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When I imagined death, I suppose I imagined the whole world going black. Like the end of a movie. The scene would fade, the credits would roll and then – nothing. Darkness. Like going to sleep, only to never wake again.
Lots of people I knew believed in Heaven and Hell. I was never sure what I believed. I definitely didn’t believe in those mythical places where there was no pain and suffering, all I’d ever known was suffering. If there was a way to create a place void of all that, then what was the point in making the earth the way it was?
But that’s just me. What the hell do I know?
Clearly, I knew nothing. My entire view of my own life was completely wrong. My entire view of the afterlife was wrong. It is nothing like I imagined. There’s no big sleep. No blackout curtains. No silence.
Instead, when I died, I found a new life. A second chance. A chance to atone for all the mistakes I made in
my own life.
I found myself in the bedroom of a six-year-old girl named Dominique.
I, a former depressed, boozy uni student, was to become her imaginary friend.
“Would you like some tea, Angel?” Dominique asks. Yes, ironically my name is actually Angel. She asked me the first day I showed up. She thought it was cool. I mentally cursed my parents.
“Why, I would love some, Your Highness.” I reply with a polite nod of my head.
We’re sat around a box she’s draped a blanket over to make a table. She recently got a new tea set from her Nana and this is the third tea party of the day. I’m dressed in a pink princess dress and a plastic tiara with matching plastic pink gems. She dons a blue princess dress and co-ordinating tiara. Also joining us is a pink bear names Mr Sniffles, a freaky rabbit I don’t trust one-bit named Flopsy, and the new Barbie her dad recently got her that she hasn’t named.
Dominique, or Unique as I’ve been calling her since I met her, pours imaginary tea into my miniature china cup and then into her own. She goes around the ‘table’ and makes small talk with all the toys. I think the best and worst part of being an imaginary friend is that I am technically a part of Unique’s imagination. This means that every time she plays a game or tells a story, I live it. Like literally the other day I was kidnapped by a witch, held captive in a dungeon and then saved by a six-year-old and her My Little Pony.
Unfortunately, this means I am required to make small talk with the suspicious bunny next to me. I learned very early on that you can’t just ignore them.
“So, how’s things at Easter Island?” I ask the bunny through gritted teeth. He blinks back at me slowly as he gradually comes to life. I roll my eyes. His nose twitches a few times and his whiskers quiver. He sniffs and then turns to Unique.
“Dominique, this tea smells delightful.” He exclaims in his overly excited cartoon voice. I mock him behind his stupid ears and Mr Sniffles chuckles. Unique beams. For some reason, this stupid rabbit is one of her favourite toys.
“Why, thank you, Flopsy. Might I say your ears are looking especially floppy today.” Unique compliments. Mr Sniffles and I share a look. Sniffles and I get along. I mean he’s not my favourite toy, that would be the giant giraffe in the corner, Jimmy. Sniffles is alright though.
Flopsy and Unique continue talking for a while and I try not to be mad that he ignored my question. I was genuinely curious about Easter Island. As a kid, it broke my heart when my big brother told me the easter bunny wasn’t real. I cried for three days. Aaron was grounded for a week though, which cheered me up considerably. Seeing him just as miserable as me warmed my little heart.
“How’s the missus?” I ask Sniffles. He shrugs one pink shoulder and blinks his glass eyes. Sniffles always has this kind of look in his glassy eyes. The ‘been through the washer too many times’ look. He’s a tough bear is Sniffles. He’s been sown up more times than all the others. No one even knows how long he’s been here. Some say he was a third birthday bear. Others are convinced he was here before Unique was born. We’ll never know.
“Ah, she’s good. You know how it is.” Sniffles says in his deep, gravely voice. For a pink bear you would expect a ‘sweet as pie’ voice. Not this bear. This bear commands respect and has the voice to match.
“Good, good.” I say with a nod. Mrs S is a hedgehog and there are a lot of rumours circling at the moment that she’s actually shacking up with Spike down in the bookshelf. No one can be certain but Dina over in Jurassic Mountain said she saw them together while Unique was at swim practice.
The tea party goes on for a while. I seem to be the only one to notice that the Barbie never comes to life.
Unique throws a tantrum that night at bath time. she refuses to let her mother bathe her. She cries, screams, yells, hits, kicks and throws everything. She runs out of the bathroom and dives under the bed. When they find her, she smacks her mother and runs to the walk-in wardrobe to hide. She cries hysterically the whole time. Eventually they manage to tackle her into the water, but I hear her cry the whole time while her mother tells her she’s being silly to be afraid of the water.
She’s not afraid of the water though, it wasn’t until I had been here a few weeks that I found out what she is afraid of.
I had only been here two and a half weeks when I watched her father sneak into her bedroom and climb into bed next to her. From Unique’s reaction, it clearly wasn’t the first time.
I was powerless to stop it. As a figment of Unique’s imagination, all I could do was sit next to her bed and hold her hand. She looked at me the whole time, nowhere else. Her olive-green eyes pleading with me. But there was nothing I could do.
I watched her withdraw more and more. She played less and less. Smiled even less. She threw a fit every bedtime, terrified of what was inevitable. When she was left alone, she would sometimes draw. But not nice, sunny houses with picture-perfect families and little dogs. She would draw dark, scary images, filled with violent monsters and anger, the kind of pictures six-year-olds shouldn’t even think of.
He would buy her countless gifts; she would thank him and pretend to love every one of them when he was around. But the second that door was closed, up on the shelf they’d go. She’d avoid even having to look at them. None of them ever came to life.
This was when I discovered why I had never had an imaginary friend. Why the kids I knew had never had imaginary friends. We never needed them. We never needed an escape quite as much as Unique does. We never had a big, ugly, darkness hanging over us. We never felt the way Unique does. We never needed a friend the way Unique does.
That’s why I try so hard. I socialise with the rest of the toys, even the ones who are kind of annoying (Flopsy), I play tea parties, I use my powers as an imaginary friend to design the perfect princess dresses and perfect space suits. I smile and I play along to all her games and all her stories.
And every night, I hold her hand and tell her that one day it will all stop. Because that’s all I can do.
I’m just as helpless as she is.