words: Alys Key image: Liz Seabrook
It has been more than ten years since I last heard from the fairies.
I’m not sure whether I stopped writing to them, or whether they stopped responding. Things fall behind during childhood and the next thing you know they’re shut up in the attic, difficult to find and covered with dust. Somewhere in the eaves of our house there is a box which holds all of my letters from the fairies, but it’s been years since I last looked through them.
I was maybe seven or eight the first time I left a carefully-sealed note for them.
Dear Fairies, do any of you live in this garden? Please write to me if you do. I would like a fairy pen pal.
Anticipating their response was the innocent version of waiting for a text from a potential lover. Even after their first letter arrived, introducing themselves as two sisters called Min and Twinkle, my excitement was unabated, driven by the childish energy that makes little girls skip all the way home from school. Every day I went outside to see if my last note had gone, or if theirs had arrived. Sometimes I had to rescue our letters from the rain, and every now and then I would find a slug had taken a bite out of one. The garden became a wild enchanted habitat to me; the plants and insects were all part of Min and Twinkle’s world.
The letters themselves were so beautiful that I felt a compulsion to protect them, as though the paper itself was a living thing. They were written in small, elegant script on bright pink or purple paper, always smudged with fairy dust. I tried to make my responses look the same, using bright gel pens to do my best handwriting and fastening the letters inside little pink envelopes from Paperchase.
Over time, the part of the garden which served as our mailing point became known as ‘Fairy Corner’. We still call it that now, even though the fairy shelter my daddy made from spare wood has long disintegrated, and the Magnolia tree – planted so they could enjoy sitting in the soft flowers – is overshadowed by shrubbery.
I was the first of my friends to have fairy pen pals, but I was not the last. The back gardens of Winchester were, it seems, practically infested with them. The fact that it was particularly my friends making contact with magical beings was in no way strange to me. Girls who talked to fairies had a little bit more stardust in them than everyone else, I reasoned, and we would naturally all band together.
But it was through this community of fairy enthusiasts that I first sensed something amiss. The other letters I saw looked different to mine. Some had the same crisp whiteness as the printing paper we used at school. Once, a friend’s fairies gave her a picture of a woman bending down to look at a crowd of glowing lights dancing around her feet. “Here is a picture of us at one of our fairy dances!” they wrote. When I saw it, I recognised the image as a well-known painting; it was on the front a notebook I had been given the previous Christmas. I acknowledged, silently, that this letter was the work of my friend’s parents, and from that point the subsequent realisations followed.
Even now, at the age of 21, I have still never discussed the truth about the fairy letters with my parents. I know where they came from. But there is a difference, I think, between what we know and what we believe, and I can still believe in Min and Twinkle. At least, it is hard not to feel that something special belongs to that portion of the garden. When you visit a site for a religion you no longer subscribe to, there’s that scent of belief in the air, and the silent urge to pray. Magic works the same way.
Alys Key is a student and writer on a quest to spend her life writing and listening to Radio 4. Take a look at her website to read more of her work.