Girl with a pigtail

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Memories of the past can so easily be revived by a chance meeting. Like seeing a little girl in an airport arrivals area, for instance.

Submitted: July 11, 2012

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Submitted: July 11, 2012



Girl with a pigtail

“Look, Mummy, look at me!”
The little girl is dancing around the arrivals area, her blonde pigtail bouncing up and down on her back. At once I feel as if a clamp has been put on my chest. My eyes are dangerously close to watering and I feel myself bite my bottom lip hard to stop it from quivering. 

“I used to have a little girl like that.”
 I realise with a jolt that I have said the words aloud. The woman sitting beside me has turned my way and is looking questioningly at me.
“I’m sorry?” she says. Then, “Oh, excuse me a moment . . . Melanie, please stop climbing on that barrier rail. If you fall off and hurt yourself, you won’t be very pleased and neither shall I.”

I jump involuntarily. Even the name is the same. I want to get up and leave hurriedly, but find myself transfixed, unable to move.

Melanie leaps off the chrome barrier, shrugs her shoulders, and skips over to where we are sitting. 

“How much longer, Mummy?” she asks, excitedly. She is completely unable to keep still; hopping first on one leg and then the other. She looks so much like my own little Melanie who, at around the same age liked me to tie her hair in the same style, and always insisted on wearing pink.?

“Not much longer, Poppet. Just try to be patient.”

Melanie’s mother smiles at her little daughter, then turns back to me.

“I’m sorry; what did you say?”
For a while I pretend I haven’t heard her. My bag is open on my lap and I start to rummage through it. I am not really looking for anything but right at this moment I don’t feel I can answer her without making a perfect fool of myself and bursting into tears.
Perhaps I’ll go and buy a coffee; I take out my purse and open it, checking to see if I have remembered to bring enough money with me.

And that is when it falls out. The photograph. The beautiful blue eyes with their long, fair lashes are laughing up at me. I pick the photograph up and stare at it. I had forgotten it was in there; how long have I been carrying it around without realising?
 “Oh that’s amazing; she looks just like . . . oh, I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to be rude and stare at your things. I just couldn’t help noticing . . . “
The lady, Melanie’s mother, is looking at the photograph in my hand. I am aware that I am shaking a little; I hold on tighter, trying to calm myself. I keep telling myself that if I don’t think too hard, it won’t hurt too much. But it does, of course.
The photograph was taken on Melanie’s, MY Melanie’s, fourth birthday. We were having a day out, a birthday treat, and we were at the seaside. It was just the two of us, as usual; if Melanie had ever felt cheated by having no siblings nor even a father figure,  then she never let on. 

“She wore that shell necklace everywhere.”

Oh dear; I’m thinking aloud again. I really wish I could stop doing that. I’m turning into one of those dotty old ladies you see talking to themselves in the supermarket, asking themselves what they should buy for tea and trying to remember whether they have any tins of salmon left on the shelf. Except I’m not old; I’m barely what you would call middle-aged.

“Excuse me? . . . Oh yes, I see it now. She’s got it round her neck in this picture, hasn’t she? Oh how sweet; I love her little beach shoes.”

I look at the lady and try to smile. I know I must look a bit watery, but I think my mouth and eyes are doing the right things. 

“Yes, I bought them on holiday once. She saw them on a market stall and fell in love with them straight away. I wanted so much to buy them for her, but only had enough money with me at the time to buy fish and chips for our lunch.”

“Let me guess . . . you bought her the shoes and forgot about lunch?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what happened. How did you know?”
“The same thing happened with us once . . . me and my little Melanie, I mean. Except it wasn’t shoes she wanted, it was a sun hat. Luckily I found a bag of toffees in the bottom of my beach bag, so we ate those instead of lunch!”

“Mummy,  Mummy, Mummy, I want my daddy to walk through that door RIGHT NOW!”
“Not much longer, Darling. Oh dear, patience has never been one of Melanie’s strong points. I hope she’s not driving you mad.”
“No of course not.”
 After all, how could she drive me mad, when a little girl’s impatience used to be a part of my life? Kind and friendly though she is, I don’t want to confide in this lady for fear of looking silly and over-emotional. I don’t want to tell her how much I miss my own little daughter’s impatience and zest for life. I smile inwardly as I remember my mother calling her “The little hurricane” as Melanie tore through the house, chattering excitedly all the time, picking up things to examine them and putting them down again . . . but not always quite in the right place.

“How much longer to tea? Can we go to the park now? What can we play? Oh, how much longer? Are we nearly there?”
These were all saying typical of my little girl and, maddening as they sometimes were at the time, I find myself wishing fervently that she is here with me now, jumping up and down, talking non-stop, and singing “The wheels on the bus”.

“My name is Jane. Please excuse me if I’m speaking out of turn, but . . . you seem very sad about something. I’m afraid I shouldn’t have said anything about your photograph.”

The lady who is Melanie’s mother is talking to me, looking at me, waiting for an answer. I drag myself back from my dream of the past and force myself to focus on her.
“No, you’re not speaking out of turn. It’s very kind of you. I just  . . . “
This is very difficult for me. I don’t know what to say. She is offering me friendship and I feel it would be wrong to turn it down. She herself needs reassurance that my sadness has not been brought on by her and I feel I must at the very least give her this. I brace myself, and take a deep breath.

“No, you didn’t do or say anything to upset me. Of course you had to say something when you saw my daughter’s photograph; she did look so much like your little girl. And the strangest thing is that they are both share the same name; what’s more, my little Melanie was very much like yours in personality, too."

Jane is looking uncomfortable; I know what she wants to say next, if only she dares to do so. I wait; feeling her anxiety for her, wanting to reach out and reassure her, but still feeling the numbness, the inability to confide my thoughts to anyone else.
“It’s just that . . . well, when you mentioned your daughter, your little Melanie, you spoke about her in the past tense, as if she was . . .”

I hold tightly onto the photograph and take a long look at the little face laughing up at me. I remember the smell of sand and seaweed, the cry of seagulls, the softness of my four-year-old daughter’s skin. I can almost hear her happy excited voice . . .
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
 And here in the arrivals area, the little girl with the blonde pigtail runs forward, straight into the arms of a tall, smiling man who is walking towards her with his arms outstretched. She leaps up  and he holds her tightly then swings her round and round, before putting her down and hugging his wife, who has got up from the seat beside me and walked forward to meet him.  For a little while I am alone with my memories and my photograph. I feel the tears start to prickle and I close my eyes very hard, willing myself not to cry.

“And I thought you’d be pleased to see us!”
I open my eyes. A young woman is standing in front of me. She is holding the hand of a young man. They are both smiling at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry; I was miles away. I . . . Oh, welcome home, Darling!”
And as I take my new son-in-law and my daughter home from their honeymoon, I realise that my little Melanie didn’t really die; she just grew up.

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