restricted access Drinking from the Fairy’s Thimble
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Drinking from the Fairy’s Thimble

A fairy convention is going on in Penzance, and as my husband and I stroll around the hilly Cornish town on a soft autumn night, we are surrounded by a hive of winged young women. They chatter and flip the ribbons that fall from their wands and the flowery garlands they wear about their heads. Their wings—pastel filament stretched across wire frames—point to the sky. For a moment, my husband and I are tangled up in their cloud of gauzy laughter. Then, they climb into cars parked along the steep, narrow street and disappear.

On the following day, I am laid up in bed, listening to seagulls cry to one another from the slate rooftops and watching the sunlight cross the room of the eccentric old house we have rented for our vacation.

It has been a year of illness for me. My latest problem is a bacterial infection brought on by taking an antibiotic for a case of strep throat I had over the summer. Before that, in May, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a condition with a cluster of symptoms including infertility, weight gain, and depression. At 39, I feel like I am turning into something wizened and old overnight. When I scrupulously examine myself in the mirror each morning for other signs of the syndrome—an incipient mustache or bald spot—I am surprised to see that I look much like I always have. I feel so much older, bulkier but strangely diminished.

My doctor said that I might have had PCOS for some time. It involves such subtle and wide-ranging changes that many women who are afflicted don’t discover that they have the syndrome until they try to have children.

Secretly I wonder if I have had PCOS since I turned 30. That was the year when my 5′8″ body metamorphosed from an ethereal and fairy-like [End Page 31] 110 pounds to a more earthbound 140. That was the year when I stopped taking birth control, feeling for some reason that there was no need, thinking that my very weightiness protected me from being desired and from the consequences of desire.

In the late afternoon, my husband, Dave, and our traveling companions—an unmarried, childless couple in their 40s—return with news of another fairy sighting. They have been out to Marazion where St. Michael’s Mount, with its castle and legend of a giant-killer, looms off the shore. But passing through Penzance along Market Jew Street, they spotted a member of the fairy convention. “She wore only fur pasties on her breasts,” they tell me. And although this is all they say, I have no problem imagining the wicked fairy. She wears nylon wings, thigh-high leather boots, and hot pants. The fur pasties dance dangerously over the nipples of her perfect, round breasts. From a distance, her tight, tan skin seems entirely without goose pimples, despite the brisk October wind coming off the sea.

Women in Cornwall have always been noted for their beauty, and British women in general seem better looking than they did 20-odd years ago, when I lived here as a teenager. Perhaps it is because they have discovered the gym and the dentist. Or maybe it is only that I find them more beautiful in comparison to this older, heavier me.

For days, we travelers speculate on what it is that fairies might do at a convention. Do they do the normal things that convention-goers do? Or do they do the things that fairies do? Enslave mortals to serve at their balls, ride horses and donkeys through the night until they are exhausted, steal babies and replace them with changelings? Do they visit fairy sites like the Merry Maidens, a circle of stones said to be frolicking girls stopped in their dance, or do they listen to the singing of their watery cousins, the mermaids at Zennor? Do they sleep in the almost tropical gardens of Cornwall among the plasticky rosettes of the succulents, or under the topsy-headed palms and the blue-eyed bromeliads?

Finally, I look on the...


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