Hot Water Fairies
This came about through my work with the Creative Writing Group at The Epicentre Community Centre in Leytonstone. The topic we set ourselves was ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’.
Amanda held her left hand under the tap labelled ‘hot’ and let the water run for what seemed like ten minutes, but in reality was probably more like three. When she could stand the ice-cold flow no longer she withdrew her hand and turned the tap off. She dried herself with a tissue and gave her attention instead to the boiler, which was mounted on the opposite wall of the tiny kitchen. It had two cream-coloured pointer knobs, each surrounded by an arc of numbers and meaningless symbols. One was a little red asterisk, another an upward curving blue wedge, another a black circle. Her lack of technical aptitude depressed her. Harold would know exactly what they all meant. Any man would, she supposed. What was wrong with women that they had no instinct for this kind of thing? What was wrong with her? She tried turning both knobs fully to the right, as though she were tightening the screw-top lid on a bottle, and opened the ’hot’ tap again. Exactly the same result. Nothing. She tried turning them both fully to the left, then one to the left and one to the right. Nothing, followed by nothing. Angry with herself and with only one more combination that she could think of still to try, Molly came through from the corridor and interrupted her research.
“What about my bath, Mum?”
“I’m sorry sweetheart, it looks like there’s no hot water.”
“I don’t know. There just isn’t.”
“Can I not have a bath then?”
Amanda considered the question. “I suppose we could call somebody,” she said hesitantly, glancing at the kitchen clock. “It isn’t all that late. I’m going to need it in the morning too. And for the wash-up. And to wash your things …”
“Will we call Daddy?”
“Why not? Daddy’s good at fixing things.”
“Yes, that’s true, he is, but I don’t want to call him. All right?”
Molly waved her arms around in a little stationary dance as she sang: “Who ya’ gonn’a call? Ghost busters!”
Amanda couldn’t help smiling. “No, I don’t think ghosts are the problem, sweetheart. I think it’s more a plumbing sort of problem.”
“What about calling a fairy? Fairies are good at fixing things.”
“That’s a good idea Molly. You call a fairy and I’ll call a plumber. All right?”
As soon as she had said it Amanda wished that she hadn’t. Molly’s immersion in her fantasy world had become increasingly intense since Harold had left. She had a dolls’ house by her bedside now with a little battery-powered night-light inside it, as well as a very old transistor radio that just about worked and a bottle top into which she had poured a tiny quantity of honey. Amanda was fairly certain that Molly’s beliefs about fairies were being fed by a recent series of TV commercials in which they were represented as tiny insect-like people with dragonfly wings, flitting from flower to flower like bees, sucking nectar from each. If fairies were like flying insects, Molly had very reasonably concluded, they would probably be attracted to a light when it was dark, and if they lived on plant nectar then honey was the nearest alternative that Molly could provide. As for the transistor radio, this was perhaps Molly’s own imagination at work. Surely such graceful and enchanting little creatures would have to be music lovers? Sometimes well after midnight as she lay in the next room Amanda could hear the high-pitched drone of Molly talking to them.
It was a charming fantasy world, but Amanda felt that a bright six-year-old should be starting to leave such things behind her, not becoming more and more immersed in them. Was this Molly’s way of coping with the loss of her father, she often wondered. Was it a kind of infantilism? At another level Amanda disapproved of herself for harbouring such thoughts. If anybody else had tried to explain Molly’s behaviour with that kind of amateur psychobabble she would have been quick to object. Molly was a little girl doing what little girls do. Why should there be any more to it than that?
“I’m going to tell the fairies!” Molly announced as she hurried up the stairs. Amanda thought it best to say no more. She got out her cheap and very uncool pay-as-you-go mobile phone and opened the adverts at the back of the local newspaper. There were several plumbers advertising, one offering a twenty-four-hour service. She punched in the number. As she spoke Molly crept half way down the stairs again to listen.
“I can see you up there,” Amanda said with a faint air of reproach as she finished the call. “It’s not nice to listen to people’s telephone conversations.”
“It doesn’t matter if he can’t come,” Molly said, ignoring the implied criticism. “The fairies are going to fix it.”
“I wish you wouldn’t…” Amanda began, then decided not to finish the sentence. “Anyway, he didn’t say that he can’t come. He said he would try to come tonight, or if he couldn’t make it he would phone back and tell me and come in the morning instead.”
“But we don’t need him, Mum.”
To her surprise, Amanda found herself fighting back tears. “I know you mean well, sweetheart,” she said, trying to conceal what she was feeling, “and I know you want to help – but you must stop … making things up. Saying things that aren’t true. Things that aren’t real. Make-believe things.”
“It’s not make-believe, Mum. The fairies are going to fix the hot water.” As she spoke she walked up to where Amanda was standing and hugged her legs. Amanda’s resistance crumbled and the tears became real. Molly hugged her harder.
“Don’t cry, Mum,” she pleaded. “The fairies will fix it.”
Amanda picked up her daughter and held her close so that she could hug her mother properly. Amanda needed that hug. “It’s not the water, sweetheart. We can boil some in the kettle if we have to. It’s… everything that’s happened. Dad going away. Those … arguments that we had. You heard them, didn’t you?” Molly nodded. “And they weren’t about you. I want you to understand that. They didn’t have anything whatsoever to do with you. You know that, don’t you?” Molly nodded again. Then she buried her head in the crook of her mother’s neck. For a moment both Molly and Amanda were still.
“At school today Jenny and Rachel had a big argument. And they used to be best friends. But then they made up again, and now they’re best friends again.”
Amanda could think of nothing to say.
“Maybe you and Daddy could make up again too.” There was another longer pause. “Don’t cry, Mummy.”
The doorbell rang. Amanda put her daughter down and pulled another kitchen towel from the holder on the wall for her eyes. She glanced around instinctively for a mirror but there was none. “That was amazingly fast,” she muttered as she dabbed and wiped. “Do I look terrible?”
“Of course not, Mummy. Can I answer the door?”
“Yes, please do.”
A few seconds later Molly returned holding the hand of a small jolly-looking man of late middle age in a green boiler suit. She had already started a conversation with him. “His name is Patrick,” she announced, “and I told him that my name was Molly and your name was Amanda. He comes from Ireland. That’s why he talks funny.”
“And where else could I come from with a name like that?” he said jovially. “You must be Amanda. Aren’t you the lucky woman to have a daughter like Molly?”
Despite how she was feeling, Amanda smiled. “Yes, you’re right. I am. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“Sure I was just around the corner. And we can’t have maidens in distress without rescuers, now, can we?”
“Would you like to see my fairy house?” Molly was still holding Patrick’s hand. She started to pull him towards the stairs.
“Can you excuse us for a moment, Amanda?”
“Oh. Yes. Right-ho. Is it all right if I come with you?”
“We insist. Don’t we, Molly?”
“Yes Mum. We insist.”
Molly pulled him up the stairs at a breakneck pace. Amanda could barely keep up. She was amazed at the old man’s agility. Standing over the brightly painted little house, with its glowing lamp, tinny classical music from Radio 3 and dandelions from the back garden arranged in jam-jars of water around it, their guest whistled in awe. “Sure this is a palace fit for Tuatha De Danan the king of the leprechauns himself.”
“Fairies are real, aren’t they Mr Patrick?”
“I wouldn’t know about English fairies. Leprechauns are real. We call them the little people. They can be normal size if they want to be, but usually they’re about the right size to live in your fairy house.”
“Are they good fairies or bad fairies?”
“I’m surprised you would need to ask, Molly. They’re Irish so of course they’re good.”
“Can they do magic?”
“Well, that’s a difficult question. You see some magic is easy to do. Like making things or mending things. A lot of leprechauns are cobblers – that means they make shoes. But a lot of things that need mending aren’t like that. Things like friendships, for instance. Nobody can mend those except the people who are having the rows. Not even leprechauns.”
Amanda was taken aback. “Good heavens! How did you know? You did know, didn’t you? We were talking about that when you rang the doorbell.” In answer Patrick glanced towards Molly. “But… she didn’t have time…”
“You don’t always need words to say things, you know.”
Amanda was confused. She sat down on the bed. Only the people who are having the rows. As if that was all there was to it. And yet…
“I’d better be getting on with things,” said Patrick, turning and hurrying back down the stairs. This time Molly didn’t follow.
“He’s nice, isn’t he Mum?”
“Yes. He seems like a very nice man.”
“And he believes in fairies.”
Amanda could feel the reproach in her daughter’s voice. “Leprechauns. Irish fairies.”
Amanda heard the sound of the front door opening and closing again. For a moment it crossed her mind that he had gone, but then it occurred to her that he didn’t have any tools with him. He was probably going out to get them from his van. But he had closed the door behind him so she would need to be downstairs to let him in again. She explained this to Molly as she stood up and turned to go down. Molly followed.
“No, Mum, he’s not coming back.”
“What? Why do you say that?”
“He’s finished, Mummy. The job is done.”
“What are you talking about? He hasn’t even looked at the boiler. He’s only just got here.”
“Honestly, mum. It’s done. Go and turn on the tap.”
At last, thought Amanda. A chance to dispel these fantasies. She hurried to the kitchen with Molly skipping after her and turned on the hot tap. She put her hand in the flow. The water was hot. She stood transfixed, paralysed. She had witnessed a miracle. Behind her she heard her mobile phone warble. Molly took the call. “It’s the plumber, Mum, he says he can’t come until the morning. I’ll tell him we don’t need him, will I?”