My name is Sophie Etoile and my friend Jillie says I have faerie blood. Maybe she’s right.
Faeries are supposed to have problems dealing with modern technology and I certainly have more than my share of trouble with anything technological. The simplest of appliances develop horrendous problems when I am around. I can’t wear a watch because they start to run backwards, unless they’re digital, then they flash random numbers as though the watch’s inner-working has taken to measuring fractals instead of time.
If I take a subway it’s sure to be late. A bus is just as likely to have a new driver than not, who will take a wrong turn and get lost. One time I got on the number three bus heading south on Lee to downtown and somehow we ended up heading north to Foxville.
I also have strange dreams. I used to think they were the place my art came from, that my subconscious was playing around with images, tossing them up in my sleep before I put them down on canvas or on paper. But then, a few months ago, I had this serial dream that ran on for half a dozen nights in a row. A kind of faerie tale that was either me stepping into faerie and therefore real with its own rules and parameters-which is what Jillie would have me believe. Or it was my subconscious making another attempt to deal with the way my mother abandoned my father and me when I was a kid.
I don’t know which I believe anymore, because I find myself going back to that dream world from time to time and meeting the same people I first met there. I even have a boyfriend in that place, which probably tells you more than you wanted to know about my real social life.
Rationally, I know it’s just a continuation of that serial dream and I’d let it go at that except that it feels as real as anything I do during the day, sometimes more so.
But, I am getting off on a tangent. I meant to introduce myself to you and here I am giving you my life story. What I really wanted to tell you about was Mr. Truepenny.
The thing you have to understand is that I made him ups. He was like one of those invisible childhood friends, except that I deliberately made him up.
We weren’t exactly well-off when I was growing up. When my mother left us, I ended up being one of those latchkey kids. We didn’t life in the best part of town. Upper Foxville is a rough part of the city and it could be a scary place for a little girl who loved art and books. When I got home from school I went straight in and locked the door.
I’d get supper ready for my dad, but there were a couple of hours between my arriving home and when dad finished work, longer if he had to work late. We didn’t have a T.V., so I read a lot, but we couldn’t afford to buy books. on Saturday mornings we’d go to the library and I’d take out my limit of five books which I’d finish by Tuesday, even if I tried to stretch them out.
To fill the rest of the time I’d draw on shopping bags or the pads of paper that dad brought home from work. That never seemed to occupy enough hours so one day I made up Mr. Truepenny.
I would daydream about going to his shop. it was the most perfect place that I could imagine. Dark wood and leaded glass windows, thick carpets and club chairs with carved wooden based reading lamps strategically placed near the bookshelves. The selves were always filled with real leather-bound books and art folios. There was an art gallery in the back of the store.
The special thing about Mr. Truepenny’s shop was that all of its contents existed only within its walls. Shakespeare’s The Storm of Winter. The Chapman’s Tale by Chaucer. The Blissful Stream by William Morris. Silas, Steinbeck’s companion collection to The Long Valley. North Country by Emily Bronte.
None of these books existed, of course, but being the dreamy sort of kid I was, I actually dreamed that I was reading these ‘lost stories.’
The gallery in the back of the shop was much the same. there hung ‘lost works’ by the masters that saw the light of day only in my imagination. Van Gough, Monet, da Vinci, Homer and Cezanne.
Then there were all the trinkets and gewgaws that fascinate every child. The matriculated aluminum fish whose scales were painted orange and purple. The blue glass ball that you could see your future in if you had the patience to gaze into long enough. The toy soldiers that walked when you wound the key in their back.
Mr. Truepenny himself was a wonderfully eccentric individual who never once chased me out for my inability to purchase. He had a Don Quixote air about him. he was tall and thin with a thatch of mouse-brown hair and round spectacles, a rumpled tweed suit and a huge briar pipe that he continually fussed with, but never actually lit. He always greeted me with genuine affection and seemed disappointed when it was time for me to go.
My imagination was so vivid that my daydream visits to his shop were as real to me as when my dad took me to the library or Newford Gallery of Fine Art. But it didn’t last. I grew up, went to Butler University on student loans and the money from far too many menial odd jobs. I “got a life,” as the old saying goes. I made friends, got a job and began painting in earnest. I was busy. There was not tome, no need to visit Mr. Truepenny’s shop anymore. Eventually, I simply forgot about it.
Until I met Janice Petrie.
Wendy and I decided to stop at the market to do our shopping together on my way home from Wendy’s apartment. Trying to make up my mind between green beans and broccoli, my gaze lifted above the vegetable stand and met that of a little girl standing nearby with her parents. her eyes widened with recognition, though I’d never seen her before.
“You’re the woman!” she cried. “You’re the woman who’s evicting Mr. Truepenny. I think it’s a horrible thing to do. You’re a horrible woman!” Then she began to cry. Her mother attempted to calm her glancing at me apologetically. Finally she bustled the little girl out of the store still sobbing.
“What was that all about. Sophie?” Wendy asked me.
“I have no idea,” I replied, shaking my head. But, of course I did. I was just so astonished by the encounter that I didn’t know what to say. I changed the subject and that was the end of it until I got home. I dug out an old cardboard box from the back of my closet and rooted about in it until I came up with a folder of drawings I had done when I still lived with my dad. Near the back I found the ones I was looking for. They were studies of Mr. Truepenny and his amazing shop.
‘The things we forget,’ I thought looking at the awkward drawings. Pencil on brown grocery sack paper. Ballpoint ink on foolscap.
I took the drawings out onto my balcony and lay down on the old sofa I kept out there, studying the drawings one by one. There was Mr. Truepenny, writing something in his big, leather-bound ledger. Here was another of him holding his cat, Dodger, the two of them looking out of the leaded glass window at something on the street. A view of the main isle of the shop, leading to the gallery at the back. The perspective was slightly askew but it was not half bad considering I was no older when I did them than was the girl in the market today.
How could she have known? Mr. Truepenny and his shop were something I had made up. I couldn’t remember ever telling anyone else about Mr. Truepenny, not even Jillie. What did she mean about my evicting him from the shop?
I could think of no rational response. After a while, I set the drawings aside and tried to forget about it. Exhaustion from the late night before soon had me nodding off. I fell asleep only to find myself on the streets of Mabon, the made up city where Mr. Truepenny’s Book Emporium, Wonders and Art Gallery resided. I’m half a block from the shop. he area has changed. The once neat cobblestones are thick with grime. Refuse lies everywhere. Most of the storefronts are boarded up, their walls festooned with graffiti. When I reach Mr. Truepenny’s shop I see a sign in the window that reads, CLOSING SOON DUE TO LEASE EXPIRATION.
Half-dreading what I would find, I open the door. The silver bell above the door tinkled dully. The shop is dusty, dim and much smaller than I remember it. The shelves are almost bare. The door leading to the gallery is shut and a closed sign is tacked to it.
“Ah, Miss Etoile. It’s been so very long.” I turn to find Mr. Truepenny at his usual station behind the front counter. He is smaller than I remember and looks shabbier now. His hair is thinning and his suit threadbare, more shapeless than ever.
“What…what’s happened to the shop?” I ask.
I’ve forgotten that this is a dream. All I know is the awful feeling I have inside as I look at what has become of my childhood haunt.
“Well, times change,” he says. “The world moves on.”
“This – is this my doing?”
His eyebrows raise quizzically.
“I met this girl and she said I was evicting you.”
“I don’t blame you,” Mr. Truepenny says. I can see in his sad eyes that this is true. “You’ve no more need for me or my wares. So, it is only fair that you let us fade.”
“But you…that is… you’re not real.”
I feel awkward saying this because, while I remember now that I’m dreaming, this place is like one of my faerie dreams that feel as real as the waking world.
“That’s not strictly true,” he replies softly. “You did conceive of the city and this shop, but we were drawn to fit the blue-print of your dream from,” he paused. “Elsewhere.
He frowns, brow furrowing as he thinks. “I’m not really sure myself,” he tells me.
“You’re saying I didn’t make you up out of dreams. That I drew you here from somewhere else?” He nods. “And now you have to go back?”
“So it would seem.”
“And this little girl, how does she know about you?”
“Once an establishment is open for business, it really can’t deny any customer access, regardless of their age or station in life.”
“She’s visiting my dream?” I ask. This is almost too much to accept, even for a dream.
Mr. Truepenny shakes his head. “You brought this world into being through your single-minded desire. now it has, Had, a life of its own.”
“Until I forgot about it.”
“You have a very strong will,” he says. “You made us so real that we’ve been able to hang on a decade longer than we should have been able to. but, now we can no longer stay.”
I can see there’s a very twisted sort of logic involved here. It doesn’t make sense using the waking world’s logic. I think there are different rules in dream-scape. After all, my faerie boyfriend can turn into a crow.
“Do you have more customers, other than that little girl?”
“Janice Petrie. Oh yes. Or at least we did.” He waves his hand to encompass the shop. “Not much stock left, I’m afraid.” That was the first to go.”
“Why doesn’t their desire keep things running?”
“Well, they don’t have faerie blood, now do they? They can visit, but they haven’t the magic to bring us across or keep us here.”
It figures, I think. We’re back to the faerie blood thing again. Jillie would love this.
I’m about to ask him to explain it all more clearly when I get this odd jangling sound in my ears and I wake up, back on my sofa. My doorbell’s ringing. I go inside the apartment to Open the door to a FedEx delivery.
As I sign for the package I ask the courier, “Can dreams be real? Can we invent something in a dream and have it turn out to be a real place?”
“Beats me lady,” he replies not blinking an eye as he retrieves his signature block. I guess he gets all kinds.
I now visit Mr. Truepenny’s shop on a regular basis again. The area’s vastly improved. There is a cafe nearby were my boyfriend Jeck and I go for tea after we’ve browsed through Mr. Truepenny’s latest wares. Jeck likes this part of Mabon so much that he now has an apartment on Carthage Street, the same street as the shop. I think I may set up a studio nearby.
I’ve even run into Janice, the little girl in the market who brought me back her in the first place. She has forgiven me, of course, now that she knows it was all a misunderstanding. she lets me buy her an ice cream from the soda fountain sometimes before she goes home.
I’m very accepting of it all. you get that way after a while. The thing that worries me now is what happens to Mabon when I die? Will the city get run down again and eventually disappear? What about its residents? There is all these people here now. They’ve got family, friends, lives. I get the feeling it wouldn’t be the same for them if they had to go back to that elsewhere place that Mr. Truepenny was so vague about.
So that’s the reason I’ve written all this down and had it printed into a little folio by one of Mr. Truepenny’s friends in the waking world. I’m hoping somebody out there likes us. Someone who has just enough faerie blood to keep the place going. naturally not just anyone will do. You have to be a book lover, a lover of old places and tradition as well as curious about the new.
If you think you are the person for the position please send a resume to me in care of Mr. Truepenny’s Book Emporium, Wonders and Art Gallery on Carthage Street in Mabon. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.