Books and Expectations
“But... Momma...” a young Illusen whined, peering up over the edge of the kitchen countertop. Smattered across the stone were the remnants of a lunch much-loved; a few slabs of crisp toast, a sticky knife embedded in a jelly jar. Illusen reached up with her pudgy fingers and swiped a small pinch of the strawberry preserves onto her fingertip, promptly sticking it in her mouth.
As the sugary rush of fruit-flavored jam surged across her taste buds, Illusen’s big green eyes searched for her mother’s.
Wearily leaning against the countertop, a thin purple-clad faerie rubbed her eyes with her fingers. Her other hand tapped a tune into the cold stone, her perfect fingernails making a satisfying click. “Illusen,” she sighed, annoyed, “you know why you must train.” Her soft brown hair cascaded around her shoulders, making the similarity between the mother and daughter even more apparent.
“I don’t wanna train, Momma,” Illusen whimpered, clasping her tiny hands together. “I wanna be like you! I wanna work with books and stories...” She spun, taking in the whole kitchen at once. It wasn’t like a normal kitchen would be; in fact, it was strewn with tomes and novels of all sizes. Bookmarks dangled from light fixtures; crisp pages fluttered from piles and piles of magazines.
“Illusen, you need to work for your future!” her mother exploded, slamming her fist down on the stone. The sudden outburst wiped the childish smile from Illusen’s face, causing the little girl to spin around and eye her mother with big, frightened eyes. “They don’t need another bookshop owner! You’ll never get a job as a librarian! You can’t train in silly stories, or old tales. You need to train in an element, Illusen, and if you won’t choose, then I will!”
Infuriated, her mother stomped out of the room, muttering. She tore into the living room, a cramped and overcrowded space stuffed with even more books. Copies of nearly every book ever written were jumbled together on random shelves, and crammed beneath couches.
The faerie flung a blanket off of a shelf, coughing and mumbling around the dust in her throat. “...Neggery Notes... The Wonders of Water... Ah hah!” she gasps, clutching a green book protectively to her chest and double-checking her thought process. An earth faerie... yes, Illusen would be perfect for that! Her sweet spirit and naturally helpful demeanor would be exactly right for that job. A shimmer of guilt shone through her temper, tingeing her scowl with a slightly downturned face. I wish I didn’t have to be so hard on her. But she needs it, the faerie justified, she needs to start planning for her future. She can’t turn out like me; I won’t allow it. She will study an element, whether she likes it or not!
Still a little angered, she flounced back into the kitchen and dropped the thick novel on the counter in front of her bemused daughter. “There,” she said triumphantly. “You want to read a story? There you go. Read that story.”
Illusen tentatively drug the book off of the counter, her muscles straining in the effort to remain upright as she hauled the book around the kitchen. After setting the novel on the floor, Illusen knelt beside it and carefully turned the rotted pages. The yellowed paper which had been nibbled by rogue petpetpets was fragile, but Illusen knew just how to handle delicate, ancient books.
The dusty puffs of air that wafted up were stale and dry, but Illusen dutifully flipped the pages and observed the writing. Swirling drawings of flowers and trees were artfully wrapped by text. The words were large and complicated, but Illusen had been given an order. She obediently read.
“I don’t like this story,” she whined quietly, but her mother had already left the room.
On Illusen’s eighth birthday, she desperately wished that her mother would get her a new book to read. She even had a specific book in mind; a pink, winged one named Never Ending Faerie Tales. She was certain that she would never tire of reading about magic and mystery, but her mother still insisted that she continue reading The Green Book.
She was getting so sick of that stupid book; it wasn’t even a story! It was an educational novel and it drove poor Illusen insane with boredom. But her mother didn’t take the hints and got Illusen a leaf-shaped comb and a flowery potion maker instead.
On her ninth birthday, she got a leafy dress. On her tenth birthday she got a large, grey cauldron and her cake was shaped like a flower. For her eleventh birthday, Illusen wished every night that her mother might get her another book. She stayed up late every evening trying to figure out a way to sneak books from the living room, but she couldn’t; at least, not without getting caught.
Every time her mother stopped her, Illusen would try begging, pleading and even crying to convince her. Yet every time, Illusen was deposited in her room with the strict, repeated order for her to read The Green Book.
Before she turned eleven, her mother caught her speed-reading a pretty, lavender book titled Dream Clouds. It was a dashing yet whimsical tale, and Illusen was right in the thick of the action when her mother tore it from her hands.
“Illusen!” The faerie mother gasped, tossing the book to the safety of the couch behind her daughter. “You know that you aren’t allowed to read anything but your Green Book! Go to your room and start on it again immediately!”
“But Mom!” Illusen gasped, tears already clogging up her eyes. It isn’t fair! she thought angrily, I want to read Dream Clouds! I don’t want to read that other, stupid, boring book!
“Illusen, don’t argue with me,” her mother said, dangerously close to yelling. “I said go to your room right now, and I mean it.”
Illusen burst out, “But I don’t want to! I don’t want to read that old, horrible book! I want to read whatever I want without you trying to stop me. I don’t want to be a stupid earth faerie! I want to be like you!”
Her mother’s brow creased, her voice shaking with the effort of keeping it steady. “Go to your room. I will have a talk with you in a minute.”
“Why can’t we talk now?” Illusen yelled, feeling bold and somewhat invigorated.
“Because you don’t know what you’re saying!” her mother yelled back, her tone switching from angry to sardonic. “Faerietales and princess stories,” she sneered. “They’re so promising from the outside. What the authors don’t tell you is that they don’t actually exist; nothing about them is true! If you bury your dreams in them, you grow up feeling secure and prepared, only to realize that they’re a pointless waste of time.”
Illusen looked like someone had hit her. Pain was writ across her face. “Pointless?”
The air between them was tense and unbroken. “Yeah, it hurts, doesn’t it?” her mother asked, somewhat sympathetically, a moment later. “Nobody explained that to me until I was grown up.”
Illusen slunk off to her room like a zombie pet, and didn’t come back until several hours had passed.
On her eleventh birthday, Illusen got a Honey Potion. For the first time since she was seven years old, she almost didn’t mind. After she had a slice of cake, she went back to her room. Seven hours later, her anxious mother checked in on her; what she found was her daughter, compliantly studying The Green Book.
On her twelfth birthday, Illusen got exactly what she wanted; a leaf shield. She happily played with it for the next few days, stirring amateur mixtures in her grey cauldron and concocting bubbling vine brews. She began to collect samples of flowery plants from around their home and planting them in window boxes.
The next year, when she turned thirteen, she organized her first garden. She tended to it faithfully and carefully; plucking out the obnoxious weeds and pests, snipping and trimming overgrown shoots. A large tree sprouted in the center, dribbling sugary fruits in all seasons of the year.
Illusen’s mother watched these changes with joy in her heart; her daughter was finally listening. In fact, she never had to try and stop her daughter from reading contraband stories anymore.
The evening before her fourteenth birthday, Illusen crept into her mother’s room. The faerie was reading a thick novel by lamplight, and she looked critically at her daughter over her glasses. “What is it, Illusen?”
Illusen crossed the room, snuggling up to her mom. “Mother, I was wondering if I could ask you something?”
Fearing some sort of revolt, her mother anxiously answered, “What, dear?”
“I was wondering if you could get me... I mean,” Illusen blushed at her unconscious abruptness, “could you get me a book for my birthday? A book about... well, a book about being an earth faerie?”
Her mother dropped her book, a slow smile spreading across her face. “I don’t think that would be a problem at all.” A small twinge of guilt made her frown. “Illusen, I’m sorry for yelling at you all this time. I just really didn’t want you to... to turn out like I did. I want you to grow up and... and do something with your life, Illy.” The mother cupped her daughter’s face in her hands, smiling down into the bright green eyes that sparkled with youth and hope. “I want people to remember you. To hear your name and know who you are, and what you’ve done. I want you to be a story, not spend your life selling them.”
Illusen smiled back, truly satisfied. “I know, Mom. Me too.”
Any comments are welcome, criticism invited. :)