‘Hey there…’ a young boy said casually whose tousled locks of red hair fell carelessly about his face.
He leant against the pole as the swing flew past. On its return, a blonde girl was looking in his direction with her feet scraping at the ground. As she came to a stop she replied, ‘Hello there? What’s your name’.
‘David, what’s yours?’ he asked.
‘My name is Marianne.’ came the reply.
‘Do you want to play?’
‘Sure, what would you like to play?’ Marianne asked as she got down from the swing.
She stood up and turned to David and there was an empty space where he was standing. The young girl looked around the swing set but there was no sign of David. She stood up straight, put her hands on her hips and yelled at the top of her lungs, ‘Daaaaaaaavid!’.
At the park bench nearby, two mothers sat chatting, one of them absently pushed a pram back and forth. At the sound of Marianne’s yelling, they both looked up. She yelled again, ‘Daaaaaavid!’.
They turned to each other, smiled and returned to their conversation.
Marianne started to wander away from the swings, stopping every few steps to call out to David again. As time passed the calls went from curious, to annoyed and then at last there was a call that had a hint of panic in it.
‘DAVID!’ She yelled and flopped back exasperated onto a tree trunk that she was standing next to.
‘Haha! You found me!’ David said as he climbed out of the tree and swung off a low branch onto the ground.
Marianne crossed her arms and tapped her foot furiously at David. He flashed a cheeky smile at her.
‘We were playing hide and seek,’ he said simply.
Her frown was swallowed up with a wide grin.
‘It must be my turn to hide. You count to 10 and I’ll go and find a spot.’ she said and started to run off. She stopped mid stride and turned around.
‘You have to close your eyes, David!’ she wagged a finger at him and waited for him to close his eyes.
He covered his face with his hands and began to count. Marianne dashed away to find the perfect hiding spot. She had nestled into a shrub and was crouched down as low as she could go. Ants began to crawl around and she watched enthralled as they went about their business.
Her mother said goodbye to her friend on the park bench. ‘I suppose I should get going.’
‘Alright, goodbye, Julie. See you next week.’ Her friend replied.
‘Thanks for the chat,’ said Julie as she fixed her attention to her daughter.
‘Time to go, Marianne.’ She called.
Her daughter crawled out from underneath a nearby shrub, stood up and dusted herself off. Her mother walked over to her and she took her hand.
‘Look at you, you’re filthy!’ She said and started fussing over her
‘David hasn’t found me yet, Mum. I need to say goodbye.’ Marianne insisted.
‘I’m sure David’s mother will look after him, it’s time to go.’ Her mother said sternly.
The young girl tried her best to fight her mother’s grip and go looking for David but there was no escaping her strong fingers.
‘He will think I’m lost and come looking for me, Mum!’ She protested.
‘This is not like you, young lady. It is time for us to leave. I won’t hear any more or you’ll be in time out.’ Marianne’s mother scolded her.
She kicked at the dirt, but complied as they made their way to the car. She looked out the window as they drove away, still no sign of David.
Later that evening Marianne was all set for bed. Her mother switched off the light and the room was plunged into darkness. Moments later, she sat upright and was about to call out to her mother when she became aware of a tapping at the window. Slowly, she crawled out of her bed. It was a bed she was very proud of, as she was now old enough to not have to sleep in the cot.
‘The cot is for babies,’ she whispered to herself.
‘I know.’ Came a muffled reply.
‘David!’ Marianne squealed with delight as she saw David’s head pop up outside her window.
He waved and had the silliest grin on his face. She opened the window as much as she was able. Somehow David was able to climb through. He squeezed through the window and tumbled onto the floor.
‘Shhhhh!’ she whispered.
‘You’re very good at hiding, but I found you.’ David beamed.
‘Well, you must be very tired. I’m very tired.’ she said and let out an enormous yawn.
‘Yes, I’m very tired too. I’d like to have another turn at playing hide and seek.’ he said, also beginning to yawn.
‘We will play again tomorrow,’ she said as she laid her head down on the ground next to David’s.
The two children were soon asleep on the floor. Disturbed from her evening tea by the squeals coming from Marianne’s room, Julie finally got up to investigate. She found her daughter sleeping on the floor, the window slightly ajar. She clicked her tongue and picked up the small child and placed her on her bed, and pulled the blankets back over her little frame. She went over to the window, shut it quietly and walked to the door. She paused for a moment, shivered and rubbed her arms. She flicked the light on and carefully looked around the room. She let out a satisfied grunt and then she returned to her evening supper.
‘Mum, I’m going to go outside and play with David now,’ Marianne would say each morning.
Her mother, usually distracted by the morning show on TV, would nod in agreement, barely registering that her daughter even spoke. One morning, there was no TV to distract her and her phone was in another room so it was a rare moment that Marianne had her mother’s undivided attention.
‘Mum, I’m going outside to play with David,’ she said and turned without waiting for the response.
Julie took a sip from her coffee and thought for a second.
‘Sweetie, there are no little boys around here who are named David.’ she said thoughtfully.
She stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face her mother. She put her hands on her hips and was about to wag her finger at her but decided against it.
‘Sure there is, Mum, I play with him every day. Sometimes he visits me at night before I go to sleep.’ came the reply.
‘He what?’ Her mother almost choked on her coffee.
‘He visits at night. I let him in through the window.’ said Marianne; a picture of innocence.
‘I see…’ she took a more measured sip of her coffee.
‘No problem darling, go and have a great time with David.’
Marianne let out a gleeful squeal and raced out the back door to play in the yard. Her mother stood and walked to the window. Sure enough, there was Marianne, the blonde haired girl with skinny legs and pretty face, playing on her own in the back yard. Julie smiled.
‘Marianne, you’ll be late for your first day at school!’ Julie called out from the kitchen.
‘I’m coming, I just needed to help David get ready too!’ Came the reply from Marianne’s bedroom.
Her mother frowned. ‘I thought she’d have grown out of it by now…’
‘Uh, sweetheart, David can’t come to school with you. He’ll have to wait here.’ She said as gently as she could manage.
Marianne stomped down the hall and stood toe to toe with her mother and narrowed her eyes.
‘David is coming. Mother!’ She said angrily.
‘No he is not!’ Her mother replied sharply.
‘Yes he is, and you can’t stop him from coming,’ came the defiant reply.
‘Marianne, the school won’t let him come. It’s not something I have control over.’ Julie reasoned.
David was standing next to Marianne and whispered, ‘Just pretend I’m not coming, but I’ll sneak into the car with you.’
The young girl’s anger disappeared and she nodded ever so slightly. She smiled.
‘Ok, Mum. I understand.’ Marianne flashed a sickly sweet smile and turned around to finish getting ready.
Julie had almost finished her morning coffee and was ready to drop Marianne off to school when she could hear whispering coming from the hallway. Marianne was standing in the hallway, her bag at her feel. She was gesticulating wildly but speaking in a whisper. Her mother looked for a moment, shook her head then interrupted, ‘Time to go. First day of school!’
She looked up, grabbed her bag and walked out without saying a word.
Later that day, Julie was parked at the front of the school waiting for the children to be dismissed. The buzzer sounded signalling the end of the school day. Moments later a flood of small people burst forth from the buildings, chatting, running, squealing, and walking but all making their way to waiting mothers in air conditioned cars to be taken to their afternoon activities. The crowd dispersed. No sign of Marianne.
Julie sat waiting for a few more minutes. Most of the cars had slowly driven away, their occupants ready to carry on with the day. The school ground, that moments ago had been alive with the sounds of excited but tired children, had become deserted. Only a few small children remained, some with musical instruments for after school music, others were waiting for friends. Marianne’s mother began to crane her neck to see if she could see any sign of her daughter.
At last a lone child exited from the building. Her blonde hair was visible underneath her broad brimmed school hat. She looked even smaller than usual against the vast buildings and wide school oval. Julie turned off the car and unlocked it. She opened the door and started walking towards her daughter. She finally caught up with her and held out her hand. Marianne skipped a few steps and smiled briefly as she ran to her mother. Her mother stooped down, and opened her arms as Marianne jumped into her embrace.
‘How was my big girl on her big first day?’ Julie asked.
‘Everyone laughed at me when I told them about David…’ She trailed off and began to sob on her mother’s shoulder. Her mother lifted her up and walked with her the car as she cried.
‘I know, darling. Having friends like David can be tricky.’
That evening after Marianne had been put to bed, Julie sat and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee. She listened as her daughter got out of bed and opened the window, just a crack. A smile crossed her face and she said quietly, ‘Hello David’.
Days flowed into weeks and there were many repeats of that first day. Many days where Marianne was the child the other children decided to pick on. Even her teacher would occasionally offer very unhelpful advice. She would say things like, ‘Maybe don’t let David come to school anymore. Just play with him at home’, or ‘Marianne, are you a big girl now? Big girls don’t have imaginary friends’.
Julie was tidying up the house, picking up random objects and moving them from one place to another. To the outside observer it was a haphazard method to clean house, but it was effective enough. Her mobile phone began to vibrate on the coffee table.
Julie answered it, ‘Hello, this is Julie’.
‘Hi Julie, this is Mrs Whitehead, Marianne’s school teacher. I’d like to discuss Marianne’s behaviour in class today.’ A stern but friendly voice came through on the phone.
Julie sat down on the very edge of the armchair. For 10 minutes Mrs Whitehead voiced her concerns about Marianne’s disruptive behaviour in class. She responded occasionally where necessary but mostly just allowed the teacher to talk. At last she finally brought the discussion to a close.
‘Thank you for your time, I will have a chat with Marianne about it,’ said Julie at last.
Marianne had heard her mother on the phone and came to see what it was about. Her mother took a deep breath and opened her arm for her daughter to sit on her lap.
‘It’s about David. You can’t let him come to school anymore. It’s causing distractions to the whole class,’ she started.
She listened as her mother explained how she was too old for imaginary friends now that she was in school and that other children her age don’t have them. Tears welled in her eyes and her lip started to quiver.
‘I don’t want him to go, Mum. It’s not fair.’ She cried, fighting back tears.
‘He has to, sweetie.’ Said Julie. Her voice caught at the end of her sentence. She looked away, fighting her own tears.
‘It’s a part of growing up.’ She said finally.
‘I DON’T WANT TO GROW UP!’ The little girl shouted defiantly and stomped all the way to her room.
Marianne sat on her bed, tears rolling down her cheeks, one after the other and splashed onto her dress. There was a tapping at the window and she saw the red locks and bright freckled face of David pop into view. Marianne remained on her bed. The tears stopped and an angry scowl took over her expression. The tapping continued and she remained seated on her bed. She focused intently on the floor around her feet. The tapping became urgent. She looked up a little and could see David’s face. It was a picture of sadness. She redoubled her effort to ignore him. After a while the tapping slowed, and then stopped. Marianne noticed that the tapping stopped and she saw David. He faded away before her eyes.
‘David! Don’t go! I’m sorry,’ she cried and ran to the window to open it. A single strand of red hair floated into the room and landed on her outstretched hand. Marianne lay down and cried for the rest of the afternoon. Her mother came in to find her asleep on the floor, her tiny fist closed around the strand of red hair.
‘Marianne, it’s time for dinner, then bed time. You have school tomorrow.’ Julie gently nudged her sleeping daughter. Marianne rolled over, looked at her mother and said, ‘David’s gone now, Mum.’
‘I know. It’s sad, but it’s a good thing. You’re growing up.’ Her mother reassured her.
‘I don’t like this growing up thing, Mum. It hurts,’ came her reply.
They walked together down the hall for dinner. After dinner, Marianne could barely keep her eyes open at the table, so Julie set about cleaning her up and getting her off to bed. At last she tucked her in, kissed and said, ‘Good night.’ Then she turned off the lights.
Julie stood at the door for a moment and watched as her daughter lay nearly asleep. She smiled and walked down the hall for a cup of tea. Marianne shivered and opened her eyes.
‘It’s cold,’ said Marianne out loud, her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light. An emaciated figure stood in the corner of the room, he stooped to avoid hitting his head on the roof. She lay motionless and closed her eyes tightly.
‘I know,’ he said with a deep voice.
‘David…’ her little voice quivered, ‘where are you?’