You were five and I was six, and we were together.
You were a princess and I was your prince. Swashbuckling pirates, the fearless captain and mate. A crime fighting duo, superman and catwoman.
We were always together, two halves of a whole. Joined at the hip.
But then your mum began to get anxious. She said that it was time for me to leave. She wanted her daughter to make new friends, better friends than me.
You were loyal. You stood by my side. We weathered the storms, as we always have.
We were together.
You were nine and I was ten, and we were together.
We created our own world and made ourselves Queen and King. Our people adored us, and we had mighty battles against dragons and witches and goblin armies that threatened our rule.
We were closer than siblings, closer than spouses. Two peas in a pod. One person in two bodies.
But then your mum realised I was still around and she was angry. She threatened to stop your ballet classes. She made you go round to other little girls houses, girls that liked pink and ponies and parties.
You were loyal. You stood by me. We survived, as we always have.
We were together.
You were thirteen and I was fourteen, and we were together.
You were my first girlfriend; I was your first kiss. We went to the cinema together, to school together, shopping together. You laughed at the funny things I said and I told you that you were beautiful.
We were two halves of a whole, joined at the hip, inseparable.
But then your mum found out I was still around, she was terrified. She dragged her daughter to hospital, doctors, shrinks. “You’re thirteen! You shouldn’t still be doing this!” I was labelled as a bad influence.
You began to waver.
We were together less. You kept giving me strange looks and asking questions that were too near to the truth. As you got further away, I got sicker. I was weak, pale, as though I was wasting away. I felt invisible. I was sure I was dying.
I pleaded with you, I begged you, I kissed you, I told you I loved you, but you had stopped listening. I was a ghost, someone you wanted to forget.
I drifted around in the corner of your vision, watching you erase me from your life. But I was never completely gone. You kept me alive, kept believing in me just enough. I was still alive in your memories of me, but barely. Every day it was harder.
You were twenty and I was twenty-one. You were strong and healthy and I was nearly dead.
Your mum approached you and asked nervously, “That… boy. Is he still around?”
You turn and glance at me, the translucent ghost in the corner.
“No, mother, I’ve followed your advice. He’s not my friend any longer.” My heart is shattered into so many pieces that it can’t be broken any more.
Your mum nods, relieved. She motions for you to sit down.
“Well… the thing is, dear… he was not a real boy. When you were five, it was okay to have an imaginary friend. But when you were thirteen…” She shudders delicately, reaching out to pat her daughter’s hand in what she probably thinks is a reassuring way. “I hope you understand now. I did it for your own good!”
You pause. I can see your thoughts churning, but you’re too old now for childhood games.
“I know, mother.”
You turn and stare at me. For a moment, the intensity of your gaze brings me to life. For the first time in months I am solid, human, breathing.
But your expression is flint, and I know that it’s all over.
“We were together,” You inform me, your icy voice echoing through your head. “But I have no need for you now.”
I’ve been on the brink of this for seven years, but the finality shocks me to the core. “No! Don’t!” I cry, running to you. I reach for your hand, thinking that if you felt me, you wouldn’t be able to kill me.
But you draw away with a look of pure loathing and turn your back on me.
I know now that I am dead.
Sinking to my knees, I look down at my see-through fingers. A sharp searing pain tears through me as you rip me out of your head. Tears are flooding from my eyes; everything is a watery blur. I can feel myself being undone by you, my seams being torn apart, the colours under my skin merging with the air.
For a brief moment I am suspended in the air. I am everywhere; and then… I am nowhere at all.
I can’t do this.
My foot fumbles forward, the icy floor making gooseflesh crawl across my skin.
My legs are twigs… too thin, too fragile. They’ll snap.
I hold onto the bed with both hands, knuckles white.
Rapid raspy breathing; deafeningly loud in the sterile room.
“You need to let go,”
A jerky, terrified shake of the head.
I am hunchback, trembling, folded inwards on myself.
“If you don’t let go, you’ll never be able to leave.”
My breathing hitches; half a gasp, half a sob.
Softly spoken; “Let go.”
I release one hand. The blood begins to flow again. It hurts.
My toes inch forward.
My feet are concrete, stone, rock. I can’t shift them.
“I’m too weak!”
“You can do it.”
With all my strength, I lift my foot.
My eyes widen. I let it hang in the air, flightless bird.
Lower it. The frozen floor greets it like a friend.
I’ve taken a step.
My left foot twitches
I take another hesitant step.
My other hand is holding me back, gluing me to the hospital bed.
I pry the fingers off one by one, cutting off my lifelines.
I shuffle forwards, tenderly, slowly.
I expect pain;
I straighten my spine, standing tall.
Flex my toes.
Breathe deeply, savour the sweetness.
I smile, amazed, happy.
I can do this after all.
I don’t stumble.
My body remembers being alive.
I begin to jog,
Air filling the sails of my lungs.
Wasted and dying muscles gaining their past strength.
I run down the corridors, grinning.
Skin-coloured blurs and startled faces
Nurses and patients and doctors and family
Inspired by this song, 3:20 until 4:21.
A thousand spotlights
The fluid babble of the audience
The stage, gleaming like the sun
All that open space
A map, unrolled, just waiting for an explorer
Inside my ballet shoes my feet begin to itch
Everything is holding its breath
My ears ring with unheard silence
I am ready.
Without warning, the orchestra burst into song
And audience are struck dumb in awe
The music swells
The high, sweet notes of the violins
The patient cellos singing softly
The trumpets crying out in pride
All intermingling, blending
Separating and joining
Reaching higher and higher
Soaring above the clouds
A skyscraper of music
I am more than ready:
And I rise on tiptoe
My arms in the air
And fly out of the wings and across the stage
The open stage surrounding me,
The audience adoring me!
The spotlights searing my eyes,
The orchestra filling my ears and
Making them throb with music, my heartbeat
And this moment is so perfect
That I must be dreaming…
But then I slip in the mud
Trip, begin to fall
Barely catch myself
And stand upright,
Facing the headlights.
I am not a ballerina after all.
I am a just a girl
Standing, alone, in a muddy field
In the glare my cars headlights
Dancing my solo in my pyjamas.
The sea is slurping at the sand, toying with small pebbles, pushing them back and forth. The smell of salt is in the cold wind coming off the sea. Children dressed in bright clothes, the only colour in sight, dig and play in the sand. I feel like I’ve been here before, like this has happened before: but I can’t remember when.
Behind me stands a young man, his chestnut hair wet from swimming. He’s barefoot, his jeans rolled up to his knees. I know him. He’s Adam. I’ve definitely been here before, I remember this! My sense of deja’vu is making this whole thing feel a little surreal.
“Of course I did,” I tell him, smiling. “You know I can’t refuse you anything!”
He smiles back, but his eyes are worried. He looks like he’s about to say something; but nothing comes, and he closes his mouth.
I feel as though I’m in a play, reading out my lines. This has been said before, done before. “Are you okay?”
He stares at me, his eyes intense and so deep I feel like I’m at the bottom of the ocean.
I feel like I know what should happen next. He’s going to smile, shrug. His line is, ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing’. And then he will take my hand, pull me into the shallows, and we paddle and laugh and get soaked.
I’m so sure what will happen that when he blurts out, “Jenny, you’re in trouble,” I freeze.
Why isn’t he following the script? An odd feeling of fear slides into my heart; by breaking away from the script, he’s broken a rule.
The words jump from my throat without permission. “Don’t say that!” I cry. “Don’t!” If he does, if he does, something terrible will happen, this world will break down…
He speaks over my frantic pleas.
“You thought you’d escaped Dan after New York, but he’s close. He’s right on your tail and closing in. You’ve got to get out of there, now!”
This is wrong. The Adam from this memory couldn’t possibly know these things. This was Adam before any of this started, this was Adam from before New York…
The world feels like it’s spinning. The sound of the seagulls, of the lapping of the sea, children screaming; everything seems to mute. My vision tunnels so I can only see Adam.
“How can you possibly know that? You don’t even know where I am!”
He smiles sadly. “No, I don’t. And I never will. Wake up now, get up and get out! I don’t want you to end up the same as me.”
I’m so dizzy, the world is flying away from me. The bright clothes of the children are so colourful they make my head ache. Adam’s face blurs. The world is pulsing to my heartbeat.
“What are you talking about?” I cry, feeling suddenly alone. My voice echoes in the emptiness of the void.
I can’t see Adam anymore, but his voice is as clear as if he’s talking in my ear.
“I’m dead, Jenny.” He whispers. He speaks haltingly, emotion snapping and splintering his voice. “Daniel killed me. Now stop dreaming and wake up before they get you too!”
The beach disappears; I’m falling through black space, tumbling in empty air, my fingers raking through nothingness for something to hold…
I wake up with a start and tears on my cheeks. Adam’s voice echoes through the emptiness of my head.
Get out… before he kills you too.
When did you become so important to me?
Your name was such a small word. A pill, easily swallowed
Only it didn’t leave me; travelled to the epicentre,
Burrowed itself in my heart
A seed taking root in fertile earth
I didn’t notice for so long; it was only when
The pain of being around you became unbearable
I couldn’t see it, I didn’t know
But the seedling had grown and grown and filled
All the space. Nowhere left to go
So it split my heart wide open
I noticed then, but too late to do anything:
Already an unstoppable force
Bursting through my flesh, ripping me to shreds
Splintering my bones. Ruining me.
I am broken by you, you have undone the tendons
That knitted me together
My skin peeled off, my tender flesh exposed
For the world to see.
These wounds I bear belong to you.
You’re making me live, and you kill me slowly.
My seventh school
The sea of strangers surrounds me
I introduce myself to a girl in the lunch queue
“Why did you join in the middle of the year?”
I tell her my parents are in the navy.
She says, her face calculating.
“You’re one of those.”
Mother’s eyes are stone.
“Later, I’ll inspect your room.”
Look down, nod. “Yes, ma’am.”
Every night, we watch the news.
The war footage is hellish and with every death they announce a fresh terror seizes me.
I keep checking the photos, but it’s never my Father.
Relief fills me… but then I feel guilty;
Somewhere in the world a family is mourning.
What right do I have to feel relieved?
The news theme tune is the soundtrack to my nightmares.
The cycle never ends.
At lunch, the little boy squirms, impatient to escape from the dinner table. He pesters and pleads with his father until at last, worn down by the endless complaining, his father sets him free.
His gleaming new toys beckon him from underneath the Christmas tree, and the TV guide lies open, slyly showing all the marvellous movies that are currently on. The boy ignores them both.
He sprints upstairs, switches on the clunky computer and goes on Skype.
As promised, she is online, waiting for him. He double clicks on her name and her face fills the screen, smiling at him from the other side of the world. He hasn’t seen her for seven months.
Her khaki uniform is covered in dust. She smiles like a star in a distant galaxy, distant but warm.
“Merry Christmas, Mommy!”