Noelle goes to Booker’s every Monday at eleven. She sits out on the patio, if it’s nice. She’d rather sit inside, but Tookie likes the brick-paved terrace with its wrought-iron chairs and half-leaf roof, sun-dappled. Today, the fairy godmother is late.
“Fudge, fudge, fudge,” Noelle whispers. She checks her watch, smooths her list out on the table, checks her watch again. Her eye begins to twitch.
“She couldn’t really mean it,” Noelle says, “could she?” Last week, Tookie said, “I quit, dear. You’ve worn my wand out. Enough’s enough.” The fairy godmother tugged the lacy edges of her sleeves, hummed off tune, and looked up at the bluing sky. Noelle laughed, sure it was a joke.
Now, there’s a new waitress refilling Noelle’s coffee. “Fairy godmothers are usually precise,” she says, “They say exactly what they mean. Otherwise, with all those spells, there’s bound to be big trouble.”
“But,” Noelle tries not to wail, “she can’t desert me now?” The waitress shrugs and plunks more creamers on the table.
Tookie has been fixing Noelle’s life for years. First, there was a prince to snare, and then the kids came — one, two, three — and, after that, problems multiplied like rabbits. There were always sore throats, missing mittens, dust bunnies, dirty dishes, floors to mop and clothes to fold and homework, incomplete. Every Monday, Noelle brought a list and Tookie waved her wand, ta-da.
“Every girl deserves a rescue, now and then,” she whimpers, staring at the empty chair. The waitress clicks her tongue. “What?” Noelle demands. She doesn’t get an answer.
It’s one-o’clock, and Noelle is late for kindergarten pick-up. Tookie is still missing. “Fudge,” she tries again. Of all the rotten timing. On Friday, the kids came home with lice. Noelle spent the entire weekend scrabbling through scalps, picking nits and washing laundry, vacuuming the couch, boiling hairbrushes. It really was too much.
In the filtered light, the fairy godmother’s chair makes crisscross shadows on the bricks. It looks warm, inviting. Empty. Noelle re-checks her list. There’s the lice, of course, and Juju lost her favorite toy. Evan’s failing math, and Audrey watches too much tv. The dishwasher is on the fritz, library books are overdue, and Noelle would like to lose some weight. “What’s next?” she bleats.
As if in answer, the empty chair shoots forward, bumps against her knee. Noelle tries to scoot away, but the chair shimmies to the left and blocks her. They dance like this for twenty minutes, until Noelle is out of breath. The chair is obviously determined. Noelle gives up and switches seats.
All at once, she pictures Juju, the last child left at pickup. She’s got to hurry. After school they can check the library for a manual on dishwasher repair. What has she been waiting for? Noelle thinks, and then she’s gone.
The new waitress crumples the forgotten wish list in the trash. She hums off tune. From her apron pocket, a silver wand tip winks. Ta-da.
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