This story is by Kimme Rovin and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I’m going to prove that fairies are real,” I tell my younger sister Ellie after school. She’s four years-old and looks up at me curiously. She has something crusty and brown smeared around her mouth. I wonder if mom put a chocolate chip cookie in her lunch and not mine. Ellie’s not interested. She looks away and runs to where her dolls are strewn over the living room carpet. She doesn’t know how to prove things anyway.
I have thought about my experiment design for an entire week, scouring library books after school, searching for any mention of ways to lure fairies to my house. There are lots of books about fairies, but they’re mostly stories. I don’t want a story. I want real information, something I can actually use, something with facts. That’s how my 3rd grade teacher Ms. Walters said the scientific method works. You need to start with something real.
One day I stay at the library until after 5 o’clock. Mom doesn’t notice. I finally find a book by someone who claims to have seen an actual fairy. I walk home in the twilight, just barely able to see my way down our long driveway. I pretend there are fairies hiding in the shadowy branches of the scrub oaks lining our road, watching me with dark huckleberry eyes. Mom looks tired when I get back to the house. Dad’s in his office banging at his computer, the staccato sounds of typing quick and angry. I go straight up to my room.
I settle on an offering of milk and honey for my experiment. The book said they’ll attract nice fairies (it’s also all I have access to, if I’m being honest.) The only person in our house who drinks milk is Ellie. She insists that our mom pour obscene amounts over her cereal in the morning. I figure she won’t notice a little bit missing, she doesn’t notice a lot of things. I write out my plan carefully on yellow construction paper with the purple puff top pen my mom gave me last year for my birthday. I use the cursive we’re learning in school; it makes my writing look like something that belongs in a witch’s spell book. It’s dark by the time I finish. Dad was supposed to put me to bed tonight but I can hear him in his office downstairs. He and mom aren’t speaking. The air between them feels thick and sticky. I’m glad no one has noticed I’m still awake.
I look over what I’ve written proudly. I think about showing Ms. Walters but my chest feels tight. I decide not to.
My Hypothesis: Fairies are real.
Step 1: Mix milk and honey in a bowl.
Step 2: Smear flour all over one of the back stairs.
Step 3: Put the bowl on the floured stair.
Step 4: Wait until morning.
I put together my fairy lure the next evening.
“You’re making a mess,” Ellie says, surprising me as I’m squeezing the plastic bear-shaped honey container. The pointed yellow top refuses to surrender the crystallized mass within.
“It’s not a mess, it’s my experiment,” I tell her. She watches carefully with big hazel eyes while I continue to squeeze the plastic bear. I finally get some of the thick honey out and into my bowl of milk.
“Do you want to help me set up my fairy trap?” I ask. She’s wearing pajama pants and an oversized princess dress from her costume bin. She agrees. I think she should be in bed by now; I’m not sure where mom is.
“Look,” I point to the flour I spread all over one of the stairs leading to our back door. “A fairy will need to make tracks to get to the bowl. Or maybe even leave a handprint.”
I imagine a tiny figure approaching my offering, maple seed wings extended, small pointed nose turned upward, sniffing at the sweet smell of the honeyed milk. A hand in miniature reaching for the lip of the bowl, opalescent nails, like tiny snail shells.
Ellie doesn’t look impressed. It’s OK, I don’t need her to understand, but I like that she’s out here with me regardless. Sometimes I like being her big sister. We hear mom calling from inside and run through the back door, into the kitchen, and up the stairs. We pretend like we’re being chased by the hairy goblin from the book dad used to read us at night. We jump into our adjacent twin beds, giggling.
Before I fall asleep I hear mom and dad arguing, quiet whispers that sneak up to our room, hot and sharp. I hear the creak of a door. Dad always leaves after he and mom fight. The sound of crunching gravel as dad drives away is oddly comforting.
In the morning the bowl is gone. A creamy puddle shines in the weak morning sunlight, white powder sprinkled over the weeds creeping up the back stairs. Ellie runs up behind me. “Did you catch one?” she says, breathless from sprinting through the house. She considers the scene in front of us. No bowl, swept stair, no fairies. She starts to cry. I shove her away, annoyed, angry tears prickly and warm in my own eyes. I look over my ruined experiment again before turning to go inside. My eye catches on a smeared handprint on the glass pane of the storm door. It’s large, much bigger than anything a fairy would make. I stomp into the kitchen, a weight settling in my chest, heavy and familiar. Ellie and I eat our cereal in silence.
After school mom sits us down at the kitchen table. She has her serious face on and Ellie squirms in her chair. Mom tells us that she and dad are getting a divorce. Ellie bursts into tears and runs up to our room; she doesn’t understand but she knows it’s something bad. I don’t feel anything.
Dad moves out that night. He leans down to kiss Ellie’s head before he leaves and knocks over a bowl sitting on the edge of the counter. I pick it up as he walks out the door. It’s the same one I used for my fairy lure. I inspect the bowl carefully for cracks. It looks OK. But there! I think I see a tiny white handprint. It’s so faint my eyes blur trying to focus on it. I feel electricity run through my body. I rush towards the back door, ready to call dad back, the words already forming in my mouth. I trip on the threshold as the door opens and drop the bowl. It shatters as it hits the ground outside.
When I look up, dad’s already gone; an empty space where his car used to be. I see the shape of his boots outlined in leftover flour and his handprint, stamped on the foggy glass door. Broken pottery shards are scattered over the lawn. I stare at the driveway until mom calls me in for bed. When I push open the back door I notice dad’s handprint has disappeared. That night it rains, washing away the rest of my proof.