“You have to tell them, Liz!” I said for the fourth time in one week. I mean, even I was getting tired of having to say it over and over again.
“Em, it’s not like that… I can’t just tell them!”
“Why not, Liz!?” I raised my voice at what I thought was a reasonable time.
“You know why…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t even bother looking sad. She always did this at this point in the conversation.
“You say that as if I magically know what’s in your mind…”
“Well…” Liz suddenly sat right up. She moved closer to the edge of the bed. I lifted myself onto the headboard of the bed to see her better.
“‘Well’ what?” I needed to know.
“It’s been difficult, to be really honest, Em,” she ran her right hand through her hair and then sighed and sunk her shoulders, her hands holding onto the edge of the bed.
Around us, the room seemed to fall into a kind of odd quiet. The music stopped playing from her mobile phone and the laptop on her desk to my right faded to black. The curtain over the window stopped flapping about. It was like all of a sudden we fell into some vacuum.
“I haven’t seen you in years and you just suddenly showed up…” Liz began. She was still facing away from me, seated at the edge of the bed.
“I didn’t realise it bothered you…” This was literally the first time she’s started talking to me about this.
“Yeah, well. I called you over, didn’t I?” she snorted.
“Something like that…” I smiled, pretending to play it cool.
I could tell she smiled at that, too. Even though she faced the other way. You start picking up on the little things in people’s behaviour and fluctuations in their voice when you really care about them. People think it’s a form of telepathy. Maybe it is. Maybe when you truly understand someone, you just… know them from the inside. Or maybe that’s just me talking.
Whatever it was, she relaxed a bit and started swaying back and forth. I could see her palms loosely grasp the edge of the bed as she did so. I felt a little more relieved that she was relaxed.
“It’s just… I guess I never told you what happened since you left.”
“I’m all ears,” I said, as reassuringly as possible.
“Well, when I first told people about you, all those years ago… they didn’t believe me when I said I really liked you. You don’t understand what it was like for me the whole time. Everyone thinking I was just doing it to get attention.”
“I’m… sorry. I never knew…” I genuinely didn’t. My voice trailed off – I didn’t know what to say, really.
“It’s okay. I could have told you but I didn’t,” she said, turning to smile at me then turned back to face the door.
I reached out to console her by rubbing her shoulder but thought better of it. I settled at the edge of the bed instead.
“They just thought I was a silly child who’d outgrow… you.”
“They thought it best for me to just… forget about you…” she sniffled a bit.
I enveloped her with my arms and hugged her from behind. I wanted more than anything else to alleviate her pain in this moment. Nothing else mattered. Not even her telling them about me. That was secondary.
“I remember how bad it was saying goodbye to you last time. I ached for your company and I couldn’t find you anywhere. I thought my family had managed to actually make me forget you. I felt so lost for a whole year. I took time to make friends in school after that.”
I stroked her hair to console her.
“I’m sorry we had to pathways, Em. I never wanted to do that!!”
“It’s okay, Liz. I know you had to do it against your choice.”
“I’m glad you’re back, Em,” she pressed her left cheek against my arm.
We stayed like that for what felt like a second but could well have been longer.
As if to mark her own acknowledgement of the passing of time, she cleared her throat.
“The other people I knew just upped and left and I felt so lonely this week. I was almost afraid you wouldn’t come when I called you…”
“Don’t be silly! As if you could get rid of me that easily!” I faked rolling my eyes and she laughed through her tears. Again, she didn’t have to face me to know what I was doing. I guess we just understand each other really well.
“Promise you won’t leave me?”
“Promise you won’t say goodbye?” I replied, just as we’d done so many years ago.
She then kissed my hand softly and gently removed my hands from around her. She got up from the bed and wiped her face onto the end of her sleeve.
“So graceful, I know!” she said as she cleaned her face up.
“Like a ballerina,” I teased.
She finally pulled herself up straight and headed for the door. Then, she turned around to me and said rather seriously.
“I’m going to have a chat with my mother, first. I think that should go down easy enough. If I need moral support…”
“I’ll be right by your side. It’s what I’m here for,” I said with a smile. “Hey Liz?”
“You got this!”
She smiled and I could tell she appreciated the support.
She closed the door behind her gently but it didn’t stay shut. As usual.
I looked around the room. It had that annoying feeling of feeling familiar without the necessary amount of precision. I could vaguely recall the location of the “toy box”. It contained literally everything we used to play with for hours on end when we were much younger. I remember spending hours in this room before Liz started going to kindergarten. It felt like my entire lifetime was spent here, in a way.
I tried to absorb the essence of Liz’ room, which had undergone a bizarre makeover resulting in a rather peculiar mix of glittery wallpaper with punk band posters pasted all over. Probably some miscommunication involved. Her parents were always of the opinion that they knew best for their daughter. I suppose most parents are, in a way.
Apart from this room, I only ever knew the hallways. We’d walk up and down, Liz telling me stories about her day and her parents and the fairies that lived in her garden. She was four at the time, so give her a break, okay?
Funnily enough, I don’t remember what happened to make her say “goodbye” all those years ago. I moved away. Life seemed to pass by until I got called by Liz again. Naturally, I answered her call!
I wandered around the room, looking at the large mirror with so many notes tacked to it that there was very little room to actually see a reflection of oneself! I looked at some of the notes; they read, “Call Jake!”, “Pick up vegan brownies from Marie”, “Biology test on Thursday ughhh”, “Apologise to Wanda”, that sort of thing. I smiled to myself as I turned away from the mirror.
From the open doorway, I could hear Liz’ voice from downstairs. I didn’t expect it to go perfectly, but I didn’t expect to be able to hear it. Maybe I should…
I decided against listening in. Not my place to. I looked around her room again. On the desk next to her bed was a small letter and a letter opener beside it. The letter opener had a small elephant on the end of its handle. A caricature of an elephant, I should specify. Not an actual elephant.
Lifting the letter opener up from the desk, I twirled it around in my hand. It felt oddly heavy for something so slender. I ran my finger along the edge just to see how sharp it was. It pierced the top layer of my skin easily enough. No blood though. Just a shallow cut! The letter was addressed to Liz by a Dolores Dendris.
On the desk, next to the letter was a journal. I couldn’t look into that… surely not. A terrible invasion of her privacy. There were a lot of loose pages under the journal filled with dark colours forcefully painted onto the paper. Liz must have been going through a tough time. The images were pretty easy to read – dark colours and isolated figures, girls, in all the images. Some had a few people laughing around the girl. I thumbed through all of the images. Somewhere at the bottom of the pile, was a beautiful sketch of a young girl. Just her face, beaming up at the viewer. The sketch had a title, “Wondrous Wanda”, and Liz’ illegible signature. No other mention of this Wanda. I took a step back from the table. This was all clearly very private.
The posters in the room seemed to make the place feel oddly energetic. Must be the punk feeling, I thought to myself. I read the names of all the bands – some very old, some older. There were a few images of riot girl punk bands. Typical teenager room, all in all!
All of a sudden I heard Liz’ mom screaming. Things were getting heated. I slowly walked towards the door and tried to slide out of the room I was so familiar with. I could hear muffled words and incomplete phrases so I figured I’d have to walk transversely across the hallway I walked so many times with Liz when we were younger.
I walked to the edge of the staircase and crouched there to try and hear the words better. No luck! I tried moving down a few steps. I could now see the two of them in the kitchen. Liz was standing between a counter and the stove, her mother in front of the sink. They were talking excitedly again. The words were starting to sound like words…
“Elisabeth, you need to see a therapist!” shouted Liz’ mom. This was serious.
“No, mom! I’m telling you it’s real!”
“You remember that we’ve been over this before? Many times?” her mother’s voice sounded strained. Tired, almost.
“I don’t believe that was true!! I mean, I feel it when I touch Em!”
“What you say you feel isn’t real! Elisabeth, this has to end!”
“No, mom! I’m not going to end it again like last time!”
“You need other friends. You need to go out there.”
“I’ve tried, mom! She’s the only one who came through for me!”
“You can’t use Em as an aid,” now she definitely sounded exasperated.
“Em’s not an aid! Em’s my friend. My oldest friend. You know that!”
“Em’s not your friend, Elisabeth…” Who? Me? What a lying twit!
“Don’t say that mom!” Tell her, Liz!
“You know it just as well as I do.”
“No. Stop putting those thoughts into my head!”
Liz’ mom chuckled in a peculiar way. Almost an evil laugh.
“Oh, that’s rich!” she said as she stopped laughing. “People can come out of your head, though, can’t they?”
“Wait, what do you mean?” Liz was thrown by this statement. I was, too.
“I can’t believe we have to go over this again. At your age, too!”
“Mom, please, just get to the point…”
“Em isn’t real, Liz. Never was!” Wait, wha-
“Em was your friend before you started going to kindergarten… then, Em disappeared when you started to have real friends…”
So that means.
“Em was always a figment of your imagination. An imaginary friend.” Liz’ mom appeared to have had this conversation before. She turned around to continue washing dishes, which-
Never mind that.
I’m an imaginary friend?
“Em’s real, mom…” Liz started, trying to convince herself now.
I’m an imaginary friend?
“Em was a friend you created when you got lonely around the house with your parents gone to work everyday. It’s common for children to have imaginary friends.”
“Then why has Em come now?”
Liz’ mom sighed. “That’s what makes me think you need to see a therapist. I understand that you are under a lot of pressure at school and that must have caused a nervous breakdown of sorts. So you needed a friend.”
“It’s not something at school…”
“What is it, then?”
“My friends rejected me and, well, I felt lonely.”
Liz’ mom’s voice softened. She put down the last dish and turned to her daughter.
“What’s troubling you?”
Hey, can we go back to how I’m an imaginary friend?
“It’s… nothing,” Liz shook her head.
“You can tell me,” Liz’ mom said reassuringly.
“I’d rather not,” Liz said with a tone of finality.
This did not go down well with Liz’ mom. She turned around to finish the last of the dishes.
“You’re okay to talk to an imaginary friend but not your own mother…”
“Em doesn’t judge me.”
“I’m calling Dr. Dendris tomorrow. This has to end. You need to deal with this in a proper manner…”
“Mom, you don’t know what you’re saying.”
“No, Elisabeth. You don’t! You cannot have an imaginary friend at this age! It’s unnatural and infantile. Em isn’t real and you’re wasting your time, feeding a delusion, thinking otherwise.” She didn’t even turn to face her daughter.
This made me mad. My hands clenched into fists and it was then that I realised that I still had the letter opener in my right hand. I looked down at it.
I walked down to the last step and looked over at the kitchen. I’ve never seen the kitchen before. The entire house felt so… strange.
Why was I still around if I was Liz’ imaginary friend? Was I not… unreal?
I took a few steps towards the kitchen. I never once pieced it together…
Liz was visibly upset by the last statement her mother made and was deflated. I wanted to reach out to comfort her. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve wanted to comfort her in her loneliness and share in her joy.
Real or imaginary, I’ve only ever wanted to be a friend to her.
I loathe seeing her upset. Like she is now.
“Mom, the people you call real friends aren’t even friends. They just. They feel I’m a freak.”
“So what? You retreat into your mind and play with an imaginary friend? This isn’t something you can keep doing, Liz.”
“It helps me cope with the judgement and small-mindedness of others. Em has been a real friend when I’ve needed one.” Bless!
“Em’s not real, Liz. And the longer you hold onto this delusion of yours, the more you’re going to get hurt.”
Liz went quiet.
“You need to send Em away. Remember how you did it last time? You had a conversation and said that your parents wanted you to find new friends?”
“You made me send Em away even then…”
“Yes, Liz! Children aren’t supposed to have imaginary friends! It’s just a placeholder relationship until you meet real people whom you can connect with.”
“I can’t send Em away. I won’t,” Liz said defiantly. I was so touched by her kindness, I almost wanted to reach out to hug her. I was now just on the other side of the counter from her, a little to her right.
“Fine. Take your meds then.” She still faced the sink.
“If you had been taking your meds, Em wouldn’t have come back.”
“I’m not taking the meds, mom. They make me feel dull and suppressed. I can’t think, I lose my memory, I can’t write, I can’t draw…”
“At least you’ll know what’s real and what isn’t.”
“Is that all that matters? You don’t mind having a zombie child as long as she doesn’t have an imaginary friend?!” Liz suddenly got agitated. Naturally so.
“Reality is what we make of it, mom. And I like a reality that contains Em. More so than one that contains you.”
Liz’ mom spun around at that statement. She looked right at her daughter with a face full of rage.
She was about to say something but then she looked further right and froze.
Her eyes moved to where I stood, lost focus and all colour went from her as soon as it had come.
“Li-Liz,” she said with a shaky voice.
“Yes?” Liz said, turning to see what shocked her mother. She turned to see me.
“Why- who is that?”
“That’s Em!” Liz said excitedly. She finally got her mother to acknowledge my presence. My existence.
“That- That can’t be real!”
“Well, now you see Em just as plainly as I do!” said a finally cheerful Liz.
“It’s not real. It can’t be,” she muttered to herself.
“Well, Em is real.”
“No! This is some… Prank in sick humour!” she regained focus in her eyes, colour in her face and idiocy. All in one go.
“Ugh!” Liz groaned.
“Em can’t be real.”
“You see Em!” Liz said and I waved, laughing at this entire exchange.
“Elisabeth, you are extremely sick. You cannot pull a prank like this. Em is not real. Never was and you’re going to go to therapy and take your meds and-”
“No, she’s not,” I said, breaking my silence.
Liz’ mom stared right at me.
“You want a zombie daughter who’s lonely, alienated just as long as she subscribes to your bland definition of reality; I’m sorry, I can’t allow you to do that to her,” I said firmly.
Liz and her mom looked intently at me.
Liz’ mom sneered at me. With a contemptuous voice she said, “What are you going to do? Kill me?”
The letter opener left my hand. Suddenly Liz looked down at her hand, to feel the weight of the strange object in her hand.
“I don’t know, Em-”
“Remember what we talked about? We need to stay together.”
“It will always be us, you and me…”
“Whatever else others may see…” I finished the couplet we used to say to each other eons ago.
“I don’t…” Liz looked hesitant.
“Don’t-” started Liz’ mom, a panicked look in her eyes.
“Go on, do it!” I told her.
Liz looked at the letter opener in her hand and then at her mother.
“I’m sorry, mom!” she said as she walked closer. Her mother was backed into the corner of the kitchen.
“What are you- Elisabeth, nooo!” in a loud shriek, Liz’ mom expressed her disapproval of her daughter’s actions but could do nothing against it.
She collapsed to the floor, blood gushing out of her abdomen, her hand trying to cover the wound and place pressure, but in vain.
Liz pulled away and saw her mother stare into her eyes as the last of her life left her.
Liz looked at the corpse on the floor of the kitchen.
The lifeless body that not moments ago tried to control her.
Liz then looked at me, bloody letter opener in hand.
“What have I done?” she asked me, her voice soft and barely louder than a whisper.
“What you needed to do, Liz,” I tried to reassure her but the counter got in the way.
I walked around the counter to face her and to try and console her.
“I killed her…”
“You did what you had to, Liz.”
“Did I?” she said, looking at the bloody weapon in her hand. She set it on the counter.
“Yes. Now we can be together.”
“But you’re not real…” Liz started.
“She saw me. How was that possible?”
“I don’t know…”
“How could she see me if I wasn’t real?” I asked again, hoping this would reassure her.
She looked around on the counter for a pill bottle.
She reached for the pill bottle just as I reached for the letter opener with my right hand.
“I’m sorry, Liz,” I said in a firm, reassuring voice, “I can’t let you do that.”
“What if all of this is just some hallucinatory experience? Some form of dissociation?”
“No, Liz. It’s all real. As real as the corpse on the floor of your kitchen.”
“No, it can’t be. It makes no sense…”
“Reality rarely does.”
Liz unscrewed the top of the bottle.
I walked closer to her, as calmly as possible.
“Put it down, Liz.”
“No! I need to, Em. You’re a figment of my imagination!”
“I’m just as real as you, Liz. Just as real as your dead mother.”
“No, that’s not. That can’t be,” Liz was about to break down. I didn’t want her to suffer like this.
“If you take that pill, the reality you’ll be faced with is a woman you murdered and you’ll be all alone,” I said, taking a step closer to her.
“I didn’t murder- you told me!!” Liz looked me right in the eyes.
“And who will believe you? When you say your imaginary friend told you to kill your mother?” The corners of my mouth turned upward in a smile I couldn’t resist.
In one swift movement, Liz put the pill in her mouth. I lunged forward, toppling her onto the floor. I tried to open her mouth to try and extricate the pill. She tried pushing me off her, keeping my right hand away from her. I couldn’t get the pill out and she soon gulped it down, opening her mouth and laughing at me over her triumph.
The joy went out of her face quickly, though, as she felt the sharp metal pierce her abdomen in the exact spot where she stabbed her mother. Ironic, that.
“But- you’ll also die…”
“We both die, Liz,” I said. “My existence is tied to yours. I couldn’t bear for you to face this reality and all the sadness you’ve been experiencing in it, without me…”
“So we’ll be together…” Liz said, a faint smile finally lighting up her beautiful face.
“Forever and ever…”
“Always, you and me…” The sadness would no longer get her, she wouldn’t be alone.
“Together we’ll be…”
Just as I completed the rhyme, I felt my existence fade.
It’s okay, though.
I’ll be with Liz, now.