Lucy loved her daddy, but he was a very important man and she knew she mustn’t disturb him at work. Her mummy had brought her in to see him – her mummy had been angry with him; Lucy didn’t understand why, but she was happy to be where her daddy worked. He was important. She imagined he must wear a big hat when he was important. When her mummy started crying Lucy was told to wait by the big plant. It was like being in a jungle; she imagined a tiger trying to comb the knots from its whiskers as her mummy had to comb the knots from her hair. She was just telling the tiger to stop fidgeting when her daddy strode past. When her daddy was being very important or very cross he moved quickly with that face like now. He opened a door and the noise inside stopped. Lucy looked around, but no one was watching her. Lucy followed her daddy and stood on tiptoe to look through the glass door.
She hadn’t even been looking for a minute and she knew she hadn’t been noisy or ‘making a fuss’ or ‘being a pest’ when a boy, sitting at a table, saw her and waved. Then another did, and she waved back. In the instant she realised her daddy had seen her, he strode across to the door and threw it open. Her daddy loomed over her and Lucy was frightened. But he bent down and kissed her head. ‘Come on, Lucy, come and join us. Everyone, this is Lucy, my daughter. Why don’t you go and sit over there and, here, have this paper and draw me a nice picture.’
Lucy watched her daddy for signs of him being important. But he didn’t have a hat on. And mostly he was talking, and the boys and girls were fidgeting until he turned round when they all started writing.
Lucy watched as he drew strange shapes on the blackboard. And then letters and numbers. Lucy knew her letters and numbers, but these seemed strange and she didn’t like them. Her daddy needed a nice picture.
The door opened and the woman who had been talking to her mummy came in. She and her daddy spoke; the woman looked cross, her daddy looked cross and he told the boys and girls to sit still and left. Then a bell rang, and all the boys and girls stood up and left. Lucy was on her own.
Lucy looked around the room. Behind her there was another board covered in lots of important writing, more than the one he had been writing on a minute ago. She stared at it, wondering which was the most important. The one at the front or the one at the back.
She frowned. He said he wanted a picture and there was a little space on the front board. She put down the pencil and picked up a stick of chalk and began to draw.
After a few minutes Lucy stopped. Someone said something. She listened hard, but there was nothing. Then as soon as she started again, the sound – a voice – came again.
It was definitely a voice. Lucy checked behind her; the room was empty, and the door shut.
‘Little girl.’ It was more insistent. Lucy stepped back, but the voice said, ‘No, closer.’
Reluctantly Lucy leant in to the dusty surface, the chalk tickling her nose.
‘I’m in here. Please let me out.’
Lucy frowned and walked to the side of the board. She peered at the tiny gap between the board and the wall.
The voice sounded cross. ‘Not behind, silly. Inside.’
It was Lucy’s turn to be cross. ‘How can you be inside a blackboard?’
‘How can you eat a path up a mountain?’
‘No, it isn’t. Nibble a rocky road.’
‘That is silly.’
‘Oh, all right, but I am inside the board. I’ve been trapped, and I’m fed up being so flat. All this chalk is making me want to sneeze.’
‘Why are you inside the board?’
‘Why aren’t you made of cheese?’
‘I don’t know.’
Lucy scratched her nose.
‘Stop that! I want to scratch my nose and it’s dreadful not being able to. Please let me out.’
‘I don’t know. How do you let anyone out?’
Lucy thought and remembered when Grandma’s cat Flossy had been trapped inside her neighbour’s shed. They needed to find a key to unlock the door. ‘We need to find a door and the key, but—’
‘Why ‘but’? I don’t like the sound of this ‘but’. It doesn’t sound very positive.’
‘There isn’t a door and a key in the blackboard.’
The voice sounded really upset. ‘Well, make one then.’
Lucy didn’t know how to make a door. ‘I could draw one. Maybe?’
‘Go on. I need to scratch sooooooooooooooo badly.’
Lucy stood back and thought. She drew a line. And another. Finally, she drew a door knob and a key hole. Then she stopped. She wanted to cry. ‘I don’t know how to draw a key.’
The voice coughed, sounding very dry. ‘I can. Push the chalk through the keyhole.’
Lucy frowned. It was just a picture. She leant forward and put her eye to the keyhole and leapt back. There was an eye on the other side.
‘Come on, hurry.’
Lucy pushed the chalk against the keyhole and it disappeared. She put her ear to the hole and listened. The voice was talking to itself. ‘Fiddle faddle, riddle de re; scribble scrabble, here is my key.’
There was a creak and a click and a groan and a grate and the door Lucy had drawn moments before began to open. From around its edges chalk dust poured like snow off a mountain.
The classroom began to fill with more and more chalk, almost covering Lucy’s shoes. Her feet disappeared as she tried to stop it covering her, but the avalanche continued; if anything, the room filled faster.
‘Help! I’m sinking.’
‘Scribble scrabble, girl. Swim.’
That summer just gone, Lucy had swum for the first time, without her armbands. She was very proud because her daddy had been so pleased. So, she tried to tread dust, but it did no good. The voice came again, sounding like her mummy when Lucy wanted a glass of water in the night. ‘Dive in and swim properly.’
Lucy was really scared, but the dust was nearly up to her skirt. So, she jumped, eyes shut tight and began to do the crawl.
‘It’s ok. Open them.’
Lucy opened her eyes; the room had turned yellow and looked like custard that has gone cold; her daddy’s desk was made from chocolate and the blackboard glowed like her mummy’s sparkly dress she wore to parties. Next to the board a man, as thin as string with a head like a dandelion gone to seed, bobbed up and down. He wore a brown coat that seemed to melt and reset as he moved, and trousers made from banana skins. Every so often he held a hanky to his nose and sneezed. When he did so a few of the dandelion seeds floated away like small helicopters and became fat pink bees that dived into the custard floor and disappeared.
The man smiled. ‘Thank you, Lucy. You don’t know how good this is.’
‘Who are you?’ Lucy realised she didn’t need to open her mouth to speak; besides she didn’t want chalk dust in it.
‘I’m a dandy, of course.’
‘I don’t think you can stay here, Mr Dandy. My daddy won’t like it.’
‘That’s ok, Lucy. Now I’m out I need to find out who shut me away. Just blink three times and I’ll be gone. If you need me, blink three more times and I’ll be back. But first you need a present. As a thank you.’ He broke off a small piece of the desk and ate it.
‘I’d like you to make Mummy and Daddy happy.’
‘Hmm. Ok. I think I know just how to do that.’ He turned to the blackboard at the back of the room which wobbled like a toad on a jelly and, quick as a whisper, he scribbled on it. ‘Right. Time to blink. But first, a hug.’
Lucy swam over. Mr Dandy smelt of cinnamon toast and Christmas morning. For a moment Lucy didn’t want to let him go, but she heard voices, coming towards the room. Very quickly she blinked three times.
Lucy’s breath was taken away. She spun, and she whirled and in the time it takes to sneeze she was standing by the board at the back of the room, with the chalk in her hand.
Before she could move the door swung open and her daddy stood staring at her. ‘What are you doing, Lucy?’ Behind her daddy she could see her mummy who she knew had been crying. She held out her arms and Lucy gratefully fell into their comforting grasp.
Her father was muttering. ‘Silly girl. I hope you’ve not…’ Abruptly he stopped. He stared. He blinked. ‘What on earth?’
‘What is it, Harold?’ Lucy’s mummy eased Lucy onto a chair and went and stood next to her daddy.
‘There, see. Someone’s changed the formula. It’s… Look at this.’
Lucy watched as her parents followed the important writing with their fingers. She could tell from their voices that they were excited. Her mummy squeezed her daddy’s arm and he put it round her mummy’s shoulders as they talked as adults talk, in riddles and rhymes.
Her daddy turned to Lucy. ‘Did someone come in here, while I was gone?’
She shook her head.
‘Did you write on the board?’
Lucy was close to tears. ‘I just drew the door to let the man out. He was trapped in the board and wanted to sneeze.’
Lucy’s mummy bent down and held her hand. ‘Don’t worry, Lucy. Daddy’s not cross with you. There’s no one in the board, is there? You know that people don’t live in blackboards, don’t you?’
Lucy nodded and let her mother stroke her hair. Behind her mummy, she watched as her daddy turned to the board and held his ear close to it, a strange expression on his face. Near his hand she saw the piece missing from his desk where Mr Dandy had eaten it.
‘No, Mummy. There’s no one in the board. Not now.’
This is one of thirty short stories that appears in Life in a Grain of Sand, now on offer for £1.00 (or your currency equivalent. Click the image below for the link