- This Is How It Always Is
Dispelling fear, Rosie thought. Choosing peace and calm instead of battle.
“I have to go home,” she told K after the monk left.
“Bad news this morning?” K worried.
“Ahh, better reason.”
“I have to go home, but I’ll be back soon.”
“You move to jungle?” K grinned, the question so absurd as to present as a joke.
But Rosie had been considering it more than idly. She knew the reasons she could not sleep could not always be solved by uprooting and fleeing, that Madison to Seattle felt a mammoth move but was nothing compared to Seattle to remote northern Thailand, that the jungle may have been a fine place to doctor and was probably even a fine place to write books but it was a hard place to raise children or send them to college or keep them safe from and embraced by the world. She knew that what came out of kids was often terrifying, but its coming out, rather than staying inside, was the happy ending. There was much unfinished business at home, and hiding out, burrowing deeper away, was not the answer.
But she also knew this: they needed her here. And this: she needed them too.
Here, they needed more doctors, more teachers, more skilled hands, more creative ideas, more instincts that stood in for CT scanners and echocardiograms. They needed more of other kinds of teachers too, and Claude—Poppy—was proving a natural in the classroom. Rosie could not say who was learning more, the students or her child, but she gave thanks for the apparent answer, which was both, together. She imagined what the boys could do here, the technology and ideas Ben could impart, the patients Roo could keep company and comfort with his modest Rooness, the tunnels and trenches, roofs and rain barrels, potties and porticos Rigel and Orion could help dig, build, move, and repair, not to mention the sick kids who would adore the Rigel and Orion Show.
And she needed them too, first of all because knowing they were here meant she could never completely leave, and second of all because they reminded her, with the stark clarity that seemed to pervade everything they did here, that she belonged in an emergency room. She couldn’t move here, she knew, and she couldn’t stay, but she could come back. She couldn’t work here year-round, but there were clinics and patients closer to home who needed her too.
And Poppy could not be Claude, and she could not hide, and if they could not entirely plan for who she might be two and ten and twenty years from now, they didn’t need to. They could make hard decisions, together, when it was time to decide, and in the meantime, they could embrace what was now and what was good. They could be mindful of what was hard for everyone, not just what was hard for Poppy, the trouble all humans in the whole world had knowing who they were and what they needed and what would help the mysterious, unknowable, miraculous beings in their care. Their lives would be a different kind of fairy tale, less magic and more ambiguity, less once-upon-a-time and happily-ever-after and more in between. A middle way. In the meantime, they had to live with not knowing, got to live with not knowing, got to help other people with what they had to live with too. Tell their stories, dispel fear, let be. Amend as necessary.
Rosie went to check on the worm girl so she could finish her shift so she could go home and start packing and go home.
Grumwald stood in front of the mirror in Princess Stephanie’s clothes and wondered what it would be like when someone knew and then, shortly thereafter, everyone knew the secret he’d been keeping for so many years. He remembered the time the witch gave him magic beans. He remembered the time she came to the restaurant when he was having dinner with Lloyd. He remembered all the way back to before he met the witch the first time, back when he was still Grumwald only, Grumwald alone. He could picture it, cloudily, in that way that you do when you know it was true but you just can’t believe it anymore.
He remembered that night with the fairies, the night his life had begun in a way, Princess Stephanie’s birth day. The witch, impatient for the makings of one spell, had cast another: he would be Grumwald by day, Princess Stephanie by night. At first it had been an odious curse. The way between his forked selves was through the trees, root-tangled and muddy and overgrown, and the hike back and forth each day was crushing.
So he forged a path. He realized he knew how to be a princess because he knew how to be a prince. The particulars diverged, but they were more alike than different. Helping his charges feel loved and respected, their talents honored, their loads lightened was his job in either guise, and he was good at it, from long practice, which of course didn’t change based on what he was wearing or what name he was called.
Except then, slowly, day by night by day, it got harder and harder to find the path. Grumwald thought he’d have to start repaving, rehacking the roots and branches, refilling the potholes to reclaim his way, but no, it turned out his two worlds had moved closer together, had very nearly merged. Like magic. He still didn’t think there was anyone he could tell, but he and Princess Stephanie felt home.
When he thought back to the dinner with Lloyd though, he decided it was time to talk to the witch. Making peace was better than living in fear. So he snipped off a piece of Princess Stephanie’s green hair one night—Why had this been such a big deal? He couldn’t remember—and took it to the witch’s cottage the next morning.
“Thank you, Grumwald.” She looked relieved enough to cry. “Night-fairy hair so helps my arthritis. I can’t catch the night fairies because my hands are too stiff, and my hands are too stiff because I can’t catch the night fairies. Some contradictions are too stupid even for magic.”