Seeing Stars

June 16, 2008
By Rebecca Kaebnick, Croton-on-Hudson, NY

I watched Ena knit. Ena is my mother, but she was so young and beautiful that sometimes it seemed difficult to think of her as one; sometimes she was more like a sister to me. Her skin was soft as Lamb’s Ear and quite dark, dark as night, which is odd because everybody else in our village had fair skin and even I had lighter skin, more like honey. Her hair, long and glossy and dark (but with a distinct redness to it), spilled over her shoulders like molasses out of cupped hands. In fact, I would find that holding on to her would be like that; however tight I held my hands together, she found a way to slip through the cracks.

Ena wasn’t too great at knitting; she lacked patience. Fairies are infamously impatient, (but they have very nimble fingers). Every so often Ena lowered her needles and gazed out the window, where the stars twinkled innocently. I could tell something was on her mind.

Yes, that’s right. My mother’s a fairy. There are a lot of different kinds of fairies in this world, and I still don’t know what kind Ena is—just that she’s a good kind.

“Bridie?” Ena said at last. “There’s something I want to tell you. Please, please don’t get too—angry, or frightened, or sad—you have a right to be, but let me explain first.”

“All right,” I said.

Ena sighed, slumping backward into her chair. She covered her face with her hands.

“I should have told you before. It’s so hard now.” Her voice was muffled.

“It’s okay,” I told her. I was sitting across from her, and I was suddenly aware of the empty space between us. I leaned over and put my hand on her shoulder; she placed hers over mine. Her hand was unnaturally warm; that’s the way with fairies.

“Well, you know I’m a fairy,” she said. “Usually fairies aren’t allowed to have children with humans, it’s against the rules of nature. But before you were born the fairy king, or whatever you would like to call him, made an exception for me. He could see how devoted your father and I were to each other. He allotted to me thirteen years with the humans, only thirteen. I was so young. It seemed like such a great amount of time. Anyway, it’s been thirteen years since then.

“The fairy duty is, as you are know, flying up to the stars to borrow their dust and sprinkle it over animals’ and humans’ faces in the night, so that they sleep deeply. I have to return to do it.” She went on to say something else, but her voice died away and she bit her lip.

I felt like a molten ball had been building up in my stomach all evening while I watched Ena struggle over her knitting—waiting for her to spill her news. Now that ball exploded. My insides melted. I tried to say something, but my mouth seemed stiff and fuzzy and I just swallowed. I tugged my hand from her shoulder and sat down. There seemed to be a faraway ringing in my ears.

“I’m sorry, Bridie.”

Thinking back, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Fairies are unpredictable. You should never fully trust a fairy. I believe my mother wasn’t trying to hurt me, but fairy emotions are different from humans—stronger, just like their body temperature is higher and their heartbeat faster. Probably my mother was caught up in the heat of headstrong love with my father, and when he died it faded. Then she realized where she really belonged. I should have seen something like this coming. I should have known that there would be trouble somehow, because I had a mother who was a fairy.

“I know this’ll be hard, at first,” said Ena in a low voice, “but you’re a clever girl. You can deal without me. Perhaps a mother in the village can take you in.
“I wish …. I long for the stars. I know now why fairies aren’t meant to stay on earth.”

“Ena, you can’t say that,” I begged. “I love you, you’re the best mother I could ever have. Perhaps you can strike a deal with the fairy king, or run away.”

Ena had already decided, though. I’ll bet she even had a bag packed so she could leave quickly. I could see by her face. She felt badly but she wanted to go. She wouldn’t change her mind now. Fairies never do.

“Ena, you can’t!” I cried, flinging myself forward to clasp onto her. I shook her by the shoulders; she was smaller than most humans, but her body was stiff and she held my hands tightly.

“I’ll sprinkle the finest dust I find on your face by night,” she whispered. “You’ll have good dreams. This is for the best. I promise.”

“No, no, you can’t go!” I shouted. I won’t let you! You’re my mother.”

“See what I mean?” she said. “I’m not a good mother. I wouldn’t be a good mother.”

“But you are, I promise you are,” I sobbed into her shoulder.

“You shouldn’t promise things. I’ve learned that too.” I felt her head move, and I knew she was looking out the window, at the stars. I felt the molten lava flowing through my veins. It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t leave me, desert me.

“I hate you, just leaving me, no!” I flung a stream of words at her that were mostly incomprehensible through my tears. Then I ran out the door, ran faster than I’d ever run before, maybe even as fast as a fairy could fly.

>>By the time I had worn myself out, I was at the river. I lay by the bank watching the water flow by indifferently, watched it spill over the waterfall. It seemed so easy, the water just let itself be carried along, and it didn’t care when it fell. Well, water didn’t have feelings, but humans did. I let all my tears form a puddle in the soil.

It was pretty late. I thought about going back, but I wanted to make Ena feel guilty. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I hoped that if I didn’t come back to say good bye she wouldn’t leave.

Hiccupping, I leaved forward to splash my face with water. It was icy cold, and I gasped and tried to get my weight back on the bank. It was slippery and I fell forward.

I felt my body shudder and grow stiff from the frigid water as I was swept down the river, away from the banks. Toward the waterfall. I was going to fall and there was nothing I could do about it.

The waterfall wasn’t so tall, only about seven feet high, but as I was swept over the edge it felt like falling off the earth or something. I stretched my hands out as if I might reach the stars, screaming, but then I was plunged into the stream of water and it filled my throat.

Then I looked up at the sky, with the stars shining down on my face, and I felt my limbs relax and let myself fall to the earth and into the pool below.

>>For a few seconds I drifted downward into the greenish water, my mind numb. It was quiet and serene.
I flipped onto my back and gazed up at the stars. Why did I feel so calm? I shouldn’t feel relaxed after falling. So far the highest fall was the waterfall but the hardest was the one back at home, where my mother stood by and watched.

I wasn’t calm, I decided. It was still scary. But it was easier if I went with the flow. It was useless to try to hold onto a branch if you’re already falling, or to swim against the stiff current. Just get ready for the landing and see what happens.

In any case, my mother had made up her mind, I thought bitterly. I dragged myself out of the water. Perhaps if I hurried home I could catch a kiss as she flew away.

>>My mother was grateful that I was willing to let her go. It was difficult, and I still miss her. But on clear nights I watch the stars come out and think of Ena, and when I go to sleep I imagine she is sprinkling me lightly with star dust, just like she promised.

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