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art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico

Suburban Pixies

Story Boyle hangs poems from trees in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. She graduated New College of Florida with a penchant for herding cats, smoking cigars, drinking coffee, and exploring abandoned buildings. Formerly the Director of the Peace River Center for Writers, she now sells technology by day and is a costumed language vigilante--The Word Collector--by night, keeping artfully arranged signifiers at storyboyle.com. Her poetry has been published by The American University of Paris's CORE: International Journal of the Humanities, and her flash fiction has appeared at www.firststopfiction.com.

***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."
Ben slumped. "No, that's not his name." He sank back down to the porch step. India hugged him gently, laying her face against his back.
"He calls me 'Benny.'"
"That's not your name."
"I know." Ben buried his own face in his knees, drawing them close to his chest.
"He doesn't call you by your name, Ben. He has no power over you."
Ben looked up, twisting his head to see Indi over his shoulder out of the corner of his eye. She lifted her cheek from his shoulder blade to meet his gaze.
"What are they named?" Ben nodded toward the faeries, his voice fumbling to find a kind of steadiness.
"They're peskies."
"You're serious?"
"Yes. They're related to piskies--y'know, pixies. But time changes things. They're only here... this continent. And they only began a hundred years or so ago. An answer to those harmless ones people made up during the Victorian times."
"That's what they call themselves."
"You'd have to ask them."
Ben watched them. Strange fae-bright little things, they were dancing again, or maybe playing tag.
"Are they really real?" he asked.
"No, Ben. But we're not either."
"That's one helluvan answer."
"It's a true one, though. It's not even philosophy. Physics. Hells, we never even really touch each other--the electrons of our atoms can't ever come in contact, always pushing each other away. The greater force we exert, the greater the resistance. We're insulated from the world. We can't believe our eyes. And that world? It's made of a vast nothing, Ben. The space between is infinite."
"Then why? Why anything?" Ben snapped.
"You tell me. Are you going to stay tonight?"
He paused, ignored her question.
At last, he asked, "Names are power?"
"Sometimes. It depends on the story."
"I always wanted a silly name. I liked the way 'Cinder' sounded. I told my dad that when I was real little. He asked if I was some kind of faggot."
"'Cinder' is a good name."
"But it's not my name. I'm stuck with Ben. Look, why does it matter, Indi? I'll go home; he'll be drunk. That's how it is. That's just how it is." He pushed his face back into his knees, to hide the catch in his voice, the hot glitter in the corner of his eye.
"It doesn't have to be." she said.
Ben raised his head just enough to see the peskies, with their tiny scales and claws and horns, leaping, twirling, careening through the garden as if nothing else in the world existed. Maybe it was true--nothing else in the world existed. Maybe there was only here. Or maybe there wasn't.
"What happens if I stay?" he asked.
"Merry will let you have the guest room. She talked about it with me yesterday."
"What if my dad comes looking for me?"
"Do you think the peskies will let him in the yard? I've said as much--they're not harmless, Ben."
More than half an hour passed in silence. The peskies never once acknowledged their audience. Merry opened the screen door with her elbow bearing two plates of pie. A second trip brought two steaming coffee mugs.
"At eleven?" Ben looked up into Merry's face as she bent to hand him his cup.
"Why not?" Merry smiled at him.
"Merry?" he asked.
"Would you mind if I stayed the night?" his eyes dropped as the question came. They landed on a wine-colored scaly form curled up next to him, asleep like a cat. He almost jumped, but its gesture was so familiar--closed eyes flicking back and forth in dream. It wasn't a peskie. It was too large and feline for that.
Ben blinked first at Merry, then at Indi.
"It's a dragon," India answered before he could speak. She slowly smiled, took a sip of her coffee.
"He's been curled up next to you all night," she replied, the coyote gleam coming back into her eyes.
Ben sat back, setting his mug down. "You don't wonder because you know, don't you?"
"I don't know half of anything. I don't wonder because every day is as vast as the whole universe. It's all a surprise."
"Of course you can stay the night. I've got the guest room already made up for you, Ben," there was something solid in Merry's words.
"Thank you," said Ben, watching the dragon at his side, who'd begun nuzzling him possessively. He thought a moment before looking back up at Merry.
"I think..." he started, "I think I'm going to go by 'Cinder,' now."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Author Comments

This story developed over a number of years, went through any number of revisions. Each version reflected new concerns: the power to name things, the power to name oneself, feelings of disconnection and the sense that you're missing something, the comforting side of acknowledging humanity's smallness in the universe, what it means to respect another person deeply. I had to push those thoughts aside to let the story rise up and do what it needed to, but you can see them all in there. Most powerful for me was the idea of the moment of decision; Ben's decision to name himself, to move away from the abuse, reflected my decision to move to the Miami area, and away from a difficult environment. It was not easy; it was a leap. Sometimes I wonder now if Ben is doing as well living with Merry and India as I am here in the city. I like to think so. I don't know if I'll need to revisit his life in my writing, but I have a feeling that if I do, it will be in the midst of a huge transformation in my own.

- Story Boyle
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