Memories by Ioanna Papadopoulou

The Battle of Now and Then

The first moments in Fairyland were magic, but such a word means very little about such a place. Everything felt different and I was excited to be here. To be following my fairy into her land of paradise and I was ready, so ready, to leave everything behind and fully embrace this new place and all its wonders.

I was standing at the cave that linked my world and hers, ready to take the next step into the unknown with her. My feet were soaked from the water I waded through to reach this side of the cave. My dress was wet but I wasn’t cold. There was no such displeasure to be felt in Fairyland.

Just as I was going to step out of the water, completely giving in to this new life, the world around me started melting. The sky was being dragged in long strokes, mixing the colors, and interrupting my line of vision. The cave walls were changing colors as they mixed with the blue of the sky. The water rose around my feet and transformed into the color of stone and grass, trapping my feet, and imprisoning me. My heart banged in despair and panic, thinking this was the end of the world. I had followed this fairy to Hell—all the stories were right about them. Cracks appeared all over me, sharp zig zag shapes all over the sky, the cave—and a different world, a house, started becoming clear as the mental one, the small reality bubble inside my head, broke apart.

“Mum!”  I heard a boy from this newly emerging place.

“Mum!” I heard again and I recognized the voice, my ten-year-old fairy son, Basil. I had a son. I had already entered Fairyland a long time ago. This was the real world. My real life, my present.

Slowly the cracks grew and through them I discerned my handsome boy. I opened my arms and he approached me, half unwilling to give in to my affection and half unwilling to truly put a distance between us. My hands moved to his cheeks, soft like the petals of the flower I took him from.

The remnant pieces of my thoughts-manifested world faded further. The colors of the sky and my first memory of Fairyland were pushed aside, making way for a kitchen table and chairs. The walls of the cave I was occupying a moment ago transformed into light orange brick walls. I was home again, even though spots of the memory lingered. Even in Basil’s eyes, there was a remnant of the water turning into stone. I looked out of the window and the sky still had polluted patches of the first one I saw when I first arrived. So happy and so excited. So ready to leave it all behind.

A rush of wild love for my son came over me, a harsh and nearly painful reminder inside my chest that this was my real life and I had to give it my complete attention. I owed it to my children. I chose this life and did so every day. How could I have been so lost to forget him?

I had promised myself that I would not forget them or my wife, who I still loved, albeit in a different way than the mad rush which led me here in the memory. A rush of love that could only be explained as madness. I could only explain it as a feeling that defied all logic because what sane person would walk away from all they knew one day to be an immigrant in a magical land, without any warning to those they loved and lived their whole life with.

“It’s happening again,” Basil said, and I closed my eyes. My thoughts shattered again, faster and easier this time, without causing me panic, because the mental world hadn’t materialized around me yet. Just like a soft brush mixes the colors to make them one, it was that simple and effortless to return to the present this time.

“I am sorry,” I told him. “I lose track of time, sometimes. I don’t do it on purpose.”

He eyed me and I saw his worry creep. I held his cheeks tighter and pinched them, trying to force his concern away. He was far too young to fear on my behalf like that. “It’s happening more often than it used to.”

How could I tell him that, no matter how hard I tried, or how much I wanted to let go of the part of myself that was held in the other world, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t shake it off. How could I tell him that I didn’t know why I thought of that previous life more often now than I did a year ago? How could I tell Basil that I missed it, even though I didn’t want to return? How could I admit to him, my daughters, and my wife how alone I felt in our house? That a part of me was always the other?

“I am just getting old,” I said, remembering my own parents saying it to me. These words meant little to my boy, born and raised in this world of perpetual spring, youth, and energy. He knew nothing of time, nor its effects on humans. He knew nothing of who I was before I loved his other mother.

I was relieved Basil didn’t question me any further. He simply moved away from my arms and leaned against a chair, trying to look older and cooler. “I am going to see Anthe now. Will you be ok? Will you remember to…?” his words trailed.

A stab of painful guilt forced me to speak. “Of course, I will!”

“Because yesterday. And the day before.”

“I promise! I will remember!” I reassured Basil and walked toward him. I led him to the door. “I might get lost in my thoughts sometimes but I am not that bad,” I said, even though I didn’t truly believe it. The situation had reached a level that was interfering with my everyday life, polluting all the joy Fairyland offered me.

He was about to protest again but I kissed his soft hair and I opened the door. Bright colors filled my view as I looked outside. The magic all around was overwhelming and intoxicating to me, but just normal for a native like Basil. The giant flowers and the colorful road were normal to him. “It will all be fine! I promise! Go! Have fun! Tell Anthe I look forward to her next visit.”

Basil lingered, and I kept my mind and eyes focused on him, doing my motherly best to not let a single straying thought enter my head. My effort was successful. He allowed himself to believe that all would be fine, because I was fine as I watched him walk away. Once he turned around, unable to see me anymore, I closed the door.

“Don’t forget! Don’t get lost! Don’t forget!” I chanted the words as I pressed my head against the door’s wooden surface. The words soon faded from my lips despite my resolve as my conscience was pulled away from my body, entering the world of my memories. I was half standing inside the house—my house—and half in the one I originated from, or rather my memory of it. My fairyland house and my old human one mixed and I could see the differences, the pieces that didn’t match with each other. The mirror was from my house in Fairyland, but inside it, I saw myself as a child, from so long ago. The door was from my fairy house but I heard the noises of the human world I grew up in when I pressed my ear against the wood. It all mixed in a concoction of reality, memories, and longing.

I tried to exit that state, to chant the words again but my mouth didn’t move. My lips couldn’t form the words and my larynx didn’t know how to make the sounds.

I was back in my village, back at my parents’ house and it was prettier and lovelier than when I lived there. The smell of my favorite food. Calmness. Peace. I tried to find those unhappy moments which so often frustrated me growing up, but they were always out of reach. My mind was determined to just show me beauty, to cause me pain by making me wish to be back home.

No, my old home. I added the adjective because I was home.

The sound of the sea made the objection fade. My nostalgia silenced my objection and any attempt to stay present. The past was pulling me hard and I had missed the sea. I always did. I tried to follow the sound, to find the place where the waves crashed against a shore or a rock, but no matter which road I tried to follow, it led to a dead end. My home—old home—was different and I didn’t know how to find my way around it anymore. Where I thought there would be a turn, a small lane that would lead me where I wanted to go, I was facing something that was familiar but also unexpected, unneeded.

My chest started hurting. I was breathing hard. I was suffocating in a world where I couldn’t survive anymore. I didn’t fit in. I was a different shape now and I couldn’t find where I could belong in the complicated jigsaw of the cosmos. I was wrong in Fairyland; some edges were squashed to fit in the shape allotted to me here but I had also grown ill-fit for the world I was born in and the space I used to occupy there.

No, I had never been a good fit there. It was why I came here, hoping for a new start, a more comfortable space.

There was a sharp sound and my memories shattered again. The streets and the sound of the sea stayed with me as I slowly returned to my senses and realized I was still in my house, in front of my door.

Another sharp sound.

My body was leaning against the door that someone outside was knocking on. “Hello?” I called, unable to hide my panic as it burst out of me.

“Katerina,” a familiar male voice said my name. “I am going to pick up Amaryllis. I thought we could walk together since you need to pick up Margarita.”

My human friend couldn’t see me like this. I couldn’t let him tell our other friends or our fairy partners that I was being sucked into my own mind. It was a shameful, albeit common condition amid the humans of Fairyland. I didn’t want my wife to know.

My Fairy’s gray blue eyes would try to show compassion and kindness, but inevitably, she would fall into a lull of silence and fail to understand. She would take me into her arms and I would be unable to find something to do, somewhere to escape from her attempt to console a pain she didn’t even acknowledge.

“One minute, please,” I called to Stephanos. I looked at the mirror next to the door and slapped my cheeks to bring a bit of color to them, to force every part of my nostalgia to vanish. I saw clearer. I felt the air more. Fairyland’s flowery scent sharpened my senses and I knew that I was, for that moment at least, standing securely on my own two feet, in the present. I opened the door, then my arms to hug Stephanos.

The children were in their beds and my fairy was resting by my side on our rose petal bed, made of the ever-growing flower out of which she was born. Her long brown curls sprawled over the pillows. She just lay there, unbreathing. I still wasn’t used to her daily visit to the world of the dead, making me shiver at the idea that she was indeed an evil creature. That my children, born of flowers like her, were the same.

Only I was different in our house. It didn’t used to matter, or it only did a little, but lately I couldn’t shake a feeling of anger—borderline hate—for her inability to sleep as I did. Or my inability to sleep as she and our children did.

Did I secretly despise her for sharing more with our children than I did?

I felt the mental walls surrounding me, ready to cage me, and I jumped out of bed, moving my body on purpose to break them before I was trapped. I didn’t worry about waking anyone, no matter the noise or movement. They never woke. I opened the curtains to let the light in. She wasn’t bothered by it. She was made to sleep in this world of perpetual sunshine. The curtains were for me. Only for me. I was the only one who needed darkness to rest, who needed to divide my life between night and day. It was even only me who felt the need for privacy.

Me and all the other humans, of course.

Incapable of tolerating her breathless sleep, I barged outside of the house, not bothering to change out of my nightie or even wear shoes.

Not a single of the fairies who walked around me batted an eye.

They didn’t care for such things, barely understood them. The Fairies only tolerated them because the humans they brought to Fairyland clung to them.

I had often wondered if even their magical handkerchiefs, which they tangled around their hair as decorations and symbols of their freedom, were a concept that humans brought into their world.

Unable—or terrified—to stand still, I began walking at a fast pace, heading for the outward area of the village, where the wildest magic of Fairyland reigned. As I walked, I glanced at the various houses I passed, each one made so differently from the next one. There was a house in a tree, a house underground, a house in a mushroom, a house in a flower. But every so often I saw houses like the ones I had grown up in, made of brick, stone, or wood. They were the places where a fairy and human resided together.

“I used to think how ugly they were when I was trapped in your world.”

I turned sharply to see a fairy standing behind me. Her dark hair fell all over her upper body, which was covered by a nearly see-through short white dress. In my world, she would have been stared at. She would have been called words and thought of as a dangerous, fallen woman. Or, by the kinder minds, as mad. Here though, her clothes were normal.

Her hands held a red handkerchief which she twisted around her fingers, unable to stop fidgeting. I knew her condition just from that never-ending twitching. She was one of the fairies who had lived too long in the human world, unable to return to this magical land.

“What’s your name?”

“Katerina,” I answered. There was no need to ask hers. She wouldn’t tell me. Fairies, at least all the ones I had met in my years in this land, didn’t share such information with humans. Names had power, my wife said. Only the ones a fairy can fully trust can learn their name.

This fairy, who had her handkerchief stolen by a human once, would never trust another of my species.

“Katerina,” she repeated. “I had known a Katerina once. She was my human’s mother. She wasn’t terrible. She returned my handkerchief. She didn’t want her grandchildren to be αλαφροΐσκιωτα.”

The sound felt odd coming out of her lips. This word meant nothing here.

“It is difficult to be like that,” I said, remembering all the times I saw creatures that no one else did, making my mother fear I was mad.

“Αλαφροΐσκιωτη,” she repeated the word. “It took me so long to understand it when I was trapped in that house. Such a specific term in your language. Those whose shadows are light, easy to lose. Those who see beyond their world. Light-shadowed creatures.”

I watched her as I waited for her to speak again. Her fingers played endlessly with the handkerchief, unable to stop feeling its texture. It was her freedom after all, her one special piece of clothing. She moved her weight endlessly from one leg to another and her eyes were fixed on the humanesque house.

“I should go,” I said when she didn’t speak again.

“You should,” she agreed. I nodded and began walking away, back to my house.

“Not that way,” she said and I turned to look at her, puzzled. “The other way. You should go to the cave. It is a horrible thing to feel like you don’t belong. My neighbor’s human suffers from it. I see his lost gaze when he falls into nostalgia and he delves into his past. It is cruel for you to live here.”

“Cruel?” I asked as if the adjective couldn’t possibly be relevant to describe this fairy world. “Why cruel?”

She laughed and brought her handkerchief up to her lips. She kissed it and rubbed her face with it, opening the cloth to spread it over her face, and then twisted her neck backward to look at the sky. She moved her head forward; the cloth fell off and floated back into her hands. Her twitching fingers started playing with it again.

“You are in pain. You are denied something of your nature to be here. Did you come out of your own volition here? Or was your shadow pulled away from you? Did you float behind your fairy?”

“I chose to come here!” I insisted instinctively. I wasn’t one of the many who had been abducted from the human world.

She laughed. “I chose to play kiss the human who took my handkerchief, not to lose my freedom. Consent is such a complicated thing. Consenting to one doesn’t equal consenting to all, Katerina.”

She walked closer to me and she took my hand. My knees weakened as she pulled me closer to her and a different kind of memory creeped around my mind. It reminded me of when I followed my wife here. I was cleaning our garden of weeds—just eighteen-years-old—and then I heard a pretty bird and I was walking down the road that took me away from the village. I remembered the wildflowers at the side of the dirt road and looking at her naked feet.

“But I remember our courting,” I said out loud with great effort. The memory disintegrated and the world faded into speckles of matter around, one of the rare times I managed to escape on my own from my wandering reminiscence. This other fidgeting fairy came back into view. She was walking ahead of me, leading me toward the cave I had entered from. I pulled myself free and stopped. “I remember meeting her by the fountain, arranging to see her there again. I remember sitting by the sea with her, picking flowers with her, flowers which I brought into my house and put in a vase and showed to my mother. I fell in love with her. I chose her.”

“You chose her, not this land,” she said. “Consenting to her love doesn’t equal consenting to this life.”

I opened my mouth to speak, to find a word to rebuff her argument. Could that be true? Could I have been tricked to come here?

“No! No!” I said out loud. “I am happy here. The first moments were bliss. They were my choice!”

“Then why are you breaking apart? Why are you lost inside your mind? You knew what happened to me. Do you think you are so different from me? Do you think you hide it so much better?”

A flash of harsh anger came to me and I didn’t contain it. Emotions were so hard to control here. Everything was made bigger, harsher, and I was shoving her before I recognized what I had done. She fell to the ground. Her dress was covered in dirt and her handkerchief left her fingers and floated in the air. She was up in a moment, her face changed, all her features twisted into ugliness, and yet stayed the same as she rushed upward to grab her handkerchief again. She pressed it against her breasts, breathing painfully.

“Why do you care?” I demanded “Why are you meddling in my life?”

She turned her gaze toward me. Her features had returned to their beauty; whatever feeling had contorted them was under control and she could appear again as a perfect, enchanting creature.

“Eh?” I pushed for an answer. “I am not your human. I am not your partner. You got to come back home so why do you care?! Why are you bothering me like this? Making me question things!”

She stood up slowly and approached silently, as if she wasn’t stepping on the ground but was floating, lifted off slightly. “I hate your kind,” she hissed. I noticed how far out we were then. I backed away. I had heard stories growing up of the evil streak fairies had.

“One of you took my freedom. Made me a twitching mess like this, unable to stand still, to rest as my nature allows. Because even here, among my kind, I cannot shake the fear of losing my freedom again.” She clenched the handkerchief in her fist and lifted it to me. “I understand, human,” she said amid clenched teeth. “I hate it but I understand what you feel. The numbing feeling of not being in the right place, never being in the right place, wondering if there is any place, in any world, where you can be at home, where you can be whole. I hate it but the understanding of this pain is too strong. All of you are like that. All of you are being pulled by your light shadows toward the world you came from. You go into those trances, where the world you miss becomes real. Fairyland is born and maintained by wishes and it answers your desire, your nostalgia, by creating these mini realities in your heads. And I see it every day on your faces, forcing me to remember my own horrible past. And even though I am home, even though I should be fine now, and I have all I had at the start, this world, my home, is not enough for me anymore. Because I am changed by your world. But your world wasn’t enough for me either because I wasn’t raised to live in it and I never consented to change for it.”

Her voice rose louder, and her words became physically painful. I trembled at the raw explosion of her pain and discomfort. Her words mirrored my own thoughts and feelings. She voiced what I could not. It all made sense. Amid the intensity of her pain my thoughts clung to one word she spoke:

Nostalgia.

A beautiful sounding word, intricately made of old words. The pain of wanting to go home. Home. What was home to her? What was it to me? I wanted to ask her to speak more of my own experience through her similar pain. I had berated her for engaging with me, hating her for it and yet, so quickly and so easily, I was ready to turn to her, because we were similar. We were two sides of the same coin even though I didn’t want to accept our similarities.

I felt it then, perhaps because she had described it so clearly, the soft tugging. I turned to look behind me, at the road I had walked only once before toward the cave which linked the two worlds. It was soft, and yet I felt it all over my back, at the edges of my fingertips. It was soft, not demanding, but constant.

The more I concentrated on that feeling, the more my chest hurt and I saw faces it hurt to remember, smells of foods I longed to eat again, and I realized I had a plaque inside, like a tombstone buried deep in me, and all these memories, all these feelings were there, beneath it. I was their graveyard and they were ghosts of an old life that was never truly gone.

“Go!” the fairy ordered.

I walked toward the cave, but not because she told me to. I wanted to cast away that tombstone. I wanted to throw it away and never feel so lost again. I started running, started crying. And the pull became stronger. I wanted to get to it, feeling as desperate for it as I had felt when I had followed my fairy into this world.

I reached the rocks and started climbing up, shapes I knew I had climbed down but couldn’t remember the details.

Before I knew it, I was in the darkness of the cave. My feet entered its cool water. I hadn’t felt so carefree for a long time. Nothing was lifted off; nothing was taken, but the water pulled my mind into a sharp focus. It was an experience my people might have called the blessing of baptism. I was more present in that space, in that moment, than I had ever been in my life, neither in Fairyland nor in the human world. This place was a mixture of the two that both pulled me, ready to tear me into two.

On the water’s surface, I saw my shadow for the first time in years. That light shadow which had made me able to see the magical creatures as they roamed around my human community and to sense the magic that leaked from Fairyland into the human world.

I lowered myself into the water, trying to embrace my shadow.

I had already been split in two. I had abandoned this part of myself, the part of me which linked me to this land but also marked me as a creature that wasn’t a fairy. I was not made of magic and flowers, like my wife and children. I was made of time, of age, of death, of pain, and within those constraints, thanks to them as much as despite them, I appreciated life and joy. There was no space for shadows in Fairyland. I didn’t know why they weren’t allowed. What magic forbade them? What consequence would they carry with them into this land? I didn’t have any answers to any of my questions but I was certain that my shadow was an integral part of me and I had been wrong to leave it behind.

I had been so wrong to try to forget. I had been wrong to give up this part of my nature, of the way I was linked with the cosmos. It was mine! It didn’t matter that my shadow hadn’t been strong enough to ground me safely in the human world, nor did it matter that it had been heavy enough to never fully let me go. It made me whole. I couldn’t live without it.

I didn’t want to live without it.

“Come with me,” I muttered, and tried to walk away with it, but it stayed in the water and the distance between us grew. “Come!” I said, and I saw it shake its head. “Can you not?”

It shook its head again. I approached it again and leaned down. The dark form opened its arms and I allowed it to embrace me, pulling me under the water. It was cold and beautiful. I was enveloped in memories from my childhood when my parents took me swimming. The smell of the salty water, the sound of the seagulls and people laughing behind me. The feeling of the sand and the sun as I played.

These memories made me. These were desires from my home, and I missed them.

I missed so much of it. It was my home. As much and so differently than the way Fairyland had become my home.

I opened my mouth and the water entered my lungs, forcing me to swim back up to breathe, an instinctive experience made of both memories and nature from my past. I coughed the water out. My shadow watched.

I wanted to talk to it. I wanted it to understand how much I hurt from its absence, but there was nothing to say. I nodded to it and sat on the rock at the front of the cave opening, one foot in the water and the other out.

I stayed like that for a long time. For the first time, I was able to reminisce without the memories forcing me to lose my place in this new world. I was able for the first time to examine Fairyland and not only see the ache of all I missed but appreciate all I had gained and feel at peace with loving both, being both.

My wife and children eventually found me there. Her eyes were wide in horror at my sight. She told our children to stay down as she climbed upward to reach me.

“What are you doing? Why are you here?”

“I want us, all of us, to go to the human world,” I told her instead of answering. “I love you. I choose you, but I miss my home. My other home. I want to share all that makes me myself with both you and my children. I need all of you to understand who I am, all of who I am.”

“I hope this will not be…

…The End”


Ioanna Papadopoulou is a Greek author, currently residing in Glasgow. She studied Art History and Heritage Visualization and has worked in museums, libraries and community centers. She is currently on a Museum studies course. Her work can be found at places like Hexagon Magazine, Idle Ink, Piker Press and The Future Fire.