The Burroughs shoebox fairies



“How come when you tell me a story at bedtime, all the fairies are accountants?”

Little Miss curled into her pillow, and I straightened out the blanket around her.

“I’m not sure. I think it might just be socialization in the fairy community, coupled with parental pressure to carry on a cultural legacy that has sustained their kind.”


“Let’s begin. So the fairies all got together in a 1973 Hush Puppies shoebox up in the attic next to a stack of National Geographic magazines, sat on tiny ergonomic chairs they’d fashioned out of walnut shells stuffed with hairs plucked from meditating Buddhist monks, oiled up their Burroughs mechanical tabulators, and started to perform the calculations required to produce optimal dreaming conditions in four-to-six-year-old little girls throughout the 21228 zip code district.”

I spoke in the calm, measured voice of a computer locking someone out of a spaceship, moving slowly through the words like someone boating languidly through a flooded Victorian living room.

“And then what?”

“The auditor fairy suggested that they examine twenty-four thousand, seven hundred eighty-three probability correlations to a magnitude of six decimal places with ongoing compensatory numeric recalibration, and all the other fairies concurred, because most had degrees from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, where such correlation studies were considered essential in the process of dream optimization plans. Sixteen earnest little fairies set about tabulation, and all through the night, the heavy levers of the Burroughs mechanical calculators went click click click and all the fairies sang songs like ‘four hundred and thirty-one, adjusted four by seven, decimal stabilization in process’ to the tune of lilting bossa nova hits from 1962. Then, upon finding a minor logarithmic error propagating in the collective additive matrix, they—”

I paused and leaned over, just to listen.

“Still awake, sweet pea?”


Overhead, in the attic, in a 1973 Hush Puppies shoe box, sixteen earnest little fairies and one reliable auditor fairy went click click click on their Burroughs tabulators, weaving a tapestry of digital dreams. I tiptoed out of the little purple bedroom, dimly lit by the streetlight outside, gently closed the door, and headed for my own pillow.