A little girl lives within the wrinkling woman.
She answers only to Pippi—if she answers at all. She is semi feral.
Pippi looks at me with her cool, unblinking grey eyes. Her head cocks slightly. And then she is gone, pigtails swishing. She moves like lightning.
For the longest time, I didn’t know she was there. She skirted the corners of my vision but was gone before my mind could fully apprehend her.
Things went missing here and there but I still doubted–until one day when she went too far. She carried off a jar of green olives I had been saving for myself. I caught her sitting against the bricks of my childhood home in the secret spot beneath the shrubs. I know where kids like to hide. Her toes were happily kneading the clean dirt while the rest of her was engrossed in my olives. One by one, she popped them in her mouth, sucked their delicious brine and then, as penance, swallowed the lifeless pulp.
I watched her for some time before she noticed my spying. We sized each other up in silence for several moments, and she did not run. Her calm unnerved me. It was I who backed away. I had the odd feeling it was I who had intruded instead of it’s being the other way around.
I tried offering Pippi food and clothing. The clothing she had was worn and dirty, her bare feet stained green with grass. Something sticky and now dirt covered ran down her chin and neck. I am pretty sure she had been in my peach tree. She ran from me every time I held out my hand.
I learned to pretend. Usable items ended up on my doorstep in a paper bag designated for charity. I looked the other way when articles disappeared. Other times, I made a big show of leaving the house after grocery shopping or cooking a good meal. Of course, I forgot to lock the door behind me. Warm sugar and spice cookies were her favorite.
I guess Pippi needed to know I wouldn’t try to control her. A wild creature senses that dependence can be dangerous. What if she allowed herself to rely on me? She might lose the stamina and skills she needed to return to life on her own, and that could be fatal.
Over time, we have become friends of a sort. Pippi can talk, but she says little. She doesn’t seem to have need of it, as she prefers the ways of leaves and earthworms.
Once Pippi decided I was no threat, she became comfortable enough to continue her singing in my presence. I learned she could read when I saw her sitting in the boughs of her beloved apple tree last August singing Christmas carols from booklets she could only have pilfered from my attic.
I took an enormous risk one day and hired a neighbor to build a sturdy tree house in her tree. I knew she would never ask. But would she accept? She did. As if in thanks, she walked into my kitchen the next week in broad daylight and whispered: “Cookies and milk, please.” We celebrated communion.
We’ve entered a new chapter. Every now and then, Pippi sneaks into my bed at night and curls up against me. I pretend not to see her even as I stroke her head and listen to her sighs of contentment. I cuddle her the way Jesus does me.