Perhaps I have imagined this: during the (occasionally unendurably) long hours I spend home alone I have recently walked into Clea’s bedroom; I have sat there and have grabbed some of her books from the bookshelf.
Maybe I have started reading out this story, Lily Ladybird, once more, the way I used to read it out to her when she was a toddler, she sitting on my knees after her bath, smelling clean and fresh and so, so very full of life. Maybe I have read it again translating the story into Spanish, the way I used to read it to her, even though the book is written in English.
It is just possible that I have been unable to finish it, but I remember it well. It tells the story of a good little ladybird who lived in an enchanted garden. One day she lands on an old branch that happens to be the nose of very horrible witch, who gets very cranky with Lily and casts a spell on her. “No longer will you be good and kind and helpful!” says the witch with an ominously wicked, croaky, throaty voice, and then lets out the most horrible laughter a daddy pretending to be a witch can put on.
Lily’s nose gets all twisted and crooked, and she starts behaving really badly. Her poor mum cries. Her friends stay away from her… Where was her father, by the way? He never gets a mention in the story… But Lily makes new friends: a hideous spider, Dolly, and a very slimy toad, Tony. And then one night they steal a magic wand from a fairy, and start mucking around… and suddenly, the spider turns into a carrot, and the toad turns into a bunny! That'll teach them a lesson! So the fairy sees that Lily is actually good-natured but she’s under the malignant spell of the witch, and so she turns her back into her good old self.
Perhaps I have had to put Lily Ladybird down. It is just possible that I could not go beyond the wicked bout of laughter Clea loved to hear. That childhood excitement of being suddenly given a little fright…
Maybe I have then taken in my hands this other very old book, called Huff the Hedgehog. It actually belongs to Clea’s mum. Her name is still handwritten on the cover. A very very old Christmas present. Huff is a very hungry hedgehog, who goes around looking for food. He repeats his little rhymed self-introduction to every animal he comes across. I remember that when Clea first asked me to read this book, I had of course to come up with a rhymed version in Spanish. I did, and I suspect it was probably nearly as good as the original:
“Soy Huff el puercoespín,
todavía no he cenado,
si no como pronto,
voy a quedarme muy delgado."
Every time Huff finds something edible, a farm animal comes up and tells him that it’s their food Huff is taking. He walks away every time, hungry and disconsolate, knowing that if he does not get his dinner, he'll “get thinner and thinner”. And eventually he meets a lovely blonde girl who gives him a bowl of bread and milk. Huff loves it.
Maybe someone was listening, maybe not. Perhaps tears welled up and then they were falling down my cheeks, and desperation again filled my mind. It is just possible that I had to close the books and put them away.
I think maybe Huff and Lily felt lonely, perhaps even a little sad, when I tried to read their stories.