7652 Sawmill Rd., #258
Dublin, OH 43106
Rent a Fairy
By Linda Gorelova
Excerpt from Chapter One
Outside, a cold rain is pelting down. I soon give up on dodging the puddles. The neighbor’s house is far away. My feet ache. I feel like I’m walking on stumps, save for the stinging pain that radiates from my toes. I keep going until it occurs to me that I’m lost.
At long last, my sweet Lulubelle comes into view. I unlock her, untie my sopping pointe shoes, and toss my gear in her front seat. No doubt, my tutu will snap out of it, but my drooping wings will never be the same. The seat is so freezing it hurts my butt. My teeth are knocking, my hands are whitish blue, shot through with purple patches. I turn the key, blast the heater, and put her in gear. Lulubelle roars to life, welcoming me with a blast of air straight out of Siberia. I take the check from my leotard. Three hundred bucks: not bad for two hours of work. Too bad I let Ursula keep the tent, though. That’s going to set me back at least seventy-five dollars, not counting candles, pewter forks, and saucers. Those were my grandmother’s. Blue Willow pattern.
The car is nice and toasty now. I tuck the check back into my leotard. My face comes back to life before the rest of me; I direct the heat flow to my feet. They tingle as whatever blood left in them begins to circulate.
Largely thawed, I pull onto the road and relax into the drive. The headlights polish the weeds silver. Branches jut fingerlike into the brooding sky. The rain slows to a spit that speckles the windshield. I turn the wipers to their lowest speed. My breath synchronizes to their shushing. I streak past driveways like they aren’t even there. Lulubelle hugs the curves like she’s wearing them. I feel as though I’m controlling her with my thoughts alone, more like horse and rider than driver and unfeeling thing.
As I come around a turn, I see an apple-shaped old man in grey sweats standing practically in the middle of my lane, his forearm half hidden in a tin mailbox mounted on a stump leaning too far into the road. He retrieves his mail, zips open one of those Valpaks we all get, and stands there, reading. I veer to the left to avoid him, but, out of nowhere, a slate gray Jag pulls out and crosses right in front of me. I swerve right, lay on the horn, and brake, all at once. I miss the car, but head straight at him. My brake lights burnish him in a rosy hue.
I yell at him to move. He doesn’t budge or even look up. Just a few feet of metal separate us. We freeze like that for a handful of seconds, his stubble showing up in a white and crackly nimbus all around his face. Twin slime trails drip from his fleshy nose, while the glints in his chrome-colored eyes send a shiver through me. If he’s afraid, he doesn’t show it. Au contraire. He fixes his steely gaze on me and brandishes a fistful of coupons right at me.
When we unfreeze, I find myself hurtling toward him. I scream at the top of my lungs and brake again, only to find my leg already braced against the floor, my wet toes clinching the pedal in a death grip. Lulubelle fishtails across the asphalt and wet leaves. His mail sifts between his fingers. Coupons for twenty percent off oil changes, free radon inspections, a one cent sale on canned kidney beans, BOGO cling peaches¾all of these and many others¾flutter softly onto my windshield.
We all stop at pretty much the same time. The old man folds over my hood. My chest bangs against the steering wheel. Lulubelle crunches in an ominous, hurt, sickening way. He thuds somewhere around the car like a hundred-pound sack of flour. Wait. No. Make that three hundred. My wipers toss his thin sheets back and forth until they’re mashed onto the glass, bleeding primary-colored drips of ink.
I have killed an old man on a fixed income. I am an ogre. My panting fogs the windshield. I start to reverse, think better of it, shift into park—a formality at this point, as my wheels have locked¾and search for him in the rearview mirror. No sign. I pound the steering wheel. Shit. Shit. Shit.
The car door creaks open. Maybe I do it, maybe he does. Maybe it’s magic. It doesn’t occur to me to close it. All I know is, I am about to glimpse my first real, freshly dead person, perhaps with blood dripping from his mouth like Hershey’s syrup, marble eyes staring straight at me in silent accusation. Or maybe he’s lying in wait—when I step out of the car, he’ll grab me by the ankles and jerk me down with him. Or maybe he’s a decoy in a setup to lure me into an isolated farmhouse, where I will be raped and killed. Just let me stay here, I plead, not quite sure to whom or what I might be appealing.
Better yet, maybe none of this really happened. This whole thing might go away if I keep very still. My hands are freezing, my cheeks are burning. In terms of bodily reactions, everything is up for grabs.
A chill blasts through my open door. I decide he’s not dead after all, just hurt. I’ll find him, drive him to the hospital. We’ll make friends.
The next thing I know, I’m on the street. I forget my coat, leave my pointe shoes on the front seat¾they’re sopped and useless anyway. The rain has turned to sleet. Beads of ice raise goosebumps on my arms. Bitter needles shoot through me. The wind whistles in my ears and lifts the hair from my neck. The tulle strips of my tutu lash my face. I pick up a branch and switch the weeds along the road, but it does no good. It’s so much darker than it seemed in the car.
“Hey,” I call out, “Mister.” Nothing. “Anybody here?” Is he already dead? People can’t die that quickly, can they? Maybe the old ones can. The shoulder drops off into a steep drainage ditch, scabbed over with dainty chunks of ice. That’s where I’ll find him, outstretching an imploring hand. Will I be strong enough to pull him out?
I forget all about the freezing temps. For about twenty feet, I hack my way along the road with my trusty switch before it occurs to me that he can’t have gotten that far. I double back, reach his mailbox and study the footprints in the mud at its base. They stop in the middle of the road, right where I hit him. Nightmare prickles creep up my spine. I don’t dare breathe. I can’t feel my heart beating. Maybe I’m dead, too.
Surely the Protectors know I’m a dangerous driver. They should have suspended my license long ago. That’s another thing. Why don’t they make us all take a course in basic car maintenance if they’re so keen on keeping us all safe? I give Lulubelle a quick once-over. If there’s damage, it doesn’t show in the dark. I searched for him. He’s not here. I’ve done all anyone could expect. I slide behind the driver’s seat, glad I left the car on. It’s blazing hot, and I rub my hands greedily over the heat vent. I turn on the headlights. The dashboard lights up. I still have a half tank of gas. I take a final look around. Fuck Class Two, fuck their sylvan majesty, fuck their Jags, fuck their Tudor houses, and fuck their imitation leaded glass windows. Ditto for their slate roofs. I should never have taken this job. If I hadn’t, my life would still be normal.
As soon as I put my foot on the gas, Lulubelle’s wheels whine and spin on the icy berm.
Shit shit shit. Car trouble in the middle of nowhere. How am I going to get home? My hand jitters as I shift the car into park. For that matter, release the trunk latch. Yet again, I slide out of my seat. The sleet has stopped. A cold, clammy pall of moisture hangs in the air. A bank of fog is sweeping in. I spread around enough kitty litter to beach the QEII¾that’s when I find a dent rubbing the tire on the front passenger side.
Hot dread overpowers me like a noxious odor. Now I know how Anna Karenina’s Vronsky felt when his racehorse broke her back. I sink to my knees and lay my cheek against the metal crater. I can’t afford a tow back to Perfectville in the middle of the night, much less body shops, loss of transportation and therefore income, ballooning auto insurance rates¼another cost of this damned party. Vronsky ended up shooting his horse. Now I will have to junk my car. Lulubelle, Lulubelle, what have I done to you? I will never drive another.
Wait. I can bend it out. After a few yanks with both hands—OK, several¾the fender pops out. I feel like one of those mothers who lifts a burning car off her trapped child.
I settle behind the wheel. (Perhaps you’ve noticed this recurring pattern.) My keys are dangling around my neck on their Perfectville High lanyard. It takes a good three stabs to land the key in the ignition, then I jab at the dash until the heat blasts me in the face like a stiff Sahara wind. I ease Lulubelle into gear, still tuning my ear for an old man’s groan or sick car noises. She purrs at me in gratitude like nothing’s wrong. For the first few miles, I drive at a snail’s pace, headlights pointing torpidly around the curves. I convince myself that the geezer is lurking behind a mailbox, controlling me with a remote. He’ll jump out and say Boo! I’ll have a heart attack and die.
Eventually, though, my foot relaxes onto the gas pedal. I half hope a Protector will pull me over. I’ll lodge a complaint that a creepy old maniac is trying to drive me insane. That has to be illegal, right? We don’t see a soul, though. Lulubelle and I hurtle over the country lane, boring a tunnel of light through the darkness, trees and weeds.
Maybe this is his hobby, faking his own death. On the other hand, he may file a bogus lawsuit. Have I entered Candid Camera or The Twilight Zone? Am I destined to loop around on these roads forever? Will the old man show up in my back seat uninvited and say, “I believe you are going my way?” I would die. I would simply die if I haven’t done so already.
The road straightens as we leave the Class Two neighborhood. The undulating asphalt switches to cracked concrete with peeling yellow lines. I breathe in a big gulp of relief. But I didn’t kill him, did I? Nor did I leave the scene. I stopped, as required by law. I did the right thing. I looked and looked for him. I would have helped him. I am a good person.
Maybe he was never there in the first place. Maybe he’s some kind of evening shadow, a late winter mirage.
At long last, Perfectville’s office parks, strip malls, and rental communities reappear, dotted with signs announcing reassuring slogans. My favorite is, “Don’t Worry. That’s Our Job,” with a cutout Protector standing there like a gigantic paper doll clad in crisp blue, smiling reassuringly from his billboard heights, a swarm of chimney birds perched on his roomy, ever so reassuring shoulders.
Just before midnight, the statue of Rosa Luxemburg welcomes me back. Floodlights illuminate her bronze skirt, leaving her clouded in thought from the torso up. Five minutes later, I turn the key in the lock of my very own front door. Once inside, I lean against its cold, cold smoothness.
Without a body, there is no death.
I make it to the bathroom. Under the circumstances, I can’t believe I’m interested in brushing my teeth, but, evidently, I am. As I squeeze toothpaste onto the brush, I notice that my hands are black and still cold. They will never be warm again. I run water until steam rises, but they can’t even feel the stream. The water in the basin turns black. Rivulets of grime roll down my arms. I pump half a bottle of soap on them and scrub, but they’re still filthy. My fingernails are caked with grease, like a mechanic’s. My sense of touch comes back unexpectedly; I jerk my hands out of the scalding water. A black smudge covers the webbing between my thumb and index finger on both hands from where I fixed the dent. I give up for now. It will take days to wash that stain away.
I get to the bedroom, peel off my wet tutu, leotard, tights. To my horror, I see that the guy’s check has adhered to my right boob. The ink has soaked through the paper, leaving a furry mess on the back side. I peel it off. His signature and the dollar amount stay tattooed on my chest. I’ll never be able to cash this, even after it dries. I’ll have to beg Mr. Asswipe to write another one, which he will undoubtedly refuse to do. If I weren’t so exhausted, I would be upset, but in my current mood, I doubt I’ll call him about it at all. Some things are more important than money. Who knows what else might happen if I drove back out there?
I would love to shower off his imprint, so to speak, from my breast, but I’m too drained. I rummage in my drawer for my favorite red and green plaid flannel nightgown and fluffy socks. At long last, I sink into my foam mattress and pull the covers to my chin. At that very moment, I remember that my toothbrush, topped with a pea-sized amount of Total Whitening Vegan Non-Fluoride Formula, is still waiting for me on the bathroom sink. I decide I don’t care, even though, eventually, I will have to flick the wasted, dried blob into the trash. I dread the dreams I will have tonight: finding him in a ditch. No matter how I pull, no matter how my shoulders ache, I will be unable to save him. Right before he goes under, he will whisper, “No body, no death,” in a way that will make my flesh crawl.