Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week's story by Tracy Kuhn is one of the finalists in our competition with the British Academy's Literature Week to find a new modern fairy tale for London. To explore the Literature Week programme and register visit the British Academy’s website.
Alana pulled her coat around her and shivered. She really needed a new one; the long, faded velvet frock coat was starting to look shabby. They'd all admired it once, rubbing the plush, velvety fabric between their fingers as she'd twirled around. The best dressed fairy in London she'd been, whizzing around Chelsea depositing five pound notes like confetti from her suede clutch bag.
Those days were long gone.
She shifted around on the windowsill to look at her reflection and flinched. Her hair was lank and dirty, her skin dry and flaky. She reached for the dirty velvet pouch lying next to her and sighed at the state of her hands. Here she was, spending her evenings collecting fingernails when her own were in such a mess. The irony.
Not that she hadn't been warned. But her demotion had been so swift, she hadn't had time to think. One minute she'd been head of the whole Tooth Fairy department and the next? The next she'd been called in to see The Boss who'd heard rumours about a 'situation' and had been 'terribly disappointed' but hoped that she'd understand that this kind of thing 'must be seen to be dealt with' and here she was.
He'd talked his way out of it of course, with a flash of snug fitting emerald green slacks; typical leprechaun. She mentally shook herself. It was no good being distracted when you were sneaking into houses at 3am to steal fingernails.
She reached into her pocket, pulled out the small metal tool she used to open windows and slid it along the edge of the glass, carefully removing it. She listened. Nothing. She was especially careful now after that time with the little boy who'd sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes.
"You're here! It's you! You're real!"
"Yeah, whatever, go back to sleep, kid." It had been a long night and the last thing she needed was some gummy kid getting excited.
He'd pulled out a piece of tissue from under his pillow, unwrapping it to reveal a blood-streaked tooth.
"Here you are."
She'd stepped back in horror. "Oh gross, put it away! Not my department I'm afraid."
His lower lip wobbled.
"Look, she'll be here soon."
He looked her up and down.
"Does she look like you?"
"Gosh no, you can't miss her, all pink sequins and hair extensions, with boobs you can see from space."
She'd left him thinking about this as she searched the flat, looking in all the usual places; the bathroom bin, the side of the bed and, increasingly nowadays, the computer keyboard. Humans seemed to spend a lot of time sat at these things chewing their nails. It could be a bank balance, a difficult email, an illicit web chat, you never knew.
She'd gone back upstairs to find that the Tooth Fairy had arrived, all smiles and fluff, everybody's favourite fairy. No searching through bins for her; in and out in five minutes leaving behind a waft of perfume and glitter.
This time all was quiet so she set to work. Was this what her life had become? She'd had plans, ambition. She looked down at the pile of yellow, brittle toe nails in her hand and sighed.
She was just about to open the bathroom door when she heard a very faint retching noise from inside. She froze. It was against the rules to actively seek interaction with Humans and it was nearly the end of her shift. But it didn't feel right to leave someone who was obviously distressed.
She opened the door. There, draped dramatically over the toilet, wings drooping, glittery mascara smeared across her cheeks, was the tooth fairy.
"Well, well, well!" Alana walked over and slapped the other fairy on the back. "Big night, eh? Come on, you'll be fine, happens to the best of us."
The Tooth Fairy retched again, then sobbed, wiping glittery snot across the back of her hand.
"I'm not drunk. I'm pregnant." She said quietly.
"OK. I'm very happy for you. But as much as I'd love to hang around and share this magical moment with you, we need to get out of here."
She grabbed her under her wings and pulled her to her feet.
"No," said the Tooth Fairy, shaking her head, "you don't understand, it's not a fairy, it's a..." She glanced over at the door. "... a Human. He caught me, a couple of months back. We got talking. Things happened. He liked the thing I do with my wings and the fairy oil."
The two fairies looked at each other awkwardly, neither knowing what to say.
"This is bloody fantastic!" Alana said finally, "You gave me such a hard time after my leprechaun situation and all this time you've been shaking your wings at Humans. Dirty girl." She whistled softly. "Oh you couldn't make this up. The boss will be livid."
She saw the stricken look on the other fairy's face and sighed.
"Come on," she said, gently pushing her towards the window, "let's get you home."
They set off slowly over the rooftops, then followed the curve of the river until they reached Fairy Headquarters under Blackfriars bridge. They deposited the night's takings with the duty fairy.
"It'll be fine,” said Alana. “Although I can't promise you wont end up on the fingernail rota with me, your reputation in tatters and a slight whiff of cheese about you."
The Tooth Fairy managed a small smile as she knocked on the boss' door. Alana sat patiently outside and was just nodding off when the tooth fairy reappeared. Alana raised her eyebrows.
The tooth fairy shrugged and looked at her feet.
“Tube fairy,” she muttered, “District Line, Saturday nights, urine disposal.”
Alana pulled a face.
“Grim,” she said, suddenly feeling grateful for the toenails.
She took the other fairy's hand.
“Come on.” she said, smiling, “I'll buy you a drink while you tell me all about the fairy oil thing.”
Londonist is proud to be media partner to the British Academy’s Literature Week.
We’re still after your stories, which you should send to email@example.com. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
For children/by children
- The Lion: Something’s up in Trafalgar Square.
- Lyndon The Greatest Thief in London: A light fingered robber meets the Queen.
- Beyond the Central Line: Notting Hill Gate looks different today…
- The Makings of a Killer: A dark encounter in Southwark.
- Places to Hide a T-Rex in London: About time someone tackled this one.
- The Modern Fire of London: A sneezing dragon is a dangerous thing.
- The Let Down Competition: A mango has a fight with a pig.
General London fiction
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
- The Guardian of Travellers: Victoria Coach Station passengers take the advice of a sage.
- Graphic Novels: A celebrated novelist finds inspiration in Shoreditch Library.
- Not Enough: A family struggles to get by.
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
- Night Bus Dreams: Michelle Surtees-Myers is picked up by an enchanted night bus.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Routine: The importance of the day-to-day, by Clare Kane.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.