A Message To My Love

Shutterstock / Armin Staudt © Teenage girl in 1970s, dreamy look, chin on knees

There must be a reason for Mrs Green’s extremely specific instructions to me…

“Dreadful weather we’re having,” Mum said to a woman in a see-through rain hat and an ankle-length yellow mackintosh, as we stood at the bus stop getting soaked.

That’s when I entered my own little world.

Teachers at school often said I’d do so much better if I didn’t daydream, that I may even get a couple of O-Levels. But I couldn’t seem to help drifting off.

And it was as the rain hammered on Mum’s umbrella like clog-dancing ants, and the gusts of wind howled past as though we were about to get whisked away to The Emerald City, blowing my mass of red hair in front of my face, that I saw Mrs Green.

“Hello, Ebony,” she said, her bright blue eyes meeting mine. She smiled, showing tiny teeth that were a little on the grey side of white.

The year was 1975. I remember, because I’d just turned fifteen and my parents had bought me a Bay City Rollers vinyl for my birthday.

It was the year I developed a massive crush on Redd, Mr and Mrs Green’s grandson.

Mrs Green had lived round the corner from us with her husband, until she died a few weeks before. Of course, I had no doubts at all that this made her a ghost, when I saw her that day at the bus stop, but I wasn’t afraid.

She’d been kind when she was alive, so I felt sure she’d be just as kind now she was dead.

I turned to tell Mum that Mrs Green was with us, but she was deep in conversation with the lady with the see-through hat and yellow mac, talking about the ridiculous price of fish fingers.

Mum had often said Mr and Mrs Green were a miracle of science, because they’d never once argued in their sixty years of marriage.

I knew it must be true, because my mum loved my dad, and they still argued a bit.

“I’d like you to take my brooch to Redd, please, Ebony,” Mrs Green said that day, as she unpinned a butterfly brooch from the lapel of her china-blue coat and handed it to me. “Tell him to give it to his grandpa, and when he does, he’s to say, ‘and the rest’. His grandpa will know what it means.”

I felt my eyes widen. Although I had a crush on Redd, I’d never spoken to him before. I didn’t have the first idea how. The thought of taking him the brooch sent my heart into a beating overdrive.

I held the brooch in my hands for several seconds.

I felt sure I saw its wings flutter, and its colour change from blue to violet in front of my eyes.

I tugged at Mum’s arm in an attempt to show her, but a little crowd had gathered now, and they were huddled together, moaning about the weather, and the fact the bus was late.

When I looked back, Mrs Green was no longer there.

“Mrs Green,” I called, looking about.

Mum turned, her forehead crinkling as rain speckled her face.

“What did you say, Ebony?”

Before I could reply, the bus pulled up, splashing through puddles, and almost covering us with water. I shoved the brooch into my pocket and climbed on board with the others.

“Nothing,” I called, heading for the back seat.

I pulled my Jackie magazine from my bag, and tried hard to not think about seeing Mrs Green… or what I would say to Redd.

Thankfully, Mum stopped halfway down the aisle, and sat next to the woman in the see-through hat and yellow mac.

On my way to school the following day, my satchel heavily laden with books draped over my shoulder, I saw Mrs Green again.

“Please give Redd the brooch, Ebony,” she said, as I crossed the road towards her. “Tell him to tell his grandpa, ‘and the rest’. His grandpa will know what he means.”

“Yes, of course,” I said, wondering how I would find the courage, but knowing I had to. “I’ll take it round to his house after school.”

That afternoon, clasping the brooch, I headed towards Redd’s house.

The front garden was neat and tidy, and brightly coloured flowers lined the path. I knocked on the door, hoping I was doing the right thing, and he wouldn’t think I was crazy.

Should I tell him I’d seen the ghost of his gran, or just hand him the brooch and run? I mean, he could so easily tell everyone at school that I was a bit weird.

I made up my mind as I waited for the door to be answered, I would give him the brooch and run.

But it wasn’t Redd who opened the door. It was Mr Green, and his smile was so kind, his eyes so sad, that I knew I had to be honest.

“Hello, Ebony,” he said. “Are you here to see Redd?”

“No,” I said, quickly. If I could just give the brooch straight to his grandpa, and tell him, “and the rest”, Redd wouldn’t need to know I’d seen the ghost of his gran.

But then Redd appeared at his side. Oh so handsome, his dark, layered hair reaching to his collar.

He smiled, sniffed and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his flared jeans. His eyes were so blue – just like his gran’s – and his cheeks seemed to be a bit rosy.

“Hi, Ebony,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

My heart flipped. He knew my name. I moved from foot to foot, and began fiddling with my hair. I’d put on my best emerald jumper dress and hairband to try to impress him, but now I felt a bit self-conscious about them.

Mr Green smiled and drifted inside, and I wanted to yell, “Come back, I have something for you,” but stopped myself.

Instead I handed Redd the brooch, just as I’d promised Mrs Green that I would, and he stared down at it.

“It’s my gran’s,” he said, and his eyes became watery. “Where did you find it?”

I wrestled hard with telling him the truth about the ghost of his gran, I really did, but something stopped me.

“Oh, it was at the bus stop in town,” was all I said in the end.

“Ah, yes,” he said. “She lost it when she was out shopping, about a month before she died.”

“It’s for your grandpa,” I said, and turned and headed down the path.

“Ebony,” Redd called after me, and I looked back over my shoulder. “I don’t suppose you fancy going to see Jaws at the pictures tonight?”

“Yes!” I said far too quickly, and then added nonchalantly, “Pretty sure I haven’t got anything to do.”

It was then that his grandpa appeared back by his side. He looked at the brooch in Redd’s hand, with enquiring eyes.

“It’s Gladys’s,” he said. “I bought it for her on our pearl anniversary.”

Redd handed it to him, and Mr Green turned it over in his ageing hands.

“‘Here’s to thirty more happy years,’ I said to her at the time, and we certainly had that.”

“And the rest,” I said, as Mrs Green had told me to say, and his eyes, all shimmery, met mine.

“And the rest,” he repeated, nodding and smiling. “That’s what she said to me.”

I saw Mrs Green one more time after that. It was five years later, and the year after Redd and I got engaged.

I noticed the couple walking in the distance hand in hand, and they turned and smiled at me.

It was a few days after Mr Green passed away. I suppose that was the day I realised that “and the rest” meant “for eternity”.

After that, the years rolled by. I married Redd, and we later had four daughters – all grown now with children of their own.

It was on our pearl anniversary, a few weeks back, that Redd handed me a tiny, daintily wrapped parcel. Inside was the beautiful butterfly brooch that had once belonged to his gran.

As he pinned it to my dress, my heart fluttered just as the wings of the butterfly had done in the palm of my hand so long ago.

“Here’s to thirty more happy years,” he said, as he pinned it to my dress, his eyes the same bright blue as his gran’s.

“And the rest,” I’d answered softly, as he pulled me into a warm hug and held me close.

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