It was the cleanest and most soulless room in the house. An old single bed made up with a plain blue blanket, a small nightstand, a built-in bookshelf where a closet might be. A single off-size window, too narrow for egress. Luckily, no building inspector had spent the night in here. Janet claimed, to all and sundry, that no one had. It was a tiny room, barely wide enough for the bed and nightstand. The walls were plain white. There was no art. The bookshelf held a set of encyclopedias that had been a good investment in 1952, and now served only as an unobtrusive backdrop.
The rest of the small bungalow exuded personality... specifically, Janet's personality. Warm mustard walls, red poufs on the floor, flowery furniture, loud art. There had been a beaded curtain leading to the living room which Aggie had looked askance at, but the dogs had wrecked it.
The dogs weren't allowed in the plain guest room, which Aggie insisted be kept pristine and untouched. Janet's few occasional guests crashed on the couch or slept with her, in her room. Aggie silently ignored this. No one slept in the guest room.
Every March 4, without fail, Aggie scrubbed the room spotless, washed the window, washed the blanket, dusted the books. Every March 5, the door to the room was shut tight all day. Every March 6, Aggie's hand shook as she opened the door, went in. Stood, eyes searching all around. More than 50 years of waiting. Nothing.
Janet was a cousin of Aggie's from her mother's side. One Fall she had turned up on Aggie's doorstep, after leaving a bad marriage in the city. For two months she had moped and ate all Aggie's ice cream and rhubarb preserves. On month three she had rebounded, signed up for pottery classes and started going to salsa dancing nights at the Legion. The pottery classes had become jewellery making, basket weaving, knitting (Levels 1, 2 and 3), watercolours, woodworking and an ill-fated metallurgy course that had almost resulted in the shed burning down.
Aggie didn't know where Janet’s money came from. Didn't ask, either. She collected the rent from her cousin on the second last day of the month, along with half the utilities, and kept herself to herself the rest of the time.
Aggie had always lived alone, since her Pa died 30-odd years ago. He had left her the house and a small trust. She had never worked. Didn't much care for other people. She kept a garden and walked in the woods. Listened to Janet sometimes, when the latter was being extra fluttery. Read a lot.
She had been caring for the guest room as long as she could remember. “Why’s it locked today?” she had once whispered to her Pa.
“Lettin' the magic work,” he had answered, and when Pa said a thing, it wasn’t mystery, it was solid fact.
She had a vague notion that her Ma had started it, but she barely remembered her Ma, who had fallen stone dead when she was five. Heart failure. Her five-year-old mind had put together heart failure with broken heart and determined that getting attached to other people was a short path to death, and not one she'd have any truck with.
On March 1, Aggie sent Janet out for the Pine-Sol she needed for the floors. Janet returned, flushed and giggling with a man she'd found in the snacks aisle. Aggie sighed and headed out for her own Pine-Sol as Janet made the man a cocktail.
On March 2, the man was in her kitchen when she put her eggs on to boil. Aggie nodded at him and took her eggs to the table.
On March 3, Janet packed her clothes and moved to the man's house. Aggie asked if she would pay the three days rent. Janet, tearful, flung bills at her, threw her arms around Aggie, wept into her cardigan shoulder, explained in many words that she would be back to visit and pick up the rest of her stuff, and then she was gone, leaving a heavy trail of Ylang Ylang perfume behind her.
Aggie made herself some tea and chose a Robert Ludlum novel from her library pile.
On March 4, Aggie stripped the spare room bed, washed the bedding and flipped the mattress. She opened the small window and washed it carefully with newspaper and soap and vinegar. She wiped down the walls with a mild Pine-Sol solution and dusted the encyclopedias with a Norwex microfibre cloth Janet had given her on her last birthday. She wiped down the shelves, headboard and the nightstand with Murphy's Oil Soap. She carefully wiped the baseboards around the room, then closed the window and mopped the floor with the Pine-Sol solution. While the sheets and blanket and floor dried, she had tea and read another 50 pages of Ludlum.
Finally, she made the bed, fluffed the pillow, and carefully latched the door. She watched a bit of Jeopardy and then went to bed to read more.
On the morning of March 5, Aggie made her tea and two eggs and ate them slowly. She had a vague, unsettled feeling. She wondered if the Ludlum had been too exciting for her. Maybe it had given her nightmares. She decided to go for a walk in the woods and headed to the hall closet to get her boots.
A noise stopped her. Janet had taken the dogs. Aggie cocked her head to listen. Janet must have come back for something. She headed upstairs. Janet's room was open, empty, stripped naked. No one was there.
Another noise. She stopped outside the guest room. It sounded flutey. A bird must have gotten in when she had the window open yesterday. Her heart pounded louder than usual. She knew there was no earthly reason beyond her Pa’s say-so why she shouldn't open the door. Still, 50-plus years of tradition were hard to set aside.
She put her hand on the knob. A scratching came from within and then another sound that someone more prone to fancy might have thought was a giggle.
It would be a pity to leave a poor creature trapped in the room all day, Aggie thought. A bird could beat itself to death on the window.
So decided, she opened the door.
The morning sunlight sparkled like diamonds in the air. The room was as she left it but there was no sign of a bird. The sun was in her eyes. She squinted as she heard another noise and felt a soft touch on her hand.
As she blinked, she focused on the small, perfect being in front of her. It wasn't a child. It had adult features, but seamless, perfect features that made your eyes flow around them looking for an imperfection you could understand. The creature had mauve skin, pale green silky hair, pointed ears. Wings. Fairy wings.
Aggie could not fathom why this perfect creature was in her guest room. The thing emitted lilting noises, like birds laughing. It led her to the bed. Aggie creaked to a seated position on the blue cover.
It flew up lightly to mid-air, spun, produced what looked like a small digestive biscuit. Handed it to her. Wordlessly, Aggie ate. The biscuit produced the effect of helping her understand the creature's noises.
"It is time," warbled the fairy. "You must come home, Agatha. Your mother is waiting."
"So am I dying? Is my heart failing?" asked Aggie.
“Your heart is about to stop failing,” said the creature, gently. "Death is a change. This too is a change." The fairy was softly patting her arms, legs, head, and Aggie noticed she felt lighter. Less achy. Distantly, she heard a knocking, then the front door being unlocked. Janet. Of course, she would come now.
She started to stand and found herself hovering.
"You must leave her behind. She cannot know," said the fairy.
"Aggie??? AGGGIIIEEE," called Janet from below, but the slip of a creature that had been Aggie did not answer. Fluting, she put her hand in the other fairy's hand. She felt her heart swell and explode like a balloon bursting with joy and excitement and happiness. As she looked about the plain room, she saw prisms and flowers everywhere. Together, the creatures spun in the air, slipped through the window casing, and disappeared from this world.