THE Good Fairies of NEW YORK
By Martin Millar
Soft Skull Press Copyright © 2006 Martin Millar
All right reserved.
Dinnie, an overweight enemy of humanity, was the worst violinist in New York, but was practicing gamely when two cute little fairies stumbled through his fourth-floor window and vomited on the carpet.
"Sorry," said one.
"Don't worry," said the other. "Fairy vomit is no doubt sweet-smelling to humans."
By this time, however, Dinnie was halfway down the stairs, and still accelerating.
"Two fairies just came through my window and were sick on the carpet!" he screamed on reaching Fourth Street, not fully realizing the effect that this would have on the passers-by till the men sweating with sacks round a garbage truck stopped to laugh at him.
"What'd you say?"
"Upstairs," gasped Dinnie. "Two fairies, with kilts and violins and little swords ... green kilts ..."
The men stared at him. Dinnie's monologue ground to a halt.
"Hey," called the foreman, "leave that dumb homo alone and get back to work. C'mon, let's get busy!"
"No, really," protested Dinnie, but his audience was gone. Dinnie stared hopelessly after them.
They didn't believe me, he thought. No wonder. I don't believe myself.
On the corner, four Puerto Ricans kicked a tennis ball back and forth. They looked pityingly at Dinnie. Chastened by the public ridicule, Dinnie slunk back into the old theater on the ground floor of his building. His room was right at the top, four flights up, butDinnie was unsure whether he wanted to climb them or not.
"I like my privacy," he grumbled. "And my sanity."
He decided to buy some beer from the deli across the street.
"But if I find two fairies in my room when I get back, there's going to be trouble."
Five more fairies, all suffering from massive confusion due to beer, whisky and magic mushrooms, were at that moment fleeing in drunken terror from the chaos of Park Avenue to the comparative shelter of Central Park.
"What part of Cornwall is this?" wailed Padraig, narrowly escaping the wheels of a honey-roasted peanut vendor's trailer.
"The Goddess only knows," replied Brannoc, and tried to help Tulip, who had become entangled in the dangling reins of a sightseer's horse and trap.
"I think I'm still hallucinating," whimpered Padraig as a tidal wave of joggers trundled down the path towards him. He was saved by Maeve, who hurried them on, deep into the undergrowth.
They flopped down to rest on a quiet patch of land.
"Are we safe?"
Noise still surrounded them, but no people were in sight. This was a relief. They were invisible to most humans, but so many hurrying feet were a terrible danger.
"I think so," replied Brannoc, oldest fairy present and something of a leader. "But I'm beginning to suspect we're not in Cornwall anymore."
A squirrel hopped over to join them.
"Hello," said Brannoc politely, despite his terrible hangover.
"What the hell are you?" demanded the squirrel.
"We are fairies," answered Brannoc, and the squirrel fell on the grass laughing, because the New York squirrels are cynical creatures and do not believe in fairies.
Meanwhile, back on Fourth Street, Dinnie swallowed a mouthful of Mexican beer, scratched his plump chin and strode confidently into his room, convinced that he had imagined the whole thing.
Two fairies were sleeping peacefully on his bed. Dinnie was immediately depressed. He knew that he did not have enough money to see a therapist.
Across the street, Kerry was just waking up in her soft bed of old cushions. Kerry, as well as being wondrously lovely, could pick up some tattered old piece of material and make it into a beautiful cushion, or maybe a hat or waistcoat, with ease.
She was also a talented painter, sculptor, singer and writer, a dedicated shoplifter and a serious collector of flowers. And she was a keen guitarist, but her technique was dreadful.
Most people loved her, but despite this, she was not happy this morning. Her unhappiness stemmed from four main sources. The first was a news report on television about terrible floods in Bangladesh, with pictures of bodies, which upset her badly, and the second was the chronic wasting disease she was suffering from. The third was her lack of skill on the guitar. Despite hours of practicing, she still could not play Johnny Thunders' guitar solo from "Pirate Love."
The fourth, far outweighing these at the moment, was her complete inability to make up her mind as to what looked best pinned in her hair: carnations or roses. Kerry's hair was based loosely on a painting by Botticelli and the right flowers were essential.
She sat gloomily in front of the mirror, trying first one then the other, reflecting bitterly that it was no use at all dyeing your hair to a beautiful silvery blue when you still had problems like this to face up to.
The flower alphabet was coming on well and she now had fifteen out of the thirty-three flowers she required.
Across the street the fairies were waking up.
"Where are our friends?" muttered Heather, brushing her golden hair away from her beautiful eyes.
Dinnie stared balefully at her.
"I don't know what you are," he said, "and I don't care. But whatever you are, get the hell out of my room and leave me alone."
Dinnie MacKintosh was not noted for his politeness. He was not really noted for anything except his rudeness, intolerance and large appetite.
"My name is Heather. I am a thistle fairy. And this is Morag. Could I have a glass of water, please?"
"No!" thundered Dinnie. "You can't. Get out of here!"
"What sort of way is that to speak to us?" demanded Heather, propping herself up on a tiny elbow. "Where we come from, anyone would be honored to bring us a glass of water. They'd talk about it for years if we so much as appeared to them. We only appeared to you because we heard you playing a Scottish violin tune."
"Extremely badly," interjected Morag, wakening slightly.
"Yes," agreed Heather, "extremely badly. The violin had an interesting tone, but frankly it was the worst rendition of the 'Reel of Tulloch' I have ever heard, and that is saying something. It was worse than the playing of the blacksmith's son back home in the village of Cruickshank, and I wouldn't have thought that was possible."
"My playing is not that bad," protested Dinnie.
"Oh, it is. Really terrible."
"Well no one invited you here to listen to it," said Dinnie angrily.
"But don't worry," continued Morag, fingering her tiny violin. "We will show you how to do it properly. We are good fairies, and always happy to help. Now kindly bring us some water."
"Hi," purred a naked woman on the TV, rubbing her breasts with a phone. "We're the cream team and we give ass, head and pussy so well it's a fucking crime. Call us at 970 T-W-A-T."
"I must still be hallucinating," said Morag. "I swear I will never touch another magic mushroom. Except possibly for medicinal purposes."
Dinnie strode up to the bed and loudly requested that Heather and Morag leave immediately as he did not believe in fairies. The fairies burst out laughing.
"You are funny," chortled Heather, but the action of laughing upset her precarious hangover and she threw up again, all over Dinnie's arm.
"Well, he certainly believes in us now!" screamed Morag.
"Don't worry," said Heather. "Fairy vomit is no doubt sweet-smelling to humans."
They both went back to sleep and no amount of abuse from Dinnie could wake them.
The homeless clustered everywhere in New York. Every street corner had its own beggar with dull eyes who asked passers-by for change with little hope of a response. Every park was laced and ribboned with makeshift plastic tents and stinking blankets rolled up as sleeping bags. These homeless had the most hopeless of lives. No government scheme would ever give them a fresh start. No charity would ever be rich enough to house them. No employer would ever give them work without their having a place to live, or at least some clean clothes, and clean clothes were never going to appear to anyone who sweated all day in a swelteringly hot park. All they could do was get by the best they could until they died, and this did not happen nearly quickly enough as far as the decent citizens of New York were concerned.
One homeless old man sat down for a rest on Fourth Street, sighed, closed his eyes, and died.
"Another one dead," muttered Magenta, arriving on the scene. Magenta herself was a homeless beggar, though a fairly young one.
"At this rate I'll have no troops left."
She saluted the fallen warrior and toiled her way along to Broadway, keeping a wary eye out for Persian cavalry divisions. Even though she was still some way from the army of Antaxerxes and was not expecting trouble, she knew that being this deep inside enemy territory she had to be careful.
Back in England, in Cornwall, Tala the King was most upset at the flight of Petal and Tulip. As his children and rightful heirs they were already being whispered of by rebels as suitable replacements for himself.
"Find them," he instructed Magris, his Chief Technician, "and bring them back."
Of course, the Fairy King of Cornwall could not know that at this moment two of the fugitives were waking in an empty room on Fourth Street.
They immediately began to argue.
"I feel terrible."
"Well, it's your own fault," said Morag. "The way you were throwing back mushrooms and whisky."
"What do you mean? You were the one who vomited over your new kilt."
"I did not. It was you. You can't take your drink. Just like the well-known saying, never trust a MacKintosh with a glass of whisky or a fiddle."
"That's not a well-known saying."
"It is in my clan."
"Morag MacPherson, you will be the death of me. And if you insult the MacKintoshes' fiddle playing one more time, I will be the death of you."
"There is no fiddle playing to insult."
They glared at each other.
"What happened to the others?"
"I don't know. We lost them after you fell unconscious and I had to help you."
"I did not fall unconscious, you did. No MacPherson fairy can hold her whisky."
"Any MacPherson can hold it better than a MacKintosh."
The argument intensified until it became too much for their hangovers. Heather swore an obscure Scottish oath and stumbled off the bed, rubbing her temples. She approached the window. The wings of a thistle fairy are only useful for short flights at the best of times and now, weakened by mushrooms, whisky, beer and jetlag, Heather had a hard time fluttering up to the window-sill.
She finally made it and looked down on East Fourth Street. She gasped. To a Scottish thistle fairy, used only to hills, glens and the quiet village of Cruickshank, it was an amazing sight. Cars and people everywhere, children, dogs, noise and at least ten shops within twenty yards. In Cruickshank, there was only one shop, and very few cars.
"What is this place? Where are we?"
Morag joined her. Her first sober sight of their new environment made her forget the argument and she clutched Heather's hand.
"I think it must be a city."
"What's a city?"
"Like a big town. Like lots of villages put together. I think we must be in Glasgow."
"But we were in Cornwall," protested Morag. "Cornwall isn't close to Glasgow, is it?"
Heather shook her head. She did not think so, but her geography was as shaky as Morag's. Since leaving Scotland neither of them had had much of an idea of where they were most of the time.
They peered down at the street where a ragged man with a shopping bag tramped forcefully along the sidewalk, spilling small children out of the way.
This ragged man was Joshua. He was in pursuit of Magenta who had made off with his recipe for Fitzroy cocktail, a drink consisting of shoe polish, methylated spirits, fruit juice and a secret concoction of herbs.
After pursuing her down First Avenue, he had lost sight of her when she dodged down the subway. She was a cunning adversary but he would never give up the hunt for his recipe, the most precious thing he had ever had in his possession.
"What happened to our friends? Where are Brannoc and Maeve and Padraig and Petal and Tulip?"
It was impossible to say. They could be anywhere in this city. Neither of them could remember much except waking up in a huge bumpy machine and being tossed into the street in a beer crate. Their friends had presumably been carried off by the machine. They started to argue again about whose fault it was.
"Right you two," said Dinnie, stomping back into the room. "Get out of here immediately and don't come back."
"What is the matter with you?" demanded Heather, shaking her golden hair. "Humans are supposed to be pleased, delighted and honored when they meet a fairy. They jump about going, 'A fairy, a fairy!' and laugh with pleasure. They don't demand they get out of their room immediately and don't come back."
"Well, welcome to New York," snarled Dinnie. "Now beat it."
"Fine," said Heather. "We'll go. But don't come crying to us if your lineage is cursed to the seventh generation."
"Or even the thirteenth."
They stared at each other. Acockroach peered out from behind the cooker, then went about its business.
Morag, generally the more rational of the two fairies, tried to calm the situation.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Morag MacPherson, thistle fairy, from Scotland."
"And I am Heather MacKintosh, thistle fairy. And greatest fiddler in Scotland."
"What?" protested Morag. "I am the greatest fiddler in Scotland."
Heather fell about laughing.
"How dare you laugh at my fiddle playing. I am Morag MacPherson, champion of champions," continued the dark-haired fairy.
"Well I'm Dinnie MacKintosh and you two can just beat it."
Now Morag burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?"
"He's a MacKintosh," chortled Morag. "No wonder his fiddle-playing is so bad. The MacKintoshes never could carry a tune."
Heather looked uncomfortable.
"He's only a beginner," she said, but Morag continued to laugh uncontrollably. She was greatly amused at this turn of events. In her eyes she had won the argument.
"How dare you laugh at a fellow MacKintosh," raged Heather, who could not bear to see her clan belittled in any way. "Even a human MacKintosh is worth more than a lying, cheating MacPherson."
"How dare you call the MacPhersons lying and cheating," screamed Morag.
The fairies' green eyes blazed.
"Look-" said Dinnie, but he was ignored.
"You are lying and cheating. Lying, cheating, thieving, no good-"
"Heather MacKintosh, I hope I never see you again!" shouted Morag, and hopped out the window.
There was a silence.
Heather looked glum. Shouts drifted up from the soccer players on the corner below.
"Call 970 C-L-I-T for the hottest phone sex in New York," whispered a naked woman on the television screen.
"I'm lost in a strange city and now my friend's gone away and it's all the fault of your stupid violin playing," said Heather, and began to cry.
"Yes," admitted Kerry, tucking a pair of gloves underneath her waistcoat. "I do shoplift compulsively."
"Why is this," enquired Morag. "Is it kleptomania, which I once read about in a human newspaper?"
"No, it just burns me up the way there are nice things everywhere and I can't afford to buy them."
"Are you poor?"
"And often depressed. But I have been much more cheerful since you appeared." Outside in the street, Kerry tried on her new gloves with satisfaction.
The fairy, after arguing with Heather, had flown across the street and there had the good fortune to meet Kerry, one of the very few humans in New York who could see fairies.
Anyone who knew Kerry, with her long silvery blue hair, her hippie clothing, her flower alphabet and her quixotic quest to play New York Dolls guitar solos, would not have been surprised to learn she could see fairies. They would only have been surprised that she had never seen one before.
She had made friends with Morag immediately and now they regularly went shoplifting together. Kerry fed Morag, found her whisky and listened to her fiddle-playing and her stories. She also explained the intricacies of her flower alphabet and the reasons why she loved the New York Dolls and why she was determined to be revenged on Cal, a faithless and treacherous lead guitarist who rehearsed with his band across the street in the old theater.
Excerpted from THE Good Fairies of NEW YORK by Martin Millar Copyright © 2006 by Martin Millar. Excerpted by permission.
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