I didn’t want to be the one to identify the body. But there was nobody else, since my little sister was off at college and my mother had already passed away. I went downtown, parked, and presented myself. Then I stumbled through a series of cold, gray hallways until I came to the place where Lenora lay. They told me that a bag of children’s teeth was found in her purse. The autopsy showed the oldest heart they had ever seen.
She was still tiny, having stopped growing eons ago. Her pink hair, once so shocking it gave off a glare, had faded to light rose. Those doll-like features tugged at my heart. I wanted to open her eyes so that I could see that eerie violet shade once more.
Lenora was our babysitter. She appeared when I was five. I woke up one morning and was crushed to find that the front tooth I had so carefully placed under my pillow was still there. There was nobody to complain to since my mother had already gone to work, but I found a strange little woman standing at the stove, where she was stirring a pot of rainbow mush. She told me not to worry, that she would be helping out around our house. I assumed that my mother had hired another crazy college student, this one with dyed hair, a handkerchief dress and a weird accent.
When Lenora was in charge, she discouraged us from going to school, insisted we play outside with her, and taught us how to find honeysuckle. She introduced us to ferns with a powdery pollen underside that left a nice tattoo on our jeans. She smashed our television and hid our homework. She sang strange songs made of random syllables and served honey for dinner.
One time my sister, Kat, found a pair of wings hidden away on a shelf in the pantry. She came to my room and held them up for me to see. They were pretty, translucent, and much too big for an insect.
“These must be Lenora’s,” she said.
I looked back down at my homework. “Yes.”
“You know what she does at night, don’t you?” Kat asked. “You know where she goes?”
“Yes. She works nights. We are just her day job.”
Sometimes we tried to sneak out and follow Lenora to work but we never succeeded: she would set off down the street like any other person and then disappear from view. In the summer we would lie in the tall grass, which she forbid us to mow, and wait among the fireflies for her to come back to us. But in the morning we were always back in our own beds. In the winter we would camp out by the picture window in the kitchen, but we would wake at sunrise, stiff and sore, under a warm quilt.
Over the years we stopped trying to keep track of her. We grew up and almost forgot she was there, the way you do with an old cat or an heirloom doll. I still saved all my teeth for her, even my wisdom teeth, which she would take with an important nod.
When I got the phone call, I knew it was my fault. Somehow, bewitched by bills and all my adult concerns, I had forgotten her.
“Do you need more time?” the attendant asked me as I leaned over Lenora’s delicate body.
“No,” I said.
I followed her out and signed some papers. At the front desk they handed me a bag containing Lenora’s possessions. I drove back out to the old house where we were living when she first appeared. It looked the same, but worse, all peeling shutters and tall grass. Fortunately nobody was home, so I hid in the grass and emptied the bag. Inside I found the little pouch full of teeth, some dried flowers, a yard of spider silk, a vial of something sweet, and her wings. I held up the wings and watched the sun shine through them. I wanted to put them on but I knew that I would break them. I regretted not trying them on that day when Kat first showed them to me, back when we were still small enough to fly.