In the beginning there were five of us at the Veranda. LeGuard was our employer, a New Magician from somewhere in South America. I and the other three employees had small and usually inexplicable duties to perform. We all lived together in the mid-sized farmhouse LeGuard called The Veranda. LeGuard had picked the four of us personally in the summer of 1997, and we had agreed to assist him in his work in whatever way he saw fit.
The work was new and exciting. It was the creation of fairies, a new type of magic. It was also very profitable if you were one of the few people on earth who could do it. Of those few, LeGuard was the best. LeGuard made about four fairies a year, all exquisite, and they brought in fantastic amounts of money.
None of us had been aware of LeGuard or his work before he’d approached us about working for him. We never learned anything of our predecessors, if we had any. LeGuard’s choices were as inscrutable as his work was, and it was a source of much discussion (when LeGuard was away) how he’d become aware of us and why he wanted us to work for him. LeGuard himself would never say. But he made a small and effective family out of us.
Bluewreck was tall and strong and quiet, from Texas. He had a slow and easy sense of humor. There was also an unmistakable whiff of tragedy about him. Bluewreck worked all day, but every evening he would disappear and drive the long, two-hour strip down 46 in LeGuard’s beat-up Ford. We knew that Bluewreck had been in a bad car accident on 46, and that his three-year-old daughter had been killed. Bluewreck spent a long time in a hospital recovering from the crash, and lost the index finger of his right hand.
He never talked about it. But every night he would come home after the ritual drive, raising a cushion of dust as the car lurched over the field in front of the house, and he’d be quiet and funny and smelling of reefer. He’d swing his long legs over the rail of the porch and pull a Dr. Pepper from the machine.
Bluewreck had been LeGuard’s first recruit. They met in a diner just outside of Tucson. Most of our duties were rather vague, but Bluewreck did most of the physical labor and the fixing of things. And he cooked.
Gary had been a wedding photographer in Detroit. He shot weddings free-lance sometimes, even when he was working at The Veranda.
Gary’s job was to control the lighting in the small green shed where LeGuard did his work. LeGuard was very precise in his instructions about the lights, and his wishes were often exotic and hard-to-realize.
Gary kept a photo-book of prints he’d taken at weddings — the shots that no one ever wants prints of. People half-blinking or with their mouths open in some awkward or ridiculous expression. He’d assembled hundreds of them. Bluewreck spent a whole evening with Gary once, getting drunk and laughing at this album.
The third member of our team was Zane. She was the animal specialist. LeGuard kept a number of animals around while he worked. He’d indicated that their presence was an essential element of creating the fairies. He wouldn’t explain exactly how. He certainly never harmed any of them. Zane would never have been a part of the project if he had.
Zane was twenty-four, just a little older than me. She was friendly, but kept Bluwreck, Gary and I at a certain distance. She seemed to prefer the company of the animals. Gary told me she’d had rodeo experience. Zane had an ex-husband, whom she got together with once in a while.
I was the youngest of the employees. At twenty-one, I was the ‘kid.’ My job was to run the office and take care of all LeGuard’s correspondence. I took calls, and I was the one who delivered the finished fairies.
LeGuard was choosy about what kinds of commissions he took, and how many. Running his office was not very demanding, so much of my time there I spent idle, trying to forget a girl I’d loved and lost the previous winter. I tried to distract myself with books, television, and movies. But it was without much success. If I read Shakespeare, she was Viola or Juliet. If I watched Star Trek, she was the beauty from Venus.
As for LeGuard himself, he seemed, at first, like an average old man. Short, stout but not fat, somewhere in his early sixties. He dressed casually; work shirts and khaki pants. On closer inspection, one would notice the odd things about him — the short, curled fingers and thick, almost-black nails; the slightly-too-large, slightly-too-dark eyes; the accent that no one could ever confidently identify.
Five New Magicians had made themselves known to the public since 1985. At one time they might have been feared or persecuted for their skills. And there had been a furor, in the scientific and religious communities, about the kind of work they did. But this was starting to die down. The Magicians kept a relatively low profile, and many people disbelieved what they read about their abilities anyway. Plus, their activities seemed benign, and closer to art than to black magic or “mad” science.
LeGuard’s work was in vogue right now, in the circles of people who could afford it. Lots of money was coming in. And LeGuard shared the wealth. We were all paid ridiculously well for our work at The Veranda. All of us had wondered why LeGuard insisted we were important to the creation of a fairy. He always worked on them alone in his green work shed.
LeGuard was busy. He made fairies for the National Park in Virginia, a fairy as a gift for the President’s daughter, and three fairies for the Botanic Garden in Washington.
The grounds that The Veranda occupied had once been a drive-in movie theater. The screen was gone, except for a few big chunks of its concrete foundation on the west end, half covered with weeds. The speaker posts had all been pulled up. But the long, sloping mounds that had connected them—that elevated the front end of the parked cars to give a better angle for looking up at the screen — still ran in long rows across the field. Bluewreck had invented a game that put the irregular surface of the field to use.
He called it bottle racing. To do it, you take a tape-wrapped bottle filled with sand and put it on one of your car’s front fenders. Then you drive over the rows as fast and long as you can, without losing the bottle. You lose when the bottle falls off the car. You get extra points for executing tricky turns.
Bluewreck, Gary and I would turn on the big lights in the field and bring beers out. We’d hear Zane’s records being played in the house, laid-back stuff usually, and we’d take turns piloting the Ford.
There was no beating Bluewreck at this game. He had a remarkable control of the car, a seemingly effortless coordination of steering and acceleration that Gary and I couldn’t begin to approach. Especially Gary; he would barely start the car and the bottle would be thumping and rolling toward the windshield.
One June night, Bluewreck, Gary and I returned to the house after doing some bottle racing in the field. LeGuard had asked us to meet in the evening so he could show us the newest fairy. He had just finished it the day before. After a fairy was finished there was always a heaviness to his walk, and his black eyes would seem duller than usual.
LeGuard was in the living room, talking to Zane. She broke off her sentence in mid-stream when we entered. It was plain we’d interrupted something.
LeGuard looked upset, but we figured it was just the strain of completing the project.
“Bluewreck kept the bottle on the hood for eleven minutes at fifteen mph,” Gary announced. “That’s incredible driving.”
I said, “Governor of Vermont called today, Boss. He wants a singing fairy for his wife’s garden.”
“Does it have to sing well?” LeGuard asked.
I tried not to show that I was fairly drunk, even though I was technically off the clock.
LeGuard took us to the work shed to see the fairy. It was for the Children’s Hospital in Vermont. LeGuard’s workshop was a bizarre mess, full of clay, wire, obscure charts and diagrams, animals, candles, movie lights, old bottles and jars. He had the fairy in a fur pouch on the workbench. At LeGuard’s coaxing it fluttered out, severely beautiful, female and moth-like. It was hard to look directly at the fairies; it seemed as soon as you saw them from one angle you were seeing them from another already. You felt the fairies as much as saw them. The fairy purred and buzzed. It knew hundreds of lullabies and would be placed in the toddler ward. It would not sing for us because we were adults. It glided over our arms and through our hair, then returned to its pouch.
We were all impressed.
But it wasn’t long before we found out what LeGuard and Zane had been talking about. Zane was leaving. She’d been visiting her ex-husband for a few weeks while the rodeo was in town, and she’d decided to go back on the circuit with him.
LeGuard tried to act casual about her impending departure, but it plainly bothered him. He became more irritable with all of us, but in particular, Zane. He was petulant and unbearable by the day she actually left.
I took over the tending of the animals, but I didn’t have the training for a lot of it. I asked LeGuard if he was going to hire a replacement for Zane.
“You can’t replace people,” he said.
A few weeks later, Gary decided to quit. He’d been offered a job at a men’s magazine in New York.
He told Bluewreck and I about it before he told LeGuard. We were walking by the broken concrete slabs that had been the foundation of the Drive-In screen. Gary told us that he had grown up in a city called River Rouge, and at the end of every summer they would have “Rouge Days.” This was three days of special events. His favorite had been the showing of movies in the ballpark at night. They’d set up a giant screen in the outfield, and families would sit in the bleachers and watch cartoon shorts and Disney pictures, the really old ones like Old Yeller. Everyone sitting outside, watching the same story on the big screen, had always seemed powerful to Gary.
But mostly he wanted to talk about his discomfort over telling LeGuard he was leaving.
And LeGuard did take it badly; much more so than when Zane left. He pleaded with Gary not to go. He offered him more money, less hours … But it was hard to make a job on The Veranda softer than it already was.
LeGuard catered to Gary shamelessly the week before he left, hoping to change his mind. Bluewreck and I watched the old man uneasily.
I privately theorized that LeGuard’s work depended on the formation of a family, a gestalt. Somehow it was part of a fairy’s creation. I wasn’t sure how we all fit into it. But the easygoing arrangement suddenly felt unhealthy.
Bluewreck felt the same way. After Gary left, the atmosphere was tense at The Veranda. LeGuard avoided the two of us. He worked constantly in the shed.
Bluewreck and I spent most of our time bottle racing. We developed an unspoken understanding that we’d soon be leaving the Veranda as well. Bluewreck was finished living in this State, and through with the ritual drives down 46. Maybe he had purged himself of the accident, and what had happened to his daughter.
As for me, I was pining for my lost love around like a lost arm, and I wondered if new surroundings would make me feel whole again.
August came, dry and hot, and on one of its first days, Bluewreck told LeGuard that he was leaving The Veranda. I sat on the porch taping up a bottle. I heard Bluewreck tell LeGuard he needed to talk to him. The magician said they could talk in the work shed. LeGuard said he had something for Bluewreck there. The two went off together.
It was dark when Bluewreck swung open the front door and stepped heavily onto the porch. His face was pale. He said, tightly: “Keys,” and I threw him the keys to the Ford. He caught them in his three-fingered right hand and walked straight to the car. He gunned the engine and roared off to the field.
He drove wildly and aimlessly out there, the car spinning and banging and throwing dust. It made a crazy sight, the headlights lurching and heaving as the car jumped up and down in the field. And he just kept at it. He was still out there when I went to bed.
The next morning he was gone. The door to his room was open and his things were gone. I looked out the window. There was only LeGuard’s car, and my own.
LeGuard had already made breakfast when I got downstairs. I found it hard to meet his gaze. What could he have done or said to upset Bluewreck so much? I settled silently into the pancakes.“Bluewreck’s gone,” LeGuard said. I said I knew.
“He was the strength of this place, LeGuard said quietly. “But in the end, he wasn’t that strong. He isn’t that strong.”
I didn’t comment, I just hoped he’d stop talking about it.
“I suppose you’ll be going now, too,” LeGuard said. And though I hadn’t planned to tell him for another week, I told him then that yes, I had to leave The Veranda, too.
“Come to the shed with me first, though. I’ve got something for you.”
“The one for the Hospital?”
“No, no, this is a special one. Just for you.”
We went to the shed, just as LeGuard and Bluewreck had gone to the shed the night before.
I didn’t know what to expect. LeGuard had never made any of us a fairy, to my knowledge. Did he think the gift would make me stay? There was a small pink box on the work bench.
“Open it,” LeGuard coaxed softly. So I did.
The fairy was asleep inside. It was female, with a slim white body and a haystack of tawny hair spilling down its back. Its scent was familiar. And when it lifted its head, I leaped back, shocked.
It was the perfect image of Luce, the girl I loved. I looked numbly at LeGuard. For the first time LeGuard’s eyes seemed alien and frightening to me.
“Don’t go . . . ” he said.
I left within the hour, throwing my things recklessly into the green Impala.
It’s been a year since I left. I took a job at a courthouse in a little town at the edge of the desert. I rent a small house.
I haven’t heard from Bluewreck, Zane or Gary since the summer we’d spent together at The Veranda. I did see a picture of LeGuard in a magazine, but the article was about the public fairies he’d done in previous years. It said nothing of where he was at present.
So, I work, and I’ve made some friends. There is an abandoned drive in at the edge of town, and I’ve taught a neighbor how to bottle race. We do it on weekends.
And there are plenty of nights when I return home and remove the small pink box from under my bed, and watch, with pleasure and melancholy, the fairy that I could not leave behind; though it was not Luce, though it was not a cure for my pain. I watch the small creature with the face and body of a girl from a town off 46 dance and spin, on clouds of warm colors, inside the box. I spend a lot of evenings just watching the fairy and thinking of Luce.
And every time I put the lid back on the box, I know I’ve just done something wrong.