Feather-hemmed dresses are fun to wear, and my wings are nothing short of dazzling, decorated with jewels and gems as bright as they come. Wearing them never gets old.
The bells on my slippers tinkle as I catch an updraft, swooping over the rows of white houses in this particular cul-de-sac. They sit in perfectly picketed rows, pale wood contrasting against the year-round green gardens. I have to be precise, careful, when collecting in these sorts of areas. One could easily visit the wrong house, which although rare, is never good. I make sure to rely on the house numbers rather than the houses themselves.
Of course, the majority of families here reside in houses that fit those who call it home; a garden to play in and a car to each parent. These homes are sometimes white, though brick seems to be more common. I admire the way the shiny tin roofs reflect the warm yellow streetlamps lighting my path through the neighbourhoods. Tonight’s collection is a comforting weight as I make a sharp turn upwards.
Breaking through the first layer of clouds, I pass hovering groups of newly returned Collectors, chatting whilst they wait for assignments. I continue flying up, searching for a swirling grey cloud. When I spot a particularly dark nimbus, I place my pouch in the eye of a small hurricane. Once it has been safely whirled away, I look around for a place to rest. Just as I spot a comfortable looking cumulus, the chime for a new tooth echoes through the sky. It is an ominous sound that happens everywhere all at once, crackling through the clouds.
The soft slumber I was drifting into is abandoned as doves circle above me. A scroll falls as delicately as a feather into my lap. As I unfurl the paper and begin reading, my heart skips a beat and my wings flutter with excitement; I can’t help but smile.
270 CRESCENT DRIVE. 6-YEAR-OLD BOY. UPPER CANINE.
Crescent Drive. I know it well. I pocket the scroll before anyone else can see the address.
I’ve been going to this street for years. The mother at number 270 has five kids. Three girls and two boys. They have always lived in the same little house, too small to fit all six of them but they do their best. These are the families I love visiting the most, the ones who, more often than not, live in homes that aren’t theirs with gardens that are only green when the weather allows it. Their cupboards may be empty, but their homes are always brimming with joy and laughter, filled in a way that no amount of material items could achieve. Whenever I feel their love for one another, my heart grows a bit bigger.
If I’m not mistaken, this little boy is the baby of the family. He will be the last child at 270 to lose his teeth. I have seen each of their excitement through the years, but also their hardships. As the third child, a gorgeous little girl, lost the last of her baby teeth, her demeanour changed. She began to realise that a single gold round wouldn’t do very much to help her mother. That’s the part of this job that I hate the most. Whilst I love going there, it’s always hard.
With renewed determination, I head towards the moon until I reach reception, where a bright red robin drops a stack of paper before me. Skimming over the familiar paperwork, I scribble in the estimated departure and arrival times, list the items to take with me, and tick all the boxes saying that I know the path and will make the collection with proper authority. Then my eye catches on a peculiar detail and tears form, threatening to fall. I am not to take gold to this deserving family, but silver—practically nothing.
Slowly, in disbelief, I gather the things I need for collection: a little velvet bag that carries the rounds until we reach our destination, some glittering dust in case the kids wake up—a small sprinkle will ensure they believe it was all a dream—and, most importantly, an extra pair of shoes. Our slippers aren’t as decorated as our wings but they too are adorned with gems precious to humans. The colour depends on our rank, with seven possible hues. I have blazing blue sapphires, held in place with golden wires. There are only two ranks above my own—a deep purple, then a powerful violet that represents only the most senior Collectors. Despite their value, you would be surprised at how often our shoes fall off when we are in a hurry.
My journey to 270 Crescent Drive feels different this time, solemn. I descend to a level where I can see the winding streets. Usually, I appreciate the areas I am flying over, but not tonight. The pearly white houses don’t fascinate me, the gardens don’t catch my eye. My path is uninterrupted and quick. Direct to 270 Crescent Drive.
When I reach the house, I float above it for a little while to gather my thoughts. My quivering wings mimic my heartbeat. I’m not supposed to, but I make a detour past 270 every so often and watch the family. I have seen how the food on their table often goes further than just their own. Kids living on the streets know they can knock on the paint-flaked door and leave in better shape than when they went in; with food in their bellies and buttons sewn back onto their clothing.
I lower myself down onto the dusty ground outside of the kids’ shared bedroom. Four in one bed now. I hear the voices of their mum and what must be the eldest child coming from the kitchen. I glide over to the permanently greasy window, and through it watch the hazy pair at the dining table, heads in their hands, as they try and figure out how they’ll afford the already overdue bills. My heart sinks to the very pit of my stomach.
I take a deep breath in. And out.
In the childrens’ room, I softly close the window behind me. The youngest, the little boy I am here for, hugs his teddy bear tightly. He does not stir when I retrieve the lump from beneath his pillow. As always with these children, the tooth is neatly wrapped, proudly awaiting my collection. Curiosity gets the better of me and I unfold the tissue. I find exactly what I thought I would. It has no shape and is a dark yellow colour with a sharp odour to match. A rotten tooth. I wonder if it has fallen out because it was time, or because the roots have wasted away and it had no choice but to fall. I haven’t often collected a tooth such as this one, but each time that I have, it has come from this area of town.
Pulling out the little purple velvet bag I brought with me, I take out the silver round, and replace the precious parcel. I stand straight and quietly shake the bag while I think.
Eventually, the soft colours of sunrise spur me into action. Working quickly, I hide shining gold everywhere I can; under clothes, in drawers and boxes. Buried under blankets and in the tin that houses safety pins and band aids. In nooks used every day and crannies that won’t be found right away.
Before I leave, perhaps for the final time, I scan the childrens’ room. The two blankets barely cover them all. The second eldest girl, the brightest but shyest of the children, has her feet hanging off the side of the bed. I stare for a second before I look down at my own feet, covered in my bejeweled shoes. Shoes that look like they could fit her.
As I am leaving, I feel an urge to look up one last time. I am being watched. I turn, half of my body out the window, to find the sweet face of the youngest little boy turned towards me, hair mussed and eyes wide. I draw a finger to my pursed lips and, after a moment of contemplation, he nods ever so slightly.
As I fly, hurrying to beat the rising sun, the dawn air tickles the soles of my feet. It’s a good thing I packed that second pair of slippers. Like I said, our shoes fall off when we fly, don’t they?
Amy Bertacco, she/her, is a Swinburne student, who is completing a Bachelor of Media and Communication, with a major in creative writing and public relations. She has always loved words and using them to create stories and hopes to one day write a novel that people of all ages will enjoy. Her passion for books has spanned her lifetime, and she hopes that as her work enters the world, more people will share her passion, and include her stories as ones that they will want to continue to read and explore alongside her.