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The Faery & The Butterfly

by Cassandra Bristow

Illustration by Nina Forman

It’s winter now, with snow blanketing the streets until everything feels quieter, softer. I watch it fall from my window, ake after ake layering into certainty. I watch it and I think about its magic that’s a dierent kind— a gentler sense of otherworldliness induced by a sudden, shimmering white backdrop. It feels unfathomable in a way, especially if you’re like me and live in a place where all four seasons unfold. I mean, six months ago snow was the last thing anyone could think about. Six months ago it was June dripping down our backs instead, everyone glistening against the summer sun.

I love June. It’s one of my favorite months of the year because I much prefer slathering on sunscreen and swimming to shivering. June is always a celebration, especially when at last it is midsummer. That is the day when fairies become visible because the veil between our world and theirs is undeniably thin. We have the sure chance on this day to catch a glimpse of the ethereal winged creatures. As you walk amongst the trees, listen closely. You may just hear their ballads, but be sure to proceed with caution. Even a split second of perking up your ear for their sweet music can be perilous. For fairies can indeed be troublemaking creatures.

I know people who claim they have seen fairies in the forest beyond their days of youthful play. When asked about what they saw, it’s always the same entity of light seen deep within the woods that describes a forest fairy. A small and luminous orb that utters about, but yet there is no doubt what it is. They promise I will see it myself and know it is truly a fairy because

it is a force that moves too purposefully to be

a mere trick of sunlight and it will approach you

with mischief and curiosity that you

will feel emanating from its tiny illuminated body. The encounter will be spellbinding, after which you

will never be the same. You can try to explain it

but only those who have experienced it themselves will understand, for they are the only ones who were like you—

in awe and clever enough to return home able to tell their tale.

In spite of my exposure to this casual lore, the fairies I know are far more likely to be characterized as humanlike with a small stature and overall feminine features. These beings often come across more lighthearted, a more innocent version of what a fairy could appear as. Actually, I’ve been informed multiple times throughout my life about this recurring rumor that I am in fact a real-life fairy. I didn’t understand why this was repeated gossip until I started looking closer, feeling closer and then it all made sense.

My childhood best friend took these photographs of me, printed in black and white, from when we were fteen year old girls with too much product in our already naturally thick eyebrows. On this day in particular my hair is a frantic mess because I chose to straighten it despite the humid spring weather. I still have them all, tucked away in a highschool box underneath my dresser, but my favorite is the one I can describe best. I’m rolling around in my backyard’s grass, back slanted as though I’m pushing myself up from where I lie in the dirt. My knees are bent into the air and my arms are draped across my stomach. My hair appears slick as it trickles toward the ground, tendrils pooling into a small frizzy puddle around my face. And I’m laughing. I’m mid-laugh, actually. You can tell because my open mouth is a bit blurred around its edges as if I was trying to say something despite my giggles. Knowing me I probably was.

Every time I return to that picture I can feel the true love, true wonder, and true happiness. Part of it comes from the innocence, the youthful whimsy. After all, these photographs belong to a pair of little girls learning to grow up together. We were no longer conocting “potions” in my bathroom together, or swimming naked as mermaids in my parent's bathtub. Now there was makeup on our faces and high school to think about. Yet even as we grew, I don’t think our magic ever left us. Together we offered one another a sacred promise. We would never let go of each other and our friendship— the one that had been filling us both with magic since our childhood. We didn’t and still haven’t, even though it has not always been the smoothest or easiest path to stay.

Whenever I return to those images, it is easy to wonder if it is possible that I really am a fairy. I mean, people always say I’ve got such a devilish disposition for someone with fairly good intentions. Just like fairies. Unless the rumor is simply because I’m short and fairies are also small. Either way, I only let the chatter continue because of where it places me. Now I get to be other without a negative connotation. Through gossip I’ve been transformed into something ethereal yet so unobtainable. Mythologized.

I learned to use this as an advantage. My mother taught me tricks, right around the time I was rolling in the grass and pinkie swearing with childhood friends. How To Convince Them All You’re Magic. Justify Leaning Into The Rumor By Reminding Yourself This Is Just The Game. Growing Up Is Playing The Game Before You Get Hurt.

Innocence and whimsy can trick you just like the fairies will. It makes you believe that any desire will come to you as long as you wish for it hard enough. Realizing that was when I stopped wanting to be a fairy. Not everything is able to maintain its magic, no matter how hard you want that magic to last forever.

Except for snow.

It’s still swirling down, dissolving into my hair when it nally reaches me. I sigh, breath visible with the sound. Growing up is cold, isn’t it? It melts into your skin but not before sinking down your bones, leaving you with a chill that’s almost impossible to shake. I thought someday I’d embrace the feeling and stop being scared. I thought I could just keep believing in magic’s warmth no matter what happened to me. Except I’m not a fairy and I’m not a little kid anymore: a painful truth that packs a mighty punch. I would know. I’ve got the bruises to prove it all across my abdomen.

Although, these marks might be here because I’ve had my body leaning halfway out my bedroom window for way too long tonight. Pressing myself into the sill’s edge, breathing in each snowake, as I watch and hope that fairy magic might arrive.

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