by Allison Symes
Jenny Williams rushed indoors with her washing. It was bad enough getting soaked and having to put the washing through the tumble dryer when the forecast predicted sunshine, but to have a smirking Janine Stanshaw looking down from her neighbouring bedroom window was the last straw.
Face it, Jennifer, you've never liked the woman. With her looks and glowing skin, she looks like a walking advert for the benefits of eating yogurt. You're small, must watch your weight and your skin is nowhere near as good. You should find out what care range she uses instead of just indulging in jealousy.
Jenny scowled on recognising the crisp, clear voice invading her mind. To discover she was a fairy godmother's daughter was one thing. To discover she shared her mother's telepathic ability was worse. And to have her mother being able to plant thoughts in her head was enough to make Jenny want to scream, only she didn't want to give her mother the satisfaction.
Okay, Mother, since you will insist on invading my thoughts. I loathe Janine Stanshaw. She has an eye for the men. I object to her eyeing up my Paul. You wouldn't like her doing that to Dad. I've seen her, Mother, when out shopping, eye up men from the age of 18 to 108. Trust me, I'm doing well resisting the urge to curse her. I doubt if you would. Given what you've told me of your past, you never did resist cursing anyone who'd crossed you. I'm not being bitchy.
Yes you are...
Okay so I am but it's true all the same. Janine was peering at me through that gap in the privet yesterday. I was only putting my bedding plants out. What was so fascinating about that?
Nothing though you put your pansies in upside down.
I did not...
Jenny froze as she heard her mother laugh in the recesses of her mind. It wasn't a comfortable sensation.
Mother, you can stop laughing. You have been getting me to practice my magic outdoors for safety reasons. What if she sees anything?
How can you know?
She would have told you in no uncertain terms if she'd spotted anything odd. Besides you know I've put a force field around your place to prevent that.
Can force fields fail?
Yes but it is rare. I'm not aware of any non-magical species being able to make one fail.
I still say...
Shut up, Jennifer, there's a good girl. Mother does know best here.
Jenny gritted her teeth. Her mother was irritation personified. So was the sprite her mother insisted continued to live in the girl's loft. Jenny was told to see Stan as a kind of guardian angel. Jenny saw him as a pest as he got in the way, told rude jokes (okay some were funny) and it was a complete loss to the girl as to how husband Paul could not see they had one extra for dinner with food going down an invisible throat at mealtimes. Paul hadn't noticed a thing. Jenny sighed. That was men for you.
'Stan, I don't care if it is pouring down. It's the perfect time to practice magic. The neighbours won't be about. Mother's visiting her friends so is unlikely to bother us. Before you say anything, I asked her not to bother us. I said I might "perform" better if I didn't always feel under scrutiny and in any case there was nothing to stop her watching via crystal ball. Yes, she did accept that, stop looking cynical. I do have some sway with my mother. Paul's due back in an hour. Since it seems I am half magical I may as well make the most of the powers I'm supposed to have.'
The sprite, who was considered tall at 3'6, glowered at Jenny. She hadn't liked finding him in her loft. His argument he'd not wanted to be sent to Earth in the first place, so stop resenting him, only made Jenny stare at him so hard he had several uncomfortable seconds wondering if he was about to be turned into a statue or a frog. These were Eileen's specialities when tackling offenders and he was frightened at what a hybrid like Jenny could achieve. Did the hybrid nature weaken or strengthen inherent magic? Nobody back home, even the Fairy Queen, was sure. Stan didn't want to find out the hard way so decided if he did what he could to please Jenny, he would live. The good thing, the one thing that reassured Jenny and himself, was Eileen's confirmation Paul, and any other human, wouldn't see Stan. Jenny would just have to be careful not to appear as if she was talking to herself when talking with Stan.
'I was trying to stop you getting another soaking, Jenny.'
'Really? You don’t want to get wet. On the count of three, I'll make you invisible, and then on the second count, I'll restore you. It’d help if you stand still, please.'
Stan sighed. At least Jenny said "please" and "thank you". It'd never occur to Eileen to do likewise for a sprite. That also went for everybody in the Fairy Kingdom who wasn't a sprite.
'All right then. Three, two, one...' Jenny recited the spell.
The sprite vanished. Jenny smiled. Her mother should be pleased with that if she was watching.
If! Of course Mother's bloody watching. Don't bother moaning about my swearing, Mother. I've heard you many a time. At least Stan vanished better. It was only the two stages. Last time one foot went, then the other, then his arms and so on. Today it was his top half followed by his bottom half.
'Okay, Stan, about to bring you back. Three, two, one...'
Jenny recited the restoration spell. Stan reappeared but instead of being where he vanished from, he was three feet to the left and upside down in a rose bush. Jenny pulled him out by his boots.
'You moved, Stan!'
'Only a little... and I could've got myself out of the rose bush.'
'It took you an hour last time. I thought I'd speed things up. Stop being ungrateful. Come on, that will do. I'm hungry. Fancy a chicken and bacon baguette?'
Stan nodded. His host was good with the provisions. Though she needed to put in more work on her vanishing spell. The sensation of being split in half wasn't pleasant.
Janine Stanshaw blinked. She looked back into Jenny Williams's garden. There was a funny looking man, about 3' tall, walking out from the house with Jenny. Janine smirked. So her neighbour liked small men did she... I'm willing to bet her dishy Paul knows nothing about this.
Janine frowned as she came away from the window and resumed sorting out her wardrobe. She was clearing out old clothes, ready to go to charity, in time for Janine's promised-to-herself clothes shop in a week's time when her favourite store would have its new line available. The charity would benefit, Janine looked after her clothes well, and Janine would indulge in retail therapy. It wasn't as if she had anyone else to buy things for her.
Janine scowled, spotting her expression in the mirror that formed part of her wardrobe door. She hadn't liked seeing Paul give Jenny a gold necklace in the garden the other night and Jenny being delighted with it. It was unlike Janine not to be able to get anywhere with a bloke she'd set her sights on but Paul was unfailingly polite and as warmly appreciative of her overtures as an iceberg. Janine wondered if Paul was already seeing someone else, hence the gift to his wife, but observations over months gave no indication. He was always home promptly after work. When he went out, Jenny went with him. Perhaps the pair were happily married. Janine sighed. Why did the squat Jenny Williams manage to find someone nice like that? Face it, the girl was dumpy and not much taller than the strange companion.
Janine frowned. Who was that? She'd not seen him before. Janine dropped the skirts she'd been holding. She grabbed her phone and began taking pictures. Jenny Williams made the small man disappear. Janine heard the count of three through her open window. Then there was another count of three and the small man turned up in the rose bushes upside down. How did that happen?
Janine smiled. There could be fun here. If it wasn't to be adulterous sex with the husband, the wife was open to blackmail. Janine was willing to bet there was something here Jenny would never want darling Paul to know. That could be exploited. Exploitation was useful many times in building up Janine’s savings. Time for another deposit then...
Ten minutes after Jenny and Stan finished lunch, Jenny made herself smile as she opened the front door to find Janine Stanshaw standing there wearing her supercilious grin.
The grin she uses to persuade people she's friendly, Jenny thought. Women who eye up other women's men are not likely to want to befriend the wife. Fool the wife, yes. You're not fooling me, Stanshaw.
'Hello, Janine, I wasn't expecting you.' And isn't that the truth. You're not the type to visit the neighbours unless the wife's out.
'I wasn't expecting to visit,' Janine said. 'But something unexpected happened and I'd be glad of your advice. May I come in?'
'I’m busy now...'
'I don't think this can wait. Word might get out.'
'That's what I need to discuss with you but it's not a conversation for the front door. I'll be quick. I too must be getting along.'
Yes but not with women in general, Jenny thought. You save friendship, and more, for men.
'Come in then.' Jenny stepped aside and ushered her unwelcome guest inside, noting Janine's eager look around the hall.
No doubt judging me on the state of my housework or decorations, Jenny thought. Fortunately it was a look Jenny knew well as her mother always used it when she visited.
'We'll go into the office,' Jenny said, ushering Janine into a small room off the lounge. Only welcome guests went there. Stan was lounging on the sofa. He wasn't exactly welcome but he was a far better companion than Janine.
Jenny was pleased to spot the scowl that told her Janine hoped to go into the lounge. That puts you in your place, Madam.
'So, Janine, what can I do for you?' If you think I'm offering tea or coffee, think again.
'It's a case of what I can do for you,' Janine said wandering over to the high-backed wooden chair near the desk and sitting down. She glanced around the desk but there was nothing to see.
Jenny had long been in the habit of not leaving papers out. If her mother was going to snoop, Eileen could at least make some effort. 'Really?'
'Yes. I spotted something odd earlier this afternoon. Well in the last half hour actually.'
'In your garden.'
Jenny felt cold. Janine couldn't have seen... There was the force field... Mother was never knowingly wrong. She's not the type to muck something up.
'Who is the small man who was with you?'
Jenny smiled. 'Janine, what are you on about?'
Janine returned the smile. It was as equally insincere. 'I know what I saw, Jenny. You made a small man vanish and reappear in your garden. That small man is here in the house. You're not keeping an illegal immigrant, are you?'
Jenny blinked. Stan had been called many things by her, and even more by her mother, but illegal immigrant wasn’t amongst them.
'Janine, I don't know what you've been drinking but I'd come off it. You do realise what you've just said?'
'Of course. I have pictures to prove it.' With that, Janine retrieved from the deep pocket of her mauve velvet jacket three pictures and handed them to Jenny. The pictures showed Stan as he was vanishing and was in that awkward half-way stage, and Stan re-emerging, again in the awkward half-way stage in the rose bush.
Jenny stared at the pictures. Her mother reassured her nobody could see. How could a human camera photograph something magical? Was there more to Janine Stanshaw than met the eye? Goodness knew Jenny had called her neighbour an old witch many a time. Had Jenny been right?
'I'll give you your due, Janine. You're a whizz with Photoshop.'
Janine smirked. 'Very good, Jenny, but you know these pictures are accurate. You've gone pale. You should never give yourself away like that. But the problem remains as to what to do with these pictures? I've been thinking what could lead to these images. There must be magic here. Oh yes, I accept things like that exist. I think you must too. So I'll tell you what we'll do. I'll destroy the pictures once you grant me three wishes or arranged for whatever or whoever is magical here to do that. Deal?'
Jenny leant back against the office door. Her mind raced and she was aware she'd effectively conceded to Janine the latter was on to something. Jenny could not issue an outright denial. Her mother was happy to lie her head off when the occasion demanded it but it was not something Jenny was comfortable with as, for one thing, Eileen was so much better at it.
'You are thinking hard, Jenny. I'm right then.'
Jenny glared, feeling her loathing for Janine strengthen, as if it was a physical force. And then it came to Jenny the old proverb was right. Honesty was the best policy. Janine would have no answer to it.
'I'm not going into details as to what is happening here, Janine. You don't need to know. Indeed it's safer if you don't know, but I could give you three wishes. However I am not going to. Why? I don't need to give you anything. By all means make this incident public. Show your pictures. Who will believe you? People will take the same attitude I have - you've used Photoshop. They'll also question your sanity. Most people know how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, that wonderful writer, was taken in by two girls claiming fairies existed. People will think your story is the modern equivalent.'
'Plenty think he was right.'
'He was proven wrong. It was a well carried out set-up. Besides have another look at your images.'
Jenny smiled as Janine looked at the images in her hand.
'What the hell have you done? The small man is no longer on the pictures. He was there. You know he was. I saw you go pale. You've done something.'
'Of course, Janine. The first line of magical defence is always undermine your opponent.'
Janine scrolled through her phone’s images menu. Again the only image now showing was a shot of
Jenny in her garden.
'I will go ahead and...'
'You will sound mad, Janine.'
'I could still get people around to investigate. I could stir things up.'
'Who? How? I know our local Council does not have its own version of The X-Files, agents just waiting to investigate the paranormal. Bless them, the Council quite properly focus on ensuring the bins get emptied on time.'
A flash of light made Jenny and Janine blink. Eileen stood between the women. Eileen smiled at her daughter but Jenny scowled. Her mother's intervention was seldom welcome given Eileen found something to criticise in everything from Jenny's marriage to Jenny's clothes to the way the girl cleaned her teeth. Jenny sometimes wondered if Eileen would ever let her be her own person - and then realised she already knew the answer.
'Your arguments are good, Jennifer, but for the sake of good neighbourly relations, may I suggest you grant Janine her three wishes.'
'Mother, have you gone round the bend? From what I gather, Janine gets her own way all too often as it is and does not need magic to extend that!'
'Janine must be certain of her wishes.'
Eileen's coolness made Jenny stare again at her mother.
Mother has something in mind. Is she assuming Janine will overreach herself and bring some curse down on her head? Whilst that would not be undeserved, it would be kinder to just say no.
'Mother, if Janine asks for something stupid, there will be repercussions. There always are. Word would get out. Janine should be made aware magic can go wrong.'
'I think you've just done that, dear. I think she'd also appreciate being talked to, rather than about, dear. You are being patronising.'
'Oh yes? Given you are the expert there, I'd say that was rich coming from you.'
'Grant Janine her three wishes and get this over with or she'll just keep returning. Won't you, dear?'
Eileen gave Janine her best supercilious smile. It was far superior to Janine's version.
Jenny couldn't resist a smirk. That smile had made wizards blanch. Jenny had seen those pictures. It now did the same for a man eating neighbour.
Janine turned to Jenny. 'Who is the old biddy?'
Jenny laughed. Eileen swore.
'The old biddy is my mother, Janine. I wouldn't get the wrong side of her. I'm the only one she won't zap. I suspect Mother wants you to make the three wishes because she wants you to do something stupid. If I were you, I'd leave now and pretend this didn't happen.'
'No. I'll have the three wishes. I'll prove the old biddy wrong.'
'Keep calling her that and you won't get the chance. She's turned people into amphibians for less. I've watched her do it,' Jenny said, grinning at her annoyed mother. 'Very well, Janine, what is your first wish? Oh I should warn you the moment you speak out the wish, that is it. There will be no going back, even if the wish cannot be granted in part or in full.'
'I want my first wish to be for eternal life as I am now - young, beautiful and...'
'With a monstrous ego that if it inflated your head literally to house it properly would mean you would never walk through any doorway again. Forget it, Janine. Only God grants eternal life.
Besides do you really want to live on unchanging as your friends, family and contemporaries age and die. Mother and I have magic in our blood but even we will age and die. We'll just do so much more slowly. Even if you weren't worried about that, how would you explain to people? I don't think they'll buy the "I use a really good moisturiser" line. What's your second wish?'
'Everlasting riches. I get tired of having to watch my income all the time.'
'Diddums. Get on with life, Janine. We all have to budget. Stop looking like that. I've not increased my wealth because of my "gifts". That sort of thing shows up and has to be explained and it isn't worth the grief. Have you not heard the Midas story? You know the guy who wanted everything he touched to turn to gold and changed his mind on realising he couldn’t eat and drink. Besides your request is greedy and I'm not granting that. From what I gather of Mother's past, she never granted greedy wishes either.'
Jenny looked towards her mother who gave a curt nod. Jenny sighed. Outright approval was too much to hope for then.
'Count yourself lucky, Janine, I am not a witch. If I was, I'd grant you that wish and make it rebound.' Jenny looked at her unwelcome neighbour.
Janine returned the look but it was clear the girl was not comfortable. Janine started scanning the room.
Good, Jenny thought, she's finally using her brain to work out what to ask for this time. This could be interesting.
Eileen coughed. Jenny gave her an irritated look but Eileen ignored it as it was her daughter's standard expression. Janine just looked at Eileen.
'Ms. Stanshaw, yes I know who you are, Jennifer did not need to tell me, I was wondering if you needed some inspiration for your final wish.'
Janine shook her head and faced Jenny again. 'My last wish is for a happy love life. I've never had one.'
Jenny blinked. 'Really? You do realise granting your request means you must be faithful. Can you manage that?'
'And I thought I was the bitch,' Eileen said slowly.
'Mother, you know I have a point.' Jenny looked back at Janine. The girl was looking dazed. Jenny didn't understand this. Surely the girl had met irate wives and girlfriends before. Janine must have heard at least the odd catty comment. 'Janine, I...'
'You’re lucky with your Paul, Jenny,' Janine blurted out. 'From what I've seen, he's decent. All the blokes I've ever been out with... well I'm a good time girl. Whenever I hoped anything would develop further, they've run a mile and I'm tired of it.'
There was silence for a moment. Janine looked at Jenny. Jenny was surprised. The great man-eater had tears in her eyes.
'Your wish is granted,' Jenny said softly. 'I know I am fortunate with Paul but, and it is a big but, you must be aware of what you are looking for in a guy and if it's not there, dump him. You must work out what you want before the wish can be fulfilled. Perhaps your real trouble has been in putting up with less than what you would like?'
Much to Jenny's surprise, Janine crossed the room and hugged her. 'Thank you. I'll be off now. I'm due out tonight. Wish me luck. Oh you probably can't, can you? I've had my three.'
'From my daughter, yes,' Eileen said, 'but not from me. I will grant you good luck. The good luck to have good judgement. Have a nice evening. And a nice life.'
Jenny poured tea ten minutes after Janine left. There was a plate of home made chocolate chip muffins in the middle of the kitchen table. Eileen was on her third. One thing her daughter did better than she did was home cooking but Eileen would never tell Jenny so. Eileen wasn't sure why Jenny was better here. There was a theory in her old magical world magic could seep into cooking and ruin it but it was good to know her daughter had a talent. It was also good to annoy her daughter. From the look on her face, Jenny had been reading her mind again.
'You did well, Jennifer. You won't have further trouble from Janine.'
'That was the idea, wasn't it, Mother? You've set things up. Janine should never have been able to take pictures showing anything magical.'
'I fixed her phone, so what? You've fixed it back again. No harm done. And she will try to find her own man now. Much as I loathe Paul, he is your choice, dear, and you are happy with him. The same way I am happy with your father and my old world doesn't approve of him. We have more in common than you think here. It's no good wincing. You know I'm right. And I agree with Janine your Paul seems decent but don't tell him I said so and I will know if you do. It never pays to inflate a man's ego.'
'Stick to scoffing the muffins, Mother. You’re not cut out to be an agony aunt.'
Eileen smiled. It had been a good day. If ever there was a Rile Your Daughter Week, Eileen would be in her element. Perhaps she would arrange it.
'Forget it, Mother. I am reading your mind. You rile me every week.'
Eileen's smile became a grin. 'Isn't it good to have life back to normal?' She paused. ‘Or at least as near to normal as we can get.’