The sky is tight like a drum and painted in shades of gray fading from a purplish charcoal to a soft dove with bits of white. To the west, where the sun is setting, pink and orange glow through the gray, the dying embers of a summer day. There isn’t any wind, and there isn’t any chance of rain, even though the air is thick with moisture.
It’s the kind of weather that provokes lassitude.
Sitting on the porch swing, sipping lemonade, the woman and the girl watch the sky.
There’s flickering light out to the east, swaths of clouded sky lighting up and fading out like semaphore lamps, but the code they’re using isn’t Morse. It isn’t human language at all.
“Mama, are the fairies talking about us?”
The woman reaches out to her daughter and smooths a flyaway piece of hair out of the child’s face. The flickers of light seem more urgent when she’s watching them. “They want me to come back,” she says softly. “They want me to come home.”
“But you’re not going, are you?”
“No, sweet. I’m not going. Home is here with you.” But the woman can’t help it; she turns her gaze back to the sky. The light flickering there is mirrored in her eyes, as if she’s talking back to the unseen fairies. A whisp of a breeze stirs the air, whispering through the long, loose hair of the woman, and the tight braids of the little girl.
The lights fade away, and the dark creeps in and settles around them.
When the last of the sun has drained away and the stars are visible there is a low rumble. A battered red Ford pickup truck trundles to a stop on the gravel driveway. A man hops out, sees the pair on the porch and lets his lips spread into a happy grin.
He bounds up the three stairs to the porch with more energy than anyone has a right to have in the heat of summer. “Sorry I’m late,” he says. “How are my fairy princesses today?”
“Mama’s the only fairy princess,” the little girl answers. But she leaves the swing and lets the man scoop her up into his arms. “Did you have a good day, Daddy?”
“I did.” He kisses her on the nose then joins the woman on the swing, settling the girl on his lap. “And you?” he asks. “How was your day?”
The little girl understands that the question is really meant for her mother.
The woman leans toward the man, and kisses his cheek, tan from working outside, and rough with end-of-the-day beard stubble. “It was fine;” she says, but it’s not the usage of fine that women use when they really aren’t. She means it. “We’ve been watching the sky.”
Another round of flashing light illuminates the darkness in the distance. The woman seems to read the signals, to comprehend the conversation. She nods and smiles. “It won’t rain tonight,” she says. Softly. “But probably tomorrow.”
The man follows the woman’s gaze toward the eastern sky. “Heat lightning,” he says. “No rain with that. Not for us, anyway.”
“No,” the woman agrees. “It’s just the fairies talking.”
“And what’s the word from them?”
She smiles again, and this time when her eyes light up, they’re not flickering, but glowing steadily, like twin lanterns on a windowsill. “They say I can stay.”
She doesn’t add the words “for now,” but all three of them, their entire tiny family, are thinking it.