"Mavis, you know what we say about imaginary friends."
It's not my friend.
"You're too old now."
It's not my fault.
"Do you want to go to therapy again?"
IT WON'T LEAVE ME ALONE.
The light is slanting weakly through the curtains in the kitchen, playing softly across the table and my soggy breakfast. Mum is standing by the kitchen counter, leaning her hips against the sink, staring at me.
"Mavis? I'm talking to you!"
"Yes, Mum. No imaginary friends. I don't need therapy," I recite.
Mum is staring intently at me. "I might call Doctor Sonja anyway," she mumbles, turning away.
My stomach drops and I push my cereal away.
I hate Doctor Sonja. She's downright creepy, with perfect blonde hair and perfect red lipstick and a light voice but her electric eyes bore deep into my soul.
She's the only one I truthfully told about Mary. And she didn't tell Mum.
Mary is sitting in the corner right now. She's eating some cheese and nuts.
Mary always had a funny diet.
She senses me looking at her and her head snaps up. She smiles with her needle teeth and I look away, feeling sick.
My old friend, Harriet, said that she had an imaginary friend called Kim when she was little. She said that Kim had blonde braids and a pink dress and they would play checkers together. Kim would always let Harriet win.
When I asked how long Kim's claws were, Harriet was terrified.
Mary scuttles like a horrifying engorged spider alongside the car as Mum drives me to school. Mary is very fast. Mary is very strong.
"Love, you darling," Mum says, kisses me on the forehead, gently shoves me out the car, and drives off.
Mary spits on the ground in disgust.
I trail into school, trying to avoid stepping on Mary, who is scampering around my feet. She's relatively dormant when I'm in public. She just follows me around and reminds me that she's there.
I sometimes call Mary "it" rather than "she", especially when I'm mad at her. Because she's not really a girl. I've never known even what breed she is.
Maybe she's a demon.
It wouldn't surprise me.
I head to my morning English lesson and Mary follows, curling round my feet as I sit down. I shift, feeling the hairs rise up on the back of my neck at the feel of her hot breath and bony fingers wrapped around my ankles. It feels like she's anchoring me. Trapping me. Tying me down.
The register is taken and classes go on as normal.
Mary spits and snuffles and hisses and growls, as usual. I get worried that she'll attack my classmates, before I remember that no-one else can see her. Or even knows she exists.
Everyone knows I've been to therapy. But no-one knows why.
When I get home, a knot tightens in my chest. Mary has free reign here.
She smiles, her mouth with their black chapped lips stretched wide, her yellow needle teeth dripping in anticipation.