A Short Story – Fairies at the bottom of the garden

Fairies at the bottom of the garden

Frances sighed again, altered her cramped position and stared into the black night.

“I don’t believe him,” she thought, ‘I just don’t believe him.” But still she continued to wait.

And there, just as Eddy had said, was the light at the foot of the old oak tree that stood in the middle of the field.  It flickered very faintly at first but slowly shone brightly allowing Frances to see the old oak in marvellous illumination.  From behind the tree came a tiny procession of glittering lights and leading the procession was Eddy’s fairy queen.

“I tell you Frances I’ve seen her with my own eyes, there are fairies in that field!” Eddy’s eyes shone with excitement and he was quite out of breath from running.

“When did you see them?” Frances asked disbelievingly.

“Last night! Oh Frances, she’s so lovely!”

Frances turned away disgusted, here was her best friend talking like a … a … well … a baby!  Fancy Eddy dreaming about fairies!  He’s gone soft in the head as her Grandmother would say.  Eddy must be ill, she thought, there was no other explanation.  Only girls spoke and dreamt of such things.  What on earth had got into Eddy?

“Eddy!” said Frances sharply, ‘What are you talking about?  Who’s so lovely?”

“The fairy queen!” Eddy said surprised.  Hadn’t she been listening?  Why was Frances so cross with him, didn’t she believe him?

“You can see them too if you want.”  Eddy volunteered.

“I don’t want to see them, I don’t believe in fairies, only,” she paused, “only cissies do!”

“I’m not a cissy, I can’t help seeing fairies, but they were there, dancing around the oak tree in the middle of the night.”

“What were you doing up in the middle of the night?” Frances asked suspiciously.

“I couldn’t sleep, it was so hot!  And then I saw a light and there they were dancing around the tree!  I couldn’t believe it myself and then I saw the queen, well I think she was a queen, she was very lovely Frances.”

Frances stared at Eddy, she couldn’t understand, Eddy was ten surely he was too old to talk of fairies; perhaps they really were there?  No, fairies didn’t exist, there weren’t such things.

Even so, that night when everyone was asleep, Frances crept out of her bed and went and sat on the window-sill behind the curtains.

At first she thought she was seeing things when she saw the light, but then when the Fairy Queen appeared she knew she wasn’t.  The Fairy Queen was wearing a cloth of pure white, embroidered with gold around the hem.  Her hair was like a veil down her back and shimmered in the light of the burning torches that the Elvin boys carried.  On her head she wore a simple crown of daises and buttercups.  In her hand she held a long stick wound around with oak leaves.

And then the Elvin boys and Elvin girls held hands and formed a ring around the tree and at the command of the Queen as they skipped in a circle, she ducked and passed in between them touching the tree with her wand and then touching the grass.

Frances blinked.  Where were they?  She looked and stared but couldn’t see the faintest glimmer of the torches.  They had gone.  All was dark again and the fairies had gone.

“Eddy,” Frances said conspiratorially the following day, “I saw them, I saw the Fairies.”

Frances had gone straight outside as soon as she could after breakfast to the bottom of her garden hoping to find Eddy in his den of logs, twigs and leaves where the two gardens met.

He peered out between the branches and looked at Frances.  “You saw them?  When?”

“Last night, I stayed up late and waited and waited and waited.”

Eddy fell about laughing, he leapt out of his den and rolled on the ground clutching his stomach and laughed and laughed.

Frances was perplexed, “What?  What is the matter?  What is so funny?”

“I made it up!  I made it all up about the Fairies!  I never thought you would believe me!”

Frances was dumfounded and sat down on a log and pouted.  How could her best friend be so mean.  But what had she seen then?

“Did you do it then, the fairies I mean, did you do it with lights or something?”

“No, of-course not, I just made up a story and you believed me!”

“Eddy I think you are the meanest person in the world to play a trick on me, I don’t like you any more.”  And Frances stomped back up the garden path.

Eddy looked at her retreating body and wondered, if he had made them up, what had Frances seen?  Or was she now teasing him and hadn’t seen anything?

That night Eddy really did sit up behind his bedroom curtains looking at the oak tree in the middle of the field behind their gardens.

His head nodded as his eyes slowly closed with sleep and he jerked himself awake.  And there sure enough around the oak tree were the fairy lights and the little sparkling movements and flashes of green, yellow and red.  He stared open mouthed and suddenly just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared.

He was silent for a moment staring into the inky blackness and the shadowy shape of the oak tree and then suddenly motivated himself from the window-sill and into bed, covering his head with his bed covers.  What was going on?  He thought a little scared.

Next day he knocked on Frances’ front door.
“Hello Mrs Manners, is Frances in please?”

“Hello Eddy, yes of-course, come in.  Frances!”  Mrs Manners called up the stairs, “Eddy is here.”

“Come into the kitchen and wait Eddy, do you want a drink?”

Frances stood at the kitchen door.  “What do you want?” She rudely asked Eddy.

“Frances!”  Her mother reprimanded, “What is the matter, Eddy has come to play.”


Frances turned to Eddy, “Come on, let’s go outside.”

“What do you want?” She repeated, when they were out of her Mother’s ear-shot.

“I did see them this time, I did see them, last night.”  Eddy looked seriously at Frances.  “I really did see them, well, I saw something.”

“O yeah?  What did you see?”

“I saw some twinkling, sparkling little lights that seemed to be in a line and then went around the tree but then they disappeared as soon as they came.”

Frances sighed and pouted and sat and played with some stones on the ground.

“Don’t you believe me?”

“Dunno. I don’t believe in Fairies, I really don’t.”  She said eventually.

“What do you mean? Didn’t you see anything then?”

“No, I did see something and now you say you did.  But I don’t believe in Fairies and neither do you, I know you don’t.”

“I don’t understand, what did we see then?”  Eddy whined perplexed.

“I don’t know.”  Frances shrugged, “Why did you make me believe you had seen something in the first place?”

“I was bored.”  Eddy sighed, feeling silly.

“Yeah, but what made you think of fairies?  Why tease me about fairies?”  Persisted Frances

Eddy shook his head, he didn’t know.

They sat in silence and looked at the stones piling up in front of Frances.  They shimmered a little in the sun, some looking green rather than the normal grey or brown.   Some with a sheen like the iridescent hue of a Starling’s feathers.

“These stones are shiny, do you think we saw something shiny and thought it was fairies?”  Eddy looked questioningly at Frances.

“Could be.” Frances sulked.

“You still cross with me?”  Eddy frowned

“Dunno.”  Frances was non-committal.  She looked up at Eddy, “I don’t understand why you would tease me about fairies, what made you think of fairies?  Do you think I am a cissy?”

Eddy shrugged and got up and walked away, wishing he had never teased Frances in the first place and what had made him think of fairies?  He climbed through the hedge that separated their gardens and crawled into his den picking through the bits and pieces he kept in there.

“Frances!”  He tumbled out of his den, getting tangled up in the sticks and bits in his haste.  “Frances!  Look!  Look at this!”

She looked up, Eddy was climbing back through the hedge with something in his hand.  She ignored him.

“Look at this!  This is why I thought of fairies and to tease you!  I remember now!”  He was jumping up and down with his excitement.

Frances took the piece of sacking puzzled.  “This made you think of fairies and teasing me?”

Eddy flopped down onto the ground.  “I was wandering through the field last week looking for some more stuff for my den, I was hoping to find some dead animals and their skins.  I was going to use them to line my den like the Indians and Eskimos did.”

“O yuck, your den will stink!  Isn’t something meant to be done to the animal skin to stop it smelling?”  She remembered reading something about this at school.

“O, you’re right but I didn’t think that they did that in those days so I wasn’t going to bother.”  He responded

“Well Miss Sweet said that it was important to do this thing to the skins, O I remember now it is called curing and it stops the insects getting to the skin and eating it, it stops all sorts of things.”

“I think you need to get my Dad’s big science books and look it up now if you are going to do something as disgusting as plastering your den with dead animals!”

Frances was almost shouting now, she was fed up with Eddy her next-door neighbour who had let her down so badly.  She had trusted him and never thought he would lie to her and make her feel so silly.

“My Mum says teasing is the same as bullying!”  She suddenly blurted out and “I’m not a cissy! I think you are a horrid friend!” and then started to cry.

Eddy looked on mortified, Frances didn’t cry she wasn’t like that.  “Frances please don’t cry, please!  I am sorry I didn’t mean to upset you, I thought I was being funny.  I am sorry.  Please don’t cry.”

Frances sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

Without saying anything she picked up the piece of sacking and turned it over in her hand.  There was writing on the back of it, part of a word p . h . o . r . . .  she couldn’t see the rest of it.

“This made you think of fairies?”  She looked wonderingly at her friend.

“It was well shiny in my den, when I brought it back, it sort of shone like a torch.”  Eddy mumbled.

Frances dropped the fabric and stared at Eddy, she was remembering something her Dad had been talking about, something about chemicals and rivers and animals and fish dying.

“I think we must wash our hands and tell my Dad about this.” Authority took over Frances’ feelings about her friend’s behaviour.  Frances was just 11, Eddy was nearly ten.  They had lived next-door to each other for years, as long as she could remember.  She had been like a big sister to him.  They neither had brothers or sisters.

“Why?”  Eddy didn’t want any parents to know about the bits in his den, it was his world in there.  If they knew he was looking for dead animals they would stop him.

“Because,” Frances said importantly, “This is part of a bag that chemicals come in and Dad was saying there has been a problem with animals and fish dying and no-one knew why and he was saying that that farmer man, Mr Tucker, is going to ask Ag and Fish, I think he said.”  She puffed herself up to make what she said sound very important.

“What’s Ag and Fish?”

“A very important place I suppose.  But chemicals are bad, Eddy, and this may be poison.”

“Poison!  Will I die?”  Eddy looked terrified.

“I don’t know, but we better tell my Mum about this.”  And she gingerly picked up the piece of sack and walked purposefully up the garden with Eddy trailing behind trying not to sob, was he going to die?

The man told Eddy and Frances to sit down.  He was from a department called The Ministry of Agriculture and Fish, which looked after land and animals and fish and farming procedures in general.  Many people called it the department of Ag and Fish.  Nowadays it has a different name.

Frances was a mother herself now and was recalling this story to her own children who were sitting opened mouthed at the kitchen table.  Eddy was standing by smiling as the story unfolded.

After attending the same grammar school they had eventually gone their separate ways, Eddy to University to read Applied Science and Frances went to a Teacher Training College.  They kept in touch and met during the holidays but Eddy took a job in New York in a chemical plant after obtaining his degree and Frances found a teaching place in a school in Devon.

Their children had been quarrelling due to one teasing the other, which was when Frances remembered the incident with the fairies and out came the story of the chemicals and how they had met.

“Dad had been unhappy . . . “ Frances looked at her husband, “ unsettled in New York and came back to England looking for me and as they say now the rest is history!”  She smiled.

Ollie looked at his mother, “Doh Mum, who wants to know that!”  Alice pushed her brother, “I do!  Let Mum and Dad continue!”

Her father picked up the story, “The point is Ollie that although teasing is funny to you, it isn’t to the other person, it belittles them, it makes them feel silly and stupid and that is not a nice thing for a friend or brother to do to someone, that person stops trusting and you lose a friend.  It doesn’t seem to stop with teasing either, because when someone sees the other person upset because of the teasing they realise they have a type of strength, someone could be reduced to tears and that is when teasing becomes bullying.

“Dad I was just trying to be funny!  Can’t anyone take a joke!  I’m not a bully!”  Ollie got up to leave the room, he’d had enough of this.

“Ollie, please don’t go, just listen for a little while longer.”  Ollie reluctantly sat down clicking his tongue making that irritating noise to emphasise his annoyance.  Alice muttered, “Stop tutting, you’re a pain.”

Frances stroked both their heads and sat at the table with them, while Eddy continued to talk while making a drink for everyone.

“The thing is Ollie, that time with the fairies I thought I was only trying to be funny too.  I saw this glowing piece of sacking in my den and thought I would make Frances laugh!  But she didn’t laugh, she took me seriously and then felt a fool for doing so and then felt she couldn’t trust me anymore do you understand the difference here?”

“No.” Ollie sulked, this was so out of hand and so, so a waste of time, he was thinking.

“Teasing destroys a trust and trust between friends, between everyone is so important, essential to good relationships.”  Eddy looked at his son, did he understand?  He turned to the kettle now that it was boiling and made some tea.

“Look I’ll never tease Alice again, Ok?  Can I go now?”  Ollie looked up hopefully when was this nightmare going to end?

Alice put her hand into her mother’s in a bid to show Ollie that their parents were on her side, not his.

Frances let go of Alice’s hand and got up to get the mugs out.  “Ollie, everyone teases someone, you haven’t been so bad, we are just trying to show you why it isn’t kind.”

Eddy gave a short laugh, “I teased your mother, that is the point, Ollie, lots of children do and we, I, am trying to show you why it is not nice.”

“I don’t tease people!” Alice piped up trying to get her parents on her side again.

“No.” Laughed her parents, “you don’t tease people Alice, but you do tell tales on your brother.”

“Yeah, right, which is why we are here doing all this pointless talking, it is all your fault!”  Ollie triumped.

“I don’t tell tales!  He was being horrible to me!  The teachers said at school that we have to tell an adult if someone is being horrible!”  Alice defended herself.

“Yes quite right, you must tell an adult if someone is saying or doing something that is unkind, but sometimes you tell tales Alice, that means you tell lies about what that person is doing, you make it out to be worse than it is.  And that gets people into trouble.”

“Well he’s horrible, he deserves to get into trouble!”  Alice began to sob.

“O no, please, can I go now?  I won’t tease Alice anymore.”  Ollie hated it when his sister cried because that generally meant that whatever the problem was would now take longer to sort out.

Eddy and Frances brought the drinks to the table and sat down.  “Let’s finish the story and then perhaps everyone will understand why teasing and telling lies causes far bigger and more serious problems.”

“The man from Ag and Fish was pleased with us because I had found the sacking proving that someone was disposing of chemicals in the wrong way.  They were emptying their sacks of chemicals they didn’t need around the oak tree and those chemicals were seeping into the ground and ending up in the river killing fish and rabbits around that area and also some plants.

The sack had a chemical in it called Phosphorus and that can make things glow in certain conditions which is what I had seen in my den and your mother had seen around the tree.”  Eddy stopped as Alice was about to ask something.  “Why did Mum see Fairles the Elves and the Fairy Queen?”

Frances answered, “I was very tired and the light wasn’t good; when I thought about it afterwards I realised I had seen colours and a sort of smokey atmosphere and because Dad had mentioned fairies I imagined that was what I was seeing.  I think I was describing a picture I had seen in one of my books.  After all I was totally mesmerised in actually seeing something that I really thought wasn’t true and that I thought Eddy had also seen.”

“Yes and when I finally did see something I did only say it was a load of colours.”  Eddy finished.

“Were you poisoned Dad?”  Ollie asked remembering that his father had been scared he was going to die.

“We both had tests and no, we had not suffered any real harm.”  Eddy looked at Frances, “But there is a bit more to the story.”

Frances continued, “I was really cross with your Dad for teasing me, I felt I didn’t know him anymore and couldn’t trust him.  I felt that whatever I said or did, he would turn it around to make me look silly and stupid.  I felt suddenly that I couldn’t easily talk to him and I lost trust in myself, maybe I really was stupid?  So when we went into tell my mum about the chemicals I made up a tale, I told a lie to get Eddy into trouble.”

“I said, Mum Eddy has been naughty, he has been out in the field picking up dead animals and touching chemicals and putting them in the river!  He has been causing the fish to die!  It is his fault!”

Ollie’s and Alice’s eyes seemed to get bigger, how could their Mum tell lies!  They were shocked.  Mums don’t tell lies, they knew that.

Frances and Eddy both laughed at their expressions.  “That is the point, we were children once,” said Eddy “we all do this well . . . these unkind things without thinking and our parents sat us down and explained it all to us, just as we are explaining to you.”

“The thing we want you two to remember is this, If what you do or say upsets someone then you must apologise not do it anymore.”  Eddy stopped and waited for the children to respond.   They didn’t say anything.

Eddy continued, “Remember to be kind. Ask yourselves, ‘Is this kind’?”

Frances finished with: “Alice what you did was unkind, you told lies, you did need to tell us about Ollie’s teasing, but you didn’t have to add untruths to the story.  Ollie, what you did was unkind, teasing is not a joke it is bullying.”

“Does that mean we can’t have jokes?  We can’t laugh at something funny?  Are comedians bullies?”  Ollie said confused.

“Jokes are not teasing.  Jokes are shared.  So you may say ‘There are fairies at the bottom of the garden’ and then the other person says ‘Really?’  And then you say ‘No Only joking.’  That is sharing the joke, you tell the truth afterwards.”  Frances felt pleased with her explanation.

“That’s not funny!  That isn’t funny at all, that is a silly joke!”  Ollie said

“Well precisely, it isn’t at all funny, who would laugh at that?  So why use it as a joke in the first place?’  Eddy looked serious trying to make the point.  “I did it to annoy Frances because . . . “ Eddy turned to his wife, “She could be so bossy at times!  So I wasn’t doing it as a joke really, I was being horrible.  I should have asked myself: ‘Is this kind?’ “

Ollie and Alice sat in silence. “I’m sorry for getting you into trouble.”  She said.

Ollie looked uncomfortable, “I didn’t mean to be unkind Alice, I did think it was funny I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Alice put her hand into her pocket and put something in front of Ollie, “Here you are you can have your worm back.”

First Written in 1971 and completed in 2010

Poetic licence taken with the phosphorus.

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