The Painting

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I hated that painting.

Seriously. Hated it. People don’t fit into bottles; there are no fairies.

I know she doesn’t have wings! But Granny Betty always insisted she was a fairy. This happened at least once a week from elementary school through high school, so yes, I’m sure.

Nothing I did stopped her. Instead, I stopped inviting friends over after The Incident in third grade when Anita told me my grandma was crazy and I punched her in return. And still Granny Betty repeated the stories, through braces and my first boyfriend and prom.

I remember that because it was the Monday after prom: the day had passed in a haze of exhaustion after a brilliant, heady weekend, and it was all anyone talked about: dresses and dates and DJ choices. That was the only thing that seemed interesting, certainly not mitochondria or factoring. 

The bus had just dropped me off. I had a few blocks to walk to Granny Betty’s, but I didn’t want to go and do homework and hear about fairies again. I wanted to go home and sleep, but Mom wouldn’t be home for hours, and Granny Betty would never let me take a nap with unfinished homework in my bag. I stomped half-heartedly down the street, past the Grand Tower’s faded brick and the Stable Corner’s sagging cloth archway. Mrs. Finway greeted me, her Great Dane Trotter tugging at his leash, as I passed the abandoned lot that used to be The Alchemist’s Hotel. 

It was dark in there, amongst the weeds that had almost braided themselves together, brambles and ivy and saplings competing with thistles and the odd daisy pushing out onto the cracked sidewalk. A glisten caught my eye as I half-stomped by, a strange blue-gold that reminded me of a deep-sea fish. It hovered for a moment, bobbing and blinking–it must be an early, confused firefly. But I’d never seen a blue firefly, never even heard of one. I stepped closer, until my jeans were brushing against the thorns and daisies invading the sidewalk, but all I could see through the brush was tantalizing flickers. I looked left, right, behind me, as if someone was going to come and berate me for what I was about to do. Mrs. Finway was already around the next corner, and the street was deserted. Who would care what I was doing anyway? I said to myself as I stepped across that first bramble and into the lot, flattening a space for myself. I paused there, overwhelmed by what I’d done. This wasn’t a good idea; I was trespassing, someone was going to call the cops on me. I should go back to Granny Betty’s.

It was like navigating an unfamiliar house full of thorns in the dark. I could hear my heart pounding against the clenched rock in my stomach. I shouldn’t be here. There was nothing to see, except maybe the inside of a jail cell when someone called the cops. I–

Something flickered, that same ocean-fish blue that was woven through now with green, the green of phosphorescent plankton in that film we’d seen in biology class last year, the kind that filled the ocean and drew in whales to feed. They flickered behind a blackberry bush that seemed to take up half the lot, barely visible in the gaps between the brambles and the white flowers and the leaves. I stepped closer, glancing back at the street, up at the windows looking down, down at my feet, every once in a while at the light. I worked my way around the bush, painfully slowly, sticking myself with spines and thistles and dead twigs every step. 

Mr. Brown rounded a corner, and I ducked down, heart pounding. I didn’t think he’d been looking at me? I waited, forcing myself to breathe as I listened for his shout, for the sound of sirens. I heard his shuffle even from across the street; it didn’t pause, only faded.

I was shaking. This was stupid, stupid, stupid! It was just some weird firefly. What was I doing? I tried to steady my breathing as I crouched, preparing myself to stand–what if someone else was coming?–but when I looked down to find somewhere safe to steady myself, there was something glowing, glowing purple. It was crawling up a vine by my leg in great leaps. It wasn’t a firefly; it was a dragon, glowing amethyst from its wings and eyes and every inch of its body. 

I sat down in shock–and leapt up again with a curse, because I’d sat on something sharp. The dragon was gone when I thought to look again. I stood where I was, trying to–to make it make sense, to think what I could possibly have seen, because what I’d seen was a tiny glowing dragon and that was–impossible. 

There–another glow! Now I had to go see what it was–go see that firefly, that is. I shoved my way through all the growth until I was at the first light I’d seen, that ocean-life blue. It floated at the same height as a firefly would, but… it was almost the size of a quarter, and instead of an insect it was a cage of electric-blue light, dotted with gold, just like a comb jelly but in the air. In front of me. In the abandoned lot.

I almost sat down again. 

And–there! There was the green light I’d seen, and… it was a tiny woman, standing as solidly in midair as if she were standing in my bedroom. She had no wings, just as in Granny Betty’s painting.

It was too much for me. I stumbled back the way I’d come, feeling the brambles pull at my jeans, until I was back on the solidity of the sidewalk, with all of its cracks and unevenness still more solid than… back there.

I hurried to Granny Betty’s.


 

Thanks, everyone! This is my contribution to Rosalie Valentine‘s Penprints Flash Fiction Dash, i.e. a fun reason to write flash fiction (1,000 words or less) or maybe just to write at all. And I would never write about fairies or people stuck in bottles, so this was my chance!

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