The Faery Trees
The scent of the elder trees seemed to shimmer in the hot June sunshine, making a heat haze of aromatic oils and dust, as Becky flung herself down in the shade and buried her face in her hands and wept, loudly. The hard earth beneath the two bending bushes had been packed tight by the baking of the summer sun and by small feet, she noticed with some surprise. The worn footprints, made when last the ground here was muddy, were no bigger than her own would have made, and she saw for the first time that the two stunted trees leaned together to make an archway, and beyond it, she could see a narrow path, vanishing into the deeper woodland beyond. The path was barely more than a rabbit run and she wondered why she had never noticed it before.
She wished she had thought to bring a bottle of water; her throat was dry with the heat and it hurt through her wailing. A sob rose again unbidden and she scrubbed at her face as the tears began to course down her face again.
“Why are you crying?”
Becky jumped with shock, and saw to her intense surprise that a girl was standing over her, her face hidden in the mass of wild flaxen hair that tumbled round her shoulders. Becky’s own hair was tied back neatly in a tight plait to keep it from escaping and looking untidy.
“Nothing,” Becky said, gazing at the girl with awe, and rubbing the tears away hastily.
The girl came and sat next to her, her face still shaded a little by her hair and by the dappled shadows cast by the trees they sat beneath.
“You sound so unhappy,” said the girl. “Tell me about it.”
Becky drew a deep and shuddering breath.
“It’s my Gran,” she said. “She’s mean and nasty and she won’t let me have what I want.”
“That’s terrible,” said the girl, her voice sympathetic.
“So I have run away,” Becky continued. “Just for a little while, to scare her, the mean old bitch.”
“Why don’t your parents help you?” the girl asked.
“My parents are divorced,” Becky said. “Dad works abroad. Mum went back to live with her mum; that’s my Gran. So Mum goes out to work and Gran stays home with me. Only, today, we were going to get me new shoes after school, and this is what she made me get!”
Becky pointed dramatically at her feet. The sensible and comfortable shoes were coated in the fine white dust kicked up by these chalky fields in drought.
“They look…” the girl tailed off without finishing.
“Exactly,” said Becky triumphantly. “They’re hideous. I’m going to be a laughing stock at school tomorrow.”
The girl patted her arm.
“We could swap,” she said. “You look like the same size as me.”
Becky glanced at the girl suspiciously. The girl was wearing much the same clothes as herself, jeans and tee shirt, but while Becky’s jeans were a standard supermarket brand, ironed and laundered and ordinary, this girl wore designer jeans, with the artistic rips and chains Becky coveted. Her tee shirt had a neat little Chanel logo on it, and round her neck, where Becky wore a tacky Best Friends Forever pendant on a worn thong, this girl wore a heavy gold chain, bearing a suspiciously real looking diamond. And her shoes! Well, her shoes were the exact pair Becky had seen in a magazine and had begged her Gran to buy for her.
“Why would you want to?” Beck asked grudgingly.
“To make you happy,” said the girl, throwing back her hair and smiling a big broad, braces-free smile. Becky has stopped smiling properly the day they fixed her teeth with braces.
“OK,” said Becky, kicking off her shoes with speed, in case this strange girl changed her mind.
Within a few moments, the exchange was complete. The high-heeled red shores hurt Becky’s feet but after a few moments staggering around, she found she could walk just fine in them. The girl buckled her new sandals and smiled in a way that reminded Becky of her cat’s face when it had just stolen some cream.
“Drink?” said the girl sitting back down in the shade and proffered a bottle.
Becky took an experimental swig and nearly choked.
“But that’s cider!” she exclaimed.
“And?” said the girl shrugging.
“It’s nice,” Becky said meekly and took a long drink.
The sun peeped through the leaves and sparkled on the diamante trimmings of her new shoes; Becky felt the drowsy heat of late afternoon fill her and her eyes felt heavy.
She woke to hear her name being called and shivered. The sun was setting, blood red in the West and the fragrance of the elder trees had begun to smell like a tomcat had used the earth here for a toilet. She scrambled awkwardly to her feet and swayed out from under the shade of the two elder trees. Her grandmother was crossing the field, coming towards her fast.
As she caught sight of her granddaughter, her whole body seemed to spasm, as if with shock.
“Oh no you don’t,” she shouted and Becky cringed before realising that Gran was not shouting at her.
Gran seized her arm firmly and then bent to yank the glorious shoes off Becky’s feet.
“Not my granddaughter, not ever, you conniving little thieves,” she yelled and to Becky’s horror, she threw first one and then the second shoe at the narrow path between the elder trees.
“But Gran, we swapped shoes, they’re my shoes now!” Becky protested, but then stared open-mouthed, unable to believe what she’d seen.
The path had closed up, like a book shutting and now there was no trace of the way through between the two elder trees. Of either pair of shoes there was no trace at all.
Her Gran gave her a little shake, and pointed at the last rays of the sun as they dipped below the horizon.
“Just in time,” she said. “Another few minutes and I’d have been too late.”
Becky felt her tears returning but now they were tears of incomprehensible relief. Gran looked at her, and passed her a hankie.
“Well, losing your shoes is a fair price to pay, I guess,” she said. “You can walk home barefoot or I can give you a piggy back? Which is it to be?”
Becky went to school the next day in her old, worn out shoes and a much better frame of mind.
(C) Vivienne Tuffnell 2009