Imaginary Friends

There are eight of them this gray day, in the familiar common room with its fading flower print wallpaper; some sitting quietly lost in their thoughts, some with busy hands knitting or crocheting items that may or may not be worn by great-grandchildren, nieces or nephews who sometimes visit.

At six feet two in a sensible shoe, she towered over most teachers and all the students navigating the halls of her junior high school. With her head of tight orange curls and freckled skin, the sun had always been her enemy and mother had kept her inside, in the shade or covered from head-to-toe throughout her childhood. She never married. She has no children, grand children or great-grandchildren to make things for, so they are used to her silent, luminescent presence. Now, slumped in a wheelchair, her head topped with thinning blue-white pin curls and a face far more youthful than her years; unable to stand, not even sure of her height anymore, she suddenly interjects in her still strong voice, that: “As a child, I had an imaginary friend who used to get me into so much trouble.”

One head snaps up so quickly from the knitting in her lap that it startles another next to her who had been nodding off, and their eyes lock briefly, agree silently that “I always knew she was the crazy one”, before fixing their gaze on the speaker, who now has their full attention.