We were accustomed to living in a supernatural universe.
We were under the dining table on an intricate Persian rug. Above the table, grownup voices were merry and utensils clinked against plates. Their legs surrounded us like a fortress. They had forgotten my little cousin and I were under there, and this made our game all the more exciting. We were on an adventure, a carpet ride through the cosmos gathering treasure. At around six-years-old, we were used to living in a mystical universe right inside the reality of grownups.
The Persian rug was rich burgundy with a fractal pattern I could delve, imagining myself traveling through space like the ship on Star Trek swooshing through light dashes. Now, my cousin and I were on the hunt for rubies and emeralds the size of teapots. It was a contest to see who could gather most. We did not need toys or props—other than the carpet—to make this game work, and somehow, my sly cousin who was younger than me, won. I chalked it up to a kind of home-court advantage—we were guests of her parents, so she got to make the carpet rules and win the most invisible treasure.
Even though we were Iranian, she looked like an island girl, like she should be running around in a grass skirt with shells around her neck. She was a bossy, smiling little devil, and I adored her. I also had a secret respect for her: One year, she convinced her baby brother to bury all of his birthday presents in their orchard, telling him the toys would sprout and multiply the way fruit did on the trees. The next day, neither remembered the burial spot, so they never recovered the toys. Our usurping baby brothers were a constant source of our annoyance—jealousy, that is—and she had exacted a proper revenge on hers.
Of course, my baby brother, in spite of daily childhood torment at the hands of wicked little me, grew up to be gentle and kind, and father to my darling niece. She’s partly a miniature of me, with all the curiosity and wonder, but none of the disquiet.
For her ninth birthday over the summer, she had a Fairy Garden Treasure Hunt Pool Party.
I was jet-lagged and feeling down due to something-likely-inconsequential-I-no-longer-remember. I draped myself and my low energy over a pool chair and snapped a shot of my deadpan face through the strategic vantage of my bikini top, as if my face was an uncheerful sun behind two striped, multicolor hills. Then I texted the image to the Exceptionally Tall Man who was back in California.
Just then, through the trees, I caught sight of a pack of tiny bodies in bright bathing suits flitting from one end of the garden to the other like a tornado of petals and butterflies.
All my energy swirled back into me and I leapt into a sprint with my camera on video mode. My niece and one of the pushier girls led the bunch with an unrolled treasure map in hand. They had wreaths in their hair made of “fairy” flowers. Their eyes shone. My eyes shone. The map led them to bushes, flowers and trees on different sides of the garden. There, they would uncover scrolls hidden under a rock or seashell. A riddle was inscribed on each scroll.
People store stuff in it, elephants shower under it and I fell off of it instead of a dog’s mouth. Find me.
Together they would figure out “trunk,” then scurry around to find a piece of fallen bark. At the end of the hunt, their six found items—of the pebble and twig variety—represented nature’s jewels. It won them a multitude of such jewels at the craft table so they could make their ultimate treasures. The girls huddled over baskets filled with acorns, feathers, shells and moss. With them, they created ornate woodsy sculptures, headdresses and birdhouses.
My enchantment was complete.
During one of my prior visits to my niece, I sat with her in the magical nook under her loft bed. Dolls, crafts, tea sets and bejeweled boxes surrounded us on shelves, and ornamental toys hung from above like painted stalactites in a glittery cave. She showed me her seashells and shark tooth, then pulled out what she called her most special treasure, the many-faced wand.
She had found the whorled, stripped branch on a forest trail, and it was true: from various angles, I could make out the faces of a horse, a bird, a lizard and so on. We ran into the living room, where family members were gathered, to show the many-faced wand to her grandfather (my father).
We figured he would get it.
And he did. For her birthday, he built her a wooden treasure box with brass accents and velvet lining. He polished the wood grain so the naturally occurring “faces” would emerge on each surface.
“Now you can keep your many-faced wand in your many-faced treasure chest,” he said.
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