Once upon a time there was a girl, who didn't believe. She didn't believe in ghosts, or goblins or fairies or elves. She didn't believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. She didn't even believe her parents when they told her to go to bed, because she needed to get some rest for school the next day (she was sure they just wanted to do fun, grown-up things - she had no idea what, but she imagined they probably sang and danced, and ate some sort of grown-up cupcakes that had chocolate jellied-brandy icing and maraschino cherries on top, while they watched the interesting movies on TV that they always told her she was too young to watch.
"But I'm not even tired!" she'd complain.
"You still need to rest, and you're really not missing anything" they'd reply, as they tucked her into bed and kissed her on the forehead.
"Sweet dreams," her mother would say, as she turned out the light, then shut the door behind her.
Dreams - ha! she would grumble to herself. They're just make believe. It's not like anything REALLY sweet or fun would happen to her while she slept.
So, though she would go to bed because they made her - she would try and try to stay awake in her bed, in the dark, straining to listen to their voices coming from the kitchen - to hear if they were putting dancing music on, or smacking their lips as they licked the frosting off those cupcakes. But try as she might, all she'd hear is a vague distant mumbling of their voices, and she'd drift off to sleep before she could make out the words.
Then, came the night before the night before Halloween. Her mother had taken her to pick out a costume earlier that day, and had encouraged her to choose a fairy costume. Though she didn't really believe in fairies, she had to admit it was indeed a very pretty dress. It had a green velvety bodice that shimmered with sequins and rhinestones, and layers of floating multi-colored tulle for the skirt. The wings, which she told her mother were dumb, because no one could possibly fly with such silly little wings, but she admitted to herself, were nonetheless quite lovely, like gossamer butterfly wings, that is, if butterflies sprinkled themselves with diamond dust. The costume also came with a wand, the handle of which was clear so that you could see little sparkles of glitter shimmering inside, and was topped off with a sparkling star. A rainbow of colored satin ribbons cascaded down from the star, purple, blue, pink, yellow, green. It was the loveliest , most enchanting thing she'd ever seen.
Though she knew it was completely illogical, that no wand could ever be really magical, there was something about the sheer beauty of this one, that for the first time - she found herself wanting to believe. That is how she came to sneak it into bed with her, hiding it under her pillow, while she was changing into her nightgown, before she brushed her teeth and her parents tucked her snugly in bed.
She thought that might just work. She hadn't lost any of her teeth yet, though one was VERY wobbly, and her mother had told her when it came out, if she put it under her pillow while she slept, the Tooth Fairy would come and swap it for something better. She hadn't believed her mother when she told her this - not even when she'd heard from other girls at school much the same story. How on earth would a fairy, IF they really existed (which she doubted very much), how would she get into their locked house, and manage to not only take out the tooth from under her pillow, but put something back under it, without waking her up? She thought the whole thing sounded rather fishy. It was probably some old woman her parents would pay to do that, like that old man at the department store, they'd tried to tell her was Santa Claus. She could see the seam in his beard, for pete's sake!
Whenever this tooth ever decided to come out, she intended to be wide awake, just so she could hear her parents letting the old woman into her room, and see how the old, hired-Tooth Fairy's wings were just like the strap-on wings from her own Halloween costume. Well, except seeing this costume, with its wings and its wand made her sort of want to believe for the first time. If there was anything to this magic wand business, she intended to find out for herself. Tonight. The tooth was more wiggily than ever. She had worked on it all through dinner. Brushed her teeth extra hard and fast - and loooong - she finally had to stop when her mother told her that was enough! She'd make her gums bleed if she kept it up, and it was time to go to bed.
So she had to go to bed with her tooth still hanging, seemingly by a thread. In fact, she was a little worried she might swallow it while she slept. But her mother reassured her she'd wake up - and even if she did, they could write the tooth fairy a note explaining the situation. At last, she'd grudgingly accepted this alternative, but she wondered if her parents would have to pay the hired-Tooth Fairy extra if there was no actual tooth to give her. The woman must collect them for some reason. Maybe that's how they made dentures.
"Go to sleep now, dear - the Tooth Fairy only comes when you're sleeping," her mother told her as she tucked the girl into bed.
After her mother had turned out the light and shut the door, she felt under her pillow for the wand. Pulling it out and holding it up in front of her in the dark, she could see it glowing faintly in the night. She hadn't realized it was a glow-in-the-dark wand.
Feeling a bit silly, but figuring the experiment need never be known by anyone else if it failed, she took a deep breath - then waved the wand, as she wished.
"Please let me stay awake till my tooth comes out and the fairy comes," she wished with all her might.
She thought she felt the wand grow warmer in her hand, and that it glowed a little brighter for just a moment. Then she decided it was probably just that she'd held it so long already, and her eyes were adjusting to the dark. Feeling silly now, she stuck the wand back under her pillow, and plopped down on top of it.
Lying there in the dark, she strained to hear her parents voices. As usual they were like a distant waterfall of words, that you thought you could almost, but not quite make out - first a little higher tone - her mother's voice; then a moment later the lower, bass notes of her father's voice. But she couldn't make out what they were saying.
Instead of falling asleep while trying to understand them, though, she found herself growing wider and wider awake. She tossed and turned. She fluffed her pillow. She tried pulling the covers up over her head. Nothing seemed to be working. Finally, she decided to do something, she'd only barely dreamed about doing. She slipped out of bed, and crept towards her door.
She carefully turned the knob, and opened the door, till there was just a slit of light. She sat down on the floor, and peeked through the crack.
There were her parents down the short hallway, sitting in their chairs, just as they had been earlier. No singing; no dancing. No chocolate cupcakes with brandied -jelly icing and maraschino cherries. The TV was on, she could see, but it just looked like a man's head, talking; then she saw a map behind him. The weather report. When it changed to a commercial, her mother got up and turned the TV off. Her father got up and turned off the porchlight. Then they turned towards the hall.
Quickly and quietyly as she could she edged the door closed, and scurried back in bed. She'd just thrown the covers back over her, when her mother peeked in through the door.
"Are you alright?" she heard her mother whisper, but she kept her eyes closed tight, and didn't reply.
"I love you. Good night," her mother whispered as she closed the door.
Her mother was still close enough, that she could hear her say to her father, "I could have sworn I shut that door," as they headed into their own room and closed the door.
When all was quiet again, she crept back up out of bed. She quietly opened her door, and crept out into the hallway. She stopped and listened outside her parent's door, but all she heard was her father's deep, bearish snores, and a sound like a little whistle in between, that must be her mother's own little piccolo snore.
She crept on down the hallway to the livingroom. She thought about turning on the TV, but was afraid it would wake them. She looked out through the window, at the gray night. She could see the circle of yellow from the streetlight out by the sidewalk. Otherwise, the whole world was quiet and dark. She found the cat curled up in her basket and tried petting her, but she stayed curled up in a ball, and didn't even purr at all.
She went into the kitchen and checked for signs of cupcakes, but she was sadly disappointed. At last, bored and restless, she wandered back to her bed.
All through the long night, she tossed and turned. Plumped her flattened pillow. Shook her rumply sheets. For a little while at a time, she would wiggle her loose tooth with her tongue; then remember her fears of swallowing it, and make herself stop.
Though she was tired, she wasn't at all sleepy. By the time the gray light of morning gradually glowed through the window, she still had never slept a wink. It wasn't nearly as fun, as she'd thought - in fact it was no fun at all.
Her mother came and got her up for breakfast and school. She didn't dare tell her mother why she was so tired. So off to school she went. She sat through classes, even recess, without hardly a word. She did her work; she read and added and wrote. But she was strangely quiet throughout the day.
By the time she got home, she longed for sleep. But she knew her mother would worry she was sick. So she quietly did her chores and homework. Ate her supper. By the time she'd taken her bath, and brushed her teeth, she was more than ready to go to bed. Though she hadn't complained once, her mother somehow knew.
"You're awfully quite and tired tonight," she said as she felt the girl's forehead. "You don't feel warm. Still, I hope you're not getting sick."
As soon as her mother had told her good night and closed the door, the girl took out her wand. She waved it and wished with all her might: Please just let me sleep!
She had barely place the wand back under her pillow, when she started yawning. She rubbed her eyes, lay down upon her pillow, and was off to sleep before she knew it, not caring if her tooth came out or even if she swallowed it.
She found herself in a strange autumn forest. Through the snaggled gold and red leaves, she could see the trees all had faces in their gnarled wood - some with big toothy grins, others with puckered mouths, as though they'd sucked a lemon. A couple looked as though they were about to bite a large, crunchy apple. In the center of the forest stood a large maple tree - this one had a door in its side; on the door were two faces one smiling, one frowning.
Since she felt compelled to go through the door, it was fortunate, the one nearest the doorknob was the one that was smiling. She wasn't sure if she would have been brave enough to touch the handle if it had been the one which was frowning.
She stepped through the fallen leaves to the door and reached out to turn the copper doorknob. She opened it and stepped inside.
Ahead of her she saw an ornately carved ivory throne, surrounded by golden treasure chests with ivory inlaid in intricate patterns. A woman was bending over one of the chests, placing something in it. As she straightened and turned round towards her with a smile, the girl saw that what she had thought was part of the train of the woman's long gown, were actually gossamer wings, so light they were nearly transparent. As it often happens in dreams, the girl wasn't certain if the woman glided forward to meet her or if she'd suddenly been transported next to her. She looked down at the girl and smiled even more good-naturedly as the girl's eyes widened, taking in the wings and her pointed ears.
The woman answered her unspoken questions, as though she were reading her mind. "Yes, I am a fairy. In fact, the very fairy you hoped to see, even though part of you didn't want to believe - part of you did. The curious thing about believing is - now it's up to you - whether or not I believe in you..."
The girl looked at the woman with her mouth hanging open. What did this mean? What did the woman want...
The fairy woman cocked her head with a knowing smile on her lips. "You know your mother was much like you, once upon a time."
The girl gasped, "You know my mother?"
"Oh, yes! She was here many years ago herself. As a young girl. Though, I expect to see her again soon. I think, perhaps, tomorrow night. Probably many times over the next few years. We in the fairy realm need all the help we can get nowadays..."
Oh! Suddenly she knew. She reached up and touched her loose tooth. With the touch of her finger, the tooth popped loose. She held it up and looked at it in amazement - how easily it had finally come loose after all the wiggling and jiggling she'd been doing for days...
She looked up and their eyes met; she held out the tooth to the fairy. The fairy clapped her hands and her laughter rang out like a bell.
"Yes! Thank you - I think I do believe in you, too! But take it back with you for now. If you truly believe, you'll know what to do."
Tears welled up in the girl's eyes; she was feeling a bit confused, a little rejected, overwhelmed by it all - and just the teensiest bit tender where the tooth had come out. The fairy patted her on the shoulder reassuringly. Then from some hidden pocket in her gown, she drew out an amber glass bottle, with a golden acorn for a stopper, and a tiny golden spoon.
"Here, my dear, just a drop of this, and you'll be able to come back to see me whenever you like. But tonight I'll visit your home." The fairy tipped the bottle, pouring just a single golden drop into the tiny spoon and offered it to her.
The girl gingerly took the spoon, and sniffed as she brought it near her mouth - it smelled like cinnamon and maple syrup. The fairy waited with her head cocked to one side. "Oh very well, if it will make you feel better." She produced another spoon from her gown and tipped a drop from the bottle into it. "Mmm," with her eyes blissfully closed, the fairy made quite a show of savoring every bit of the tiny drop from the spoon. She held it out for the girl to examine and see that she had indeed licked it clean. So the girl followed suit, and found that it's flavor was like the best french toast she'd ever had.
"Now, what are you going to do when you wake up?" asked the fairy.
"Put the tooth under my pillow," said the girl.
The fairy distractedly hid the bottle and spoons into the folds of her gown once again, as she spoke. "Oh yes, of course - though really I had something else in mind."
The girl thought for a moment. "Um, brush my teeth?"
"There you go!" exclaimed the fairy, and with her twinkling laughter fading from her ears, the girl awakened in her room.
She looked down at her clenched hand, and slowly opened it. There in the palm of her hand was the little round white tooth.
Sitting up in the bed, she replayed the dream in her mind's eye. She thought she could taste just a hint of cinnamon and maple syrup still on her tongue. Carefully she placed the tooth under her pillow, then got up to brush her teeth, and go tell her mother...
She knew, many years later, she would someday see the fairy again.
This bedtime story initially started out with a completely different idea, then the tale took a turn of its own--perhaps influenced by the news that a certain, potentially gap-toothed, girl might be visiting this Sunday? (Though I must say, that girl is much more willing to believe in good things - especially her parents, than the girl in the story).
To read other Bedtime Stories, see this week's Sunday Scribblings.