The ice cream van turned up out of the blue one day at the end of the street. A young woman in a blue tutu and yellow tank top sat on the step, painting her fingernails to match her skirt and listening to a world music rendition of ‘Greensleeves’. Children walking up the sloping footpath stopped to look at her, whispered together and looked again, itching with curiosity. She looked up and smiled brightly. They skittered away like startled kittens, giggling nervously, looking over their shoulders as they turned in at their own front doors further up the street. The girl went back to her nail polish. She wondered how long she’d have to wait before he showed.
Her name was Tass. Her van had not sold ice creams since she had bought it second-hand two years before, but it still smelled faintly of cardboard and vanilla, and got stupidly cold in the winter. Enticing swirls of chocolate and strawberry coated the exterior, their colour slowly weathering away, while the inside had been transformed into a magpie’s nest of dreamcatchers and Chinese lanterns. A sofa bed was wedged between crates of books and scattered with cushions conjured from commemorative tea towels and her own outgrown T-shirts. The rest of her renovations went so far as a bar fridge and electric jug, although she was saving up for a toaster. Juggling at children’s birthday parties and playing tambourine in a folk band were not the obvious paths towards financial success.
But things were looking up. Today was the last day of her course. If she could just pass the practical exam, she’d get her provisional license and The Job. That meant more than a regular wage and the first qualification of her life since she’d left high school halfway through Year 10. It meant, well, everything. She wanted this so badly.
She had seen the ad on a flyer six months ago, left inside a graphic novel she’d borrowed from the library. Tass had laid it down to the power of chance and destiny at the time but now wasn’t so sure. The librarians at her local branch had always been kind to her. Maybe this was their subtle hint to pull herself together. Coincidence, act of charity, whatever, she’d jumped for it, using up her last twenty cents of mobile credit to call the number at the bottom of the flyer. The chatty Brit on the other end of the line had given her the address and advice about everything from what to wear to her interview to the successful growing of Spanish bluebells in the tropics. Tass had been a little dazed by the time she ended the call, but the address was written down safely on the back of her hand, and the next day she turned up at the Academy.
The building had not been at all what she had expected. It all made sense later.
She had not owned the cream cardigan and ballet slippers advised by the friendly operator. They had accepted her anyway. Six months of night courses at the Academy and here she was, out on her very first job. Of course, there would be a supervisor somewhere around, but she was determined not to need the help. She would pass first go. Fluttering her blue nails to dry them, she checked her watch and looked up. The stream of school kids coming up from the bus stop had dwindled to one: a boy in his early teens, too thin for his height with hair that looked like it hadn’t been brushed in weeks. Tass sprang up from her step. It was him.
She took a deep breath, remembering her training. It’s not so much what you do, Ms Shay. It’s what they see. Illusion painted the air behind her. She saw the boy’s mouth drop open as feathery blue wings unfolded from her back and she danced across the street to intercept him, the official speech poised on her tongue. It sounded even better said aloud than it had in rehearsal, back at the Academy. The boy was flatly incredulous at first, but the trick with the squash – cheaper and more easily transportable than pumpkins – quickly convinced him. He looked dazed, staring at the squash/football in his hands as though it might float away like a helium balloon.
The motto on the flyer was absolutely right, Tass thought, surrounded by sparks. The only thing better than having a fairy godmother was being one yourself.
© Faith Mudge, 2012