The little boy gazed up at the beautiful girl seated cross-legged on a tree stump. She wore tights, a sparkly skirt, and enormous plastic wings. Her wild hair was decorated with twigs, leaves and flowers. Her small, pointed face was painted with make-up. Strands of plastic ivy decorated the guitar across her lap.
At four, the boy was too young to realize how her tight clothes emphasized things older boys, and grown men, would find very, very interesting. He saw only a girl like his mom, but sparklier. At last, he said, “Are you a real fairy?”
The girl looked up from texting and tucked her phone under her leg. When she smiled, dimples appeared in her cheeks. “Of course I am,” she said brightly, in a vaguely English accent. “My name’s Sprig. Sprig Petalbottom. And what’s your name?”
“Is that a frog on your shirt, Cyrus?”
“Yes,” he said. And it was, a generic frog on a pogo stick, leaping over the words, Get hopping!
Around them, the Bristol Renaissance Faire, packed on its second weekend of the summer, surged with life. The hot summer sun filtered through the large trees, illuminating people in costumes no one in the Renaissance would have recognized: elves, trolls, warriors, wizards, Lord of the Rings characters and the occasional Jedi Knight.
Outnumbering these were the tourists who’d driven long distances and paid their money for a chance to experience something out of the ordinary. Most were cynical about it, husbands leering at the girls and wives wishing their spouses had washboard abs like the shirtless young men. A few, though, saw through the plastic armor and foam swords to the magic underneath. And most of those who did were kids like this one, who added,”Those wings aren’t real.”
“Of course they are,” Sprig said, as if it were the silliest statement in the world. “How else could I fly? Now, where are your mommy and daddy?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. Over there somewhere.”
“I bet they’re worried about you. Why don’t you just stay here and keep me company, so they can find you?”
Cyrus wasn’t the least bit aware that he might be lost. Instead, he continued looking at the shimmering wings. “They’re plastic.”
“No, honey, they only look plastic,” she said patiently. “Have you ever seen a beetle’s wing?”
The boy shook his head.
She leaned down as if telling him a secret. “Well, they look like they’re made of Scotch tape. But they’re not.”
“My daddy says there’s no such thing as fairies. He said you’re all just a bunch of college kids too lazy to get real jobs.”
Her face pursed in disapproval, a look he’d seen his mother give his father more than one. She said, “Does your daddy have a real job?”
“Not any more. He got laid.”
She choked off her burst of laughter. “I think you mean, ‘laid off.’ “
“Yeah. Now he just drinks beer and looks at girls on the internet.”
She smiled sadly. “Well, I think he’s probably just upset and doesn’t know how to let people know. Human daddies are like that. Their job is to take care of their family, and when they can’t do that, they get sad. But nobody ever taught them how to let the sadness out, so it just comes out all wrong.”
“Are fairy daddies like that?”
“Some,” she admitted.
“Where are you from?”
“The mountains. Where are you from?”
“Waukesha. Did you fly here?”
“I did. I flew on the night winds from the mountains far to the east, where the clouds are so low they look like smoke over the trees. That’s where my people live. And you know, I might’ve flown right over your town. Did you hear anyone singing way up in the sky one night, when you were supposed to be asleep?”
He shook his head.
“You should listen for that. It’s a fairy, riding the night winds.”
“Can you fly during the day?”
“If I need to. It’s just easier at night.”
“Can you fly right now?”
“Oh, I can’t fly away, silly. Your daddy is right, this is my job. I’m supposed to stay here and play songs for people. Would you like me to play you a song?”
“Okay, I know just the song for a boy with a frog on his shirt.” She tickled him under his chin, making him giggle. “This one is very old, from a very old place. I used to sing it when I was your age. It’s about a frog and his girlfriend.”
She sang a verse and a chorus of “Froggie Went a-Courtin’,” and was about to continue when a harried young man in cargo shorts and a faded Iron Maiden T-shirt appeared. “Cyrus, dang it,” he said with relief, and scooped the little boy off the ground. “Don’t go wandering off like that.” He smiled gratefully at Sprig. “I’m sorry, he was supposed to stay put while his brother used the Porta-Potty. Thanks for watching him.”
“My pleasure.” She held up a glass wand; the reservoir near the handle was filled with what looked like glitter. “May I give him some fairy dust?”
“Do you want some fairy dust, son?”
Cyrus nodded. His father put him down. Sprig leaned over him and said, “Now, this is something very special. It’s a fairy gift.” She let some of the fine, almost invisible powder trickle from the tube and fall on him. Then she smiled and said, “Goodbye, little Cyrus. Goodbye, little Cyrus’s dad!”
Sprig watched them walk away into the crowd. The little boy held his father’s hand and sang, “Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride, uh-huh…” She wondered how long it would take little Cyrus’s dad to wonder how his son had learned all those verses of that ancient song.
Sprig smiled, raised her arms overhead and stretched. Beneath their thin plastic covers, she let her wings flutter just a little. Then she got her phone from beneath her leg and checked her Facebook page.