‘The Erlking’

A perfect festival of fairies, gnomes, and kings prompts a mother’s insecurity in this excerpt from Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s Likes.

likes, sarah shun lien bynum
Mara Casey

From Likes

It is just as Kate hoped. The worn path, the bells tinkling on the gate. The huge fir trees dropping their needles one by one. A sweet mushroomy smell, gnomes stationed in the underbrush, the sound of a mandolin far up on the hill. “We’re here, we’re here,” she says to her child, who isn’t walking fast enough and needs to be pulled along by the hand. Through the gate they go, up the dappled path, beneath the firs, across the school parking lot and past the kettle-corn stand, into the heart of the Elves’ Faire.

Her child is named Ondine but answers only to Ruthie. Ruthie’s hand rests damply in hers, and together they watch two scrappy fairies race by, the swifter one waving a long string of raffle tickets. “Don’t you want to wear your wings?” Kate asked that morning, but Ruthie wasn’t in the mood. Sometimes they are in cahoots, sometimes not. Now they circle the great shady lawn, studying the activities. There is candle making, beekeeping, the weaving of God’s eyes. A sign in purple calligraphy says that King Arthur will be appearing at noon. There’s a tea garden, a bluegrass band, a man with a thin sandy beard and a hundred acorns pinned with bright ribbons to the folds of his tunic, boys thumping one another with jousting sticks. The ground is scattered with pine needles and hay. The lemonade cups are compostable. Everything is exactly as it should be, every small elvish detail attended to, but, as Kate’s heart fills with the pleasure of it all, she is made uneasy by the realization that she could have but did not secure this for her child, and therein lies a misjudgment, a possibly grave mistake.

They had not even applied to a Waldorf school! Kate’s associations at the time were vague but nervous-making: devil sticks, recorder playing, occasional illiteracy. She thought she remembered hearing about a boy who, at nine, could map the entire Mongol empire but was still sucking his fingers. That couldn’t be good.•

Excerpted from Likes, by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, copyright © 2020 by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, all rights reserved.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Bookshop.org

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is the author of Ms Hempel Chronicles and Madeleine Is Sleeping.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Winter Reads