The Importance of Faerie Godmothers
1172 words long
Dear Captain Awkward: My husband insists on having his faerie great-aunt over for Thanksgiving. He won't admit that her short temper could pose a danger to our baby. How can I talk him around to my point of view? Sincerely, Once Godmothered Twice Shy...
Notes from the author:
The "News from Poughkeepsie" prompt in a recent one of Mur Lafferty's weekly emails to her Patrons had to do with a relative unexpectedly showing up for a holiday meal. Thanksgiving was the obvious choice of dinner, given the season. As for the relative, it would have to be someone estranged and outcast, because otherwise, you would expect them. You'd invite them. What relative don't you invite? Why, the wicked faerie godmother, of course.
Which meant there must be a child.
After that things went a little Spindle's End, only, rather than using Robin McKinley's high fantasy setting, it developed in a modern, here-and-now, 20-minutes-into-the-future kind of way. That would be a fun backdrop for a generational novel. And I can certainly think of one or two occasions when the ability to give a classroom of taunting children mumps would have come in handy.
She hadn't been invited. That had been deliberate. She knew it, they knew she knew it, she knew they knew she knew it. But she'd shown up anyway, and, etiquette demanding what it does, nobody was saying a word.
Oh, undoubtedly the implicit threat of magical revenge had a hand in keeping Charlotte quiet about it. But they were family, and that was the greater pressure. She'd had a hard enough time convincing Erwin not to invite his great-aunt in the first place--
"But, dear, remember when she came to Christmas dinner at your brother's house? Not fifteen minutes after she arrived we had to call an emergency sorcerer to extricate your nephew's hand from--"
"I know. I know! But we're family, love, that's got to mean something--"
Oh, Charlotte knew only too well what "family" meant. It meant her parents, miserable for decades but doggedly staying together "for the children" to whom that misery was being actively bequeathed. It meant her uncle with his wandering hands, and her aunt who would brook no criticism--"You will not speak of my brother that way!"--and who, in quieter moments, slyly suggested that perhaps someone had led him on. It meant Charlotte's younger sister, a seething narcissist if ever an arse did cyst, who insisted on "chaperoning" Charlotte and Erwin's dates, during which she played every manipulative trick in her considerate repertoire to try to break the couple up. "I won't let him take you away from me," she'd said when confronted about it. The sisters hadn't spoken since.
Charlotte had learned the hard way that "family" was the abstract principal for the sake of which one must deny oneself health, safety, and comfort. She'd only begun to unlearn it when she married Erwin; his family was everything family was supposed to be. Charlotte would never stop envying him the support structures of his upbringing. But there was one crack in that otherwise stable foundation, and it threatened to bring the whole structure down on their heads.
Because there was their daughter, Michelle, old enough this year to join them at the Thanksgiving table. There she was in her high chair, busily smearing turkey-flavored pap across her bib and singing a happy tune to her animal crackers.
And there across the table from her was Wicked Aunt Helvetica.
Helvetica had been born with no small amount of magical power and a natural flaming temper. Neither were common in Erwin's family, and no one had known what to do with her. From time to well-meaning time she'd been sent to a therapist, but it never turned out well. The psychological zeitgeist in those days classified faerie children as delusional and magic as a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Inevitably Helvetica would get irritated and let loose a curse. She'd start with some malicious but ultimately harmless inconvenience, like warts between the fingers or shoelaces that wouldn't stay tied. But then the therapist would smile that knowing, patronizing smile--"Does it make you feel powerful to say things like that? Does it help you regain a sense of control?"--and Helvetica would get furious. And imaginative. And a lot less careful.
Of course all the curses would take hold at once. Helvetica's parents knew it had happened because the therapist would suddenly refuse any new appointments with her. After one of them ended up in the hospital, the family gave up on therapy.
Her name didn't help matters. She wasn't the only one of her sisters to be named after a font face, but hers was the most obvious. Georgia is a perfectly reasonable name, and Berylium shortens nicely to Beryl. But there was no way to camouflage Helvetica without making it worse. The first classmate to call her "Elvie" missed a week of school to the mumps, despite having been duly vaccinated. The year their class was trained in the use of word processors, and specifically the week they spent familiarizing themselves with the font formatting menu, there was a mumps epidemic. A CDC representative from Washington had to be called in.
These days, families facing unexpected faerie additions were better off. Resources like the Online Directory of Magical Assistance were only a few keystrokes away. But Helvetica's parents were genuinely at a loss, and they were scared. Saying "no" to her was impossible. Discipline was not to be thought of. So the girl simply got her way in everything, which rarely leads to positive childrearing outcomes. But eventually she realized on her own that having no friends made her sad and lonely. You don't keep friends if you're constantly making them sick or transforming their pet cats into saber-tooth tigers that have to be put down by animal control. So Helvetica began to socialize herself as best she could. But those skills came late and, being self-taught, landed imperfectly. Like a forgotten mine in an innocent playground, she might go off at any moment should someone place a foot wrong. No one could quite forget it.
Charlotte watched her closely; without Erwin's cooperation, stronger measures were unavailable. And she had to admit that so far there was little to see. Helvetica wasn't speaking without being spoken to, and then not much more than "thank you" or "yes please." She ate with impeccable manners. She hunched her shoulders as though afraid to take up too much space. Erwin kept trying to put her at her ease. Charlotte wished he wouldn't. What if he unwittingly offended her?
Those were her thoughts when Michelle suddenly flung a dollop of baby food across the table and onto Helvetica's blouse. The baby, triumphant at having discovered ballistics, crowed. Helvetica's head jerked up. She stared at Michelle, then looked down at the mess on her shirt.
Charlotte caught her breath. Every instinct told her to grab the child and run, run quickly, run like an action hero racing out of blast radius. But Helvetica merely wiped off the pap and asked, "How old is she now?"
"Just thirteen months," said Erwin proudly.
"Who is her godmother?"
"Doesn't have one," Charlotte snapped. The last thing they needed was a jealous faerie who wasn't invited to Thanksgiving dinner and hadn't been invited to the naming ceremony. Maybe if there was no godmother to be jealous of--
"Pity." It was the first thing Helvetica had said tonight with real feeling behind it. "It's good for a child to have a godmother. I could have used one."
Michelle chortled and sent another sticky brown lump flying from Fort High Chair. It never landed. Halfway to its target, it curved suddenly upwards and splatted against the ceiling. Helvetica did not appear to have moved, but who knew what magic she could perform without word or gesture?
Erwin gasped. Then, he said, very softly: "Oh. Oh my." Charlotte followed his gaze.
Slowly, with great dignity and ceremony, the animal crackers on Michelle's tray were marching a circus dance widdershins.
"I just thought," said Helvetica, "that maybe she might be needing one soon."
This was the Friday Fictionette for November 28, 2014. It was also designated the "Fictionette Freebie" for the month of November. Download the fictionette as a PDF at Patreon.
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