I do not often find myself swarming with conflicted emotions; like Tinkerbell I feel things so intensely I am capable of holding no more than one emotion at a time. One and a half puts me at capacity, and I am liable to begin leaking transmission fluid.
An example: in the fourth grade my teacher sent me back to my desk for neglecting to stay on-task during a group assignment. As I walked to my seat, my head swirled with visions of galaxies and I thought You have no idea who you are dealing with. I could make and unmake you with my mind; my thoughts contain the universe and you are nothing. I was eight years old, and I thought murder at a kind, unmarried woman who spent most of her time patiently teaching me cursive and fractions. Much of my internal monologue during the years 1996-1998 could double as a supervillain origin story. So I’ve found it best to confine myself to one feeling at a time, in order, before moving on to the next one.
But when I was eight years old, I had two feelings at the same time (and, almost, a leprechaun), and the memory of it has never left me.
The art of leprechaun-trap-building is, I believe, a specifically Midwestern practice, although I have no evidence for this other than A) I built leprechaun traps as a child and B) I grew up in the Midwest. It consists of covering a shoebox in bright green cardboard paper, propping the lid up on a stick (Popsicle is best), and secreting some sort of leprechaun-attracting lure in the lower half of the arrangement. A cookie that has been dyed green works best. A string may also have been involved; I misremember.
My mother was largely responsible for overseeing this process, as my mother was responsible for most things magical during my youth. She was particularly afflicted, I remember, by an occasional tendency to lose control of her car as she drove us about running errands; the wheel would begin to shake, and she would exclaim “Oh, no! The car is taking over! It’s happening again! I can’t stop it,” and the car would drive itself — despite her best efforts to resist — into the nearest Carl’s Jr. drive-through, where I was rewarded by the car for her lapse in vigilance with a small cheeseburger (mustard only) and waffle fries. She was weak, but I did not hold it against her. As I grew older, her ability to maintain control of the car grew steadily, and she has not been overpowered by the steering wheel in over a decade.
The St. Patrick’s Day of my eighth year — one only sets traps for leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day, I shouldn’t have to explain that to you — I came downstairs to find a shower of clover-shaped glitter around the collapsed box.
Something has been here, I thought, and shivered with knowledge. Until that morning, my belief in the existence and possible capture of leprechauns was more aspirational than grounded in true belief, but this was hard evidence. This was confirmation. I was Dr. Ballard hovering over the bow of the found Titanic. Leprechauns were real — of course they were real, I had been a fool to doubt — and I had nearly mastered one at the tender age of eight, without any previous experience or training.
I cannot describe to you the fierce, the exultant joy that filled my trembling form. Everything was possible now; everything was true. I knew it. I knew it all along, and I had not been wrong. The veil between the worlds was pierced through the heart, if veils can be said to have hearts at all. In the night, a leprechaun had stolen across my threshold. This made him mine, by all the oldest and the strongest magics in the world.
The box was empty. My spirit flagged. There was a note and a mannikin devoid of life or expression inside. I picked them up. The note read — in a script that felt oddly familiar to my fevered, seizing heart —
You almost caught me! Thanks for the cookie. I’m leaving you something as a reward for coming so close to beating me. See you next year!
It was a small, crude felt facsimile of a leprechaun. He wore a top hat and a bland smile and bore the name JEROME stitched across his chest; I treasured and hated him in equal measure.
The weight of feeling two things at once nearly rent my flesh in two. Like Rumpelstiltskin I was ready to seize myself about the legs and scream “The devil told you that! The devil told you that!” until I ripped my own body down the middle and descended into Hell. He was lost to me, lost entirely for an entire year. I had lacked vigilance, like my weak and magic-less mother. But he was real, and that gave me joy. But he was not mine, and that filled my eyes with tears and bile. But he was somewhere, and I had almost caught him, and next year I would have more than a handful of glitter and a note acknowledging my worth to show for my efforts.
The harpy folded her wings and fell like a star – not at the unicorn, but beyond her, passing so close that a single feather drew blood from the unicorn’s shoulder; bright claws reaching for the heart of Mommy Fortuna, who was stretching out her own sharp hands as though to welcome the harpy home. “Not alone!” the witch howled triumphantly at both of them. “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” Then the harpy reached her, and she broke like a dead stick and fell. The harpy crouched on her body, hiding it from sight, and the bronze wings turned red.
It’s best to feel just one thing at a time. Much more orderly that way.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.