A Story for You

I came across a piece of short fiction I wrote in 2012, that I think is kind of fun. In 2012 we still talked about global warming. This is a term I use in the story. I could have changed ‘global warming’ to ‘climate crisis’, but it didn’t fit as well in the story. Here you are, the story in its entirety.

Pixies of Zarfyn

by Eve Barbeau

In Zarfyn, near Toss, the pixies wore no clothes. This was fine in the summertime when the sun lay over them like molten honey, but come the autumn the Pixies began to tremble, and by mid-winter, they’d all gone mad with frost. Something had to be done.

       You may know that pixies can vanish from sight in an instant and reappear somewhere else. What you may not know is that they can’t just pop off to Tahiti where it is warm all the time and the problem of clothes or no clothes would not come up. Some of you may know that a great painter, Gauguin, popped off to Tahiti and you may wonder if he wore clothes. The pixies are sure that he didn’t bother, but people mostly think he did, because what self-respecting European would walk about with no clothes. I mean what would you look at when you talked to them. No, it just couldn’t happen.

       There was no doubt that the Pixies in Zarfyn needed clothes. They weren’t born with clothes on their backs and it wasn’t given them to make their own. They had to earn them. In Toss, a very cultured town, the Pixies had no trouble earning their dress, though they had their own problems. Delicate silk tutus were hardly warmer than no clothes at all. In Zarfyn the trouble was not an effete culture. No, here were sturdy church-going stock who worked hard at industry. The trouble was that the folk could not imagine what they’d have for lunch let alone a pixie. And as you know, Pixies not imagined can’t be seen.

       No respectable human being will imagine a naked pixie if they imagine one at all. The moment you see a pixie you imagine them with at least a pair of trousers or a house dress. That is how pixies get their clothes. They had to get the attention of the humans and once imagined they would surely be dressed. It explained why the things in Toss wore delicate tutus, or artist’s smocks so heavy with daubs of paint that the poor wee pixies were lost in the folds. Painters always wear thick heavy clothes. They suffered in cold drafty garrets for their art and need something to keep them warm enough to move.

       But it is not the pixies in Toss that we are worried about. We know they have their own problems.

       In Zarfyn, which is where our pixies reside, the problem is that no one can imagine a pixie. You and I know that just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. In Zarfyn there existed a large population of pixies and they were cold. Something had to be done.

       On a late afternoon on a Tuesday–it took that long for the poor pixies to thaw enough for them to move–Grandma Pansy called a town council. All the pixies in Zarfyn were to be there or be square. (It is truly frightening what imagination can do. Please, whatever you do, don’t imagine a square pixie). Everyone came though there were some late stragglers who had somehow found themselves in the shade, so their thawing process was slowed.

       “Pixies of Zarfyn,” said Grandma Pansy, “something has to be done.”

       All the pixies groaned. They had heard this speech many times before. Most of the time they were all frozen up before the speech ended and nothing at all got done.

       “Shush,” said Grandma Pansy, “I know you have had enough of, “something has to be done”, speeches. We hear far too many of them. Remember the Biguns have them too. You’ve heard the speeches coming from the boxes they watch all day long. Something must be done about greenhouse gases. Something must be done about global warming…” Grandma Pansy digressed.

       “I dearly hope the global warming comes soon,” muttered Purslane, whose fingers were still tingling from the retreating frost.

       Purslane’s usual luck held, and Grandma Pansy heard him. “Purslane come on up here. You have a brave mouth. Maybe we can match the rest of you up to the mouth of yours.”

       “Ah, Granny. I was just saying it would be a fine thing if the global warming came to Zarfyn.”

       Grandma Pansy nodded. “It would seem to be an answer to our prayers son, but the Biguns are awfully worried about the warming. It sounds like a fearsome thing.  No, Purslane, what we want to be doing is to get the attention of the Biguns, any one of them at all and get them to imagine a pixie in warm woolen underwear-red maybe, with long sleeves and a trap door…” Here Grandma Pansy got side-tracked in a Rhapsody too long underwear. She shook her head. Pixies had no trouble imagining, but imagination would not warm them. “So, I was thinking. You know the mill owner’s boy, the pale skinny one, not the other with a head as thick as an oak tree. I’ve seen that little Bigun sitting by himself with a dreaming look on his face. Could be that boy has the imagination we need.”

       Purslane groaned.

       “That boy is half daft,” said Parsley who was standing beside Purslane. “If he’s dreaming anything at all, it is about how to get rid of his knot-head brother.”

       “Shh,” whispered Purslane, “not so loud. Granny’s, sure enough, gonna make us stand guard outside if we keep testing her.”

       “Parsley,” said Grandma Pansy, “have you got something to get off your chest?”

       “No, ma’am.” Parsley stepped behind Purslane.

       “Why don’t you and Purslane come-on up beside me here. I have a plan and you can help me.”

       Purslane grimaced and marched forward to stand beside Grandma Pansy. Granny might have a plan, but if it included that milk faced Bigun boy it was doomed to failure. He’d seen that boy staring off into space many times. He doubted that boy was contemplating anything much, whether in the world or behind his eyes. Purslane was wrong.

       Parsley shuffled up to stand beside him. Damn Parsley, his retiring nature was a pain. Always the last to offer, always so little to offer. Still, he knew Parsley had big dreams. Parsley longed to step up and be a hero. Trouble was, he was too shy to make it happen. Purslane didn’t give a damn about being a hero. In his mind, he already was one.

       Grandma Pansy looked the boys over. Funny, wasn’t it, that whatever you believed you were was indeed what you were. ‘Course, sometimes, just sometimes, things happen in such a way that what you thought you were changed. Parsley could do with some new thinking about himself. A little change wouldn’t go amiss for Purslane either.

       Grandma Pansy looked at her people, blue with cold, huddled together, teeth chattering. The babes were wailing. It was a terrible sight and she could not let it go on any longer. She pressed her lips tight together and thought of all the other times she’d sent an envoy of pixies to some Bigun or other hoping to dredge up just a little imagination, just enough that one of them could glimpse a pixie. Biguns always wore clothes—well maybe not when they washed or played hanky-panky, but the Biguns even played hanky-panky with most of their clothes on. They were not the kind to lie around and enjoy their nakedness. Which for her purposes was a good thing. If Purslane and Parsley could get that boy to believe in pixies, they would have a good chance of having warm clothes.

       “What I want you boys to do is find that skinny Bigun boy and I want you to get him seeing pixies. And, for goodness sake, make sure he thinks you are wearing warm clothes. Go now, while the sun is still up. You know it will be impossible when evening comes. The old ones and the babes cannot handle the cold much longer.”

       “Aye, Granny,” said Purslane, “but what would you have us do? We’ve been sending out parties of pixies for years and not once have we found one Bigun who could imagine a pixie. These people aren’t dreamers Granny. These Biguns are all doers.”

       “Would you rather go to Toss, Purslane, where there are no doers and most of the dreaming is about pink tutus? We got to keep trying and I think we have a good chance with this white-faced boy.”

       That white-faced boy was the second son of Boswell the plumber. Boswell had two sons, one was as big and dull as Boswell himself, and the other was Richard. Richard spent long hours hiding away from his big brother Harry, reading books and dreaming about naked women. You see Richard was fourteen and when you are a fourteen-year-old boy, naked is awfully interesting.

       So, when Purslane and Parsley found him behind the short wall in the garden, picking his nose and staring into space, they caught him at the exact moment that his mind was weak with dreaming.

       “Hey, Bigun! Hey, look at us!” Purslane yelled, jumping up and down and waving his arms. He elbowed Parsley. “Come on, we’re supposed to get his attention.”

       Parsley looked doubtful, but if Purslane said to jump, Parsley jumped. He bounced up and down, waving his arms in the air, shouting at the top of his lungs.

       Richard took no notice of them at all. He just kept staring off into the distance while spiders spun webs between his feet and flies buzzed around his head.

       Hoarse from shouting, Purslane waved his arms harder, so hard that he fell off the fence, just as a particularly large fly lit on Richard’s nose.

       Richard’s eyes crossed and lost their glazed look. He swiped at the fly nearly knocking himself silly.

       “Hey, you ugly, Bigun. See us!” Purslane said as he landed at Richard’s feet. “By God, Parsley, look at him. I don’t think he has a brain in his head. Grandma Pansy is daft from the cold. Whatever made her think this one had a speck of imag—” Purslane broke off to bite Richard’s toe, hard.

       “Ow!”

       Richard swiped again and this time he caught Purslane in his pale clammy hand.”

       “Huh?” said Richard, a big question swelled in his head, but before he could think another thought he began to scream.

       “Put me down, you knucklehead,” yelled Purslane.

       “He sees us! He sees us!” shouted Parsley.

       “Whaa, Whaa!” cried Richard.

       Together they made a terrible din.

       At last, Parsley could stand it no more. Purslane wasn’t listening to him, nobody was listening to him, so he scrambled up on Richard’s arm, holding tight on his sleeve even though Richard tried to shake him off. When he reached the bigun’s shoulder he marched across it, lifted the lank strands of hair away from the ear and shouted. “Do you see us, Bigun?”

       The sound roared in Richard’s ear like a train in an empty tunnel. He dropped Purslane and clapped his hands over his ears, inadvertently knocking Parsley into his lap. He shut his eyes tight. When he opened them again Parsley was standing on, a rather delicate part of his anatomy up shouting at him while he bounced.

       “Who are youse guys?”

       “Are you daft boy? Can’t you see we’re Pixies?” shouted Purslane bouncing up and down.

       “Oww, oww, oww! Don’t you be doing that,” Richard caught the pixies by the backs of their long red woolen underwear and set them on his knees.

       Seems Grandma Pansy was right, and Richard could, indeed, imagine. It took a while, to be sure, but before the winter truly settled in each and every Pixie in Zarfyn had warm clothes.

And that is how the pixies of Zarfyn finally got their clothes. In time, the global warming did come, and they found that the long red woolen underwear was very itchy in the humid heat. They began to envy the Pixies in Toss, but that is the problem for another story.

Considering and Reconsidering

 

EasterLilies
Lilies, watercolour and ink on paper, c 1990s

Last week, I wrote about how it was that I began to writing fiction. This set off a chain of introspection and emotion. You see, despite all the years, and the seven novels and various short stories later, I still write in complete obscurity. I have not been published and I’m concerned about self-publishing because frankly I have no idea how good or bad my storytelling and writing ability are. I know I am a better writer than I was at the beginning of the process, but I don’t have readers, and they are the final piece of the whole writing gig. Mostly, you only know yourself by looking at your community and seeing how or where you are alike or differ. Approval and appreciation, or the lack thereof help you know where you stand.

I can poke you in the eye with a bright image from my visual arts portfolio, every now and then, either here or on Facebook and Instagram and I get appreciative responses, but writing doesn’t enter your perception all in one go like images do. A reader is a more equal and intentional partner in the process.

So much mulling things over in my mind. Of course, the blues ensued. The upshot is that I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from writing to see what happens. It might be a wonderful relief, or maybe I’ll miss it so much I’ll be back at it in no time. We’ll see.

I’ll continue to post here every Monday morning, but mostly I’ll poke you in the eye with an image I’ve created.  [picture a sticking-out-tongue emoticon here and then a smiley face]

For the Birds: A Story

Blair's MagpieSM
Bird, acrylic on paper, Painted by my husband, Blair Barbeau

Now don’t get me wrong. I like birds. I liked them a lot, but I also have a bit of a phobia about them flying near me, and to be honest, to hold a bird in my hand, warm, and frantic with its heart nearly knocking through its chest, well, that freaks me out too. I try not to give in to fears and phobias, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not still there.

Tuesday last, I’d went for my usual early morning walk. Nearing home, I heard a persistent knocking. I stopped and looked around. I saw no one about. Doors were closed, no hum of lawn mowers. Nothing. But there it was again the knocking. I glanced at an elm near by and almost missed it. Man, Spiderman has nothing on the Downy Woodpecker. It walked vertically up the trunk of the tree dispatching bugs as it found them. No, I wasn’t afraid. I was thrilled to see this incredible little bird so close up.

Breakfast done and cleared away I headed to my downstairs studio. I’d started a painting–yeah, me–and it was going well. I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

In a moment I was immersed. I had some podcast going, or perhaps an audio book by Peter Grainger, I can’t remember which. I heard something, but it came to me distantly as sound sometimes does when I’m in the midst of creating.

Again, louder, insistent, a scuffling noise, something banging on metal, Then silence.

My studio is off the family room. In the family room we have a Franklin stove type of fireplace. When we bought this house we were told that the installation of the fireplace was not up to code, meaning that the house insurance company said it’ll cost you big time if you plan to use that fireplace. So we stuffed the stovepipe with that pink fibre glass insulation to keep out the cold of winter and put an electric fireplace insert into the firebox. You know the sort of thing. Fake logs, fake flames created by some kind of light doing some kind of thing, and behind it all a heater to throw some warmth at you.

There is was again. The loud scuffling noise. Some knocking. It was coming from the fireplace stove pipe.

No, no, no! I can’t deal with this. It’s a bird. I know it’s a bird, and I have to get it out, but it’ll fly all over the house and I can’t. I just can’t.

I call my husband at work. He pretty much said, “You’ll have to get it out. Put the dog and the cat into a bedroom. Close the door on them, then open all the outside doors, and remove the fireplace insert.”

Sometimes husbands aren’t as useful as you’d expect. I thought maybe he’d drop everything, rush on home, to take care of things while I cowered in the bedroom with the dog and the cat.

Big breath. I screwed up my courage, did as my husband suggest and pulled out the fireplace insert.

And nothing. No bird. A little pile of dirty pink fibreglas insulation lay at the bottom of the firebox along with–was that bird crap? Maybe it wasn’t a bird. Maybe it was a bat. Ha try again. I knew it was a bird. Somehow, there was a bird in the stove pipe and it was above the fibreglass stuffing. I got a flash light and tried to figure out a way to solve this. maybe I could pull out the insulation, but if I did that, I’d pull the bird down on me. I stuck my head in the firebox and craned to see what I could see. Nothing. I could see nothing at all. Nothing save a black hole. I needed help for this job, and that poor bird would have to wait until my husband came home. He’d put the insulation into the pipes and he surely knew where he’d put it.

I took the dog for a walk. I couldn’t bear to stay in the studio and listen to that it try to knock it’s way out of it’s sheet metal prison.

About mid afternoon, I heard a ruckus downstairs. Not the bird surely, this was more noise even that it could make.

Oh my God! The cat was in a panic. The dog started to bark. A large–I mean not your wren or your sparrow, not even a robin sized bird, but a BIG bird was fluttering around in the firebox, stopping now and then pausing to cling to the mesh firescreen.

I called off the dog, grabbed the cat and put them both into a bedroom, closing the door on them. I ran around closing the doors to every room that had a door. I opened all the outside doors. Then cautiously I went back down the stairs. Yes, it was till there, it’s yellow tail feathers spread, its chest heaving. I took a small blanket from the couch. My intentions were to throw the blanket over the bird, pick it up and put it outside. Cautiously I pulled back the fireplace screen. In flash the bird was past its edge and in the air.

Stupid, stupid me. I should have closed the window shutters. It slammed hard into the window. Its poor beak was seriously bent out of shape. Again I tried with the blanket, and this time I caught it. Darn good thing, because I don’t think either of us could have taken much more.

Holding it as gently as I could, still in the blanket, It carried it outside. My intention was to set it on the lawn. Its feet never touched the ground. Zoom! It was gone.

So okay, I guess it wasn’t a HUGE bird, but it was pretty big. It turned out to be a Hairy Woodpecker and I’m happy to report that before it zoomed away, it’s beak looked okay again. I guess they’re used to hammering it against things.

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Phew! Two close encounters in one day. I may yet get over this phobia.