It was a cold and wet afternoon and the howling winds echoed through the corridors of Ne’ermore Castle. Meanwhile, in Lichfield (where this story takes place) the sun was shining bright and there was not a single cloud in the sky.
In one particular garden, a frog was standing, admiring a snow-frog he had just finished making from the last patch of snow left on the ground. It was a long December’s day and he was feeling rather lonely, so he had made the snowy friend to keep him company.
‘That’s all the snow that is left,’ he sighed, ‘so I’m afraid, my dear, that you will have to be with no eyes, though it is probably for the best as you would not like to see what a mess I’ve made of your legs.’
He looked around for some twigs or leaves that he could use to decorate the snow-frog, but his search was suddenly interrupted when he heard a nearby door slam shut and, just after, the sound of someone crying. Unlike the loud closing of the door, the crying continued on for some time. As irritated as the frog was at this interruption, he was also a kind frog, so he naturally wanted to find out who it was and why they were crying.
He hopped away from his snowy mate, down the garden and up to the patio area where he found the owner of the tears; a young, dark-haired girl sitting on a garden chair. The frog could not see much of her features, as they were buried deep into her arms, which were resting on the garden table.
Eventually, the frog spoke.
‘Little girl, why are you crying so?’
The girl looked up in astonishment and, wiping some tears from her eyes, she said, ‘Oh my! Little frog, why – or rather how – are you talking so?’
‘Ah, but I asked first you know,’ the frog replied.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said as she took a handkerchief from her pocket and composed herself just enough to explain why she needed it. ‘I am crying because I have misplaced something that is very important to me.’
‘Can you remember what it is?’
‘Then it is not your memory that has been lost.’
‘No, not at all. It’s the first letter of my name.’
‘Well what is your name?’
‘I’d say it is not missing. The A is quite clearly there. In fact it rather neatly bookends your name.’
‘It is not the A that is missing, it’s the L.’
‘But there is no L in Aura.’
‘Then you understand my problem!’ she cried.
‘Oh I see,’ said the frog, slapping his forehead in disbelief of his stupidity. ‘Your name should be Laura?’
‘Yes. That is what it has always been, but this morning I woke up to find that I could not say it,’ she explained. ‘No matter how hard I try, I cannot say Aura… That is to say I cannot say my name with an L at the start. I have lost my L.’
‘Oh my, that is terrible news. In fact, I think I might just shed a tear too.’
So the frog sat beside her and they both cried a little. The girl offered the frog her handkerchief, but it was almost as big as he was, so he declined her offer for fear of getting lost in cotton. After a few minutes of sobbing and bawling, the frog stood up.
‘That’s enough crying,’ he said. ‘I am watching Titanic later so I need to save some tears for that. Now tell me, have you tried looking for your L?’
‘I’ve searched everywhere,’ the girl replied, ‘but all I found was a cup of T in the living room and a few tins of P’s in the kitchen cupboards.’
‘Have you found anything out here?’
‘Only U I’m afraid.’
‘Hm,’ hummed the frog.
The pair sat in thought for some time. The frog thought of how someone could lose part of their name and how he could try to help the poor girl retrieve her identity. The girl, meanwhile, thought about why superglue doesn’t stick to the inside of the tube. After a while, the frog had an idea.
‘Let’s see now, you can say the letter L in other words can’t you?’
‘Of course,’ she replied, and began to prove herself by listing words. ‘Lemons, Library, Ladders, Loranges -’
‘Wait just a minute, there is no L at the start of the word oranges.’
‘No, but I think there ought to be.’
‘Well then, if you’re going to go around putting L’s where they shouldn’t be, it’s no wonder you’ve misplaced your own.’
The girl was stunned. Not only did she have the embarrassing misfortune of being unable to pronounce her own name, but now here was a talking frog having a go at her. She opened her mouth to reply, but she could not think of anything to say, so instead she just stuck out her tongue. The frog chuckled, most likely because he knew that his tongue was much longer than the girl’s puny little tongue. When she finally retracted her tongue, the frog continued.
‘I suggest we consult a friend of mine, Mr Bee. He is the second highest authority on letters you know,’ he explained.
‘The second highest?’ she puzzled. ‘Then who is first?’
‘Why that would be A of course.’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Oh. Well, I should be very grateful if this Mr Bee can help.’
The two got up and left their puddles of tears behind them. The frog naturally took the lead, as the girl had no idea where the bee lived. As it turned out, the bee was resting on top of an empty plant pot only a few yards from the house. He was, as you would expect, small and fuzzy and yellow. He was also, as you would not expect, reading a tiny newspaper, the main headline of which was about a wasp who had won the lottery and moved to France.
The girl knew a little about bees, including the fact that they often sting humans, so she approached with caution. She also knew that bees make honey and she very much liked honey. She had in her mind a notion to ask the bee if he knew who had made the honey in the jar in her kitchen cupboard. She would have quite liked to have known and she would have thought of the particular bee with every spoonful, but that was a question for another day. Right now there was a more pressing issue.
‘Mr Bee, we are in need of your assistance,’ the frog began. ‘We are trying to find an L.’
The bee looked up from his tiny newspaper and said with a smirk, ‘Well I should suppose it is in the opposite direction to a heaven, surely?’
‘What the frog means,’ the girl explained, ‘is that I have lost the letter L from the start of my name and we were rather hoping you could help me find it.’
The bee put down his newspaper and flew up to be level with the girl’s face. He stared at her hard and she made an effort not to blink in case he was measuring her eyes for something.
‘You say you’re missing part of your name?’ the bee asked.
‘Yes,’ the girl replied.
‘What is your name?’
‘Aura… with an L.’
‘Well, Aura-with-an-L, I have a test for you if you are willing.’
‘I surely am.’
‘Please say the letter L.’
‘Now say your name.’
‘Now say them both together quite slowly and gradually get quicker and faster.’
The girl tried it, hopeful that the bee’s trick would work. ‘L… … Aura… … L… … Aura… … L… Aura… L… Aura… Aura… L… Aura. Aura, aura, aura!’
However, no matter how many times she repeated the letter and name, she could not get them to fit together. She began to get tearful again and the frog covered his eyes so as not to be tempted to cry with her.
‘No, no, it’s quite alright,’ assured the bee. ‘I didn’t think that would work anyway.’
The girl looked quite annoyed at this revelation, but the bee continued anyway.
‘Perhaps your mind is refusing to believe your name is Laura. Try, if you will, to convince your mind that your name is John. It shouldn’t be too difficult, as I think you look rather more like a John than the frog does.’
The girl closed her eyes tight and whispered to herself over and over, ‘My name is John, my name is John, my name is John.’
Then finally the bee asked, ‘What is your name?’
‘John!’ she replied with glee.
‘And what is the name of George W Bush’s wife? Quickly now!’
‘I haven’t a clue!’ she cried.
‘Oh! That’s the same as my name!’
The bee buzzed loudly with anger. His tricks had not work and it was looking less and less likely that he could help the poor girl. He looked down at the frog who gave him a pitiful look, begging him to try once more. The bee sighed and then calmed itself.
‘Okay, we shall try one last idea,’ he said.
‘Thank you Mr Bee,’ the girl replied, ‘I really do appreciate your efforts.’
‘Can you say the word “lore” as in folklore?’
‘I should think so – lore – yes, I can quite easily say it.’
‘Now what about if you put an A at the end of that.’
‘Yes, now try them together.’
‘Lore-A. Yes, that quite works and it sounds a lot like my name.’
At this the frog gave a little clap of excited anticipation. The bee continued.
‘Very good, now when I ask you what your name is, you reply with that okay?’
‘Yes, I am ready.’
‘So, what is your name?’
The bee cried out in pain and the frog jumped up in an effort to pat him on the head as a mark of sympathy, but he could not reach. Instead he just wafted the wind in the bee’s general direction.
‘I’m sorry,’ the girl apologised again, ‘I really did try.’
‘I know you did, it’s not your fault,’ the bee said, before adding, ‘well it is partly your fault, but you cannot help it because you are a human.’
‘Is there anything else you can suggest?’ the frog pleaded.
‘I fear not,’ the bee said. ‘You are in need of one wiser than me to solve this.’
‘Who is wiser than you?’ the girl asked.
‘Mrs Owl,’ the bee replied.
He explained that Mrs Owl – who was the only female owl they’d ever seen in the garden, so she had no need for a more unique moniker – was very wise and the animals would often go to her when they had difficult problems that needed a clever mind. The girl wondered why the frog hadn’t suggested going directly to her first, but still, they would go now.
* * *
It is well known that owls prefer to sleep during the day and appear mainly at night. This is largely because their favourite television programmes don’t start until 8pm, so they sleep through much of the rubbish daytime television. It was still light when the threesome set off, but after hours of getting lost – which was some fete in such a small garden – and walking around in an oval shape, the day turned to night and they eventually reached the tree at the end of the garden, in which the frog was certain they would find the owl.
As they approached, the frog explained to the girl, ‘Mrs Owl is very wise.’
‘What makes you say that?’ she asked.
‘Would you call someone who can twist their head around 360 degrees a fool?’
She tried to rotate her own head as much as she could, but her neck would not allow very much. She sighed, ‘I suppose not.’
They stood under the tree, with the frog resting on the girl’s shoulders so that he could see a little better. The frog coughed to draw the attention of the owl. The bee also coughed for no apparent reason and the girl thought she might as well cough as well to join in the fun.
As suddenly as they’d hoped, an owl marched out onto a nearby branch from within the leaves.
‘What’s all this coughing about?’ she asked.
The frog gave the girl a little kick and she stepped forward.
‘Mrs Owl, my name is Aura.’
‘Or a what?’
‘I’m not sure what you mean.’
‘Her name is Laura,’ the frog said, ‘but she cannot pronounce the L because she feels she has lost it.’
‘Is there anything you can do to help me?’ added the girl.
The owl sat in thought, processing the dilemma and trying to think up a solution, or at least some wise words of wisdom to pass on to the clearly very distraught girl. Eventually she thought of something to say.
‘It seems to me, my dear, that L is a very important letter. For one, it is the the beginning of life. It is also the first part of love, the letter that starts light and the commencement of laughter. If there is to be more of these things in the world, then you cannot expect to keep the letter L all to yourself.’
‘That is all well and good – and I’m certain there’s some truth to it somewhere – but that still does not explain what I am to do without the letter at the start of my name.’
The owl did not reply, but sat in silent thought for some moments. The girl thought to interrupt her to further jibe her about her lack of help, but instead held her tongue as she was far too polite for that sort of thing. Finally the owl spoke again.
‘Is there not another name that you could go by?’
‘I have no others. My parents could not afford more than one. Perhaps you have a spare name to give me?’
‘It seems the only ones I have left are Martin and Blackpool.’
‘I’m not sure that either of those would suit me.’
‘Then it seems there is little else that I can do.’
‘Okay. Well, thank you for your help anyway.’
‘It seems to me that I did nothing,’ she replied.
‘I know,’ the girl said, ‘I was being polite.’
As the girl, the frog and the bee walked, hopped and flew away, Mr Owl came from out of the leaves to see what all the commotion was about. Just as he was about to speak, his wife turned to him and said, ‘Go back inside dear, it seems you’ll catch your death out here.’
Her husband obeyed and went back inside the shelter of the tree, followed closely by his other half.
* * *
The girl, the frog and the bee sat on a wall, all looking very down. Their quest had seemingly failed and they were all out of ideas. As she sat in silence, the girl forlornly picked a flower from out of the ground and held it in her hands. The flower was a lily. She knew this from one of the nature books she had read at school, though the flower itself was not exactly certain of it. It comforted the girl to gaze sorrowfully at the beautiful object that had been so cruelly taken from where it belonged, much like her initial. She gave a sigh of self-pity and spoke to the flower.
‘I wish you could speak dear flower. You are a lily and you have two Ls in your name. Why you could easily lend one to me, at least until I find my own.’
The flower did not respond. The girl thought this rather rude, as the frogs and bees and owls of this garden could apparently speak fluent Human English, so why not the flowers? She placed the flower back in the ground from where it had been picked and apologised for removing it in the first place.
Just as she was about to get up to return inside her house, she suddenly heard a noise. It was the sound of bells, jingling in the night. She turned to the frog and the bee, who had both heard them too and were looking up at her with anticipation. The three jumped up, looking around the garden to see where the noise was coming from. The bee – who was the highest up of the trio – called out to them that the noise was coming from above. As they all looked up, they saw a figure moving about on the roof of the girl’s house.
‘What is it?’ asked the frog.
‘Who is it?’ asked the bee.
‘Why is it? asked the girl.
They stepped farther back down the garden to get a good look at the person whose silhouette paced up and down the roof as if it were waiting for someone to arrive.
‘Perhaps they are waiting for us,’ the girl suggested.
‘But how are we going to get up there?’ asked the frog.
‘I shall have no problem,’ said the bee with a self-assured grin.
‘Then fly up there and find out who it is,’ ordered the girl.
‘And what it wants,’ added the frog.
The bee flew up to the figure on the roof and the two on the ground watched as it spoke to the figure and flew back down.
‘Well?’ asked the girl.
‘You won’t believe me if I tell you,’ replied the bee.
‘I’m sure I will,’ said the girl.
‘You really won’t believe me,’ said the bee.
‘Well we won’t know until you tell us,’ argued the frog.
‘I know,’ said the bee, ‘and I’m telling you that you won’t believe me.’
‘We will!’ shouted the girl, now getting very impatient.
‘Okay, I shall tell you,’ said the bee, ‘but I bet you anything you won’t believe me.’
‘Fine! Who is it?’ asked the girl.
‘It’s Santa Claus.’
The girl paused for a moment and then said, ‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Santa Clause?’ asked the frog. ‘You mean to say there’s a fat man up there in a red suit going “Ho Ho Ho” and carrying a sack of presents?”
‘Well I’m not too sure about the “Ho Ho Ho” part, but yes, there is. And what’s more, he wants to see you, Laura, up on the roof,’ he replied.
‘What about me?’ asked the frog.
‘You can come too I suppose.’
The girl told them that there was a ladder in the shed and they might use it to get onto the roof since the bee was not strong enough to carry them both. They ran down to the shed, found the ladder and brought it back to the side of the house. The girl climbed up, carrying the frog in her trouser pocket whilst the bee flew beside them.
When they reached the top, they looked on at the figure standing before them. Though it was night and very dark, they could make out the iconic red suit, black boots and white beard. The man smiled at them and they approached him.
‘Is it you? Are you him?’ the girl asked.
‘I am me, yes,’ he replied.
‘But are you the real Santa Claus? The one that flies around the world on Christmas Eve delivering presents to all the little children and eating all their cookies and drinking all their milk?’
‘Um… no,’ he replied. ‘I’m actually the guy who works at the grotto in the shopping centre, but that’s not really important right now.’
The girl looked a little disappointed – as did the frog and the bee – but she still wanted to find out what the man who had somehow come to be on her roof wanted.
‘I hear you have lost your L?’ asked Santa.
‘Yes, indeed I have,’ she replied rather sadly.
‘Well, I have come to explain,’ he continued. ‘You see, as we are now in December and it is nearing Christmas, this is the season of No-L, so all over the world the letter is disappearing.’
‘You mean to say there are others with my problem?’
‘I’m afraid so. But that is why I am here; I have an early Christmas present for you.’
With this, he handed her a box, neatly wrapped with elegant red paper and a silver bow that glistened in the moonlight. The girl opened the box and was surprised to find inside a piece of folded parchment. She picked it up and looked at Santa. He gestured her to open it and she promptly did so. Written on the paper were the words: I am Laura
She looked at Santa again and he told her to read the note aloud. She knew that she couldn’t, but she tried anyway.
‘My name is…’ she said, hesitating at her name.
‘Go on,’ said Santa.
‘My name is… Laura.’
The girl – who was now once again called Laura – looked up and smiled at Santa, who smiled back at her.
‘Oh thank you Santa! I can now say my true name, Laura!’ she said, and began shouting her name and dancing around with joy. ‘Laura! Laura! Laura!’
The frog and the bee joined in the dancing and there was much rejoicing and shouting of the name Laura until a neighbour poked his head out of his bedroom window and shouted, ‘Shut up! I’m trying to sleep!’
‘I’m sorry sir,’ Laura apologised, ‘but I have found my name and I am so very excited!’
For the rest of the night, the girl celebrated with the frog and the bee in the garden, even pouring them a cup and a thimble of wine that was left over from a recent party. As it later transpired, bees do not take to alcohol very well and there was much violence, crying and urination from the poor insect on the patio that night. They’d offered for Santa to join them, but he insisted that there were others that needed him and left in a taxi.
* * *
The following day, Laura looked for the frog and the bee in the garden. She found them waiting for her by the plant pot and from then on she would visit them often, never telling anyone else of her new found friends in case they sent her to a mental institution again (I shall not go into the details of her previous stint in the institution, suffice to say that she is never allowed to buy pears again.)
For the rest of her life, Laura never forgot the day when she lost her L and she was always very proud of her name, so much so that a few months later she legally changed both her middle name and surname to Laura as well. Therefore, dear reader, if you should ever ask a dark haired young girl her name and she should reply ‘Laura Laura Laura’, please be assured that it is not an echo or some kind of speech impediment, but you are actually talking to a girl who is very grateful to be able to say her own name.
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