Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Page 2

Catherynne M. Valente

  Nothing else happened that day.

  The sun set without peculiar happenings and no sooner than she could blink, September once more lived in a world without the Model A, as if none of it had ever happened. The wonderful, monstrous, noisy car vanished back to Mr. Albert’s garage. No Wind of any color came rushing up behind the exhaust-blast of the car. When she lay in bed that night, she could still feel the vibration of the engine in her bones, like when you have spent the whole day swimming and the sweet rocking of the water lulls you to sleep long after you’re good and dry. I shall not worry just because the Green Wind did not come today, she thought over the echoes of shifting gears shivering her skin. Aunt Margaret says worry only turns down the bed for bad news.

  Instead of fretting over a day here or there, she would prepare. The place that fear took up in her heart she would fill with provisions and readiness. She was a seasoned Adventuress now, after all. It would never do to keep turning up in Fairyland like a helpless lamb with nothing but the wool on her back. Grown-ups didn’t just wait around for things to happen to them. They made plans. They anticipated. They saved up and looked out and packed in. September slept very well that night. She dreamed of neatly filled suitcases and lists with every item checked off.

  The first and most important of these preparations began with a mason jar under her bed. September had been saving pennies for some time. She was her mother’s daughter and that meant a frugal girl with a weakness for hoarding what she never knew if she might need. But now her efforts had a clear purpose: September was quite fed up with the problem of having needs in Fairyland but no means. It was no better than her own world! Worse, in fact, since she hardly had a notion of what money meant over there at all. But she would have no more First Kisses traded on the open market this time, nor rubies wedged out of a Fairy sceptre that might well have been an oversized log back in Nebraska. She would never be a rich girl, neither here nor there, but she could at least make a go at convincing magical folk that a bit of copper was as good as a kiss.

  And so September offered herself up to all her neighbors: no chore too big or too messy, guaranteed no complaining! She fed sheep and chickens and weeded kitchen gardens. She pinned up washing like blowing white sails on seas of long grass. She wrote letters for Mr. Killory who couldn’t read and wasn’t about to start learning now. She looked after the dusty, crabby Powell workhorses, fed and watered and combed them while they snorted in pointed disapproval. Mrs. Powell gave her a half-dollar as pretty as a plate when the big roan turned up pregnant after they’d long given up on the notion. She took over her mother’s errands for Mr. Albert, driving round the county to fetch or deliver or purchase. Dimes and nickels and pennies went into her jar, filling it up like glinting jam.

  Being prepared meant standing at the ready at any moment, should Fairyland come for her—and this was how she conceived of it in her deepest heart: a whole world drifting ever closer in a beautiful chariot of air and light and ocean, a whole world coming to collect her. Thinking everything over and laying her fairy-habits out one by one like butterflies in a tray, September had to admit that shifts and dresses were not the most practical of traveling clothes. She had only one pair of trousers, but they became dear to her—wearing them meant that she would soon be tumbling over stone walls and chasing down blue kangaroos. They meant going and doing and daring.

  September also took her father’s temperature every day, though when he offered her a dime for being such a steadfast nurse, she would not, could not take it. She asked after his pain as though it were a visiting relative and recorded the answers in a little book given to them by his doctors. He went to Omaha every three months. Ever so slowly those doctors were straightening his leg. There was nothing to be done about the piece of bullet lost somewhere in his thigh. September watched him go each time from her window, disappearing in the long, sleek Packard sent by the Veterans’ Association. Each time she had the peculiar thought that he was under a spell just like hers, compelled to leave home and return to a strange city over and over again.

  While she did her small work from farm to farm, September thought often of the Sibyl who guarded the entrance to Fairyland-Below, where her shadow had made its home. The Sibyl had loved her work, how she had known since she was a child that the work was as much a part of her as her own heart. What is my work? September thought, and not for the first time. What can I do that is useful? What have I done since I was small that comes as natural as guarding to a Sibyl? She did not know. It was probably not planting kitchen vegetables or driving a car. The Killorys’ bleating sheep and half-blind rooster seemed to tell her with their black eyes that she was not so good at looking after them that she should make a life of it. The pregnant roan did not deign to share an opinion in any fashion. September considered herself quite good at reading and thinking, which was mostly what her father had done in his classroom before the war. She could, it certainly seemed, depose monarchs fairly well. But these did not seem to add up to what one might call a profession. September knew that some girls worked hard at training to be a quality wife and a mother to children that would one day be born. But her mother did all that and also made airplanes fly with just a wrench and her own good brain. September also wanted to do wonderful things with her own good brain. It was no easier to wait for such a profession to become clear than to stop looking for signs of Fairyland around every stone wall and fence post.

  September tried to fill up her good brain with these sorts of things, to fill it so full that she simply could not think about anything else. May relaxed into its flowers and songbirds. June took the summer’s baton and sprinted down its dry, golden track. The big hay wheel of the Nebraska moon looked in through September’s window at night. And once, but only once, she held her jar of coins in the moonlight and thought finally the terrible thing she had not allowed to come in, no matter how it knocked on the doors of her heart. Maybe it’s because I am getting old. Maybe Fairyland does not want me because I have been trying so hard to be a grown-up person and behave in a grown-up fashion. Maybe Fairyland is for children. I am fourteen now, which is ever so much more than twelve. I have jobs even if they are not very good ones. I can drive a car and remember to record Father’s temperature at the same time every day. Maybe I am getting too big—no, worse, maybe I am getting too usual to be allowed to go back.

  She woke that night with a start, sure she had heard a Wyverary’s deep haroom right next to her.

  But there was nothing. In the warm, still dark, September cried.



  In Which September Fails to Mend a Fence, Runs a Border, Misuses Prepositions, and Meets a Very Nice Dog Named Beatrice

  The first day of July got out of bed hot and contrary. September woke early, so early that the sky still had a little pink and yellow in it when she shut the door softly behind her. She headed out to the neat line of trees at the far edge of their property. She was wearing her beloved green work-trousers, which, truth be told, had gotten both threadbare and too short for her, and a faded buttoned shirt with a pleasant red and orange checker on it. She carried a hammer hooked into her belt loops and, in her deep olive pockets, a little case of nails, two pieces of butterscotch candy as well as a paperback book concerning Norse mythology which she’d had to bend nearly in half in order to fit. Her jam jar of coins rested in the crook of her arm. September aimed to read about mistletoe and eight-legged horses for a while, then mend a space of fence that had blown down in the last rainstorm. The fence in question divided their property from Mr. Albert’s much bigger spread. Her father had mentioned it the night before, absently, sadly, as though there were no point in trying to fix it, what with the world going on the way it was and rains coming anytime they pleased. When September finished with the fence, she was to take the Model A into town and purchase a good number of things on a list her mother had made out. Mr. Albert had a list, too, and Mrs. Albert and Mrs. Powell and Mrs. Whitestone down the
way as well. For herself, September had decided to spend some of her precious coins in order to buy a compass and perhaps some other provisions that might prove useful in Fairyland.

  With all the lists neatly tucked into her back pocket, September looked out toward the ribbon of leafy birches in the far distance, their white trunks showing starkly like capital letters. Their shade beckoned gorgeously, black and deep and cool. It was a long walk and September could not whistle or anything of the sort. Instead, she took out her book to read as she walked, spying her path out of the corners of her eyes. September could do nearly anything while reading: walk, brush a horse, pull ragweed out of the herb-bed, scrub the teacups and gravy boats which by now had almost no paint on them at all. The writing was very dry, but it hardly mattered when Valkyries and goats with mead in their udders were afoot. A lady named Skadi was going about choosing a husband just by looking at the legs of all the gods when that rich, thick shade fell over the pages. Time to walk along the fence until the ruined bit spilled out its wire and wood all over the place. September took out one of her butterscotches and popped it into her mouth.

  All those gods’ legs and butterscotch and hot morning sun might have kept September from ever seeing the rather large person and even larger dog walking along the other side of the fence. To be fair to our girl, the other person walked very quietly. In fact, she did not walk so much as sizzle silently into nothing and reappear again a little ways farther down the fence while her dog trotted to keep up. We can only thank the tangle of storm-battered fence for making its entrance just then and not a moment later. For when she saw the wreckage over the top of her book, September put Skadi and her gods-legs away and looked straight into the crackling, electric, blue eyes of an enormous woman and a tall, bored-looking greyhound.

  September could not rightly tell whether the woman herself was enormous or if it was only her armor that made her seem so. But how fearfully strong and sturdy she must have been to bear up under it all! Metal closed up her tall, broad body like the grille of a train, twisted up in snarls of wires and bolts and incandescent knobs. In the center, where her heart should be, a great miner’s lamp shone with blistering electric light, throwing off the palest blue sparks. Her shoes were made of railroad tracks bent and buckled into shape. Huge black half-pipes prickled with rivets hunched over her shoulders. Her hands, half the size of all of September, sported rough gloves cut out of two single cloudy diamonds. Inside the facets, lights flickered on and off, cold-black and searing white. Even the woman’s hair was a tangled mass of electrical wires, bound up in a great knot. A few strands blew in the breeze, sending little sparks hissing down into the dirt. She held a huge, old-fashioned lantern in one hand with a ball of black burning where the flame ought to have been. In the other she brandished a great hook twisted up with intricate, beautiful metals like carvings on an ancient whalebone.

  The greyhound, as tall as a lion and twice as lazy, stared with the same fiery blue eyes, but his fur rippled the flies away without armor, soft and gray and white with black speckles. His expression was the mournful, skittish one worn by all his breed.

  September stared. The wire-woman stared back, much less alarmed, as September was rather small and not throwing off electricity like confetti.

  Then she vanished.

  The empty air where the woman stood popped and wriggled for a minute, and then all was still. The greyhound gave September another long, half-interested, houndly look which seemed to say: A dog’s work is never done and is that butterscotch I smell? He got up, arched his back into a quick stretch, and padded off down the fence line.

  September bolted after him. She needn’t have; the electric lady crackled back into existence three or four long steps away. She lifted up her hook and seemed to catch an invisible something in the July air, yanking and twisting it against a frightful resistance. Beads of sparkling yellow sweat shot from her brow.

  “Good morning!” said September, and felt foolish. Was this woman from Fairyland? She seemed Fairyish. She felt Fairyish. The air around her boiled with an intolerable heat and she smelled like scorched metal—but also, absurdly, like growing things, mushrooms and dandelion greens and pine sap. What else could she be? September had never seen anything like her. For certain she knew how to disappear.

  The greyhound grabbed hold of the end of the long hook. He growled and hauled on it, and together with his mistress they worked free whatever had become stuck in the sky. The lady mopped light-sweat from her brow with a very plain checkered handkerchief. The pattern was nearly the same as September’s shirt.

  “And a good morning to you, kid, though by my clock it’s midnight and by my mood it’s a nasty one.” She dug her massive diamond hand into her breastplate and tossed a bright bit of red light to her dog, who jumped to catch it and crunched happily away. “Too long before my shift’s done and too much Line left to spool. Isn’t that always the way?” She smiled a weary sort of smile. Her teeth flashed copper.

  September simply could not think of anything to say. When that happened the thing she wanted to say but oughtn’t usually jumped out of her mouth and that’s just what it did.

  “You’re not a Wind,” she said bluntly, and then felt rude and flushed.

  “Got that right,” the lady said darkly, and guttered out again. September gritted her teeth with frustration. She looked around and scrambled back along the fence to where the electric lady was coming once more into focus. The hound gave a little yip and followed.

  “What are you, then?” September said, not less bluntly. She took a deep breath and started again. “I do have manners, I promise. It’s only that when manners don’t let me say what I want to, I don’t have anything else. And what I want to say is, well, you are from Fairyland, aren’t you? You just have to be.”

  The lady stuck her hook into the sky again, but this time, she hardly had to wriggle it twice before she seemed satisfied. She took out another lump of red light, put it into her own mouth like tobacco, and chewed thoughtfully. “Now, from’s a funny word for it. It’s a preposition and those are a jagged business. Am I from Fairyland? No, no, you couldn’t say it. You’d be wrong as a pen in a socket. Am I among Fairyland? That’s closer, but nope, still a bust. Am I out of Fairyland? Am I next to Fairyland? Am I regarding Fairyland? It’s no good! The trouble with prepositions is they want to stick pins in you. They want to say how you get on with things, where you are exactly in relation to this or that. Prepositions are the guardians of space and time—and if I use my manners, space and time and I had a row in school and we’re not what you’d call bosom buddies any longer. Prepositions want to put you in your place, the little sticklers. In my line of work—oh gracious, there’s me punning!—in my line of work you can’t let anything hold on to you, not even words. Words are the worst. Everything else runs on words. And there’s hordes of them, just running mad all over your business like ants. If you hold still long enough, they’ll get you good. So I don’t.”

  She crackled blue and sizzled out again. The greyhound fixed his incandescent eyes on September.

  “We are throughout Fairyland,” he said slowly. His voice was soft as falling ash.

  The lady’s staticky voice returned before September could see the blue lamp of her heart blaze up in just the same place she’d left.

  “You didn’t go anywhere!” September exclaimed.

  “Well, sure I did,” the woman said. “I went a hundred thousand miles. Put a patch on the Line at the Spindle Substation. And now I’m putting a fuse in here at the Pomegranate Junction. Only it’s not here, see. I’m not here at all. S’what I mean about words. I’m on the other side of the rim. But the Line is so backed up here you can see bits of me coming through even though you shouldn’t.” Her blazing blue eyes narrowed and she bent down to September, shaking one gargantuan diamond finger at her. “Maybe you ought to just go to bed right now, young lady, without any supper. Spying on Heisenbergian mechanics through the keyhole. Kids today!” But then the elect
ric lady laughed. “Don’t look so shocked. I’m just having my own little jokes. I don’t mind if you see me. Linemen don’t mind much.”

  “What’s a Lineman?” breathed September, glad to have something in all of that to hold on to.

  “I’m one. My name’s Boomer. My old boy there’s Beatrice. He’s a Cap. A Capacitor if you’re inviting him somewhere formal. Keeps me grounded, holds on to the Line while I work it.”

  “That’s a girl’s name.”

  Boomer shrugged. “He likes Beatrice. It’s not my business what a Cap wants to be called. Howdy, you are just bound and determined to make me talk, aren’t you? Use words like a person.” Boomer clattered and fizzed as she settled down onto the dirt beside the fence. “Well, I’ll try but I don’t have to like it. A Lineman works the Line. The line between the worlds. Like when you want to keep cows from wandering out and getting hamburgered by a train or busting ankles on oak roots. If there wasn’t a Line, anyone could just jump around between worlds like hopscotch. Toss their marker over the chalk and bounce right through, calling all her little friends after her in a row. Nothing but a mess and I’ve seen it happen, back when.”

  “But people do jump,” said September shyly.

  “Oh, they do! Boy, and how they do! That’s why I’ve got a job! The Line’s got weak spots. It’s old and I’ve got my suspicions about the morals of those what strung it in the first place. It has to be fixed nonstop. Just while I’ve been talking to you I’ve knit up fourteen frays, spackled a blown transformer, spooled up twenty slacks, replaced seven dark nodes, and netted a hole the size of Montana.” Boomer squinted one eye. “And I hope you’re smart enough to know those are just words, words you understand because you live in a world that has a Montana and transformers and capacitors. It’s not what they are.”

  “Of course,” said September, who had not realized that at all.