The queue for the pizza stall was endless; at least that’s how it felt to Ryan. It also wasn’t moving. He had been standing in the same spot for what seemed like hours, as people pushed their way past him, moving down the hill towards the stage. He was hungry. He was hot. And he wanted to be anywhere in the world except at this stupid music festival.
Ryan loved music. The right sort of music. Something that involved loud guitars and t-shirts with skulls on them. When his parents had said they were all going to a festival – Ryan had indulged in exciting fantasies of Glastonbury and bands whose music he tried to coax from his own electric guitar. Instead they dragged him to a Folk Festival to listen to aging hippie bands. With all of his heart, Ryan hoped none of his school friends ever found out. He would just die of embarrassment.
Ryan shuffled forward a few inches as some lucky person in front of him was handed their lunch and moved off into the crowd seated on the hillside. The food queue moved again as a large man with a bright tie-dyed t-shirt and a long grey pony tail pushed apologetically past. That’s when the fairy appeared.
She had long blonde hair and the bluest eyes Ryan had ever seen. Her lips were the colour of rose petals. She smiled and reached out to gently flick Ryan’s hair with her long slim fingers. Ryan blinked and she vanished.
He spun around searching for her. Forgetting his hunger and the time he’d been waiting, Ryan stepped out of the queue and pushed into the crowd.
For one second he thought he saw a flash of shiny blonde hair just a few yards ahead of him. But when he got there, it was gone.
She was gone.
Ryan glanced back up the hill. He didn’t have the heart to rejoin the pizza queue, but he still wanted lunch. The nearest food stall didn’t have a queue. That was no surprise to Ryan – the stall sold vegetarian food. Still, he supposed that just this once it probably wouldn’t kill him.
Ignoring his parents teasing about his choice for lunch, Ryan spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the crowd, rather than the stage. He finally decided he must have imagined her. He was thirteen years old and did not believe in fairies. It must have been the sun doing strange things to his head. It was certainly doing strange things to his parents, who were singing and dancing in a manner that made him want to cringe.
Time he was elsewhere.
The sun was low in the west, turning the sky shades of pale pink and purple. The giant spotlights around the festival site created shadows of an even deeper purple under the trees. Ryan wandered through the crowd, his eyes constantly moving from side to side. He found himself back at the pizza stand.
He still wanted that pizza, and this time the queue was shorter. Ryan was digging in his jeans pockets to see if he had enough money, when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
She was standing behind him, that same smile lighting her face.
She was definitely a fairy. Her wings glowed faintly in the evening light. Her dress looked like it was made of liquid silver and fell in ragged shapes to just below her knees. Her feet were bare and floated a couple of inches above the trampled grass.
Above the grass?
Ryan did a double take, looking back to her feet, then up into those brilliant blue eyes. The fairy laughed mischievously, then reached out to flick his hair again.
“Sorry. Excuse me.” A woman carrying two plates of food pushed in front of him. Peter quickly stepped around her – but the fairy was gone.
Peter forgot all about pizza. He darted through the crowd, searching for a flash of silver and trying to convince himself that her feet had not been hovering above the ground.
He didn’t succeed at either task.
At midnight, the last band of the day played the last song of the day, and slowly the arena began to clear. Tired and happy people moved towards their tents and camper vans. Ryan hung around near the pizza stall. As the pizza man closed up for the night, he gave Ryan the last slice. Free. Ryan hardly tasted it. At last, he turned towards the exit to the camping ground. His parents would be starting to wonder where he was. As he walked out, he resisted the urge to look over his shoulder one last time.
yan’s father was sitting in a folding chair outside their big family tent. He had a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Hi, Dad.” Ryan dropped into the chair next to him.
“Hi. Having fun?”
“Where’s Mum?” Ryan asked.
The toilet block was at the far end of the camp ground. His mother would be gone for a while.
“Dad, do you believe..?” Ryan hesitated, not quite sure how to explain.
“Believe in what?”
“Well. I dunno… Magic maybe?”
“What sort of magic?”
“Fairies.” There. He had said it. Ryan waited for his father to laugh at him.
Ryan’s dad took a deep sip of coffee. “Tell me about her.”
“She’s beautiful,” Ryan said. “She has blue eyes. She’s been teasing me all day. Just appearing and vanishing again.” He stopped short of any mention of feet hovering inches above the grass. He wasn’t ready to talk about that, even to his father.
“Put a spell on you has she?”
Ryan glanced sideways, to see if his father was making fun of him. “Maybe.”
“The same thing happened to me when I was about your age.”
Surprise left Ryan speechless.
“She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” Ryan’s father spoke softly, almost as if he had forgotten his son was there. “Her eyes were blue too. Her hair was long and as black as night. When she laughed, it was like bluebells ringing in the forest. I knew the moment I saw her that I would love her for the rest of my life.”
“Wow.” It was almost more than Ryan could believe of his staid and unexciting father. “So what happened, Dad? Did you ever see her again?”
“Yes, I did. I kept looking until I found her.”
Ryan’s father looked out across the camping field. Ryan followed his gaze and spotted his mother walking back towards the tent.
The older man smiled. “I married her.”
Ryan told himself he didn’t expect to see the fairy again the next day. She wasn’t real. But that didn’t stop him spinning around every time he caught a glimpse of white from the corner of his eye.
At last, annoyed with himself, he pushed his way through the crowd to the front of the stage and stared up at the band, his mind still a million miles away from the music. But gradually, the rhythm and the notes seeped into his brain and he found he was swaying in time to the tune. He looked at the guitarist. The guy had long grey hair. He was decidedly middle aged and was wearing a tie dyed t-shirt. But his fingers danced along the guitar neck. He was no Jimi Hendrix – but he was good!
Ryan realised the guitarist was looking straight at him. Their eyes met and the musician winked broadly. Ryan barely had time to wonder why, when he felt a gentle warm caress on the back of his neck. He spun around to look once more into those brilliant blue eyes. The fairy pursed her lips and blew another soft breath towards Ryan, lifting his blonde hair. Then she stepped back and the crowd closed around her.
Ignoring the annoyed exclamations of the people near him, Ryan pushed his way through the crowd after her. A couple of times, he caught a glimpse of blonde hair or silver wings ahead of him. Once he thought he heard her laugh. But when he emerged at the edge of the crowd, she was no where to be seen.
Ryan kicked at an inoffensive tuft of grass, and started walking up the hill. Without thinking, his feet turned towards the pizza queue where he had first seen her. He was almost there when he caught a flash of silver and white. He darted forward – then halted in something resembling horror.
About a dozen fairy costumes hung at the front of the stall, alongside batik skirts and hand knitted caps. Fairy costumes just like the one his fairy wore. Some of them were white with silver tinsel around the wings.
She wasn’t a fairy. She was just a girl in a silly costume!
A dark cloud of disappointment settled around Ryan’s shoulders. He turned away from the stall and wandered back through the crowd.
Stupid girl! Pretending to be a fairy. Everyone knew that fairies weren’t real.
But her feet had been hovering a few inches above the ground. No, Ryan told himself. He just imagined they were.
Ryan spent the rest of the afternoon wandering miserably through the crowd, trying not to look for a flash of blonde hair. This had to be the worst day of his life. For a few hours he had believed in magic. He was a fool!
Dusk came, and with it the final band of the festival. All over the hillside, candles and flares blossomed as five thousand voices joined the band in the final songs. Somewhere his parents would be singing along, but Ryan didn’t want to join them. His father might ask about the fairy, and Ryan didn’t want to admit how wrong he had been. He turned his back on the stage and began climbing the hill towards the exit.
He was almost at the gate, when someone tapped his shoulder.
He turned around and there she was, the girl about his own age, with the blue eyes, blonde hair and a fairy costume. She smiled, then leaned forward and kissed him.
The music faded and the crowds dissolved into nothingness. Her skin smelled like flowers. Her lips were soft and warm and tasted like… They tasted like… a kiss. Ryan closed his eyes as her fingertips brushed his cheek and a few seconds stretched forever. When he opened his eyes she was gone, leaving only the echoes of a laugh that sounded like bluebells in the forest.
Ryan didn’t try to follow. He knew he wouldn’t find her. Instead, he walked back to the tent, and climbed into his sleeping bag. He heard his parents come back, laughing and singing. He kept his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep and holding fast to a touch of magic.
His parents were up with the birds, breaking down their camp and packing the car for the return to normality. Ryan dragged himself out of the tent and set off for the toilets. All around him, other campers were following his parents’ example. Within a few hours, the campsite would be empty. The cows would return and the magic, if there had been any, would be gone.
The blast of a car horn startled him from his thoughts. He stepped aside to make way for a battered old camper van. As it passed he saw a line of festival stickers along the side window. Some were too faded to read and the newest was still bright with colour. As he looked, the window slid open and a girl leaned out the window. A girl with long blonde hair and a smile that seemed brighter than the morning sun. She touched her slender fingers to lips like rose petals, and blew a kiss his way. Ryan thought he felt a soft caress of breath tease the hair on his forehead.
The battered old van carried her away.
Ryan returned to his parents. As they scrambled into the car, his father asked if he had enjoyed the festival.
“It was OK,” Ryan replied, his mind elsewhere.
“If you didn’t enjoy it, you don’t have to come next year,” his father said.
Ryan looked across the field, where a battered camper van was pulling though the gate and onto the road. He remembered the line of stickers on the window. Festival stickers. One for each year.
“I think I’d like to come again,” he said.
Published as ‘Do You Believe In Fairies?’ by The People’s Friend – April 2008
Artwork by Diane Fawcett courtesy of The People’s Friend
Every year we go to the village of Cropredy in Oxfordshire for Fairport Convention’s music festival. It’s three days of good music, good fellowship, food and beer – and never gets as muddy as Glastonbury. Last year, I saw a young girl in a fairy costume dart through the crowd to kiss a startled boy on the cheek. That is magic.
© Janet Gover September 2007