Robert knew what angels were. His friend Christine had been one in the school play at Christmas. He just hadn't expected to find one in the phone book. Running his finger underneath the letters, he spelled out the word in a whisper "A..N..G..E..L" Yes, definitely Angel.

He lay on the floor in front of the crackling coal fire, his knees being tickled by the rag rug, his elbows resting on the open directory. An angel should be able to help him. An angel might even be able to get a message to his mum, seeing as they were both living in the same place. And an angel might be able to tell him how to cope with his Dad, because Dad cried a lot when he thought Robert couldn't hear.

Angels were good. Robert's teacher had explained about them, and when Christine had pulled Mary's hair in the play, Miss Beech had said, "Angels don't do that, Christine. Angels are good and well behaved and they take care of people."

Miss Beech had also said, in the soft voice she used when she was being kind, that Robert could always talk to her if he wanted to.

"It's all right to be sad," she had told him, "and if you ever want to talk about your mummy then I'm here to listen. You can tell me anything." And then she'd given him a hug.

Miss Beech was lovely, but Robert wondered if he could trust her. She might easily tell someone what he told her. So when he really needed to talk to someone he was stumped. He didn't have any grandparents and his uncle lived in Australia and they'd never met. That's when he decided he'd look up his name in the phone book - Andrews - just in case there might be a grandma or granddad out there that Dad had forgotten about.

He knew how the phone book worked because, when they first had the phone put in his mum had explained to him about the alphabet and shown him how all the names were in order. It was as if she was leaning over him now. He couldn't see her, but he felt that warm tingle that always happened when she was close. It was almost as if she had pointed him to the name below all the Andrews.

"Angel A," he breathed. "A. Angel." Perhaps if he phoned the angel she could take are of him and his dad. He put his slipper on the Angel page so that he didn't lose it, and then hopped to the back door. His dad was in the shed fixing a puncture. He'd had to wheel his bike home from work because of a flat tyre.

"Dad, are you going to be long?" he called.
"Another five minutes, son. Are you OK?"
"Yes." It was all he wanted to hear. Five minutes would give him enough time to phone the angel without being interrupted.

Robert dialled slowly and carefully, poking his finger firmly in the holes where the right numbers were. There were four rings before a voice said hello.
"I need an angel," Robert whispered into the mouthpiece.
"Who is that?"
"It's me, Robert, and I need an angel to talk to."
"Well.." The voice on the end of the line hesitated. "I'm Mrs. Angel. Will I do?"
Robert thought for a moment. Mrs. Angel? Miss Beech hadn't mentioned anything about angels getting married, and then he thought about the information he had.
"Are you good and well behaved, and do you take care of people?" he asked.
"I try," Mrs. Angel replied.
"How old are you, Robert?"
"I'm six."
"And you need someone to take care of you?"
"No, I'm not phoning for me. I need some help for my dad." As the angel had a soft voice, like Miss Beech's kind one, Robert quickly explained abut his mum dying and how his dad was always sad.
"I don't know how to cheer him up" he finished, "and I need a quick answer because he'll have fixed his bike in a minute."
Robert counted slowly to three before the angel answered. Her reply made him smile.
"Thank you Mrs. Angel. Thank you. He said. "Will you give my love to mum?" he added, before putting down the phone.
He turned down the corner of the Angel page in the phone book before he closed it. Mrs. Angel had been very helpful and he might need to call her again.

The following day was Saturday. Robert and his dad ate breakfast together and, as they cleared away the dishes, Robert put Mrs. Angel's plan into action. "I think we should have a day out. The two of us together. "he announced solemnly.
"A day out?" Dad almost smiled. "And where would we go?"
"I think you should choose." Robert said, remembering the angel's advice.
"Let your dad decide. He may not want to go to the pictures to see The Wizard of Oz".
Dad stood for what seemed like a long time, holding a dish in one hand and a stripy tea towel in the other.
"How do you fancy going to the waterfall and talking a picnic?"
"Yes! That's one of my favourite places." Robert was pleased with the decision, and then he spoiled it by saying, "We haven't been there since M.." He left the rest of the sentence unspoken, but Dad's half-smile had slipped and he didn't speak all the times he was making the sandwiches.

It was a good day, though. They walked through the woods to where the waterfall crashed down over a rocky outcrop into the stream. A fallen tree spanned the stream like a bridge. They crawled across it and ate their picnic on the opposite bank.

They took it in turns to swing on a rope which dangled from an overhanging branch, they skimmed pebbles across the water and heaved huge rocks into the stream to make stepping stones. And all the time it was as if Mum were there, enjoying herself, too.

Robert thought he heard her laugh when Dad slipped off the tree bridge and soaked his trousers. He thought he caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye.

She was sitting in her usual place, in the shade of the old oak which had a funny shape at the bottom of the trunk. Mum had always said it was a little door into the tree.

That night Robert didn't hear his dad crying. He heard snoring instead, so he crept downstairs to use the phone and thank the angel.
She sounded rather sleepy.
"Hello, who is it?" She yawned.
"Me, Robert" he said.
"Oh, Robert. How are you? Did it work?
"That's what I wanted to tell you," he said, and went into a blow-by-blow account of their day out.
"That is good news," the angel said. "I think you should make it a regular event. Not always the waterfall, but definitely a day out together." Robert nodded.
"Where's your daddy now?" the angel asked.
"In bed, fast asleep," Robert told her.
"I think that's where you should be, too," the angel said, as she gave another yawn.
"Alright. Goodnight, Mrs. Angel."
"Call again, if ever you need me," the angel said, which made Robert feel happy and warm inside as he crept back upstairs to bed. They weren't alone any more. Now they had an angel taking care of them.

After that, Robert and the angel often had chats. Robert would tell her where they'd been for their weekly outing, and whether Dad was happy or sad that week. The angel always listened patiently and often have him good advice.

"It's Mum's birthday this week," Robert said one day, "and it's making Dad really sad."
"Why don't you have a party?" the angel suggested. "You could have a cake and remember all the lovely times the three of you had together."
"Won't that make Dad even sadder?" Robert asked, but the angel assured him that it was perfectly all right to remember happy times. Dad wasn't sure.
"You want a birthday party for your mum? We didn't have one last year." His voice was a bit squeaky, like the one Miss Beech used when one of the children had upset her by being naughty.
Robert stuck to his guns.
"Yes," he said. "We could have a cake and talk about all the happy times."
"Are you sure you want to talk?" Dad asked. "Won't it make you feel miserable?"
"No. I like talking about Mum. I don't want to forget her."

Dad made the cake. It had a hollow in the middle but it looked delicious especially after Robert had iced it and covered it in chocolate buttons. Dad prepared a special tea for them and Robert searched for the photo albums so they could look at all the pictures of the three of them together. Dad sat with his arm around Robert as they leafed through the albums. Looking at the little square black and white pictures they remembered happy days and holidays and then Dad began to cry again.

But this time it was different and he hugged Robert and said thank you.
"Thank you for making me do this." He said. Robert didn't understand and wished he could ask his angel but he never spoke to the angel when Dad was around.

When they heard someone knocking on the door, Dad sent Robert to see who it was. "While I splash some cold water on my face," he explained, with a grin.
It was Miss Beech. She gave a big smile.
"Hello," she said. "I was wondering if I could speak to your daddy."
Robert led her in.
"Can we speak alone?" Miss Beech asked.
Robert was sent upstairs to play; only he didn't go all the way to his bedroom. He sat on the top stair wondering what he'd done that was so wrong that Miss Beech had called at the house on a Saturday.
"I'm worried abut Robert," he heard her say, and he crept down another stair to be closer. "He's been writing about an angel. I've asked him about it and he seems to believe that the angel is real."
"An angel? He's not mentioned one to me.

As Robert listened to the conversation he began to get angry. Of course his angel was real. He often spoke to her and it wasn't very nice for the grown-ups to be talking abut her as if she was something "pretend", not after all she'd done to help. Quietly he stood up and went into his dad's bedroom, where the upstairs phone was. He didn't have to look up the angel's number any more. He knew it off by heart.
"Hello, Robert," she said. "I didn't expect to hear from you today. Aren't you having your party?"
"We were, and we haven't cut the cake yet because my teacher's here and she's told Dad about you and they don't believe you're real. You are, aren't you?"
"Of course I'm real," the angel said.
"So will you come to my house so we can see you?" Robert said.
"Perhaps it's about time," the angel said thoughtfully. "Now, what's your address?"
Robert reeled it off, but once he'd put down the phone he began to have doubts himself. Surely a real angel would know where he lived? A real angel wouldn't have to ask what his address was.

He dialled the numbers again but no-one answered. Perhaps the angel had disappeared. He went into this own bedroom wondering if there could be such a thing as a bad angel. He'd heard of bad fairies, like the one in "Sleeping Beauty". But no, his angel was good. She'd helped him so much. She'd always had plenty of time to talk to him, and all her suggestions about making his dad happy again had worked. Even the birthday party was working until Miss Beech arrived.

Perhaps angels disappeared if you told other people about them. Mrs. Angel had never asked to be kept a secret, but she might have thought Robert knew she wasn't to be talked about. He thought abut the writing in his school book. An angel was an awfully big secret and he hadn't had anyone to tell so he'd written it down instead.

It was all there. The telephone calls. The ideas for their days out, the suggestions that he made his own bed, and picked up his own clothes to make life easier for his dad..everything. He could hear Miss Beech and Dad still talking but he couldn't hear what they were saying, and he didn't care. He clambered up on to his window-sill and sat, with fingers crossed, waiting for his angel to arrive.

He sat until his bottom hurt and his legs ached. It was starting to get dark. The man came to light the gas lamp on the opposite side of the street. The little flame flickered and grew. Robert shuffled off the sill and was about to close the curtains when he saw something. Someone walked along the street and stopped right underneath the lamp-post. Could it be his angel? He stood on tiptoe to wipe his breath from the glass and peer out.

No. It was a lady wearing a big coat and a headscarf. As she looked up at the house her fingers untied the knot beneath her chin and she pulled the scarf from her head. Her hair was shiny-white and frizzed around her head like a halo. Robert's heart did a little somersault. It must be his angel.

He blinked and stared harder. She should have wings, too, but he couldn't see any. Perhaps they were folded up behind her, or inside her coat, or maybe when angels went visiting they left their wings at home so as not to cause a fuss when people saw them.

Nervously he lifted his hand and gave a tiny wave. The angel smiled and waved back, then stepped off the pavement and began to walk across the road. Robert raced out of his bedroom and almost fell down the stairs in his rush to reach the front door.
"She's here," he shouted. "My angel's here."
The angel introduced herself to his Dad and Miss Beech. "I'm Mrs. Angel," she said, "and I've come to explain."

This time Robert was allowed to stay with the grown-ups while they talked. Mrs. Angel explained that she wasn't a real angel. Angel was her name. Like Andrews was Robert's name. She was Audrey Angel and she lived on her own because her husband had died and she'd never had any children, so she'd never had grandchildren.
"I didn't mean to mislead you," she said, taking hold of Robert's hand, "but I realised you needed someone to talk to, so I tried to help."
"And you have," Dad said.
"But does that mean there aren't real angels?" Robert asked, and Mrs. Angel squeezed his hand harder.
"Of course not. There are angels everywhere."
His Dad and Miss Beech nodded. Then Dad suggested they all had a slice of birthday cake and it suddenly turned into a real party.

It was very late when he went to bed. The angel who wasn't an angel tucked him in and kissed him.
"Goodnight, Mrs. Angel," he said sleepily.
She smiled at him.
"Instead of a pretend angel, do you think I could be a pretend grandma?"
"That's a brilliant idea," Robert said.
Miss Beech stayed with him while Dad walked Mrs. Angel home. He forced himself to stay awake until he heard his Dad return. Then he curled up comfortably and fell asleep to the happy sound of Dad and his teacher talking and laughing together.


~ Anon ~




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