"Drink some of the soup," she says to the man, for the umpteenth time. "It'll be good for you."
He stays curled up looking at the wall.
"Don't want any," he mumbles.
The little girl sighs. "I have to go home soon," she says. "Mother and Father will be waiting for me."
It is at this point the man on the bed moves. He turns around, tries to speak, can't speak, puts his hands before his eyes. Finally he says, "I don't want you to go."
The girl puts the tin cup down and folds her hands in her lap. "I can't stay," she says, "They'll worry about me. I could go and tell them and come straight back if you want."
The man sighs too and says, "I can send a message."
The girl startles and looks around the room. "How?" she asks.
He still has his hands over his eyes but there's a tired smile on his lips. "Magic," he says.
The little girl goes very still, very intent. She has had the suspicion for a while now that there was magic at work in certain things, that not all was as it seemed at Wintergreen.
"You can do magic?" she whispers.
He takes his hands off his face and turns to look her in the eye. "Yes," he says. "I can do magic."
The girl is confused. "Why don't you make yourself better then?"
He gives a half laugh at that against his will. "Perhaps I don't want to."
"Perhaps you can't really do magic," she says and raises her chin. "Perhaps you're just mad."
Now he really laughs and sits up a little more, leaning on his elbow. "I'm mad alright, but I really can do magic. Go on, what do you want to see?"
The girl sits back a little bit and crosses her arms. "Can you fly?" she asks with a dry sarcastic undertone that sounds really strange coming from someone so young.
The man rubs his hands through his greasy hair and grins at her. Slowly, he begins to lift off the bed without changing position otherwise until he hovers higher than her head is.
"Easy," he says down to her.
The girl is rigid, but not as shocked as one might think. She gets up and touches him carefully on the leg, then pushes, which causes him to move altogether towards the wall.
"That's amazing," she says. "You really can fly! Can you make fire?"
He slowly sinks back onto the bed, stretches out an arm, points at the small fire place and a trail of light strikes across the room, setting the kindling alight in an instant.
The girl jumps up, waking the puppy and making it scurry under the bed in confusion.
"That's amazing!" she cries and runs to the fire, nearly sticks her hand into it but then retracts as the heat tells her it's a real fire.
"Can you make gold?" she asks and he smiles and holds out an open hand, palm up. A spinning light manifests in his hand which solidifies into a large golden coin. He throws it to her. She tries to catch it but fails, chases the rolling coin around the room and finally picks it up.
"It's heavy," she says, then, "It's real!" and she smiles brightly at the man.
He sits up and swings his legs over the edge of the cot, leaning his arms on his knees, watching her with a smile. "What's next?" he asks.
"Can you turn Sparkles into a boy?" she says, pointing at the puppy which is still half hiding under the bed, just the pointy nose protruding into the room at large.
"I don't think that would be very nice," he said. "I think it would scare Sparkles and do little good. But I could if I wanted to."
She nods. She believes him. She thinks.
"Can you turn me - into a princess?"
The man raises his head and looks at her for a long time. She has shoulder length brown hair, she wears a simple skirt and a loose blouse over the top, her feet are bare. She has a small nose and huge, dark eyes which are anxiously fixed on him, awaiting the verdict.
Slowly, he shakes his head. "Now that, I'm afraid, I cannot do. No magic could do that."
The little girl looks down at herself and sighs deeply. "I guess not," she says sadly.
The man says, "You are already a princess. I can't turn you into what you already are. It's not possible, understand?"
She looks up and comes closer. "But I ... don't feel like a princess," she says.
He puts his head to the side, reaches out and with his fingertips, brushes a little hair back from her face, behind her ear. "I bet you do, sometimes," he says gently.
The little girl thinks and wrinkles her brow. "In the garden," she says slowly, "In the garden. Mother and father were the king and the queen. That means that I ..."
"... was the princess," the man finishes the sentence for her. "So you do know. You just forget."
The girl goes to the bed and sits down beside him, so close that her shoulder is touching his arm. "Yes," she says. "I forget."
For a moment, they are both silent. The puppy comes out from under the bed and pushes her legs with his nose. She strokes his curly head and ears.
"So are you feeling better now?" she asks without looking at him. "Now that you've done some magic?"
He looks down at his hands, plays with his fingers for a while. "Yeah," he says eventually, I think I'm better. Now that I've done some magic." He turns, looks down at her and adds, "I also sometimes forget things. That's when I get ... sad."
She looks up at him with a quick mischievous smile. "If I could do magic like you, I would never be sad. Never!"
"Oh yeah?" he teases. "What would you do with it?"
"Oooh," she says, "I would do everything with it! I would make baby dragons and I would have wings, and I would make a huge slide that goes on forever, and I'd make cakes, and have a party with lots of children, and I'd get myself a brother and a sister ..." here she stops and turns to stroking the puppy again, with a vengeance.
He sighs, gets up from the bed, straightens himself out. He catches a reflection of himself in the window, where evening has begun; darkness is falling.
"Man I look a mess," he says to himself, then sighs and a silver ripple flows across him; when it is done, his clothes are clean and uncrumpled; his hair is clean and shorter than it was and the stubble has all gone.
The girl looks up and is mildly surprised for a moment, then she says, "Magic is a good thing. I'd like to learn it someday if you'll tell me how its done."
He turns to her and smiles, holds out his hand.
"Come on, let's get you home. Nearly dark outside. And I could do with some decent food. Reckon they'll give me a plate of leftovers if we ask nicely?"
"Of course," says the child, gets up and takes his hand without reservation. "Everybody likes you, you know."
Behind his shoulder, the fire in the hearth extinguished without a trace or single line of smoke; he opened the door and they went out into the gathering night, together.
* from Wintergreen