The craggy back acre was unusable. But I would often climb the rocky slope and step into its tree-lined grotto. From the central hollow a little spring swelled out and meandered down to my back lawn, seeping into the grass. In the shaded dim, the rough-barked trees seemed to echo my thoughts back toward me, rephrased into gentle suggestions.
And I needed some. A company wanted to lease my rocky parcel and stick up a cell tower. They cheerfully described chopping down trees, blasting apart rock, grading marl, pouring concrete and putting up girders.
I walked up into the grove and sat on a flat rock, next to where the water came up through bright green water cress. And took out my problem.
There were some small unwanted things, like staring out my back window at an ugly derrick. But the war inside me was between badly needed money and the loss of my beautiful little spring.
“Thanks for calling me beautiful.”
My mouth half opened and I almost ran. “Who’s there? Come out!”
The water cress quivered as the water under it rose into a little pillar about four inches high. The column skittered across the surface of the spring and perched atop a poolside stone, forming into a translucent, tiny girl shaded in blues and greens.
“We’ve talked together for a long time.”
My mouth dropped all the way open.
“You’re thinking that you brushed against jimson weed and it’s made you a little crazy. You didn’t. I’m much more interesting.”
I blinked and stared. She looked like the fairy image used to sell ginger ale.
“No, silly, I’m a water sprite. You once called us naiads. Talk to me and I won’t bother to read your thoughts. Much.”
My mouth closed, then opened again to speak. “My name is…”
“I’ve known you for years, Theo. My water name you won’t be able to speak. Call me Neaera.”
I saw that she kept one little foot in the pool, and that blue-green flecked water ran into and out of her leg. Her face was sad.
“I am bound to this water, Theo. I am its flow, and if it dries up I die.”
“How long have you been…”
“I watched your parents fight and part on the back lawn. I saw the first plowing when this was a farm. Buffalo drank my essence. I was born when the ice receded.”
“And you’d be trapped in a pool under concrete if I take their money.”
“No, I am all and only flowing water. If you seal the spring I die. Don’t be sad, death is also natural for us. But I wanted you to know that I’ve enjoyed your visits. Even though your problems sometimes seem absurd.”
“Neaera, I’ll just turn them down.”
“Don’t think like an ant. If you turn down their offer you’ll need to sell your house and the next owner would take their money. My consolation is that you can continue here. I must change back now, this state is quite painful. Please know that your company has been a comfort for me.”
The little sprite gushed apart, her water running back into the pool. Blue and green flecks still glistened on her stone. I sat there for another half hour, begging for her to return, but only song birds answered.
A year later I looked out my back window at the ugly cell tower top, warty dishes poking out in all directions. But beneath the warts, old trees swayed. The company had argued but once I offered to take half the money they agreed. The trees are mostly uncut, the crag unexploded. The ugly tower sits on four concrete footings in between which bubbles my spring. I often climb up, sit on my rock, lean back against an ugly girder, and wait for the echoes.
First published in Paper Butterfly