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20: Pippi Goes To War

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Feb. 20th, 2010 | 04:56 pm
posted by: latin_doll in dolltime

Title: Pippi Goes To War

Language: English (translation of Pippi erklärt den Krieg)

Rating: PG/PG-13

Disclaimer: Pippi Longstocking was written by Astrid Lindgren

Summary: Pippi, Annika, tentative femslash. Everyone involved is grown-up and sensible, Sweden is neutral, the moon is a big cheese, and other ambiguities.

Pippi Goes To War

For many successful years, Annika hasn't been one to get her clothes dusty, or spill suspect substances on them, and when that happens after all, when her body's inherent sinfulness etc. breaks through - nothing serious, really - she soaks her underskirt in cold water, all on her own.

Additionally, Annika hasn't been one to make a fuss when things aren't going her way. If the corner shop is out of flour at noon on a Friday and she can't bake waffles, she will get over it; if she's left waiting in front of Stockholm's tiniest café because her friend has run late ironing smart creases into her trousers, Annika will wait patiently, inspecting the assorted cakes and pastries. It'll save time in the long run.

Lately and recently, she hasn't been one to leave the house without a powder box and a rouge pot and mascara ticktacking in her purse, and when she does, she imagines she's like the women interviewed in the new women's magazines, and they always look so elegant in their photographs, like paintings -

(Good evening, Miss Settergren, how does it feel to discover you have eyelashes at the age of nineteen? - as if her face is a cell preparation; she has to dye it for people to see anything.)

- all those supplements marking her girl, when she's so obviously a girl already. That's what she thinks, as one who's never collected frog spawn in hypothetical trouser pockets, always in the reality of her apron. All those little Annika addenda that everyone feels entitled to: the accurate wave in her hair, the nylons, the impeccable manners.

Growing up is dead serious business, and Annika isn't one to make a fuss.

-

She's sitting in the small gable room that used to be Tommy's bedroom and, before that, used to be Tommy and Annika's bedroom. At the moment it's nobody's bedroom; her brother left for the barracks shortly after Christmas and Annika is leaving in two days, exchanging her chamber at the back of the house for the hall of residence in Stockholm, where she and three other students share a room, which unfortunately smells like the secret cigarettes they smoke at night at the window.

She steals a glance outside, making it look casual in case someone is there; it's the fourth or fifth time in as many minutes. The house in the adjacent garden remains stubbornly dark, the shutters closed. There's no smoke above the chimney, and two feet of snow in the front garden are as untouched as they were yesterday.

Her mum says she hasn't seen any light in Villa Villekulla since Annika's last visit. That was in October! Annika takes a carefully and only slightly desperate breath and it disturbs the surface of the hot chocolate in her mug; and she thinks back to a sunny afternoon a few months ago. It's possible she's just deprived of sunlight these days, a week after winter solstice; that could explain this perceived solitude. Still. Summer was better than this.

She'd dropped Pippi off at the train station, that last Sunday in August; had even helpfully carried her hatbox filled with sandwiches, a little confused that the strongest girl in the world had taken her up on her offer.

"It'd be a dreadful bore," Pippi had explained, "with you gone and Tommy gone, too, and me with nothing to do besides looming on the terrace, waving my walking stick and chasing the children off the lawn while I'm getting old and crinkly and -"

"You're nineteen," Annika had said. She'd always been proud of her ability to perceive reality correctly.

"'S what I'm saying." Pippi's grin, as Annika had been fascinated to realise, had been trying to reach her ears on both sides of her face. "Crinkly. I'd die off tuberculitis and boredom immediately. One is allowed to be a little fragile if one is old."

That was the point when childish games had turned into lies; after all, even Pippi had had to grow up at some point. Or grow, at least. "I'll be back for Christmas," Pippi had added, blinked into the light on the sun-flooded station, and pulled a safari hat out of an aluminium lunchbox. "Bringing presents from foreign parts. Would you like a necklace of tiger's teeth, dear, or do you insist on shark?"

Habituation to the feeling of jewellery on skin is quick business, but at that moment the pendant around Annika's neck had announced its presence playing rope, simply on account of the unbearableness of the situation as a whole: Pippi already on the step, half boarded on the train, tall and lanky and her body still like a boy's or like a little girl's before all the trouble starts; and then Annika, too, had to blink twice. That was how bright the day had been.

"I'd like that," she'd said, even though she'd felt sorry for the dead tiger at the same time. But surely they had those in plastic nowadays?

In the here and now, Annika takes a sip of the hot chocolate that her mum has made and that is too thick and creamy and sweet these days, but at least it's warm as well. She's shivering with cold, but only a little; the window stands open and snowflakes are settling on the radiator and also on Tommy's second best shirt that he left drying on it. She could, of course, shut the window, but if Pippi were to come after all she'd miss her and only meet her tomorrow, and tomorrow Annika has to pack.

Or maybe Pippi doesn't care, Annika thinks, considering Tommy had only been here for two days of the Christmas break. Maybe Annika on her own is too much of a bore for Pippi, too careful, to worried about whether her clothes get wrinkled, and, lately, too powdered, too grown up, whereas Tommy is still running around in a forest, camping in the snow and making fire with only two pieces of wood and no matches.

And of course Annika is careful, worried, and powdered; she's been raised to be kind and clean and to be taken home some day, not by a knight in shiny armour, because they are flighty and have silly ideas; but by a nice lad from the neighbourhood, to be his wife and the mother of his children, so she can continue powdering for the rest of her life - her nose, children's bums, it doesn't matter.

It would have been easy, Annika thinks sleepily, if Pippi hadn't awakened passions of a different kind in her. It's what one thinks when one is sitting on an old cot with a stomach full of gingerbread and cream cocoa in the dark, missing a friend.

There's a delayed wince at the word "passions", though, and she strikes it out and replaces it with "interests" in her later introspections. "I'm going to Stockholm to study archaeology," she had said, and Pippi had frowned and asked for a translation, and Annika had said, "I'm going to be an archaeologist. A professional Thing-Finder," and had waited for Pippi to get the allusion.

It had taken Pippi a moment until she started laughing and that still annoys Annika, because the memory is so alive for her: Pippi with the tin over her head, the little presents in the hollow tree in Villa Villekulla's front garden. Annika hadn't told her that she still has the ring with the tiny green stone even though it is now too small even for her pinkie finger; she sometimes wears it on a necklace.

Downstairs in the living room, the tall grandfather clock chimes, once, twice, seven times; dinner time. Annika wonders, only for a moment, who will get to take Pippi home like a price; fortunately Tommy hasn't shown any signs of trying so far. And where would Annika be then? She shoves the thought aside that maybe Tommy has tried and failed already and that's why Pippi isn't coming home. But Pippi seems more the type to do the taking home herself.

She'll miss Pippi, Annika thinks as she's shutting the window, taking her mug and her warm blanket and leaves the room. Pippi will come home and Annika will miss her.

Maybe she'll go over to knock at Pippi's door after dinner. Just to be on the safe side.

-

Two days later and still there's no-one at Villa Villekulla and it is really starting to get bothersome. The snow in the front garden is untouched except for the trail of Annika's feet leading to the door and back when she clamps a letter between the door and the doorframe.

Pippi would need hours to read it, Annika knows. Assuming she's coming back at all. She refuses to let go of the thought that this is still a possibility.

She hoists her suitcase into the back of her parents' new and fabulous car. Annika'd spent the day before packing and folding and re-folding, skirts and dresses and undergarments and stockings; gathering her pots and tubs and bottles of paint and powder and flowery scent, her hairpins. Has to be presentable at all times. The rest is staying here, all the things she found during the semester: a thimble, a chewed-on pencil, a small notebook; some has torn out half of the pages and the rest is full of scribbled poems that don't rhyme and that Annika doesn't understand. She leaves all this behind; more space for new findings.

-

Following is a documentation of good advice, dated to October 1st. Using a crumbly pencil, Annika wrote it from memory into her address book during the trainride to Stockholm, under 'S' because she doesn't know many people with 'S'. Annika happens to be the first girl from the small, small town to go to university, so what can you do. Directly below 'Settergren, Granny', the following is noted:

1) "Wear a second undershirt, Annika, it's said to be snowing." Annika's inner Pippi sees this as oppression of her own self-fulfilment, and Annika thinks that she's going to have to do her own laundry now. She's coughing three days after she's arrived in Stockholm. Coincidence.

2) "Keep yourself clean and always carry cab fare." She keeps, she carries, what do they think they are?

3) "Keep away from the girls in trousers." Come again? This one was from the pastor. Annika had employed her best wide-eyed expression to inquire politely as to the reasons. She didn't know anything! Privately, she has to admit she'd expected at least a secret society, the mafia, ready to take over Sweden. Good advice as a last struggle of the establishment, then?

It all turned out to be not that dramatic, after all, it was only the usual unnatural fancies thriving in the capital. It was said to have something to do with the city air, with higher education and books, and with people forgetting their place in the world.

It was all pretty vague, though. There weren't that many sheep in Stockholm, and what did it have to do with trousers...?

Even now, a few days after the holidays, the details of these unnatural fancies are still a riddle to her, like a vague dinosaur skeleton still caked in dirt; and since she still suspects a lot and knows very little, she finally asks one of the girls in trousers, who does her laundry at the same time at Annika.

The girl actually winks at her. Pity, it could have been a fantastic step towards insight, Annika thinks, can't the answer be more explicit? Fancies, unnatural or otherwise, do not emerge, even though that would have been a good story. A better story, maybe, seeing as Annika finds this wink so frustrating.

Time passes. An incubation period; else one could say, a held breath, a pause pregnant with opportunity. Two weeks. Not even enough to hatch a litter of chicks, knows Annika, country bumpkin.

Cafeteria, Library, classroom, the halls. Wink, nod, look over, look away. Repeat until interesting.

After these dreadfulnesses too have been endured, Annika finds herself in the laundry room again. She's looking at the door casually and lifts a finger to her lips in order to inspect this strange tickly feeling there; and why the hell did the pastor spend so much time thinking about these things? She's satisfied that no sheep were involved at any point, and furthermore it was nice and that is what counts, yes? No?

Her lips are tickling. Yes?

Yes.

Annika gets her tiny hand mirror out of her purse in order to check on the magnitude of the unnatural urges. At least one wart should have sprouted, right? There is no wart. All the red paint has blurred; it reminds her of Pippi, ten years old, eating a bowl of raspberries.

-

Lately, some new things are shown to have a significant influence on Annika's timetable, e.g. there's a girl in trousers waiting for her in laundry rooms and broom closet and sacristies - oh dear - and even if all this isn't as nice as it used to be, a sizable chunk of time passes like this. In any case, Annika hasn't got enough money to spend them on train tickets home all the time, although she darns her own socks and keeps all grocery receipts in a binder.

Maybe this is why it's April when she boards the train home.

She has been waiting for Pippi in Stockholm, for a knock on the door or her window, even on the fourth floor; has been waiting to shoo Pippi away and then meet her later in the park or somewhere so her three roommates can sleep or whatever.

But where -

Maybe Pippi doesn't want to come back. Maybe she's through with the Settergrens, after that fight with Tommy last summer; or maybe it had been all about Tommy all the time, and Annika was only allowed to join in because Pippi was fundamentally nice.

When Annika was eleven, maybe twelve, she'd thought that maybe Pippi could marry Tommy when they all grew up - must have been after the disillusionment regarding the Krumelur pill, after the business with the inherent sinfulness etc.; she must have been twelve, then - and they could all live in a house and be a big family. With babies.

(Never mind the technicalities. She was twelve!)

The thought returned and stuck, after Annika got to know the nice lads from the neighbourhood; none of them seemed suitable for taking home. She wasn't particularly opposed to being or respectively turning into an old maid. Some of the ladies of medium and old age in the small town live together when they don't have husbands. Must be a nice to live like that.

Tommy has a gun now. They're teaching him how to shoot.

"We're not shooting at real people, Pippi," he'd said last summer, laughing. "They have targets, just like we did, remember? When you found the pirate pistols and we wanted to shoot at something."

Annika had been watching Pippi, and Pippi had been making that face; that haughty expression, cheeks drawn in, frowning - it could mean one of two things: either she was being completely serious, or she pretended she was being completely serious.

"They're shooting at real people in Germany, though," Pippi had said. "They're shooting at real people in France, they're shooting at real people in Austria and in Russia and in Great Britain and in Poland; and it's not even scoundrels and slobs they're shooting at. Some of them are really nice. So tell me, Tommy, after you've proved that you're really good at shooting at targets, do you really think nobody wants you to shoot at real people?"

So she was being serious after all. Annika had been feeling almost a little silly, after all they were sitting on the coffee table, picking their coffee mugs up from the chairs, and suddenly they were talking about shooting at real people. It was almost immodest.

"But Sweden isn't even at war with anyone," Tommy had said.

"Let's make belief it were so," Pippi had said, putting back the other half of her gingerbread horse back on the plate, instead turning to her nails with a critical expression, "if it were so, you'd be shooting at German Tommies and Austrian Tommies and English Tommies -"

"The English Tommies would be on our side," Tommy had said. He hadn't been laughing then.

"How do you know?" Pippi had asked. "How does one separate the English Tommies from the German Tommies, and why are you only shooting at one kind of Tommies?"

"Someone in my room listens to short wave all the time," Tommy had said. "The English Tommies are on the good side, he says, and we'd be on the good side, too, obviously. If we were taking sides, I mean."

"I think," Pippi had said darkly, eyeing the contents of her coffee mug with distrust before emptying it at once, "one should just shoot all the Tommies one and for once. At least that way one would be done before tea."

"Pippi!" Annika had said, and Tommy, "You don't mean that."

"No," Pippi had said, and her face had dewrinkled for now. "Wouldn't it be terribly thoughtless to just shoot all the nice Tommies." She whistled between her teeth, and Mr. Nilsson obediently stole the last piece of gingerbread from her plate. "Shame they're doing it anyway."

Shame, Annika thinks sleepily, watching a rainy forest landscape out of her comfy train compartment. What a polished masterpiece of political analysis. Pippi really should have learned how to read.

-

Annika jerks awake at the first sound of knocking - knuckles against window glass, one of those Pippi sounds she's never going to forget; others would have been throwing pebbles. She considers for a moment not to get up at all, not to go over to the window and let Pippi into her room and to grin like a ten year old who just got a super duper toy pistol for her birthday. But how could she?

What follows is familiar. The subdued sound of her naked feet on the floorboards, the feel of misty rain on her face when she opens the window, dripping Pippi jumping from the ladder into the chamber, landing with a thud and a war cry before turning to Annika and embracing her wetly, kissing her cheeks right and left and right and left like they do in the French movies.

"You should really be sleeping at this time of night," Pippi says. "I wouldn't have come if not for the mango, I brought you one from Argentina; I'm afraid it got a little squishy on the way back. You've got to eat it at once."

Completely surreal, thinks Annika as she watches Pippi cutting up an unfamiliar to her, vaguely ellipsoid green-red thing with a knife that says pirates (Spanish, Annika thinks, 17th century. Her professors are nodding deliberately); yellow juice drips on the carpet.

"I've already brushed my teeth," Annika says. "Besides, it's completely disintegrated."

She doesn't say: 'You were in Argentina?'

She doesn't say: 'Thank you for the mango.'

She doesn't say: 'I've missed you.'

Pippi shoos Annika onto the bed and sits down beside her, legs folded in, just like Annika's roommate does when she's holding a seance. "Say 'ah'," Pippi commands, and Annika obeys, opens her mouth and receives a handful of dripping guck, like a medicine, like a host. Her mouth and nose fill with fruitiness, intermingled with beginning rot, like a bad memory.

"They're good for children," Pippi says, "full of vittimines," and Annika remains silent for a moment while her perception still feigns the impression of wet, sticky fingers on and in her mouth. It's possible that Pippi mistakes her silence for confusion, because she adds, "good for scurvy, my father says. Once Fridolf had scurvy and lost all his teeth and we had to let a whole cartload of mangoes go bad because he couldn't have chewed them otherwise."

"But I don't have scurvy," Annika says, and since she has to open her mouth for that, Pippi feeds her again, looking at her sympathetically.

"No scurvy!" she says. "You could have said something, I'd have brought you some."

She licks her fingers without a sign of abashment. "Good thing you ate that," she says, "I'd have had to throw it out tomorrow, but I really wanted to give it to you."

"Thanks," says Annika. "For the mango. How long are you planning to stay?"

But Pippi is already rising, gathering the mango peels and the core and the knife and putting everything in her apron pocket. "You should come over for tea tomorrow," she says. "And tell Tommy he's invited, too."

"Tommy isn't here," Annika says.

"Ah, yes," Pippi says, already crouching on the windowsill. "Is he still shooting at targets, or has he upgraded to real people already?"

"Pippi!" Annika says. She'd prefer it if Pippi just forgot the whole thing altogether. "And anyway, it's only four more months," she adds. Anyway, it's only twenty more hours until tea, she things, and shuts the window behind Pippi, and shivers with cold.

-

Annika is going out.

It doesn't make a difference that it's only Pippi she's visiting - only Pippi! - she still isn't one to go out without looking neat (and this is when she finally realises that this doesn't say anything about the way she looks when she comes back. After visiting Pippi, Annika hadn't been looking neat even as a young girl.)

It's six in the evening, not entirely dark yet, and Annika, with what she thinks is military precision, carries out a systematic and not in the least agitated search of her drawers, passes over the pearl necklace, a present from her aunt; passes over the small silvery cross pendant, looking for - there! It's a small ring on a narrow chain, one of the first presents she got from Pippi. Its worth was once immeasurable, now, as an archaeologist in training, Annika knows that it's made from tin and coloured glass. She closes the tiny clasp on her third try, hides the ring beneath her collar.

She's wearing a dress, it is simple and blue with white dots and nice. Powder makes her face smooth and creamy; it's the fancy French powder her aunt bought in a shop in Stockholm, before the war. Her lips are red, her hair is curled, her lashes are black; she thinks she's looking a bit like the American girls on the autograph cards, but also a bit like a clown.

"You look like a lady," Pippi says when she opens the door. "Come in and sit down in the kitchen, I'll be getting my hat so we can play lady visitor."

'You look like a child,' Annika thinks. The evidence goes as follows: (1) the braids, longer now but still without any sense of gravity, (2) the knee-length canary yellow dress with (3) too long sleeves and (4) red stockings and (6) embroidered moccasins; also her long slender limbs, like a child that has grown too fast and still isn't sure whether that was a good idea.

She sits down at the kitchen table, which is covered with a checkered tablecloth and assorted nice things such as waffles with powdered sugar, freshly baked bread and meatballs and banana pudding and coconut milk and a jug full of hot holly juice. She breathes in, and it is the smell of a picnic in the woods, of lazy sundays beneath the birch trees, back when there were three of them and no-one was shooting at real people.

There is a rumbling and rummaging in the other room, and then Pippi emerges. On her head she wears an exquisite black hat with a bow and a veil; it is giving her a strange air of seriousness. She kisses Annika's hand and says, "Enchantée," and Annika, of course, has to laugh at that, and gone is the seriousness. Only Annika can't tell what's there instead.

They eat for a while, but Annika isn't concentrated because she's trying to think of something to talk about all the time while watching Pippi manoeuvring her fork and her mug past the black veil. It looks comical.

"So you were in Argentina," Annika says after a while.

"I was everywhere," Pippi says, and she has swallowed her bit of waffle before saying it, it's incredible, "but in Argentina I was the longest. I started down in Europe, but they'vee gone completely daft, you wouldn't believe it," Annika can hardly see Pippi's face beneath the veil, that could have been the idea behind it, "so I went to South America for a while. I joined a circus and walked on my hands. That was very nice, but of course one can only do that when one has satisfactory underwear on."

"Of course," Annika says.

"Because otherwise people would have been laughing at the underwear and not at me," Pippi says. "And when that became boring, I started fighting people."

Annika lowers her spoon even though there's still some yellow pudding on it. "You what?"

"For money," Pippi says. "I fought people, on fairs and such. Sometimes I let someone win, but only the girls, and only the nice ones."

"Pippi, you can't go around fighting people," Annika says. "You aren't ten anymore!"

Pippi tilts her head and smiles. "But I can play pretend," she says.

This moment turns into a revelation to Annika, as if she had been digging in wet soil, her shovel always hitting something, curves, edges, surfaces, and as if she had only now realised what it was, a vase or a pot or only a brick after all. It is time to get out the finer instruments, now that she knows the rough form, the cause of all this nervousness and the waiting and the unrest.

She has to know what it looks like. She has to free it from dust and examine it thoroughly and maybe mend it and date it and learn more about it.

"When we were ten," Annika says, "we sometimes pretended we were grown up. Nineteen, even twenty!"

"I was thinking along similar lines," Pippi says. "So one day I said to myself, Pippi, I said, pretend for once you aren't ten anymore and can't be fighting grown men in front of an audience all day. As a lady you need a job where you can sit down and not show your underwear all day, two hours in the morning will have to be enough." For a moment she folds back the hem of her dress. "Even when it has such a nice flower pattern like mine has," she says thoughtfully.

What did you do instead?" Annika asks. She has a hard time imagining Pippi sitting at a desk in sunny Argentina, greeting the visitors to the Swedish embassy in Buenos Aires and drawing pictures on the forms where the names belong. The underwear is interfering,

Pippi rises and her dress is back where it ought to be. Annika notices this even when Pippi is advancing. "Magic," says Pippi.

"Oh," Annika thinks. Her thoughts aren't particularly spectacular. She isn't shocked or anything. Simply 'oh'. "Magic?" she says.

Pippi puts a hand on the back of Annika's neck as if it belonged there. "Magic," she says. "Pay close attention." Her other hand dances intricately in front of Annika's face. Annika thinks of a flamenco dancer she once saw on TV in her hall's common room, but that one was black and white and Pippi...

Pay close attention!

A turn of her wrist, a blur of her fingers, and Pippi is holding a playing card between her index and middle finger, slowly turning it so Annika can see it. Annika is almost expecting hearts, but: diamonds; apparently the pot is still half covered in soil. Pippi's other hand slides off her neck, and Annika releases a breath she hasn't noticed she was holding.

"I saw how you had that in your sleeve," she says. It's the truth! Annika concludes: that's why the sleeves are so long, it's not because Pippi's not very good at sewing. Very clever.

"Yes," Pippi says, still letting the card dangle in front of Annika's face. "Well done." Her other hand slides down Annika's arm, over her waist, and for a moment Annika is exaggeratedly and possibly pointlessly excited. The thing may be just another brick, after all.

"But did you see this?" Pippi murmurs, and the card is gone and she slowly pulls her other hand out of the pocket of Annika's cardigan, silvery ribbons in the shadow. It is the necklace with the ring, the one that Annika is half convinced is still around her neck. That would be why, then - brick, clearly, Annika thinks.

"It's a trinket," Pippi says. "It is tinsel, it is fake. Not good enough for a lady." Annika reevaluates: maybe not a brick after all. Maybe something else entirely.

"You gave it to me," Annika says, who knows all that already, which is why she isn't wearing the necklace so that anyone can see it.

"I'd like to give you something real," Pippi says. "Something that stays with you until you're old." Her hand, with the ring, is still on Annika's arm, and seeing how their faces are close already and how Annika is also of the opinion that she's got out enough of the thing out of the dirt and dates it to a time before conscious memory, she now lifts a hand to push Pippi's veil away and Pippi leans over with a half smile and oh.

Right on the mouth, this is practised and familiar and over in a heartbeat, but her heart may have stopped beating altogether; and then Pippi lifts her head, her mouth is smeared with the scarlet of Annika's lipstick. She grins: she did get the raspberries after all.

Maybe it's the colour, but a memory breaks in uninvited: Pippi at fourteen who thinks she's going to die, the stupid Krumelur pill was a fake after all, and Annika can help her in a way that Pippi's dead mother in heaven can't. Maybe this is a new game, Annika thinks. How innocent can one be?

Theoretically?

She doesn't ask, merely looks. Watches. But Pippi hasn't switched over to playing patience with the cards, or climbing a tree, and Annika counts this as a success.

How innocent can one be? "They do it all day in Argentina," Pippi says, laughing with her raspberry mouth.

"Really now," Annika says.

"I did it all day in Argentina," Pippi concedes. "You needn't worry at all."

Good.

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