I had an imaginary friend when I was a child. Bored, alone in the living room while my mum did other things, I thought ‘Hmm. I’ve heard some children have imaginary friends to play with. Maybe if I have one, I won’t feel so fed up?’
I imagined her into life – she had big blue eyes, rosy cheeks and golden ringlets (kind of weird, when I remember her now, I can only think of her as looking exactly like The Girl). She was very naughty, and I called her ‘Guilty’, so that if I was about to be told off for anything, I could pin the blame on her: It wasn’t me, Guilty did it. Perfect.
I sat on the red carpet of the living room with her, and we started playing with my Star Wars figures. I said ‘Guilty, you can be Princess Leia if you like’ (massive sucking up gesture there, it was my precious Forest of Endor Princess Leia, whom I shared with no one). Then I thought to myself ‘God, this is stupid, Guilty’s not real’, felt hideously embarrassed by the whole thing and killed Guilty off forever. And carried on playing on my own.
That was over thirty years ago. But, as a sign that my levels of maturity are receding as my age advances, Guilty is back. Not just Guilty, in fact, but a whole cast of characters, about whom I know everything. And I do mean everything. Because I have completely made them up. In my head.
It started last summer, and I can remember the exact moment. We were on holiday, the three Blondies and I, and we’d gone to the beach. I HATE going to the beach, unless it’s for a walk. It’s hot, it’s sandy, seawater stings my skin, and that sensation of sand gripping onto your feet is so unbearably awful that my fingers are curling involuntarily just thinking about it and oh my god I can’t stand it and I feel like I’m covered in sand now and urgh. Alistair knows I HATE going to the beach, so he suggested I take myself off to one of the beach bars about ten metres away from where he’d plonked the towels. This sounded like a great idea to me, especially as I could see there was a daybed free, and a cocktail with my name on it about to be ushered into creation.
So I lounged there, glugging a massivo Pimm's, writing a few things down. Nothing exciting, just observations of people around me, speculating what their relationship might be, what they could be talking about. I’d look over to where The Blondies were every thirty seconds or so, and see them bouncing up and down in the waves (Alistair & The Boy), or playing in the sand (The Girl). And, because my brain can be a twat at times, I looked up, saw The Girl and a terrible, terrifying thought stabbed me. What if I looked up and The Girl was gone?
Shudder. What if she vanished? What would I do? How would I react? Would I be able to scream and shout and get people to help? Or would I become paralysed with the horror of it? My mind helpfully offered up several film previews of the different scenarios, just to make me feel worse. Then I calmed down, told myself to stop being so idiotic, sipped some more lovely, lovely Pimm's, and calmed down. And stared fixedly at The Girl for the rest of the time we were on the beach.
But that thought stayed with me. And it irritated me. A lot. I kept thinking about various cases of missing children and what the parents must go through. And to know as well that thanks to the media and the internet, that every other person has a theory about what ‘really’ happened. And that some of them suspect you of being involved and/or responsible for their disappearance. Every person you meet knows who you are and what happened to you.
And then one night, I was arsing about on facebook, and there was a massively awkward argument going on between a husband and wife in my timeline. And I thought how sometimes social media makes relationships really bloody difficult, or in some cases, falter altogether. Hmm. Facebook. Bloody facebook.
And then another thought occurred to me, and I was so excited that I had to scribble it down, there and then.
I know I had that massive RANT the other day about bloody writers boring on about writing and word count and writing and how many words they’ve pissing written and how well it’s going and ooh, I LOVE MY WRITING! I promise I’m not going to turn into a book bore. But something’s happening and it feels like it’s writing itself. And no, I’m not letting anyone see it (in any case, it’s encrypted by virtue of my appalling handwriting. So nur).