For Kayle Hayle, who may have been joking when she gave me this. I hope you like it!
“I hate pie,” said Billy. Joey said, “Do you mean pie as in cake or pi as in math?” Billy said, “That’s up to your imagination.” The end.
“That’s very clever,” Sarah’s mother said after Sarah fell silent. “Did you write that?”
“Yes,” Sarah said, looking down at the lined paper covered with her neat script. She had even drawn a little picture of a steaming pie in the corner. “I got an A+.”
“That’s wonderful,” her mother said. “But you don’t look very happy.”
“It’s a good story,” Sarah said. “But it’s not what I want to write about.”
“I see.” Her mother was quiet for a moment. “Well, what would you like to write about?”
Sarah smiled and it brought a sparkle to her whole face. “I want to write about wizards and heroes and princesses. I want to write about adventures. I want to write about dragons and castles and enchanted forests and duels and spells and…” she paused to catch her breath. “I want to write about magic.”
“Why don’t you write about that then?” her mother said, as if it were very simple.
“Because there’s no such thing,” Sarah said sadly. “It’s only in books and in people’s imaginations. And I’m supposed to write what I know.”
Sarah’s mother frowned and put down the dish she was drying. “Who told you that?”
“No one. Everyone knows it.”
“I don’t know any of it,” Sarah’s mother said.
“But have you ever seen any magic? I haven’t.”
“You don’t have to have seen something to know it. You can know something here.” Her mother tapped her head. “But you can also know something here.” She put her hand over her heart.
Sarah was still put out. It wasn’t that simple, not in this land of homework, new cars, trash cans, plastic bags, electricity lines, bubblegum under the cafeteria tables, holes in her shoes, the leaky tap in the bathroom, and Brussels sprouts for dinner.
Sarah’s mother smiled at her. “Come with me.”
Sarah took her mother’s hand and allowed herself to be led out to the garden.
“What do you see?” her mother asked.
The late afternoon sun shone down, warming and giving everything a pale halo. Two great oaks stood in silent guard. Rows of yellow flowers bobbed beside the fence. Garden gnomes in bright yellow hats and pointed shoes peeked out from under bushes and shrubs. A path of flat stones wound in an out through the green and a small fountain chattered merrily.
“It’s the garden,” Sarah said warily.
“Do you remember how you used to play out here for hours?”
“I was three years old and wasn’t wearing any clothes,” Sarah said. “What does that have to do with writing stories?”
Sarah’s mother smiled. “You used to tell me about all your adventures. Can you tell me one now?”
Sarah frowned, trying to dredge up one of her play fantasies to humor her mother. Her eyes crept up into the boughs of the closest oak tree. She chewed on her lip, the first pale memories surfacing.
“There was a squirrel who made a nest up there. I called him Sir Bushy. That wasn’t his real name, but he couldn’t tell me what his real name was because he’d forgotten what it was…” Sarah walked around the tree, looking up. “He would bury his acorns in the grass, but I always knew he was looking for buried treasure…the treasure that the evil gnome Shalmaldaron stole from his family when he cursed Sir Bushy with the form of a rodent!”
Sarah smiled, pulling the lower branches of a shrub away to reveal a gnome with his hands on his hips, a faded red cap on his head, and a roguish expression on his face.
“Shalmaldaron was after a powerful magic he could use to take over the whole world from the Neverending Sea to the Ancient Forests and the White Mountains. But all the people of the lands knew he was up to no good and thwarted him at every turn. Especially Sir Bushy, who knew where the magic was.”
Sarah skipped down the stone path to the second tree. Hanging from the lowest branch was a glass wind chime. It tinkled softly at her, turning in the gentle breeze. Fairies were glazed onto each tube.
“Trisellae, queen of the Fae and beloved of Sir Bushy was trying to find a way to undo the spell and set him to his right form. Shalmaldaron would send fierce storms her way and his minions roamed the land, causing trouble, uprooting the houses of little elves and scaring the baby animals of the forests…”
Walking to the fountain, Sarah dipped her hand in the clear water. “The merpeople had all but disappeared in these dark times. One brave merman stayed to help Trisellae, because she had saved his life once when the kraken came up and wrapped its poisoned tentacles around him. Shalmaldaron found out he was helping the fairies, though, and killed him by poisoning the water…”
Sarah turned to face her mother, the smile falling from her face. “But I made it all up! It’s not real magic, not really…”
“I thought it was real,” Sarah’s mother said.
Sarah looked around the garden. It had been real to her once, too. If she looked in just the right way, she could see the fairies flying around their tree and Trisellae watching over her people from the topmost branch, the sun turning her wings to diamonds. Above her, Sir Bushy donned his mail and helm, taking the great sword from his leafy castle. The gnomes slunk back from her gaze, hiding in the shadows where they were most powerful, and watching her with glittering black eyes.
“Okay,” Sarah said. “Okay, I can do that. I can believe it’s real.”
She took her mother’s hand and the two walked out of the garden, leaving the sleepy bushes and bright flowers to the timeless caress of the sun-warmed air. Sarah glanced back once when a bird squawked urgently, but it was only the wind in the shrubs that had startled it.
When the mother and daughter had turned the corner and disappeared from view, Shalmaldaron slowly stepped from under the shrub, pushing the red cap out of his eyes. A sly grin appeared on his face, then he turned and melted back to the shadows where he was most powerful.