He had always loved fairy tales. His mother had read them to him every night, in between cigarettes. It was one of his few memories of her and, despite the fact that she was no longer around, his head was still full of the fairy tales. He had never known his father and he had no siblings, so he was on his own.
He was an orphan, like so many of the young, desperate heroes in his fairy tales. Or so he would remind himself when he caught himself thinking about it. What was his fairy tale going to be about, he wondered at times?
Money was scarce and he worked down a coal mine outside of the town. Each time he went down it, he imagined it as a dungeon or maze and he was the hero descending into it to save the kingdom. The days were long, dark and dirty. In the evenings, they would drink and smoke at a small dingy bar, before waking up the next day and doing it all again.
But then the mine closed. The men and he were all laid off, and he picked up his last paycheque. The Sun was setting as he trudged back to town with the small envelope clasped in his hand. He did not know what to do, so he went to the dingy little bar. Some of the other men were already there. They sat in silence and drank before one by one disappearing. He was the last one, and he lit a final cigarette before stepping outside into the cold night.
“Hey, you got a light?”
These were the first words that she ever spoke to him.
“Now I do,” he responded, smiling.
He moved in with her to save on rent. She had a small apartment around the back of a block flats. Their single window’s view was of the neighbouring block of flats. She shared it with two other girls, though their names would change only slightly less often than their clothes. They all worked at night and mostly disappeared in the evening and reappeared slightly thinner before the morning. Sometimes he would have to leave when one of them brought a client back, but this was rare.
Life was good, or, at least, better than down the coal mine. Here was light and warmth. He would cuddle her all day as they snoozed waiting for the night. Sometimes she would tease him about the fairy tales he always talked about, he would chase her around the bedroom and they would collapse laughing. He imagined them living happily ever after in this grand castle. He imagined them in royal clothing eating fancy food as harps were played. He imagined a lot of things, but he did not need to imagine happiness. They were happy.
But she fell sick. Very sick. Sometimes he wondered if a wicked witch had cursed her. The two girls stopped coming back and he never saw them again, like evil sister slinking back into the night. She stopped going out and they both stopped laughing. The nights grew longer and the days grew darker. And, then, like a desperate hero, he eventually carried her to a hospital to get some help.
But they did not help. The nurse just looked at her like she was trash, put her in a bed and let her fade away. The hospital reeked of death and sorrow like some sorcerer’s lair. He could almost feel the ghosts wringing their hands and hear them howling in that horrid place.
For the second time in his life, he was alone.
He started going back to that old bar. There were still some of the old miners that went there. Some had gotten other jobs, but most had not. One of them was a bus driver and introduced him to his boss. For some reason, his boss hired him and gave him a truck to drive.
He had never left the town. He had never seen anything anywhere. But suddenly he had a truck to drive for long-haul, a GPS telling him where to turn and what to do, and a company credit card to pay for a warm room each night. He was wide-eyed as the world flowed past him like the pages of one of his fairy tales. He was travelling. He was seeing the world.
From the great plains to the endless cities, overpasses and underpasses, inns and pubs and cities and towns. There was so much! He saw farms of rolling wheat and corn like oceans of liquid gold guarded by hidden dragons. He saw huge, shiny skyscrapers like the crystal spires of fairy castles made reaching to the heavens. He saw people so strange he knew that they had been touched by the little folk or dined at the table of the Fairy Queen. He saw beautiful lakes that he knew sidhe slept under, great hotels and casinos in the middle of a desert that he knew tricky red-cap goblins had built to take men’s money. He saw so, so much. There was just so much in this world!
Each time he lit a cigarette, he thought of his mother. And each time he drove passed a drab block of flats, he thought of her. And, each time, he wished that they could be here to see all of this too.
The years went by and they were not kind to him. Although he saw the world from his truck window, long-haul had long, hard hours and it all caught up with him eventually. Before he knew it, he was a very old fifty and his eyes did not work so well. The trucking company had grown and he had medical aid and support now. So when his eyes failed the exams and he could no longer drive the truck, they put him into a care facility and paid him a small pension.
On the first day at the facility, he sat in his small, plain room. It smelt funny, like something medical. Drab colours covered the walls and the single window in his lounge-slash-kitchen looked out over the other wing of the old-age home.
He sighed and pushed himself up to walk outside. He had his pack of cigarette’s, but when he got outside he realised he had forgotten a lighter. His memory was going the way of his eyesight. Outside, there was an old lady–probably also a resident in this dull place–smoking out there too. Her back was turned to him, so he coughed behind her.
“Hey, you got a light?”
She turned around gracefully, like a sidhe fairy princess. She had a kind face, though there was a sorrow in her eyes. He saw the sea under cloudy skies in them with, perhaps, a distant storm on the horizon. She smiled at him.
“Now I do, young man. Now I do.”
He smiled back at her, the warmth flowing back into his life.
It was that moment that he imagined that he really was in a fairy tale. His cancer would not really play out, nor would he ever really get older. His fairy tale was a quaint, modern spin on an old tale of struggle, loss and love. He imagined at this part of the tale revealing its grand ending. It was the type of ending that only fairy tales deliver, with him walking off to that place where they all live happily ever after.
After all, he had finally found his fairy tale, and that was how fairy tales end.