I’ve never felt at home in the real world. I’m a thing of dreams, of half formed creatures and landscapes not quite fully part of this world. I’m a thing of reality, born of planning and sensibility. All and nothing at once.
When people see me, they don’t think I’m anything different than the people around me. I’m normal. I don’t get into fights or talk back to adults. What’s the point, really? I don’t care about this world, not like them. I’ve never felt like I’m a part of anything, I like being on my own more than being with others. Because when I’m alone, I can have my fantasy. I can wrap myself in a blanket of daydreams and imagination and forget for a moment or two that I am trapped in a world without magic.
But reality always tears away that blanket and forces me to live in the real again.
“...Margaret?” the voice of my mother asks, bleeding through the music pouring through my headphones, breaking me away from my dreams, back to reality.
“What was that?” I ask, tuning back into the world around me. I don’t know how long has passed between now and when I first faded into imagination-land. I pull one of my headphones out of my ear, the tinny music still audible through the little bud.
My mother sighs and gives me a look. I recognize the look. It’s the look of someone who has been calling a long time to try and capture my attention. My parents think I ignore them on purpose. I don’t. I just don’t find them interesting enough to pay attention to for a long time.
I don’t know why parents seem to think that they should be the most fascinating and important things in their children’s lives. I have a life outside of my family, outside of what my parents know. Their chores and lectures and rules don’t matter. Not to me, not in the long run.
“I was asking if you have all of your stuff ready to take in, we’re almost at the house,” my mother says.
I press my lips together and don’t give voice to what I really think. I’m packed, of course I am. I have a backpack and a kindle and a phone, it would take me two seconds to pack it all up. Less than however long it will take my parents to stop the car and get out. But I don’t say that.
Kids aren’t allowed to say what they really think. I know that all too well. No one cares what I really think. Instead I nod and pop my earbud back into my ear, glancing back out the window at the watercolor blurr of trees zooming past.
I like it here. The trees look like something out of a fantasy novel or a myth. A place where kings and their courts hunt, where dragons lay in wait with their gold, where witches and goblins and faeries are ready to lure unsuspecting mortals to foolish bargains. I like it better than where we live, in a city where the most magical thing was the way the graffiti on the walls of the alley behind Pizza Joe’s seemed to glitter if the light hit it right.
I don’t even mind that someone had to die for us to be here.
My great grandfather died. On my mother’s side. She called him Pop-pop.
I don’t miss him. I never even knew him. I was too young when he was healthy and then he was too sick when I was old enough. The only memory I have of him is when I was very young. Maybe five or four, young enough that the stories I read and people told me felt real. Young enough that the world was magic and not just my imagination.
I was sitting on his lap in front of a fire. It must have been winter if there was a fire. I was playing with the corded necklace he wore around his neck, I don’t remember what it was, I only remember I liked it when I was young. He was talking to me in his scratchy and comforting old-man voice telling me stories of the house and the forest around his old manor-house in the country. “This house is special Magpie,” I remember that he called me Magpie, not Margaret. “One day you’ll see how special. And when that day comes, you’ll be their queen.”
He called me Magpie.
The next day he tried to burn the house down. He almost succeeded. The next year he was locked away in a home for old-people who aren’t in their right mind anymore.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d be in a home like that for teenagers if anyone ever found out how I really thought. I wonder a lot of things.
And there, staring out the UV-tinted window of my father’s red Subaru Outback, I let myself drift away to the sight of blurred trees and the sound of singers in my ears.
The house is beautiful. Old and grand, it is just like something out of a novel. Victorian brick, with white edges and pillars, roses and ivy crawling up the walls like they are trying to claw their way to the sun. Or maybe they are simply trying to bring the house down to their level. The long driveway is rough and uneven, sending the car bumping as we drove. The thick willows lining the sides of the road droop on top of us like the leaves they left on the cars were tears.
Weeping willows mourning the death of a man I never knew who tried to kill them. I wonder if they missed him. I wonder if they hate him for trying to burn them.
Staring up at that house, I feel the edges of fantasy teasing the sides of my brain. Soft and familiar, like a childhood pet. I smile and let myself imagine that the house isn’t what it seems, just like how my great-grandfather told me. I let myself believe that spirits and pixies dart between the roses and that brownies scurried through the walls. That all the creatures living inside of me lived there in a never ending revelry. Where freedom and joy were always in bloom.
“Wow, what a dump!” but reality is always here, ready to take away whatever happiness my dreams give me. I turn and level my brother with a glare, hating him for taking me away from fantasy. He’s staring up at the house just like me, only he sees something different.
Where I see promise and magic, he sees rot and ruin. I wonder why we don’t see the world the same way.
“Don’t say that, Derrick,” my father says in his patient professor-voice. “We’re only here for a few weeks to fix up the place, remember?”
I remember. I don’t like it, but I remember.
Wordlessly, I open the door of the braked car and step out, taking my packed bag with me. I stare up at the house, it’s so large it shades me from the glare of the sun. It’s beautiful.
I want to be here forever. I don’t want to go back to the city with its rumbling cars and poisonous air. I want to say here with my dreams and the magic in the air.
“Margaret!” my mother yells at me. “Come help us unload! We have a lot of cleaning to do before dinner!”
The rosy bubble of my hope pops and I shuffle over to heft suitcases. I’m athletic so I can do it without an issue. My mother gives me the heaviest ones and takes a single bag of napkins for herself.
I wonder what my family would think if I told them that I sometimes hated them. I wonder what they would do if I told them that I hated reality.
That night I lay awake in an unfamiliar bed, staring at a wooden ceiling that’s even more unfamiliar.
I’m not an insomniac. I could fall asleep if I wanted to. I just want to savor this for a little longer. This place between waking and dreaming, a place where everything and nothing is possible. Where everything is soft and fluffy and wonderful.
I’ve always liked sleeping. I like dreaming, because in my dreams I’m free. I can be magical in a world of imagination and wonder. Dreams are the opposite of reality.
I’ve always hated that I can never remember my dreams. I can remember half-formed ideas of them. Happiness and friendship and belonging. Illusive and fleeting like feathers in the wind.
Drifting on this tide of half-wakefulness I sigh and whisper something, just once. “I want to know what makes this house special, Grandpa.” My eyes slid close and I fell into dreams.
I’m standing in the entrance hall of the house. Soaring wooden beams above me, luxurious carpet in front of me, pictures and smooth walls and gilt to the sides of me. It's the entrance hall, but not. Because this one is magical. The chandeliers on the ceiling flicker with the light of stars, casting warm light on the revelry below.
Creatures that only exist in my imagining twine together and around each other, dancing to music pouring from every wall and surface. A beat soothing and tantalizing all at once, urging you to get onto the dancefloor and dance while at the same time washing your worries away with a careful, loving hand. The scent in the air is sweat and roses, the scent of magic and dreams and freedom.
I let out a breath and everything stopped. Froze, frozen, freeze. Eyes that shouldn’t exist blink at me. Then, all at once, with the force of a whisper and a bang, they say something. “Magpie.”
“Magpie is back!”
“Hello, Magpie,” I turn to see my great-grandfather standing on the steps leading to the second floor at the far end of the hall. Then he was right next to me in the way that dreams could. “I’m so glad you came back.”
“I didn’t have a choice,” I say. I can speak freely here. Dreams are a place I can be free. The rules of reality and adults don’t exist here.
My great-grandfather laughs. He looks like I remember. Like a scholar or a retired explorer. Receding grey hair, spectacles perch on his hawk-like nose, vest, pressed collared shirt, grey slacks and oxfords. He’s dignified and powerful in a way I admire. “You still came here.”
“Where is here?” I ask. The revelry has resumed, with more fever than before. Now the impossible beings are whirling and laughing in a way that has more excitement than before. They’re celebrating. They’re celebrating me.
“This is here,” my grandfather replies in a voice dancing with mirth. “It is here and there and all around. It is a place of wonder and magic, where you can be free. You can be the you that they never let you be.”
My family. I know that’s what he meant. My family, the world, that reality. A reality I didn’t fit into, a world that didn’t understand me, a family that didn’t try.
“How long can I stay?”
“As long as you wish,” my great-grandfather smiles and then fades away and I am left alone.
Gazing out at the sight in front of me, I wonder what would happen if I never went back. I wonder what would happen if I stayed forever in this place I already loved. I wonder what would happen if I left. I wonder what would happen if I went back to the place I didn’t fit into.
I’m a half-formed girl of dreams and fantasy. But here I am full-formed. I belong, I am a queen.
What do I have back there? Nothing. What do I have here? Everything.
And there, surrounded by creatures I never thought could be real, with the sight of dancing magic in front of me and the sounds of impossible music in my ears, I let myself drift away.