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Pippi Says Goodbye

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For so long they'd been saying "When Tom goes away to military school," but now that it was almost time, they realized that they'd never thought it would really happen. In his blue uniform, with his duffel bag in his hand, he looked so grown-up and distinguished that Pippi and Annika could do nothing but exclaim over him.

"Yes, sir," Pippi said, "you'll go far looking like that. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if, when they see you walk in the door, they simply hand over the keys to the school and go directly into a retirement home."

Pippi had baked lemon cookies for the occasion, and they were eating them while sitting on the edge of Pippi's bed, since Pippi had taken all the kitchen chairs up onto the roof for a coffee party and hadn't yet brought them back down.

"Oh, Tommy," Annika said -- no one was allowed to use the old nickname but her and Pippi, and she mostly remembered not to, but today she was too sad to think of it -- "Oh, Tommy, how will we bear it, not to see you until Christmas? I'll do nothing but cry."

"No, indeed, you won't," Pippi said. "I'll see to that. Why, if you cried even for half of each day, all the ditches would soon be full of tears, and then where would the bad boys throw their empty bottles? They'd be forced to keep them in their houses, and soon there'd be so many bottles there'd be no room for boys, and they'd have to sleep in the garden. No, Annika, you must be brave and keep your crying to one or two hours a day, to give us time to dry the handkerchiefs in between."

She leaned over and tugged on Tom's tie. "Tommy, of course, won't cry at all, for that's a disgrace for a soldier. And I won't cry, either, because I don't know how, and I never had a mother to teach me. So Annika will have to cry for all of us."

Annika would have begun right then, but Tom said quickly, "I have a couple of hours before I need to catch my train. What shall we do, Pippi?"

"Let's start with goodbye kisses," Pippi said. "That way we needn't leave time for them later." And she kissed Tom very firmly on the lips for several minutes without stopping.

Eventually they had to pause for breath. Tom's face was very pink. "Now that's what I call a goodbye kiss," Pippi said happily. "You really know you've been kissed after a kiss like that. Why don't you try it, Annika?"

"I can't give Tom that sort of kiss," Annika explained, "because he's my brother."

"Oh, very well, you can give it to me," Pippi said. "Though it's not quite the thing, giving goodbye kisses to someone who isn't going anywhere. Why, if we always kissed people who weren't going anywhere, we'd never do anything but kiss." And she kissed Annika soundly on the mouth for quite some time.

When she was done, Annika was as pink as Tom. "Pippi!" she exclaimed. "Girls aren't supposed to kiss other girls!"

"Whyever not?" Pippi said. "What do girls have lips for, I'd like to know, if not for kissing? For that matter, let me tell you that girls in Morocco kiss no one but one another, and the boys are just out of luck. In fact, if a boy in Morocco wants someone to kiss, he has to choose between a camel and another boy, because the girls will all turn up their noses and say, 'No thank you.' "

"Bah," said Tom and Annika.

"Well, at any rate, I intend to continue to kiss anyone I want, and anyone who doesn't like it may swear out a warrant against me," Pippi said, and she kissed Annika again. This kiss was so very comprehensive that when she was finished Annika's hair ribbon was undone. "You're sure you don't want to try kissing Annika?" she asked Tom. "It's a pity if you don't, for you're missing all sorts of fun, but I'll be happy to kiss you again myself to make it up to you." And she kissed Tom until his tie came untied.

"You surely don't mean for us to kiss until the train comes?" Tom said, smiling.

"No, indeed," Pippi said. "Kissing is just the beginning of what I mean for us to do." And she threw a jar of jam, an electric guitar, and a pair of ice skates off the counterpane and flopped down in the middle of the bed. "Come on," she said. "If you're still worried about being brother and sister, I can stay between you and protect you, though I'll tell you frankly that I don't understand your concerns. I thought closeness was the point of family."

There were moments, then, when it felt as though they would always be together, as though nothing could ever separate them, as though time for a moment ceased to pass. And what with one thing and another, it was nearly an hour before Annika remembered to cry. But when at last they lay on either side of Pippi, with their two pale hands entertwined on her freckled belly, and she caught sight of Tom's uniform jacket hanging from Pippi's lamp, she couldn't help herself, and the tears spilled over again.

"What are you crying for?" Pippi asked. "Surely after all that, Tommy has had enough goodbye kisses to last him until Christmas."

"It isn't that," Annika said. "But it's only a little while before Tom has to catch his train, and it's only a year before I leave, too, to go to university -- and, oh, Pippi," she sobbed, "I'm afraid we'll never again be the way we were."

Pippi smoothed Annika's yellow hair thoughtfully for a few moments without speaking. Then she said, "Tommy is brave enough to go off to military school, and I am brave enough to live here without him. But Annika is not afraid to be afraid, and so that makes her the bravest of all of us."

At last they couldn't put it off any longer, and Tom and Annika rose and got dressed, and Tom tied Annika's hair ribbon, and Annika straightened Tom's tie.

Pippi remained on the bed, naked except for one striped sock, and smoked a cigarette. Tom and Annika looked at her out of the corners of their eyes. They would never smoke, for they knew it would sicken their lungs and yellow their teeth. But when Pippi held the long cigarette between her pale, freckled fingers -- with each nail painted a different color -- she looked so unbearably chic that Tom and Annika wished, just for a moment, that they could smoke, too.

"Won't you come with us to the station?" Annika begged.

"Not me," Pippi said. "You know there's sure to be some sort of excitement if I'm there -- it's the same wherever I go, and I'll be dashed if I can explain it -- and the last thing Tommy needs is a lot of excitement making him late for military school. You go with him, Annika, and when you come over tomorrow we'll write him letters and tell him how much things have changed since he's been gone."

At the end of the walkway, they turned to see Pippi on the porch leaning on her motorcycle. (She had given the horse to an orphanage some years ago -- "Let him have a cup of coffee now and then, and he'll be right as rain," she'd told the matron.) She was wearing a purple silk kimono and that one striped sock.

"She never changes, really, does she?" Tom said.

"No," Annika said. "But we do. We can't help it."

They waved at her, and she blew them extravagant kisses all the way down to the end of the sidewalk.

"Don't you worry about me," she called. "I'll always come out on top."