one night, belinda c, a woman of substance, a woman of enormities, passed through her back door and into her tiny garden like a warship oozing from the dock and heading out into a sea hardly big enough to contain it. there were noises in the garden, noises that did not belong and that she should not have been able to hear above the surface noise of the street, strange noises like clucking and high-pitched giggles and the sing-song falsetto of a 33 record played at 78.

it’s never really dark in the city. the garden was lit by streetlamps on both sides, neon lights from commercial signs on the roofs of nearby buildings, the spill from the rooms where wakeful neighbors watched television with the windows open, and even by the headlights of a passing truck or two. it was about as dark as a very very cloudy day.

she rumbled, the machinery of the warship’s cannon searching for a target. the noises had stopped. she stood for a moment, not sure if she had heard anything at all; maybe it was the whiskey whispering low and sultry and playing tricks on her like it used to do in the old days before she got better, before the house of pain. and then the noise came again, off to the right, near the fence. she swiveled carefully, quietly for a woman so large, and focused her guns.

she was prepared for a rat. she was prepared for a kid swiping her tomatoes, dry, shriveled things that they were. she was even prepared for a burglar, though what he might have hoped to steal in a neighborhood like this would bear explaining. of all the things belinda c was not prepared for, at the top of the list was what she actually saw–a leprechaun perched on her chickenwire fence, munching on a lettuce leaf and talking to himself. or maybe that was singing.

“shoo”, she said. “shoo. shoo.”

the leprechaun–if that’s what it was and what else could it have been?–looked up at her with mild amusement in his tiny hazel eyes. “i’m not a housefly,” he said. “or a timid field mouse with his racing shoes on at the slightest crack of twig. i’m not that easy to get rid of, if that’s what you’re hoping. why don’t you sit down in that old stuffed chair you threw out last year, and we’ll have a talk.”

“you know me?” belinda c said as she picked her way through the tiny garden to the old ripped lounge balanced precariously on three legs next to the fence.

“o, darlin,” the leprechaun said. “like the back of me favorite head.” he munched a little of the leaf and adjusted his small green hat, a sort of homburg-ish thing that seemed to belinda c to be out of place and the wrong color.

“what do you want?” she asked.

“a favor, darlin. a small thing, hardly worth mentioning. it’ll be easy.”

belinda c, like most people nowadays, had no experience with leprechauns. if she had, those words would have sent chills ripping up her spine like sequential tidal waves, for the only time a leprechaun tells you something is going to be easy is when it’s going to be so massively hard that by the time it’s over you’ll wish you’d moved to new jersey instead. but, as i say, she didn’t know that. on the other hand, she had lived in this city long enough to be automatically suspicious of strangers who wanted something. “you look like a leprechaun,” she said warily. “because that’s what i am,” he said. “fergus smalley, at your service.” “aren’t leprechauns irish?” “the ones in ireland are.” “you don’t sound irish except every now and then.” “that’s because i’m not except every now and then. mostly i’m an american leprechaun. my family has been here for three generations–that’s almost two hundred years. i’m as american as you.”

belinda c grunted. “my people was slaves. we been here four hundred years.”

“hmm, which sort of brings us around to what i came to see you about.”

“how’s that?”

“we think–my people and i–that you are uniquely positioned to render us a small service. in return, we would be willing to offer you three wishes–”

“what happened to the pot o’ gold?”

“inflation. terrible. but the wishes are better. trust me.”

“what if i wish for a pot o’ gold?”

“i wouldn’t. really,” he shuddered. “the consequences don’t bear thinking of.”

belinda c smoothed her voluminous skirt and folded her hands in her lap, ready to deal. “and what is this favor?” she asked.

fergus tilted his head. “you’re taking this very calm,” he said. “if i didn’t know better i’d think you saw leprechauns every day.”

“i did,” she said. “once upon a time. and pixies, too. besides, this is new york. a million impossible things happen here every day. why not a leprechaun? you came over on the boat?”

“hmm. yes, hidden in the baggage of…friends. customs was the hardest part, i understand. my grandfather turned himself into an old watch with a cracked crystal. very painful, so he said. to business?”

“it’s your dime,” belinda c said levelly, maintaining her bargainer’s poise.

“there’s a bush out front of your house,” fergus said. “it’s ours. we want to keep it.”

“what do you mean it’s ‘yours’? it’s my bush.”

“it’s our house. we live there. we have lived there for one hundred and fifty-three years.”

“damned if you have. that bush ain’t anything like a hundred and fifty-three years old.”

“it is, and it’s our home. we’d like to stay there.”

“so? stay there. i never noticed you before. as long as you don’t bother the neighbors i can’t see what harm there is.”

fergus tipped his homburg-like hat-object. “madam, such a noble and–if i may say so–generous sentiment does you great honor. clearly, we have come to the right person.”

“for what? you still ain’t told me.”

“the city is planning to remove those bushes–”

belinda c stiffened. “what! they can’t do that! them’s my bushes and they’re on private property.”

“i’m afraid they can. it’s called ’eminent domain’. it means they can take what they want for the good of a community project.”

“what ‘community project’? they ain’t made improvements in this neighborhood since calvin coolidge was in knickers.”

“a widening-of-the-sidewalk community project. it’s going to get widened right up to your front door step, and the bushes are slated for removal to make room. we want you to stop them.”

“stop them? stop the city? are you drunk?”

“madam, the fact that i am of irish extraction does not automatically mean i am an alcoholic, whatever those bastards, the english, might say about us.” his feelings were clearly hurt.

“alright alright, don’t get huffy. i didn’t mean nothing except– stop the city? that’s impossible.”

“nevertheless.”

“i’m sorry, mr smalley. i’d like to keep them bushes as much as you would, they been there as long as i’ve owned this house. but i don’t see there’s much i can do. you can’t fight city hall.”

“you don’t understand,” fergus said, shaking his head firmly. “a tribe of fairies live in the next bush–”

“they do? what i got in there, the whole fairyland u.n.? there’s a dragon, too, i suppose.”

fergus laughed. “no, no, of course there’s no dragon.”

“that’s good cause this is a wood house and i’d hate to think what he might do accidentally when he’s snoring or something.”

“no, no, you have nothing to worry about. dragons don’t like new york. they all went to live in the mid-west. cleveland, mostly. no one even notices them there. they fit right in.”

“really. now that’s a caution, that is. but anyway, there’s nothin i can do for you.”

“but you must. i told you, there’s a tribe of fairies in the next bush.”

“then they’ll have to move, just like you. it can’t be that hard to find another bush, not even in new york.”

“isn’t it?” fergus said, and there was bitterness in his voice. “you obviously haven’t heard about the housing crisis. they’re all occupied. we can’t move unless a leprechaun across town dies, and even then we have to compete with every other leprechaun family in the five burroughs who all have the same idea. there isn’t an empty bush between here and canarsie, and i refuse to live in canarsie! i don’t have much but i have my pride.”

“i’m sorry. i didn’t know.”

“that’s alright. i didn’t mean to shout but this past year has been very frustrating.”

“that’s too bad, but–”

“you’re missing the point,” fergus interrupted impatiently. “fairies are warriors, warriors with powers. they aren’t going to take this lying down. whenever a fairy-bush is removed without their permission, there they put a curse, a terrible curse. if those bushes are removed there will be accidents on this corner–”

“we never had no accidents around here.”

“you will,” fergus answered, grim as steel. “horrible accidents, every day. if you don’t stop them, many people will be hurt. badly hurt. some of them will die.”

“you gotta be kiddin,” belinda c said. “i thought fairies was all peace-loving quiet folk, a little like butterflies or fireflies. like tinkerbell, you know.”

fergus was confused. “‘tinkerbell’? is that supposed to be a fairy’s name? it’s ridiculous.”

“what are their names like, then?”

“lewis, sharon, glenda. ordinary american names. ‘tinkerbell’.” he snorted. “i bet that was disney’s idea. what an idiot that man was. nasty, too–”

“can we get back to–”

“yes, yes, certainly. we have a plan.”

“good, cause i sure don’t. what is it?”

“tell them why they mustn’t take the bushes.”

“tell them why. because fairies live in them who’ll get mad and cause accidents.”

“exactly. once they understand, they’ll have to abandon their plans.”

“you want me to go to the city of new york and tell them they can’t take my bushes because fairies live in them.”

“yes!”

“they’ll lock me up. no way, uh-uh.”

“don’t they believe in fairies?”

“not that kind.”

a look of cunning, if not desperation, burdened fergus’ eye. “belinda c–think of the pot o’ gold.”

“you said there wasn’t one.”

“this is important. we’ll make an exception. think of it–college for your grandson, a new house for your sister in l.a. so she can move out of that apartment building where drive-by shootings are a neighborhood sport, a nursing home for your other sister–she needs it, you know she does–and even a little set-aside for the comfort of your own old age, which is not so far away now, is it? and all you have to do is…talk.”

“them would be awful good things to do,” belinda c said thinking of her grandson jamal in a big school learning how to be a doctor or an engineer or a professor instead of joining a gang and learning how to stamp out license plates. “well,” she said, “i reckon i could try….”

and that’s how belinda c came to take on the whole city of new york in her ‘save the fairies’ campaign–an unfortunate name that has caused a lot of misunderstanding.

snake marchand

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