As a child, I was warned never to sprinkle too many hundreds-and-thousands upon a fairy cake. Doing so, I was told, risked suffocating the fairies who, invisibly, skated upon the icing atop the cake. For this reason, my infant nightmares were filled with desperate gasping fairies gagging on tiny slivers of coloured sugar before collapsing in the stillness of death. It seemed obvious to me that the Big Fairy would seek to avenge this slaughter of the innocents.
Because I was forever helping out in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to the fairy cakes baked by my Ma, I was thus in constant fear of the Big Fairy. My terror was increased by my presumption that, like its young, the Big Fairy was invisible. How was I to know if it was lurking by the larder door, armed with a fairy axe, about to strike?
Ma could not stop making fairy cakes. She had a sort of mania. It was encouraged by my Pa, who had an insatiable appetite, ravenously gobbling down the fairy cakes straight from the baking tray, often before they had cooled. As his teeth rotted and he grew ever fatter, I could not help thinking about all those dead fairies he was ingesting. He was a walking fairy graveyard.
This thought at least helped me to deal with the threat of the Big Fairy. I assumed it would stay close to Pa, mourning its progeny, perhaps too emotionally distressed to summon the strength to wield its fairy axe. I might remain safe from the Big Fairy if I kept well away from Pa. This was easier said than done, as we lived, during my early childhood, in a cramped hovel.
Then, one day, in a shaft of unaccountably bright sunlight gleaming through the one hovel window, I caught a glimpse of the Big Fairy. It was much bigger, and more goaty, than I had suspected, and it was looming over Pa, a look of ravaged grief on its goaty countenance. There was no sign of the fairy axe. Passing clouds obliterated the sunbeam, and the Big Fairy was once again invisible. But from that day, I felt pity for it, not fear.
Ma continued to bake fairy cakes, and Pa continued to scoff them, until the inevitable happened. Pa succumbed to a surfeit. It was a dismal Thursday when, by now toothless and impossibly fat, he keeled over and lay prostrate on the kitchen floor. I knelt down next to him and took his hand. He opened his mouth, trying to utter his last words. But no sound came. Instead, fluttering out of his mouth and crowding the air, poured a throng of ghost fairies, visible at last. My heart sang.
Then Ma went to work with a fly-swatter.