I feel like, as a blogger who writes about writing, it is only fair that I post a bit of my own writing for you to criticize as you see fit. This story was published in my college's literary magazine and I am decently proud of it. I'm not sure how well this will work as a blog post, considering that it involves footnotes, but we'll see how it goes.
The fault lay with seven year old boy who had been told one too many times that he looked exactly like his father…though he would never know it. Also unwittingly sharing the blame were a recently deceased professor of mythology, a conservative germ-phobic heiress and, last but not least, a maternal but tragically barren woman. However, since the last is arguably the victim of this story, by virtue of the fact that she suffered the most from this chain of events, she can be excused from her portion of the guilt.*
It was several months into the school year before Miss Haney, who taught second grade at Mason County Elementary, discovered that Titania Adams believed herself to be a changeling. Titania, or Taney as her friends called her, had already by this time convinced the entire second grade of her magical heritage.
“It’s really a shame,” Taney would say to her audience. “The poor human child whose place I took can never come back, even now that we know she was taken. It’s too late. She would have tasted fae food long ago, and once you have you can never return.”
Her peers crowded around her at every recess, listening intently to her expound on the intricacies of the fairy realm and its tenuous link to the mortal one. Time she did not spend answering their questions was instead spent meandering wide eyed through grassy area bordering the playground, nimbly avoiding errant dodgeballs and collecting cobwebs from the chain link fence that surrounded the school. Eventually, the students ignored her odd ways, putting it off as a “changeling thing”. When one child dutifully explained this to Ms. Haney’s queries as to why Taney had gone off alone, she immediately notified the school counselor.
The decision to contact Mrs. Adams was made when the counselor Mr. Dukes looked “changeling” up on Wikipedia** to see what it was that Taney was claiming to be. The moment it was discovered that Miss Adams’s delusion was rooted in mythology alarm bells went off in his mind.
Taney Adams’s father had been a well-beloved figure in the community: a professor of mythology at the local college. His Titania had been the apple of his eye and he’d loved to tell her fairy tales. Real ones, not the watered-down Disney version that filled most children’s bedtimes. Darker stories that were at once more terrifying and infinitely more satisfying. She used to tell these, in turn, to her classmates, earning her eager audiences and many friends. Only now, she wasn’t telling them as stories and Mr. Dukes’ psychology textbook told him that Taney’s delusion was a form of repression and as such was a plea for help.
Dr. Adams had passed away six months ago.
He’d suffered a sudden heart attack – a genetic defect exacerbated by years of drinking from snifters of brandy that he fancied matched his tweed suits and the leather chairs, roaring fireplace and gleaming wood of his home library. In the couple months before school started back up again Mrs. Adams, through the haze of her own grief, tried to help her Taney with hers but never felt she really connected to the daughter who had always been a daddy’s girl. Feeling she hadn’t gotten anywhere, she had apprised the school counselor of the situation, placing Taney on the “watch list”. And now, he felt, they needed to talk.
And so, dear readers, the next week found Mrs. Adams lowering herself cautiously into the chair across the desk from Mr. Dukes. Torn between bitter defensiveness at the idea of a stranger telling her how to raise her daughter and overwhelming worry that she truly was failing as a mom. The counselor steepled his fingers and began to preach, and the defensiveness came to the forefront, tinged with a hint of righteousness. He spoke of grief and coping mechanisms, what’s healthy and unhealthy. He walked her through something that sounded ridiculously like a how-to procedural guide on ‘dealing with loss.’ She knew something about that. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. As if this cheery twenty-something knew a goddamn thing about what she and her daughter were going through! Huh, she thought with a smirk, I must be in the anger stage. She nodded when he paused and gave her a searching look.
The counselor spoke about many things. Trauma, she’d like to inflict some blunt trauma to that over-educated skull, group therapy, as if listening to other people’s problems would make her feel better, church, and heaven knew that was the most depressing idea of the lot!
Finally, towards the end of the painful affair, he gave her one piece of advice that should have been obvious it was so exceedingly simple. Any moron on the street, she figured, could have divined that piece of advice. And that’s why I know it’s the one piece of USEFUL advice he’s given me.
“Of course, you could always try talking to her,” he slipped in, grudgingly it seemed, amidst fervent rants about weekly meetings and the pros and cons of child-friendly medication.
So, that night, Mrs. Adams cooked Taney’s favorite foods and rented “The Princess Bride” and, thus armed, prepared to confront her daughter on her strange behavior. Mrs. Adams munched on the fish sticks and macaroni and cheese while her daughter chattered happily about her day, the promise of hot fudge brownie sundaes evident in the warm smell in the air. At a break in the spirited monologue she began.
“Taney…what’s a changeling?”
Taney took a deep gulp of milk and swiped her mouth with her sleeve. Mrs. Adams decided now was not the time to correct table manners as the girl turned wide eyes to her mother.
“It’s a magical creature that’s been switched with a human child,” Taney explained. “It can be a troll or a fairy or anything magical really…even a piece of enchanted wood, though they look like they get sick and die real early, before they’re growed.”
“Grown,” Taney agreed. “The fairies swap ‘em with a real kid see, and then raise the human kid as their own and the human family never finds out! Not ‘less they see the signs of course.” Taney lowered her eyes here. “I’m sorry Mom, I know it’s a shock, but what’s happened has happened right?”
“I’m not following, Taney.”
“Well, you’re asking these questions ‘cause you figured out I’m a changeling, right? I promise I didn’t know ‘til a coupla months ago.”
Mrs. Adams took a deep breath and sent up a prayer that she would NOT screw this up. “And why do you think you’re a changeling, Taney? Do…do you feel like you don’t fit in?”
“Hm? Oh, nothing like that. Well, for one thing, changelings don’t like to wear shoes. And I’m ALWAYS taking my shoes off to run in the grass.”
“I do that too, Taney. So did your father. Are we changelings?”
There was silence for a few moments, interrupted by the timer on the brownies going off. Mrs. Adams got up to take them out, and quickly returned to where Taney was happily dipping her fish stick in ketchup.
“The brownies done, Mom?”
“Hm? Yes…but they need to cool a little before we cut them. Besides you haven’t finished your dinner.” Taney grinned and popped the last bite of fish stick in her mouth. Mrs. Adams chuckled, but sobered up immediately. “Now, Taney, back on the changeling thing. Surely the fact that you like to go barefoot wasn’t the only thing?”
“Well? Where did you get such a silly idea?”
“Jimmy Hudgens,” Taney said, naming a boy from her class.
Well that was a shock. She’d been expecting some kind of deep emotional feeling of abandonment, or at the very least some goofy television show. “James Hudgens told you that you were a changeling?” she echoed faintly.
“No. Jimmy says everyone always tells him how much he looks like his dad and how it annoys him. I asked him why people think that and he said that kids are s’posed to look like their parents.
“I wasn’t sure Jimmy was right, so I emailed the science professor at Daddy’s old college during computer class at school and asked him why kids look like their parents. He told me that there are these things called genes, but not the kind you wear, that decide height and hair color and eye color and all that stuff and that you get them from your mommy and daddy.
“I figured it out from there. See…fairies think that blonde hair and blue eyes are the prettiest, so they take babies that look like that. Fairy babies look like the forest, so they have brown hair and green eyes like me.” She grinned, the aforementioned green eyes sparkling. “I never realized how different I look from you and Papa! Neither of you have brown hair or green eyes…you both have blond hair and blue eyes, just like fairies like. I’m also tons shorter than you were at my age.” The Adams family lived in Mrs. Adams’ old house, which she’d bought from her parents when they moved to Florida. Her growth chart sat next to Taney’s on the molding of the kitchen doorway. “Anyways, I figured out from his email that I can’t possibly be your real daughter.”
Mrs. Adams’ heart pounded, her hand flickering to her abdomen as she remembered the miscarriage and the countless doctors' appointments and the disappointment of finding out she’d never have children. She remembered the decision her and her husband made to adopt, the endless meetings with orphanages and teenaged mothers, the hours of arguing about the best way to tell Taney when she was old enough. Silently, she cursed the school’s progressive computer class and decided she’d have a stern talk with this “science professor”.
Somewhere, about fifty miles away, a thirty year old man grading midterm essays on hereditary diseases sneezed three times in quick succession.
Mrs. Adams floundered as she stared at her daughter, who was humming as she stirred her Mac & Cheese. She and her husband had planned to tell Taney she was adopted when she hit middle school and not a minute before. They figured she was too young to deal with the idea of not being their ‘real’ daughter, let alone the emotional upheaval of knowing your own mother didn’t want you.
Taney’s biological mom had not been a teenager, like most mothers putting their children up for adoption at birth. She had been extremely wealthy, inheriting millions from her father’s investments. She liked things sterile and had an aversion to anything germ-ridden. It was amazing, even with the aid of classy gin martinis...the only thing she liked dirty, that she had been able to stomach sex even the one time it took to get pregnant and she was certainly not going to deal with a baby! Just the thought of dirty diapers, jaundice, colic and other squicky things made her hyperventilate.
Mrs. Adams shook herself out of her musings and tried to think of the best way to tell her daughter. “Taney... Your mother…well…she couldn’t, uh, care for you. So she asked me and Daddy to keep you and love you so you could be happy.” She winced at the half-lie. “You know what “adopted” means, right?”
“Sure,” said Taney, seemingly uninterested.
“Taney…” Mrs. Adams started cautiously, “You know that saying ‘If you hear hooves outside it may be zebras, but it’s probably just horses?’”
Taney rolled her eyes “Of course, Mom, it was Dad’s favorite. Just because something weird might be true, it’s more likely something totally normal. But don’t you remember what he always said after?”
Mrs. Adams smiled fondly and spoke in time with her daughter, “But zebras are just so much more interesting.”
“Exactly. I know what ‘adopted’ means, Mommy.”
As they got to work divvying up the brownies and ice cream, Mrs. Adams made one more stab at making sure her daughter was alright.
“Now that you’re older, Taney, I bet your real Mom would like to meet you. We’d have to clean you up real nice but…” She trailed off, anxious for some reason at the idea of Taney meeting her real mom.
Her daughter didn’t look up from where she was squeezing chocolate syrup into perfect criss-crossing patterns on her sundae. “Hm. Maybe someday. I’m sure the fae world is amazing, but once you go there you can’t come back. As long as you’re ok with me being a changeling, it doesn’t bother me any.”
“Taney, she lives in Chicago.”
“Zebras, Mommy. I’m just sad for the human girl who never got to live here.” At this she looked up. “The fae are classically cold you know. At least she has Daddy to keep her company now. I’m sure once he found out he couldn’t stay here anymore, he went straight there. Even if he didn’t know about her, he wouldn’t pass up a chance to see the fae world. It’s supposed to be beautiful.”
Her mother truly couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so the Adams girls just curled up on the sofa with their sundaes and started the movie. As the boy on the screen complained about getting his cheeks pinched, Taney commented, “I think I’m going to try out for Theater in the Park this summer. They’re doing “Midsummer Night’s Dream” this year…maybe I’ll get to play my namesake?”
Mrs. Adams smiled around a large bite of warm brownie and nodded.
*Others may argue that the professor, being dead, (and well before the events took place) may also be excused from the blame. However, it is this author’s humble opinion that the dead can carry blame just as well as – if not better than – the living.
** The poor teacher spent a good five minutes reading the article on the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name before figuring out he had the wrong article.