“When you wish upon a star…” My voice is too small and faint for my liking. It sounds like a child’s, but I want it to sound like the Blue Fairy’s voice: pure, elfin, sparkly. Now that I think of it, I don’t know if the Blue Fairy actually sang at all in Pinocchio.
Now I’ve gone and interrupted my own singing again. Why am I hiding under this comforter? It’s getting stuffy, so I throw the tent off. There is darkness in the room, except the block of quavering moonlight on the floor, and still that persistent tapping. Oh, right. That’s why I’d started singing. I’d forgotten about the tapping.
My cheeks flush from sudden cold air, which means that the window must have just opened—unless that’s just from me throwing the blanket off. I realize that I’ve been holding my breath, but now that the darkness and I are face to face, I only allow myself the tiniest of breaths, barely moving at all. The tapping has paused, which makes everything a thousand times worse. Why did Mom put my headrest against the wall, next to the window? Wouldn’t she know I can’t just move my head to look and see if it’s opened? Most—things—can’t see; but who knows if they can sense, or hear? I immediately ridicule myself for this thought. Childish.
A bird chirps too loudly, and I know that the window is open. Why is a bird chirping at—I boldly dart my eyes to the glowing green light across the room—10:15 at night?
Then, against the glass now, an unmistakable knock. As in, let me in. As in, I am Something Here Outside Your Window.
The wildest threats could not sway me to move or breathe at this moment. I remember reading in a magazine about fight, flight, freeze, and fawn—that magazine must have been in our classroom by mistake, because Ms. Cozbi was very quick to take it from me. But I am most definitely a freeze-er.
“Makes no difference who you are,” sings a voice: pure, elfin, sparkly, and much too close to my very exposed head.
Four years ago, when I was a baby kindergartener, I would have been convinced that it was the Blue Fairy. Of course, now the two options are—am I imagining things, or is there a robber? Mom’s voice comes into my head: you’re just overly excited, sweetie. She uses my real name when I’m doing something wrong, but nice names like sweetie when she’s distracted. Imaginary Mom said sweetie, so there must not be anything worth worrying about. Right?
For a moment I consider making a dash for the door—I can still see the sliver of gold underneath it, meaning the hallway light is on and Mom is awake with the baby.
A leaf dances into the room and settles on the block of moonlight, like a black crow interrupting a cloudless sky.
Another knock. “Let me in,” chimes the voice. “I am Something Here Outside Your Window.”
This calms me down at once. If the creature is repeating exactly what I thought, then surely it’s just that—my thoughts. I finally breathe a gigantic breath, which feels marvelous, and sit up.
Standing on my windowsill is a wispy creature not taller than a Boggle sand-timer, with the fluffiest gray dress I’ve seen in my life. I admit it’s a little harder to believe that I’m just imagining her when I see her there on my windowsill. But Mom’s voice keeps telling me that it isn’t real, and calling me sweetie, so it must be imaginary.
“Do you have a voice?” asks the fancy Boggle sand-timer.
“Oh—yes, come in,” I say, because I might as well be nice to a dream.
“Thank you,” she says, suddenly sprouting wings that look more like bits of twigs than anything else, and fluttering to the ground.
I slide off my bed to join her in the block of moonlight, and it is just her, and I, and the leaf. She keeps adjusting her fluffy gray dress and straightening her feet, which I assume have shoes on them just too small to tell. I try not to stare, because Mom always talks about how rude people are when they stare at her or the baby.
I have an idea. “I’m pretty good at drawing. Do you want me to draw your portrait?”
Oh, her voice is so lovely. An even better idea occurs to me. “Yeah, if I make you a picture that looks like you, and you can keep it. And then you teach me how to sing?”
She laughs, or at least I think she does—a burst of light sparkles silently off her entire body, but it somehow feels very much like laughter. “I cannot teach you how to sing. I’m here to collect a wish.”
“What do you mean, collect a wish?”
I’m so startled by the sudden change in tone that I jump to my feet, crushing the leaf. My paper and pencils are on my bookshelf—I’m back in two seconds.
Somehow she found the time to change into a dark purple dress, and she seems just a little taller. More proof that it’s all in my imagination.
“What’s your name?” I ask, as she continues to arrange herself. Now that I can look at her non-rudely, I peer closely and realize she is a very, very old woman. I wonder for a moment if she’s sucking in her cheeks, but that’s probably not polite to ask.
“Do you like yours?”
“Oh. Yeah, I do.”
I sit upright. “I’m not a liar,” I say haughtily.
She doesn’t respond, and I can’t detect a smirk, so I keep drawing.
“Do you have friends?” asks the faerie, since that is what I’ve decided she is. She has her stick-wings tucked away, but I know they’re still there.
“At school.” I’ve finished drawing her hair and am on to her dress now, which is difficult to draw. I realize now that she’s constantly changing—she shrinks and grows, and ages and gets younger, and her dress shifts even faster than she does. Right now she’s about as tall as my ring finger and as old as I am, but with a brilliant red gown like the ones Mom used to wear to concerts and things with Dad.
“Is that the wish I should collect? Do you want friends? Other than the characters you write stories about, of course.”
“I still don’t know what you mean by collect. Usually the genies say grant or fulfill or something.” I know she’s not real—and if she was, then Ms. Cozbi would say I’m overthinking the question—but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“You never know what anything means, you don’t even know what I mean,” says the middle-aged faerie, whose voice and eyes never change. “But never mind, you’ve already told me.”
“What—what did I say?”
“Don’t you want to know what I’ll do with the wish?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to ask.” I sigh, sounding very grown-up. “Here, I finished your picture.”
The faerie grabs the paper from me, even though it’s ten times taller than she is, and hides behind it. When she finally puts it down, she is a baby.
“It’s beautiful,” she says, and a soft glow tells me she was crying.
I pause a moment. “Will you grant my wish, then? I mean—sorry, that was rude.”
The faerie is unfazed. “You won’t want it granted in the end.” She’s my age again, but taller than ever. “I’ve collected it, but I’ll throw it out.”
“That doesn’t seem very nice.”
“Not my concern,” says the faerie, flitting back to the windowsill with the enormous piece of paper. She turns to look at me. Then she drops her voice to a whisper, and without the silvery sound, it sounds almost human. "Just—remember—you aren't responsible for anyone else's happiness. And none of it was your fault.”
For some reason, I freeze. And then she is gone.