The old lady does not live in a shoe, little girl: the grown-ups lied to you. But snuggle deeper into your blankets, safely away from that grave wind, and I will tell you where she really is. There. Ready?
The old lady lives in you. Before you get to scratching yourself pink, though, you must understand and be kind to her; living inside another human—even one who is growing as rapidly as yourself—can be rather cramped, and wet, and dark. On top of that, there was no room for her 27 children (15 of which were from her husband’s previous marriage, but she loved them no less), whom she had to send away to aunts and uncles and a few questionable foster parents. She still worries, though it helps to knit and rock in the cozy crook of your liver.
Understand that the grown-ups weren’t entirely dishonest—the old woman did actually live in a shoe (a leather boot that had seen better days, if I remember right). As accustomed as she was to living in dark and close quarters, she looked forward to hanging her apron up for good in a place with a bit more fresh air, retiring to Montreal, maybe, or the south of France. (While practical in love, she’s always been a hopeless romantic when it comes to travel.) It had been the one gossamer thread of invention she allowed herself in that gray and stale place.
Of course, these best-laid plans changed the day her husband left to join the oil rush up in North Dakota. Having promised to write like so many other important humans have, Mr. Edison (grandson of Thomas Edison’s illegitimate daughter, the poor girl) faded first in flesh and soon after his voice and scent disappeared entirely, having been overwritten by more urgent memories. With him went his money, and this may surprise you, but mothers are not paid to raise humans-in-training such as yourself in a clean and bright and happy place such as this. Few see this as a reason to complain, and Mrs. Edison was not one of these few. That is, until the bank began to send letters and then make telephone calls until late in the night and finally knocked on the door at an ungodly hour, demanding that the old lady and her 27 children vacate the premises so they could get on with selling it to a more deserving and upstanding family. And would she kindly do something about that foot smell?
Well the Pine Sol was out before the banging stopped, but as for the money it would take to keep the bank at bay, there was little to be done. Child labor laws notwithstanding, William and Wendy—the oldest children, twins, having 24 years between them if I may sneak in a small math problem—ducked under the screech of their mother’s refusals and threats, dashing into the country to find work. They polished shoes and milked cows and ran messages between neighbors.
It’s getting late, so I won’t give you the weight of further details. I think you’re clever enough to guess how it worked out, anyway.
Maybe now you see why you were her last resort. Not that she’s ungrateful—the close quarters, wet and dark as they are, have given her a new start. And, bereft of children and husband, she has all the me-time a woman could want. Basically, she tells me, she’s learning to look on the brightest side available, though she’s still prone to the occasional flour-throwing, rolling-pin-brandishing tantrum. Give her room for these.
One day—and do your best not to fear this particular one, darling, because there are plenty of others that are more deserving of your fear—the old woman will begin to grow into your arms and legs, so slowly that at first you will not notice your limbs doing odd things like taking your coffee black. You won’t notice that you squint when you read the paper anymore, or remember the first morning your bones creaked upon unfolding from bed. Her wrinkles will begin to show through, the color of her eyes will fuse with your own, and your laugh will bind itself to hers. You may even find yourself in the south of France one day, if you two play well enough together.
Of course, this is all speculation. I don’t know enough to know what she will decide to do in there. What I do know is that there is old in you, child, and you ought to thank your stars for it. Off to bed with the both of you.