I FOUND SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE.
"Why does this Puck character even exist?"
Holly plunked her head in her arms on her laptop's keyboard. The screen of the laptop did not find this a particularly enjoyable activity and protested in code:
That was the only text on the page.
"Holl, at least write your name on it."
"Muh," said Holly, trying to pass off her muffled grunt as a nugatory response. "Fa roo at, ehm a mitten feet."
…or something like that.
"You wear mittens on your feet?"
Holly lifted her head up with a histrionic labor. "If I do that," she said, emphasizing each consonant with irritated precision, "I'm admitting defeat."
I had just finished getting down a thesis, at long last. It had been about time to make some sort of progress, really. The mess of scattered papers and highlighters that littered my mom's prized, usually-immaculate ivywood table were evidence of how long we had been there, writing pages of notes of literary analysis of Shakespeare's "masterpiece."
At least the hardest part was done. I had done the research and outlined my paper; now all I had to do was fill in the blanks.
"C'mon, Holl, it's not that bad. We probably only have a couple of hours left," I said, hoping that sounded encouraging.
Holly threw up her arms dramatically only to allow gravity to let them fall over the keyboard again. "It never ends," she groaned in a cry of despair.
I peered over at Holly's screen. "You don't even have a thesis?"
"That's because I've been working and not playing Solitaire for the last hour and a half."
"I haven't been playing Solitaire, I've been looking at lolcats."
"Your name's not even on there."
Holly sat up suddenly, pushed the backspace button as if it were the reason for her writing troubles, and typed hurriedly to prove how angry she was. She turned her laptop around on the table, pushing a few papers aside as she did so, and I laughed as I looked at the screen.
Shakespeare pls spear urself?
Holly's face lit up as her attention span turned off. "I'll bet you I can find the perfect lolcat for that—"
English wasn't exactly Holly's favored class.
I sighed. "C'mon, Holl, what do you have so far?"
Holly let out a short whimper, shoulders slumping instantly as she reluctantly turned the laptop back around to face her. "Maggs, I don't even know where to start," she complained. "It's like—I don't even know what to write because I don't even know what half the words mean." She propped her head up on her right hand and played with the yellowing book pages with her left, flipping the pages so that they would circulate small bits of air in the vicinity—probably enough of a wind-flow to cool a small mouse. "I mean, 'And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale?' Who even talks like that? What's a dewlap?"
I rolled my eyes. "All right, fine. I'll get you a dictionary."
"For looking up words."
And I set off toward the stairs that lead to the library-slash-Mom's-office, grateful for the break in essay-writing.
The office was clean, as my mom liked it. The carpet was white, soft, and spotless. Every corner was meticulously-organized, every inch of the office dusted, the windows reeking of ammonia. The black wooden desk in the corner bore a spotless flat-screen computer monitor that when turned on displayed the latest updates for Windows 7 and an impeccably-organized harddrive. It was off now, as Mom was doing paperwork downstairs and didn't like doing paperwork in her office (she claimed that it cluttered up the space). On the wall opposite the desk was a line of black metal filing cabinets full of khaki-colored folders containing case files.
The office had looked like this since a year after my dad died. Before that, it had been a mess of papers and manila envelopes and old photos and dust rags that collected more dust than they cleaned.
It was clean, now.
The desk was made of walnut, and she didn't let anyone else use it because Dad had made it for her before I was even born. But she let us touch the worn Mirriam-Webster's she kept on it (not that we ever really used it anyway) next to her beloved law dictionary. I grabbed the regular dictionary, but tripped and knocked over another book, as well.
It was a book I recognized. The title was indented in gold script on the front cover: Legends of Newlia.
It was a large brown volume, well-worn on its cover from the years of oily fingerprints that had frequented the book. Mine were on there.
So were my dad's.
I couldn't imagine what my mom had been doing with the old book of fairy tales. I knew each story well. I ran my fingers over the book softly, taking care not to remove any of the glue binding the old pages together at the broken-in spine. I felt almost wrong touching it, like it was forbidden for some reason, but also maybe that it was appropriate because of the assignment in art class that day.
But the book was old and seemed very out-of-place in the otherwise-spotless room. I dared to open the cover, and a cluster of dust came off it, infiltrating the air.
I found the beginnings of one of my favorite stories, a fairy tale that my dad used to read to me by my bed growing up: The Box.
At this time, the island Newlia was suffering from The Illness. It had been afflicted for years upon the nation. The Illness especially affected fertility: no new children had been born in five years.
One day, a faerie and her husband in the province of Ka'a were digging vegetables in their garden. The Illness had been affecting all the plants that grew above-ground, so the faerie and her husband had begun to plant vegetables underground. During this time, the garden had been dug so far that their garden seemed like an endless abyss into darkness.
Suddenly, when picking a very oddly-coloured carrot, the faerie ran into something that felt very hard and sharp. She dug it out and showed it to her husband.
It was a black box. The box was small and had a glittery appearance, with hard porcelain edges and an unlocked latch. There was an ancient-looking script on the outside that neither the faerie nor her husband could read. The faerie opened the box, curious to see what was inside.
Suddenly, a large black smoke came swarming out and encircled the entire garden. The faerie and her husband gasped.
A very tall woman appeared before them from the midst of the black smoke. "I am Pandora," she said.
The faeries said nothing, knowing that she was a witch.
Pandora smiled. "Do not be afraid," she said, "For you have called in a time of great need, and I am here to provide assistance."
The faeries nodded.
"You have been chosen," said Pandora, showing the faeries the box's inscription. "The one who sets me free shall be the one chosen to heal the lands for a hundred years."
And with that, Pandora pressed two fingers to the female faerie's cheeks, then disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The husband faerie looked at the formerly-beautiful box. It had been destroyed; it was now pieces of broken black porcelain shattered on the
I jumped. The whole room had been dead silent until the sound of my name had broken through the lack of noise. "Oh, hey."
Holly laughed. "Didn't mean to scare you. You hadn't come down yet."
"Lost track of time, is all, sorry."
"What is that?" Holly plunked down on the pristine carpet next to me.
I handed the book to her. "Some old fairy tales. My dad used to read them to me when I was growing up."
"Cool!" said Holly, leafing through the old pages. "The Illness, The Box, Pandora's Reign—fairy tales, you said? Where's Cinderella?"
"It's my dad's book," I said, shrugging and trying not to feel defensive.
I didn't really want to talk about it. I also didn't really feel like defending my odd fairy-tale choices to anyone.
Holly quietly closed the book. "Sorry, Maggs. I didn't mean to—"
"It's fine." The ammonia in the room was starting to get to my head. "Let's just go down, okay? I found the dictionary, anyway."
I took the book of fairy tales and gingerly placed it back on the desk as Holly grabbed the dictionary from the dustless carpet. We descended the stairs without a word, and then the steady click of buttons on our keyboards filled the space instead, which was a relief because the only other thing I could think to turn the tense atmosphere back to normal would have been twiddling our thumbs, and that really wasn't as useful as an activity as people generally thought it might be.
It made the paper-writing faster, at least.