The Fairy and I

         Once, when I was very young, I snuck into the forest by moonlight. 
                By chance, perhaps, a fairy landed on a branch so close to my face I could see the glimmering of her pale eyes, alight with the glow of a thriving moonlit night.  Her hair of spun silver, and delicate wings, her pale skin, and graceful movement inspired a thrill of joy that sang in my body from the tips of my toes to the ends of my hair.  She was the most beautiful creature my child-eyes had seen—or so I had thought in that moment.  For I would come to learn that I was quite mistaken.
                “Oh, you are so very beautiful!” I exclaimed, holding my fingertips back though they longed to touch, to make certain with another sense the truth of what my eyes saw.
                The fairy raised her delicate silver eyebrows, her eyes wide with surprise.
                “Do you really think so?”
                “Indeed, fairy, I think you are the most beautiful of all I have ever seen!”  I spoke my impassioned truth again.
                “Ah,” the fairy sighed, and took in all of me.  “But you are very young.  Time will bring creatures more fair than I.”
                “I do not think so, fairy,” I said, resolutely.  For all I was but seven years of age, yet I knew the truth for what it was.
                The fairy put her hand on a curved hip, her head gently tilted.
                “Come with me,” she said.  And leapt off her perch in flying spirals that caused my heart to thrill at the wondrous sight of it.  I followed her, walking behind, immersing my body in the sparkling dust that trailed in her wake.  My senses hummed.
                Until she stopped.  Suddenly and all at once.  In the thin of the air, or so it looked to me until I came closer and saw the thinnest of sticks attached to a great tree’s trunk.  A trunk surrounded by golden light, and though I could not see the source of the glow, I heard an unfamiliar tinkling sound coming from beyond the wide, barked base.
                “Come and see,” the fairy beckoned me, a delicate flick from her small pale hand.
                Bending around the tree my eyes teamed in wonder at the sight of three beautiful golden fairies.  Dabbing in and around a pool elevated from the forest floor, it glowed with the trails of their shimmering dust.  They were different from my small silver fairy; each golden where she shown pale, their hair sparkled with a thousand hues of yellow and golden brown.
                “Do you see?” she asked.
                I nodded, for indeed I did see this magical view she laid before me and could not speak for fear my voice would break its lovely spell.
                Her eyes narrowed.  “But do you truly see?”
                I looked at her, and did not understand.
                But I was about to see most clearly.
                “Do you not think them beautiful?”
                I nodded vigorously.  “They are marvelously fair,” I risked all to whisper, and was delighted that the vision remained.
                She nodded, a sad, slow nod.  “You do see.  You see that they are much more beautiful than me.”
                “No!” I cried in a louder whisper, and my body started.  “I do not see that at all!  You are surpassing lovely, fairy.”  I said the truth of my small heart, and it was then I noticed it, something in my fairy that the others did not have; that thing which made my words feel sound.  There was something in her eyes.  A deepness—a depth lacking in the golden fae dancing about the pond, their tiny selves so much more shallow, like a pool unfilled—and knew I had spoken more truth than I had known.
                But my truth, I would learn so very soon, walked about on an edge.  New truth was just off the precipice.  And in my eager youth, a grave danger lurked: I was incapable to learn other than what I was told.
                The loveliest fairy shook her head.  “Oh, my dearest child, you do not see.  Come, let me help you.”
                I tilted my head, my brows furrowed in confusion.  I raised my eyes to hers, eager to know what I could not see.  She slid a small hand under my chin, and pointed my eyes toward the golden fairies.  “Look carefully at them.  Do you not see how their hair falls, shimmering and shining gold all down their backs?  There is not a fleck of silver to be seen.”
                She felt me nod, and turned my eyes to her.  “Do you see these silver hairs?  They were but flecks once.  How much more course they are now.  So, you see, their hair is more beautiful than me.”
                I knew it was a grave crime to contradict, and so I kept quiet, though I thought what she had said did not seem so.
                Again, she moved my face to see beyond the tree, at the fairies who darted along the water, stopping to stare at the image captured there.
                “Look at their eyes, how young and how merry!  Full of glow, and unlined, the color uniform on every inch of them.  No cares or worries hamper these.”
                I saw the glowing young eyes, and longed to tell her of what they lacked – a depth, and more than that could not be seen, like my beautiful fairy’s eyes’ twinkling.  But I could not, for she spoke when I would have summoned courage enough to have my say.
                “My eyes have lines from worries and cares, my irises fade as the years fall.  There is blue that resides close beside, a permanent fixture.  And smoothness fades to a dim memory.  So, you see, their eyes are more beautiful than me.”
                I grew a kind of uncertainty then.  This fairy, so wise, and far older than I, must know great truths.  Who was I, so young and unlearned, to see things differently?  I was taught that elders are often right.  Perhaps my knowledge was born of some fault, like pride, selfishness, or some such thought—those thoughts so quick to be seen in children, yet so rarely acknowledged in those of greater age.  I was to be wary of these things, though at the time I was not certain what they were; I could not be right when she, my teacher, was so very sure I was wrong.
                Once more she turned my eyes toward the frolicking trio.  “You see their wings outstretched and taught, their movements so strong and flexible?  How smooth their skin!  How able their bodies!  They could fly for lengths and not grow weary.  The gossamer of their wings…” her voice came to my ears with a longing and an agony.  And I knew I could not mention the grace of her gentle movements, the delicacy of each fold of her skin.  Nor could I go beyond and praise her fearless calm to speak to one such as me—surely had I shown myself to the young fairies, that would flee upon sight of me—for I knew she would not hear me.
                “This drooping skin, and crinkling of gossamer that would not bare me more than a length or two at most without rest; the slow movements, each chosen with a sight more care.” My fairy sighed, and the words that followed were engraved upon me, “So, you see, they are more beautiful than me.”
                She had said it thrice, and the magic moved; I knew then the truth of her words.  I had been wrong, but now I could see that youth was more beautiful than my beloved fairy.
                “Now hurry home, dearest child.  Make the most of your beautiful years.  For all too soon, you will see, that time has slipped away, and your beauty is lost.”
                I turned to my teacher with a startled gaze, then rushed fast and quick, along the forest floor, out of the trees and in the door, up the stairs, and, with not a moment to lose in the fury of my youth, fell asleep.

                And so, I went away from my beloved teacher with knowledge I had not before possessed, and enjoyed the beauty of my youth.  So quick was I to take care of my beauty, to bathe in the finest milk, and cleanse my skin with the oil of rose.  To lengthen my lashes, and make my hair shine.  To make my skin taught, and keep feasting at bay.  To laugh but little, saving my eyes from lines.  To disdain those who did not hold or care for the truth of what I knew, and to envy those who did better than I.  Quick to look into every shined surface, to behold the beauty that shown, to squash any imperfection with a remedy or a cure, and to bask in my youthful loveliness. 
                Until one day, I saw upon my head, a thread of spun silver. 
                I gasped at the mirror, my dearest and truest friend so quickly turned destructive and mortal enemy, and fled at first moonlight to the forest where my fairy dwelled.
                “Fairy!” I cried not only for myself, but for the sight I saw before me: my fairy was an ancient thing.  Her wings crippled and crumpled, her small hands knotted with strange lumps, her face pinched and wizened, her eyes wrinkled and small.  Was this my fairy?  Yet I knew it was she, for somewhere deep, very deep, in my heart was a knowledge of deepest truth.
                “Is that my dearest child?” her voice croaked.
                I stifled my wince at her sound, and my fear at the sight of her tiny aged body.  I had a duty to perform, and I would meet it: I would comfort my old teacher in these her poor, waning days.
                “Yes, fairy, it is me.”
                I bent my head to the branch on which she sat, all the better for her to see me by.  She put her small hand to my cheek, and smiled at me.  All at once a warmth filled my heart.  A warmth that evicted my sense of duty, and brought me something else entirely.  I was dancing with abandon, my mind free of thoughts of self.  An ancient truth began to replace a broken one laid on me by a broken, lonely fairy, a truth that far surpassed that which I had come to know that day so long ago, a sure truth that turned a broken one into an awareness of my fairy’s pain.  An ancient truth that made me remember a young girl in the forest, who saw her fairy for the first time, and thought her beautiful.
                And I loved my fairy, all at once, and most completely for her prior folly.  And saw that she was, before me in this moment, very beautiful, indeed.  Her snow-white hair, her wrinkled cheeks soft like down, her eyes… Her eyes!  How mightily they twinkled.  More so now than ever before.
                And I loved her all the more for knowing a truth far older than my fairy’s truth; for my fairy had been wrong.  My childhood heart had known, as I knew it now, gazing at my fair friend: youth may have its blossom, but the trueness and light of age is the flower that bursts forth.
                My childhood heart restored, it was honesty that, too, was wont to burst.  But I was stopped by her voice, fair with the weight and wisdom of her age.
                “I am sorry, dearest child.  I fear I have lead you astray.”
                “Think nothing of it, most beautiful of fairies.” I smiled, delighted to be near her once more.
                “Oh, dearest child, how much you know now.  As much as you knew before.  Peace it will bring you, more peace than I had.  But as much peace as I have now, perhaps.”
                “And fairy, how young I am to know true things,” I exclaimed, the rapture of my heart basked in the very realness of the words we exchanged, and the peace of rest that comes with a contented heart in the face of true beauty.
                My withered and lovely fairy looked up at me, the twinkle strong in her eye.
                “Bless you, dearest child.  I think that you are right.”  And her smile lit her face like the sun bursting over the horizon.  “How delightfully wondrous your life will be, now that you are free.  Farewell, dearest child.”  And she was gone.
                That very night I went home slowly, for I had much to think over.  I passed a tree trunk, its familiarity beckoning me to its side.  Around the trunk I saw the pool, and dangling on a limb above the pool, there sat three silver fairies. 
                “Hello,” I said, for age had made me confident.
                They looked up at me with a startled gaze, and moved to flee.
                “Don’t go,” I said.  And to my great surprise, they did not.
                “Why do you want to look at us?” One of the fairies asked.
                “It is a shame that you should see us like this, and not in the glory of our golden youth,” said another.
                “Oh, but I did see you in your golden youth,” I said, before any could say more.
                “Ah, did you?  How glorious we were!” the third reminisced sadly.  “And this is all we are left,” she added, and gestured the length of her small body.
                “What wondrous fairies you are! So beautiful, though so downcast.”
                “How can you say such things?  You are not a child.  You know the truth of it,” said the second fairy, her voice a cutting blade.  “We are not that beautiful at all.”
                “I am not a child, but I do know the truth of it.  Shall I tell you what I thought of you when I was young and you were golden?”
                “Tell us, do!” said the first and the third, the second nodding eagerly to hear hopeful stories of their perhaps not quite forgotten beauty.
                “I thought you sad,” honesty compelled me, “shallow as this pool.  For it was that very night I met my fairy, and her hair spun like silver, her eyes held depth – and just the very beginnings of a most magnificent twinkle,” I paused a moment, and then said, “She was the most beautiful fairy I ever saw.”  I finished, and waited to hear their thoughts.
                Slow they were to speak now, and stunned they were in surprise.  So slow, they said nothing at all, and only stared into the pool.
                I moved to be on my way, to leave them to their reflections, when the third fairy looked up and caught my eye.  I gasped a little at what I saw, something catching the light though there was no light to catch, for in her eye was the smallest hint of a twinkle. 
                I smiled, looked away, and put my hands in my pockets, whistling as I strolled home.  And when I had arrived, I risked a small glance in my reflective enemy of late.   But there was no battle to fight that night—the crux had already been won.  I stared at my face, it’s skin less tight, my silver thread displayed.  And there was something else besides.  A smile stretched wide over my face, my heart gave a thrill of joy.  For we had three things in common that night, the third fairy and I.  A renewed knowledge of ancient truth, a host of small truths to unlearn, and in the corner of each of our eyes the glorious beginnings of a twinkle.
               

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