Fairy Telling

The blue house sitting all alone atop its mountain looks best from the playground.  The magic in the blue paint makes you see it from so far away, even when the sky is just as blue, and makes children sneak away during recess to search for a secret pathway—maybe some soft old logs fitting snug in a slope of carved rock, yes, above a tangled stairwell of thorny branches, blackberry bushes, and poison ivy that tunnel all the way up to the backdoor of the blue house where nobody goes.

        Because they cannot get there, the children invent tales of the blue house—of lonely hermits, teary-cheeked princesses, and creatures with elaborate eyes who see only at night.  Tales of vast treasures yet to be discovered, guarded by doves and bats.  Tales of a mouth in the mountain that is so hungry it drools swamp water and eats anyone who tries to climb the mountain—swallowing him in foliage so dense not even a rabbit would get through.  Frequently in their stories, a pathway appears.  Dragging, smearing, and rolling off their fingertips, spilling straight out of the wide open door in curly tresses more golden and bountiful than Rapunzel's hair.  This uncovered pathway divides, unzips, opens the mountain as simply as “open, se-se-mie!” into a hidden palace of gold, jewels, candies, and frogs.

        For several generations now, children have been bringing the mountain into their classrooms.  From kindergarten to sixth grade, they draw, paint, and construct—picturing the blue house that season to season shines down upon them like a brand new lunch box.  With lead, ink and crayons; with water colors, oil paints, white paste, clear glue and paper cut-outs; with brushes, sponges, scissors, paper maché, linoleum blocks and their fingers— they follow the crooked contours of the mountain slope all the way up to the house’s lonely telephone pole and then back down to the pit in the valley where school keeps them.  They color the mountain’s face with green and yellow ivy, bushes and trees, or they lather the mountain with a snow-beard.  They crown the field all around the blue house with bright orange flowers that blow down the mountain, in and out of their art classes.  In their pictures, the children often leave the tiny backdoor of the blue house wide open, between windows as yellow as the sun.

        On the other side of the mountain exists a road that their imaginations will not find until years later, after they learn to drive.  Driven by under-aged lusts, dares and laughter, partying and playing hooky from school, these teens will happen upon a day they deem "happening"—a perfectly rambunctious day to set themselves apart from parental rules, laws and traditions.  Rebellious and bored, paired up or crammed as many as six in a car, all of them squeezed alone together, they drive straight up, up, up the steep zigzag mountain road to ... they guess not where.

        At the top of the mountain, most of them stay in the car and stare transfixed at the house that stares back at them like a monstrous blue eye.  Others step out and wander through the tall field of orange California poppies, buzzing with bumblebees and splashing with grasshoppers.  Some circle the blue house and explore ant-like at every window, especially those two windows flanking the door out back.  Finding this door slightly ajar, they pull it wide open before running back to their cars to hurry home.  Now and again, one or more of them dares to walk up the steps to the front door and knock softly, wishing to meet the people who live in the house, the Boo Radley type of folks they only heard about. 

        Every once in a while, one such visitor knocks hard and loud for a very long time.  The now old reclusive couple is always warm and happy to open their doors to such special visitors—to any visitor who knows that the secret password at the door is simply to knock long and loud and for a very long time.

        Every few years, a new child at the school makes it up the mountain by foot, brilliantly.  Crawling low through the brush, steering clear of the poison ivy, while searching for neat places to hide, this unwitting pathfinder will happen upon the well-kept secret pathway so simply that he or she presumes everyone else already knows about it, has long known about it, this weedy path that begins so near to the school, yes, the not-so-secret pathway all the children are always talking about.

        When bringing down fresh details about the pathway and the blue house, the pathfinder encounters other children who privately have not yet found the pathway, yet seem to have much more to say about the folks and creatures living in the blue house and the way the backdoor opens like a treasure chest stretching down the mountain.  Every classroom has children with much popularity and charisma, who mostly talk louder and more emphatically than the rest, as they bring from home the tales of vast stolen treasures in a chilly blue fortress atop the treacherous mountain, along with homely hermits, wart-nosed witches, and child-eating cannibals, all of whom are up to no good. 

        Other children react against these loud scary details with their own tales of tragic princesses, lonely hermits, and kind creatures who know how not to play rough with children.  These versions argue between a blue house and a blue dungeon, from angelic to hellish inhabitants, between the coexisting details of blue bricks teeming with ivy and snakes and of wood painted so perfectly blue that astronauts can see the house all the way from the moon.  The pathfinder pines to share in all the fantastic sensations that sound more sensational than anything this child has ever experienced during his or her daily hikes up the mountain.  While true details get covered over day after day by the lurid and fantastic fairy telling that defines day from night and light from darkness, the pathfinder stands alone in school feeling as in and as out of place as the covered-over pathway that runs up an otherwise impenetrable mountain slope.

        Sometimes though, while being overlooked and hardly noticed by the others, the pathfinder yet becomes a pathway for other children’s fantasies.  Somehow, some of what the child says and does about the blue house and the mountain inspires the others, even those morbid-minded children so terribly popular for making Halloween go on almost yearlong through all their fairy telling terrors.  These loud children can never sit still when hearing from anyone, much less a shy loner, go on and on about the simplest, unimaginative details of salamanders, tree frogs, and rabbits all found along some secret but otherwise ordinary pathway—a yet suggestive pathway needing to be retold, and with better details.  Thus, out of the spankings from parents, dark bedrooms, and the cruel madness of TV, the morbidly popular children inspire other storytellers by unleashing a great many dragons that to slay, princesses to save, and misunderstood hermits to befriend, all these happier tales that become the ones most passed down to the younger classes.

        When the pathfinder returns day after day from the path that secretly divides the mountain in a straight line left from right, north from south, he or she continues the path from the blue house in a straight line all the way down to the elementary school.  Sometimes the simplest details that start fantasies are also those that keep them in motion year after year in all their true and false sorts of ways, refreshing the tales into each generation of the school’s art. 

        Returning to the blue house as a teenager, the pathfinder remembers to knock long and loud, and for a very long time, for the reclusive couple who are yet ready to welcome the now grown up child inside their home for cookies, teas, stories, and other such treasures, just as they did years before.  Occasionally, such a youth brings friends to the blue house.  After they play with the couple's exotic pet monkeys, turtles, canaries, and owls with elaborate eyes that see so well in the dark, the loner leads his friends to the backyard where they all look down into the pit of the valley at the small elementary school that frowns up as dull as an old shoebox.  At the site of the pathway’s tunnel, the mouths and eyes of the pathfinder’s friends slowly open like “open, se-se-mie!”

        The sensation of stepping inside this tunnel for the first time is much like stepping outside a darker tunnel.  Linking hands child-like as they step sideways down rugged rocks, the pathfinder’s friends are already thinking to hurry home and dig through all their old artwork for the pictures and tales that had made their school bearable. 

        Now deep into this uncanny tunnel, these friends remember the ferocity with which they used to guard their tales of friendly hermits, beautiful princesses, and gentle creatures against all the unrelenting tyrants, child-hungry cannibals, and fire-breathing snakes created by others.  The arsonists, who dared to paint the blue house in flames of Halloween orange and chimney red, were never a match against all of the sudden rainstorms, underground springs, and heroic firemen who were always at hand to douse the flames and sweep away the dead snakes whenever they littered the orange poppy field.   Now, in the actual mouth of the pathway, it is like being told that an actual fairy did indeed leave lucky silver dollars under their pillows. 

        The pathfinder, whose early climbs up the path had inspired the silver dollar imaginations under other children’s pillows, had climbed up this mountain so many times that this loner is only now getting down from it.  Linked by the hand to the others, the pathfinder guides the others down this trek in a way that makes the path’s tunnel generously unfamiliar.  As though following the others from the lead position, this loner drags them slow and then slower, deeper and then steeper, down the slick footing through the pitch-black tunnel turning green, now carefully through the red, yellow and golden throat of thorny branches, poison ivy, and blackberry bushes, coughing up sudden wildlife.  They duck their heads under webs darting with spiders, leaves buzzing with mosquitoes, and branches jumping with squirrels, robins, and tree frogs, all the while watching their steps over the luscious stirring of salamanders, slugs, beetles, and ribbon snakes.  Now the step upon dry dirt, dappled golden green from leafy sunlight, then onto the soft old logs imbedded in carved rock, yes, these stairs stretching straight down to the pit of the valley, where they will need to get down on elbows and knees and kick like rabbits to get through the small, hide-and-seek opening of the path’s mouth that has already swallowed them up, finally free of their parents.



  Chris Custer