Aunt Maud was so angry that she didn’t speak, which was somehow worse than if she’d shouted at him. She marched Sion back into the house and made him sit by the table and eat his tea, which was cold, but Sion knew better than to complain.
When he was done, she put the plates in the kitchen, making a lot more noise than was necessary. Finally, she stamped into the dining room.
“Sums,” she said. “All day, every day, from now on.”
Sion’s heart sank.
“No, please,” he said. “I’m sorry, Aunt Maud. I lost track of time because I didn’t want to leave Cecil, all alone, in the Dingle. He was so lonely without me. No one ever visits him.”
There was a silence. Aunt Maud’s face had gone very, very pale. She sat down suddenly.
“Did you say Cecil?”
“Yes. That’s the name of the boy in the Dingle, the one I’ve been playing with.”
“Oh my goodness.” She clutched her heart for a moment. Then she looked at him. “Cecil was the name of my friend. The one who I used to play with in the Dingle.”
Sion felt a shiver pass over him. And he knew that his suspicions about Cecil had been true, the ones he’d been trying not to think about. Cecil was not of this time. No wonder he talked so old-fashioned, and spoke about things that that had happened a long time ago as if they’d only just taken place.
Was this Cecil a memory, of a person who had lived a long time ago?
Aunt Maud continued. “Cecil – that’s right. I’d forgotten all about him. He wasn’t a healthy boy. His father made the Dingle just for him, with the swimming pool and the summerhouse so that he could have fresh air and exercise and improve his health. And it worked for a bit. But not for ever. I remember now. He died. Cecil died.”
“Do you mean I’ve been playing down the Dingle all this time with a ghost?” Sion asked. He felt scared all of a sudden.
Aunt Maud reached over and patted his hand gently. “Don’t be frightened. It seems to me that Cecil is lonely. Didn’t you say no one ever visits him? Sometimes the memories of people who have gone before us hang around, in the places that they loved when they were alive. I think you should keep visiting Cecil.”
Sion realised something suddenly. “You should come with me next time! I’m sure he’d love to see you because you were once friends.”
Aunt Maud shook her head sadly. “I don’t think so, Sion. It’s different for me. Too much time has passed. I don’t think I’d be able to see him the way you can. I think I’m too grown up now.”
And Sion realised then and there that Aunt Maud wasn’t half so bad as he’d thought she was, and that staying with her was all right really, and most importantly, that he had an important job to do, down the Dingle, visiting the boy from the past.
Why not sit where Sion and Cecil used to sit together, here, in Cecil’s summerhouse, the one that was made specially for him? See what you can hear, and see, and smell. Right here, in this lovely place. This place that holds echoes of the past.
After some time, Sion’s time in the Dingle came to an end. The worst of the bombing stopped and he could go home to his Mam. He worried that Cecil would be lonely without him visiting all the time. But just as the war came to an end, something incredible happened.
The Dingle was passed into public ownership. Now, it was the council who owned it. They opened it as a park. For everyone. This park. Parc Cefn Onn.
Sion knew now that lots of people would visit Cecil. Cecil would never be lonely again. He knew Cecil would love watching families exploring the secret paths that he knew so well, eating picnics in the sun, watching the wildlife. He knew people would come here in the rain, in the snow, in the sun, that there would always be children here for Cecil to show the park’s secrets to. He’d always have friends now.
So Sion didn’t come back here, not for a long, long time. It was only when he was a much older man and he had grandchildren that he came back one day, for a walk, like you’re doing now. He knew by then that he was much too grown-up to see Cecil. But there was a moment, as he stood here by the summerhouse, exactly where
you are now, that he thought he saw the flash of a red scarf out of the corner of his eye. He smiled to himself. Remembered that time when he was a boy, running these paths with another boy, in a flat cap, who talked like he was from a different time. Remembered doing his sums in Aunt Maud’s big dark creaky house. Remembered squeezing under the hedge to come to the dingle back when it was quiet and still, and only he and Cecil knew its secrets.
It was better like this, he thought. Full of people. Full of life.
Perhaps you might be lucky enough to see the flash of a red scarf as you walk today. Perhaps, if you’re very lucky, Cecil will show you some of the secrets of Cefn Onn as you go. But you’ll only see them if you’re brave, if you step off the path, and explore, and love the park exactly as he always has done, and always will do.