Word is, up in Lassen County the rains still come. More than ever. It would be a stretch for the both of you to get there, but a combination of Amtrak and Greyhound, stowed away in someone’s luggage when it’s not too hot, would be the ticket. It’s really green up there, they say, with all the conifers you need to tickle your nose.
It was like that here. The rains would come and green everything up and soften the duff at the base of the oaks and olives in the park so you didn’t even need the soft little cotton-ball pillows the children left you. The children and their moms. The fabric-remnant quilts came in handy, though. Soaked with a little resin from the oaks in Spring they became water resistant, just like the tiny cocktail umbrellas, clearly harvested by the moms from one of the bars downtown where they gathered to compare notes on how their parenting had gone wrong. The moms complained and laughed and at the end one of them always had a little epiphany and tucked her umbrella into her yoga bag or purse and took it home as an offering to her young daughter who excitedly added it to the winter collection she was making for the fairies. The local gods.
Those umbrellas used to last one season, the way it rained. But they were a reliable offering, every year. So you kept those, for sure, and a couple of the little hats made out of acorn caps, even though you could easily get those in Ranchero Park. Anything obviously personal, handmade, you kept. One year there was a necklace made out of painted olive pits! Little faces painted on each one. It dragged on the ground unless Tilda doubled it around her neck. Also, of course you read the hand-written note that always came with the winter supplies. Something like:
–Dear Tilda and Elder, I hope these things keep you warm this winter. Thank you for the nice note about my math test and for the thistle flowers. I love that color of purple! I think they call it magenta. Anyway, thanks again.
You were careful to fold the note back up and leave it with most of the offerings in the bag–the actual toadstool chairs, the rain canopy made with an avocado leaf (although yeah, that could have come in handy, back in the day…), the table made from a plastic spacer out of a pizza box, the carefully pressed bougainvillea-bract placemats. It was all great stuff, but it was understood that you couldn’t take too much, had to leave enough so that the mom felt like she knew what she was doing, sneaking out after bedtime and grabbing the bag and stashing it in the hall closet, under some towels.
Because it was inevitable, and that was part of your job: the kid would find the stash, months or maybe even a year later, and she would learn what it meant to protect her mom from the truth. She would stop believing in you, but she would know how important it was for her mom to think she still believed. Years after that, something terrible would happen to someone in the park (it was inevitable), and the kid would again protect Mom, knowing it was just too much for her to take: the knowledge that there were just some things the fairies, and by extension Mom, could not protect against.
It was important work, and so you hoped that cousin of yours from down south was serious about coming to check Ranchero Park out for himself. He was used to the heat and the crackling dry winds blowing in off the desert, the smoke, the rock-hardened soil. Maybe he could make a go of it, although lately the offerings had thinned out; more kids in high school now, more moms moving on.
So you didn’t know; you and Tilda would be leaving soon, and you didn’t know if this place would stay a place, or not.