‘But now I am Six
I’m as clever as clever
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.’
‘Your daughter has an excellent grasp of the English language, Mr Grant, the headmistress told Fergus when he picked her up from school one day. ‘She’s quite the little storyteller. She enjoys writing stories and reading them to her classmates. There are some very happy little bunnies in Lisa’s year. I particularly like the story about Sir William of Silkwoods, your Dairy Shorthorn bull, I believe.’
Fergus always used to take Lisa to and from school. On the rare occasions Elizabeth graced Silkwoods with her presence, she would be having breakfast in bed or a protracted lunch with the ladies, which precluded her from doing either of the school runs.
Towards the end of the summer term Fergus dropped Lisa at school and after she slammed the car door shut, he wound the window down and called after her.
‘I’m off to catch you a trout for your supper from the stream in the Hundred Acre Wood.’
‘I’ll look forward to eating it. Bye, Pooh… I love you.’
‘Love you more, Piglet.’ He waved goodbye, blew her a kiss then drove away.
The Universe tends to throw things at you in threes. Lisa had survived corporal punishment inflicted by Miss Laverty, coped with the loss of Eileen and was about to be hit by a third devastating blow.
Later that day when Lisa rushed through the school gates, she found Jim waiting to collect her. When they arrived home, Nellie told her that her mother wanted to see her and as she cautiously approached the sitting room, she could hear Elizabeth on the telephone, the tone of her voice irritated and impatient.
‘I just want to screw him for every penny he’s got! Am I clear? And I’m hoping I can count on you, Sidney, to make sure that happens.’ She hastily wound up the conversation when Lisa walked through the door. ‘I have to go, Sidney,’ she snapped, ‘I’ve got a visitor. Come in, Lisa dear, sit down over there.’
She pointed to an armchair directly opposite her and Lisa obediently sat down, her brown divided school skirt, exposing her iodine-smeared grazed knees, scuffed earlier that day after a fall on the tarmacked school playground.
The expression on her mother’s face was unnerving as she slammed the phone down, then plumped up the cushions around her to make her herself comfortable. Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth ran her hands lightly over her flipped bob, patting it slightly before exhaling, as if trying to restore a sense of inner decorum. She looked at her daughter and frowned.
‘There’s something I need to tell you, Lisa dear. I’m afraid your father and I have irreconcilable differences…’
Lisa’s six-year-old features crinkled. What on earth were irreconcilable differences? She guessed they probably weren’t good.
‘So, he won’t be living here anymore,’ Elizabeth finished her sentence with a determined nod of the head.
Lisa felt her face flush and she started to cry.
‘Oh for goodness sake, Lisa! These things happen with grown-ups. You can go and see him if you like.’
‘Where is he?’ She snivelled.
‘He is going to live in Portugal, dear,’ Elizabeth said curtly. ‘With, er, a friend of his…’
‘Why Porkogul?’ Lisa asked, blowing out her hot, rosy cheeks. ‘Why Porkogul?’
‘Because… he… err…’ Elizabeth was distracted.
Lisa’s feet were sliding from side to side across the parquet flooring and with each slide her crepe-soled school shoes created a prolonged, stuttering squeak. ‘Because what?’ Lisa whined.
‘Stop squeaking!’ Elizabeth bellowed, which made Lisa sit bolt upright. ‘Because your father has decided that he is going to live in Portugal and that is the end of it…’ Her voice trailed off slightly, before adding, ‘Portugal is not a million miles away. Perhaps you can go and stay with him for Christmas. I’m sure he will be in touch.’
Lisa knew Portugal was in Europe and she had never been out of Gloucestershire. It sounded like it was a very long way away, but she could count though. It would be over three months until she saw her father again and three months to someone, who had not yet turned seven, is a very long time.
Her silent snivels became noisy sobs, which made Elizabeth feel uncomfortable, rather than arouse any hint of maternal instinct.
‘I expect the weather will be warmer in Portugal in December. It will be warmer than it is here anyway.’ She had to raise her voice. Lisa’s sobs were getting louder. She rubbed her temples with the tips of her fingers. She couldn’t think straight. There was so much she had to sort out, the last thing she needed was a damned headache.
‘Enough!’ She got to her feet, waiving an irritated hand in the air indicating Lisa’s audience was over.
‘Run along now, Nellie will have your supper ready soon.’
Lisa shuffled out of the room with her shoulders hunched and her crepe soles squeaking with each step as Elizabeth calmly sat down and started dialling another number.