Monday, August 20, 2007

A Tiny Interruption

Dear Readers,

I'm afraid that I won't be able to post any more installments for the next couple of weeks. I will post on the Greenleaf forum and send an email out to those whom I know are reading it as soon as the next episode is written.

Enjoy the last two weeks of summer, everyone!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Little Thrilling Danger

The sun was up; the birds were singing cheerfully. I still held a mini-Oreo as big as a dinner plate in my lap. Nothing had happened.

Cleome stared at me in consternation. I didn't think it was possible for her green eyes to get so big. Her eyebrows shot so high that I thought they were going to fly off her face; her rose petal lips formed an astonished "o". Taffy also was staring, but then she suddenly grinned at me, squeezed her eyes with pleasure and began flicking her tail quickly back and forth.

I knew exactly what she was thinking; our part in this adventure was by no means over. Cleome would have to take me with her to the brilliancy and Taffy would have to come along as protection against snakes, ferrets and the like. Despite the dismay I felt at having to face the world from such a small vantage point, I was thrilled. It was like having your car break down at a friend's house and being forced to stay the night. Or a huge snowstorm on Christmas that means staying up late with loved ones, sleeping on the sofa beside the twinkling tree and eating leftover cake for breakfast on Boxing Day. Or being caught in a thunderstorm.

The last one may surprise you, but I love thunderstorms. They are thrilling and a little dangerous and they change the whole world, at least for a few hours. Afterwards everything is clean-washed and new. That's how I felt - I felt new. I wasn't ready to go back to my old self just yet. Nor was I ready to pass up a chance for a little thrilling danger.

I needed to reassure Cleome of this, however. She was still making her "o."

"Are you sure the spell was supposed to wear off at sunrise?" I asked casually.

She shook her head "yes." She kept shaking it until I put a hand on her arm to stop her. She squeaked, "I don't know why it didn't! I am so sorry. So, so sorry!" And then she burst into tears.

Horrified, I embraced her thin shoulders and hugged her tightly. "Please don't cry!" I said. "I really don't mind! Truly I don't." I smiled reassuringly. "I didn't want to leave you today and possibly never see you again. I want to come with you! Taffy does too."

Taffy mewed her assent and licked Cleome's cheek where it rested on my shoulder. Cleome raised her head and forced a smile, wiping her face with her cornsilk hair. "But how will we get to the maple wood now? It will take ages for us to walk."

"You still have me," Taffy said stoutly. "I can certainly carry two little things like you on my back. Not the whole way, perhaps, but when you get tired."

"Of course," I said. "We can do this together. Don't worry, we'll get you there."

She nodded and hugged me gratefully. "Thank you, Christine! Thank you."

We made our plans quickly and set to work. I pressed the power button on my computer, climbed up to the keyboard and by stomping on the keys was able to send some email. The first one was to my editor, letting her know that a family emergency had arisen and that I wouldn't be able to send anything new for a little while, but that I would be in touch as soon as I could. I then sent another email to my sister in Cleveland telling her everything, asking her to cover for me and reminding her where my important papers were if I should fail to return. I was sure my story would alarm her but not too much; she knows me well and is a very practical and reliable sort of person. (More than likely she would be jealous. She's always complaining that her life is boring and all the interesting things happen to me. What can I say? It's true.) Then I typed out a note for Bridget, my maid, giving her the same story I gave my editor and telling her to contact my sister if she had any problems.

With that done, I powered down the computer and we set to work on more practical things. We packed up some provisions from the kitchen in makeshift backpacks constructed of little leather change purses I had purchased at a craft fair and some string. We each brought a fleece dollhouse blanket and a straw hat that would serve both as protection from the sun and as camoflouge in the open. The most difficult part was clothing. Cleome put her torn green outfit back on, but I could hardly wear my t-shirt and pajama bottoms to an elf battle. None of the clothes I had made the day before were suitable, but I found a pair of trousers I had sewn for a father doll that would do. I also robbed a Cottage Collectible bear of his sweater. My Heidi Ott doll gave up her socks and shoes. The shoes weren't much, being made of soft vinyl, but would do until we reached the brilliancy and could be properly outfitted by the elves. If we found them, that is.

Since we were unable to open the refrigerator, we breakfasted on raisins and cereal from the cupboard. Cheerios may look like miniature donuts but they certainly don't taste like them. I would have to do without my coffee, which surprisingly didn't seem to bother me. Perhaps being an elf would cure my caffeine addiction. We took some oreos and my diamond earrings, not knowing when a bribe might come in handy. Cleome was shocked that I possessed such wealth or that I would want to give it up. I shrugged and pointed out that I hardly ever wore them and if I never came back they wouldn't be of any use to me anyway.

It was nearly eight o'clock by the time we tossed our laden packs over the windowsill. Taffy jumped down, then Cleome. I took one last look at my quiet, cosy study, with the fireplace as big as a cave, then climbed down after my companions wondering how long it would be before I returned again. Our eyes were shining with excitement as Cleome and I shouldered our backpacks; Taffy's tail was twitching wildly. We were off!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Making Plans

"Of course I'll help, if I can," I said. "But what can I do? It all sounds a bit beyond my reach - in more ways than one."

Cleome leaned forward, her hands clasped together. "Ever since I escaped, my plan has been to go for help. I know that there is a brilliancy of elves in the maple woods on the other side of the village. If I could reach them, I know that they would assemble an army to help us. You are big and have ways of travelling that are faster than mine. Could you take me there?"

"Certainly, but is that all you want me to do?"

The elf hesitated. "I'm not sure. If you were to convey us all to the Goldenwood, or someplace near it, it would make our attack that much quicker and easier. I don't know if the other elfs would trust a human; it is not our policy. But perhaps, under the circumstances, they would make an exception." She gazed at me intently. "You would have to swear never to reveal to anyone the location of the brilliancy, nor the Goldenwood. Though you would never be allowed to approach either place too closely; we would come out to meet you and then ask you to leave us a distance away from the Wood. I know it may seem ungrateful, but you must understand how important secrecy is to us. And your help would be invaluable!"

I considered for some moments, trying to absorb everything I had heard. "Of course I'll take you. And the others, if they'll let me. I have plenty of room in my car and I can put you all in a basket - or several baskets - to hide you from prying eyes. But there's one thing I don't understand - the gnomes. I thought gnomes were gardeners, who loved living things and cared for them. I can't see how they would stand by and let the squirrels destroy the trees. That part of your story doesn't make sense to me at all."

She frowned, drawing her petite brows together in a deep furrow. "I don't understand it either," she said. "We've always gotten along very well with the gnomes before. But I suppose that there are good gnomes and bad gnomes, as with any other creature. These just seem to be a particularly bad lot. We've never encountered them before, however, and I can't help wondering just where they came from.

She sighed deeply. "If I could speak to my father, he might know. He knows all of the creatures for a hundred miles around and has friends among the birds and animals who bring him news of everything that moves. Surely he would know where these gnomes came from." She began to look a little weepy. "I hope he's allright. I hope they haven't... haven't... done anything to him."

I quickly changed the subject. "Let's decide on our plan, then, to get you to the brilliancy as fast as possible." We discussed this for a while, and decided that after the sun had risen and I assumed my normal size, I would cycle to the other side of the village and leave Cleome at the edge of the road by the woods. For the next three mornings I would then drive my car to the same spot an hour before dawn, with several baskets padded with towels in the back seat to convey the elves. If she was successful in convincing them to come with me, they would be waiting on one of those mornings, depending on how long it took them to prepare. If not, they wouldn't come, but she would contrive a way of sending me a message somehow to let me know how things turned out. In other words, I might not see her again. Unless, of course, they weren't there or she couldn't find them or they refused to help, in which case we would have to devise something else.

It occurred to me as we discussed all this that the modern conveniences I so often complain about as being annoying - telephones, cell phones, television and email - actually do serve a useful purpose. It's easy to forget what it was like when you spent hours searching for someone from whom you had been separated at an amusement park, for example, because you couldn't just call them on their cell phone and tell them you were waiting for them at the Ferris Wheel. Or said goodbye to a visiting relative and wouldn't know if they arrived safely until you got a letter from them the following week. If the gnome and squirrel invasion had been covered on the evening news, the Maple Wood elves would be there already to reinforce the troops and provide aid to the victims, and there would probably be a peacekeeping force of Friendly Magical Creatures sent along to uphold the truce. The world was a much more frightening place when you faced it without technology.

I shook my head to clear it. Being an elf was making me philosophical.

Now that our plans were made, Cleome seemed light-hearted, even giddy. I for one was eager to make the most of my remaining few hours in miniature. So we explored first the dollhouse then the real house together. I took her into my miniature room and we had great fun running in and out of all the different buildings I had made, including my half-scale cottage that was like a child's play house to us. We even made our way into the bizarre forest of the garden, with lilies as tall as bamboo and roses the size of automobiles. I love roses; their scent made me nearly swoon with its sweetness in the moist night air and I drank the dew from their petals with reverence. Then we went cautiously to the hydrangea bush with Taffy as our guard and Cleome showed me the hole through which she had escaped from the snake. I promised to block it up the next day so that he couldn't enter the garden, but she said "No, don't do that, for if some other creature should try to escape that way, they wouldn't be able to get out." She laughed merrily. "Besides, I don't think that snake will have been able to spit out that stone. He won't be swallowing anything again!"

She was so brave and merry and beautiful, I wanted to be just like her.

We returned from the garden and raided some chocolate biscuits (mini-Oreos, in fact) from the kitchen. As I had hoped, Cleome liked chocolate very much and it did not seem to have any deleterious effect upon her. We sat on the sofa in the office watching the sky lighten in the east, nibbling our biscuits and chatting about elfin and human cuisine. Before the edge of the sun slipped over the horizon, we hugged each other fiercely and promised never to forget our night as elf-sisters together. Then the light suddenly grew and the colors in the garden sprang to life. Although I couldn't see it for the trees, I knew that the yellow disc had peeked above the hills on the other side of the orchard. I held my breath and waited.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fostering a Sense of Accomplishment

The month of August is what I consider my "vacation" this year because I have been so busy with night school. My last class was Monday, the 6th. I handed in my final project and did a short teaching presentation in my subject area. I chose to do a math lesson using dollhouses in different scales to discuss proportion and scale. It went over very well; I was both relieved and pleased.

Today is Saturday and I feel as if I have accomplished nothing since Monday, effectively wasting my first week of "vacation." In fact, my goals for this month have little to do with resting and more to do with preparing to start teaching in September! But when I look back over the week, it was actually quite a full and productive one.

Tuesday, I puttered at home doing mundane chores and taking a well-deserved break. I didn't even leave the house other than taking DS and our dog Teddy to the ice cream stand after dinner.

Wednesday, we went to get his school uniforms. It was an hour drive to the store which is in Cardiff, NJ near Atlantic City, so since we drove all that way, we also went to the beach. This was not exactly relaxing, since it involved a lot of trekking back and forth to the bathroom and the car for various things, the heat was oppressive and the waves were quite rough which made swimming both dangerous and tiring, but I'm glad we went anyway. Getting the uniforms was an important thing to check off on my to-do list.

Thursday we headed to the children's hospital in the city for my son's ultrasound and five-year post-surgical checkup. It was an extremely long afternoon with lots of waiting. I was so proud of DS; he behaved himself so well and played quietly with the toys we had brought and the various activity cubes in the waiting areas. We didn't get lunch until four o'clock (McDonald's again, what else?) But the result was that we got the all clear from the doctor and he doesn't have to come back for any more followups. Praise God!!! I still get a lump in my throat when I think about all we went through and how lucky we are to have this healthy, active, intelligent child in our home. God is so faithful!

I also stopped at my old office to say hello to my former colleagues. We got there so late that only a few people were still there; most had already made the dash for their respective trains. I got the distinct impression that all is not well in the department and that it is a good thing I didn't decide to come back to work for them. What was really disheartening is that I waited for fifteen minutes to greet the department head when he came out of his office, a man I worked with on one of my major projects and whom I greatly respect and admire for both his scholarship and his character. He didn't even remember my name. Ouch!

Yesterday I cleaned the house, worked on my elf story and babysat three little girls all day. It was quite chaotic, but fun. We made Rice Krispy treats and they swam in the pool. In the evening, our friends came over for pizza and discussion of our joint trip to the Outer Banks later this month. I am really looking forward to the trip; partly because I know I can take my curriculum to work on and not be distracted by things at home. I'll just send them off to the beach and stay in the quiet house and do lesson plans. Heaven! I know that sounds odd, but having a solid hour or two to concentrate on anything is such a blessing!

I have two weeks until that time, and huge to-do list and a full calendar of appointments and playdates. I was really hoping to just focus on preparing for school, organizing those things I didn't get to yet (like my kitchen cabinets), shopping for fall clothes, doing some long-overdue sewing and finishing the dollhouse I bought in November. You know how it is... you set personal goals for things that you really want done but everything else seems to push them aside indefinitely.

I still plan to do a few of those but I have to remember that as much as I would like to focus on my own priorities, I'm part of a family dynamic now. I can't just barge through life with my own agenda the way I did ten years ago. I also have to recall that God has placed people in my life who are important to care for and who care for me, so it's not a bad thing to make time for them once in a while. A couple of my appointments in the coming week are "catch-ups" with friends of whom I have seen much too little this summer.

Anyway, I have accomplished a lot this week even if it wasn't quite the things I wanted to. I have learned to focus on what I have actually done rather than what I didn't do. Visiting my office made me actually feel a little guilty for leaving the rat race and taking this teaching job! But I know this is God's plan for me and that makes it right.

I have been very stressed-out about the school year but now that my own classes are over and my teaching presentation went well, I feel that a great weight has been lifted and am actually looking forward to the experience. In a way I feel a little guilty for having this wonderful job in such a supportive environment. It feels like a great blessing and a gift, after all the struggling and uncertainty I've experienced over the years.

It's been a long time since I've had the satisfaction of knowing that I am right in center of God's will for my life. It's a very good place to be.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cleome tells her story

"You did what?" I cried. "Permanently?"

The elf's green eyes widened in alarm and she hastened to reassure me with fluttering hands. "No, no, it will wear off at sunrise. I just needed some way to communicate with you and this was the only way I could do it."

I exhaled heavily, suddenly aware that I had been holding my breath. "Well," I said, trying to calm down, "I suppose I should be glad that you didn't turn me into a cat."

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" purred a loud voice from behind and somewhere above me. I jumped up to see Taffy, as big as an elephant, peering around the corner of the dollhouse, her huge golden eyes luminous with amusement. She grinned at me and I was suddenly aware of how large and sharp her teeth were, like ivory daggers, not to mention the claws that had done so much damage to my furnishings during her kittenhood. It is rather an awesome thing to be faced with a domestic pet that is several times larger than you are. Suddenly one is aware how much of the dynamics of the relationship are based on relative size.

She brought her face right up to mine, sniffing curiously, and I took an involuntary step backwards, afraid of being poked in the eye by her whiskers - which were as long as bulrushes to me now. She inspected me for several long moments, then sat back on her haunches with her head cocked to one side. "Well," she said finally. "It really is you. Remarkable." She nodded towards the elf with an approving trill. "Quite impressive, really. Who would have thought it?"

The elf preened a little. "Thank you very much!" Then she turned to me. "We haven't been properly introduced. My name is Cleome Oakenhall." She curtsied gravely. "I am the daughter of King Oakenhall of The Goldenwood, and have come through great danger to your house. I can only believe that it was fate that brought me here. My people are in terrible trouble and in desperate need of help."

"I am just Christine Hardy, I'm afraid." I bowed my head a little, not from lack of courtesy but from a complete helplessness at curtseying. "A writer of books and stories, and builder of miniature houses. And friend to this excellent cat." Taffy looked pleased. "I will certainly help you in any way that I can."

Cleome Oakenhall looked relieved. "Then let us sit down where we can be comfortable and I will tell you my story." We went into the dollhouse, bringing the little chairs and the teapot with us and leaving the door open for Taffy to hear. I was afraid that the cat would feel excluded, but Taffy seemed content to crouch down on the table with her paws tucked beneath her white bib and watch us through the doorway. I reminded myself that whatever Cleome had to say, Taffy had already heard.

The little house was lit with that marvelous green sunshine emanating from the fireplace. It was odd to see such a thing indoors however; everything seemed "inside out," so to speak. But it was cozy, nonetheless. The light glistened off the miniature tankards and dishes I had displayed on the mantle and shelves, and illuminated the little bunches of dried herbs and grasses hanging from the beams. The furniture, so expertly made by attentive Chinese and American hands, looked quite wonderful when seen "full sized." However, I was aware as I looked around of all the small gaps in the woodwork and smears of glue that my clumsy big hands and eyes had missed during construction. Overall, though, it wasn't half bad really, and I felt a little surge of pride. I was especially proud of the curtains, which I had sewn by hand and trimmed with lace, and the needlepointed cushions.

Cleome curled up in one corner of the red jacquard sofa, twisting her fingers nervously, and I took the armchair. It occurred to me that I was sitting in my bathrobe next to an elf princess in the living room of my own dollhouse. Whatever would happen next?

Cleome took a deep breath and began to tell her story.

For hundreds of years, my people have lived in the Goldenwood. It lies about fifteen miles from here, in the deep forest that covers the foothills of the mountains. It is a very secret and magical place, composed of a dell surrounded by giant and venerable oak trees that drop enormous golden acorns in the fall. These are not ordinary acorns such as you would see in the gardens of Big People, which wear a fine, golden-colored coating that rubs off with your fingers, but actual golden acorns. Not all of them are golden, of course, most of them are ordinary though still great in size. But every ten years, one of the trees will bear a crop of golden acorns. As you can imagine, these acorns are greatly prized. We guard them carefully and use the gold to make many beautiful things to trade with the fairies, gnomes, sprites and other magical creatures. The leprechauns, of course, are always trying to get their hands on them but we have no dealings at all with leprechauns if we can help it; in fact it's been several decades since we've encountered any so perhaps they've given up and gone back to Ireland.

In any case, we are not just the harvesters of these trees, but their caretakers. We tend the trees, pruning back the branches and feeding the roots, making our homes in the great cracks that appear in the boles. We never damage the living material, but as the trees age we carve out additional rooms, spending much time on their decoration. If only you could see the beautifully carved and gilded elfin homes in the trees! We have gardens on the ground, and fish for minnows in the pond that sits in the bottom of the dell. We harvest the regular acorns as well as the golden ones, using them for food and planting them as needed to maintain the forest. We trade many of them to the squirrels. There are huge black squirrels deep in the woods; noble creatures, most of them, but some are quite bad. Black-hearted through and through!

Here she paused and sighed deeply. It is the squirrels that are the problem now, she continued. Their population has grown while ours has dwindled. They have lost respect for the ancient territories and have invaded the Wood, seeking our acorns for food and for trade. Gold is of no use to them - they do not work or shape it - but they love the glitter and power of it. We do not have the kind of magic that will withstand direct assault; our powers are powers of healing and making and hiding, if needed. The squirrels are several times bigger than we are - bigger than even Taffy here - and very malicious and strong. They have driven us out of our homes and taken them over, destroying our beautiful handiwork with their gnawing, impatient teeth as they seek to enlarge the rooms for themselves. They are also damaging the trees. They have allied themselves with some of the gnomes and the gnomes have taken us hostage, forcing us to work underground in their mushroom farms. Horrible damp, dark places away from sunshine and air!

She paused, hiding her head in her hands, stifling a sob. Not only that, but the Squirrel King - or so he calls himself, a great brute named Filbertkin - has taken my father prisoner and is keeping him at the top of the highest tree in a great nest guarded by four of his biggest ruffians. They won't let him go until he agrees to leave the Goldenwood and give up his right to the trees forever. Of course he won't do that, and my brother is gathering together all the fugitive elves that have escaped, and all the friendly creatures that are willing, to try and rescue him and win back our homes. But the odds are against us; I'm afraid it is a futile effort and that they will die in battle and our people will be forever enslaved by the gnomes.

I myself was underground for a long time in one of those horrible, suffocating farms. But one day I found a back tunnel and managed to escape. It was dangerous and full of spiders; I wandered hopelessly underground through many old tunnels and burrows and I was nearly caught by a ferret, but finally I managed to reach the surface. I have been travelling for weeks, running from owls at night and cats and foxes during the day. I was dragged underground by a snake and I thought that would be the end of me, until I found a rock which I shoved into his throat just as he was about to swallow me whole. I escaped through a tunnel that ended just beneath your hydrangea bush.

I lay there exhausted for I don't know how long until Taffy found me. I thought that was the end for I was too weak to resist, but to my surprise she picked me up and brought me here. Two tears rolled down Cleome's cheeks. I simply must help my brother rescue my father from Filbertkin and free our people from the gnomes. Not to mention save the Goldenwood from destruction. Please, please will you help me?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Another Surprise

Anyone who lives with a cat will know how truly irritating it is to be wakened from a sound sleep by the moist thrust of a cold nose in the ear. The ingratiating purring and ear licking that follow do little to alleviate the shock, especially when one has been kept awake past the usual hour by the nocturnal conversations of overenthusiastic treefrogs.

Therefore, I was quite annoyed at first when Taffy awoke me in her usual impertinent manner... until I recalled our visitor and bolted upright, suddenly awake. She jumped down from the bed and trotted toward the door, mewing and twitching her tail plaintively. I grabbed my robe and hurried down the stairs after her, fearing some catastrophe. Probably the elf has gone home and Taffy is simply missing her, I thought to myself.

When I entered the study, I stopped in the doorway, confused. It was nighttime and the sky outside was a deep indigo lit by a silvery half-moon, but sunlight seemed to be coming from the little house on the side table. It was as if green, filtered sunshine was pouring in from the other side of the dollhouse and coming out through the windows and the front door, which stood open. But it couldn't be because I had blocked up the other side with foam board, not to mention that it was night.

I must be dreaming, I thought. Yet I knew I wasn't dreaming. The carpet was rough under my bare feet and the blank face of my computer monitor, which had been abandoned the previous day, stared at me with a reflected green glow reminiscent of my publisher's face if I didn't get back to work on my book.

The elf was standing in front of the house in the nightdress I had made for her. She had brought out a little table and the two Windsor chairs, and placed the blue teapot and cups out. She curtsied prettily and then with a flourish she poured some of the brew she had made into one of the cups and held it out to me. I was quite touched by her hospitality; she seemed to feel the need to return the favor of the previous morning and provide me with tea. So I bowed and took it with trembling fingers, fearing I might drop and spill it.

The cup naturally held only a few drops, but the liquid inside glowed with a tiny yellow lights like fireflies dancing on water. I must admit, I hesitated a long moment before drinking it. I didn't want to seem ungracious but I certainly had my doubts as to what effect it might have. After all, I didn't know anything about this little elf other than that she seemed appealing. How did I know that she wasn't up to mischief? What if this were some kind of poison or malicious spell?

The elf lifted her tiny, pleading face upwards and said something I couldn't understand. Taffy made encouraging noises as well, twining herself around my feet and looking up with eager and impatient amber eyes. It was Taffy's eyes that convinced me to go ahead and drink. After all the years we've been together, I still can't refuse Taffy when she looks at me that way. She has been the best companion I could possibly have, and since she and the elf seemed to understand each other, I decided to trust them.

It tasted a bit like flowers; not perfumey (which is awful) but like nectar (which is lovely). If you have ever sipped the nectar out of a head of pink clover you will have a good idea of what it tasted like, only more so. The lights in it seemed to sparkle on the tongue, which was an odd feeling until you got used to it. Then they seemed to dance into my limbs and make my hands and feet and even my hair tingle with magic.

I began to feel slightly giddy, so I closed my eyes for a moment. There was a rushing sound in my ears. Then I had the very odd sensation of falling inside myself, as if I were folding like a telescoping umbrella. I reached out for the table to steady myself and found myself falling upon it, but rather than knocking it over I fell right into the arms of the elf, who had caught me.

She smiled into my face, which was suddenly full-sized. I could see now that she had little freckles spattered across her nose and a dimple in her chin and that the tips of her ears were slightly pointed. She set me down gently in one of the chairs. The rest of the room loomed around us, as cavernous as the big train station in the city. The computer monitor looked like a shiny billboard on top of the desk.

"It worked!" she exclaimed. "I didn't think it would, but it did!" Her voice was clear and soft and I could understand every word.

I searched for my voice and finally found it. "What happened?"

"I'm so sorry to surprise you like this, but I didn't have any way to warn you. Taffy said that you would want to help if you could, but you couldn't understand me and I couldn't think of any other way." She looked at me rather wistfully. "I'm in a desperate situation. I hope you won't be angry with me. I've turned you into an elf!"

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Cleome makes tea

"She's really quite intelligent and good natured for a human," said Taffy, unconsciously echoing my own comments about herself. "I'm sure she would help if she could."

"I'm not sure she can," replied the elf softly. Her name was Cleome, for elves love botanical names and usually name their daughters after flowers. She was sitting on the windowsill with her knees drawn up under her chin, staring out at the moonlit garden. It was ten o'clock and the tree frogs were making a tremendous racket in the humid air, as if they had been waiting all day for the sun to go down so they could catch up on their socializing. Cleome's hair was combed down her back and she was dressed in a white nightdress that her hostess had sewn from a soft cotton hankerchief. The seams were too large and the garment billowed out from her awkwardly, but she had tied a blue ribbon around her waist and it didn't look half bad. At least it wasn't ripped. She would have to do something about mending her own clothes in the morning. She would be picked off at once in the forest in garments as brightly colored as the ones she had been presented with that afternoon, though she was deeply moved by the generosity that prompted them. She wondered briefly if the woman didn't think of her as a kind of pet, like the cat, and would try to keep her there permanently. She didn't think so, and Taffy had quickly quelled that idea once it was expressed.

"Why not?" pressed Taffy, a defensive light in her amber eyes. "Why couldn't she help?"

"Well, you know how it is," replied Cleome soothingly. "Humans are just so... well... big. And they don't have the senses we do. They blunder around so. It's not their fault at all, but they just can't move quietly or quickly the way we do. It's just.... difficult."

Taffy didn't reply to this, but jumped up suddenly to bat a moth that had fluttered against the window, attracted by the reflected moon. As it was on the other side of the glass, all she could do was play pat-a-cake with it through the pane until it fluttered away. She settled down again with a dissatisfied twitch of her ears.

"Well, I'll help you," she said. "You know I will. I may look like a comfortably flabby tabby but I assure you, I am quite the fighter when roused. My teeth and claws are as sharp as knives and I'm not afraid to use them." She hissed and displayed her front claws proudly as if to prove it, catching them on the sofa. A few embarassing moments followed as she tried to extricate herself; when she had done so she began to wash the offending paw in an offhand manner, avoiding the elf's gaze.

Cleome had the courtesy not to laugh at her new friend. Instead, she puckered her brows thoughtfully. "I've got to find a way to save him. I simply must. And the longer I wait the harder it will be." Suddenly she stopped and lifted her head. "There is one thing. I'd almost forgotten. I've never tried it before. I wonder if it would work?"

Taffy stopped her washing and jerked her head up. "If what would work?"

"A potion. It's a very old recipe, one that hasn't been used in a long, long time. But quite simple." Cleome glanced into the garden at the flowers growing there. "I think I could find the ingredients, if you help me."

"Of course," said Taffy. "But what would the potion do?"

"I'm afraid to tell you," said the elf, "in case it doesn't work. But let me ride on your back, would you? It will be quicker."

"Of course," said Taffy proudly. "Anything you say."

Cleome scrambled up on Taffy's back, then lifted the latch on the window and held on as Taffy jumped lightly down. Some time later they returned with two bunches of leaves and flowers - one in Cleome's arms and another in Taffy's mouth. Then then took all this into the dollhouse and Cleome spent some time separating and pounding the juices of the ingredients. She then lit a fire in the little fireplace. If you had seen it you would have been alarmed, for the dollhouse is not a real house and the bricks in the fireplace are only made of sand and paste painted onto cardboard. However, this was a magical fire that didn't actually burn. It gave off a queer greenish glow like sunlight sparkling through leaves on a summer's day. The juices in the little copper saucepan began to glow with a golden light, giving off a wonderful flowery scent. When it was ready, she poured it all into the blue teapot.

"Now," said Cleome. "Can you wake her up? She needs to drink it."

Taffy sat straight up and puffed out her chest. "Can I wake her up? My goodness, that is my specialty. Just leave it to me." She sprang away, running lightly out of the room, along the hall and up the stairs. Cleome sighed and curled up tensely in her chair, waiting and watching while the magical green light flickered in the fireplace.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Taffy has a conversation

I had no idea that Taffy could understand Elfin. Or Welfin. Whichever it was. I don't know if this is something that all cats are born with or if she was simply a fairy in disguise living off my generous hospitality. I have heard that fairies can do that - take animal shapes, I mean. But Taffy, though unusually intelligent and good-natured, has always seemed perfectly cat-like to me so I think that she is probably just what she appears to be. Besides, our life together is so boring that I can't imagine a fairy sticking around this long.

In any case, our visitor turned to Taffy and began to speak directly to her. Taffy cocked her head and twitched her tail and made all manner of encouraging noises. She seemed to understand everything. Then she replied in a series of mews and trills. The two of them carried on this conversation with great earnestness for so long that I finally became bored. I decided to leave them to it and clear away the breakfast things, then prepare a meal for myself. All I had had since waking was coffee and excitement, both of which leave one feeling rather hollow.

I fixed my breakfast and brought it on a tray into the study to eat at my desk. Taffy and the elf were gone but the casement window was open and I could see Taffy's striped back as she loped through the garden to the hydrangea bush. The elf must be showing her something, I thought, feeling very left out. When I was finished eating, I went back into the miniature room, dusted off the Sugarplum Cottage, furnished it and then covered the open backside and roof with pieces of foam board. It was a makeshift fix but would give the occupant some privacy. I must admit that I felt less satisfaction than I had expected at finally having an occupant for the little Tudor-style cottage. Initially I had been so proud of my creation, but suddenly everything looked crude and clumsy. Nevertheless, it would have to do.

Gingerly I carried the cottage into the study and placed it on a little table. The elf returned with Taffy, looking decidedly weary from all her adventures. Taffy's face was drawn up into an expression that I wouldn't quite describe as a frown - for cats can't frown - but rather a brown study. She was certainly chewing on something in her little brain, and every few moments her tail would twitch like an injured snake.

Our visitor, upon seeing the house, jumped up and down with glee, clapping her little hands and uttering her thanks profusely. Taffy was clearly not impressed; she began to wash her hindquarters with deliberate preoccupation. The elf went up to the little front door, pushed it open and went inside. I could barely restrain myself from peering in the windows like an ogre, but I could see her moving around. Then she didn't move at all. I waited a few minutes, then looked as discreetly as possible through the upstairs window. She had fallen asleep in the bed with the white crocheted coverlet. Her little hat had tumbled to the floor; her eyes were closed and her mouth was open. I don't mind admitting that I felt tears pressing behind my eyes at the sight. To see one's miniature house occupied is the secret dream of every miniaturist.

I spent the next several hours in my workroom, trying to piece together some garments for our visitor from the softest, lightest fabrics I had. Taffy dozed in the sunshine, her tail still twitching at intervals. I couldn't help wondering what she and the elf had talked about for so long. What had happened to this tiny visitor and how long would she stay? It was clear that she was in some kind of trouble. I wondered what it was and if there was any way at all that I could help. But unless I learned to speak Elfin or feline, or unless one of them learned English, I doubted that I would ever find out.