Look, up there, where the trees are, she says to the invisible child in the trolley. It’s the Magic Forest; the elves live there in spring and summer.
Where do they live in the winter? asks the child, refusing to be wide-eyed.
But she is ready for the child’s skepticism. They fly away, on the reddest of the autumn leaves. They fly to another summer someplace, and they come back in the spring, with the new leaves.
Well, then how do they get back up? asks the child. It’s an awfully high mountain.
They climb the vines over there, pointing to thick ivy covering the windows of a high white office building. It’s called the Elf's Ladder. Do you know that in Holland they call vined leaves ‘climb-ups’?
I thought they had tulips in Holland, the child argues.
Of course they do! All kinds of tulips, blue as the sea, yellow as gold, and a purple deeper than night. The elves live in the tulips till it’s time to go back to the mountain. But they also have climb-ups. Everywhere has climb-ups, some on houses, some on trees. They need them, you see, for the elves.
She knows she does not need to tell the child all this. But who else can she explain the elves to? The adults won’t listen, and they won’t care.
She knows how to talk to the adults. You say things about the weather, or the customers, or the soldiers in all those horrible wars. You say who you voted for, or where you go on vacations. You say prices are too high or dresses too short, or how the music was better when you were young, and how all the kids now have laptops and i-pods and so many fancy gadgets you don’t know the names of most of them. You say you will sleep late on Saturday morning and then get up to mow the lawn.
But she can talk of elves to the child. She tells of unseen dreams, of flowers that pretend to be weeds so they can go wherever they want. She tells of the velvet leaves that grew in her tiny garden when she was a girl, and of the funny scurrying insects that lived beneath the rocks there. And of how once a cricket sang just for her.
The child nods. But it is time to leave the lady. The trolley door opens and the child skips off, toward the white house with the climb-ups.
A man gets on and sits beside her. “Damned hot out there,” he says.
“They say it will rain on Monday,” she replies. And watches out the window, to see the invisible child, who is climbing up the Elf’s Ladder, where the whole world waits for her.