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Sunday Afternoons

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Bed sheet.



You wonder, as you carry your basket out to the clothesline, when Sundays became laundry day, filled with dirty socks and the too-sharp lemon scent of your detergent.

You remember Sundays spent dangling your feet, water-white, in the creek beside a pair of slender, freckled ones. You remember the sun on your face, lazy and summer-warm. You remember the sound of Tommy's laughter over one of Pippi's fantastic stories. You never could decide whether those stories were more lie or truth, but you knew they were all some blend of the two. You remember the sound of her laughter, bright and brash and loud. Pippi always laughed at her own jokes and you always laughed along, even though you didn't always understand what was so funny.


Dessert fork.

Butter Knife.

Tea spoon.

You wonder, as you set the table with your best china and the good silverware, when Sundays began to mean the Ladies' Auxiliary and the ever-present fear that you've missed a spot of tarnish on the pregnant curve of the silver teapot you inherited from your mother.

You remember Sunday barebacked horse rides down the main street of the village. You remember how you always felt safe sitting tucked between Tommy and Pippi, although you worried that Tommy was just going to slide back and off of Horse one day and end up flat on his back on the cobblestones. You remember the way Tommy would wave to his friends when they came scrambling out of their houses, running after the three of you, and the way Pippi barely seemed to notice all the people staring at your little procession.

You remember the way Pippi's hair would brush against your face when she craned to look at something, the slightly coarse strands catching on your lips and slipping inside to brush against your teeth.





You wonder, as you sit buried beneath the folds of your husband’s third best work shirt, when Sundays came to be filled with torn shirts and lost buttons and socks in need of darning. You remember when Sundays meant low, gray light and the soft, steady sound of rain hitting the roof of Villa Villekulla. Somewhere along the way, Tommy had stopped coming along for Sunday afternoons with Pippi. It was embarrassing, he felt, to spend all one’s time with one’s sister and the strange girl next door.

You missed him, sometimes, but it was nice, just the two of you, lying in Pippi’s bed with your feet on the pillows and your heads against the footboard. You remember spending hours watching rain run down the window and thinking that you really shouldn’t let Mr. Nelson play with your church hat -- if your mother found out you’d let Pippi’s monkey wear it, you’d be grounded for a month.

You remember the way Pippi always gestured madly with her hands while she was talking, casting dancing shadows over the sheets, and the warm press of one long, gangly leg against the side of your own. You remember how it took you months, years, forever and ever, to build up the courage to kiss her and how you banged noses with her the first time you actually tried and how her lips were softer against your own than you had ever imagined they would be.





You wonder, as you lay out your mixing bowls, when Sunday became baking day. You wonder why you haven't made cookies in ages, years even. You wonder when the smell of gingerbread began to make you cry.

Maybe it was the day Pippi asked you over for Sunday afternoon tea and, when you arrived, wasn't wearing her fine lady dress-up clothes. You weren't sure what to make of afternoon tea at Villa Villekulla without Pippi in her too-big silk dress and too-floppy velvet hat.

Maybe it was when she didn't smile as she poured your tea. Scarcely a moment had passed in the entire time you knew her when she hadn't been grinning, the freckled skin around her pert little nose wrinkling, her eyes half closed with the force of her smile.

Maybe it was when she'd blinked solemnly and passed you the plate of gingerbread cookies and told you that she was leaving, going home, going back to her life as the wild pirate princess of the South Seas.

"I love you, Annika," she'd said. "You can come and visit me on the ship in the summer, if you like, when school's out. Tommy can come, too. It'll be grand. "

You'd smiled and nodded and eaten the cookies and let her kiss your cheeks and your lips. You kept her company while she packed. You promised to see her off on Monday morning, even though you would have to skip school to do it.

You remember how, when you got home, you locked yourself in the bathroom and wouldn't answer when your mother knocked and when your father ordered you to come out and when Tommy snuck up later in the evening and whispered to you through the door. You sat on the toilet and clutched the little bag full of gold coins Pippi had given you over the years -- you'd never spent a single one, not ever -- and tried not to think about Sunday afternoons without Pippi.