what he did.
It is summer now and there is much to do. Gardens, even northern gardens, need tending. Today we picked thimbleberries for jam, and sunflowers for bird seeds. And now we sit, Esme and me, lining up hollyhock ballerinas along the porch railing.
The two of us, we must confess, spend a lot of time wondering about Equinoxical Celebrations. Esme thinks it’s a big coming-out party, with parades and promenades—to show off brand new outfits and brand new babies. She thinks there would be music everywhere, with fairies, elves, sprites, brownies and pixies each playing their own special tunes.
I see food. Lots and lots of food. Honey spun in a drum and gathered on leaf-cones, frozen into honey-sicles, baked into honey-pies. I imagine asparagus tips in acorn butter and crocus-violet soup.
In the course of the day prizes might be awarded—for the most intricately spun spider web, for the most beautiful pair of gossamer wings, for the best good-hearted magic tricks.
I close my eyes and see a midway—a roller-coaster looping-the-loop along sleek blades of new green grass; a merry-go-round with a bulrush reed calliope; a Tilt-aWhirl with tulip cup seats. . .
. . .or none of those things. We could be all wrong.
We have not been back to the meadow. We talk about it—even try to guess what path we would need to take to get there. But we know that Christian isn’t ready to return. Nor does he want to talk about the doings in the fairy ring. (One of the rules, I’m guessing, if one wants to be invited back.) His smile, though, when he thinks no one is watching, tells me everything. It’s that same grin, reserved for something special.
Esme, now. Ah, Esme. I look over at her and see that her chin is level with my nose. Her long legs threaten to spill on down the porch steps.
“Esme,” I tell her, “the world is full of special places. The thing is, dear, some of us just have to go on looking.”
And as I say my piece, across the valley the setting sun brushes lavish golden stripes upon the horizon.
From those golden stripes long orange fingers reach into the sky. Those long orange fingers paint rusty roses onto the clouds.
From those rusty roses comes a glow that rests full on Esme’s cheeks.
All at once, she sits up straight. Her smile turns to a grin.
I swear I never take my eyes off of her.
But nonetheless, quick as lightning, Esme, as we know her, disappears.