Editor's note: Elise Forier Edie, one of my favorite fae and fairy tale writers, has supplied us with a wonderfully offbeat and engrossing midsummer story. The full midsummer issue will appear by the end of the month, enjoy!
None of the grown ups liked Uncle Bubba’s friend. Delia heard them talking on the front porch after supper.
“She done starved herself to look like a fashion plate,” murmured Aunt Adelaide, sucking on a Salem Light with the desperation of a child slurping a too-thick milkshake.
“Bubba told me she was vegan? Whatever that is?” Delia’s mama framed everything like a question.
“Means she only eats fruit,” snapped Granny, scratching at her eczema.
Adelaide blew a smoke ring. “Means she’s a damned snot. And that’s all there is to it.”
They snickered, and Delia, who’d been pretending to be a dog since after breakfast, chewed on what the joke might mean, but couldn’t ask about the punch line. Dogs couldn’t talk, after all, and anyway, she had made a promise.
Uncle Bubba’s new girlfriend plain made Delia want to howl. She smelled fresh and meadowy, like mint leaves and sassafras; she was delicate and pale, with a waterfall of thick, black hair. But Delia could see she was crazy. Red spots glowed in her eyes like a vixen’s, and she meant to munch them all with her tiny, sharp teeth. But the grown ups only stared and made snide comments. All Delia could do was shiver.
“Forty thousand dollars for a buncha carvings? She must be from New York City.” Granny’s tone indicated that New York City rested somewhere south of a sour privy hole.
“Gonna run our Bubba to wrack and ruin. War done started it. This gal’s finishing him off,” Aunt Adelaide intoned.
To that, Delia’s mama said nothing at all, which was how it always was, when anyone ever mentioned the desert war.
Uncle Bubba had come home from it three years before, when Delia was seven, practically a baby. Red eyed, red bearded, meaty and mad, he slept all day and wandered at night, looking and smelling like a grizzly bear. Only the blind dog Dozer seemed happy to see him, thumping his tail whenever Uncle Bubba walked by. Delia mostly just wet her pants.
“Uncle Bubba’s nice?” Mama said, helping Delia change out of her damp underwear one day.
“Then why’s he growl all the time?”
Mama explained that Uncle Bubba was sick with Pea-Tee-Zesty, and it made him think kudzu was sand storms and lawn mowers were landmines. But if Delia spoke softly, and showed him her storybooks, he might stop growling and smile.
So Delia had crammed some courage in her heart and handed Uncle Bubba a volume of “The Greek Heroes.” She had found it in Granny’s spare room and read it because her father had scrawled his name on the flyleaf, “J.D. Strong.” She offered to read it aloud to Uncle Bubba. He nodded. They tried out Theseus. They delved into Heracles. They both loved Odysseus the best. Then they read all the books from her father’s boyhood library – Freddy the Pig, Madeleine L’Engle, King Arthur, Prince Caspian. Sometimes Dozer the dog listened. Once, in the middle of Treasure Island, he farted, and Uncle Bubba laughed.
When the doctor prescribed ganja weed for Bubba’s war disease, he relaxed a lot more. He took up chainsaw carving in the shed. He wore a white mask and goggles and filled the yard with beautiful and richly polished wooden creatures, most of them from storybooks. He made a shy-looking unicorn, some goddesses and griffins, and a giant angel wired to a tree. After carving, Uncle Bubba sat up nights on the porch, swinging his smooth, bare feet while he smoked sweet cigarettes, and sang oldies under his breath. Delia and Dozer sometimes lay on the grass nearby, listening, while fireflies flicked on and off in the brambles. Uncle Bubba’s voice sounded delicious to Delia, salty and sweet, like hot chocolate syrup drizzled on crackers.
“Daddy used to sing that one,” she told him one night, while he crooned about Lucy in the Sky. Delia liked the parts about mirrors and marshmallows.
“Sure he did,” Bubba told her. “Saw her too, I reckon.”
“Saw Lucy?” She sat up. Delia couldn’t make out Uncle Bubba’s face in the dark but the ember of his ganja cigar glowed as he inhaled.
“Yup. Me and your daddy was boys then. We heard Lucy singing in the garden one midsummer eve, and we followed the sound to a path in the blackberry. Next thing we knew, we was in her Land.”
Daisy gaped. “Were there marmalade skies and rocking horses?”
“And a girl with kaleidoscopes.” Uncle Bubba’s voice had gotten very soft. “That was Lucy, a’course. The girl.”
“Was she beautiful?”
“Sure was.” Smoke billowed as he sighed. “But I’ma tell you what. She scared me, Deels. Her eyes were like a tiger’s at the zoo, all yellow and cold. Put me in mind of a loaded gun.” Delia shivered and Dozer raised his blind head. “I ran like hell, right back home. But your daddy, he stayed away for a day and a night. Thought she’d gobbled him up for sure.”
“But she didn’t.”
“Oh, no. Dozer found him and fetched him back.”
“He did?” Delia rubbed the dog’s warm side. Dozer was a white lab, but his fur was always a little pink from lying in the red clay dust of the garden paths. When Delia stroked him, the dust coated her fingertips. “How?”
“He was young back then,” Uncle Bubba said. “Fulla beans, and brave as a Cherokee. Plus, he has them senses only dogs have—smell, and hearing, and like that? But best of all, he has a pure heart, and Lucy ain’t much when you put her up against that.”
“Daddy didn’t love Lucy, did he?”
“Oh, nah, honey.” Bubba shook his head. “You can never call what she gives you “love.” But Lucy spelled him some, that’s for sure.”
“But he didn’t never go see her again, did he?”
Bubba stubbed out his cigar. “Best we not talk about this too much in the garden at night Deels, even with Dozer to guard us. Lucy likes this yard. Always has.”
So Delia whispered, “But did Daddy go see her again?”
Uncle Bubba didn’t answer. Instead, he shut himself in the shed and didn’t come out for a week.
The next night, Aunt Adelaide poured Delia’s mama a stiff Scotch, and told her she had to get her ass on Christian Singles Dot Com.
“Jaydee ain’t coming back, Penny.” Aunt Adelaide had cracked open a fresh package of Mint Oreos by punching a steak knife through the cellophane. Her cheeks bulged with grasshopper green cream and chocolate. “You gotta start living again, hon.”
Delia, who was lying behind the couch with her legs in the air, had to bite her tongue to keep from yelling. Mama and her both knew Daddy was so coming back from the war someday, and what did fat, smoky, green-Oreo-eating Aunt Adelaide know about it anyway?
But Adelaide plowed on, almost as if she’d heard Delia’s thoughts. “I know as well as anyone Em-Eye-Ay stands for Missing-in-Action, and there’s a chance he’s coming back. But honey, it also stands for Maybe-Is-Axed. You know? And it’s been more’n three years since Jaydee disappeared. Time to face facts and start living again.”
Delia chomped on her tongue so hard, her mouth filled with blood.
Mama said, “But I dreamed about him again last night?” Delia rolled over and spit bloody drool where she lay, letting it run in a silent stream down her chin onto the carpet. “He was out in the garden with all them creepy creatures Bubba’s carved? In the dream, I mean? And he was as frozen as frozen--”
“Now see,” Adelaide interrupted, crunching on an Oreo. “That’s the thing. That is why you got to have your ass on Christian Singles Dot Com. You’re living in dream world, and you owe it to Delia to move on. ” Her voice lowered. “You’ve noticed how little Deels is getting, I hope? Only people she talks to are Bubs and the dog.”
No one else is worth talking to around here, certainly not you, Delia wanted to scream. Instead, she spit out another whole pool of bloody drool. It lay thick and ropy on the rug.
Mama protested some more, but Aunt Adelaide kept on, and after awhile Mama gave in. She signed onto Christian Singles Dot Com, and then Adelaide gave her a makeover and a photo shoot. Before too long they were giggling about some dentist named Daryl with a boat, and whether or not the locksmith Shoupe was just super handsome or a cereal killer. And after a solid week of that crap, Delia decided she had better figure out how to find her dad and fix things. Otherwise, Mama’d go off and marry some guy who drilled teeth for a living or got his jollies stabbing boxes of Quaker Oats. Either way, Delia figured it was going to suck.
So the next morning, she prepared for a Heroic Quest. First, she made a list of rules she would follow, because all her books said magic went bad unless you followed the rules. “Keep every promise,” was the one rule she wrote (from the Bible.) “Don’t eat the food,” was another, (from The Sword and the Stone.) “Don’t stray from the path.” (The Hobbit) “No kissing or getting married to fairy folk.” (“Tam Lin”) “Be polite and kind, even to ugly old witches.” (“The Tinderbox”) “It’s okay to throw a witch in an oven if she tries to eat you.” (“Hansel and Gretel”)
Then she stuck the rules in a pocket of her shorts and slipped out the back door to the dawn soft garden. Blind Dozer joined her, raising his pink snout to sniff. Dew sparkled on beanpoles. Cicadas throbbed in trees. Flies buzzed in a sparkly cloud on a pile of Dozer’s poo. Around her, all of Uncle Bubba’s creatures stood frozen, in a hundred wild and lovely poses, like dreams ensnared.
“Where’s the path to Lucy’s land?” she asked Dozer. “Uncle Bubba says you used to know where it is.”
Dozer trotted straight to Granny’s live oak and pointed his snout at the angel Uncle Bubba’d wired in the branches. He woofed.
Delia liked the angel, even more than the unicorn. Uncle Bubba had given it her father’s face, proud and sorrowful, with a lock of hair falling over its forehead. Uncle Bubba had worked three whole days to get the angel wired securely to the live oak’s branches. He’d had to cut the statue into big chunks, and used a pick up truck, and a chain hoist, and a generator that growled, and spat foul smoke. Granny had glowered in the yard almost the whole time he worked, arms folded over her chest, her wrinkled face white in patches from eczema cream.
“Goddammit Bubs, make sure it’s secure. I don’t want the cotton picking thing tumbling on our heads when we ain’t looking.”
Uncle Bubba assured her it would stay where he wired it, and now it hung, strong and beautiful, poised above the roof. Delia put her head all the way back, looking into the shadowy branches of the tree. They were as thick around as Aunt Adelaide’s hips, and twisted in paths, secret and shrouded. She could imagine a whole city of fairies up there, using the boughs as paths to walk from house to house.
Delia stroked Dozer’s head. “Uncle Bubba said the way was through a blackberry bramble.”
Dozer aimed his white eyes at the angel and whined. So Delia squared her shoulders. “Okay,” she told him. “Here I go.”
He sat and waited while she climbed.
It took a long time to get high enough to where Bubba’s angel lived. By the time she reached it, Delia’s knees and palms were scratched, and even her stomach had sweat on it. Dozer sat vigil below, nose twitching and sniffing, while his cloudy eyes stared out of his pink and white head.
The tops of the tree branches were slippery with black mold. Delia scooted along on her belly, smearing glop on her thighs. Rough bark stung her palms and scraped at her legs. By the time she clawed her way on to the angel’s back, she was panting like Dozer. She rested, spread eagle on the smooth, massive wings.
But after she caught her breath, Delia realized she could see the whole world, like a magic map beneath. Uncle Bubba’s beasts and monsters dotted the garden. Granny’s mossy roof spread in a big square ahead. Beyond it, tobacco fields feathered, striped green and brown.
The angel felt cool under Delia’s hot body. She pressed her ear to its back, and sighed with pleasure. And that’s when she heard her father’s voice, clear and strong as a church bell, on a Sunday morning in spring. He was calling from inside the angel.
“I remember,” she heard him say. “I remember climbing this big ass tree in my backyard. I remember my mama’s house and her vegetable garden. I remember my little brother and me catching frogs in the rain. I remember cutting into the ground in Georgia and seeing good red earth. I remember where I came from. And I know it’s real. And you’ll never take it from me, never.”
Delia lay for a long time, and a smile spread on her face, while warmth bathed her chest. She listened to her dad remember who he was. Then she kissed the angel’s smooth spine and shimmied to the ground where her mama got mad about all the smears of moss and mold on her skin and on her clothes.
“You’re making sure all your T-shirts are fit for the rag bag?” Mama fussed, while she drew Delia a bath in Granny’s blue-tiled bathroom.
“Daddy’s alive, Mama,” Delia told her. “He’s stuck in the grass so incredibly high, in Lucy’s land, but he’s trying to remember where he came from, and I heard him on the angel’s back, ‘cause Dozer showed me, and you can stop looking on Christian Singles dot Com, because we can find him, Daddy’s in the blackberry bramble and Bubba’s been there, so he knows the way.”
Mama blinked at Delia while bubbles popped and bath water clattered in the sky-colored basin. She turned off the faucet. “Honey,” she said into the silence. She sounded very sad, which was horrible, because Delia had been certain the news about Daddy would make Mama happy. “Deels. What am I gonna do with you?”
“Nothing. Let’s go get Daddy,” Delia said. “Come on, Mama. He’s in Lucy’s Land, I know it.”
But Mama didn’t go anywhere. Instead, she ran out of the bathroom bawling. Delia could hear her sobbing through the walls, rhythmic and wrenching.
After awhile, she climbed in the bath and thought about how stupid grown ups could be. It appeared, just coming out and saying Jaydee Strong was alive and a prisoner of the fairy queen was Tee-Em-Eye, too much information. A more delicate approach was called for. So Delia rinsed off the dirt and decided she would talk to Uncle Bubba, instead.
She dressed and grabbed a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, before venturing into the shed. Uncle Bubba was taking a break from carving. He chomped on a giant ham sandwich, his chainsaw frozen in mid-snarl at his feet.
“I been thinking about the witch’s statue garden in this here book,” Delia told him, clambering on a nearby bench. “You know how the witch makes all her enemies into stone, and puts them everywhere in her palace for decorations?”
“Uh-huh.” Uncle Bubba spoke around a beard full of white bread and mustard.
“Well. Granny’s yard’s starting to look like the White Witch’s palace, don’tcha think? All fulla frozen animals?”
Uncle Bubba squinted out the shed door where the hot day shimmered. “Maybe,” he said. “’Cept for it being almost midsummer.”
“Yeah, okay. Anyways, I started wondering if your statues were alive inside.” Delia swung her legs as she talked.
“You did, huh?”
Delia watched to see if Uncle Bubba look in danger of bawling, but he just took another big bite of ham and bread. “So I put my ear on the angel that looks like my dad? And I heard him talking. Daddy, I mean.” Uncle Bubba stopped chewing. Delia took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn’t run away and cry. “Maybe if you listened, you’d hear him too?”
Uncle Bubba sat for a full minute, eyes wide. Delia got worried because he stopped breathing and the bread sat in his mouth in a lump. But then he dropped his sandwich and ran out to the garden, the straps of his coveralls flapping. He knelt next to the unicorn and pressed his ear to its flank.
Delia followed him and put her hand on his big, denim clad leg. “Do you hear it, too?” Uncle Bubba nodded, eyes still wide. She felt her heart warm as she said, “See, I think Lucy has my daddy in her land. And I think she’s trying to make him forget us. But he’s doing his best to remember and hang on. And somehow, your statues are helping. It’s like, by making ‘em, your helping him remember.” She swallowed. “And I think we can get him back, Uncle Bubba. I think he’s real close and we can find him.”
Then Uncle Bubba burst into tears and cried like a little boy. But he didn’t run away like Mama. So Delia waited while he snorted, and Dozer came over and wagged his tail. Eventually, Uncle Bubba quieted, dabbed his eyes with a blue bandana and sniffed.
“You know I thought I dreamed it, Deels,” he said. “Every doctor I’ve seen, they said I been dreaming, but I ain’t, am I? She has him. She really does.” Uncle Bubba lay back in the grass with his hands over his eyes.
Delia and Dozer lay next to him. And while bugs screamed and birds darted above, he told her about everything, from the first time Lucy put a spell on Daddy, until the night he went Em-Eye-Aye.
“After that first time she took him, and Dozer fetched him back, I knew we had to take precautions,” Uncle Bubba said.
“Cold iron, honey.” Uncle Bubba shivered. “And pure silver. She can’t stand neither. Cost me a year’s worth of paper route money, but I slang charms around us all. There’s still a few hanging off Dozer’s collar, I bet.”
“Dozer has charms?”
“Should still, I reckon.” Bubba sat up and unbuckled Dozer’s worn leather collar. He pawed along it and then showed Delia how, jingling with some old dog tags, were a cross, a star and a wedged shaped plumb.
Delia turned the collar in her hand, while Uncle Bubba went. “I put salt around the house. Said the prayer of the archangel Michael. Planted rowan at the door-- that’s still growing, see? Left scissors all over. Bet you can find ‘em still, buried in the garden.”
“Did it work?”
“Sure. For awhile. Come Midsummer Eve, Jaydee’d still get restless. Stand out in the garden with his eyes all fulla moons. She was callin’ him, I guess. But Dozer’d be there, too, right by his side, so he never did go back. And when he married your Mama, and pledged his heart to her, right in this here garden, I figured Lucy’s spellin’ was broken for good. After all, how could he stay with Lucy, when he’d given himself under God to Penny Cash?”
“But then the war happened.” Uncle Bubba rolled his hips like he had bees in his pants. “And me and your daddy went to serve our country.”
“And Lucy went too?”
Uncle Bubba sucked his teeth. His fingers combed the lawn, and he plucked a couple stems of onion grass. He passed one to her and Delia bit it, hot and juicy. “Well, Deels. She got a name everywhere in the world. Mab and Oona and Celia and Belphebe, Titania and the Faery Queen--”
“Circe, and Jadis, and the Wicked Witch, too.”
“Where your daddy and me were stationed, out in the Middle East, she was called 'Perry,' and sometimes they called her a 'Djinn.' They said she had bones of fire. But to me she was the same old—“
“And scary and like a tiger. Still gunning for your daddy, too.”
“But Daddy had Mama. So why would he even notice Lucy?”
“Weren’t no Mama in Afghanistan, was there? And weren’t no Dozer either, honey. Nothing to keep him steady, except me, and I ain’t enough. We was as far from home and family as we’ve ever been, and just as miserable as sin, I tell you.” His gaze roved above them, and Delia knew he was looking at something even farther away than the clouds and swallows in the sky. “Everything that’s green here Deels, it’s a shade of red or gold over there. The whole world’s red and pink and tan, and all bleached out like old calico.” His blue-sleeved arm shot skywards. “It’s a different sun they got, too. We got us a sweet, Georgia sun. Makes the flowers grow and puts a shine on the salt marsh. But over there, in Afghanistan, the sun’s always boiling mad, like it wants to burn everything; or else it’s cold, like it’s giving you the finger, saying “Fuck you, folks. I’m stronger than all-a you.” He flipped onto his elbow and sighed. “Here in Georgia we got humidity, and we think it sucks.”
“It does,” Delia said fervently.
“Yeah-huh, but out there?” He clicked his tongue. “They got sand, Deels, and it’s much worse. Scours under your collar and itches inside your socks. And so dry, you get so you’d give anything to keep the sweat on your body, for even a second.” He plucked another blade of onion grass. “And if you do ever see something green? It’s like you’re having a dream, and you’re afraid it’s going to dissolve, if you blink.“ He looked at her, his face grave. “Everything’s older there, Deels, and harder. This here’s a young country, honey. Tobacco, and heat, and nothing ruined at all. But over there? The wind, the night, the stars. Older and harder and meaner than steel. And she was harder over there, too, Lucy was. She was hard and horny as the Devil’s toenails.”
Delia put her hand on Dozer for strength. She asked, “How did she catch my daddy again?”
Uncle Bubba turned his face back to the sky. “She got him in the hundred and twenty days of wind, baby doll. That’s a season, in case you didn’t know. It’s right about midsummer, right about now I suppose. It’s exactly like it sounds. The wind blows and blows and makes a cloud of grit as high as our live oak and as wide as Dan Jenkins’ tobacco fields. You can see faces inside that sandy wind, gods and monsters, and they plain swallow you if you don’t get to shelter fast enough. That’s why I thought she was a dream.”
He looked at the unicorn, the shine of its polished belly where Delia could see her reflection and his, stretched out and bulging, like when she looked at her face in the back of a spoon.
“I think Lucy must have been calling to your daddy for awhile. Because he kept going out of the tents on clear nights. I’d find him, the way I used to here, staring at the stars in the freezing cold. And I’d be like, “Jaydee. Hey, Jaydee. What the fuck are you doing out here?” You know? “It’s freezing man,” I’d say. But he’d look at me like he was still asleep, or he just woke up--”
“Because she was enchanting him --”
“I think so. I think so, Deels.” He sniffed. “And we didn’t have no charms, see. Just dog tags and guns, and they ain’t any good against her. And when the wind come up, and the sand cloud moved in...” He shook his head, like it itched inside. “I saw her. She was riding on a horse made of sand and smoke, and her hair streamed out behind. She came straight toward Jaydee, with that cloud of sand all around, and she reached from the saddle, and snatched him before I could even open my mouth to yell. And I tried to go after them. My God, I tried. But the sand got in my eyes and my ears, and I couldn’t see and I couldn’t hear and after awhile I had to smash flat and let it blow over me because my face was getting cut to pieces, as sure as if she’d thrown a whole bucketful of ground glass in my eyes. And when it was all over, everyone else said it was an Eye-Ee-Dee got him, or he walked on a pressure plate, or he got lost in the storm. But how would we ever know, anyway? He was gone, gone like he’d never been. And me…”
“No one believed what you saw.”
He flicked at a grasshopper and it bounded away. “They say I’m crazy, Deels. I shouldn’t even be telling you this stuff.”
“No, it’s good.” Delia put a hand on Uncle Bubba’s chest. She could feel his heart leaping like a fish inside his skin. “Because now we can start planning how to get my daddy back.”
They sat by the unicorn for a long time after, while shadows skated and the sun sank behind the trees. Sweat ran down Uncle Bubba’s face, and Granny picked beans nearby with her mouth all pinched and her eczema blooming. But they didn’t stop talking until they had a decent plan.
“She’s a creature of bargains, and gambling and deals,” said Uncle Bubba. “But she don’t know what to do with purity. That’s why Dozer beat her, I think. And that’s why these statues weaken her too.“
"They are purely beautiful.”
“But I expect Dozer’s too old to take her on now.”
Delia said, “But if all three of us went down the blackberry bramble, I bet we could take her. Why, you’re a warrior, Dozer’s a faithful companion, and I love Daddy completely purely. Us and some iron oughta do us fine.”
By then Dozer had gone to the front porch to sleep, and the wooden beasts on the lawn threw long shadows on the grass.
“We’ll follow every rule.” Delia dragged out her list and showed it to Uncle Bubba. He nodded and then passed the paper back.
“Better put in 'Don’t never let go,' from 'Tam Lin.'”
“And 'Be loyal and pure of heart,' like Dozer.”
Later, Bubba said, “I’ll get us some cold iron, fireplace pokers and like that.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll go huntin’, all three of us.”
“Midsummer’s Eve, won’t be better time for it.”
“And we’ll hang on matter what.”
Delia stuck out her pinkie finger for a swear. He extended his, calloused and cracked. They shook, solemn as owls.
Bubba whispered, “Jaydee’s coming home tomorrow.”
Delia laughed and pressed her mouth to the unicorn’s side. “You hear that, Lucy?” she yelled. “We’re getting him back! He won’t be yours any longer!”
Bubba snorted with laughter, but there was a note of alarm in his voice as he said, “Deels, geez. Don’t make her mad. Aren’t we supposed to be polite to everyone? Ain’t that one of the Rules?”
“But I hate her,” Delia said. She thumped the unicorn’s side. “You hear, Loo-loo Lucy? You can’t have my dad. Me and Bubba and Dozer, we’re gonna rescue him for sure.”
That night, even listening to Aunt Adelaide and her Mama giggling over Christian Singles Dot Com, Delia felt good for the first time in an age. Everything would be all right, she felt it deep and solid in her bones. Her dad was coming home, and all night long, she dreamt her was in the garden, calling and calling for Dozer.
The next day, Delia woke early and dressed in a pair of stout canvas shorts and a black T-shirt. She wore high topped sneakers and put on bug spray. She made thick peanut butter sandwiches and packed them in a knapsack. Then she went out into the garden to meet Uncle Bubba and Dozer.
She showed up at the unicorn at eight sharp. But Uncle Bubba was nowhere to be found--not in the shed, not even in his room.
“Where’d Bubba go?” she asked Aunt Adelaide, who sat on the porch, smoking her first Salem Light of the day. An open box of Little Debbie cakes sat on a table by her cigarettes, oatmeal and cream already smeared on the wood.
“Got a call from an art gallery at six in the damn morning.”
“Art gallery?” The syllables felt foreign in Delia’s mouth, like a mouthful of live crickets, hopping and fluttering.
“Yup. A New York City Art Gallery.” Aunt Adelaide rolled her eyes. “Somebody done drove by, seen his creatures and thinks they’d make a fine exhibit for 42nd Street, though I do not know why. Bubs put on a clean shirt and drove off for a meeting in Atlanta, with some lady. I guess she offered him forty thousand dollars for the lot.” Adelaide stubbed out her cigarette and extracted a crackling cellophane package from the Little Debbie box. “Some people got all the luck.”
“But … we had a plan for Midsummer’s Eve.” The crickets had spread from her mouth to Delia’s belly, where they jumped and rattled, making her feel sick and scared.
“Well, your Uncle Bubba has another plan now.”
“But he can’t—“
“Why not? Telling me we couldn’t all use the money, smarty pants?” Aunt Adelaide spoke around a wad of cake.
“No.” Delia backed away. The brown and white blobs of food on Aunt Adelaide’s chins, along with the crickets in Delia’s belly, made imminent upchucking certain. “Me and Uncle Bubba were gonna do something special is all.”
“Well, I guess something more special than you happened, huh?”
Delia ran into the garden before she threw up on Aunt Adelaide’s terry cloth slippers. After puking until it was just strings of spit, she ran to the unicorn and threw her arms around its neck.
“You witch, you witch,” she whispered into its neck. The wood was cool and smooth against her lips. “I hate you.”
In the grass by the statue lay Dozer’s collar, where she and Bubba had left it the night before. Delia snatched it up. The dangling charms tinkled and sang. She felt her heart gallop, fast and frightened.
She called Dozer’s name. He didn’t come. She checked on the porch. He wasn’t there. She checked the kitchen floor, the hall rug; he wasn’t in any of his places. By the time she raced to the live oak, her heart was ready to bust from her chest.
She sighed with relief when she saw Dozer there, stretched out under the angel, like he’d fallen asleep in the cool shade.
“Doze?” she called. His collar clinked in her hand. “Doze?” she said again in a different tone of voice.
But Dozer didn’t answer. Because Dozer was dead.
“Well the poor old thing,” Granny said later.
Mama had dug a grave in the red earth, and carried Dozer to it all by herself. Delia and Granny stood by, Delia still weeping and weeping, her hands scratched and bleeding from cutting Granny’s pink and yellow roses to scatter on his grave.
“He’s at peace now, don’t you worry.” Granny threw an arm around Delia’s shaking shoulders. “Why, I expect he feels better than he has in years, up in heaven with God and all. I would.” She practically strangled Delia, while she reached across her face to scratch a scabby patch of skin on her elbow.
“She fooled him.” Delia sobbed.
“Lucy.” Delia sniffed. “She called for Dozer all last night, and made it sound like Daddy. And poor Dozer went to find him and he-he didn’t h-have his collar, or his charms, so she k-killed him.” Delia felt like her guts were going to come out of her mouth, she was crying so hard. “B-bubba and me forgot to protect him. We were too busy to give him his iron back. It’s so stupid!”
“Good heavens!” Granny snorted. “What the hell is she talking about, Penny?”
“Honey, you need to lie down?” Mama said. “You need to rest? You are plain over wrought?”
“I hate you!” Delia yelled. Mama’s eyes widened, and her face turned white and then red. “Don’t you see? I’m not over rotten! She has Daddy! Lucy has Daddy and now Dozer’s dead, and Bubba’s gone, how’m I gonna find him? How’m I gonna find him all by myself?”
Mama gasped, and Granny cracked Delia across the cheek, and then Mama started crying, and Delia got sent to her room. But none of that mattered, because Delia had broken the rules again. That was the real problem. She had broken every single rule in the books. She’d been rude and mean, and taunted Lucy. She’d been careless, and let Dozer run around without his charms. She’d called Mama names, and hurt her feelings. Delia was the worst hero ever, maybe the worst that ever lived.
By the time Mama came in her room, Delia’s tears had dried and she lay on the bed, her rage a slow, aching fume.
“I know you’re upset?’ Mama said, sitting beside her. “I know you’re sorry about Dozer?”
Delia wanted to punch her, but instead she said, “It’s my fault he’s dead, Mama.”
“Aw, no. He was old, honey. He was a hundred and thirty in dog years. That’s just a fact?”
Delia sighed. “Well. I’m sorry I said I hated you, Mama. I won’t talk again, until I know I can be good. I promise.”
Mama nodded. She stroked Delia’s shoulder. Delia felt the angry knots inside her loosen.
But then Mama said, “Honey? You said something about finding your daddy?” Mama blinked hard and tried to smile. It was awful, like a doll’s smile. But Delia had promised not to say anything mean, so she folded her lips over her teeth. “You know he’s not coming back, right?”
Anger tightened inside again, like string of barbed wire in her stomach. Delia felt a hundred rude, angry things wanting to bust out of her mouth. Don’t say them! she thought. Don’t you be rude again, or you’ll lose everything to Lucy. So she nodded and smiled, no doubt looking as crazy as Mama did.
“We couldn’t bury your daddy, like Dozer? But that don’t mean he ain’t gone, hon. Okay? You gotta accept that? We both do. I know it’s hard but…things got to change?”
A scream pounded on the inside of Delia’s lips. But she kept her mouth sealed, and nodded like a dandelion in a stiff breeze.
“All right.” Mama patted Delia’s shoulder. “Bubba’s bringing a lady home to supper tonight. And I guess she’s gonna take all his animal carvings to a gallery in New York? He’s gonna be famous? So you mind yourself around her. We can all use the money.”
Delia said nothing. But she thought, Lucy’s coming, and felt cold all over.
After Mama left, Delia rose and grabbed Dozer’s collar. If Lucy was here, she had to be ready. She must be loyal. She must be good. She must keep her heart pure. Dozer saved her Daddy, once. Maybe Delia could do it, too. Squaring her shoulders, she buckled the collar around her neck. It hung loosely and smelled of dog fur and red dirt. She rubbed away the tears burning in her eyeballs. Then she set her teeth, and dropped to all fours.
“Oh goddamn, could you be any weirder?” Aunt Adelaide asked, when she saw Delia crawling around on the carpet.
Granny was nicer. She patted Delia head and let her drink water from a bowl. Mama asked would she wear a pretty dress for the dinner party and Delia obliged, though she refused to speak, and ate her supper from a plate under the table.
Of course, Lucy saw right off what Delia was doing. She came in the house on tiny tiptoes, skirts trailing in gossamer drifts around her legs. By her side, Bubba looked as blank as a daisy, like he’d never made a plan, or fought a faery in his life, even when Delia licked his hand and barked. Lucy’s eyes narrowed though, hard as hatchet heads. And she swooped on the floor to pat Delia’s head.
“Why, what’s your name, lovey?” she asked in a voice, so sweet it could have been soaked in cane juice.
Delia felt a powerful urge to answer. Her lips even parted and her throat worked. But all she did was growl.
At supper, Lucy tried again. “Doesn’t the child speak?” she asked. She toyed with her fried chicken, not touching a morsel of meat, but somehow, all the same, clicking the bird’s bones in her fingers like little castanets.
“The old Labrador died,” Adelaide drawled around her food. “Child’s taking it hard, I guess.”
“Children always think they’re so powerful.” The vixen simpered. “They think they can bring something back when it’s gone, just by wishing for it. It must be horrid to be so helpless.” She lifted the tablecloth and peered at Delia, who sat amidst everyone’s feet, glowering. Lucy’s blush rose lips curled in such a cruel smile, Delia’s insides shrank, but she said not a word.
And now Delia curled on the porch, wound tighter than an eight-day clock, while Granny and Mama and Adelaide chatted, like the vixen in the garden wasn’t a danger to everything they held dear. Off in the twilight, Bubba walked by Lucy’s side, touching her black cloud of hair, like a man in a dream. He licked his lips over and over.
Lucy raised her tiny fingers in ballerina gestures. Her laughter drifted on the wind like camellia petals. She grabbed Uncle Bubba’s sleeve and pointed to the angel, as if she had just noticed it, high above them. Delia wasn’t one bit fooled. Lucy wanted that angel dismantled, and as soon as possible. It was probably the whole reason she’d come here—to get rid of every statue, and then to get rid of anything else that calling Daddy home.
Lucy stroked Uncle Bubba’s arm, pretending to listen while he talked. She stroked and stroked and stroked, until Uncle Bubba forgot he was speaking, and only stared at her rosebud breasts. Then his eyes closed.
With a start, Delia realized everyone on the porch had gone to sleep. Granny snored like a band saw, and Adelaide’s Salem Light ash had burned to a long, gray worm. Even the crickets and frogs had gone quiet. The lady’s flinty gaze swept the house and without even meaning to, Delia ran to her side. And to her everlasting shame, she curtsied in the soft grass, her knees folding seemingly of their own accord.
“Little Delia,” said Lucy, “Little Dog. Why are you still awake?”
Delia wanted to tell Lucy, “Because I protected myself from you!” But in the nick of time she remembered her promise not to speak, and so she said nothing at all. “Keep all promises,” was one of the Rules.
“Do you know what it is I want?” Lucy’s glimmering gaze fell like dewdrops on Delia’s face, soft and cold.
Delia glanced the angel, hovering in the tree. Then she dragged her gaze back to the lady, who shined in the dark like the moon.
“I always did like soldiers,” Lucy said, as if Delia had answered her question. “Handsome soldiers and beautiful boys. I marry one every Midsummer Day, and they live with me in my garden.” She added, “I make sure they’re content, Little Delia. I assure you, your daddy doesn’t think of you at all, except maybe in his dreams.”
The vixen was lying, but Delia stopped herself from saying so by clenching her teeth. “Be polite and kind,” was one of the Rules.
“Your faith is touching,” Lucy said. “But you must let him go now, Little Delia, the way your uncle has, the way your mother has. You understand, don’t you?” Lucy went on, “It’s painful for your father. These reminders of his childhood, these dreams your uncle has carved, your whining for him to come home. All this resonates in our country, and your poor father half hears it. It makes his heart ache, though he doesn’t know quite why.”
Again, Delia almost spoke. I thought you said he was happy with you, she wanted to say, with Adelaide’s strong, smoky sarcasm. But again she remembered her promise, and so she held her tongue.
The vixen’s face had whitened with rage. “Listen to me, Delia. I can break your uncle’s mind with a snap of my fingers. I can change your family into forest animals. Even if your father found his way out of my realm someday, there would be nothing here to greet him when he came home.”
Yes there would, Delia thought. I would be here. I will wait in this garden until I’m old like Dozer. I will be like Odysseus’s dog, Argos. And when Daddy walks up to our house again, I will run to him, even if I’m older than Granny, and covered with eczema--even if I can’t see him anymore, because I’m blind.
And she almost faltered one last time, and opened her mouth to tell the vixen of her pledge. But then she realized the vixen already knew. And this was why she had come. For Lucy could do all the things she named. She could change the ladies of the house to pigs; she could move every piece of Uncle Bubba’s sculpture—to New York, or Marrakesh, or Mars, if she wanted. She could marry her dad a thousand times, and wipe away his mind again and again. But she could not take away Delia’s promises. She could not make her give up her love. Only Delia herself could do that.
Delia shook her head. She would not break her rules; she would not break her silence. Everything in the universe depended upon it. Everything that mattered, she held with her tongue.
“Speak, or you spend the remainder of your days crawling on the earth like a dog. Speak, or you will damn every one of your relatives to an eternity as a beast of burden. Speak, or I will bring every statue in this garden to life, and they will turn on you, like the monsters they are. For I command them, Delia. And I command you, too. Now, break your silence, break your vows, lest you bring suffering on everyone you love.”
All the clocks in the world had halted. Even the stars, locked in their great sky wheel, stopped turning. Would Lucy really make her family suffer? Delia was sure she would. But she thought of Aunt Adelaide, already starting yet another diet; of her Mama, ground to powder, questioning all her nameless fears. She thought of Granny’s eczema, and Uncle Bubba’s Pee Tea Zesty, and how her dad was lost. She thought of the way all the people she loved plodded through their days, not knowing what they were about half the time, not even seeing the Faery Queen herself, when she sat to supper at their table.
Why, everyone’s miserable anyway, Delia thought. What can she do to them, that they haven’t already done to themselves? I have no power to save them. All I can do is hang on.
So she lay on the grass at the lady’s feet and waited to be smote. And indeed the lady’s rage was like an anvil on her head. Delia felt her skull crumple. Above her, the angel in the tree looked on. She reached up to its sorrowful face, and everything went black.
When she awoke, dawn had broken. Delia shivered in sodden clothes, soaked by dew. She lay in the garden for a while, listening to birds. A silver spider web glistened by her face.
“What the holy hell happened here?” said a voice.
Delia jumped to her feet, shedding drops of water. Her father stood at the end of the driveway, next to a row of dead washing machines and Granny’s rusted Corvette. He stared wide-eyed at the forest of statues, at the angel in the live oak, and then at Delia herself.
“Good God, Deels. Is that you grown so big?”
Delia didn’t say anything, only ran into his arms, not because she still had to be silent, but because she was crying too hard to talk. She was so big now, her legs dangled almost to the ground, as he swept her in his arms and carried her to the house.
“Does everyone sleep on the porch these days?” her father asked. For indeed, Delia’s whole family, even Uncle Bubba, snored like engines on the planks. “Did y’all have a big party last night,or something?” He squinted at her. “Honey, are you wearing Dozer’s old collar?”
“I dreamed you died in the war,” Delia whispered. “I dreamed you were lost forever.”
“Well, I won’t tell you everything I dreamed,” her dad said. He paused to look at the magical statues.
“But all these creatures were in it. And so were you and Bubba.” His eyes were clear and sad, as he added. “You were calling me, Deels. But it took me forever to find you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “You had a long way to go.”
He placed her carefully on the porch. The worn planks creaked, as they looked around at their sleeping family. “I don’t even know what to do,” he said. “I feel like I’ve just been born.” There were new lines around his mouth, and tears in the corners of his eyes.
Delia took her father’s hand. “Don’t worry. We’ll wake everybody up. We’ll have us a party. And Uncle Bubba’ll show you what he made.”
“Is that what we’ll do?”
“Sure, Dad,” she said. “It’s what we’ve all been waiting for.”
Elise Forier Edie is a speculative fiction writer based in Los
Angeles. Her most recent stories have appeared in Metaphorosis
Magazine and on the podcast, Cabinet of Curiosities. You can find
out more about her by visiting her website www.eliseforieredie.com
Angeles. Her most recent stories have appeared in Metaphorosis
Magazine and on the podcast, Cabinet of Curiosities. You can find
out more about her by visiting her website www.eliseforieredie.com