art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico
by Story Boyle
***Editor's Warning: Mature language and situations in the story that follows***
"Look sideways to see 'em, Ben. You can't catch 'em straight on. Like this," India lowered her head, eyes drifting groundward.
And they were there--Ben could see them finally, like a Magic-Eye picture, or an optical illusion puzzle, little winged things, little bat-winged things, both dark and light. Serpentine, reptilian creatures, feathered, scaly, pearly, that danced on the breeze. Their bodies, for all their strangeness, were roughly people-shaped, except an occasional tail or claw or leaf-crowned head. Diamond bright in the early moonlight, they'd frightened off the fireflies.
"When did you first see them, Indi?" Ben asked as he shifted his weight, careful not to jar his aching ribs--just in case it was more than a bruise. She didn't stir, dyed-black bangs marking a straight line across her forehead, a line that lied about the angle of her gaze. Ben waited. India caught most things the first time around; it didn't help to repeat them.
Indi scratched her pierced nose. "Always," she said, the word like a stone in the air. "Merry taught me when I was a baby, before I can even remember."
Ben glanced in the kitchen window. Incandescent gold framed Ms. Merriment Smith, standing over the sink, her wide tattooed arms working vigorously at paint brush bristles and running water. He imagined the milky dilutions of red and blue paint spiraling down the drain until the water ran clear.
"It's really weird that you don't call her 'Mom,'" he turned back to Indi when the sound of the faucet stopped.
"Her name isn't 'Mom.' Why should I call her that? She doesn't call me 'daughter' or 'kiddo.'"
And it was true. Ben couldn't think of a single time Merry had called her child by a pet name or diminutive--only the short form that Indi herself used.
"It's still weird," Ben insisted, looking away. "Your whole house is weird."
"I'm glad you finally came over to see it."
"Yeah. Well." Ben fell quiet.
After watching the creatures for a while, he started up again, tossing words into the silence, "It kinda makes you wonder, y'know, what else you've been missing all this time."
India shrugged. "I don't wonder."
"Aren't you curious?" Ben asked.
Indi glanced sidelong, smiling like a coyote, not quite at him, but close. She didn't say anything else for a while.
After a time, the fae forms settled into stillness. Then one by one, each tiny throat opened, and a mournful music filled the front garden, blanketing the cucumber and passion fruit vines, drifting through the rosemary, and weaving between the old live oaks and the Spanish moss.
Ben sighed, wincing as his lungs came full.
"I thought so," Indi whispered. Ben froze. At first he wasn't sure if India had directed the comment at him, but the pause that followed said it better than words.
"You could tell?" he asked, but didn't relax.
Indi's mouth pursed into an unhappy smile. "What excuse did he give this time?" she asked, looking at her hands in her lap.
"I didn't make the football team. He said... he said if I wasn't man enough... If I couldn't... He said I was a faggot."
"It's okay," India lifted a hand to his shoulder, and it rested there, birdlike.
The faeries' lament went on as the night deepened and the moon rose high. The smell of baking and coffee snaked from the screened kitchen window. India's hand never moved. Only when the faery voices quieted, one at a time, just as they'd begun, did Ben stir.
He stretched achingly and stood with a grimace, feeling Indi's hand trail down his back.
India's eyes followed him. For a while, he simply stood there, looking at her. Finally, he said, "I should go."
She reached up for his hand. "Stay."
"But Dad." His reply was barely audible.
He couldn't read all the changes that passed her face. She sighed, and he could see all the words left unsaid in the air around her. Except the one statement she spoke, "That's not his name."