Stories, by Megan Slade

One

Daniel

“You know, I read today that it’s common for children to have imaginary friends,” were the words my mother echoed to my father when I introduced them to my best friend Daniel; the red dragon from the Ready Brek adverts, which, now that I think of it, was peculiar, as to this day I still have never tried Ready Brek.

Daniel would go everywhere with me. On long car journeys he would float out of the car like a dragon angel and skate along the telephone wires as I’d mercifully watch, wishing I could be imaginary too.

Every evening I would remind my mother to make sure she had cooked enough dinner for Daniel, and other times my mean older brothers would say, “Oh Meeeg, where’s Daniel today?” And I’d point to the empty space next to me on the sofa where he’d be sitting peacefully until my brothers would simultaneously begin kicking the air, where in my head sat Daniel, in agonising pain.

Whenever people tell me that they, too, used to have imaginary friends, a wave of excitement overtakes me as I feel that, finally, maybe there’s someone similar to me. I always ask if they remember when the imaginary friend went away.

“Mm, nah,” my friend Louise would say. “I just grew up and realised he wasn’t there anymore.”

“Me too,” I’d agree.
But that isn’t the truth. This is the truth. I was in year two at a new school and for the first time in my young life had made friends because I had the shoes which flashed when you stamped heavily on the floor. As I clumsily trod on the grass performing a tribal-like dance, I looked over to Daniel, seeing he had a tear falling slowly down one cheek, his red scaly skin now a salmon colour, like a painting faded by the sun. I held out my small hand to him: “Daniel, come and play,” I said, but he just sadly smiled and told me to play with my new friends. When I got home I looked for Daniel everywhere; at the bottom of the garden, in the Wendy house, under my bed, behind the television set, but he wasn’t there. “Just use your imagination,” my mother told me. I squeezed my eyes tight and tried to picture him but it wasn’t the same. He had gone. That night my mother held me as I cried and told me that it was because I had made so many friends and wasn’t lonely anymore and he needed to go and help another little girl who found it hard to make friends.

Sometimes, these days, when I’m on a train and feeling lonely, I still try and find Daniel skating along those telephone lines.  I can just about see him, but he’s now older, overweight, his blue t-shirt is too small for him, and his hat has stains on it. If I really try I can still see him, but it’s like when your favourite book is adapted into a film — it’s never the same.

 

Two

Fatherhood (Or, before you were born your father looked like Jack Kerouac)

As a child you would watch as he’d style his hair like Morrissey and walk to the local pub, leaving his wife to dream about a life where she had never met him. He’d drink with his friends until he couldn’t feel his legs, then stumble back home at 2am where his son would wake up to hear him singing ‘This Charming Man’ at the top of his lungs in the garden.

But none of this matters to you any more as you sit and eat spaghetti bolognese. After you finish, feeling bloated and sleepy, you play the ‘What do the knots in the oak table look like to you?’ game. He says mouse and you look down, you know for certain these knots aren’t natural, that the man who made this table secretly put them all in especially for you and your dad.

When you feel the sadness sink into your bones like water absorbed into a sponge, he is there. He doesn’t try to understand it and he doesn’t say anything but he is there. You are happiest when you are together, driving for miles and miles because he has free petrol and every Thursday off. You coast along over the South Downs as he compares cyclists to wasps.

“It’s the helmets. Their helmets look just like a wasp’s head. Don’t you think? And they’re arrogant like wasps too.”

“Yes! That’s so true.” You laugh.

After a few solitary minutes of you gazing at the fields and the tiny lambs which inhabit them, he shouts over the Ministry of Sound CD constantly playing in his car;

“Megsy!” He has suddenly remembered something. You turn to look at him. “I didn’t tell you my dream last night! It was fucking scary. I never have nightmares but oh god I was in the sweats when I woke up.”

You tell yourself there is nothing worse than hearing another’s dream but you decide to listen anyway.

“You will not believe this.” He turns down the music slightly as if it were to build tension, “I was at the dentist, the one I used to go to when I was a nipper, but instead of looking at my teeth he just told me my future would be found in my mouth so I went home, looked in the mirror the next day and guess what…” He waits for you to guess.

“Er… you had no teeth?”

“No! I had the word ‘death’ written on each tooth like tattoos. Spooky shit Megsy. What do you think it means?”

You don’t reply, you just laugh, and in your head you realise he is the most important thing in your life.

 

Three

“I want to kiss you until your lips fall apart like wet paper and it’ll look like you have huge gums.”

You’re the Thom Yorke weird I’ve been waiting for. Your voice is the rippling waves in the winter months with unpronounced t’s, choked utterances and stutters as you start then stop and I’m on the edge of my chair waiting for the end of your sentence but instead an anxious sigh cascades out like a passing cloud and it’s the most wonderful sound I’ve ever heard. You nervously laugh and your teeth are all different sizes and colours like a beautiful painting only I can see.

I knew when I saw you at your front door, black eyes and broken bones, that when I am with you I am alive. Before you jumped from that window I always thought I was just an observer, gathering emotions from books I half read and films I fall asleep in, never knowing how I was meant to feel. But with you everything feels both real and magical and I hardly even read when I’m with you because it’s all so fantastic, like when we’re outside on your roof in the dark and I tell you the story of Cassiopeia and how I wouldn’t mind being shot up into space for eternity if you were up there with me.

 

Four

Family

My family tree is one of those leafless great beasts cruelly shaped by the wind. It’s the type of tree you only see when passing by in a car, all by itself with no nests, just sap stains which have left their scars throughout the years.

 

Five

On Guard

You don’t know this but I spent so many months inside a castle of empty prawn cocktail crisp packets, bottles of wine, cat hair, and dusty books trying not to think about you. Like fighting off disease, I blocked you out. Even these four lines tell you too much. All you need to know is that it is possible to find yourself without losing.

 

Six

Mind Maps

Most of the time my brain feels like a toddler’s first scribble. The paper is carelessly torn from where so many crayons have been scrawled over one another like penny machines in arcades. I tried telling this over the phone to a careers advisor.

“Okay,” she said, “It sounds to me like you’re a visual decision maker, let’s make a mind map.” I grunted and I told her I wasn’t any kind of decision maker which is why I fuck everything up and then like a bin bag holding too much rubbish these thoughts-turned-words began to gush out down the phone to her.

“It’s not like I don’t know what to do. I just want too much. I want to be everything, do everything. I want to be a lecturer, a writer, an editor, an antiquarian bookdealer, I want to go travelling and teach abroad, I want to live in the countryside where I am now but I miss London maybe I should move back there, you know? I just need to make a decision and stick with it. I mean really, all I want is to just be happy.” I paused. We both simultaneously sighed. “Maybe I could be a careers advisor. I’m good with people. Do you like your job?”

“Hm. Well, Megan, this is more about you than me, and I’m sorry to say our half an hour is up now so I’ll email a little mind map I’ve drawn for you and I’ll call in two weeks to see what progress you have made.”

“Okay, I saw a Sylvia Plath quote on Twitter yesterday which completely sums up how I feel, it’s…”

“Okay Megan, good luck I’ll call you in a few weeks.”

She never did.

 

Seven

Written in the Crabs

On my way to work I would have to walk past an overabundance of clothes shops, each with those faceless mannequins enticing me in.  I tried to walk past, but it was the first day of the year that I didn’t need to wear my coat, so I decided I needed some summer clothes. In the sale I spotted a pair of trousers with little crabs printed over them. I love anything with animals on it, and they were, after all, in the sale. I quickly bought them. As I walked up the high street I began singing to myself a little song: “Crabby crabby crabby.” I sometimes do this when I’m in a good place, you know, sing little jingles, mainly about animals. For instance if I see a bloodhound on my walk I’ll make up a little song about him. This is a tangent. I was walking along the high street, thinking of crabs when BANG. I stopped what I was doing. I think I even stopped my own heart from pumping, as a real-life crab was staring at me. His tiny black eyes like peppercorns looked straight into my blood shot ones. He was on a mountain of ice at the fishmonger’s stall.

“Can I help you love?” the fishmonger asked, with his white hat and his smile.

“Is that a real crab?” I asked.

“Yep. Last one, want me to bag him up?”

“Oh no, sorry, I’ve just never seen him here before.”

After a few more pleasantries I remembered I was late for work so quickly rushed up the street to Crabtree and Evelyn, the shop I worked in. I stopped outside the shop, looking at the word ‘crab’. My manager waved from inside and I walked in and quickly told her about the crab coincidence. She laughed gleefully as I went to put my apron on. That whole day, all I thought about was what it could possibly mean. It wasn’t every day you find a pair of crab trousers and then see a real crab minutes later. I then began to think I was being silly.

After work I took a train to London to see the boy I think I will always be in love with. He had texted me previously after I had explained the coincidence, saying, “I know what it all means. Come see me and I’ll tell you.”

As I arrived at his place he smiled suspiciously as I showed him my new trousers.

“Have you not figured it out yet?” He smirked.

“Tell me please! It must mean something.”

“I’m a Cancer. The crab star sign. It’s all meant to be, Meg!”

“That’s it!” I put my hand over my mouth. “Do you think that’s it?” I questioned, my voice muffled. He laughed and kissed me before I had time to move my hand away.

“Yep,” he paused, looking at me, and sighed, “It’s definitely all meant to be. Look at you. Look at us.”

“It’s written in the crabs!” He laughed, and I laughed, and when I wear my crab trousers I always think of him.

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