Once it was done, it didn’t feel like such an unnatural thing to do to an imaginary friend. I mean people do it to their cats all the time. And cats only are only in your life for a short time, 15 years if you’re lucky. They do it to moose too, and deer, cutting them down like trees, without even so much as a “Hey how’s it going”. They mount their heads on walls of damask and velvet and thick wood panelling. People stand beneath them drinking spirits on rocks and smoking, saying things that don’t really mean anything to anyone, and they just have to be there, absorbing all the smells into their petrified hides, the sounds into their ears stopped up with stuffing, the sights into the orbs of glass eyes.
This makes me feel a little bad about Claude. She’s been a part of my life from my own “Day of Remembrance”; the oldest memory I still have is of her blowing out the candles on my fifth birthday cake. I’m almost 25 now.
I didn’t choose her. If I’d had the chance to choose, she wouldn’t have been taller than me, she would have had blonde hair, not black as tar black, and she would have been a bit more into books. She would have been named after some sort of flower; Bluebell, or Daphne, or Rose, or maybe even something a little weirder, like Foxglove, or Witch Hazel. But Claude was not the kind of friend you invite into a safe, warm, childhood place. Claude was a force of nature, a spark thrown into my life from a fire burning in some distant (perhaps even parallel) universe, setting fire to the edges of what’s been mapped out for you from the moment you were born.
Her eyes flicker in firelight; glass buttons stolen from the sleeve of an old cardigan. Built up like Frankenstein’s Blythe Doll, she sits with those eyes facing south, and all of her limbs point straight down to the ground. The moon has carved out a hole in the black velvet of the universe, and it casts light upon her, witchy white light rendering her features paler, her black hair bordering on blue. She’s wearing one of my old doll dresses, the sleeveless sheath of dark green velvet with the lace collar, that she had admired so when she thought I wasn’t looking.
I hadn’t wanted to do it. But last week she came to my window, like she does every other witching hour, and said that she was going to leave me. She said that I was getting older, too old for her, and that she needed to go. To find the small sparks of another child’s imagination, and unearth them, like seeds.
“But what if I just don’t let it,” I said. “What if I just shut my mind off to everything, so that nothing gets out, and nothing gets in. We can just stay in the apartment, I can get my food delivered from the organic co-op. We can have slumber parties that last for days, or weeks, and I’ll sell all of my things that aren’t books on eBay so that we can pay the rent. I’ll write books about all the places that don’t exist. And I’ll write books about you!”
Claude had smiled, had swung her legs over the window sill, and had shaken her head so that her black tresses pooled around her like tendrils of smoke.
“It doesn’t work like that, sugar” she said, “It wouldn’t be fair. I arrived to nurture your own spark; it was the brightest, and the strongest that I had ever seen. And we sure did have some wild fun, didn’t we sugar? But now all of it is failing. The colours of your magic are fading, the outside grey is seeping into your mind. Maybe I wasn’t around enough. I’m sorry. I really am. But you’re growing up. And when you grow up, things start to become impossible. That’s no way for someone like me to live, and I’ll be damned before I get myself trapped like a relic in a realm of impossibilities.”
Her voice was thick with pity, and with sadness, and when she said those words, the G-word and the U-word that I have always hated, and have heard often, I felt the heat behind my eyes, the one that made everything seem all red and blurry. Early onset rage, Claude used to call it. “You already are damned,” I said to her.
And I suppose I could try to tell myself that I hadn’t meant to do it, that it had all been accidental, like the time I had accidentally petrified the neighbour’s cat because it scratched my hand. But in my heart I know it’s not true. Honestly, I am happy that Claude didn’t leave. The thought that she will never be able leave me again fills me with a comfort that I have never known. I don’t even mind that she can’t talk; it means I’ll get more work done. All she has to do is occupy that empty space beside me, the one at my writing desk. And if she really wants to speak, can speak through me.