The Boundary of Fairyland | Heather Ballmer
Her name was Helen.
Isn’t it always?
Best friends since second grade. Disney movies, sleepovers, imaginary worlds filled with magic and fairies, heroes and curses. Six years of friendship, a lifetime when you’re twelve.
It happened that awkward summer after seventh grade. We ran wild through the wide world as defined by how far our bikes were allowed to carry us. Still playing pretend while knowing the time for such childish games had passed. It was our last hurrah before we would be forced to assimilate into the 8th grade world of makeup, pretty bras, and french kissing.
We gossiped about a friend of a friend named Sarah who had french kissed a boy at the 8th grade dance. We were scandalized and intrigued while also being totally grossed out by the thought of another person’s tongue in our mouth. “Why? Why would anyone want to do that? Ewww.”
Sarah said it was gross, but also kind of nice. Mostly it just sounded gross.
Helen was better with people than me, better at belonging. She moved through the world with the confidence of a girl who never thought the universe would deny her anything. It made our ridiculous make-believe games seem almost real. She was, of course, always the Princess and I was whatever support character we needed for the game: the strict queen, the evil sorcerer, the valiant prince, the poor blind girl who gives the Princess a gift to aid her on her journey.
That summer had a feeling of urgency and finality. Already Helen was making more popular friends. She’d join the ranks of girls who are great at makeup, have boyfriends, and somehow effortlessly transition into high school and beyond. I couldn’t fit in with those friends. I might as well have been from a completely different country for how foreign their world seemed. Were they born understanding what color of lipstick to wear and how to paint their nails without getting it all over the cuticle?
No, I would remain in the lower echelon with the smart, but not popular kids. Band geeks, theater geeks, choir geeks, math nerds, science nerds, basically any stripe of geek or nerd, those would be my people.
Helen and I were determined to make the best of our last summer as BFFs. We would play like we were still kids: run around, dig a giant hole under her back fence for no reason, swim in her pool, and make up all sorts of ridiculous things about local landmarks.
“Oh! That’s the tree where they hanged a Seminole medicine woman! Now her spirit haunts these trees demanding a sacrifice from all who walk too close.”
“See these flowers? They bloom here because a prince cried over his lost princess on this very spot!”
“Oh! Look at these mushrooms. It’s a fairy ring. If we step through the middle the fairies will kidnap us underhill and won’t release us for 100 years!”
I can still picture the exact moment it happened.
In my mind I’m right there.
We are running through the woods and around the pond; spinning a wild tale of witches, a curse, a hidden princess, a desperate prince.
The Florida summer is oppressive and suffocating. Sweat and dirt plaster my shirt to my chest. Sticky and hot, but having too much fun to head back to one of our houses for a/c, we slow down next to the lake.
I throw myself onto the grass, briefly squinting up at an impossibly blue sky, before watching Helen look for the next storytelling prop near the water.
Our summer adventures had turned me bright red and peeling in places, my mom constantly yelling after me to bring sunscreen. But on Helen it had created a dusting of cinnamon colored freckles across her nose, the tops of her shoulders, sweeping across her collarbone, and even over the tops of her knees. We had played together many previous summers, but I’d never noticed the freckles before. Now I find myself staring at them. Trying to memorize their constellations in hopes of finding a familiar path back home. A way to both stay right here forever and be grown up already.
Suddenly Helen lunges at the water, soaking one tennis shoe as she sends up a triumphant shriek. Quick as anything she scoops up something.
The sunlight, blinding on the water of the lake, Helen’s hair flashes like copper as it tries to break free of its sloppy braid, her muddy hand grips a fat toad its legs dangling, lake water makes muddy tracks like tiny streams down her arms, her laughter shows a bottom tooth that slightly overlaps its neighbor. She is beautiful.
My heart squeezes and I can’t breathe. I realize.
My entire life, destroyed and reordered by one red haired girl.
She runs towards me yelling “The prince! Quick, kiss him! Kiss the froggy!”
Happily ever after is for fairy tales and sometimes love is a crueler curse than any witch could conceive.
Helen drops to her knees in front of me. “Come on. Don’t be shy. Kiss the froggy!” She makes kissy noises and holds the toad out towards me.
I close my eyes and make a wish. Summoning what is left of my childhood as an offering. A last chance to believe in magic and hope and possibility.
I lean down.
I part my lips.
And I swallow the toad.
About the Author:
Heather Ballmer is a queer writer living on Florida’s Gulf Coast with her very spoiled dog. When she’s not writing you’ll find her on the beach.