It never failed. My then 6 year old son would drop a pea on the yellowed linoleum floor during his favorite supper of meatloaf, peas and baked potato and a few seconds later it was gone. Peas roll, right? I can’t answer that because our fallen peas didn’t stay on the floor long enough for us to find out. Maybe you should conduct a ‘pea-rolling’ exercise for me like those guys on the Mythbusters TV show who conduct such experiments. What I do know is that elves took them.
“Hey, it looks like Thaddeus got that pea!” I would tell my son who was tempted to drop another one so he could catch a glimpse of our elusive housemate(s) dashing out from under the refrigerator to grab it.
It was an apartment on a four-way intersection; that house was… We lived on the third floor with a hair salon on the first floor. Personally I think the elves chose to live there not only because it was a very old house, and they’d lived there for over a century but because they enjoyed stealing hair. They told me as much. It was fine stuff to make things with: stuffing pillows, making rope, braiding it into clothing and of course fashioning it into wigs for the littlest ones’ dolls.
We had radiator heat in that house. Which meant that sometimes the floor would resonate with banging sounds; not unlike hammers being banged on metal. What’s that? You say those noises are just from expansion? The pipes may have been pitched poorly, you say? The radiators were old; original to the house and probably needed an equalizing valve installed? Yeah you’re probably right on all counts. But what I’m getting at is this:
Those noises masked other noises. BUSY noises inside of the walls where they lived; worked, played, built things and raised families. They had a whole world in there… gardens in small pots with potting soil originally nicked from my plant pots, tiny children’s toys and even grilled meals that they’d cook in the middle of the night (I kid you not) by roasting their food on the pilot light of the hot water heater! My point is, because of those radiators, whenever we heard noises we always said, “Those darn radiators!” And I’d wink at my son who’d be down on all fours peeking under the refrigerator at this point because when the pipes made noise, the elves could afford to noisily run about more freely.
Thaddeus and Binghamton were the two little fellows who dared being seen in the light of day. I think those two went into the main house so often in the light of day because they were quick as mercury. Cocky. And agile. They were agile, yes but I caught them anyway. My husband went off to work you see; my son had left the house for his elementary school which was right across the street and I had intended to walk down to the post office and mail a package. I left the house, in fact I’d gotten all the way down the three flights of stairs when I remembered my bills that I needed to mail and had left on my bureau. Well, I threw open the kitchen door and there they were, mouths agape, looking right up at me.
“Freeze right there!” I shouted. To my surprise they did. I slowly knelt down to their level to peer at them. One held what looked to be a white chunk of hand soap from the bar on the kitchen sink and the other one, the shorter stouter one, was carrying thread around his neck! From my curtain? From the tablecloth?
I commenced to forget all about my package, and post office trip. In fact I made coffee for all of us. They sat there with me, legs dangling off the sugar bowl (where I’d boosted them up) and sipping their drinks from Leggos, into which I’d poured the coffee, black, no sugar. Now, can you picture this? No? Well let’s see…I’d like to say they resembled Dobby from Harry Potter, and in a way they did, yes. The wizened, quite soulful intelligent eyes were large, almost fully round and their noses were longer than one would expect and gnarled. Their skin was a pinkish grey. The hair on the heads of both Thaddeus and Binghamton was fine as a baby’s. I know because my fingers brushed their silken tresses when I lifted them onto the sugar bowl. On both heads it was cherrywood brown and braided in the back with wisps framing their smiling faces.
The first thing I asked (after their names of course) was this, “Pardon me but I am wondering, if you live in the darkness of the walls here, why are your eyes not blinded like moles from lack of light?”
Oh you would’ve thought I’d told a bawdy joke because they shook the sugar lid with their guffaws and nearly rolled into the bowl. I had to right the lid. When they were through laughing at my expense, they pulled out long curvy tubes from their rucksacks (from what they were fashioned I cannot say but I can say that these tubes, not unlike old Victrolas, amplified their voices a bit, although I did have to lean in to hear them properly).
“We’ve eyes like cats in the dark. And we regularly see plenty of natural light. We run the roof often in the light of day. This is an endeavor… as birds, cats and squirrels threaten our lives regularly. But know this,” said Thad (who was slimmer than Binghamton with a larger rucksack and more delicate features), “we possess a protection from the likes of hawks and predators. One bite and a deadly poison emits from our pores. We’ve never lost a soul in this abode to wildlife.”
“It’s similar to stinkbugs,” said Bing, (I was calling them Bing and Thad now, taking liberties; assuming we were friends and neither one corrected me) “but it’s similar to poisonous spiders too. We do not taste good! But yes, we cavort on window sills, on your shingled roof. Every day we all get about out of doors at some point.”
It was my turn to laugh and say that for all their carefulness I’d seen them anyway!
Neither found this particularly amusing and said in unison they’d give me one half hour, no more and then they’d be on their way. They’d been on a mission, once they heard the door slam to fetch supplies. I asked:
“Mice?! Bugs? How do you survive? Do they get repelled too, from your natural err-uhhh ‘protection’ defenses?”
Apparently, they were immune to diseases borne of rodents and impervious to stings. Besides, these “pests” (I was informed) were amusement for the elf children; pets if you will. Interesting. I asked what it was like inside the walls, inside the vents and heating grates…
“We often wait, just under the refrigerator during your mealtimes… we’ve brought home many a dropped dinner vegetable and errant piece of cereal in our rucksacks which the wee ones love!” said the taller of the two. He went on to tell me about their families but did not go into detail. In fact they were tight-lipped on revealing their ages as well…
They did delight in passing on to me stories of things that elves of yesteryear, their ancestors had found inside walls. You see, way back when everyone believed everyone was secretly a witch——-“witch bottles” were often hid inside the walls of homes to counteract spells. I leaned in, my head nearly on the table, my ear leaned in toward their amplifying tubes so I could hear every word. Bing’s great great great grandfather had happened upon such a witch bottle, tightly lidded, and taller than he was, inside which was seen a small strip of leather in the shape of a heart with a nail pierced through it, submerged in human urine, hair and nailclippings…
“And mummified cats in the walls, they’ve been found too!” shouted Thad. “Sad thing, that is.”
Raising my eyebrows at this, quite speechless, I refilled their Leggo cups with coffee and leaned in again so as to hear them. I had to ask: “What’s in these walls?”
They both tried to answer at once, their words shouted over the other one’s words… and as a result I had to admit (in a soft voice, so as not to hurt their small ears) that I could not hear them and I was sorry but our half hour was almost finished and please, wouldn’t they speak separately. This led to some bickering. It’s hard to explain what words were exchanged although it sounded like “elf swears” and had a slight Gaelic-Brooklyn lilt to it. Can you imagine that? Well, I heard it and can verify the authenticity of that brogue! When they got focused again they went on to say that this building where I lived was not always divvied up into apartments and indeed the hair salon was once a general store. Ah, the perfect dwelling for my new friends’ ancestors, it was.
So what was in my walls? A few shoes for luck, put there by the proprietor when the place was built and signs, lots of signs. Hand lettered signs for products like soap and shoe polish… (This was confirmed when years later the landlord knocked out a wall to enlarge a bathroom and he pulled them right out!)
I was sworn to secrecy about some of the things they told me so understand that I must respect Bing and Thad (their wives Aah’lish and Una who I glimpsed one day to my delight), suffice to say that they know magick. I won’t speak of what but I’ll say this: the story about the elves who worked all night to make shoes for the poor cobbler? That is true! It’s not a myth! (They assured me with serious expressions that Aah’lish’s relatives are related by marriage to the very elf family that made those shoes!) Our visit ended. I was about to point out that our half hour was up when they noticed it for themselves and off they scurried down the table leg in a blur… I extended my pinky finger, that being my smallest, which was still half as tall as they were, and they each touched the tip of my fingernail with an outstretched left hand and then they were gone! I will not say where they went exactly; as I’m protective of them even though I’ve since moved from that house.
I told no one about my friends…except for my young son when I tucked him into bed that night (and upon overhearing me my husband of course assumed I was reading a fairy tale).
Seated at the supper table a week later, ( a mother has got to make foods her kid likes, and if that means meatloaf, peas and baked potato once a week then so be it) my son once again dropped a couple of peas. Quite accidentally I think, as his motor skills were lacking somewhat.
In a flash they were gone. “Pick those up before we get ants,” said my son’s father.
“I can’t Daddy,” said my son. “The elf got ’em.”
Well, needless to say, my husband set his fork down and looked at us as if we were daft. We went on eating, the two of us did. “The peas went under the refrigerator,” my husband said finally, and began eating again. “In fact, ” he said, pointing a forkful of potatoes at me, “you ought to clean under there. This kid and you drop enough food to feed an army.”
“An army of elves,” snickered my son. “They hide under there and wait for us to drop things.” I laughed. My husband was not laughing.
He rolled his eyes and sighed at the two of us. “I’ve no doubt there’s food under there! Peas roll, don’t they?”
I looked at my son, and he looked at me.
“I dunno, do they?” we said in unison. The radiator clanged and under the clambering rattles I thought I heard laughter.
Kimberly Gerry-Tucker, author of Under The Banana Moon
writer of blogs