Cleveland’s Walk

An average day that ends up anything but

She took a walk that afternoon like she did every afternoon. Three o’clock, right around the time her body usually wanted to lure her back to bed. Hottest part of the afternoon, but it was early June and the days were still crisp and blue, not the limp, wet days of July that dragged her down. No, this was a spring day like any other and Cleveland looked forward to the wild roses and purple clover and buttercups that lined the shaded dirt road near her house. Even though she lived in a newer development of condos, a hillside atrocity called Divorce Hill by the locals, there were still remnants of an older time, a simpler time of tractors and wagons. She always chose the old dirt road over the new sidewalk being laid out on the other side of her development. She’d lived in the condo for as long as it existed — eight years — and lived in one just like it only two miles away for fifteen years prior. Cleveland seemed prone to condos, and as much as she wanted to despise the uniformity of it all, it was the most economical way to live as a single woman with grown children. Her life was fairly sterile and routine and mostly she liked that. She’d worked the same job at the diner — the first job she’d ever had — the same early shift every day. She knew what to expect and when to expect it. And today’s walk was like every other walk she’d taken since she moved in. Until it wasn’t.

Cleveland always carried a walking stick with her. She’d learned the hard way that a small woman, no matter how well she knows the road, should carry protection. Joe Petersen never tied his dog up and although the big black mutt had never rumored to bite anyone, it sure charged any moving thing that passed by Petersen’s farm if it happened to be outside. Cleveland wasn’t taking a chance. Not only that but in the spring one could occasionally run into bear or groundhogs, generally ambivalent animals until their babies were in tow. She knew a stick would never fend off a pissed off mama bear, but she felt better carrying it anyway. Her brother Mitch had carved the stick when they were kids and he used to take it on every camping and scouting trip they ever took until he was around sixteen and decided he was too cool for all the woodsy stuff. Cleveland had found the walking stick leaned up against her father’s burn pile. She rescued it, hid it in her closet until Mitch left for college, and had it ever since. She never told him that she took it. Seemed silly now, in their fifties, to even bring it up. He was busy with his girls’ and all their endless activities, none of which were scouts. At least Cleveland knew her nieces would have no use for a hand-carved walking stick in volleyball, cheerleading or Future Business Leaders of America.

She tied her sneakers, locked the door and stuck the keys in her pot of silk geraniums on the stoop. Probably every neighbor knew by now she left her keys in the flower pot, there was no reason for her to even lock the door. But she did it anyway out of habit and set out down to the cul-de-sac, cutting across the lot that was being perked for more divorces, and came out on Creek Road, the old gravel farm road that had never been paved. No one knew why the township never paved the road to bring it into the twenty-first century with the rest of town, but Cleveland suspected the residents didn’t mind. There were only about ten homes on the same mile stretch, most of which were small farms with free ranging chickens and dogs. It was similar to the way Cleveland grew up and walking Creek Road always reminded her of a time when the woods were the safest place you could play, safer than any street in any town. Although she supposed that was probably still the case. It also reminded her of a time when the sharp pain in her heel didn’t stop her from running bare foot through alfalfa meadows or a soft pine needle floor. Times when the campfire made her feel loved simply from the warmth and crackle of wood, no matter what her father might be mumbling about. In the Ohio of her childhood, she’d lie down in grassy fields three feet tall and never once worry about being bitten, never fear a tick or a spider. She didn’t remember them existing when she was a child. Now she tucked her linen pants into her socks, and pulled the flap down from her hat to cover her freckled neck and sprayed herself head to toe in Deet and sunscreen.

As soon as she walked beneath the canopy, she could breathe. The air was cooler, fresher here than on Divorce Hill. Following a winding creek, the dirt road made a satisfying crunch with every step. Other than sleeping, nothing gave Cleveland peace like her walks. She knew she’d never be able to afford a house on this street, each with several acres of property. Nor could she take care of all that land by herself anyhow. Not with her knees. But living nearby and being able to walk it every day was enough, akin to a cocktail at the end of the day. It quieted her mind, helped her focus after days like today. The diner had been exceptionally crowded that morning. One man in particular, Arnold, who showed up every Friday morning, stayed later than usual, hounding her every time she passed by his table. The forks were never clean enough, the water never cold enough, the home-fries never crispy enough. It was a routine everyone had to bear, but he most often sat in Cleveland’s section, which was better off as she had more patience than any of the others. Still, it was a relief to get out from under his high maintenance every time. He wore a wedding ring, but she’d never seen him with anyone and couldn’t imagine someone living with his preferences. More often than not Cleveland was grateful to live alone. People like Arnold reminded her of that every day. She’d lived with men and their preferences for a long time, now she only had to deal with them at work. Still, Arnold made her head buzz with irritation.

The creek for which the road was named, roared by that afternoon from the previous night’s downpour. Normally shallow and gentle, today it seemed anxious to leave its boundaries, like it might come right up and share the road with her. Cleveland had seen the creek severely flood its banks only once, years ago after a stray hurricane that made its way through middle America and flooded every pasture and town in its path. So many lost crops, some lost livestock, a few lost lives. That was the year Cleveland also lost her husband, although that had nothing to do with the weather unless you count his stormy moods and whatever his final bolt of lightning was that caused him to leave. She never understood why he expected so much out of life, and out of everyone else’s life in particular. Why he couldn’t be happy that their sons were good enough students. No, he wanted the best. The boys were too average, Cleveland was too average, Ohio was too average. He’d left and moved to Chicago after their youngest graduated. Cleveland liked Ohio. She never planned on leaving. And average made sense. Average was just fine for her. Most of the time. There were moments she wanted more, like she did when she was a young girl and thought life was full of endless possibilities, but those moments were few. She enjoyed her peaceful days without him or the boys, without having to answer to anyone, and she’d go to her grave before shamefully admitting any of it.

Her friend Sue had told her only a few weeks ago that she should consider night classes at the community college. Cleveland had balked. First of all, what would she study? Second of all how could she ever keep up with a couple dozen eighteen-year olds? She left high school and never looked back, made more money waiting tables than some of her friends did with fancy bachelor degrees. The only class she didn’t almost fail was art and a lot of good that would do a life-long diner waitress now. What would she do, draw on customers’ checks? She wasn’t going to throw her money away on anything so frivolous. A cruise would be money better spent. Although she had been caught several times doodling on the napkins at the counter when the shifts were slow, usually Rosella, the owner, would simply tell her to get back to work — there was always something to do in a diner, something to clean, something to stock. Rosella was a good boss. Cleveland had known her since they were both in their twenties. But as a good boss she did not like idle employees and Cleveland respected that. Sometimes, Henry, one of the line cooks would smile at her when he saw the little goblins and dragons and gargoyles hanging out near the salt and pepper shakers. Cleveland would fold the napkins so the creatures looked like they were peeking out at customers, watching. Waiting. Henry loved that. He had a nice smile.

When her older son, Rowan, had been around ten, Cleveland thought he had some potential toward art and she was filled with renewed possibility, like his talent was hers and she thought it would have been enough to carry through the rest of her life to see him develop what she’d abandoned. But by the time he was fourteen, his father had shamed the talent into hiding. Rowan now worked as a loan officer in Cincinnati. He said he loved his job and it was true, the boy always had a propensity for being in charge and quite organized too, but she mourned the loss of his creativity. His little comic strips had made her genuinely laugh more than once and in her experience as a mom, genuine laughter was hard to come by. It made her hate her ex-husband even more for stealing that away from her too. In far too many ways he’d sucked the life out of all of them and then sped off like a whirling dervish to brand new life. She’d devoted too many of her years trying to be what he wanted, trying to mold the boys to his liking. And for what? To have two mini-versions of him, condescending to her whenever they had a chance. She missed her younger son, Davie, more. He was less like his father and yet not like Cleveland at all. Out of all four of them, Davie seemed to know how to simply be himself better than the rest. He moved the farthest, however, to Denver for college, and Cleveland hadn’t seen him in three years. A couple times he’d tried to Facetime her, but she never quite got the hang of that. It made her feel like she was on an episode of Star Trek.

Along the sides of Creek Road water ran off the steep hillside in white rivulets, creating paths where there hadn’t been any before. Red columbines, and some little white droopy flower she never learned the name of covered the hills, and tiny butterflies, the first of the season, were just beginning to visit. Tentatively flitting about as if the flowers might freeze up and disappear at a moment’s notice. In April that might be possible, but they were long past the threat of the last freeze now. Cleveland put one foot up on the soft incline and leaned in to breathe in the musky sweet scent of spring around her. There was a quick buzzing by her ear startling her as she admired the flowers, and her sneaker slid down the muddy hill nearly sending her on her ass, but Mitch’s walking stick saved her. She swatted at the buzzing thing that she thought must be a bumble bee, but when it bounced off her hand felt more like a hummingbird. Jesus. She didn’t know hummingbirds to be that brazen, but maybe it had a nest nearby. They did like the red columbine’s sweet nectar and she was intruding.

Cleveland continued her way down the road until she reached the abandoned barn exactly two miles from her cul-de-sac. This was her turning around point every day. Four miles was her limit. She wasn’t sure how the idea of a four-mile walk became the perfect duration, but it had and she never went over it, strangely, and never even thought about that oddity until today. The barn always seemed to be the confirmation that four miles was sufficient and so she always turned around. But today the old hulking structure seemed to be leaning more than usual, perhaps heavy from last night’s rain like the creek. It was a wonder it was still standing at all. The farmhouse was long gone, only a crumbled stone foundation and half a chimney covered in Virginia creeper and poison ivy. She’d peeked into the vine-covered foundation once, but the hole was so deep and wrong — how had it ever been a home? — it had haunted her sleep for days, dreaming that the family had fallen down there. The secrets in that hole, she couldn’t bring herself to imagine, and so she never left the road to explore. It always seemed a good ending point.

But today, she was so foggy-minded, still rattled from Arnold’s incessant requests for clean napkins and Henry’s smile, it hadn’t felt like two miles yet and she wasn’t ready to turn around. Maybe it was the lovely wild rose scent in the air or precarious new lean of the once massive and beautiful barn that made her keep walking. It wasn’t as though she had never been all the way down the dirt road, she’d certainly driven it a time or two when traffic was bad in town and she’d needed a short-cut, so when she reached the big meadow about a half-mile past the barn it wasn’t a surprise it was there, but its beauty greater than she’d remembered. Gentle breeze blew the tall celery-colored grasses, and the violet and yellow flowers that grew throughout, like waves in a gentle ocean. Cleveland loved flowers. She never could grow them herself. Oh, she’d tried, many times, many varieties, but she hadn’t been born with the talent of growing things. Or keeping already grown things alive. Her sons were probably lucky in that regard, a thought that made her giggle. Lord knows Rowan certainly pressed her buttons nearly to a breaking point. But somehow, she’d always managed to stay calm with the boys even when her insides were a tornado.

She had the crazy idea to run through the meadow right then, but only walked along the side, letting her fingers bump up against each blade of grass, each wildflower, grateful for the quiet she now had in her life that allowed her to think. And then the buzzing interrupted her again. This time it ran right into the back of her head. It actually hurt. Cleveland whipped around with her walking stick this time, gripping it like a baseball bat, and she knew she looked ridiculous, like some character in a John Candy movie. Fortunately, the closest house was up on the opposite hill and surely no one could see her swinging from that vantage point. Most people were still at work anyway. She felt the back of her head, half expecting her hand to come away red, but it was clean. She gripped the stick and looked in every direction, waiting for its return. It obliged, buzzing the back of her neck. She swung as hard as she could but caught nothing except air. She heard her father, then — keep your eye on the ball, dammit! Cleveland had mastered the peripheral vision needed in softball but hadn’t remembered it until just now as she stared straight ahead across the field and yet to her left and right at the same time. A green flicker from the left. The hummingbird approached, Cleveland swung, and THWACK! Catapulted the poor thing into the wildflowers.

What had she done. What was her problem really? It was just a bird. And a tiny bird at that, no larger than her thumb. This was just like her wasn’t it? Calm until she wasn’t. Tears filled her eyes instantly. She hadn’t meant to hurt it, only stop it from divebombing her head. The least she could do was see if there was any chance it was still alive. Maybe she’d only stunned it. Cleveland set the walking stick down and stepped into the grass, gently moving the blades aside as she searched for the bird in its depths. She remembered a time when little Davie brought home a baby bunny, just a single kit, too young to live on its own. She had to see his heart broken the next morning when it was frozen and unmoving despite his attempts to nurse it the night before with the formula they’d found online. The memory was enough to almost stop her from looking for the dead bird. Over the years, scenarios like this with him became the norm, and she always felt guilty she couldn’t do more. But she needed to know. She moved aside a clump of purple clover and there it was, still, seemingly dead as she’d expected. Only, it wasn’t in fact a bird. It had a human face.

Cleveland yelped and jumped back out of the grass onto the gravel, slipping on her flat-bottomed sneakers and this time definitively landing on her ass. Hard. What the hell had she seen? It had to have been her imagination. Mangled maybe. She’d hit the hummingbird hard, after all. Her imagination saw a face, but it was simply a bashed in bird. Her stomach soured and her mouth metallic, began to salivate. She’d never had the constitution for gore. Cleveland picked up the walking stick intending to power walk herself home, maybe even jog despite her bad knees, but she had to look again. She had to be sure of what she killed.

This time her feet didn’t leave the road and she used the stick to part the grasses. The little thing lay there and as she took it in, it both made absolutely no sense and complete sense, for even back at the columbine covered cliffs, when she first thought she’d been buzzed by a bee it didn’t sit quite well then, even a hummingbird didn’t sit right for the way it felt when it hit her hand, molding with her palm, skin on skin. Cleveland shivered and blinked hard. It had a face, that was sure enough. But it also had wings like a hummingbird, little feathered wings on its disturbingly human shape. Cleveland looked around, up the road, back down. No one was around. She frowned. Had she hit her head when she slipped before? Maybe she had and just didn’t realize it. She picked up a twig in the road, leaned in and tapped the little body in the grass. It moved the way one might expect a sleeping child to move, soft and unresisting. Listless wings and a phosphorescent green body much like the ruby-throated hummingbirds, which is probably why her brain had gone there first. Its hair was a lighter green than its skin, flowing around its tiny head and ears so pointy and feathery they looked like antennae on a large moth. Hey, Cleveland whispered and immediately turned tomato red. What the hell was she doing?

She got up and began walking full speed toward home, but only got about fifteen steps before she turned around and looked again, convinced it would be gone. But it wasn’t. It still lay there looking deader than a doornail. Cleveland laughed at herself. What did that mean anyway? She reached into her sweatshirt pocket, retrieving one of the tissues she brought, she always brought, for her slight hay fever. It took her a few seconds to get up the courage, but she eventually put the tissue on top of the creature, wrapped her fingers around it, scooping it up and then tucking it in her pocket. There was something a little gross about it, like when you smashed a spider under a napkin. Not that she smashed it, but the way it felt under her fingers disturbed her, a tiny vulnerable body she could crush in an instant. That power had always disgusted her. She knew she should walk away from this thing. But she couldn’t.

The entire way home, Cleveland was frantic that the creature would come back to life in her pocket, bore a hole through her shirt and maybe eat clean through her side. She forced her thoughts elsewhere over and over, she had to because there was no way she was leaving it on the side of the road. She had to bring it home. If you’re determined to find trouble, you will, her mother used to tell her when she’d sneak out of the house at night and meet friends at the park. Well, if her mother thought kissing in the dark was trouble, she was right, but other than that Cleveland had never been the type to actually want trouble. No, she was more interested in doing the right thing, despite the sneaking out. Shed avoided countless opportunities for trouble by doing what she thought was right. And bringing home an injured creature was the right thing, just as Davie had taught her, even if there was no chance for survival. Funny what you learn from your children.

By the time she got back to Divorce Hill and unlocked her condo door, sweat had completely soaked her t-shirt. She felt like she’d just robbed a bank or something, which was totally ridiculous because clearly no one had any idea she had walked home, two and a half miles, with a secret in her pocket. Cleveland locked her door behind her and rushed to the kitchen sink. Because all emergencies are solved at the kitchen sink. She reached into her pocket with more care than if it was a bomb in there and then she set the little tissue-wrapped package on the counter. It didn’t move. She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. Once when she was still married, they’d come home from the movies to find a bat swooping through the house and her ex ran around with a towel and a tennis racket trying to catch the bastard. But it disappeared. They had to go to bed not having any idea if it was still in the house. Cleveland didn’t sleep at all that night. She imagined this would be the same.

Sweat dripped between her breasts, a sensation she hated as much as the sound of a knife on a ceramic plate. She had to shower and change so she could think straight, so she pulled a mason jar out of her pantry and the metal ring for the neck. But she needed to find something different for the top, just in case the little…creature…was alive, it had to be able to breathe. She finally settled on one of her cloth napkins, porous enough for anything to breathe through. Cleveland stared at the tissue pile on her counter. She didn’t want it to be dead. She told herself to stop being so ridiculous and lifted the tissue. The green phosphorescent skin was beginning to dull. She gently fingered the feathery antennae-ears. Nothing happened. Cleveland couldn’t detect a heartbeat, but in something so small, would you see it anyway?

She angled the mason jar on the counter and with her other hand, slid the little fairy (and when did she start calling it a fairy?) into the jar. Then she stood it up, the tiny thing gently thunking to the bottom, placed the cloth napkin over the top and secured it with the metal ring. Cleveland had never canned a vegetable in her entire life. She only had mason jars because she thought one day she might try pickling cucumbers but she never did that either because the only time she tried to grow them the plants withered and died before bearing fruit. Her parents were blue collar and she’d always lived in a town. They never grew anything when she was a kid and their meals consisted of whatever boxed atrocity her mother picked up. Cleveland lived in a fucking condo, for gods sake, so she didn’t grow anything either. At some point, in the years following her divorce, she’d at least mastered quality cooking for herself. It was hard at first, used to cooking for three man-boys. Potatoes, pasta, chicken, the white food group. For a few years she faltered, relying on whatever the diner had that day or cheese and crackers. And a bottle of wine: fruit. But now she took great care in her nighttime meal at least. Why shouldn’t she? The zing of a squeeze of lemon, the sweet bite of garlic, a sprinkle of cayenne. There were so many tastes out there — dinner was Cleveland’s greatest adventure, until today. Pickled fairy.

The whole thing made her laugh. She slid the jar into a corner, nervous about taking her eyes off it. But then she practiced looking away and looking back and still the thing remained. Its long, spindly legs bent in a slightly awkward position, like a young drunken woman fallen into bed after a long night. Cleveland decided the little captive in the jar was a she, anyway, not that there were any definite gender indicators on the creature. Long hair, but plenty of men had long hair. It was so delicate though, Cleveland couldn’t bring herself to see the creature as anything but female. Finally, she tore her eyes away, went up to the bathroom, stripped down and got a cool shower, washing all the sweat and dirt from the walk down the drain. Cleveland had never felt delicate. She was a small woman, but had always felt rather hefty, even as an athletic teen she ended up never able to shed all the baby weight, always drooping a bit around the middle and over the bra cup. She looked down at her own legs, more like straight tree trunks, rather than the slight curve of a shapely thigh and calf. How did a fairy have such nice legs? Didn’t they fly everywhere? Cleveland put her face to the water, let it hit her skin hard, pricking her cheeks, eyes, ears. The water cleared her head better than the walk had. She began to feel rather stupid. Whatever had happened that afternoon, whatever her mind had fabricated, she realized it was all exactly that — a concoction. As she washed her hair she all but convinced herself that when she went back downstairs, the jar would indeed be empty. Or it would be a giant moth inside, a Luna moth maybe, and she’d just been confused. It’s amazing what the mind can convince you of, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d thought she saw something that turned out to be explained by something else more rational.

She took her time drying off, pulled a soft summer dress on over her damp skin and put her wet hair up in a clip. Even though it wasn’t yet six, she set out her clothes for the next day, a habit her mother had instilled in her in elementary school. She set her alarm for four, the same time she got up every day for her five o’clock shift. She pulled the shades and pulled back the blankets. Cleveland liked feeling prepared for the next day, there was some assurance in a simple routine. There was a book on her bedside table and, after dinner, she would tuck herself into bed and read. Usually by nine, Cleveland was asleep. She was normally a great sleeper, although the previous night had been interrupted by a lot of strange dreams. Perhaps that’s why she’d felt so foggy-brained all day, why Arnold got on her last nerve, why she had imagined a moth to be a fairy. Her stomach growled reminding her of her next task. Surprisingly, she hesitated to go downstairs. She didn’t want to find a moth. She didn’t want to find an empty jar. She wanted to keep that tiny spark of fearful magic she felt when she first swatted at what she thought was a bumble bee.

Her phone rang and Cleveland nearly screamed. Get a grip, woman. To her credit it was the landline which almost never rang. The only people who used it were telemarketers and occasionally her friend Sue. She stared at it while it rang, finally picking up on the twelfth ring. It was Rowan. She hadn’t heard from him in quite a while, which meant he was most likely either having girl trouble or money trouble. Turned out to be neither, he was just checking in about his planned visit the next day, something Cleveland had mixed feelings about and frankly had completely forgotten about until now. She loved her kids, sure, but didn’t desire spending more than a day with them. Maybe Davie, but Rowan and she had nothing to talk about. He’d spend most of the time lecturing her about investment. After she hung up, she went down to the dining room and poured herself a glass of chianti. She never drank when the boys were growing up even though their father did. It wasn’t that she felt she needed all her wits about her, although she did, it was less deliberate than that. More a holdover from not drinking while pregnant which carried into the boys’ teen years, a simple self-deprivation she thought important. Why she ever had that way of thinking, she’s not sure. Once the boys left, she gave it up easily.

Maybe motherhood is what keeps us sane. Although she was inclined to think the opposite. Those were the hardest years of her life, when the boys were little and always dirty, always needing something. People often said things like enjoy it now because the time goes so fast, but Cleveland was grateful for the speed. Why would she want to be bathing and driving and feeding two wiggly boys for the rest of her life? And yet, that need to take care of something, to nurture and keep something, that still existed, despite her inadequacies. Houseplants were a definite no, she’d proved that to herself plenty of times. She’d considered getting a cat a few years back, but never pulled the trigger. She worked so many hours, always taking holidays shifts since the boys lived so far away they hardly came to visit. It wouldn’t be fair for a pet.

A strange sound came from the kitchen, like a fat house fly banging against the window. Cleveland poured more wine before she went to the kitchen, bolstering the courage to inspect. She came around the corner slowly, keeping her eyes on that corner of the countertop, mostly expecting to see an actual fly. She wasn’t really prepared for the truth. Truth is a little green fairy bouncing around in a mason jar. Fuck it all sideways, Cleveland whispered. Why is this happening. The fairly launched itself into the cloth napkin repeatedly, cause a little bulge with every slam. Cleveland wondered again if it had tiny sharp teeth, if it could gnaw itself out of the jar. She had no idea what most people’s reactions would be to discover a find like this but she was filled mostly with dread and she didn’t find that in the least strange. The way she saw it was she could either tell people or not tell people about the creature. People would either believe her or not believe her. No matter what, she couldn’t possibly keep it. But why was she even rationalizing this?

She reached for her phone on the table near her keys to take a picture, but when she angled the phone, the fairy stopped moving. Its tiny hands pressed against the glass as it stared at Cleveland. Itty bitty solid black eyes. Wings buzzing behind its back like an irritated wasp. Cleveland lowered the phone and stared back. She recalled learning something about fairies being mischievous, not the Disney versions most people thought of, but actual Celtic lore, one of the many things she never cared to study. Certainly not granting wishes or sprinkling fairy dust. The intense gaze of this green waspy nymph bothered her. It was like it knew something, unblinking and intentional. Maybe a little dangerous. If this thing had dust, it was probably radioactive. And yet it was beautiful, no question. Cleveland couldn’t take her eyes off it.

She walked over to the jar to get a better look. When she bent down to peer in, the fairy buzzed the glass, startling Cleveland and making her drop her phone, which bounced off the counter and clattered to the floor. The screen shattered when it hit the countertop. Shit.

“Do you know how much that’s going to cost me?” Cleveland said. The fairy cocked its head, listening, which unnerved Cleveland, but she kept talking anyway. She used to talk to her orange marmalade cat when she had him. It had been a few years since the old guy had wandered off never to return. Just like the rest of the men in her life. Cleveland squeezed her eyes tight. Shook her head. No, she’d never gotten the cat, she’d decided it wouldn’t be fair.

“I’m not ready to upgrade yet,” Cleveland waved the shattered phone in the air. The fairy seemed nonplussed. “I’m going to have to get it replaced at full cost now. And I definitely don’t have the money for that.” Nor could she take any photos either. She tossed the phone in her purse so she could run it to the store when she had a chance. Last place she wanted to spend her one day off. It would take those kids behind the counter thirty minutes just to get into the account and another hour to run Cleveland around all the promotions that she wasn’t buying, and the whole thing was exhausting every time.

As she moved around the kitchen pulling out items for dinner — head of lettuce, rolls, ground beef, she was keeping it simple tonight — the fairy watched her, slowly turning its head, hands on glass. No matter where she went the creature watched. She flicked a towel at it, it barely flinched. Cleveland wondered if maybe it was hungry and if so what did fairies eat? But she couldn’t open the lid anyway. She was going to have to decide whether or not to keep it and get a better cage or set it free. There was an old birdcage up in the spare room, but she decided the bars were probably too far apart. In the meantime, she knew all creatures needed water, so she filled a cup and gently let some drops fall through the cloth napkin lid and splash at the fairy’s feet. At first the little thing seemed pissed. Its wings beat the glass like a large dragonfly. Cleveland explained what she was doing and as she talked it calmed, it watched her and eventually licked the water running down the side of the glass with a tongue the size of a pinhead. It learned quickly. When all the drops were gone, it banged on the glass with its fist for more. This made Cleveland laugh. Such personality, she thought. And then she began frying up a burger patty for dinner.

Before going to bed that night, Cleveland debated where to put the jar. Part of her wanted it on her bedside table, like the fireflies she used to catch and use to light up her bedroom at night. But the other part wanted it behind a locked door somewhere. It couldn’t get out, it couldn’t hurt her, but she couldn’t listen to its buzzing against the glass all night like a trapped bird if that’s what it decided to do. She settled on the half-bath downstairs. When she picked up the mason jar, the fairy buzzed the glass again, rushing right toward her face. Cleveland almost dropped it. If she had, the jar would have shattered on the ceramic tile floor either killing the fairy or setting it free in the house. Cleveland couldn’t help but wonder if it had startled her on purpose. She carried it to the half bath, set it far back against the corner and shut the door. Then she reached back in and turned on the light, shutting the door again. But before heading up the stairs, she peeked in one last time. Her ex had once scolded her for leaving the light on for the cat one night when they went out to a movie. Cats were nocturnal; they didn’t need a light on, was she stupid? Cleveland didn’t think fairies were nocturnal, but turned the light off anyway and made her way upstairs. One might think Cleveland would lie awake in bed for hours that night, but no. She fell asleep in minutes, as she always did, and had a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, when her alarm went off at four she didn’t remember, at first, the guest in her downstairs bathroom. And then she shot up out of bed with an uneasy feeling. It was too quiet. Or did she just hear something? She threw back the covers and slipped on her robe. Once when Rowan and Davis were just three and two she’d had a morning where she simply knew they’d climbed out of their cribs. The sun was barely coming up and when she opened her bedroom door, she could hear their tiny voices and laughter coming from the kitchen. Of all things they’d found ice cream sprinkles and blessed the entire kitchen with them, like confetti or rice after a wedding. Neither had hardly eaten any, finding more pleasure in the raining rainbow pittering all over the ceramic tiles, the countertops, the table and chairs. Cleveland had laughed so hard tears ran down her cheeks. Her ex not so much. But he wasn’t here now, so whatever was going on downstairs was her problem and hers only. She could laugh if she wanted. She hoped she’d be laughing at herself, that the jar would be full of a giant green and probably dead moth, and she could go to work like every other day, negotiate with Arnold, ignore Henry. Problem solved.

But the jar was not empty and the fairy was still staring. Cleveland knew she had to decide. Pack it up in her bag and take it to the diner? Unscrew the cap and set it flying into the predawn light? Neither seemed right. She still hadn’t even gotten a photo for proof, she had to do at least that, even if it was proof for herself. She went into her purse and grabbed her phone. This time she didn’t let the creature unnerve her. Despite the cracked screen, she took several photos and a short video. There. Documented and proven. She carried the jar back to the kitchen, set it on the table and began scrolling through her photos. Each one was blurry to the point of imperceptibility, the video cut short. Cleveland picked up the jar and glared at the fairy. The corner of its mouth twitched up.

“We’re going to have to come to an agreement,” Cleveland said, giving the jar a small shake and then feeling bad for doing so, even though the fairy didn’t seem bothered. In fact, the little thing didn’t seem bothered by anything, only annoyed and slightly antagonistic. But that was Cleveland putting human characteristics on an animal again, something her father had admonished her for most of her childhood. She set the jar on the table and made herself some toast. She buttered it, spread on strawberry jam, and began gathering her things for work. As she did the fairy started slamming into the glass, like it was trying to knock the jar over. The fairy slammed and slammed, so hard Cleveland feared it would break its own wings. Just before it toppled the jar, Cleveland cradled it in her hands. For the first time, something like fear registered on the fairy’s face, as it crouched to the bottom of the jar, bracing itself on its tiny hands and knobby knees. Cleveland gently tapped on the glass, startling the creature. It was incredibly human despite black eyes and phosphorescent skin and of course those feathery green wings. She could have sworn it stared at her with a plea in its eyes as it tapped back. Even Davie would have called her crazy. Like he had before he left for school. And Rowan would be there that afternoon.

Cleveland held onto the jar, ignoring the creature’s tapping, and finished her coffee. She swept the toast crumbs off the table, tossed them, and swung her bag over her shoulder. She left the condo every morning at a quarter to five and today would be no different. There were tables to set, pots of coffee to brew, and it was a warm Saturday morning, so they’d be serving outside today as well. It would be a busy day that would end with her oldest son’s lectures. No time for a walk. Cleveland opened the freezer and slid the glass jar inside, right between the frozen chicken thighs for Sunday’s dinner and a stack of newspaper wrapped packages, one with a small tuft of orange marmalade fur sticking out. She left the condo with nothing but her purse and a thwapping sound in her head, like a fat fly banging against a window pane.

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www.jessrinker.com

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Jess Rinker

Jess Rinker

www.jessrinker.com

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