The sky was mulberry. Ellie could smell the approaching storm, heat and moisture combined. Soon it would rain, heavily. But she couldn’t just leave Meg, She was old and partly blind, and with the arthritis she wouldn’t be able to get home unaided. She had to go after her. Ellie started towards the river bank. She called for Meg, but the wind was strong and her words were whipped away. She walked briskly, stopping now and again to search the horizon, to call and listen, but there was no reply.At the next stile the first fat drops began to fall. She called again, through cupped hands ‘Meg!’ but there came no bark of reply.
Thunder rattled in the distance and in an instant Ellie was drenched. She ran on, her jeans clinging to her legs. A shard of lightening cracked nearby as she reached the estuary and in that flash of light she was sure she saw a movement about 100 metres upriver. She squinted through the curtain of rain. Yes, she was right. Relief flooded through her. There was Meg, safe and dry, sheltering beneath a small copse. Clever Meg. When Ellie was near enough for Meg’s weary eyes to recognise her, the welcoming bark she’d waited so long for came at last, and the pair fondled each other in relief. ‘Look at you, dry as a bone, and me, soaked to the skin!’ joked Ellie, rubbing the dog’s soft fur to dry her hands. ‘I guess the rabbit escaped then?’ Meg gave a little whine as if in response. Then she looked up into the tree canopy at the sound of something flapping. Ellie followed her gaze, and there above them, was a white balloon, it’s string caught in the lower branches of a tree. Meg barked at the movement and Ellie reached up to untangle it. She was just about to release the balloon again, to complete its flight when she noticed a label fixed to the string. Curious, she took hold of the balloon more firmly, in order to read the label. It was quite clean and dry and written in the wobbly handwriting of a child was the message:
“My name is Izzy but I wish it was Elsa. I love dogs but my Gran won’t let me have one. I am nearly 6. If you find my balloon please return this label. X”
On the reverse of the label Izzy had carefully written her name and address in anticipation of it being returned. Ellie released the balloon but fumbling with the label, she dropped it. Meg was onto it immediately, hoping for a treat, and planted a muddy paw on one corner.
‘Messy girl,’ admonished Ellie, picking up the label and stuffing it into her pocket. Then she clipped on Meg’s lead and set off home. It was still windy but the storm had passed, and they were soon warming themselves in front of the fire, in Ellie’s cosy kitchen.
Through the night, Ellie couldn’t get Izzy out of her mind. She was just the age that Iris would have been. She’d tried hard to block out that bleak time. Spring 2010, when her world had imploded. They’d been so happy, she and Tom, delighted that at last their dream had come true. It had been an easy pregnancy. No morning sickness or excessive weariness, just a gentle rounding and blissful anticipation. The nursery was all ready and the birth plan in place. And then, that idiot driver had knocked Tom off his bike. The policewoman had tried to empathise but it was impossible for her to put herself in Ellie’s shoes (slippers actually, she’d just got out of the shower when the knock came on the door). Ellie had never set eyes on Tom’s bike since that day, when she’d locked it away in his shed. The shock was so intense that Ellie hadn’t even made it to Tom’s funeral. That was the day Iris stopped kicking. And a week later, Iris was no more. Ellie’s world had collapsed.
Dawn was just breaking when Ellie picked up her pen and filled in the little boxes Izzy had provided on the label for the finder to insert their name and address and where the balloon had been found. She tried to remove the muddy paw-print but it wouldn’t budge. The address indicated that Izzy only lived at the other side of the village, so Ellie contemplated simply popping it through her door, but then decided that a six-year-old would enjoy receiving a letter via the postman. She riffled through her purse to find a stamp, then walked up the deserted street, with Meg beside her, to the post box in the village.
She felt ridiculously childlike in her excitement at completing such simple actions and waited impatiently, over the next few days, for a response.
The pink envelope decorated with pictures of Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff surrounding the address box dropped onto the mat exactly a week later. There was no disguising who it was from, even though the address was written by an adult hand. Ellie slit the seal carefully, as she imagined Izzy would have done, and was rewarded by the wobbly handwriting she expected.
“Thank you for sending back my balloon label. It didn’t fly as far as I expected. I like the paw print. Is the dog yours? Love from Izzy (Elsa) X”
Ellie’s response included a Frozen magazine and an invitation for Izzy and her Gran to come for lemonade and cake the following Saturday. ‘…Meg and I are longing to meet you,’ her note concluded.
She heard their approach before the knock came on the door and couldn’t wait to greet them. Ellie flung open the door and before she knew it Meg had squeezed between her legs and was bounding across the lawn. It was a shock to see that Izzy was sitting astride a bicycle. A shock that made Ellie catch her breath. The fuss that Meg made of the visitors and her obvious delight at seeing a bicycle in the garden again served to mask Ellie’s false start. She greeted her guests with a big smile and ushered them into her cosy kitchen.
Over tea, lemonade and cakes the three strangers got to know each other and quickly felt like old friends. As Ellie topped up the tea cups Izzy and Meg slipped out into the garden and very soon squeals and barks of delight filled the air.
‘She fair tires me out,’ admitted Violet, Izzy’s Gran, ‘but I promised my daughter that I would take care of her. You see she was a single mum and died of cancer a few months after Izzy was b...’
She broke off as there was a scream from the garden and they both ran outside. Izzy had toppled from the bike which was laid on top of her, the rear wheel spinning. Meg was whining softly and licking a small wound on Izzy’s leg. The two women released Izzy and after a big hug from Violet she was off again circling the lawn on her bike, with Meg chasing around alongside.
‘They’re good friends already,’ said Violet. ‘She’s for ever on about wanting a dog, but I really couldn’t cope with that as well.’
After they’d left, with a box full of left-over buns, Meg stood and whined at the gate until they were out of view and then, curiously, skulked across to Tom’s bike shed and sat, ramrod straight, outside the door. She had no interest in dinner, and when darkness began to fall, she laid down on the grass. No amount of calling or cajoling would tempt her in at bedtime.
‘What is it old lady?’ questioned Ellie cupping her hands around Meg’s jaw. Meg got up and sniffed around the key hole.
In desperation Ellie fetched the shed key. As she opened the door Meg squeezed past her to the bike and gave her a pleading look. There was nothing for it, either she and Meg would have to spend the night in the bike shed or the bike would have to come inside the house.
It took some sprucing up, but by lunchtime the following day the bike was ready to ride and Ellie made her maiden voyage, with Meg running alongside. Izzy was in the garden when they arrived, helping Gran peg out washing. Negotiations were over in a trice and Violet was left with a restful afternoon ahead of her whilst the energetic trio, on two bikes and four legs shot off for the first of many afternoons of fun.
© 2016 Yeadon Writers
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