That particular summer, I had a daily routine. The moment I woke up, I would spring from my bed, dress into my day clothes and rush to the living room where my best friend, the television, sat. Almost every morning, my mom found me watching my favorite cartoons and scolded me for not having already brushed my teeth. On the days I had brushed my teeth, she enjoyed pointing out my unkempt hair, or the sheets I had thrown onto the floor from off my small bed.
Naturally, I despised such behavior from my mom.
My father was different.
I would be sprawled over the couch with my carefully disordered hair, and as my father passed by to leave for work, he would run his fingers through it and give me a soft pat on the head. I could feel the cold eyes of my mom glaring at him from across the room. I was very much aware that she disapproved of my father’s careless attitude when it came to my household duties.
One day I confronted my mom with an innocent question as she prepared dinner.
“Why did you marry dad if you’re always annoyed with him?”
I knew she was embarrassed because her blood rushed to her face.
“I’m not annoyed by your father,” she replied with a curt edge to her voice.
Moments later, she had me chopping carrots.
One day I noticed a small, plastic, white box on the top of the bookcase in our living room. Of all the times I had gotten up from bed to watch my morning cartoons, I had never noticed it. It was obviously new because I couldn’t make out any scratches or smudges on its surface. I tried to ignore it most days, but I couldn’t help but allow my curious eyes to sweep over the box. I often found myself asking the same question: what’s in the box?
It was sometime in mid July when I finally made an effort to peek inside. The top of the shelf was high, and there was no way my arms could reach it. After my father ran his fingers through my hair and exited through the door for work, I made my way to the laundry room and dragged the ladder up to the bookcase. I had just set my foot down on the first step when my father burst through the door.
“I forgot my water,” he said, rushed. I had never known that he made an effort to bring his own water to work with him. His eyes landed on me, the ladder, and the box. “What are you doing, kiddo?”
“I wanted to see what was inside the white box,” I answered with truthful candor.
He walked up next to me, half laughing. He picked me up by my sides and set me on the ground. “It’s just a boring device I have to use every night,” he said.
Boring? I knew he was lying now.
“Please, please, please tell me!” I pleaded. I even got on my knees.
He chewed on the lower half of his lip and checked his watch for time. “I can’t right now, I’ll be late for work. Oh, please don’t give me that look. Alright, alright. I’ll tell you tonight, does that sound like a deal?”
I nodded as a stroke of excitement ran up my spine. The second he came home that night, I was waiting for my answer.
“Not yet,” he said. “I need to talk to your mother first.”
They locked themselves in their bedroom for about a half-hour. I heard their muffled voices from the other side of the door. My mom was upset, but I wasn’t sure why. When my father finally came out, he gave me a quick pat on the head accompanied by a tight smile. Something wasn’t right. I glanced at my mom seated on the bed, wiping tears from her eyes. As she came out of the bedroom, she gave me a small hug and walked into the kitchen like my father had moments before.
Dinner was awkward that night. Even though we ate in silence, I couldn’t help but feel as if my parents were communicating with each other. I watched as their eyes would meet. They would stare at each other for a long time. When I wasn’t looking, I knew they were staring at me. I would look up from my plate and watch their eyes dart in random directions.
I pushed my thoughts to the side. There was a much more important mystery at hand. The white box.
I was preparing to confront my father about the white box immediately after we finished dinner, but as soon as he cleared his plate, he rose from his seat and ran off to the bathroom in a frantic furry. He was back minutes later, helping my mom clear the table. They washed dishes together while listening to some sappy music on the radio. The atmosphere was a lot different than what it had been as we ate. My parents were giggling, even dancing a little as they scrubbed the dishes clean. I decided that television would be much more entertaining.
My chance came ten minutes later. I could see that my parents were preparing to go to sleep, but I was determined to find out what was in the box. My father winked at me as he grabbed the box from the top of the bookcase and began to walk off.
“Hey!” I shouted. “We had a deal, remember?”
He snapped his fingers. “I thought you would have forgotten.”
“Of course not!”
I spotted my mom poking her head from out of the hallway. She looked extremely disgruntled. Her eyes were fixed on my father.
“I can’t show you what’s inside this box,” my father said. My shoulders fell. “Don’t worry, though. I can tell you what’s inside.”
“That isn’t as good as seeing,” I retorted.
“I can’t open the box because if I do….” He stopped in midsentence. His eyes darted to the left and right, as if to make sure no one else was listening. “If I open the box, the fairies might know where it is.”
“HA!” my mom shouted out loud. I knew that she regretted it immediately because her hand flew over her mouth and she threw her head back into the hallway.
“Fairies?” I asked wildly.
“Shh….” my father said as he brought his index finger up to his lips. “They’ve been trying to sneak into the house for days. Inside this box is a fairy detector. It lets me know when there are any fairies outside of the house.”
“Why would they want to get into the house?” I asked. He had my full attention now. Something told me that the fairies wanted to break inside to kidnap me. I just knew that was the answer.
“The milk,” he responded. “Fairies love milk. They’ll do anything to get their tiny hands on a glass of chilled milk.”
“So you’re going to use the fairy detector to make sure the fairies don’t get inside the house tonight?”
“Exactly,” he said, a smile spreading over his face. “We have to be on the lookout every night. Fairies only come out at night. They can’t stand the sun.”
He sent me off to bed shortly afterward, but not before making another trip to the bathroom, even though he had already gone.
My daily routine ended the next day. Instead of waking up to television, I immediately ran into the backyard. I had a suspicion that the fairies might have still been lingering around the premises. I had vowed to make sure that no fairies would ever get a sip of my milk. I needed that milk for my Cheerios.
“Fairies hate dogs too,” my father told me one morning. “Dogs are like living fairy detectors. They can sniff fairies out from a mile away.”
“What happens if I find a fairy?” I asked.
“Fairies have sharp teeth,” began my father. “The last thing you want is a fairy bite. They swell up ten times the size of a spider bite. You have to catch the fairy before it bites you.” He ran to the closet and wrestled a butterfly net from out of a pile of junk. He handed it to me, explaining, “The best way to catch a fairy is to catch it with a butterfly net. After you have it in the net, you should stick it in a glass jar so it won’t escape.”
The butterfly net occupied the rest of my day. It was my new tool against the fairies. I swung it in every direction, pretending as if the fairies had me surrounded or even cornered. I felt like I had everything necessary to be a true fairy hunter, with one exception. I had no fairy detector, because my father wouldn’t allow me to touch the white box.
When my father came back home that night, I could tell that something was up. He gave me his I-know-something-you-don’t-know wink as he ran off to the bathroom, again. When he was finished, I noticed that he rushed to the kitchen in a hurry, just to get a large glass of water.
“I’ve got something for you,” he finally said, his hand on my back, leading me into the backyard where I had spent most the day.
On the porch, shaking uncomfortably was a puppy. I leaped into the air with joy, clapping my hands. I carefully picked the dog up and stroked its golden fur with my fingers. It was clearly afraid of its new home, but I would fix that.
I named the dog Tracker, but my father called him Tuck instead. The course of the following weeks involved Tracker and me honing our fairy hunting skills. I would follow him around the yard, his nose dragging through the grass, and when he came to halt, I knew there was a fairy close by. I couldn’t see them, but I imagined that I caught hundreds. I was always convinced that they would make themselves visible once I placed them in a glass jar, but my mom would never give me any of hers and I had none. I usually ended up taking my captured fairies to the nearby park to let them fly free.
Although my thoughts were mostly consumed by the fairies, I couldn’t help but notice a physical change in my father during those weeks as well. He seemed thinner than before, and I noticed that his skin was white and dry in some areas. I didn’t bother him with questions, though.
July finally came and I was convinced that I had exterminated all of the fairies in our backyard. Tracker and I were planning a wide scaled sweep at the nearby park. I had a feeling that the fairies I had been forced to release may have started a new hive in the jungle gym. It was up to Tracker and me to catch them and move them to a different location, where they wouldn’t bother anyone else.
My father had other plans.
“We’re going on a trip,” he said.
“Disneyland!” I shouted, my arms in the air.
“No, no, not Disneyland. We’re going camping. What do you say? It’ll just be you, me and Tuck.”
My eyes widened until they were bulging from out of my head. “Are we going fairy hunting?” I asked in a small whisper.
My father gave me a peculiar look for several moments until his head bobbed up and down. “Sure,” he said. “We’re going fairy hunting. Pack your net and clothes. We’re leaving tomorrow.”
Of course, I knew that there was no possible way of sleeping that night, so I didn’t even bother. Instead, I snuck Tracker into my room and we made up all sorts of new techniques for catching fairies. I drew complex traps on scraps of paper that involved fake milk and large butterfly nets.
My father opened my bedroom door to wake me up the moment the sun’s rays broke through the sky. My mom served us a delicious breakfast and then we were on our way.
We drove for a long time. I took that opportunity to tell dad all about the adventures Tracker and I had with fairy hunting. He was impressed by my ideas for fairy traps and the knowledge I had gained over the last few weeks.
At one point, when we passed a group of cows, I gasped. A horrific thought had entered my head.
“What is it, bud?”
“I bet those cows get pestered by the fairies all night long! They’re like walking milk jugs.”
He laughed but kept his eyes on the road.
The sun was already descending when we arrived at our campsite. I helped him set the tent up and start the fire. Tracker wandered the grounds. I knew he was already fairy hunting.
We roasted hotdogs and then marshmallows over the fire that night. My father told me many stories like how he had once gone camping with his father. My favorite story that night was of how he had first met my mom one evening in their college library. I forgot all about the fairies. I was more interested in listening to my father.
We laid our heads on the soft ground and looked up into the starry sky. We stuck our fingers into the air and traced the constellations.
A shooting star broke through the sky.
“Make a wish,” my father said.
Ice cream, I thought.
“What did you wish for?” I asked.
“You’re not supposed to tell anyone what you wished for,” he said, smiling. “Keep it a secret, or it won’t come true.”
Minutes later, we were in our sleeping bags. My father tucked me in and gave me a quick kiss on the forehead.
“Who loves you?” he asked.
“You,” I replied, already half asleep.
“And who loves me?”
“Me….” I said. I was sleeping the next second.
We woke up early again and broke camp. On our way home, to my delight, we stopped for ice cream. My wish had come true and I couldn’t have possibly been any happier. There was no fairy talk the entire drive home.
Unfortunately, the following days were not as enjoyable. For some unexplained reason, my father wasn’t going to work anymore. He stayed in bed for days at a time, and kept the white box with him. He struggled to make his way to the bathroom, but I could see that he was desperate to reach it. My mom frantically ran to the kitchen, bringing him large glasses of water. Family members I had never seen or heard of visited us. They entered with faltering smiles on their faces but left with tears in their eyes.
Tracker and I decided to escape the madness. We went back to our normal fairy hunting schemes. We began our frequent trips to the park but caught next to no fairies. Tracker was too distracted by all of the other kids on the playground. His barks echoed through my head as I tried to sleep at night.
Barely two weeks had passed when that night came.
Wailing sirens woke me up. The bright and furious lights flashed into my room. I heard my mom open the door and several men rushed to my parents’ bedroom. Confused, scared, and in a daze, I ran from my bedroom and began searching for my father. I hadn’t gotten far when my mom caught me by the shoulders and held me back as the paramedics carried my father’s still body out our front door. I flailed like a fish caught on a hook until I finally escaped her grip. I sprinted toward the men who were taking my father away and pounded my fists against their sides. They were much larger than I was and held me back with a single hand. I caught sight of neighbors emerging from their homes with terrified looks on their faces. Everyone in the neighborhood was coming outside to see what the commotion was about.
“Help me!” I tried to shout, but I couldn’t. The words caught in my throat as large tears fell from my eyes.
My mom finally came out into the front and grabbed me again, dragging me back into the house, but I escaped. Instead of running after the ambulance, I ran to my parents’ bedroom. The white box was on my father’s nightstand. I snatched it and ran into the backyard where Tracker was eagerly waiting for me. He and I ran to the far corner of the yard and sat huddled for several minutes. I shook uncontrollably and made no attempt to keep my tears back.
When I had finally calmed myself down, my eyes fell onto the white box. I stared at it for several moments and finally popped the lid off.
There it was, just like he had said, the fairy detector.
I turned it on and examined it carefully. It reminded me of a stopwatch, but the large and small numbers on the screen were foreign to me. I placed the fairy detector back into the white box when I noticed a folded paper at the bottom. I carefully pulled it out and unfolded it. Tears ran down my cheeks as I recognized my father’s handwriting and read:
My dream of happiness: for you to live a wonderful and prosperous life. For you to succeed in everything that you do. For you to dream. For you to remember me.
That is my wish.