Diary of a Failed Imaginary Friend
Picture this – me, scrawny, mousey Astrid Lark, in the Court of Imaginary Friendship accused of Life Ruining? On my first day as a fully qualified imaginary friend. Who’d have thunk it?
Lady Imogen banged her gong on the wooden desk and looked down her forever young nose at me. She shook her head and her hair swish-swooshed in slow motion. Then she coughed and said that if I put another foot out of line I’d be banished.
Note to self - Must work harder on my friendships. Maybe I shouldn’t have copied off Cassie in class all year. But I never thought my first client would be such hard work. I figured I could just learn on the job with some snotty brat. Turns out I was wrong. Apparently Tally, the rich kid, needed a true friend, real or imaginary. She didn’t need me telling her how much her parents hate her and how her mum and dad are only together because of her. She was sick when I told her. All over her posh shoes and coat. And what’s worse, she ran away from home after that with only her vomit decorated coat and shoes. Ick!
I feel kind of bad about it, I mean people are probably laughing at her, but I don’t get why I’m in court for it. I didn’t tell her to run away. I begged her to stay but she sort of tuned me out before I could finish.
As far as I could tell I did the girl a favour. She was always miserable. Maybe a bit of travelling was exactly what she needed. I should be getting a medal not a warning. But I’m not worried. According to my very clever, historian dog, Dubert, no one has been banished from the kingdom for over five hundred years.
Got new reality friend today. Made her cry and killed her pet spider. What? I hate spiders. The little brat told her mummy on me. Oh dear. Mummy’s and daddy’s aren’t supposed to know we’re really real. They’re just supposed to think their children are cute and creative. As if a little nine year old could ever think of anything as clever as an imaginary friend. I also told her that her mum and dad are moving her to a new school next year and she chained herself to a tree in her garden all day.
Poor Dubert will really miss me. I guess I’ll kind of miss him too. You know, like you miss a pair of socks when the bathroom tiles are cold.
What? Even imaginary friends need to wee during the night sometimes.
My life as a moronic mortal begins. Then again I wasn’t exactly a fine example of an imaginary friend, was I? I still think Lady Imogen is being unreasonable. It’s not like I killed anyone. I’m sure they’ll find Tally soon enough and there’s no lasting damage to Bridget, just maybe a lingering aroma. They dragged her off the tree by bedtime but not before the dog had weed on her at least five times. That’s nothing compared to my way over the top punishment. Now I’m just a regular girl. Can you imagine? Trainee imaginary friends be warned, you do not want to end up like me with my stupid regular family that she enchanted into adopting me. You should see the rules they slapped in front of me as soon as I walked through the door. I have to go to bed at nine. I’m only allowed to watch one hour of TV a day. I even have to go to school. Could it get any worse?
Yes it could. Can someone please send me an imaginary friend? I’m miserable.
“Astrid. Get your behind down these stairs this instant.” I think my new mum is a yeti in disguise. She has crazy hair and a yowl that makes the house shake.
Grr. Did you know regular people only sleep for like seven hours a day?
I rolled out of bed and tramped down the stairs, the duvet over my head. I kind of hoped it was all a bad dream but no. Mum tugged at my hair with a brush while I ate my cereal. I could barely concentrate on chewing as she yanked so hard my eyes kept spinning back in my head like table-footballers.
“So it’s your first day at school tomorrow,” she rudely reminded me. “We need to sort this rat’s nest out so I’ve booked you in for a hair appointment, and then we need borrow a uniform for you from our neighbour’s boy, Sean.”
“I can’t wear a boy’s uniform. Why can’t we buy a new one?”
Dad coughed and shook out his newspaper. He wasn’t much of a talker.
“That’s none of your business young lady. Your long gangly legs will fit better in boy’s clothes anyway.”
“And I better warn the teachers to watch out for you. I can see already you’ll be trouble. The lady at the adoption office never said you were such a snotty monster. Who in their right mind would ever have children?”
“I’m not a child,” I insisted, biting my tongue just before I announced my previous job.
“You are a child. All awkward and annoying. An unwanted, intruding, ruin everything sort of child.” She cut out a knot from my hair with a giant pair of kitchen scissors, leaving one side as short as my ear. “There, can’t look any worse,” she said, tossing the scissors in the sink. Dad ducked as if flying kitchen utensils was perfectly ordinary on a Saturday morning. Mum stormed out the kitchen, kicking the door on the way. Nice one Lady Imogen, I thought, sticking me with a couple of grown olds who clearly hate kids and have no intention of doing their job.
Oh! I started to realise that when I was an imaginary friend I’d had about as much tact as mum. No wonder I was banished. If only I could banish mu from my life.
Dad flicked the tiny kitchen telly on and I spat out my apple juice in my cereal. Tally was on the telly. My heart thrummed in my chest like an angry guitarist plucking the strings so hard you have to cover your ears.
“A nine year old girl has been missing for three days,” announced the news reporter with black hair that looked like it had talcum powder doused on top of it. He sounded very serious. There was a short video showing Tally’s mum and dad crying and hugging. Astrid realised she was holding her breath and gasped for air. She must have been wrong. They did seem to love Tally and they weren’t arguing like she’d seen on that first day. They were clinging desperately to each other. They looked like much better parents than Astrid’s.
“Please can anyone help us.” Tally’s mum cried into the camera. “All we want is our little girl home in time for her birthday tomorrow.”
Birthday tomorrow? Astrid swallowed a lump as big as an inflamed tonsil. What had she done? She had to get Tally home by morning.
Slipping out the house without her mum wouldn’t be easy.
“Why don’t I wait in the car for you?” Astrid said, smiling as sweetly as she could, “to save time.”
“No way. I’m not letting you sit in the car alone. What if you have an accident?”
“I’m not going to drive it.”
“I don’t mean that sort of accident. I mean a yucky sort of accident.”
Ew! “I’m twelve mum. Nearly thirteen. I don’t have accidents.”
“Nearly a teenager? Even worse, you’ll probably scribble all over it and invite all your friends to some wild party.”
“I will not,” I protested (I don’t exactly have any friends. We know how rubbish I am at that. It was useless. Her face was glued in a scowl like I was a permanent bad smell. “I’m not letting you out of my sight.” Drat.
“Well I better pop to the loo before we go,” I said, you know, just in case.”
I didn’t really need the loo but it was the only place I had to think in. I put the lid down and sat on it. Mum was a bit of a clean freak from what I could tell so there were probably only a couple hundred germs rather than thousands. I shivered as I tried to think how I could get out of her sight. And then I realised I was shivering and looked up. The window. It was a downstairs bathroom and it didn’t open very far but I reckoned I could slink out. As mum had pointed out I’m very gangly.
“Hurry up Astrid,” I heard her yell and bang on the door just as my feet hit concrete. I was out with only a scratch on my arm and there was no time to lose. Of course it would have been better if I’d remembered to put my shoes on before I escaped but footwear was banned in the house. I ran as fast as is possible with tiny pebbles embedding themselves in your skin. I didn’t know where I was going to find Tally but all I could think about right now was getting far enough away from Mum to not be found. I had a feeling she wouldn’t look far. I didn’t expect to see them on the news begging for me to go home at any rate.
After a few hours of snaking through back lanes I figured it was safe to stop for a bit. I stood outside a cosy looking café and stared in. The cakes looked delicious even if the stench of coffee did make me feel a bit sick. There was a telly in the corner and through the steamed up glass I could tell they were talking about Tally. I rubbed at the grime and squinted to read the red text at the bottom of the screen. “A sighting of missing Tally in Little Rockcoach.”
Thankfully Tally hadn’t ran far. I could understand why. No doubt she’d ditched her sick covered shoes and was suffering the same pebble induced pain as me. But if the police couldn’t find her she had to be well hidden. I hadn’t known her long, what with me ruining her life in only one day, but I trudged through my brain to see if I could remember anything useful. Moan, moan, moan. Hates friends as they only liked her because her mum and dad are rich. She wouldn’t be with them. Wished she had cousins to play with but her auntie and uncle hated children, including her. She had mentioned loving dogs though and always begging for one of her own. Ping!
What a brilliant idea even if I do say so myself. There was a dog’s home just outside Little Roackcoach. So I strapped some leaves to my feet with long grass, the pain was just too much to handle now, and I set off through a field. I knew no one would be looking for me, mum and dad would be glad I’d gone, but still I thought it was better not to be spotted.
I could hear little dogs yapping as I got near. They sounded terrified. Like the owners hated dogs as much as mum and dad hated me.
I slipped round the back. The smell made me gag. Weeks and weeks’ worth of poo and wee I guessed. It looked like the dogs had been bathed in the stuff.
Snuggling next to the fence, her fingers tangled through the mesh stroking a big dog, was Tally. Her hair, which the other day had been blonde and down to her bum, looked just as matted as the dog’s.
“Tally,” I whispered tiptoeing to her side.
She looked me up and down. “You! I told you I didn’t want an imaginary friend anymore. Go! Away!” She blinked her eyes really tight.
“I’m not an imaginary friend.” I touched her shoulder and she leapt up off the floor. The dog didn’t stir much.
“You can touch me.” Her freckles seemed to be screaming at me, like a warning sign to leave.
“Let’s just say I wasn’t very good at being an imaginary friend so I got banished. I’m as real as you now.”
Tally clawed at her eyes with mucky hands. “I don’t believe you.”
“Look at my hair.” I tugged at the short raggy side. “My new ‘mum’ did this to me. She hates me. But I see now I was wrong about your mum and dad. They love you and maybe they love each other too.”
“What do you mean?”
“I saw them on telly. They were drowning each other in tears, a bit unhygienic if you ask me, and begging for you to come home”
“Oh I didn’t think they’d notice I was gone. They’re always so busy and when I want anything they say no.”
“What do you ask for?”
“A pet mostly. Or a sister.”
“And you got stuck with the worst imaginary friend ever instead?”
“You don’t seem all that bad,” she said, relaxing back down beside the dog.
“Thanks,” I said, blushing at the first vaguely nice thing anyone had ever said about me. “But your mum and dad are better. I’ll take you home to them.”
Tally wiped a tear from her pink cheek. “I do want to go home but I don’t want to leave these dogs.
“You don’t have too darling.” We both jumped at a woman’s voice behind us.
“Mum,” Tally said jumping into her arms like she had rockets on her feet. “But how did you find me?”
“We followed your friend,” her dad wrapped his arm around Tally and her mum and nodded down at me.
“Tally had drawn pictures of a girl just like you.” I couldn’t believe it. “We found them in her room. At first we thought you must just be one of those made up friend things but then when I saw you with that bright red hair and purple eyes I knew it was you.”
“Yes and we want to thank you for finding Tally. What can we give you as a reward? Absolutely anything.” Her mum crouched down next to me and she smelled of Rose and orange. It was the kind of smell that made you want to hug her. Her smile helped too of course. It was like a giant zip of happiness from ear to ear.
I thought about what I could ask for. New parents? To go back to being an imaginary friend? But I didn’t deserve happiness after what I’d done to Tally. Well not for a while anyway. I’m not going to punish myself forever, am I? But I do know someone who deserves to be happy. I cleared my throat and bopped up and down a bit hoping they would say yes.
“What I really, really want is for Tally to be happy. She’d love to take hoe all these dogs. Oh and to have a sister too.”
Her mum hugged me and Tally together and it was a bit squishy but I sort of liked it. It made me forget about the pain in my feet. “Tally is lucky to have a friend like you.”
I gulped. If only she knew the truth that the whole thing was my fault she wouldn’t be so kind.
“We were going to get you a dog for your birthday tomorrow but if you’d rather help these ones then I don’t see why not.”
“But the sister thing might be a problem.”
“Happy birthday Tally,” I said, waking up in the camp bed in her room. I scrubbed my eyes still not able to believe that they’d let me sleep the night. I knew today I would have to go home though. The thought of leaving Tally made me sad but at least I’d put things right.
“She jumped down onto my bed and one of her new little doggy friends followed her. It slobbered all over my face but I didn’t mind too much.
After a delicious birthday breakfast there was a knock on the door. A trickle of worry rumbled through my insides.
“Get in the car, Astrid!” I heard my mum’s voice echo down the corridor. “I saw you on the news. I know you’re here.”
Tally slid off her chair and ran to her mum’s side. “Why is Auntie Ann here? She’s terrifying. I don’t want her at my birthday.”
“My mum is your auntie?” I asked, no longer able to control the amount my mouth hung open.
“What’s going on Ann?” Tally’s dad asked standing between me and her.
“That disgusting brat is my child. Don’t ask.”
“She can’t be,” Tally’s mum’s said, her face white.
“Believe me I wish it was a misunderstanding but I’ve got the paperwork. I knew children ruined everything and she’s proof.”
Tally’s mum slammed her teacup on the table so hard it spilled everywhere. “Get out now Ann before I chuck you out.”
“Not without that brat.” She folded her arms.
“She is not a brat and you are not going anywhere near her. Go!”
Mum put her hands on hips and left without much of a fight. I bet she was smiling really.
“And tell my brother he can have his job back,” said Tally’s dad. “He needs somewhere he can go to escape from you.” So that was why dad was so quiet.
“There you go Astrid, dear. Your wish for Tally to have a sister has come true too.”
I squealed and jumped into her arms.
Then I felt all wobbly like a paused screen. I was fading. Like I was an imaginary friend.