The stone statue of the little girl reading had always been in her Aunt’s garden under the willow tree. When Lisa visited her Auntie Rose she would always sit on the grass in front of her and tell her most treasured secrets to this unseeing child. She had got used to the fact that she never got any response from her; in fact that’s what made it so ideal. It seemed to Lisa that she had spent all her eight years being told what to do and say by her parents, teachers and even her friends. This is what made her marble friend so special, she never judged or criticised her. On the other hand Lisa would have occasionally liked to have some response from her friend. She had decided two summers ago to name her silent friend Verity. Lisa wasn’t quite sure why she had chosen that name or even where it had come from, she didn’t know anyone called Verity. Verity, Lisa thought, was the size of a five year old and she wore her hair in one plait that reached all the way down her back. She wore a summer dress and open toe sandals and was seated on a simple three legged stool. Lisa liked to stroke her hair it felt so cool even on a hot summers day, even so she would sometimes take her sunhat off and put it on the statue.
Auntie Rose had lived in the Cottage for over ten years. It was a truly magical cottage with roses round the front door, a flagstone kitchen floor and a deep green Aga that produced bread that tasted so special Lisa couldn’t believe that it was just bread. The sliced white her mum bought from the supermarket every week tasted of simply nothing. The only thing that Lisa hated about the cottage was the outside toilet and the septic tank that had to be emptied, that was truly disgusting to her. She always made sure that she used the toilet at home before they left so she could avoid visiting the spider-ridden closet.
Lisa was happy if the sun was shining when they visited her Aunt so she could sit and talk to Verity whilst her Mum and Rose chatted over a cuppa. If it rained she felt sad and would sit in the rocking chair by the kitchen window watching the rain bounce on the opened pages of Verity’s book. She once asked her Aunt why she left Verity out in the rain and didn’t bring her indoors. Her Aunt had looked surprised and shocked and glanced over to the window. Her mother had asked her why she called the statue Verity and Lisa explained that it just seemed right to her. After that whenever she visited she became aware that her mother and her aunt would often stand and watch her talking to Verity. One night whilst her mother was putting her to bed she had again quizzed her as to why she had called the statue Verity and explained to her that she was getting a little too old for imaginary friends.
‘But Mummy she’s not imaginary, she’s just the statue in Aunt Rose’s garden that I tell all my secrets to.’ Lisa put her arm around her favourite doll and snuggled down the bed.
Her mother kissed her lightly on the forehead, ‘Goodnight darling.’
Next morning Lisa woke and listened carefully, she could hear her parents talking in the kitchen down below. Then she remembered it was the weekend, she smiled stretched the sleep out of her body and jumped out of bed. This was the weekend she had been looking forward to for ages; she had the whole day with her Granny whilst her parents were out on business. She had often wondered what business her parents went to on a Saturday but didn’t like to ask. As she had grown up Lisa had learnt that some of her questions simply didn’t get answered and as she was getting older she found this annoying, she didn’t like to feel like she was being treated like a child. After all she was nine in a few weeks time.
To surprise her parents and prove to them she really was growing up Lisa decided to wash and dress as quietly and as quickly as she could. She brushed her hair and put it in a bobble, she could manage a ponytail but not the single plait she preferred but she would ask her Granny to do that when her parents had gone out.
The doorbell rang and Lisa looked out of the curtains Granny’s yellow mini was parked outside on the road. She looked at herself in the dressing table mirror just to make sure she was presentable, as her Granny said. Lisa sneaked slowly down the stairs determined to surprise her parents and Granny.
She heard her mother’s voice from the kitchen ‘Honest Mum I just can’t explain where she got the name Verity from,’
‘But it can’t just be coincidence, I still think you should have been honest with the child from the start,’ Granny sounded upset but Lisa couldn’t decide why.
‘But I just don’t know how to begin to tell her, I just know I will become to upset. I do so want to tell her, I know she will find out about Verity one day and I would rather she found out from us than by chance.’ Mummy was crying now.
Lisa sat on the bottom step wondering what were they talking about, she had only once before heard her mother cry, that was when Granpops had died two years ago.
‘Hello Lissy Lou, how long have you been sat there?’ Her Father sat down next to her on the bottom step. She hadn’t realized he had walked along the hall.
‘Why is Mummy crying?’ She asked as she realized a big fat tear had just rolled down her own cheek.
‘Because she is sad,’ Daddy paused, put his arm round her shoulder then asked ‘Did you hear what they were talking about?’
Lisa just nodded as the tears started to flow more freely but she couldn’t understand why she was crying, perhaps it was because she felt she had heard something she shouldn’t have.
Daddy stood up bent down and picked Lisa up ‘Come on Lissy’ he whispered.
Lisa couldn’t remember the last time Daddy had picked her up like this he usually complained she was getting too heavy.
They went back along the hall and he pushed open the kitchen door.
‘Well ladies I think the time has come to do some explaining.’ He sat Lisa on a stool by the breakfast bar but still kept his arm round her. Mummy and Granny were stood by the back door; both of them had tears in their eyes.
‘She heard us talking’ whispered Granny not sure who she was addressing.
Mummy walked over towards Lisa and sat on the stool next to her, she looked towards Granny ‘Go and phone up and see if it would be in order if we took Lisa with us today – Please Mum, now is as good a time as any.’
Mummy got hold of Lisa’s hand and gently stroked her hair, ‘Don’t cry Lissy, you have no reason to cry, it’s us that have been naughty keeping secrets all these years,’ Mummy leant forward and picked up her handbag from the worktop, she opened the zip on the back and took out a small red book, flicking through the pages she pulled out a small black and white photograph. Handing it to Lisa she quietly whispered, ‘This is your Auntie Verity.’
Lisa looked at the photograph of a young girl with dark plaits proudly stood by a garden gate wearing a school uniform and holding what looked like a PE bag. She studied the photograph there was something familiar about it, Lisa recognized Granny’s garden gate.
‘She was my Auntie?’ Lisa studied the photo closer then handed it back to her Mummy.
‘What do you mean, she was?’ Granny asked.
‘I remember why I called the little girl in the garden Verity. It’s cause that’s what Granpops called her. When I was a little girl Granpops used to sit with me in Auntie Rose’s garden and tell me stories about Verity. She was his little princess and he called me his little moonbeam. But Granpops always told me that Verity lived in a special place with special angels because when she was a little girl like me she had hurt her head. He told me she liked homemade lemonade, butterflies, rag dollies and jelly babies just like me.’ Lisa was smiling as she recounted the story but as she looked round she could see tears threatening to roll from all the eyes around her.
‘He told me that she was poorly, but not to be sad about her because she lived in a beautiful place and she would always be a happy little girl and would always be cared for by the angels, so I thought she had ………….’ Lisa stopped and looked at the grown ups round her.
Mummy looked towards Granny, ‘I didn’t know Dad had spoken to her did you Mum?’
Granny’s tears had now escaped from her eyes, ‘No I didn’t, he never spoke to anyone about Verity.’
‘Granpops always promised me he’d take me to see where Verity was asleep when I was a big girl, do you think I’m big enough now Mummy - Please?’
Daddy answered her question because Mummy’s tears were now falling.
‘Yes Verity I think we could all agree you are old enough,’ he looked at the two women who nodded, ‘But I think perhaps you think that Verity lives with the angels like Granpops, but she actually lives with some different angels in a special place, where she will always be a little girl, we go to visit her and as we are going today would you like to come and meet her?’
Yes please Daddy I’ll get my things and can you put my plaits in please Granny,’ Lisa turned round in front of her Granny who deftly plaited Lisa’s hair and put her bobbles in. ‘can I take some of my bobbles for Verity Granny? Granpops told me she liked pink ones – Please?’ Without waiting for an answer Lisa ran upstairs to her bedroom.
Soon they were all in the car and driving through the countryside. Granny was sat in the back holding Lisa’s hand. Daddy seemed to be looking in his rear view mirror more than usual and now and again gave Lisa their ‘secret’ wink. After what seemed to Lisa like ages Daddy pulled into a lay by. There in front of the car was an old red bus that had a union jack flag hanging limply from a flag pole and the words Toby’s diner painted in Blue along the side.
‘Is this where Auntie Verity lives?’ Came the question from the back of the car.
‘No Lissy this is where we have a cuppa, we are about half way there’ Granny smiled, ‘Do you want to come and help me carry them?’
Lissy and her Granny walked over to the mobile café.
‘Hello there, unusual to see you at the weekend, you going to see your daughter then?’ The young man was wearing dreadlocks and a ring in his nose. Not the sort of person her Gran usually spoke to, thought Lisa, but then she had never seen granny drink tea out of a mug before, always a cup and saucer, what a strange day this was turning out to be.
‘Three teas and a small bottle of orange for my Granddaughter Lisa.’ The young man wiped his hands on an immaculately white tea towel and leant across the counter ‘Very pleased to meet you at last Lisa’ he shook her hand.
‘Yes we are on our way to see Lisa’s Auntie Verity.’
Granny handed Lisa her drink and she carefully took the tray from the counter with the three mugs of tea on. The drinks were drunk and Lisa asked could she take the tray back to the café. ‘Of course, but you stay on the path and ……’ Daddy didn’t finish. ‘No I’ll do it, but you can come with me Lisa’ Granny and Lisa took the mugs and tray back to Toby together.
‘See you again Ladies; give Auntie Verity Toby’s love will you Lisa?’
‘Of course we will’ said Granny and they both walked back to the car together.
Soon they were on their way again.
It didn’t seem that long before they turned down a very small country lane. Lisa craned her neck to see where they were heading. Ahead was what looked like a large house, a very splendid house. Daddy drove straight into the drive through some very large iron gates that looked as though they were permanently open. The gravel crunched under the wheels.
‘Is this Auntie Verity’s house?’ Enquired Lisa, ‘It’s much bigger than Auntie Rose’s cottage.’
‘No it doesn’t belong to Auntie Verity she just lives here with her friends,’ Granny smiled and Lisa noticed in the mirror that Daddy was smiling too.
‘Do the Angels live here with her as well?’
Just then the car turned sharp right to follow the sign that said ‘Visitors Car Park’; Lisa was impressed she had never been to anyone’s house that had their very own car park. The car came to stop next to a car Lisa recognized, it was Auntie Rose’s.
‘Hello Lissy, have you come to meet your Auntie Verity, shall I take you in to see her then Mummy and Daddy will join us in a moment.’ Auntie Rose opened the car door and Lisa and she walked together towards the large wide modern looking doors, which seemed so out of place in such an old building. As they neared the doors they magically slid apart noiselessly inviting them to enter. Sat at a desk labelled ‘receptionist’ was a very round lady with a smiley face.
‘Hello Rose, you here to visit your sister again, she’ll enjoy meeting this young lady I’m sure. Do go straight along, we’ve told her you were all on your way.
Lisa held onto her Aunt’s hand feeling nervous but she didn’t know why.
‘I didn’t know you were here’ Lisa looked up at her.
‘Granny rang me, she thought it would be nice if we all came together today – here we are’.
They had reached a door with a small wooden plaque on it which read ‘Verity’s Room’
Rose knocked and together they walked in.
This must be what a princess’s bedroom looks like thought Verity. Verity looked around it was magical, the curtains were floaty pink and so fine they were gently moving in the late summer breeze. The dressing table was also pink with a heart shaped mirror, above the bed a mobile of seagulls drifted quietly.
The bed was different to it was more like a huge armchair and there lying curled in a ball as though asleep was her Auntie Verity. In a Lilac nightdress with a gleaming white collar her arm was laying on top of the white blanket and under her arm was a raggedy Anne doll. Her hair in one long plait was almost glistening with small traces of silver.
‘Is she asleep?’ Asked Lisa
‘I’m afraid she is, she always will be Lisa, when she was five she ran out of the gate to meet Granpops on his way home from work and she didn’t see the tractor. She shares my birthday; she’s my twin you see.’
Lisa walked towards the bed, ‘She looks just like a princess fast asleep waiting for a prince to kiss her and wake her.’ Lisa turned Auntie Rose who was now looking out of the window and Lisa just knew she was crying. ‘She’s beautiful can I put one of my bobbles I bought for her in her hair please? Please Auntie Rose don’t cry Granpops always told me that although Auntie Verity couldn’t paddle in the sea or play in the garden like me she was happy living with the angels. Can I use this hairbrush?’
Auntie Rose turned Lisa was knelt on the chair at the side or the bed gently brushing Verity’s hair. All these years we never bought her here because we couldn’t cope she thought. Just then the curtains blew upwards and in the window fluttered the tiniest blue butterfly which flew directly towards the bed and landed on the pillow.
‘We’re all here now Auntie Verity, Granpops always told me that when he was with the angels he’d always be my butterfly on a summer’s day.’
Lisa looked round the room Mummy had come in quietly with what Lisa thought of as one of the angels.
The only sound in the room at that moment was a deep contented sigh from Auntie Verity.