Union Fairy (.pdf. Right click and ‘save as’ to download’)
by Seth M. Baker
Tina Howells knew her life was complete. She had a loving and handsome husband, a good job in the cookie factory, and a minivan to drive her above-average twins, Nina and Steve, to school in. Though she was approaching forty, she looked younger than her contemporaries. They had surprisingly good luck with their mutual funds and no credit card debt. They even had a golden retriever named Fiddler.
The twins rarely argued with their parents, Fiddler never pooped in the house, and a local boy kept their lawn immaculate. Her husband, Andrew, not only ran a successful antiques business; he managed all the domestic duties, leaving Tina with plenty of time to walk in the park, paint landscapes, and exert great authority over other members of the Riverbrook PTA.
Yet, on the first day of spring during of the children’s senior year of high school, Tina felt something stir inside her. She dismissed it as cramps, at first, but then realized it had nothing to do with her body. Sitting on a hundred and fifty year old French duvet, looking at her husband, who was vacuuming dust from the window treatments, Tina exclaimed:
“Andrew, we need some adventure.”
“Pardon, darling?” he said, turning the vacuum cleaner off.
“I said, Andrew, we need some adventure. I don’t know what, but something.”
Andrew merely nodded and resumed his cleaning.
That evening, Tina went to the library and asked the librarian about adventures.
“Well,” the librarian said, “you’ll find that section over there.” She pointed at the back wall and said, “between crafts and art.”
Tina walked to the section which, though scant, offered a few options. She leafed through guidebooks to various European and South American countries, a book on the Appalachian Trail, books on whitewater rafting, skiing, horseback riding, sailing, yet, after three hours, none of these books had piqued her interest.
Disappointed, she drove her minivan home.
“Honey,” Andrew said to Tina as she came in the door, “you said you wanted adventure, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I picked up a bottle of bourbon while you were out.”
“Andrew Tinker Howells, we haven’t drank since your sister’s wedding five years ago. Did you bring a chaser? ” she said. Tina embraced her husband. She said, her face inches from his. Within three hours, Mr. and Mrs. Howells were waltzing around their expansive, expensive living room, laughing and kissing, feeling like they were the young and carefree couple who once drove around and threw fireworks from their car windows.
Before dawn, Tina woke into a thick hangover fog. Trying to check the time with bleary, blurry eyes, she saw a small person, no taller than six inches, sitting on the edge of her bed. Tina pulled the pillow from beneath her husband’s head and threw it at the small person. The pillow hit the small person in the back of the head. The person turned to her and said,
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?”
“Oh my,” Tina said. Keeping one eye on the small person, she rolled over to face her husband, who still slept, now without a pillow, “Andrew!” She shook his shoulder. “Honey, are you awake? Wake up!” Andrew only groaned.
She turned back to the small person and said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Gus, your house fairy.” Gus stood with his hands on his hips. Gus wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a brown leather tool belt. On his head sat an orange hard hat.
“Yeah, house fairy. You heard me, lady,” Gus said. “But don’t call me a fairy. It’s just my title. Union rules. I have to state my title.”
“House fairy? Union rules?” Tina said.
“Do I sound like a broken record? Okay, you need some adventure, and now that you know what’s going on, I’d like to get to work, if that’s alright with you?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She started to ask Gus what he was going to do, but she blinked and he was gone. Still confused, Tina went back to sleep.
Later, the smell of coffee roused Tina from the bed and drew her to the kitchen. Andrew stood in front of the stove, cooking breakfast: scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and hash browns. Fiddler sat at Andrew’ feet. Andrew smiled at her and said,
“Honey, where’s the sugar?”
“It should be in the cabinet, where it always is,” she said.
“I know, but its not there.”
Tina looked in the cabinet, and saw cornstarch, vitamins, and garlic powder, but no sugar. How odd, she thought. I wonder where it is.
They ate breakfast together, sipping sugarless coffee. Andrew scanned the classified ads and Tina read the local news. Her favorite part of the paper was the ‘letters to the editor’ section. Though she had never sent a ‘letter to the editor’ in her life, she liked to laugh at those who did. Mostly, she thought, these are crazy people with nothing better to do.
After breakfast, Tina showered. She opened the linen cabinet to get a towel, and there, on the third shelf, right in front of the washcloths, sat the sugar in its little glass container. Unbelieving, she closed the door and opened it again. The sugar was still there. After her shower, she took the sugar back to the kitchen.
“Andrew,” she said to her husband, “the sugar was in the bathroom, in the linen cabinet.”
“Wonder who put it there?” he said. Tina started to say Steve might have been playing a practical joke, but the first and last practical joke he attempted involved WD40 and a midnight emergency room visit. Could Gus have been more than a dream? Tina shook her head and decided she had mistaken the sugar for vitamins, carried it with her to the bathroom, and forgotten about it.
She needed to clear her mind, and she decided a walk in the park would help with this. She asked Andrew if he’d like to go with her to the park and do a couple of miles. Andrew said he’d love to. Tina admired him as he walked off. Even wearing her pink bathrobe, she thought he looked dignified. Distinguished, even, with his sleek glasses, neat haircut, and prominent chin.
“Fiddler,” she said to the dog, “here boy.” Fiddler walked to Tina and gave her a doggy grin. “You wanna go for a walk? Yeah, he’s a good boy and wants to go walk with us.” She scratched him behind his ears, and his tail slapped against the floor with joy. Suddenly his tail stopped. He rocketed to the fireplace and started barking.
Unlike most homes in Chamberlain Estates, the Howells home had a working, wood-burning fireplace. The real estate agent who sold them the house said it was nothing but trouble and that they should close it off and replace it with gas logs, he could recommend a good contractor to help with that, but Andrew insisted it remain the way it was.
She followed him over and removed the screen. She set the screen aside and a bit of black ash fell from the chimney. Squirrels, she thought. The cover must’ve fallen off, and the squirrels have found a cozy place to build a nest. I hope I don’t have to call a chimney sweep.
Fiddler kept barking, and Tina shushed him. “It’s alright, buddy, it’s just a squirrel.” She was partially right; on the roof of the Howells’ home, thirty squirrels stood on the roof like little soldiers, poised and ready to run down the chimney.
Back inside, Tina heard Andrew yell from the bedroom, “Dear, do you have the keys? Did you wash my running shoes? I can’t find either.” She yelled back no, she didn’t and she hadn’t. Still looking up the fireplace, she saw some light coming through the top and decided that, yes, the cover had fallen off the top of the chimney.
“C’mon Fiddler, let’s help Daddy find his shoes,” she said, but the dog wouldn’t move. As she walked off, he looked at her, barked, and thought “you don’t wanna walk away from this. You’re gonna have a mess on your hands.”
With Tina’s help, Andrew found his shoes, which someone had accidentally kicked under the bed. The car keys, they found them in Tina’s purse. Finally ready to leave, they naerly had to drag Fiddler from the fireplace to the door to the van. As they pulled out of the driveway, Tina thought she saw the flash of a small orange hardhat on the roof, but decided it was only the glare of the spring sun.
Tina, Andrew, and Fiddler, after walking about three miles in an hour, returned home. Fiddler ran from the van and ran to the door, barking all the way. Andrew let him in. Fiddler nearly knocked Tina over trying to get inside. Tina and Andrew followed him. When Tina walked from the garage into the living room, her jaw dropped. Mayhem. Squirrels had invaded her house. They were running on the furniture, the floor, and the woodwork. Pictures shattered, lamps overturned, and bits of chewed furniture pillow stuffing covering the floor like snow.
Fiddler ran through the room, barking. He’d chase one squirrel, get distracted, then chase another. Andrew ran to the kitchen and yelled,
“Oh my God! Honey, do not come in here!” Tina ignored him and ran to the kitchen. The squirrels had invaded this room as well. They had found a bag of walnuts in one of the cabinets. A few sat on the counters, clutching morsels of walnuts in their paws, defiant jaws chomping. Tina thought one of them shrugged its shoulders when she yelled at it.
Using a broom, Andrew knocked them from the counter, like using a baseball bat on furry brown bowling pins. Tina grabbed a mop and followed suit. “Let’s try and get them into the living room,” Andrew said to her, but this was easier said then done. Cowboys herd cattle. Shepherds herd sheep. No one herds squirrels. The squirrels ran circles around their feet, jumping or
“I’ll close off the bedroom doors,” Andrew said, “and you keep working on these guys.” Tina tried to get them into the living room, but they just wouldn’t leave. Frustrated, she let out a loud, high pitched scream. One squirrel, who had been sitting on his haunches, munching on a walnut, froze. The walnut dropped to the counter and rolled to the floor. The squirrels, at the sound of her scream, ran from the kitchen, into the living room or down the hallway towards the bedrooms. She heard Andrew yell,
“Yeah, I scared the squirrels. Find something high pitched.” She thought for a moment and remembered her son’s short stint in middle school wind ensemble. “Get Steve’s saxophone from his room. It’s in the closet.” Andrew came into the kitchen holding a battered tenor saxophone in his hands.
“I don’t know how to play it!”
“Just put your mouth on it and blow. Like avant garde. Honk!” From the saxophone came a sound like a cat in heat. Squirrels ran from the kitchen. “Go to the back of the house and work your way forward,” Tina said. Andrew rushed to the back of the house and with saxophonic squeals and squeaks drove the squirrels from the children’s bedrooms and the kitchen into the living room. Fiddler turned to look at them. A bushy red tail dangled from his mouth. Mangled squirrel corpses were scattered around the living room like the aftermath of a battle fought with clubs.
Tina used a couch to barricade the entrance to the kitchen. Andrew ran through the living room, squeaking on the saxophone. A furry brown wave of squirrels ran in front of him as he chased them. He soon had them in the garage and, with the help of Fiddler, out the door. Soon, the last squirrel ran out the door. She started to slam it but stopped when she saw the tiny person from her dream riding on the back of one of the squirrels like a cowboy on a bronco. She let the door close on its own.
“Honey,” she said, “there’s something you should know.”
Tina told her husband about the tiny person, what he said about union rules and having work to do and how she thought it was all a dream, until now. She said this explained the misplaced sugar and shoes. Her husband looked at her, concerned.
“You know I’ve never doubted anything you’ve told me. I’ve never had any reason to. Dear,” he said, pushing a wild strand of hair back from her face, “are you alright? You’re not having problems at work, are you? There’s a good explanation for all this, and I don’t think it’s a union fairy.
Tina insisted. She said she didn’t believe it either, until she saw Gus riding on the back of a squirrel.
“So he even has a name…” Andrew said. “Why don’t you sit down for a little while? Let me get you a glass of water.” He left the room and returned with a glass of water. Sitting down beside her, he put his hand on her knee. Tina looked at him and said,
“Oh, you’re right. It probably was just a dream, the fairy. The squirrels just came in because they, well, they could. That realtor was right. We should have gas logs put in.” She smiled at him and started to say that the squirrels have just been waiting for a chance to get in here, but decided that sounded paranoid. Instead, she said, “It was just a coincidence, a fluke. Andrew, this is why I shouldn’t drink!”
Later that evening, while Andrew was on the roof, replacing the chimney cover, Steve came home, saw his mother cleaning up the mess, and asked what happened.
“Squirrels raided our house,” Tina said.
“Oh, squirrels, right,” Steve said, not interested. “We can’t leave you and Dad alone for long can we Ma?
“We’re just fine, dear.”
“Well, I just came over to get a video game. I’m going over to Tim’s tonight. I should be back tomorrow.”
“Okay dear, have fun, don’t drink, all that. I love you.”
“I will, I won’t, and I know. Later mom,” Steve said as he walked to his room. She was glad he didn’t stay, or she might tell him about the Union Fairy. She couldn’t have her son, with his nose ring, punk rock, and skateboard, think she was crazy.
“Mom,” she heard Steve yell, “why is my xbox in the closet? Did you move it?”
“No, I didn’t move it.”
“Then who did?”
“I don’t know, Steve,” Tina said, She thought, I’ve got to do something. I won’t that little fairy wreck my home, my marriage, and my sanity.
The next day, she went to the store and bought mousetraps, glue boards, rat poison, beer, and pornography. She wasn’t sure, but she thought these last two items might make better bait for Gus than cheese.
When she returned, the house smelled of smoke, and a fire extinguisher lay on the kitchen floor. The toaster was covered in a light-green powder, and the wall behind it was charred. She asked Andrew what happened, and he said,
“The toaster caught fire. I wasn’t even using it. I smelled smoke, turned, and it was burning.”
“Maybe one of the squirrels chewed through the cord. Or mice. The squirrels went for the walnuts and pillow stuffing. It has to be mice.”
“We’ve never had mice, but that’s reasonable. Do we have any traps?”
“As a matter of fact…”
Tina told her husband she would set the traps; that he shouldn’t even worry about it. She placed the mouse traps behind the furniture. When Andrew wasn’t looking, she cut out pictures of naked women and laid them over the traps. She took a table from Nina’s old dollhouse, set it with some pretzel crumbs and a thimble full of beer mixed with rat poison, and set it on the glue board. If that doesn’t get that our rat fairy, she thought, nothing will.
After setting the traps, Tina decided to unwind. With Mussorgsky playing in the background, she dimmed the lights in the bathroom, ran a hot bath, added lavender salts, lit a few candles, got in, and sunk down so only her nose and eyes were above water, like a crocodile. Soon she felt herself drowsy, in that illuminated place between waking and sleeping. Her eyes closed, and she forgot all about the troubles of the day.
She was awakened by a small voice whispering into her right ear: “you tried to poison me, Tina. Why would you want me to die? Union rules state anything done to me I can do to others, tenfold, but I’m much nicer than that.” She wished she were dreaming, but she knew better. With cat-like speed, she reached behind her head to grab Gus, but she grabbed only air. She heard a plunk in the water. She opened her eyes, and the water was green. The plunk, she saw, was an empty bottle of Easter egg dye. When she raised her hand from the water, she saw that she, too, was green. She screamed.
Andrew ran into the bathroom, saw his wife, and said,
“Tina, you’re green!”
“The fairy, Gus, he was here, he said I tried to poison him, and I did, but he said he was nicer than that, and-”
“Tina, stop, please,” Andrew said. “You’re really scaring me.” He kneeled beside the bathtub, took her hand, and began stroking it. He looked pained, like he had just seen a kitten die. “I want to take you to the doctor tomorrow. He can-”
“No. You think I’m crazy!” she yelled, standing up, green and naked. “I’m not, it was that damn fairy! I don’t know why he’s here, but he’s doing this. Why why why would I dye myself green? Tell me that?”
“I don’t know…”
Tina, green from the mouth down, called the cookie factory and told them she wouldn’t be able to come to work for a week. There was a terrible accident, she said. Shattered glass, blood, broken bones. For days, her children avoided her, and she suspected Andrew had told them to do so. As for Andrew, he gently insisted she see the doctors, said they could help her, but only if she wanted help. Other than that, Andrew avoided her as well, except to ask where certain items (the television remote control, his wallet, the scissors, the milk) had been placed, and why other things (the microwave, dvd player, ice maker) didn’t work. She watched him cry as he cleaned out the naked pictures and rat poison from the dollhouse. He faced away from her in bed, and went to more estate sales and antique auctions than usual. Only Fiddler still acted like he cared for her, though she had her suspicions.
During the next few days, Tina didn’t dare leave her house. For two days, she didn’t even leave the bed, except for futile attempts to scrub the green dye from her skin. Soon inactivity weighed on her, and she thought she might feel better if she moved around.
When she looked in the mirror, the green had begun to fade, but only a bit. Her green skin made her eyes seem greener, and her dark brown hair darker. She touched slender, piano player hands to her lips and started to rub. Out of frustration, she kept rubbing and stopped when she realized her lips had swollen. If she were not green, they would have been bright red, but due to the dye they seemed black. Looking at her once-beautiful face in the mirror, a wave of anger and helplessness passed over her. Grasping the soap dish in her hand, she smashed it into the mirror. The mirror cracked then exploded outwards, sending shards of broken mirror all over the lavatory and the floor. She looked down and saw cuts on her face, hands, and left wrist. She cleaned and bandaged them.
Fortunately for Tina, Andrew had four sales to attend today and the children were at school. Only Fiddler was around to hear her. He stuck his furry yellow head in the bathroom long enough to survey the damage before slinking away. When her anger faded, Tina fell to the floor and sobbed. She cried harder than she ever had in her life. Tina cried so much that when she finally stopped and stood, she stood in two inches of tears.
After she left the bathroom, she decided to terminate Gus’ employment in the Howells home. Armed with a hammer and the vengeance of an angry God, she set out to rid the house of the union fairy. First she went to the attic, pushing boxes aside, tearing up insulation, sure she would find a little contractor nest, complete with television, couch, and icebox. She emptied boxes of children’s toys, family photos, and clothes, throwing the contents haphazardly around the attic. She found nothing.
She went in the kitchen, pulling all the pots, pans, dishes, Tupperware, silverware, canned food, and other containers out, leaving them where they fell. Soon she had to push things out of the way to make a walking path. She didn’t find his nest, though she did find the television remote control.
Room by room, she emptied the contents of any potential hiding places: closets, drawers, shelves. By the afternoon, Tina lay sprawled on the living room floor. The house was ransacked, the children and Andrew would be home any minute, and she still hadn’t still hadn’t found Gus.
“Gus,” she screamed, “you little fairy, get out here. I give up! Show yourself. Don’t let them think I’m crazy. Please, I’m begging you.” Softer, she said, “please, please, help me.”
A small voice came from the hallway. “ I’m here, Tina. Are you satisfied? Have you had your adventure now?” She turned her head and saw him, arms crossed, feet shoulder-width apart.
“My what? Adventure?” she asked, confused.
“Isn’t that what you wanted, all along? Didn’t you feel like things were the same old same old?”
“No ifs ands or buts. You say you give up? Then my work here’s done.”
“Really? All this is over?”
“Yup. That’s what it says in my contract,” he pulled a small piece of paper from his back pocket and read: “should resident go insane, state ‘I give up,’ permanently leave residence, attempt suicide, blah blah blah whatever, contract is considered complete,” he said with a wave and a wink. “You might try some lye soap to get that dye off. See ya.”
“But I…you…they think…” Tina said, but Gus was gone. She saw only all the comforts of modern life, pots, pans, appliances, cheap clothing, scattered about the house. She closed her eyes and passed out.
When she woke, a man in powder blue hospital scrubs stood over her. The smell of disinfectants and urine filled her nose. She started to sit up but couldn’t. From her peripheral vision, she saw her head, arms, legs, and torso were strapped to a gurney. An IV jutted from her arm. She wore a light blue hospital gown.
“Patient is awake,” the man said to someone Tina couldn’t see. “Hey there, Mrs. Howells,” he said, voice sweet as syrup, as he leaned over her, “can you tell me your full name and address?” As she answered him, he nodded, wrote on a clipboard, and made occasional eye contract.
“Mrs. Howells, your husband brought you in. He was very concerned about you.” He pursed his lips and said, “you’re a danger to yourself and others. We’re going to take care of you here. You’ll feel better in no time. One more question: do you know why you’re here, Mrs. Howells?”
“Because of Gus. Gus is a house fairy, though he doesn’t like to be called that. Fairy, I mean. He says that’s only the title he has to use; union rules, you know,” she said. The man only nodded, made a note on his clipboard, and walked away, his footsteps echoing through the fluorescent corridor.