Harriet was the loneliest soul as she sat in her lounge. The rocking chair beside her sat empty. It had since Elba, her husband, died. Only his favourite cardigan, slung over the back, proved he’d ever sat there. Harriet’s hazel, sadness-filled eyes drifted from the chair to the television. Her favourite midday soap was finished; its credits were rolling on the screen. She took off her burgundy glasses and wiped her eyes. Steeling herself, she rose to her feet with a groan ─ age was not being friendly toward her knees. With her cup and saucer in hand, she walked through to the kitchen. Her wrinkled hand felt for the back of the dining chair and wall unit to ensure she didn’t fall. The kitchen had a classic country feel, with a cream range cooker and pine cupboards which matched the dining table and chairs. The last time four dined there was when Harriet’s daughter still lived in the house. That was maybe thirty years ago. The vase of chrysanthemums and roses upon the tabletop were in need of refreshing but were still pretty.
“I must go and replace those flowers in the morning,” she said in her voice possessive of soft qualities, although nobody was there to hear her words.
She put the kettle on to boil before moving to the sink. With warm water filling the bowl, she peered through the net curtains and smiled upon her back garden. It was autumn out there. Her neighbour’s gardens were beginning to take on a wintry appearance. The leaves were browning and falling in a copper shower; the flowers all but faded away. However, Harriet’s own plot was as bright and colourful as any country garden in summer. Through the arch and beyond the delicate pink and white petals of the peonies was Elba’s memorial garden. It centred upon a stunning white rose bush and pure white Easter lilies. Boris, the Russian Blue cat from next door, stood on the flagstone by the memorial plaque now. The pretty cat wandered about, lifting a front paw to sniff at the lily blossoms. Harriet watched the fluffy blue feline lifted a leg to mark a plant, but never sprayed a drop. Without warning, the cat jumped three feet into the air in a blind panic. The second it landed, it shrieked and shot away over the fence like a furry rocket. The old lady had seen that happen to the cat before. There was something unexplainable ─ magical even ─ in and protecting the garden. Quite what it was, Harriet didn’t know. She’d never seen more than a flash of movement ─ a glimpse of something that shouldn’t have been. Its presence gave the tiniest indication of a little creature living among the lily blooms.
Her washing-up forgotten, Harriet pulled her cardigan over the shoulders of her purple and blue pinafore dress. It caught in her silvery bun, but she soon had it arranged tidily. “I might be old, but I can still be prim and proper,” she told her reflection in the wall mirror by the dining table. Her face had a soft friendliness, despite the crevasse-like wrinkles about her eyes and lips. Still, her blue eyes shone with life when the melancholy wasn’t clouding them over. Just then, they held an adventurous twinkle; she was going to try and find the mystery being again. Out the back door with her walking stick she went with a pep in her step. The bird table full of sparrows, blackbirds, and chaffinches near the tall purple delphiniums made her smile. Their relaxed tweets and chirps seemed to lift a burden of depression from her shoulders. She laughed at the greenfinches as they splashed in the bath near the large buddleia with its red admiral butterflies. Harriet walked along the path, allowing the hand that bore her wedding band to brush the flowers of a white phlox sitting pretty between the blooms of cosmos and anemones. Each alive with bees and permeating the air with sweet perfumes that tickled the nostrils in a thrilling way.
Harriet’s eyes absorbed the majesty that was the arc of wisteria growing
over the wrought iron arch. She’d never trimmed it to shape once, and yet it
was perfect. It, just like the rest of the garden, had flowered nonstop since
the Easter lily was planted. A wisteria, in particular, only flowers for a
short time in spring. Its flowers were proof of the enchantment upon the
ever-blooming garden. Mrs Bales from next door had asked how the garden
remained so beautiful. Harriet never missed the jealousy in her voice; she had
smiled at her and simply said she’d ‘let her know when she discovered the
secret.’ Beyond the apple tree, amid the peonies and tall, pink hollyhocks, was
a stone bench carved to resemble the bark of an oak tree. Harriet perched there
before the Easter lily and read the little black-and-silver plaque.
Elba Joe Newton
May you paint in heaven as you did in life. May you rest your head where your ashes lay and here in the garden I grow for you. Darling husband, I love you forever and for always.
The old lady wiped her eyes─she missed him every minute of every day. Taking a breath, she focused on the lilies.
“Now then, little one. Will you show yourself today?” she said, her eyes darting between the three-dozen white bell-shaped blooms. Each had six delicate, white filaments with fluffy brown stamens at the ends. The only movement came from the myriad of colourful butterflies visiting the clematis and honeysuckle upon the rear garden fence.
Boris, that sly cat, narrowed his eyes while sitting upon one of the posts. Curiosity had brought him back to watch ─ from a safe distance. Harriet beckoned to him, but he remained where he was, looking the perfect picture of suspicion.
“Come now, I know you live in my garden. The flowers don’t die and never tell a lie. Boris over there tells me you are here too.” Harriet peered into one or two lily blooms, but nothing but a beetle or two was to be seen. “You can reveal yourself to me. I’m a friendly old woman who’s grateful for what you do, you know. I won’t tell another soul that you’re here. You can trust me.” Harriet felt a movement on her sleeve and looked upon the slender body of a grasshopper sitting there. She took it into her hand and, grinning, set it among the stems of nearby catmint plants. She did love all the creatures living in her pretty garden.
“Most humans flatten poor innocent insects, you know,” said a tiny, feminine voice in a crystalline, almost choral, tone.
“I know. It’s a crying shame, for none of them mean a shred of harm; except wasps, of course.” Harriet looked all over the lily flowers again. The owner of the voice was still hidden in the foliage.
The little voice giggled. “Wasps are always in a bad mood. I tried to cheer some of them up once. You should have heard the rude words they called me. It was enough to make my ears curl.”
“I’m not surprised, rotten little devils.” The old lady sat back, placing her hands in her lap. She decided to stop looking for the owner of the voice in her flowers, realising she would show herself when she was ready. “I’m Harriet, do you have a name?”
“They call me Buttercup Lily.”
“Such a pretty name, and … what are you Buttercup? If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”
“I’m a Flower Fairy. If I show myself, will you promise not to scream and run away? You mustn’t call the humans with the nee-nah noises and flashing lights? If you do, you’ll scare me, and I’ll hide forever.”
Harriet couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, Buttercup. Those are the police. They come to arrest criminals, not fairies.” Holding up her stick she added, “I can’t run if I wanted to, and I won’t be scared of you. I only want to be your friend, and that is a promise.”
“I want to be your friend too.” Buttercup emerged from a high lily bloom and slid down the stem. With a flutter of her dragonfly-like wings, she jumped from it, flaring out her yellow tulip-like dress. Harriet thought it looked so soft and shiny; it could have been made from layers of buttercup flower petals to match the fairy’s name. She landed, sitting cross-legged on another white bloom. Once comfortable, she gave a little wave and a cute smile. Harriet saw a miniature girl with the cheekiest of looks. She stood about five centimetres tall, although shorter than the bloom she sat upon. Harriet guessed she’d be about twelve as a human. Being a fairy though, age probably didn’t mean a thing. Buttercup had plaited blonde pigtails, held with shiny ladybird-shell clips, and tied with blue forget-me-not flower stems. She gazed out of chlorophyll-green eyes and listened out of little pointed ears which had gone a bashful shade of pink. Harriet watched the fairy tuck her legs beneath her, as if trying to hide her bare toes. Feeling uncomfortable, the lady adjusted herself on the bench, at the same time edging forward to see Buttercup better. The little fairy gasped and dived behind a lily.
“It’s okay, Buttercup! I was only getting more comfortable.” Harriet smiled. “Come on out again.”
“Sorry – I panicked.” Buttercup emerged and settled on her flower, having adjusted her daisy-chain belt. Her delicate, film-like wings glinted in the autumn sun behind her. “I’ve never talked with a living human like this before.”
“I guessed as much. You can relax and speak freely with me. I promise nothing bad will happen. We girls ─ human and fairy ─ must stick together, you know,” Harriet said, winking.
“I’d like that.” Buttercup tried to wink back ─ she scrunched up her face and managed a charming giggle instead.
“So, why are you in my garden?” Harriet eyed a kestrel passing overhead. “I believe you came with this lily plant, didn’t you?”
“Sorry, I should have asked permission to stay.” Buttercup’s face reddened, tears pricked her eyes. “I’ll pack my snail shell and leave later today.”
“Nonsense! My garden is your home for as long as you want it ─ especially as you keep it so beautiful.”
Buttercup took to the air and performed a lithe somersault. “Oh, thank you, thank you so much!” Buttercup turned several more circles. The old lady beamed at her as she returned to the lily blossom all smiles. “Now I’m the happiest Flower Fairy in the world!”
“That’s wonderful, dear! So, will you tell me your story?”
“Okay,” Buttercup lost her smile, a sadness descended upon her eyes, “I was working in a field of lilies, teaching the bees how to harvest the pollen; that’s my job, you know─to help the creatures and plants to look after each other. Anyway, a big hand came down and grabbed a plant and me too! Most humans are too blind to see us without help, you see. The human shoved me in a brown, square thing and sealed me inside.”
“Sounds like you went into a cardboard box for delivery,” Harriet told her.
“I think so.” Buttercup furrowed her little eyebrows. “Hmm, yes that’s it. I heard a human man say, ‘Your flower delivery, madam.’ And then she replied, ‘Oh great, more bloody work for me to do.’ Heehee … that made me giggle.”
“I bet. Some humans think working is dangerous for their health, I think.”
“That’s funny. Fairies love working! I’m happiest when helping the flowers and animals grow and live in harmony. Working isn’t dangerous ─ it’s fun!” Buttercup chuckled, causing her wings to flutter behind her. “Anyway, I was let out in a place with lots of flowers and plants. Some people kept coming and taking them away. Others always replaced them with new flowers.”
“Garden centre, then?”
“Yes, definitely! I saw those words on a sign! There was a really big frog there too. He was quite friendly. I sure miss him.”
“Have you met the frogs in the pond next door?” Harriet asked.
“Hmm, yes … but, they aren’t so nice.” Buttercup sighed and then grinned. “The cat’s friendly! But I like to tease and scare him when he tries to pee on my flowers.”
“Good. Boris is a naughty cat, doing that.”
Buttercup nodded. “He is. Anyway, I was just getting to like living in the garden centre. I was sleeping under my lily when I was put in a white thing that made a lot of noise whenever it moved.”
“Hmm,” Harriet narrowed her eyes for a moment, “Could that have been a carrier bag?”
“Perhaps! When next I could see out, my lily was on your bench. You planted us both before I could do anything about it. I had to dig myself out of the soil ─ I was so glad you didn’t use manure.”
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry about that! I didn’t see you!”
“I know. Don’t be sad ─ I was sleepy, so I was invisible.” Buttercup reached into the bell of a lily bloom and took out a red cardinal beetle. It was huge in her hands. She seemed to talk to it before letting it fly away. “I met Elba, you know,” she said.
“How is that possible?! He passed on before you came….” Harriet’s lip trembled at the terrible memory. “Are you teasing me?”
“No! Honest!” Buttercup placed her tiny palms together and gave a reassuring smile.
“Very well, I believe you. Will you tell me more?”
“Of course. I love telling stories! For the first few days I was here, his spirit was often sat where you are now. We sensed each other, but I was scared to approach and talk to him.”
“You never talked to humans living or …” Harriet sniffed back a tear, “Or … otherwise, right?”
“Exactly.” Buttercup nodded. “When I got up the courage and came out, he told me he was sad to leave you. He wished he could have done more to show you how much he loved you before his heart failed him.”
“Oh, what a silly old sod! I know he loved me. We loved each other for sixty years, you know.” Harriet took out a handkerchief and dried her eyes.
“Don’t cry! He doesn’t want you to be sad for him. He wants you to always smile and be happy.”
“Thank you, dear little Buttercup.”
“My pleasure. I asked him what he wished to do for you.”
“Really? And what did he say?”
Buttercup’s cheeks grew a little pink. “He was so romantic! He wished he could have given you the garden of your dreams and sat with you in it forever. He knew you loved being out here more than anything, you see.”
“So, that’s why you enchanted my garden to bloom forever, then?”
“That’s right! When Elba saw what I did, he went to paint in Heaven a happy man.” Buttercup fluttered her wings. “I need to know; do you like your garden?”
“No, I don’t like it ….”
Buttercup gasped. “Oh no, please tell me what I did wrong! I can fix it, really I can! Just tell me, and I’ll do it straight away. Please, give me a chance, okay?”
Harriet looked upon her with a genial smile. “You silly, fairy. I don’t like it … because I love it! I wish you were my size so I could hug you for it! Instead, all I can do is thank you very much.”
“Your thanks is all I need.” Buttercup danced about her cheeks glowing with pride.
“Then know you have them in spades.” Harriet saw the little fairy was shivering a little in her dress. The afternoon was wearing on and growing cold. “Are you feeling okay?” she asked, concern edging her voice.
“I’m fine, thank you. Winter is coming though. I can keep the garden alive through that, but I can’t stop it growing cold.”
“I see. So, how do you keep warm?”
“I used to hibernate with my family in an owl’s nesting hole. The owls would lend us feathers to keep us cosy warm.” Buttercup looked to the trees visible beyond the garden and sighed. “I’ve never seen or heard an owl in your garden, so I can’t do that here.”
“Hmm, okay.” Harriet held her chin while considering the fairy. Her features lit up in a smile, an idea coming to mind. “I know what you need! I won’t be able to get it today, but you are welcome to sleep inside with me tonight.”
“Thank you, but I can’t protect the garden whilst in your home. I’ll be fine curled up in my flower tonight.”
“Right, then I promise to come and see you tomorrow, with a gift.” Harriet rose slowly to her feet. “I must go in and make some plans. It’s been a pleasure making friends with you.”
“I loved meeting you, too. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Buttercup flew over to a hardy geranium with wilting petals. Before the old lady made it indoors, the little fairy worked her magic. The leaves perked up, and the flowers became strong and healthy again.
A cold, moonless night and a misty morning passed before Harriet was able to return to her garden. This time, she pulled her shopping trolley with a sizeable box sticking out of it. Reaching her stone bench by the Easter lily, she looked about for her magical friend.
“Buttercup — Buttercup Lily, are you there?” she called in a soft voice. The garden was quiet; not even a bird could be heard chirping this afternoon. The military jet flying overhead broke the peace in an obnoxious way. As its roaring engines fell silent, the old lady called again, “Buttercup, I’m back with your gift.” Still, no answer came—Or did it? There was something almost lyrical on the breeze. Harriet followed the tiny sound toward the darkest corner of her garden. Beyond the fence was a wild sight. Her neighbour, Fred, was old and unable to manage his garden. Brambles, vines, and weeds had overgrown the entire yard. They’d even returned the shed to nature beneath a mesh of thick ivy. Worse, the virulent plants were threatening to cross the border into Harriet’s little slice of paradise.
“Help me, please!”
Harriet scanned the fence line for the forlorn voice. “I’m coming, Buttercup!” she called out. The fairy wasn’t by the holly bush in the corner. She wasn’t in the delphinium and rose garden by the little summerhouse. The old lady was about to try and look over the fence when she saw a pure white light. It shone from the near darkness of the brambles coming through the fence in the corner of the garden. The glow was almost lost behind the blue-and-white flowers of the dome-shaped hebe bush. There, amid blackberry thorns and briars, was the little fairy. She was panicking, and tears stained her face as she tried to get free of a sticky vine called cleavers vine. Its leaves and stems were as sticky as glue. The voracious, parasitic weed could spread at an alarming rate and strangle anything it grew upon. The cleavers vine had Buttercup’s wings tied up, and her little hands were trapped behind her. She could only move her tiny feet. Thrash as she did, it was futile against the evil weed binding her tight.
“Harriet ─ will you ─ help me?” she said between her sobs.
“Oh, you poor thing! Of course, I’ll help you! Let me get some secateurs to cut you free.” Harriet turned away.
“No, please don’t go! Please don’t leave me, I’ll die!” Buttercup’s voice quavered with fear.
Harriet gave her a comforting look. “I’m your friend, Buttercup. I’m never going to let you die, I promise you. I must go and get some tools to set you free, though. Do you trust me?”
“I trust you. Please ─ hurry!” Buttercup managed to curve her lips upward.
“I’ll be back before you know it.” Harriet hurried to her potting shed. She pulled on her pink-flowered gardening gloves, took up her sharpest secateurs, and left the wooden building.
“Hurry, hurry!” beckoned the fairy, kicking her feet, desperate for freedom.
“Okay, let’s get you out of there.” Harriet ambled around the bushes and knelt with a crack of her knees. “Now, keep your feet still. I don’t want to accidentally sheer your dainty toes off!” she warned.
“Oh no, don’t do that! I like my little toesies!” Buttercup fell still, tears glistening like liquid silver upon her cheeks. “Thank you. You’re so kind for rescuing me.”
“Don’t mention it.” Harriet worked with great care, cutting and sawing through the vines that continue to strangle the fairy’s limbs. “How did you get imprisoned in this devil’s spawn of a weed?”
“I heard Mr Mole burrowing into the garden last night, so I came over and had a word with him. I told him we don’t want his little hills all over our pretty garden. Owee!”
“Sorry about that, Buttercup. Your hair was caught, too.” Harriet gingerly freed her blonde pigtails as she worked to free the fairy.
“It’s okay.” Buttercup looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes … So, as Mr Mole left, I heard a growl. I’d flown right into a terrifying creature that doesn’t belong here! It had big, long teeth that oozed saliva ─ I think it wanted to eat me! It scared me so much, I screamed and dived behind the hebe bushes. It was then these sticky vines caught my wings. The more I tried to get free, the more these rotten weeds entangled me.”
“Oh dear.” Harriet held the fairy’s dress between her thumb and finger; she gently pulled the vine from it before cutting it away. “What was this creature?”
“I only know it doesn’t belong here. It was like Boris but much bigger and ─ and like a demon cat!”
“Well, I sincerely hope he doesn’t come back!” Harriet cut one more vine and, with the most careful of movements, untied the fairy’s delicate wings. Buttercup came free and did a somersault into the air.
“I’m freeeeee!” she squealed in delight. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Harriet beamed and chuckled at her antics. “My pleasure. Come on, I have a gift for you.”
“A gift … for me?” Buttercups lips trembled. “Nobody’s ever brought me anything.”
“Well, I have, just as I promised you.” Harriet set off back to the bench with the fairy flying circles around her like the prettiest butterfly. A spine-rattling roar like a hacksaw cutting through wood stopped them dead in their tracks. The black leopard who had attacked Buttercup was still in the garden.
“No ─ no, not again!” Buttercup whizzed behind the old lady and hid. Harriet could feel her peering out from under her collar. The big cat leapt over the bench with ease, landing as light as a kitten upon the flagstones. It curled its lithe body around the shopping trolley and turned its hungry, amber eyes upon its prey.
“Now then, kitty-cat, this is my garden. You don’t belong here ─ scat!” Harriet stamped her foot and pointed toward the trees beyond. “Go and live in the woods like a good cat.” The leopard let out a throaty growl as it lowered itself into a bow. With the fluidity of lightning, it leapt forward, bringing its claws to bare. Harriet couldn’t move if she wanted to. Still, she glowed green and shot aside. The leopard’s claws swished through the air, right where she’d been standing, decapitating some Livingstone daisies. Buttercup had saved the old lady. She bounded free of Harriet’s clothes and hovered before the ferocious cat.
“Now you’ve done it, kitty! Harriet is my friend and you tried to hurt her,” she said with arms folded and her face clenched with fury. Her little heart was pounding like a jackhammer in her chest, but she wouldn’t let her fears show now. “Get out or I’ll turn you into ten pairs of slippers!”
The cat moved his head from side to side as if listening to her. With a roar, he bounded forward, trying to snatch her in his toothy maw. Buttercup whizzed aside in a cloud of glitter. Her hand glowed green and began filling with nettle stems. She swung them forward, slapping the leopard in the paws and face with the stinging leaves for all she was worth. Knocked flat, the cat shook itself and rubbed its throbbing nose with a pained growl. Seeing the fairy advancing with her nettles bared, the fierce feline leapt to its feet and took off over the fence. Harriet saw it melt into the woods where it would, hopefully, never be seen again.
“Well, that was a show of heroics! Thank you for saving me,” Harriet said through a breath of relief. She looked around and spotted Buttercup picking up the decapitated flowers. She held each to its stem, and a green glow emanated from her hands. The flower was restored to its former glory.
“You saved me, then I saved you.” Buttercup grinned. “Now we’re even!”
Harriet pulled her shopping trolley close to the bench and sat down to look inside.
“Not quite … I still have my promise to keep. Now, close your eyes.” She waited for the fairy to comply, then withdrew the brown cardboard box. From within that, she removed a small log cabin. It was decorated with little rose and lily plants. The perfect home for a Flower Fairy.
“Can I look yet?!” Buttercup danced about impatiently with her hands over her eyes.
“No, not yet.” The old lady placed the cabin beneath the Easter lily and proceeded to put a little white picket fence and gate around it. With the home looking cosy now, she took four white pebbles from her trolley and created a path to the door.
“Can I see my gift? Can I, Can I?”
“Go ahead, Buttercup. It’s ready!” Harriet sat back with the biggest smile. Buttercup opened her eyes, took in the little cabin, and squealed.
“You got me a house to live in! Ahh, look it’s sooo pretty!” she breathed.
“I call it Lily Cabin. I took the liberty of furnishing it for you. It has a bed, table and chairs, curtains, and solar panelled lanterns inside and out.” Harriet opened a hand, gesturing for the fairy to have a look.
“I can’t believe you did this for me!” Buttercup flew to the old lady and kissed her on the cheek. “You are a wonderful lady. Thank you so much!”
“It’s been my pleasure. Go on and have a look!” Harriet beckoned. The fairy landed and opened her new gate. Her bare toes rather enjoyed the smoothness of the pebbles as she walked to the door. She opened it, looking up at Harriet. Receiving a nod, she stepped inside. “Oh! I love it! I love all of it!” Her voice sounded hollow, yet full of excitement inside the cabin.
A glow came from the little window, and Harriet waved to Buttercup as she peered out.
“I promised to ensure you’ll be warm during the winter. Now, you must promise to come see me if you need anything else.”
Buttercup came outside and took flight, spiralling through the air. She came to stop in front of Harriet’s face. “You are the kindest human lady in the world,” she said as she concentrated on a glowing green orb in her hand. Soon, it took on the shape of a lily, turning pure white with golden edges before the glow faded. The fairy affixed the trinket to Harriet’s shawl. “Wear this pin wherever you go ─ press it and speak to me. I will hear you and come if you need me.”
“I will treasure it. Thank you, dear Buttercup!” Harriet yawned. “I don’t know about you, but after all this excitement, I need a cup of tea and a rest.”
“I don’t know what tea is, but a rest sounds nice.” Buttercup looked over her shoulder at her new cabin. “I’m going to test out my bed, I think.”
“You do that. We’ll chat again tomorrow, and you can tell me how warm and cosy your cabin is.” Harriet watched the fairy go inside, then walked back to her kitchen door with a newfound cheeriness about her. She knew, now, that fairies were more than fantasy; they were real. Harriet would venture outside every day from then on. She would spend hours with her new fairy friend, Buttercup Lily, and do so for a very long time to come.
This story is part of my book The Compendium of Characters Own it on kindle and paperback now.