Girl in the Woods
Sometimes we saw the girl who lived in the woods swimming across the river in the morning and picking blackberries along the train tracks. Cara was afraid she might try robbing our eggs—she might even come into the house—but I could see she wanted little to do with us. As soon as I opened the door, she darted into the trees. She darted quicker when Cara was around. But Cara wasn’t always around and I was.
One night I was hanging our clothes on the line and I saw the girl watching. It was getting dark and fireflies winked between the trees. She looked 12 or 13 but might have been older. Tall and skinny, bruises on her legs. Her brown hair was long and tangled, and she wore rags for clothes. No shoes. I waved at her—half-waved—and she ran off. But I knew she was watching as I hung the rest of our clothes.
I started leaving her things. She wore rags and yet never stole a thing off our line, so l left her some clothes neither of us wore. And a toothbrush. In the morning they were gone. The next night I saw her again, wearing her new clothes, so I left out three hard-boiled eggs and half a bar of chocolate Cara brought back from town. I set these things on the boulder, same place I’d left the clothes, then I went back to the house and watched from the window. She knew I was there, though, and wouldn’t come out until I was gone.
So I sat in the kitchen. Cut my fingernails, did a crossword puzzle.
An hour later—couldn’t wait till morning—I went back out to the boulder. The chocolate was gone. Most of it, anyway. She’d broken off a corner and left it on a leaf. So I put it in my mouth and leaned against our beloved beech tree in the dark. The chocolate melted on my tongue and the tree’s bark felt smooth and cool on my forehead. For a moment it felt like the tree could hear what I was thinking and also what I wasn’t. It knew where the girl was and how I could save her. It knew all our names. And then I pulled myself away from it and went inside.
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