Now the dog is barking. Each yap knifes Sharon’s nervous system, and she wonders—why doesn’t someone take him outside? But then she remembers. The boys aren’t allowed to walk Casey themselves. The rule is her own, enforced with her signature fervency. If someone dropped the leash and the dog bolted, she believes cars in the road would not stop.
“Would Casey be killed?” Walter is the oldest of her four sons, and by default, the most neurotic.
“Yup, he’d die. And you shouldn’t go into the street without an adult either, Mister.”
“Would I die?”
Sharon’s husband shot her a sharp look, and she’d stopped there, but the rule stuck.
Illness changes, rearranges, and shapeshifts anxiety until it morphs into something untenable. And so, it was an enormous misfortune that the boys’ spring break crashed head-on with Sharon’s bout of influenza B.
For three days, Will had stayed home to care for his wife and sons. But now someone at work needs him more. A light kiss, accompanied by the words, “I’ll be back soon,” does not dispel his wife’s unease.
“I’ve told Walter he’s in charge.” Will speaks like he’s bequeathed their eldest with a hard-earned honor. Sharon reminds him that Walter is ten and forgets to wear underpants.
“Everything will be fine. I’ve told them they can have ice cream for lunch.” Will gives a wink and a smile.
Her husband’s worries—taxes, retirement, his parents’ health—require kindling, oxygen, and the striking of a match. Sharon’s anxiety is more like spontaneous combustion, the kind that burns down a sleeping family’s home.
“Set them up with something productive before you go,” she pleads. “I don’t want them glued to screens. Remind everyone to brush their teeth.”
Despite Will’s reassurances, Sharon is panicked. To be closer to the boys, she musters strength to move into the guestroom downstairs. From there she’ll watch over them.
Angst, guilt, and flu mix together to make Sharon wonder if she is as sick as she feels. She can cook the boys something. Or at least pour cereal into their bowls.
But movement from bed proves unmanageable this time. Her limbs are heavy, like bags filled with sand. She’s pinned down by hundreds—or is it thousands? Are they fairies? Sprites? Leprechauns?
Their tiny hands hold needles, thin like silver threads. In practiced unison, they prick her skin with their diminutive weapons. The violence does not hurt. It inflames. Viral discomfort consumes her and powerlessness takes hold.
In the kitchen, Thomas and Riley argue over remaining drops of maple syrup, and Nathan cries that he needs Mom. Sharon wants to grab the full bottle of syrup that sits in the pantry. Her arms ache to hold her youngest. As if on cue, her captors intervene with jabs to her stomach. An orange-haired sprite beats a copper pan near her temple. Others stand on her eyelids and push them shut. Sharon surrenders and falls asleep.
A knock at the front door awakens her. The captors push Sharon toward the window so that she can see the visitor. The man outside is smaller than Nathan, who has just turned four. Despite warm temperatures, the man wears coattails and black leather gloves that would look sinister were it not for his size.
Now the sprites push Sharon back into her bed and smooth the blankets that cover her.
Doors must remain closed to strangers. Walter knows this rule, so Sharon relaxes, sinks into her pillow, and believes she’s feeling better. Thirty-three sprites rub her feet. Another sings a lullaby. Sharon’s breathing grows steady.
And then she hears Walter welcoming in the stranger. What the fuck, Walter? She tries to sit up. The sprites at her feet hold her down. Others pin her shoulders. They’re so strong. Sharon’s breathing grows labored.
She tries to scream, but a sprite climbs inside her mouth to muffle the sound; she cannot protect her sons.
Sharon listens carefully for the small man to speak, but instead he sings a song she’s never heard before. A silly one. Nathan, Riley, and Thomas laugh. Walter sings along in perfect harmony.
He knows all the words. How? Her boys have a friend and a whole world she doesn’t know about. She bites the inside of her cheek until she tastes blood.
In a thunderous voice, the small man announces, “I would like to eat something.”
“I’ll make pancakes.” Thomas pushes up his sleeves then he heads to the pantry for more syrup.
Walter springs into action. “I’ll take out the dog. Riley, keep an eye on Nathan while I’m gone.”
Guilt might swallow her. Oh, Christ, Walter. Don’t go out there. And Thomas, we have a rule. No cooking without adult supervision. She wants to shout the words but the sprite in her mouth holds tight to her tongue. The creature with the beautiful voice resumes singing. She is a mother too, and so she understands, but she jabs hard with the needle when Sharon tries to get up.
Sharon hears Walter return from dog walking unscathed and Riley setting the table. Nathan offers his booster seat to their guest.
Thomas’s pancakes smell like cinnamon. The aroma reaches her room, and she can hear Nathan clap his hand when a syrup stream flows.
After their meal, the boys’ guest must go. But first, he extracts a cigarette from an embossed silver case. Smaller than the standard, it smells like wet pineapple. Sharon hears the small man offer each boy a taste. She gasps and struggles to intervene but stops when she hears Walter speak.
“No thank you,” the boy says. “My mother is fervently opposed to smoking.”
As the small man tips his hat goodbye, she hears him tell her sons, “You’re growing tall. You’ll tower over all the adults soon.” He chuckles.
Bittersweet longing tangles up with bits of satisfaction, and Sharon is compelled to high-five the mother pixie who is crawling out through her window.
is a writer and editor in northern New York. Her work has appeared in several literary journals and has been nominated for a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and a Pushcart Prize. She is currently at work on her first novel.
Follow her on Twitter: [at]RebeccaLPickens