Chapter 5: Here, She is Most Herself
Est. Reading Time: 10 mins
Almondine came upon a cluster of nine or ten children, an even mix of boys and girls, many barefoot and bare-legged in shorts and skirts appropriate to the summer heat that didn’t entirely fade in the cool shade of the trees. The oldest of the group couldn’t be more than seven and the youngest looked about three. They waved sticks at each other and yelled words that if real Almondine had never encountered before.
“Argahamara,” shouted one little voice and the boy opposite fell down and then quickly popped back up laughing and shouted, “Rummatumma!”
“What are these words?” Almondine asked.
The children paused in their playing and looked at the girl who had appeared before them. At first no one answered, uncertain of the reason behind her question, and inclined to believe that adults asked questions in order to find errors. One girl, named Laurel, admired Almondine’s long hair and thought her eyebrows were quirked up in actual interest, so she answered.
“We’re making up magic words to make spells on each other.”
“How wonderful. I’ve never thought to make up my own words before, not even for magic” Almondine said with her hands on her hips.
“Do you know real magic?”
“What’s fake magic?” Almondine asked.
“You know, when there’s smushed up flowers up a guy’s sleeve and they spring open when he pulls them out so it looks like they came from nowhere,” said the tallest boy in the group, shielding his eyes in the sun.
“I think I understand what you mean,” Almondine said.
“I do know some magic, and I dare say you do too, but I think perhaps what you are looking for is a demonstration,” Almondine said crouching down to the children’s height, though she was not much taller than the eldest ones.
“Yes, please,” said Owen, a small boy somewhere in the middle of the age group. He ducked behind a slightly taller girl as Almondine turned her attention to him.
“Alright. Well, how about this. I see that you have some picnic blankets stacked over there. Why don’t you set those out, make nice seats for yourselves and I’ll put together the stuff for my presentation.”
The children nodded and quickly went about their work while Almondine turned to hers. She found at the side of the clearing a wide wedge of wood, left over from some sort of tree cutting as one side was smooth. She rolled it over toward the middle of the clearing and set her bag down beside it. She opened her bag and reached inside for a few items and laid them out on the wood.
Her audience sat on overlapping striped and checked blankets laid out over the grass. They squirmed and shifted in between each other, sometimes leaning past one another, propping themselves up with their arms on the legs or shoulders of another child to say something to someone on another blanket. The leaves of the trees above them filtered the sunlight into flashy patterns of gold over their faces- dark hair lit up auburn, pale blonde lit up white gold, and then back again. There was a steady stream of sound but as all the children talked to and over one another it became a small ocean all their own, rising up and flowing back, tidal sounds of another world. Almondine stood before them readying the few props she had decided to incorporate into the show. The children were ignoring her for the moment not solely because they were busy recounting tales of previous adventures but because out of the corners of their eyes Almondine appeared to be an adult, and adults easily become invisible, inconsequential when in the land of children. When they faced her full on they felt certain that she was not an adult despite her stature and streamlined face, free of the leftover roundness of youth. She bore something within in her that let her keep her card-carrying-status in the club of youths, though Almondine would hardly have been aware of it.
Almondine waved her hands with a flourish and the dappled sunlight focused over her, creating a solitary beam that lit the long braids over each of her shoulders and warmed the top of her head. She closed her eyes and sighed in happiness, before she opened with again and raised her hands up with a flick, first the right, then the left, stirring a chorus of crickets who came together in a harmony of string sounds to score the performance.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you and welcome. Today you will see acts of beauty and wonder. May you enjoy them today and remember them until you are older than your grannies are now,” Almondine said wiggling her fingers out at the children.
“My granny’s dead,” one small girl yelled matter-of-factly twisting her own braid of hair.
“So sorry to hear that,” Almondine said with a sympathetic tilt of her head.
“S’alright,” the girl answered with a shrug.
Almondine nodded, then asked, “Did you often have tea parties with her?”
“Sometimes. When we did we had little cakes with flowers on them,” the girl replied.
“Unfortunately we do not have little cakes here today, however delicious that sounds, but we do have this teapot,” Almondine said lifting a round white and blue teapot patterned with a country scene similar to the one laid out before her.
“But there is no tea in this pot,” she said and tipped the spout down.
A sunny yellow globule dripped from the tip of the spout and as the tear shape dropped away from the pot it unfurled into a buttercup flower. The wind caught it and blew it into the lap of a girl in matching floral dress. She laughed and picked up the blossom in the palm of her hand. Buttercups were flowing faster from the pot now, one after another scattering themselves over the children. They danced around, clapping their hands in the air to catch the flying flowers. When the pot had nothing left to pour the children sat down in their puppy piles again, grinning, holding handfuls of the yellow flowers and placing them behind ears or in each other’s hair. Almondine set the teapot down and winked.
From her little makeshift table she selected a bottle of bubbles next. She withdrew the wand and blew a series of tiny orbs that glistened rainbow swirls as they stayed suspended in the air. She dipped the wand again and with a succession of concise puffs of air, shot double ovals on to each of the waiting bubbles. When the ovals attached, they became wings. The wings vibrated and soon the bubbles were bees, zooming over to the children who shrieked in joy and surprise as the bubble-bees landed on their flowers. Almondine dipped the wand and blew out another series of bubbles in various sizes, and one incredibly large bubble that grew and grew until it was larger than Almondine herself. She waved a hand and the bubbles assembled themselves into a lanky elephant with long ears who lumbered across the sky, step by step until climbing to a tree and disappearing. The children laughed and clutched at each other pointing up at the tree. While the children watched the soapy semi-transparent elephant fade into the tree their bubble bees gave way with gently pops to become simple soap once more. The children looked to Almondine again and a narrow boy with a mess of blonde curls called out, “What’s next?”
There were two sheets of paper and a pair of scissors on the table, the last items to be used. She lifted one piece of paper with a flourish and then the scissors. Some of the children who had been sitting on back leaned forward on their knees and watched the deft sharp slices of her scissors against the paper. Almondine set the scissors down. She squatted to the height of the wood slice and cupped her hands in a dome over the paper she had just been cutting. She sneezed, which had nothing to do with her performance and everything to do with pollen sifting down over the group, then pulled her hands away. There was a paper Almondine, the height of the length of her palm from wrist to finger, with matching pigtails and a skirt gently rustling in the breeze. The flesh and blood Almondine stuck up her index finger at the children, asking them to wait just a moment while she attended to the next piece of paper. The children did not say anything to her or to each other, mesmerized by the flashing scissors and each trying within their own minds to predict what would happen next. Almondine set the scissors down for the last time and paused for a moment with the paper in her hand. She slammed her handful of paper down against the table making most of the children jolt in surprise. A few snickered after jumping but soon they inhaled with a different kind of surprise as Almondine drew her hands up from the table and growing up from beneath her hands was a tall and stately ship. As she drew her hands ever upward a mast appeared and a large sail snapped out into the afternoon sun.
The boat now fully revealed, Almondine picked it up in one hand and picked up paper Almondine in the other. She put her nose to paper Almondine’s nose. They both smiled and laughed at each other. Almondine set her paper twin into the boat and saluted her. The tiny young woman saluted a thin paper hand back. Almondine sent the boat out into the air the way a child throws a paper airplane and the boat sailed on. The boat puttered along the wind, turning towards to children. The paper Almondine on deck waved at their upturned faces, and they stood up and waved back, all just a little too short to reach their fingertips to touch the boat itself. Soon both were carried off in the air current. The children watched its ascent while still waving, until the paper forms were out of sight. Later they would be found by a disgruntled farmer, who pulled them from one of his trees grumbling about childish rubbish.
“That’s the end if the show, gang,” Almondine called out to the children. They turned around to face her, all standing on their mismatched blankets and most began clapping though there were a few disappointed murmurs requesting more magic. Almondine curtsied, then stood tall and looked at each child as she said, “Thank you ever so much for allowing me to entertain you on this beautiful afternoon. I hope you will always see the magic that could happen with something as mundane as a teapot or as simple as a piece of paper. And even bubbles in their plainest forms are magic all their own.”
Many of the children looked thoughtful and nodded as she said this, some looked a little bored now that the show was over, and the youngest child blinked with the sleepiness of delayed afternoon nap. They gathered their blankets and play things and began walking home.
Almondine put her teapot, bubbles, and scissors away, slung her backpack onto her shoulders once more and set off down the street.
It had been a most satisfactory afternoon.