On the whole, Robert was a good child. Both his parents worked from home, where each had an office in the house. He loved going to his nursery school, where he was a popular child and had a large circle of friends. Normally in the school holidays, his mother would allow him to spend time with each of his friends. But now, unfortunately, that socialising was not an option at the moment and they left him to amuse himself in the house and garden.
Bored, he wandered into the garden clutching his teddy bear. He sat on the little wall looking around, enjoying the sounds of nature around him. There was a robin singing while sitting on the edge of the birdbath then a little ladybird flew down beside Robert, he smiled and greeted her and then wistfully said, “Ladybird, you’re so lucky you can fly away, but I’m left in this garden to play all on my own.”
Then an extraordinary thing happened. He heard a voice in his head, “But you are not on your own Robert come follow me.” Robert was a trifle startled, but without giving it too much thought, he jumped down and cuddling teddy, he followed the zigzag flight pattern of the Ladybird he did not notice when the garden changed. Until he saw a gravel path, not paving stones. The edges of the flower beds were as high as short walls, coming as high as his knee. The plants seemed to tower over him. He knew they were still flowers, but they seemed bigger. He couldn’t understand why his garden had changed, but he was happy to follow the Ladybird. They came to a swing, quite a big one, but that did not bother Robert. He climbed onto the seat and the swing moved as if someone was pushing it for him. He remembered his Dad showing him how to curl his legs back as the swing went backward, then stretch them out as it moved forward. He went higher and higher and the Ladybird flew around his head. Then he decided that was enough and slowly the swing came to a stop. Next, he saw a sandpit. It too was on the big side, but he still climbed in. He found a red spade with a blue bucket and started digging. He wanted to make a castle. He worked hard filling the bucket then upending it to form the corners of his castle. The spade was great for piling the sand to form the walls. When he finished, he sat back pleased with his efforts. He wiped the sand off his hands and climbed back onto the path. That was hard work. Now he was thirsty and thought he would go back to the house for a drink.
Then he saw a pathway that led to a partially open door. If he considered it, he might have seen the door was also bigger than the ones at home, but he didn’t give it a thought.
He walked right up to the door, but being a well brought up boy he stood and knocked and then called out, “Hello, is anybody there?”
He heard a voice call from within, “Hello Robert, come inside.”
Robert stepped into the room and looked around. It was a kitchen but not the one at home and then he saw a lady sitting in a rocking chair. Her hair tied up in a white scarf. She had kindly brown eyes and a lovely smile.
“How do you know my name? What is your name?”
She had a deep booming laugh, “I’ve always known your name. I wondered when you would come and visit me.”
The little boy looked a bit puzzled, “How can I come and visit you when I don’t even know your name? I don’t even know where you live.”
With a smile, she replied, “My name is Mrs Frazer-Gordon.”
Robert thought about the name for a moment and then asked, “Is Frazer your first name? I thought that was a boy's name.”
She nodded her head, “Yes, Fraser is a boy's name, but my surname is Fraser- Gordon. My first name is Kathleen.”
He questioned her, “How come you have two surnames and I only have one?”
“That’s too long a story for us to worry about now. Are you thirsty?”
Now she had reminded him he realised that yes, he was thirsty. This was about the time at nursery school when they usually had a drink and a biscuit. He knew his mom would not remember to give him anything until lunchtime when she stopped work for a little while.
He nodded his head and watched in astonishment as she stood up. She was very tall, like a giant in one of his books. Then he noticed the table was so high he could walk underneath it easily, not like the ones at home.
She walked out of the room and a few minutes later returned with a glass and a plate.
“Sit there beside my chair.”
He hurried over and sat down in a chair which was exactly the right size for him. Kathleen placed the plate and glass on the table. “There you are, young Robert. I hope you enjoy it.”
He looked, the cookie was so big it almost covered the plate and the juice in the glass was bubbling. “Thank you, Mrs Frazer-Gordon.”
He took a sip, then a great gulp. It was good. A smile spread over his face. “That is nice. My Mummy never lets me have fizzy drinks.”
He was sure he heard the lady mutter, “Of course she wouldn’t.” He looked up and she smiled, “That is special juice, I make it myself, it's called elderflower cordial.”
He nodded, then went for the cookie. It was so big he hardly got through half before he said, “That is lovely, but I have had enough.”
“That’s fine, Robert. You can take the rest home and have it later.”
While all this was happening, he was aware of strange soft noises. “What is making those noises?”
She beckoned him, “Come, let me show you.”
She went to a big wooden kitchen unit and pulled out the lowest drawer. Robert knelt beside her and peeped in. There was a cosy nest with a mother cat and four tiny kittens.
“They are so tiny! Are they asleep? Why are they making that noise?”
She smiled, “Yes, they are tiny but awake, when they are born they have closed eyes which don’t open until they are about seven to ten days old.”
His hand reached out, “Can I touch one?”
She nodded her head, “Yes, but don’t pick them up, the mother cat might not like that.”
He looked sad, “I’d love a pet, but Mummy says she is allergic. I don’t know what that is, but we can't have a cat.”
Kathleen said, “Come over here then.”
He gave each kitten one last stroke, then followed his tall hostess. She had crossed the room and opened yet another drawer. His eyes grew huge and round. Sitting in there curled up in a basket was a little dog with three puppies busy suckling.
“Can I touch these?”
Smiling, she agreed, “Yes, why don’t you pick them up and hold them?”
He didn’t need a second bidding. His little hands went to touch them. There was a white one, a black one and another white one but with brown patches over its body and one eye and the ear on the same side were brown, making him look rather comical. The little creature nuzzled into Robert's hands and as he brought it to his face, the puppy laid its head on Robert’s shoulder.
“Oh, look, he loves me. I wish he could come home with me.”
“Well, he is old enough to leave his mother so you can take him home.”
Robert's face lit up for a moment then he shook his head, “No, Mummy said we couldn’t have any pets.”
There was a curious smile on the woman’s face, “This is a magical puppy, he will play with you, but as soon as you take him into the house he will become a toy until you are alone in your bedroom then he will be a puppy again. The only thing you must do is give him a bowl of water. You could do that outside, so if your mother asks what you are doing, you can say you are feeding the birds.”
Robert’s face was shining with pleasure, “Are you sure I can have him?”
“Of course you can but remember the water. Now it's time you were heading home again.”
Robert clasped the little puppy, who squirmed and licked his new owner’s face. Then they headed out the door.
Waiting in the shade was the Ladybird. She led him along the paths and slowly, Robert felt they were back on the paving stones. He looked at his friend, “Ladybird, thank you for showing me the way and please thank Mrs Frazer-Gordon for the juice and cookie,” he patted his pocket, the other half was still there, “and most of all for my puppy. I’m going to call him Patches.”
As he walked into the kitchen, his puppy became a toy and his mother looked at him crossly, “Where have you been? I’ve been calling you. Your lunch is on the table.”
Just then, his Dad walked into the room, “Ah, food, I’m starving.” He looked at his son, “what have you been up to this morning? Where did you get that toy?”
Robert was about to blurt out about Mrs Frazer-Gordon, then decided only to say, “The lady next door gave him to me.”
His mother snorted, “Bloody neighbours, I wish they would mind their own business.” She went to grab the dog, but Robert hung on and his Dad banged the table with his hand.
“Celia, stop it, let the lad have his toy. We expect him to spend hours here all on his own, don’t be unreasonable.”
Afterward, Robert took Patches went up to his room for his customary afternoon nap. As soon as the door shut, the toy became a dog and snuggled down beside the boy.