Alicia had such a good imagination that she had an imaginary friend that everyone could see. She always dressed her in the same outfit as she wore herself and had her carry just a tiny bit more weight, most noticeable on her face. She called her Dominica and for 3 years I thought they were twins.
We both – all – sat in the back row of the classroom in Hawthorn Road school. Alicia was my best friend from year 3 until year 6, when my parents moved to Dartford after Dad got promoted. When we drove to our new home I remember trying to be brave and then sobbing all the way through the tunnel which felt like driving out of one world and into another.
Sometimes we went back to Salisbury to visit Grandma and if there was time, I was allowed to visit Alicia. Once I stayed a weekend and Alicia came over to tea. Grandma let us eat on our own so we could ‘catch up’ and I set the table for 3. I was allowed to open the door to greet her and as her mum drove off I asked, “Where’s Dominica?”
“Oh, I don’t need her anymore,” she said.
“Did you argue then?” I asked.
“No, I just stopped imagining her.”
I giggled. “Yeah like it’s that easy. I wish I could get rid of Daniel by just not thinking about him.” Daniel was 6 and my little brother, who thought everything I owned should be drawn on, blown up or stuffed under his bed.
“No, not by not thinking of her. Not imagining her. I made her up.”
“No you never,” I said. “How could you?”
“She was my imaginary friend. I invented her.”
“But we could see her. Everyone in the class could. She sat at the end, then you, then me, then funny Margaret.” All the misfits together, I thought to myself.
“Most of the class couldn’t see me, let alone her.” She looked much older than 12 for just a minute. “You could see her, and Margaret could. I think the teachers could, but they forgot about her because she wasn’t on the register. When I came to school nobody was my friend, so I made her up so I did have one. The more I imagined her, the more real she was and then other people could see her too.”
“I know we didn’t have lots of friends but you can’t do that. It’s not possible.”
“Did you ever see her without me? Or hear her speak?” Alicia smiled, spread her fingers on the table and said, “I imagined her but now I have some real friends so I don’t need her.”
“Don’t you miss her?” I said.
“Not really. If I do, I just bring her back. Takes a while but if I think hard enough she’ll be there.”
“Do it now. So I can see her again too. I miss her sometimes.”
“It doesn’t work like that. If I’m just think about her I have to remember her. To make her real again I have to have this weird feeling in here. And here. Like I’m hungry, but not for food.” She pointed to her stomach and her heart.
Driving back to Dartford I felt sad missing my friend all over again. As we approached the tunnel, I wanted to cry. It was sucking us out of the old world again and delivering us into the new one. I felt sad and empty inside and I hoped my parents didn’t notice as a tear ran down my cheek.
I felt a hand take mine and squeeze it, just once. Daniel was asleep with his head on the side window and between us sat Dominica. As we reached the end of the tunnel and it got lighter, she squeezed my hand a second time, smiled and faded away.
Dad glanced in his mirror and said “I must be going mad Megan. I thought you’d kidnapped Alicia and had her in the back with you. Just for a second.”
“No,” I said. “It’s not Alicia. Maybe it’s your imagination.”