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The apothecary sits at her desk, painting pieces of pinecones gold. She is rolling play dough into spheres and sorting them into segregated heaps on the table. To her, the scales are not from pinecones, but have been shed off the back of an elderly dragon. And the spheres of salty silver are not mounds of clay, but the eyes of newts. Both are necessary for the potion she is about to brew, which if administered properly will make her crush since the first grade fall in love with her. Her acceptance letter to wizard school is on its way, it has just been lost in the mail.

Natalie Merchant is on the radio singing with a voice soft and low, as if her throat is lined with velvet, and the apothecary listens, melting into a sea of satin as her mother prepares dinner, “eggs in a basket.” The recipe is secret, but the first step includes using the mouth of a glass to form a hole in a slice of bread. And once the circular cut out is pried from the class it can be enjoyed as a pre-dinner snack. That’s the best part. The back window is creaked open and inward seeps the scent of overturned dirt and magnolia blossoms, sweet and earthy. The day crept just above eighty degrees, unusually hot for an April day. But the evening air was soft and loving as it cocooned her like freshly dried linen, warm from the drier and fragrant with the remnants of cherry blossom detergent.

“Did you check your fairy pavilion today?” the mother asks the apothecary at work. The fairy pavilion was a project the two had been working on for quite some time. Two pairs of y-shaped twigs suspended ten or twelve straighter ones, creating a tiny shelter. Of course, she had obtained the twigs humanely, only using ones that had fallen to the ground (to cut them from living trees or bushes would upset the fairies). Entwined into the little roof are blossoms of forsythia and magnolia, and potent sprigs of eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is a favorite of the fairy queen. She is bound to pay a visit, maybe even alongside her fairy friends, to the pavilion sometime soon. She has just been busy attending to her kingdom’s affairs.

The apothecary darts to the backyard, wand in one hand and ragged lion in the other. Streaks of dewy green line her knees and her hair is in need of washing, but a bath is the last thing on her mind. Beneath the apple tree, exactly where she had left it, is her crooked pavilion. There is something underneath it enjoying the shade. Her heart is pounding and her face is flushed with childish, magical excitement. It is not a bumblebee, butterfly, or dandelion this time, but the Fairy Queen who at last has arrived.

She bends over, pokes her eyes into the tiny structure to see something winged. Something small and delicate is sitting on a leaf. She reaches in her little hand, caked with grime but gentle. She moves slowly, careful not to make any sudden movements, as fairies are easily spooked and quick to flee. Her eyes are strained open, for if she blinks she will miss it. She pinches it between her pointer finger and thumb, pleased with her caution and dexterity.

But as she lifts the weightless thing to eager brown eyes, she sees that something is not quite right. The Queen’s wings are torn and lopsided. No tiara of marigold encircles her head of golden hair. Her hair is not even remotely golden. It is hard, yellow, and painted upon a plastic head. The Fairy Queen is just a doll. Shiny, inflexible, and made in China.

I hurl her across the yard and with a crack she slams straightaway into the trunk of a nearby tree and tumbles down to the dirty ground. She cannot even fly. In that moment I had awoken to find my lost tooth still under my pillow and no coins. I had observed that the chimney was far too narrow for a plump bearded man to scuttle down. I had heard the ending before even seeing the movie. My dragon scales were just bits of broken pinecones, and I was no longer the apothecary.

I stomp my pavilion and crush it to a mangled heap of broken twigs and flattened flowers. Back into my house I run, tears of rage erasing filth in streaks down my face. At my mother I scream and pound the table with fists. Spheres of play dough roll to the floor and pinecone scales violently jump. “It’s not real!” I bellow with hysteria. “The fairy’s just a doll!”

My mother is taken aback; how foolish it was to anticipate gratitude and pleasant surprise. Age eight, too old to be deceived by a plastic toy, yet too young to appreciate a mother’s well-intended gesture. Wise enough to fathom the impossibility of fairies and wizards, but not ready to accept it. Intuitive enough to catch their mothers in their lies, but not to see that they only did it to make them smile. “I’m so sorry, honey,” she says. “I thought you would like it.”

We sit down for our eggs in a basket, and my quivering gasps quiet to gentle breathing. The dilemmas that a full belly can fix, especially those of eight year olds, are truly remarkable. Natalie Merchant is still singing with her satin voice, “But I tell you life is sweet! In spite of misery! There’s so much more, be grateful!”

Mom asks, “How about some ice cream?”


With frozen brains and chocolaty fingers, the apothecary walks back to the base of the apple tree, this time with her mother close behind. Together they rebuild the destroyed pavilion, with fresh flowers and new kindling. The final outcome is as beautiful and enticing as ever, only this roof is interlaced with basil and mint. The real Fairy Queen was on her way. She simply grew sick of eucalyptus.




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