This was a writing prompt I stumbled across a long time ago. It stuck with me, but I was never sure what to do with it. I finally felt the spark, so here you go.
Disclaimer: As usual, I take no credit for the writing prompt featured. This is an exercise of taking a presented idea and making it mine.
By Kimberley Imrie
I could always tell when Alex came home. Maybe it was a sixth sense, maybe something else, but when the front door finally opened, I knew it was him.
This time, he’d been gone for a while. Mom said he needed to get out, to meet people. I heard the argument from the top of the stairs, where I usually sit when I wait for him to come play.
“I’m sorry we had to move again, Alex.” She’d said. “I’m just trying to help you meet friends, honey. You’ll have fun.”
“I don’t want to go! I hate camp.”
“You’ve never been to camp. You might like it more than you think.” Her voice was patient, gentle. Somehow even when we made a mess of the kitchen, or lost her ring down the sink, her voice always had that warmth.
I could hear how upset Alex was, though. New people made him nervous. Being around so many new people at once would have been terrifying. I didn’t understand why mom was making him go anywhere in the first place.
So when the door opened and I felt Alex – or heard him or smelled him or however I knew – I could barely contain myself. Then another boy came in behind him, and they both laughed.
Through the railing, I saw mom walk by, a huge smile on her face, opening a bag of chips in the kitchen and pouring them into a bowl. “Okay boys, I’ve got snacks and we’ll put the movie on whenever you’re ready. Pizza for dinner?”
“Yeah!” Two boys eagerly rushed into the room, jumping onto the couch.
I waved, trying to catch Alex’s attention. He didn’t like it when I came downstairs anymore – it made mom nervous when we started talking. So, I waited there for a while, watching and chewing my lip, wondering how long the movie would be. As I listened, I learned that the other boy’s name was Kevin. They met at camp but went to the same school. Kevin came that night for a sleepover, to mourn the end of camp as they scratched their lingering mosquito bites together.
I tried to stay optimistic – they’d come up soon, and then there would be another friend to play with too.
“You should see my room!” Alex said. “I have bunk beds and everything.”
“You have bunk beds? That’s so cool!”
It was like they hadn’t just spent two weeks sleeping in bunk beds already.
Alex grinned, talking around a mouthful of pizza. “You want the top bunk? I usually just keep my toys there.”
“Sure! I was stuck on the bottom bunk at Whitepine.”
A weight dropped across my shoulders. I always slept in the top bunk. If Kevin was there, where would I sleep? Alex and I usually talked late in to the night through the bottom of my bed – about his day, about the kids at school. About that game we wanted to play tomorrow… what would happen now?
Finally, the pizza was gone and the movie was over. The boys ran upstairs like a herd of… well, boys. Usually it was just Alex, so adding a second pair of feet somehow made the commotion that much louder. I stood in the middle of the room, a grin on my face, waving as they came in. Alex smiled, returning my greeting. He was still happy to see me! My shoulders straightened once more. Everything was going to be okay.
Kevin tilted his head as he looked around. “Alex, what are you waving at?”
“Uh… nothing. I was just… scratching.” Alex turned his wave into a vigorous attack on the back of his neck.
Kevin laughed. “There were so many mosquitos! Remember that one that got stuck in the cabin? It kept buzzing in our ear-“
I stopped listening. The weight from earlier was replaced by a kick to the gut. I caught Alex’s eyes as I backed out of the room. He looked down, sadness creasing his brow. He didn’t speak out loud, but he mouthed his words. I’m sorry. Thank you.
He didn’t close the door on me – he wouldn’t do that – but I knew I wasn’t welcome. Now he had a real friend to play with. Maybe he realized that mom was right, or maybe something else happened. I just hoped he was happy.
I closed my eyes then. I was really tired. When I opened them again, there you were. A little girl, just my age, sitting with your dolls and your picnic. For some reason, you were serving mud in the cups, but I thought that was pretty cool. You had Alex’s eyes.
The woman sitting at the computer laughed, leaning back in her chair. “Mom still says I have dad’s eyes.”
I chuckled, silence falling again as she tapped a few more strokes into her computer. I just watched. She didn’t need my help anymore, after all. Finally, she let out a low breath, typing two more words and sitting back, eyes fixed on the screen. “Well, I think I’m done.”
“This one’s good. I’m proud of you.”
“I couldn’t have written it without you.”
I smiled. “I am you.”
“Thanks for sticking around.”
I hope you liked it! It’s an interesting concept to explore, making me think of the impact our imagination has on our lives, and how the art of striking a balance with it has been largely lost. I, for one, will never discourage an imaginary friend. Let your imagination thrive and feed it with daydreams. Just don’t forget how to live in this world as well.