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Seen

by Jacob Budenz

When I opened my eyes a little wider and tilted my head just so—to see, really see—I noticed the fairies dancing between the floorboards of my bedroom. Have you ever passed by a painting every day without actually looking at it, and then just once, by chance, you take it in and realize you’ve been pacing past something shocking, like a painting of an angel sodomizing an alien, all along? You feel intrigued, but also kind of violated, when you think of how long the image has been slipping itself into your subconscious. Seeing the fairies felt like that, like maybe I’d been glancing at them out of the corner of my eye for my whole life.  I watched the tiny glowing bodies dance in the ridges of the teal-painted hardwood, little naked, winged creatures all colorful and aglow like Christmas lights. I could’ve stared at them all morning if I didn’t have to go to work.

So once I saw them I couldn’t stop seeing them, of course. They were everywhere, from a family of four in the orchid on my co-worker’s desk (her cubicle always overflowed with over-the-top gestures from her fiancé) to three little blue men playing in the urinal like it was a goddamned water park.

When I mentioned my groundbreaking revelation about the fairies to Janet, the receptionist at work, she rolled her eyes and said (of all things), “Where the fuck have you been, Ronnie?”

But when I shrugged and walked off (I think she liked to call me “Ronnie” instead of “Ron” just to get under my skin), I glanced behind me to see her squinting at my back like I’d sprouted bat wings, and I didn’t buy her shtick for a second. No, sir. She’d been acting all snarky and too-cool ever since she’d tried to set me up with her “gay best friend” Enrique. Oh, yeah, she’d given me the whole line, He’s just so sassy and funny like you, and I’d said, You know not all us fags are a perfect match by virtue of the fact that you know them, Janet. Anyway, some of us are happier being alone. It was a petty thing to say, sure, and I was lying through my teeth about preferring to be alone. Still, I had my pride. Anyway, if this Enrique had helped her pick out even one of her tacky, ill-fitting skirt suits, then he was as tasteless as she was, and I wanted no part. Honestly, I don’t even know why I mentioned the fairies to Janet in the first place. I’d just sort of blurted it, eager to share the knowledge with someone, to share something new and exciting with another human as I had so little occasion to do. Obviously the wrong move.

Now, I typically preferred to take my lunch break off-site, alone, lest I got stuck talking about marketing data during the generous hour we got for break. Today, though, I had decided to bring a packed lunch to eat in the undersized kitchen on the fifth floor, to see if any of my co-workers talked about the fairies. It would give me something to talk about with someone, for once. I was getting lonelier and lonelier, less and less able to form relationships with the people around me, when the fairies showed up. When I brought my sad, soggy ham sandwich to the lunchroom (another reason I prefer to buy lunch offsite), I thought that if other people saw the tiny glowing creatures, maybe the universe was answering my private little pangs of loneliness, giving me some way to break through my bubble of isolation. I waited until Janet left the lunch room, because who knew what kind of passive aggressive humiliation she’d try to subject me to if the topic came up?

I was cautious, this time, and waited to see if the topic of fairies came up organically. After forty-five minutes nobody said a word about them, nor did anyone seem to notice the wild antics of the little pink lady dancing lewdly around the rim of Jerry’s bowl of tomato soup. Nope. Instead, spreadsheet horror stories consumed the majority of the conversation—precisely why I don’t eat lunch with these people. Even Leslie from HR, with her funky hair colors and ayahuasca retreats and transformative experiences at “regional burn” festivals, acted oblivious. Anyway, I hardly had any chance to bring it up, considering that after halfhearted mumbles of greeting nobody so much as looked my way the entire time. By the time I had to clock back in, I felt too embarrassed to bring it up. Was seeing the tiny glowing bodies so common an experience that nobody cared to talk about it? Had Janet whispered my revelation to the others and brought them in on some sick vengeful joke? Were they fucking with me? Either way, I was no closer to finding out what the fairies really were and whether they might have any real impact on our lives, and I was certainly no closer to figuring out how to find common ground with anyone vis-à-vis these weird creatures.

That night, my kitchen was so packed with little purple ladies dancing rave-style over the black-and-white linoleum that I tiptoed ever-so-slowly across the floor. The purple tide dodged my footfalls effortlessly, without disrupting the ecstatic convulsions of their tiny limbs. Of course they did. They’d been dodging my feet for years, surely, without my oblivious ass of a self having clue-one that they were there.

I poured myself a shot of honey whiskey, slugged it back. Poured myself a half-full glass and bent over so I was eye-level with the black granite counter, upon which several fairies (mostly green or yellow) were having an orgy. “Here’s to you,” I said. I raised the glass like we were all having a toast, like we were all friends. Of course I already knew they weren’t listening. I knocked that one back pretty quick as well, practically in one gulp. Poured another glass over ice.

Hazy, I plopped down on the foamy couch in the living room and sprawled out, laptop on my belly. I typed “people who can see fairies what does it mean” into Google, because why the hell not? I scrolled for a while through various fairy enthusiast forums and a site called Witch Vox, but it was all fables or superstitious mumbo-jumbo or hippy spiritual shit. I scanned through legends about the dangers of entering into fairy rings (apparently this is just Not A Thing To Do), others about how to leave gifts out for the “fair folk” so they’d leave you alone or bring fortune on your household or bring back your changeling child or whatever (like, what kind of a fucked up parent tries to write off their child’s developmental issues as their kid being an actual, real changeling?). I wasn’t finding anyone who’d actually seen the fuckers.

“What the hell are you?” I shouted at the pink man and green lady languishing on the coffee table like they were sunbathing. Figures in profile, the fairies didn’t even turn their heads. Even the damned fairies ignored me! I might have been the only person on the face of the planet who could see the goddamn things, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day. It figured. What else was new?

Finally, I stumbled on it. About an hour (and two more honey whiskies) later—in that sweet spot of drunken exhaustion where I was too tired to get up and drag myself to bed—I stumbled across a thread on the r/Fairy “subreddit” entitled, “DOES ANYONE ELSE SEE THOSE TINY GLOWING FAIRY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE? I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING CRAZY.” Yes, as it turned out. There were others of us, many of us, even! My sleepiness melted away. My heart thudded, though I still felt thick with sweet liquor. I read the original post, by a user named Julianax89, clung to every word:

“OK this is going to sound CRAZY and im probably gonna DELETE this but has ANYONE ELSE been seeing like these fairy people all over the place like just doing there thing??? idk how to explain it, i feel like last week something like kinda clicked in my brain and now i just cant stop seeing them ALL OVER THE PLACE, and my girlfriend doesnt see them and she thinks im just tripping, like i use to microdose acid for my anxiety but i even STOPPED bc of the fairies, i havent REALLY gone on like an acid trip or anything in forever. thoughts?”

The time stamp was three years ago. My chest felt like it was expanding, like I was on one of those massive tower rides and it was about to drop. With the exception of one heavily downvoted comment from a user named [[chaosmagick666]]—“Yeah, you probably just took too much acid. It’s too late for you now.”—scores of users were replying in earnest. The first, catLover900: “Mother of two here. I started seeing them when my second boy was born. Seems like he sees them too, never thought of them as fairies but I guess that makes sense.”

I scrolled through, eating everything up. Theories were made: aliens (of course), ghosts, demons, travelers from another dimension. Nothing conclusive, or all that convincing, and after the third theory (evidently inspired by X-Men) about how we must all share some evolved genetics and how we ought to band together to use our power for good but how we had to be careful about exposing it to the world lest people fear our mutant gifts and persecute us (like…?), I began to get bored with these theories. No, what interested me more was people meeting and talking about it. Reddit users sounded off in various cities. Something like fairy support groups formed. People planned to get together, one-on-one or in groups, depending on the quantity of fairy-aware individuals in their area. Common ground! It seemed like a surprising number of people identified somewhere on the queer spectrum, felt the need to insert their queer identities or queer relationships into their comments somewhere. It was like those guys at the “LGBT-friendly” group therapy (read: all white gay men) who feel the need to slip something in about “how hard it is being a single gay man,” and you think, oh my god, you’re cruising this group therapy session, aren’t you? On Reddit, though? Blame it on the Tumblr millennials, I guess—identity’s gotta be a part of everything. In my whiskey-swirled state I thought, god, all this on a Reddit thread, this tiny public pocket hiding out in the open on the internet, untouched by anyone who wasn’t looking for it. What else was out there that I was missing? Elves? Sea monsters? God, as if taking your shirt off at the beach wasn’t stressful enough already.

I was getting tired again—slipping away. I hit Control + F and searched the page for the word “Seattle,” just to see if anyone was in my area so I could call it a night. One match, in a comment by a user named mitchthepainter: “Anyone here from Seattle want to meet up? This has been driving me crazy. Glad to know there are others though.”

Time stamp: two years ago. Nobody had replied to him.

My hands shook when I went to comment, which signaled to me that I hadn’t had enough to drink: I was still this nervous to reply semi-anonymously to someone’s comment on a Reddit thread. Was I really that pathetic? Even if the username indicated that person was a guy, and the trend of the thread seemed to imply he might be queer. Anyway, I slugged back a shot of Evan Williams—this was a practical shot, an anxiety-dulling shot, so I didn’t bother with the honey whiskey—and the mostly-green fairies, still having their orgy on my kitchen counter, god bless ‘em, stared up at me in unison. Did they understand? All that alcohol, all that time on my computer, just to type a two-sentence reply, still a little nervous: “I live in Seattle. Just started seeing the fairies, if you’re still interested in meeting up?”

God, looking back on it now, I was already setting myself up for rejection: If you’re still interested in meeting up? With a goddamned question mark. But what if he didn’t use Reddit anymore? What if he didn’t want to meet up to talk about the fairies anymore? Couldn’t see them anymore? Had a boyfriend (or worse, a girlfriend)? Was dead? But that last shot of Evan Williams was hitting me, and I decided that the comment wasn’t enough. I clicked on his username, “mitchthepainter,” clicked the “send message” link, titled my messaged, “Fairies in Seattle.” What ensued was a message that I’d rather not repeat in its entirety. A brief preamble about my recent discovery of the fairies. My name, phone number, and (just in case) my rough schedule. I puzzled over a way to convey that I was also a single gay man without coming on too strong, or presuming that that would matter to him and/or had anything to do with why I was messaging him, or whatever. I settled on (and I don’t know why the hell I thought this made any sense at the time), “With PRIDE, Ron.” What did I tell you? That wasn’t even the worst of it.

I fell asleep on the couch, with my clothes on.

(Image by Maria Korolov based on image by Kellepics via Pixabay.)

Aside from some fairies sitting in a campfire-esque circle next to my keyboard at work, as well as a dreadful honey-whiskey hangover, it was as if the previous night had been a dream. The waking up in my rumpled clothes, on my couch. The dead phone, its alarm failing to wake me up in time for work. The text to my boss when I recharged it—“Running behind, family crisis kept me up really late, so so so sorry.”—and that sluggish scramble to get ready for work as quickly as possible without upsetting my mammoth of a headache. I’d stayed up until god-knows-when because I thought my life might change, what with this fairy nonsense, this discovery that there actually was something special and different about me and that there were others out there, others who understood and who were therefore connected with me, inextricably, by this shared fact. But it was like a dream because I’d woken up that morning and everything was still the same—I was still alone, and I was no closer to being any less so, except that I’d messaged somebody on Reddit who’d probably never read my message to him, and if he did, who cared? It wouldn’t change anything.

I got to work two hours late and avoided Janet’s eyes when I walked past her desk.

“All work and no play, huh?” she shot at my back like a poisoned dart. “Blame it on the fairies, Ronnie?”

I droned through data all morning. Chugged bottle after bottle of water and excused myself to the bathroom every twenty minutes. Throughout the morning, I watched my acid yellow piss progress to clearer and clearer shades. I tried to convince myself that my headache was improving, that I was feeling better.

My phone buzzed while I ate lunch at the tavern down the street. It happened just as I bit into one of those “hangover cure” burgers with the over-easy egg on top, and all I thought was, What now? Then, the unfamiliar area code, the text: “Hey, this is Mitchell from Reddit.” I froze, phone in one hand, burger in the other. Egg yoke dripped onto the plate and made a yellow puddle. Promptly, two red fairies hopped onto my plate and began to roll around in the fallen yolk.

It took me the entirety of lunch to respond. I took bites of my messy burger, alternating between ravenous hunger, hangover nausea, and of course anxiety over what to say to Mitchell. Yesterday, un-hungover, I would’ve marveled at the fairies glowing inside the bottles of liquor that lined the shelves behind the bar, some twirling and flipping like showy little mermaids, some still and placid, floating in the alcohol like embryos. Now, I was glaring at them—they were far less charming after drinking heavily on a weeknight. How to reply to Mitchell? Cutting straight to “let’s meet up” might read a little desperate (we were meeting via the r/Fairy subreddit, not OKCupid, afterall), but I was the worst at perpetuating text message small talk, always allowing conversations to fizzle out before getting to the big “when are you free?” moment. I felt sick. Was it the burger? It was probably the burger.

When I shuffled out of the tavern toward my office, the sun’s harsh whiteness mocked my headache. “Hi Mitchell,” I typed. “Ron here. How did you first notice them? What was it like? I feel like I have so many questions for you.”

That felt right. It implied “I have so many questions for you that it might require a date.” A date? I didn’t say it. Out loud.

When I sat back down at my desk, I read his infuriatingly noncommittal reply: “Ask away.” Okay, fair enough. So we were doing the dance. Did I detect a little coyness?

But then, he surprised me by sending another message, a long text:

“To answer your question, I was working on my Master’s Thesis, spending a lot of time in the studio and whatnot. Probably sleep deprived, not eating enough… But it was way different than any experiences with psychedelics… I felt really clear. I didn’t feel delirious or anything. But honestly, I had to keep painting in that moment. Art school fucks with you, you get so busy. Bombs could be going off and you’d basically take your canvas to the bomb shelter… You know? So then until I finished my thesis, they just faded into the background. It was only after I graduated that I really started to process it.”

If I wasn’t stunned by the double-message, I was floored when he sent a third text after that one: “That was a lot, huh? Sorry, I’ve just never talked to anyone about this.”

I distracted myself from my Mitchell-anxiety by doing my actual work, and then I distracted myself from my work by entering his phone number into Facebook to find his profile (you used to be able to do that, you know, and in case you were wondering, he had one of those inscrutable profiles where all you can see is the profile pictures, and they’re all stills from obscure cartoons, close-ups of bugs, Karl Marx’s face covered in the rainbow flag, etc. But the rainbow flag was promising?). Myriad fairies sat watching me from atop my desk, the rim of my cubicle, the edge of my computer monitor, my keyboard. They just sat, staring, like they were at a movie theater, minus tiny fairy popcorn. They all sat still except the ones on my computer keyboard, who dove out of the way when I went to type something but reclaimed their spots as soon as I lifted my hands.

I went for it. After sending my next two texts (and receiving five responses in return), I told him that we should probably, really get together in person—that we had so much to talk about.

Mitchell was short, with clipped dark curls and a thick, well-kept beard that featured the occasional white hair. He was the only customer in the tiny “pop-up” coffee shop (a white-walled, minimally decorated affair), sitting at one of the only two white Ikea tables. He must’ve known it was me looking nervously about, because he said my name, jumped up, and hugged me. I’m really tall as it is (six feet, four inches), but Mitchell’s cheek pressed just under my left nipple when he hugged me, which suggested that he was definitely below average height. It was an odd choice on his part, hugging me, but his body was warm and his embrace was enthusiastic and it was an overcast, cold March day outside, and goddammit, wasn’t it true that I hadn’t been touched in… how long? He pulled away. He sported a blue flannel shirt and genuinely worn-looking jeans (not those “distressed” jeans you pay a lot of money for). And, yes, when he turned to take his seat I did notice that the jeans, though loose-fitting, hugged a surprisingly meaty ass. God, how thirsty was I? I mean, it wasn’t even clear whether he was actually gay. Anyway, we weren’t on a date. We were just two guys meeting up to discuss the fact that we could see these tiny glowing fairies that the majority of the population couldn’t see.

I got a cappuccino. Why not?

“I’m so excited to finally meet you,” Mitchell said when I sat down. His voice was deceptively deep for his height, and his eyes darted around the room as if he was in awe of everything around him, just taking it all in, overwhelmed by the curvy silicone lampshade on the ceiling, titillated by the bare white walls. There weren’t a whole lot of fairies at this joint for him to be looking at, either, so I assumed he was just bad at the whole eye contact thing.

Mitchell told me he was a visual artist—a painter, mostly, though he dabbled in some “sculptural work” and “installation.”

“So you make sculptures, too?” I said. “That’s really cool.”

“Not exactly,” he said with the patient tone of someone who’s answered this question a hundred times. “Not like you’d think, anyway, not like marble sculptures of really toned men with small penises. They’re more like, I guess, you know, abstract experiences with light and various materials, usually a lot of steel wool and I guess I’ve been really into breaking mirrors and coating them in colored resin and making these, you know, it’s almost like this sort of gesture toward stained glass, but not so representational, I mean more influenced by postmodernism and, sort of like, futurist movements. You know?”

I did not know, but I nodded emphatically as if I did. Resisted the urge to make a “that’s a lot of bad luck” joke about the mirrors. Instead, I said, “Do you ever paint the fairies?”

“God, no. That would be kind of…” He gave me a look of sympathy, softened his tone. “I don’t know, I always felt like that would be sort of pedestrian, you know? Painting fairies. You know, something so obvious.”

“Oh, right.” I said. “Of course.”

“I mean, I do love the Pressed Fairy Book, you know that one? Totally genius. I have the twentieth anniversary edition. I’ll show you sometime. They look nothing like the real thing, of course. But the fairies do show up in my pieces occasionally, though. I mean sometimes I make really subtle references, you know, little specks of pink and green light on a landscape instead of fireflies—not that I paint like landscape landscapes, but I have some shape studies in, like, I don’t know, I’m really interested in marsh land and sort of portraying the bog in this minimal, but kind of fantastical sort of way sometimes.”

“Right.”

We both took awkward whose-turn-is-it-to-speak? sips from our respective mugs.

“So what is it you said you do, though?” he said. “Ron.” Like he was trying to remind himself of my name so he wouldn’t forget it.

“I didn’t,” I said. “I didn’t say. I’m, uh, I’m a marketing analyst.”

“No shit!” Mitchell let out a single, low bark of laughter. There was a little blue fairy on the rim of his mug. He put his short, calloused index finger against the rim, and the fairy danced onto it, shocking me. He touched his finger to the table, and the little creature walked daintily onto the white surface. It began to twirl.

I must’ve been staring, and maybe my mouth was open (can neither confirm nor deny), because Mitchell said, “Oh man, you didn’t know you could do that?”

“No!” I said. “Other than avoiding me when I walk through their dance parties, it seems like they don’t even notice me. Like they see right through me until I’m in their way.”

“They definitely notice you,” he said, and he looked up directly into my face—for the first time since we’d sat down—like he knew everything about me, like he was talking about something other than fairies. “You just have to interact with them like you believe they’ll respond. You won’t get their attention if you don’t.”

I gulped, froze, didn’t know what to say. He’d said it like he saw straight into me all of a sudden, like he knew my problem wasn’t getting just the fairies to notice me.

“I guess even the fairies just want to be seen, huh?” I managed, weakly, feeling naked.

He smiled on an exhale, with teeth, and shook his head, but it was like the affirmative I-can’t-believe-this kind of head shake and not the well-actually-not-quite kind of head shake, and he relieved me of the pressure to speak any further about it. “Oh, there’s all sorts of cool things about them. Man, this is so exciting. You have so much to learn, you know? You’re like a, I don’t know, I don’t want to say ‘a blank canvas’ because that’s a little on the nose, but we have so much to talk about, you know? I’ve been paying so much attention to them, writing observations in a journal and whatnot.” He repeated, “We have so much to talk about.”

I nodded and forced a smile, but I wasn’t so sure, at this point. I was starting to feel like he’d been without a captive audience as long as I’d been without a steady boyfriend (read: the entirety of my adult life), and now that his floodgates were opening, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for anything else. Guys like Mitchell, once they ran out of things to say, they realized guys like me weren’t all that interesting, or hip, or arty. God, fairies or not, why had I thought meeting this guy would change anything? He might as well have been straight (and his sexuality still wasn’t completely clear to me)—we were light years from having anything in common.

“Marketing analyst,” he went on. “That’s cool, though…” He pointed his head down, then up at me again (at least he was trying). “Hey, look, there’s one on your shoulder.”

I twisted my head, and he was right, my god! The white mug I’d been holding clattered against the little plate it came with. Foam sloshed over the rim, but no real damage was done. The disinterested barista glared at me for just a second before returning to whatever it was she was doing on her phone.

I dabbed at the foam on the table with a napkin and swallowed a sigh.

“You know,” Mitchell said. “You’re actually really pretty cute.”

I was so taken aback that I almost didn’t notice his awkward-as-ever phrasing, and I tried to squash down the suspicion that he was being backhanded as opposed to just not knowing how to deliver a genuine compliment. I hated myself a little bit for the way my stomach pitched and my chest fluttered. Was that really all it took? To go from uncertain-he’s-even-gay to he’s-gay-and-thinks-I’m-cute-so-maybe-there’s-a-chance? God, I was pathetic.

“Thanks,” I said weakly. I didn’t look up from the foam spill I was still blotting up, even though I’d already sopped up all the rogue cappuccino.

“I mean it,” he said. “But I mean, you knew that already, huh?”

I wouldn’t meet his gaze, which was probably darting all over the room anyway. I was too afraid I would see sympathy. “I guess, I don’t know. I don’t really fit into any of the traditional gay… types, you know? I don’t really fit in with the whole scene.”

He perked up at that. “Really? Me neither. I have a really hard time with most gay men. Too, I don’t know, vanilla, I guess? Or maybe I’m just, you know, too weird. I wonder if anyone really does? You know, fit in with them?”

“Oh, I could think of plenty who do off the top of my head. Not that I’d remember their names. Or anything else about them. I mean, not much to remember, am I right?”

And then he was laughing. And, goddammit, it felt good to make him laugh. Okay? It did. He had a satisfying belly laugh, a real guffaw, the kind that was a little too loud, maybe a little irritating to anyone that wasn’t in on the joke. And I was mugging a little bit. Sure, it was true I didn’t fit in with most gay people. But it was less that I found them boring or forgettable and more that I had enough trouble fitting in with most people, and gay men—with their cliques, and their laundry lists of “preferences” boiling down to whiteness and/or physical fitness, and their need to put a label on every kind of homosexual—could be the toughest cookies to crack. Still, it’s a well-known fact that all gays like to talk shit on “the scene,” even those who are, as it were, totally immersed in it. Everyone seemed to agree: the gay scene was too shallow, too “normative,” too judgy, too whatever, and guys like Mitchell, cooler-than-thou art guys, straight-passing guys, they always turned out to be, secretly, the judgiest of them all on this topic.

Incredibly, though, he didn’t take the bait.

“Yeah,” he said. “I mostly keep to myself these days, you know? I don’t really date anymore. It just sort of got to be a deal breaker when someone couldn’t see the fairies, you know? It’s really, I don’t know, it gets to be kind of alienating after a while. I guess you’d think it was all of us, you know, you’d think it was just maybe a gay thing in general, but I feel like maybe it’s not really that many of us that can see them. But I guess you wouldn’t know about any of that yet.” He touched my wrist from across the table. “Since you’re new to this, and all.”

So, the sex with Mitchell. It was kind of awkward and not-great, but we both really tried, you know? For one thing, I’m not so much beefy as I am freakishly tall and a little out of shape, but the thing about having even the hint of a gut if you’re gay, in my experience, is that people want you to be a hairy, roughhousing, hyper-masculine “bear” type, or an emasculated “total bottom.” I was neither. I had skinny arms, and all the hair I had on my abdomen and chest was a light dusting of wispy blonde, and despite my generally large presence I wasn’t gonna shove some guy around and ravage him like he was Helen of fucking Troy—in other words, definitely not the bear anyone’s looking for. I’m kind of a soft touch. So I think Mitchell got sort of bottom vibes from me right off the bat, which is also not generally the case if I’ve just met somebody—I mean, I’m not going to let a veritable stranger put his dick inside of me, especially if that stranger hardly comes up to my chest standing on his tiptoes. So when he was going down on me he kept doing that thing where he’d try to coax my thighs apart with his free hand and get a couple fingers up in there, but I was shut like Fort Knox, thank you very much. Neither of us had a particularly energetic touch, two gay guys in their late twenties who had fallen out of a fitness routine and were maybe not super wowed by each other’s bodies, but I don’t know, I still feel like we were both pretty into it?

I will admit, I was relieved to find that Mitchell, despite his petite stature, had a little bit of a paunch himself, that his torso looked a little slimmer in well-fitted flannel than out of it. And he gave pretty good head. I don’t know. And when he finally came, he was polite enough to warn me, polite enough not to do so in my mouth without asking, and that was kind of cool. Whatever, I guess it was really nice to be touched after all this time, okay?

When we’d both finished, Mitchell was resting his scratchy beard on the softness of my left pectoral (this was the post-coital ritual I hated most—two men, covered in rapidly drying semen, pretending that the small amount of heart-fluttery satisfaction that cuddling provided had the potential to outweigh the ickiness of sweat and sperm drying on the flesh). It was then I noticed for the first time that they were in the room with us. They stood perfectly still in a circle surrounding us (Mitchell had a king-sized bed, of course, despite his size). Just looked on, expressionless. I was generally used to seeing the fairies in a state of perpetual motion, merriment, lewdness, mischief. Heart smacking against my ribs, I sat straight up, and Mitchell recoiled with one of those startled uh sounds. I’d spiraled far enough down the search engine rabbit hole the other night to know a thing or two about fairy rings, about falling asleep inside them, getting trapped in their world and kidnapped for god-knew how long. I leapt off the bed.

“Are you okay? What just happened?” he said. He sounded vaguely irritated, but his brow was pinched in what could have been genuine concern.

“Don’t you see them? Mitchell, get out of there! That’s a fairy ring. Oh my god, oh my god.” I leaned over and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him off the bed to safety. I thought this to be a heroic gesture, risking falling into the fairy ring and being trapped there forever with him.

But Mitchell didn’t budge. Instead, he let out an actual, real belly laugh.

“Fairy rings aren’t really a thing.” He waved his hand around the room. “They’re just a bunch of perverts is all. Far as I can tell, at least.” He sat up and kissed me on the cheek.

It was Saturday, the following day, and I was lying in my bed watching reruns of Twin Peaks thinking how glad I was that we’d gone to Mitchell’s place and I’d seen he was at least as messy as I was. Honestly, I didn’t really expect him to reach out to me after that. Heady art queers like him didn’t usually get excited about guys they might perceive to be mainstream, guys with nine-to-fives that fed into the “horror of modern capitalism,” guys that were guilty of an even worse sin—being boring. And if he did reach out to me (I felt like Mitchell was the kind of guy who’d want to text first, though the lines were always blurry with gay men on who should reach out to whom), I’m not sure how likely I was to respond. Sure, he seemed more or less normal, and surprisingly sweet, especially for an art queer, and wasn’t there a certain charm to the way he seemed to start his sentences with no obvious plan for how they would end? But at the end of the day, he was an artist, likely hiding layers of emotional instability which he’d tout as the wellspring of his creativity. Or he’d be one of those “monogamy is a hegemonic tool that upholds the systemic oppression of queer people” types. Either way, a headache. Right? It wasn’t worth it, right?

He waited an acceptable amount of time to reach out to me (around three in the afternoon, approximately six hours since I’d left his house). His message: “Hey, hope your Saturday is great! 🙂 I had a really great time with you. I was wondering if you’d want to get together again soon? XO.”

I looked up at the fairies perched atop my television set, gossiping to each other in a long row of orange light. I considered what they might be saying, wondered if maybe Mitchell might know how to listen. I vacillated. If he didn’t know, wouldn’t it be nice to lie around with someone who was equally as confused? Did it even matter what they were saying? I looked back at my phone. I had a hard time believing he’d actually had a good time (okay, so it was not the absolute worst as first dates went, I guess, maybe?). A harder time believing I had the upper hand in this moment. The uncertainty implied in his question mark, the overall sweetness of his message—they weren’t lost on me.

I regarded the fairies sitting on my TV and thought about what Mitchell had said, about addressing them with the confidence of someone who expects a response. I did my best: “What do you guys think? Is this ‘Mitch the Painter’ guy all right?”

And, amazingly, the fairies on my TV turned to me in unison, whispered amongst themselves and, finally, each gave me what looked like a thumbs up.

The cynical part of me wants to say that the fairies put some kind of spell on me. But probably it was just the presence of another who could see them, who was willing to see me and hear me and respond to me even when I hadn’t believed anyone would. If he was right about how to get through to the fairies, maybe he was right about, well, maybe we really did have a lot to talk about. Is this what settling looks like? Whatever, I don’t know. At any rate, I picked up my phone, made to tell him I was free that very night. Decided that would sound too eager. Waited a whole five minutes so I didn’t look desperate.

I responded, “I’m free tomorrow if you are, or evenings during the week.”

This story originally appeared in Mad Scientist Journals’ I Did Not Break the Lamp anthology.
Edited by Tochukwu Okafor

Jacob Budenz is a queer writer, multi-disciplinary performer, educator, and witch whose work you can follow on Instagram at @dreambabyjake, on Twitter at @jakebeearts, and the Internet beyond at JakeBeearts.com. The author of Pastel Witcheries from Seven Kitchens Press, Budenz has work in journals including Slipstream, Wizards in Space, and Entropy Magazine, as well as anthologies by Mason Jar Press, Lycan Valley Press, and Mad Scientist Journals.