Come to the park, next to the old oak, bring your favourite book.
Emma read the text message for the hundredths time. Who had sent it? And why? She glanced at the paperback in her other hand. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How long had it been since she’d read the story? Not since Harry died. A pang of sorrow was interrupted by a childish squeal.
“Mummy, it’s a little man, a little man with a hat.”
“Sally, sweetheart, stay where I can see you.”
“But Mummy, it’s a tiny little man.”
Pushing passed the poignant memories, Emma sought out her daughter, hopping excitedly from one foot to the other. She stood beside the lifelike ceramic figure dressed as a leprechaun.
“Sally, you silly thing, I thought you meant a real man.”
“He is real, Mummy, he just spoke to me.”
The figure was remarkably well made, the colours bright and detailed. Emma reached out a finger to prod the pointed hat.
“Do you always go around poking people?”
She yelped in shock as the figure turned to face her, an indignant look on his weathered, wizened face. Emma grabbed her daughter and took a few hasty steps backwards.
“I told you, Mummy, I told you he was real.” Sally said, trying to wriggle free.
“What…what are you?” Emma tried to control her thudding heart.
“Hmm let’s see,” he put a tiny hand to his chin. “We’re in Ireland, its St Patricks day, I’m twelve inches tall and wearing a pointy green hat. Why don’t you take a stab in the dark?”
“Leprechauns don’t exist.”
“Then what am I? Chopped liver? The result of a scientific experiment gone wrong? An Oompa Lumpa like in your favourite book?” He gestured to the paperback in her hand. “I’m Mr. Gold, and I see you got my message.”
“Your message? You sent me a text?”
“It’s the twenty first century. What did you expect? A carrier pigeon? I’m here to deliver a proper message for you. Harry says it’s time to move on.”
Emma’s heart stuttered at her late husband’s name. “Don’t be cruel.”
Mr. Gold expression softened. “I’m not. Four years is enough. He doesn’t want you to spend your life alone, Harry wants you to find love.”
“I had love,” Emma touched her daughters hair. “I have love.”
A Labrador puppy flew out of the bushes, oversized paws slipping over the dew laden grass.
“Puppy!” Sally squealed, pushing out her mother’s embrace. “Can we keep him?”
“He has a collar, Sally, he belongs to someone.”
The dog, sensing a friend, changed directions and hurled himself at the child, tail wagging at a hundred miles an hour. Sally sank to the floor, giggling as her face was immediately covered in wet licks.
“You don’t believe me,” Gold said to Emma.
“Of course not.”
He pointed to the book in her hand. “A county fete, in the rain. You both grabbed the book from a second hand stall at the same time, and your hands touched. Harry said he fell in love with you that very instant.”
Emma had to blink away tears. “We never told anyone that.”
She shook her head. “No one would understand. Another man would see himself as a replacement, as a substitute.”
A rainbow broke through the clouds at that moment, ending at the rock where he sat, and covering the leprechaun in colour. “They’re watching, and they want you to both find happiness. The book shaped your past. It will shape your future too.” He disappeared in a shimmer of light.
“Dad! I found Puddles.” A young red headed boy of about six raced out of the bushes.
“Charlie! Slow down, I don’t want to lose you and the damn dog.” A man followed, a leash dangling from his fingers.
Sally looked up with a warm smile. “Charlie, hi, is he yours?”
“Hi Sally, yes he is,” the little boy crouched down beside her. The puppy, now having an attentive audience of two, yelped in happiness.
“Mummy,” Sally said. “This is Charlie, he just started at my school. His Mummy went to heaven when he was very little, just like my Daddy did.”
“We think they’re probably best friends, just like we are, and we think they watch over us, don’t we Sally?” Charlie added, voice pure with his faith in his words.
They’re watching, and they want you to both find happiness.
Emma’s gaze collided with the blond man standing just feet away. In his eyes she saw empathy and understanding.
“Hello, I’m Mike, and yes we just moved to the area.” He crossed to her.
“Hi, I’m Emma, welcome to the neighbourhood. Is your dog’s name really puddles?”
“No, it’s Benjamin, but the toilet training isn’t going well, trust me, puddles is much more appropriate.”
Emma smiled. He pulled a pair of gloves out of his overcoat pocket and something fell to the ground. They bent at the same time, their hands touching over the battered paperback copy of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
The book shaped your past, it will shape your future too.
“Sorry,” Mike smiled, blue eyes warm and friendly, memories swimming in their depths. “This was my wife’s favourite book. We named Charlie after the lead character. It’s strange, I unpacked it today, and for some reason felt compelled to read it for the first time since…” he glanced at his son.
Emma pulled out her copy from her bag. “So did I.”
The books were identical in print date and cover, well read and old. The pages yellowed and creased from multiple reading.
He glanced at her in surprise. “Well, look at that.”
The children laughed as the puppy, now once again attached to his lead, managed to tangle both of them in its soft leather.
Emma heard a whisper of sound on the wind. Happy St Patricks Day, live your lives. We will always be there in your hearts, and your memories.
Mike glanced around, as if he too had heard the faint words. “I was wondering if there was anywhere around here that did a decent cup of tea?”
“Yes, I can show you if you like.”
“That would be great, how do they feel about incontinent puppies?”
She laughed, a genuine warmth building inside her, for the first time in so long. “Let’s go and find out.”