Imagination is important. It means everything to a child, though it tends to be left behind as we grow up. We never loose that imagination though, it’s just forgotten, and on lonely nights it reaches out to us again, desperate to comfort us in moments of sadness.
So maybe, like me, you wish you could go back to such places. Then lets have a look at someone else who never even thought to wish of such a thing. Take our gaze away from the stars and drop down through the deep blue of the night sky. As we sink through the atmosphere, becoming encased in the purple glow of city lights, we see the roofs of a suburb spreading out before us and even at this late hour streams of cars driving along wide stretches of road.
We are headed for number fifty-four, you might have a hard time picking it out as the houses here are uniform in their construction but if we slow down for a moment we can see in the window a stuffed rabbit doll. This is Clive, affectionately named by Lucy, the girl whose bedroom we find ourselves outside of. As for Lucy herself, she is lying in bed doing a fair impression of sleeping soundly.
Sadly, if we were to step inside the room and brush Lucy’s hair away from her face we would see the shimmering lines of tears slipping down her cheek and soaking into her pink, floral pillow. Listen, the sound of hushed voices, just audible through the gaps of the whitewashed door. Let us step to the side of Lucy’s bedroom and pass through the wall of the house into the hallway, here we will find the source of Lucy’s tears.
It’s her mother and father, they speak with hushed voices. They’re arguing again but they don’t wish to wake Lucy, unaware that they already have. Too late! A creak has come from her bedroom, Lucy has rolled over and tried to cover her ears with her pillow. The parents have heard this and blame each other. For a brief moment the hush is ignored and words that should never be said are shouted.
Shortly Dad dismisses Mum with a wave of his hand and clunks down the stairs. Mum shouts after him, then after a few moments of silence she’ll stand outside of her daughter’s bedroom, arms folded, fighting back the tears.
If we wait here for an hour, when Mum has returned to her room and the lights have been switched off, we will see Lucy’s door open cautiously. The girl will step out snug in her red coat, and wearing her child sized backpack. She’ll slide her feet across the floor until she reaches the stairs and then she will tiptoe down.
Lucy knows to keep silent downstairs as she passes the door to the lounge where Dad will be asleep on the sofa. She’s used to him being there in the mornings, he’ll usually stir at her presence and beckon her to sit with him giving her a cuddle and apologising for the way he acted the night before.
Unbeknownst to Lucy tonight was no exception and Dad stirred as she passed. But he will miss her passing and instead hear the quiet click of the front door shutting. Rousing himself from the sofa in a drowsy state he’ll lurch towards the front door. In a breathless panic Dad will emerge onto the street cursing the cold as he realises he is barefoot.
He soon forgets this though as he sees Lucy disappearing round a far corner, she’s headed in the direction of her school he thinks and pads after her, his pace slowed by the rough pavement.
Dad wasn’t always Dad, as you might have guessed. He’d come to think of himself as Dad and every time Lucy called him Dad, though he loved her, it chipped away at his sense of self. He had little ability to think of himself as anything more than Dad. Than the man who looked after his daughter, the old man who went to work everyday in a boring job in order to support his family.
Sometimes Dad reminisces about being a kid and his imagination returns briefly. He remembers pretending he was a pirate and a cowboy, he used to keep a toy gun strapped to his waist all day, he still had it, somewhere, in the attic. As he’d grown up his ambitions had changed to more sensible things, a doctor, an astronaut or fireman. Now, he was a builder.
The school loomed into view, it was surprisingly bright as a full moon was shining a pale blue sheen across everything. Dad arrived just in time to see Lucy slip around the side of the red brick building. He hurried his pace, he was long past running and hadn’t been in shape for years.
Round the back of the building was the cemented playground and beyond that was the playing field. The field was covered in clusters of wild dandelions that looked like stray cobwebs strewn across the grass. Far past this silvery screen in a remote corner was what the school ambitiously called their nature reserve. It was a pond, surrounded by a ring of reeds. Lucy was kneeling next to it. Dad began his approach and as he got closer he noticed some tiny figures floating near Lucy.
She seemed to be talking to them and in the dark Dad began to think they must be fairies, but as he got closer he saw that what he had thought were wings were in the fact petals of flowers. Then, all of a sudden, Lucy fell head first into the pond. Dad yelled out her name and ran after her, ignoring the stones that cut into his feet.
He reached the pond and shoved his arms under frantically trying to grab Lucy and pull her free. His hands slipped over smooth, algae covered rocks and grabbed fistfuls of underwater plant life. Dad didn’t know what to do, the pond should not have been deep enough to cover Lucy completely, he couldn’t believe her whole body had disappeared.
He looked around him and saw the flowers Lucy had been talking to. A frog sat beside him. He guessed it had leapt free from the pond before Lucy or himself had disturbed it. Dad left the frog watching him and got up, circling the pond he looked around him, searching, hunting desperately for a clue as to what had happened to Lucy. He’d almost given up, Lucy had disappeared like magic.
“Where’s she gone?” he mumbled in desperation.
“Looking for someone?”
Dad turned, trying to find the source of the voice.
“I’m down here.” It was the frog, standing on its hind legs it gave a deep bow. “Greetings.” Its voice was naturally croaky.
“Who-What are you?”
“I’m a fairie.”
“No you’re not!?”
The frog looked indignant at this, and in a rather hurt voice it said, “I am! I was only trying to help.” The frog folded its fore legs together and turned away. “Good luck finding your daughter.”
“I-I’m sorry,” Dad knelt next to the frog. “Do you know what happened to her?”
The frog turned back to Dad and peered at him for a moment, judging whether his apology was good enough. Finally it said, “I do know.”
“Where is she?”
“In the pond.”
“But I can’t see her, she’s disappeared.”
“You’re not looking right, go on, look at the pond again.” Dad was nervous about following the orders of a frog, but it was worth a try, after all if he was having a breakdown then it had already happened and he couldn’t get any worse than seeing a talking frog.
The surface of the water reflected his face clearly and he could see the wrinkles gathering around his eyes and the grey flecks poking out of his ragged stubble. Behind his head the moon lingered and was soon eclipsed as a large shadow loomed behind him. He turned in shock and saw the frog had swelled to human size and with a gleeful “After you!” it shoved him into the pond.
Dad gasped as the cold water enveloped him and in the distance the moon became obscured and wobbly through the film of murky water.
He still dreamed of being a fireman sometimes. He’d tell himself he wanted a worthwhile life, to know that he was helping others and saving lives, and in part that was true. But what he wanted more was the attention, to imagine himself on one of those charity calendars and to walk down the street and receive smiles from all the women he came across. He’d never been unfaithful to his wife and he didn’t think he ever would be, but the truth was he wished he had been led by temptation, whether he refused it or not.
His back gently hit the bottom of the pond and unwillingly he open his mouth to inhale. It was air he inhaled, not water. He opened his eyes and saw daylight filtered through a forest canopy. Rolling to his side he pushed himself up off the grassy ground and brushed himself down. He was not wet.
“Let me help you up,” said a woman stretching a slender arm towards him. She rested her other hand against a tree trunk and had her bare feet resting on the knots of the tree’s roots. She was dressed in, what appeared at first to be clothes made of leaves and flowers but as she stepped closer Dad was able to see that it was only a pattern on her dress.
“You’re not wearing shoes,” he said. The woman glanced to her feet then smiled.
“I like to feel the ground beneath my feet, don’t you?” Dad was too aware of the tiny cuts his feet had suffered as he chased after Lucy and at that thought he remembered why he was there.
“Who are you?”
“I guess you don’t remember me, but I remember you Michael.” Dad felt an unfamiliar sensation at the sound of his name.
“How’d you know my name? Forget it, have you seen a little girl?”
“Yes!! Where is she!?”
“She’s a lovely girl Michael.”
“Have you seen her!” he shouted.
“She’s with Clive in the clearing, that way,” the woman pointed into the forest.
“Clive?” Dad said remembering Lucy’s stuffed rabbit doll, then panic squeezed tightly at his heart and without waiting for an answer he ran in the direction the woman had pointed. His girl was with a strange man, an unhinged man if he was anything like that woman, he was fearful for his daughter’s safety and possibly, a dark thought entering his mind, of her chastity.
As he ran through the forest, rapidly losing energy and heaving as his lungs squealed in desperation for air, he looked back on his useless trips to the gym. It all harked back to his impossible dream of being a fireman, he’d get into the mood for it every month or so and for one week he’d go to the gym diligently. But at the end of that week he’d despair and give it up. His wife never knew, he was too embarrassed to admit it, he’d even set up a private bank account for his subscription so she’d never find out.
He had to reach his daughter as soon as possible, so he tried to focus on running, telling himself over and over again that he could do it. He imagined if he’d kept at the gym, that if he was in shape this would be a breeze and as he stumbled wildly into a clearing he didn’t notice that his belly had receded and that his breathing had evened out faster than it should.
But then his attention was drawn to the rabbit in the clearing. It was seated at a picnic bench outside a small hovel, which was presumably its home, and sipping from a cup of tea. Resting on the bench in front of it was a carrot cake from which a small group of fairies were grabbing crumbs and nibbling at them. I should also mention that the rabbit was dressed in a blue shirt and baggy shorts.
“Clive?” ventured Dad.
The rabbit turned its head to look at Dad, “Yes? That’s me.”
Dad picked his way through the undergrowth towards the bench but as he did so the rabbit seemed to shrink somewhat and its clothes fell about until it poked its head out from beneath the blue shirt. Nose wiggling it seemed suddenly unable of speech and ignored Dad as a normal rabbit would. He looked to the bench and saw the fairies had been replaced with flowers strewn about the cake.
“Do you still forget Michael?” The woman had followed him and she emerged from the edge of the clearing.
“You said my daughter was here.”
“Then you should ask Clive where she has gone,” the woman replied walking towards him.
“But he’s just a rabbit.”
“Nothing is just something here Michael. Your daughter realised that, she imagined Clive and there he was. You can too.”
“Just imagine?” said Michael tentatively.
“Yes.” Michael looked at the rabbit, now attempting to chew its way through the shorts, he focused on it and concentrated. But he couldn’t see it as being anything more than a rabbit.
“This is nonsense,” Dad said, knowing that his eyes had been playing tricks on him before, this was just some prank he thought.
“You can do it Michael, you imagined me remember,” the woman reached out a hand and caressed his cheek. “You used to save me from being tied up by pirates. And whenever One-eyed Steve kidnapped me you rescued me. If ever I was in trouble you were my hero.”
“Where’s here?” asked Michael.
“It’s wherever you want it to be,” the woman replied.
“You’re Lucy’s father?” It was the voice of Clive, his vocal capabilities had somehow been restored.
“Yes, where is she?”
“I sent her home already, it didn’t take long for her to miss her parents.” The rabbit said, he began pulling on his clothes. “I can show you the way home too.”
Michael looked around him, at the forest, at the faeries on the table at the woman before him and he imagined it all as it could be. Taking hold of the woman’s hand Michael said, “No, I’d like to stay.”