Laila loved the dandelions, especially when they went to seed. She called them “puffballs” and I never corrected her because I never knew what they were really called, anyway.Laila was six that spring and I thought it was the perfect age. Her easy smile and rapture with the world around her breathed life into me, when my own was dwindling. Though I didn’t know it yet.
It was the spring after we’d left her father. He wasn’t a nice person, I’d always known it, but stupidly I stuck around anyway. I can take a lot, always have, but once he started in on Laila , well, I wasn’t going to let that happen. The first four years of her life he was nice enough, but as bills mounted and he started blaming her for our problems, I knew it was time to go. She deserved better, so I squirreled away money until we were able to rent a small house on the edge of town.
We spent that spring in our backyard, amongst the dandelions. The lawn was filled with them. Laila would pull them from the earth and blow the puffballs until clouds of seeds drifted in the cool early spring air. The Weed-Gone guy stopped by more times than I care to think about, begging us to get the yard sprayed, but I kind of liked the splash of color in the grass and once Laila understood that he meant to kill the dandelions, she made me promise I’d never kill the “fairies.”
“Fairies?” I said. “Honey, they’re just flowers, weeds at that.”
“No, Mommy. They’re fairies. Don’t let them die.”
This kind of whimsy wasn’t unusual for Laila. She saw fairies in everything. Sparks from a campfire, mist rising off a lake, dandelion seeds…they were all fairies. Why shouldn’t a six year old get to see fairies? Besides, it had started when her father had started to show her his darker side, so I figured it was something that kept her happy through the sad times, just like watching her play among her “fairies” kept me happy.
It was also that spring that I knew something was wrong with me. It started out as just fatigue. And who wouldn’t be tired after working three part time jobs? But I knew it was something more, something darker, even if I didn’t want to know what it was. Even Laila noticed something because she kept telling me to rest. She said she’d be ok, she’d go play with the fairies and she’d fix this. I had no idea what she meant to fix, but that became our afternoon ritual. I’d lie down and she’d go in the backyard and play.
And then one day, she disappeared.
I woke up later than usual. I’d set the alarm clock, but the blinking numbers told me we’d lost power at some point.
I flung the light blanket off of me and raced through the back door. My stomach lurched as my mind went through all the horrid possibilities. Had she run off? Had her father taken her? Had somebody else? I looked under all the bushes, in the shed, everywhere she might hide. I raced through the yard, screaming her name. Dandelion seeds clung to my sweaty skin, wove into my hair and clothes as my pulse pounded and finally, my body gave out. I lay in the grass, staring up at the blue sky, knowing whatever it was that had been eating away at me for the past year was here to finish me off.
Dandelion seeds floated all around me and then I saw them. I saw the fairies. I actually saw them. Their slender bodies danced and glided on the breeze. Their shocks of white hair twisted around them as they smiled down at me. I smiled back, thinking in the back of my mind, that I’d finally lost it. Is this how it ends? My daughter is kidnapped and I die in the backyard thinking I’m seeing fairies? My daughter…
“Laila?” I said, but it didn’t come out any louder than a whisper. I wanted to sit up, but my body didn’t move. The fairies were still there. Hell, since I was seeing them anyway, maybe they could help. “I need to find Laila. Please.”
One of them drifted closer to me. She was a little bigger than the other ones. Her white hair was streaked with every shade of yellow. She had an air about her, something regal. When she spoke, her voice was soothing, like cold lemonade on a summer day. “She’s here. She’s fine, and you will be fine too.”
“Yes, you are, but Laila has asked us a favor, and we have granted it. She saved us when so many others mean to do us harm. This is no small kindness. We owe her a great deal.”
“What?” I tried to say more, but by lungs refused to take in air. Whatever dark thing had hunted me, was now here for me and it wouldn’t leave empty handed.
“Mommy?” Laila’s voice rang in my ears. I knew it was her, but I looked around and she wasn’t there. “Mommy, it’s going to be ok.” Just then, another fairy drifted in close to the older one. She was small, and the most beautiful of all the ones there. I squinted to look closer and it was Laila. Her blond hair glowed like sunbeams as she grinned down at me. She was so radiant, tears came to my eyes. “I fixed it,” she said. Then she came closer to me and whispered, “Close your eyes.”
I did. And then I was floating. My body was still in the emerald grass, bursts of gorgeous yellow dandelions all around me. Laila and I drifted on the breeze with the other fairies. We were part of their world now and we were free.