In all the years, in all the decades, that Maggie Fanny had lived in the small strange house with the long green lawn next to the beside forest, she had never, never in all this time seen a girl – a little girl! – on the twisty dusty road.
Maggie Fanny stood as still as could be on that porch with its buckled wood planks and sloping foundation and tried not to breath. Maybe she’ll pass on by? Maybe she won’t reach out one of her hands – her tiny hands! – and place it on the friendly gate? Maybe she won’t think that the mossy stone path looks as cool and refreshing as a long drink of water and maybe she won’t even turn this way? Maggie Fanny stood and watched. And the little girl stopped walking and wound to a halt, and the dust clouds at her feet bounced off each other in their confusion. It had been so long since they’d had a little girl’s ankles to twist and turn and tickle before that they weren’t sure what to do with themselves. The little girl kicked one foot at a rock in the road and looked up, shielding her eyes from the glare of the midday sun. The girl looked down the road and – oh no, groaned Maggie Fanny, oh no – she turned slowly, spinning in a shaft of sunlight that seemed to spear straight from the heavens to cast strange and disturbing shadows over her face. And then the little girl came to a stop and stared full on straight ahead dead center at the small strange house.
Maggie Fanny was trapped. She cursed herself for not moving to the shadows quickly enough. Her hip, an old injury after a tumble down the always shifting basement steps, and her bad knee, never the same after being trapped night after night between the bed and the obstinate wall of the house, were both too stiff for her to move quickly anymore. So she was trapped, pinned to where she stood by the force of the little girl’s shadowy stare. The girl’s head tipped to one side in a smooth motion that reminded Maggie Fanny of the tundra vultures that came sniffing around after she’d been hunting. And then the girl took one step toward the friendly gate and then another, and raised a little hand. She reached up and out and leaned forward, and then she placed that little hand along the butter-smooth top of the gate and gave it a firm push and then a quick kick just to be sure. It swung open quickly and she leaped onto the path, kicking up a clump of moss and spinning around in the dark embrace of the cool shaded lawn. Maggie Fanny could see the little girl more clearly now. She had dull brown hair that crowned an even duller face. She wore an ugly mottled brown dress and her knobby knees jutted out from beneath the ruffled hem like out of place country cousins. The little girl picked up speed and her walking turned to running and then she was flying down the path, arms outstretched at her sides, eyes closed. She stopped for a moment, spun around again and again, and spotting a cluster of nodding yellow daisies she gathered them into her arms for a hug. She seemed surprised when they ripped out of the damp brown earth and she fell backward with a giggle.
Maggie Fanny felt faint. A girl. A little girl. Running down the path. Ripping out the flowers! Was this it then? Was this how it was to go? She realized she was shaking and she fell back into her rocker. A petulant hiss sprung up from beneath her and there was Fogthorn, as grumpy as ever. He snaked between her thick calloused ankles and poured himself down the porch steps and without a moment’s hesitation he pounced forward, gave two leaping bounds, and launched himself at the little girl. Maggie Fanny had visions of blood and ribbons of skin as she imagined the little girl being eviscerated right at the house’s front steps, but, somehow, the little girl flung her arms wide, scattering daisies every which way, and caught Fogthorn into her arms as if he were a cuddly toy. And with another bubble of laughter she spun around hugging him in delight. And to Maggie Fanny’s ever growing disbelief, that damned cat was purring.