Jay and I were terrified of Her at first. She was huge and couldn't speak properly, mostly just in animal-like grunts. She could have wrung our necks without thinking about it, but, as we later found out, that wasn't in her nature.
We noticed Her two winters ago, around Christmas. She was setting out suet-and-seed bells for the chickadees, with a big bowl of raw meat scraps for the ravens. There were two feeders full of seed already hung outside cat's reach. We didn't see much of Her during the winter, just the occasional face at the window, until warmer weather came. We, Jay, myself and the rest of our friends, knew that she was there, though. The bird feeders were always full, surrounded by noisy sparrows, arguing over who would get the choice tidbits hidden in the feed and by the more dignified chickadees, flitting in and out, taking what the sparrows were too busy arguing over to watch carefully.
Once spring came, we saw Her more often, raking up last year's grass into neat piles and leaving them out for a few days, so that the birds would have nesting material, or soaking the ground with water so the insects would come out and into the beaks of the waiting robins. After the yard work was done and the feeders filled, she would sit on the porch swing, half hidden in shadow, but still avidly watching everything. She was really odd. For a giant, that is.
I didn't really get to know Her until Tom showed up. Tom was new to the neighbourhood, but it didn't take long for us to get his full measure. He was, to be blunt, a bully. He didn't think anything of batting you around until you were black and blue and ready to keel over in terror. Or worse, chasing you around the neighbourhood until you fell down. He'd stand over you, laughing and calling you all manner of vile things. He had a terrible mouth, that Tom.
I had just hopped out of the apple tree in the yard next to Hers when Jay screeched, "It's Tom! Run for it!"
I glanced around in panic and he was there, right in front of me. There were no options, no hiding places. Returning to my previous perch in the apple tree meant turning my back on Tom. Not a good idea. I sidled sideways, trying to move under the low hanging branches. It would be some protection from Tom because he was bigger than I was.
Tom, to my surprise, wasn't interested in backing me into the tree. He had other plans.
"Well, well, well," he purred with satisfaction. "What have we here? Poor, little chick-chick is a long way from her nest, isn't she? You could get hurt doing that, Little Chick-chick."
I glared at Tom, trying to mask my fear with defiance. "So could you, Tom. You could get hit by a bus, you know."
"Hit by a bus?" Tom mocked. "I can make you wish you were hit by a bus, Little Chick-chick."
I gave a short nod. "You could. If you could catch me," I agreed.
Tom sprang at me, but was interrupted by a broom midway into his leap. Neither one of us had noticed Her approach. "Mine," the giant hissed thickly, but clearly. "Mine. Get lost."
Tom looked from the Giant to me. "You can't say here forever, Little Chick-chick." He pinned a glare to my rescuer. "Neither can you, Ugly. And I can wait a long time." With that parting threat, he slunk off, not looking back.
The Giant stared after Tom, totally ignoring me. I took full advantage of Her inattention, scrambled beneath a nearby lilac bush to get out of Her sight quicker and flew out the other side as if Tom were on my tail. For all I knew, either one was liable to give chase.
I met Jay in the park later on.
"Boy, that was close, Dee," he began. "You could have been killed by either one. Maybe even eaten!"
I shivered. "Tell me about it!"
Jay tipped his head. "It was strange, don't you think? Her taking after Tom like that, I mean. Most of the big people around here seem to like Tom."
I huffed. "Hey, if She wants to take on Tom, more power to Her. Wouldn't hurt my feelings any, if they did each other in."
Jay frowned. "I dunno. She does feed the birds and stuff, you know. She can't be all that bad."
I snorted, not believing Jay could be so naive. "Jay, you're something else. The monkeys at the zoo can fill a bird feeder, you dope, but that doesn't make them civilized beings."
"I'm sure the sparrows consider themselves civilized," he snapped.
I thought about that. Sparrows did seem to be marginally civilized. They'd chatter and argue with each other, sure, looking like dry leaves, detaching and re-attaching themselves to the trees. But, I supposed, everyone got fed by the end of the day. That made it a civilization. Sort of.
Jay's trying to change the subject didn't work for much longer than those thoughts. "I can't say as I'd consider Her civilized, though. All She does is grunt and whine. No vocabulary whatsoever."
"Have you ever tried to teach Her to speak?"
I stared. "You're joking, right?"
He shook his head. "Nope. I think She could learn. Parrots can. She didn't do too badly imitating Tom, did She? Got Her message across quite well, I thought."
The curfew whistle sounded before I could answer him. It was just as well. "Gotta fly, Jay," I shouted over my shoulder as I sped off. I did a lot of thinking that night. Everyone knew that giants were incredibly stupid, but maybe...
The sparrows screeching for their breakfast woke me up the next morning. I was up and outside in record time. The sun was just coming up over the houses when I arrived at Her house.
She was, to my surprise, outside filling the feeders when I arrived to jump on the fence. I thought I'd crept in unnoticed, but She glanced over at me and smiled a greeting. I watched Her carefully. The last feeder hung, She retreated to the front porch where a mug of steaming coffee awaited Her. She sat down on the swing, setting it into lazy motion. That would be Her perch for hours, sometimes writing in a notebook, or reading or doing wondrous things with string and sticks.
She didn't say anything to me that first day, when I sat on the porch steps. Again, she just smiled. After that, it became our habit, on reasonably pleasant days, to sit outside and watch the sparrows fight over birdseed. Her eyes would light up when she saw me. That made me feel funny inside, a good kind of funny that had no name.
About two weeks after our morning rituals began, I found a plate of goodies and a drink waiting on the step. "For me?" I asked, astonished.
She nodded and mumured something unintelligible.
I wondered. Maybe Jay was right? Slowly and distinctly, I said, "Thank you."
She tipped her head, curious.
I repeated the phrase. Had I been able to hear her clearly, I'm sure She'd said something incredibly rude. I tried again. And again. And again. Thus began the second phase of our acquaintance -- language lessons.
By summer's, and my patience's end, She could say 'hello', 'please' and 'thank you'. Her accent was atrocious, thick enough to stand on, but She could be understood. It was enough to go on. Civilization would be a long time in coming, but it was a start.
I spent most of the next winter with my cousins and grandparents. There was some important family thing going on, some sort of conference, and the younger folk, like me and my cousins, had to stay with the really old folks. Like my grandparents. It was boring.
My cousins didn't believe me when I told them I'd spent the summer teaching a Giant to talk. Grandfather stepped in when it looked like we were going to come to blows about it. He regaled us with tales of some of the things he'd done when he was younger and my cousins forgot all about being stupid.
There was still snow on the ground when we returned home. I rushed over to Her house the instant we got back.
She was out shovelling the walkway when I flew up to the gate. She saw me, grinned hugely, and stuck the shovel in a snowdrift. "Hello, Dee," she said clearly.
I almost fell over in shock! How had she learned my name?
She stepped up onto the porch, reached into a brand new container and drew something out. Still grinning, she made her way over to the feeder station and set up the biggest suet ball I'd ever seen!
"Gang way!" I screeched. "Starving chickadee coming through!"