At the corner of two quiet streets, there was a quiet playground. Few children played here, even on sunny days when the ice cream man parked his truck full of treats on the corner.
On this particular day, a small girl—about seven years old—with wildly curly hair, the color of chocolate kisses, came skipping toward the park. She had never been to this park before. She held tight to her mother’s hand and looked about her, taking in the ice cream man, the sandbox, and the little boy who raced up the ladder to rush down the slide over and over and over again.
The brown-haired girl heard humming coming from the sandbox, and there she noticed a little girl with blond hair who, she thought, couldn’t have been more than five, just sitting in the sand. She was surrounded by a collection of dolls made of sticks. The brown-haired girl looked around for a blond-haired grownup. But she didn’t see any grownup who looked like this little girl’s mother.
She wondered if the little blond girl was all alone.
“Are you ok?” the brown-haired girl asked.
“Yes!” said the blond girl, with glee. She had large, lamp-like eyes, and her wispy hair floated across her thin face in the breeze.
“What are you doing?” asked the brown-haired girl, as she sat down in the sand next to the blond girl.
“Just playing,” said the blond girl, humming to herself.
“I like playing, too. Can I join you?”
“Sure!” the blond girl said, as she handed over one of the stick dolls that she was playing with.
“These are nice,” said the girl with brown hair. “Did you make them?”
“No,” said the blond girl, still humming contentedly to herself.
The girl with brown hair shrugged and pretended that the doll was walking.
“You’ve never been here before,” said the girl with blond hair.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I know.” The blond-haired girl was still humming and now was dressing her stick doll in leaves.
The brown-haired girl looked at her with suspicion. “No, I haven’t been here before.”
The blond girl nodded knowingly. “Never here, never not, wearing dresses covered in spots,” she sang to herself.
The girl with brown hair looked down at her dress. It was light blue and covered in little spots of dirt. “That’s not very nice,” she said, frowning.
The other girl giggled.
The girl with brown hair relaxed her face and giggled too. “It is pretty spotty, though.” She watched the blond girl nod again. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“You can call me ‘V,’” said the blond girl.
“V. That’s pretty. Is it for Violet?”
She shook her head.
“Hmm,” said the girl with brown hair. “My name is—”
V’s lamp-like eyes widened even further as she held up her hand to the brown-haired girl’s mouth. “No!” she said.
The girl with brown hair closed her mouth, looking offended.
V lowered her hand. “Don’t tell me,” she said softly, and she hummed to herself again. “Little girl, ticking clocks, better stop, better stop,” she sang.
The girl with brown hair looked at V curiously.
“Where’s your mommy?” the brown-haired girl asked.
V shook her head.
The brown-haired girl looked puzzled. “That’s my mommy over there,” she said, pointing. “She’s pretty. Her name is Ver-on-i-ca,” she said, stressing each syllable because she liked how they sounded.
“Ver-on-i-ca,” said V. “Pretty.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“Want to see a trick?” V asked, suddenly.
“Sure,” said the other girl.
V looked towards a little boy who had been playing on the slide. He was crying and whining about his stubbed toe. V opened her mouth and said, “Ow! My toe!” But it wasn’t V’s voice. It was the voice of the little boy.
A look of amazement spread across the brown-haired girl’s face. “Hey, that’s good!”
V giggled. “His name is Bobby,” she said.
“Can you do his voice?” asked the brown-haired girl, pointing towards the ice cream truck.
V looked at the man leaning out of the truck. She opened her mouth and said, “Chocolate or vanilla?” But it wasn’t V’s voice. It was the voice of the ice cream man. They both laughed again. “His name is George.”
The brown-haired girl smiled. “You’re good at voices.”
V opened her mouth and said, “Hello, darling.” But it wasn’t V’s voice. It was the voice of the brown-haired girl’s mother.
“How do you do that?” asked the brown-haired girl, still smiling.
“Her name is Veronica,” said V, as if this was an explanation.
The brown-haired girl looked around for her mother, Veronica. But she wasn’t there. She stood up and looked around for Bobby and George. But they weren’t there either.
“Hey,” said the girl. “Where’d my mom go?”
“Ver-on-i-ca,” said V.
“Where’s the boy and the ice cream man?” asked the girl, not looking at V.
“Bobby,” said V. “George,” said V.
The little girl looked down at V, confused. V was still playing with the stick dolls—she had made three more of them. A sick feeling crept through her stomach. “Why do I call you ‘V?’” she asked. “What’s your name?”
V looked up, eyes wide. “What’s your name?”
“Billie,” said the little girl.
V smiled. “Billie,” she said.
V looked into Billie’s eyes and opened her mouth. “Hi, V,” she said, in Billie’s voice. Then V went back to humming, as another doll appeared at her feet.