They started walking down towards to end of the road, in the same direction Marie had been going originally. Talking to Elsy without looking at her turned out to feel a lot more normal, and Marie was able to calm down considerably, when she started to stop thinking about it at all. She pretended she was on a stroll with a friend’s child, or perhaps her niece, if she’d had a niece, and they were on the verge of one of those heartwarming conversations of the nature of life that always turned out so well in movies.
It turned out that Elsy as a child was considerably more talkative than adult Elsy, and also that a heartwarming conversation about life was not what she was intending to have. She had the charming grammatical style of someone who was just starting to figure out how to use a language with any level of fluency, and no apparent boundaries on what she would tell a strange woman with a dog. Marie wondered momentarily where the hell Elsy’s parents where, and how they’d managed to find a community so safe they didn’t have to warn their children about talking to people they didn’t know.
“That’s where Steve lives,” Elsy was saying, pointing out a blue Victorian with red shutters. “He’s got a mean older brother named Darden.”
Elsy gestured at the yellow house beside it.
“And that’s where Missus and Mister Darven live, although you have to be careful not to confuse them with, because they aren’t families with Darden even though they sound like they should be. They got a cat because they’re rich. But they don’t got any kids. And that’s where Hershel lives, too, but he’s on Carth 2-A right now at school, Mam said,” Elsy finished, a little sadly.
“Are you close friends with Hershel?” Marie asked.
The little girl nodded emphatically. “Hershel’s the smartest person I know,” she explained. “Hershel told me about the houses on Carth and how big they are and how they’re made out of trees.”
Elsy apparently thought that this concept was incredible.
“Elsy, do you know why all the houses are made out of plaster here, instead of trees?” Marie asked.
“Because they are,” Elsy replied enigmatically. “These trees are too big to cut down, Hershel says, because they’re so old. He said they’re almost two planet lives old. I guess on Carth, they grow trees special just to made stuff out of them, and if you want anything made out of a tree, it costs like a billion dollars even just for a little thing.”
“Hmm,” Marie said. “Don’t you use paper? Paper’s made out of trees.”
“Paper’s way too expensive,” she said.
Marie was dumbstruck.
They walked in silence for a little while, down to the end of the road, which just ended unceremoniously in jungle, and turned around. Elsy started telling Marie about all her friends in school – of which there were many), and what she was learning, and how she’d gotten top marks in computer programming and astronomy this quarter.
“Do you know anything about Earth?” Marie asked suddenly, latching on to the thing about astronomy. They were almost back to Elsy’s house, and Milo barked and raced ahead.
“Oh, that’s easy!” Elsy laughed, “I learned about the other planets in school. There’s nine of them, Aarth to Harth, from oldest to youngest, and they made them all so the rich people don’t have to live with the poor people anymore.”
“What do you mean, the rich don’t have to live with the poor?” Marie asked as they got to Elsy’s porch, looking down, but the young version of Elsy had disappeared into thin air.