"Eg litur ut eins og fordaemdur strakur!" Anneka snapped out in Icelandic.
"No, you don't look like a boy." Silja helpfully translated for Kirsten's sake, omitting the expletive, naturally. "Look, Momma has you in a lovely dress! Boy's don't wear dresses now, do they?"
Anneka had a face like thunder. If such a look could kill. Silja fussed at the dress trying desperately to reaffirm Anneka's self-identity. It was not working.
Kirsten sighed; she was none too pleased either.
Silja looked at the scissors and glue matted hair on the floor, then at Kirsten with a look on her face that said 'Sorry, I tried my best'. The pout on the three-year-old face said all.
Kirsten eventually snapped. The finger-wagging began.
"How many times have I told you NEVER to go into Poppa's study?!"
Silja almost intervened on Anneka's behalf but thought better of it. It was out of her pay-grade.
Anyway, she knew once the inquisition began concurrently with Joe returning home, questions would be asked as to exactly how Anneka was not being supervised at the critical point.
Try telling Joe that three-year-old headstrong little girls are about as easy to control as a wet block of soap and see how far that gets you.
"Anneka is very creative." Silja offered almost inaudibly to Kirsten.
And Anneka is creative. But Poppa's study, precisely because of its off-limits status was just too much of a temptation. Inside there was paper, pens, pencils, glue.
Lots of stuff to make Poppa a nice surprise for when he comes home. He would have been so pleased; if things had not got a little, well a lot, out of hand.
Silja snipped a few more strands of hair; she had done the best salvage job she could, given the circumstances.
She preened Anneka up a bit then smiled at her "Now we both have new hairdo hmm?" Anneka scowled again, Silja sat her down with some bricks and went to put the inked and glued clothes in the bin.
Silja found Kirsten along the landing shaking, bent over and holding onto a doorframe for support. It looked like she was sobbing.
'A bit of an overreaction...' Silja thought. But, as she got closer, it was apparent Kirsten was wetting herself laughing!
Joe struggled through the front door with arms full of untidy paperwork.
He closed the heavy door with a backwards kick and dumped the usual mix of invoices, receipts and death threats onto the hall table. Then Joe called out his version of 'Honey I'm home!'
"My belly thinks my bleedin' throat's bin cut!" Then he shucked out of his duster and, with a weary sigh, hung it heavily on the waiting coat stand.
He turned and opened the door to his study with the casual expectation of his nightly snifter of scotch before dinner.
A burglar might ransack a room looking for hidden goodies, but they generally don't waste time cutting up valuable books or spreading glue over every available surface.
"WHAT THE FUCKING HELL?!"
He stepped gingerly through the mess towards his desk,
still not sure if he had been the victim of an attack by some vandalistic shit bent on revenge for any one of the reasons that rolled past Joe's memory like old TV credits.
Then Joe saw the crudely cut out and coloured stick figures glued to his blotter. The door opened behind him and Joe spun around.
Anneka, in her pyjamas, stood in the open crack staring up at him with eyes like saucers. Two and two became four and Joe let out a long sigh.
He eased himself down onto his knees and beckoned his daughter with a finger.
Very slowly, the little three-year-old crossed the floor, still looking up at her Poppa with uncertain eyes that had yet to learn fear.
Joe examined Anneka's new hairstyle with careful deliberation, looking first left and then right and then gently turning her head to see the back.
"I gots glued in it."
"You don't say."
The bottom lip started to wobble.
"I look like a boy."
Joe lifted her chin with a finger and peered closely.
"I dunno, too clean to be any boy I know."
The lip stopped wobbling and she held still while Joe continued the 'inspection'.
"No boogers either."
That brought a giggle.
Joe tilted the girl forwards and looked behind her.
"Nope. No tail either." He stood her back up.
Anneka looked at him.
"Boys don't have tails silly."
"Oh yes they do, they just hide them. Boys have long tails just like rats, all scaly and yucky."
Annie looked puzzled.
"What's a rat?"
That threw Joe for a heartbeat but he recovered quickly.
"A rat has sharp claws and big pointy teeth, a hairy body and a long, long tail." Joe could see her absorbing the information.
"But nobody is ever going to mistake Poppa's little princess for some smelly boy!"
Joe stood up and looked down at his now grinning daughter.
"A monkey maybe, but definitely not a boy." Joe lifted his arms and hopped from foot to foot making monkey noises.
Squealing happily, Anneka turned and fled the study with Joe, still being a monkey, chasing her. She ran down the hall straight into Silja's waiting arms and was scooped up.
Goodnight kisses were exchanged with everyone she could throw her little arms around and Silja took her off to bed.
Later that night, in bed, Joe turned to Kirsten.
"Annie asked me what a rat was earlier."
Kirsten turned to him and kissed him on top of his head.
"Oh, Joe. How could she ever know what a rat was?"
After the light was turned off, Joe lay awake, staring at the ceiling and pondering on Kirsten's question. Something about it troubled him.