{flash fiction} A Girl and her Squirrel

Based on this painting: http://www.kellyvivanco.com/index.php?section=available&pt=meeting-place

Alice waited until the moon had fully risen before walking out the back door of the kitchen and following the little trail that led into the woods behind her house. The night was quietly breathing. She heard crickets and the scampering of tiny mice feet and the hoot and flutter of owls overhead. But only when she really listened. Otherwise, like when she focused on the trail ahead, all she heard were dim rushings and thuddings. The sound of blood in veins.

Alice’s dainty feet took her quickly and quietly across the leaf-strewn track. Her destination: the tree stump in the middle of a clearing where she and her friend Fariel met fortnightly. She was almost there, the withered old stump was in sight. Alice walked very calmly to the centre of the clearing and waited, hands folded neatly in front of her. Almost instantly, Fariel appeared and capered up the stump to twitch his inquisitive nose in the general direction of her face. Alice smiled.

“Hello.”

Fariel, being a squirrel, did not reply in the accustomed manner. Rather he twitched his whiskers a fair bit more and blinked at Alice once or twice to let her know he was happy to see her as well. It was Fariel who had decided on these twice monthly meetings, Alice remembered as she put a hand up to stroke one of his delicate ears.

They had both been wandering the forest that night, and it was the first time Alice had discovered the clearing. She had sat by herself on the stump for some time, tucking her feet under her dress very demurely and staring up at the moon which huge brown saucers for eyes. The glimmer of movement had caught her attention, and she spied Fariel at the edge of the clearing. Only then he had just been a squirrel to her, and she just a human child to him.

Alice was not like the other human children her age, and it would have been fair to say that Fariel was not like the other squirrels either. After taking note of Fariel, Alice drew her gaze back to the sky but she continued to keep watch of his movements out of the corner of her eye. She noticed when he stood on his back legs, twitching his nose and whiskers and blinking at her with unfathomable black eyes. And she noticed when he fell on all fours, creeping steadily forward to investigate this strange creature.

Alice noticed, and was silent.

When he was close enough that she could touch him, Fariel rested his forepaws gently on the edge of the stump, just out of reach of Alice’s skirt and peered up at her. In return, Alice peered down at him. There was a moment of silence until Alice said simply,

“Hello,” with a reserved kind of politeness used for meeting very important strangers.

His whiskers had stilled with her first breath, but now he scurried quickly up the stump and onto Alice’s knee, looking directly at her face. His whiskers twitched once and he blinked. Alice smiled slowly in return.

“Hello,” she said again with warmth.

Alice pulled herself away from that memory to notice Fariel rummaging through a small pile of nuts at the base of the stump. She helped him sort through them, all the while speaking softly of the things that had gone on since the last time they had met. Her mother’s teaching, her brother’s meanness, the way her father still didn’t seem to pay any attention to her. She told him about the cook chasing the pig, and about the spider she rescued from Mother’s broom. Fariel’s whiskers quivered as he listened.

When they were through with the acorns, Fariel climbed back up on the tree stump where he could look Alice in the eye as she stooped. She reached a hand out toward him and he grasped her forefinger between his delicate paws, nipping her affectionately. They remained like that for a while, a girl and her squirrel, until the steady gusts of wind bespoke the lateness of the hour.

They left as they had come. Fariel, scurrying away to his home-tree, and Alice, treading quietly back down the trail to home.

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