Diving Into Whistlestop-
by Jarad Johnson
If you don’t know by now, Julie published a book! It’s called Things Get Weird in Whistlestop, and I reviewed it recently. I just re-read it (quarantine…I have time on my hands), and there are some stories in there that I want to get into a little deeper. The first I’m going to talk about is The Bite, a story about a woman who encounters a fairy while spraying her roses, and it ends rather badly for her – depending on your point of view.
From here on out, there will be spoilers so if you haven’t read the book, you may want to do that first.
One of the things that draws me back to this story in particular is the description of Mary’s neighbor Isabelle’s garden. The story begins in Mary’s garden with its chemically enhanced lawn and roses standing like soldiers, but just next door is Isabelle’s garden. It’s described as wild and sensual, with an abundance of plants. Mary is constantly fighting the mint and other aggressive plants that want to invade her perfect and tidy lawn. (side note: if you ever want to get back at someone, sneak a few mint cuttings into their yard in the spring. They’ll never get rid of it, no matter how much they mow. Bamboo is also a good choice but it’s a nuclear option, and at least mint smells good!) It sounds like the garden I want to live in eventually, and Isabelle seems like someone I want to be friends with just from what I know about her yard! Hers is the kind of garden that creates privacy and makes you want to wander around for hours on end. I would love to know more about her and her garden, and if she has any idea that the fey folk are inhabiting her buddleia.
Of course, Mary gets bitten by a fairy, who is trying to convince her to stop spraying her roses with a pesticide. I myself took after my hollyhocks today with a pesticide, due to an aphid infestation, but it was organic. I hope the fairies aren’t also angry with me! Or maybe they can understand that I would actually like the plant to live. I’ll be sure to let you know if I too get bitten. One of the things that strikes me about this story is that the fairy doesn’t seem to bite Mary out of malice. Actually, the fairy is trying to teach her a lesson. Mary is the type of gardener who sees plants as her property, there to look pretty for her and win her prizes at the rose fair. The fairy disagrees, and so do I. She is privileged to be able to witness the beauty of nature all around her, and yet she is blind to it, caught up in the mundane and meaningless things that define her. The fairy is trying to teach her that there are more important things than conformity and that she is not in control of nature.
But of course, it goes slightly wrong at first and then gets more and more weird as time goes on. Mary begins wandering around, doing strange things, shocking the townsfolk. She puts on her most fabulous ballgown and all her jewels and has a soiree with a homeless man in a park (That sounds quite fun to me…her husband is not amused!) She almost drowns herself, wanting to be one with a river. She rides around town on a bike wearing a cape. It improves her relationship with her daughter Virginia, an artist who goes into Isabelle’s garden often to draw. Virginia begins to keep a close eye on her mother, trying to keep her from harming herself. She’s a character who has a totally different relationship with nature. She goes on to become a famous artist, and travels all around the world, and I think some stories about her would be a very good addition indeed. Virginia reminds me of a certain friend of the chickens and dear friend of mine (You may have seen Essie’s poetry that we recently published!) who also tends to do odd and delightful things like that. Perhaps she too was bitten by a fairy.
After a while, the fairy begins to realize that the situation isn’t going to get better. Apparently, most people are at least a little immune to the bite of a fairy, and Mary has no immunity at all. It’s no one’s fault really, but something has to be done. The something is eating Mary. The fairies gather and fling themselves on Mary and consume her. I’m not sure there’s any way to put that delicately. Afterwards, the fairy who bit Mary introduces himself to Virginia, who is not as shocked as Mary was. He tells her that he had to eat her mother and apologizes, sort of. It’s a rather delightfully morbid scene, complete with the fairy licking a bit of blood off of his lips. He gives Virginia a gift by kissing her on the forehead, and it’s not really specified what it is, but it seems to be a much milder version of the, “gift,” that was given to her mother. She leaves town, and her father marries someone much more suited to the role of making him look good.
I think I’m drawn to this story due to its lessons about nature and gardens and how the effort to exert control can go so badly wrong, separating us from all of the good things life and nature have to offer. I think we can all get caught up in our efforts to keep up appearances and “fit in” to the exclusion of seeing what’s right in front of our noses. More than that, I just really like the fantasy garden and the nearly sentient and rather grumpy butterfly bush that lives in it. If any of the rest of you read the story, I’d be interested to see what you think!
I love this story. From start to finish, I think it was extremely well executed, and I find it just as engaging every time I read it. It’s very fun and whimsical, but like everything in Whistlestop, goes slightly off. Think about that the next time you decide not to buy the organic and natural pesticides. It could get you eaten.
Jarad recently graduated from college at MTSU, loves tea and coffee, and tries to spend every spare second reading. He is a fervent gardener and is fascinated by all related topics and has spent several years writing about this passion. He has been gardening for 6 years and believes that Nature is our greatest teacher. He majored in English with a concentration in literature and plans to pursue and master’s degree in Ecocriticism.