Every day in autumn and spring, their little girl would skip up the sidewalk from the bus stop, her purple and white butterfly backpack bouncing behind her. She always came through the green front door to say hi to her mother before heading straight for the back door.
“How was your day?” Mother would ask. She would reply, “Fine.” By fine, she really meant, “same as usual,” but then she never told her mother much about her “usual” day at school. Every day she’d ride the grimy yellow school bus 543 to her school, a low building spread out like an X. She’d shuffle reluctantly into to her colorful class with cutouts of fish and inspirational posters, and she’d sit to read silently while the other kids participated in reading out loud, “A… bird… flew… on… to… a… lamp… post.” At recess, she would wander off by herself, sometimes watching the other girls play games like “house.” She had tried to play with them once. She found the game boring and clichéd, and the girls found her weird. She wanted to play games with adventures and troublemaking goblins. The girls have avoided her since then.
“Do you have homework?” Mother always called. Most times she was found sitting on the dull blue sofa in the living room reading, or in the kitchen with her afternoon tea.
“I’ll do it outside,” was always the answer before the girl entered the backyard.
Their backyard was a lavished garden boxed in by a low, black fence with spear tips. Beds of white summer snapdragons accompanied by baby blue eyes, pink balsam circled by yellow evening primrose, and silvery dusty millers framing the violet beauty berries were separated by stone pathways. Along the fences were red roses, puffy hydrangeas, and a few dogwood trees that developed elegant maroon and indigo leaves in autumn. Flower pots of red and gold blood flowers, miniature roses, and signet marigolds were scattered along the pathways. At the very center of this expensive paradise was a small fountain with a statue of a naked angel, his arms cradling a bottle of champagne from which the water spilt.
Angel had curly hair and chubby, cheerful features. His fountain was circled by a bed of pink bleeding hearts and low marble benches. Every day the little girl sat down on the bench directly in front of the statue. She’d sit with her back to Angel to do homework, or she’d face him and talk to him. Angel had lots to tell her. She liked to tell her parents at the dinner table the jokes and stories Angel told of the world inside his stone shell. Mother would smile, asking, “And what did Angel say next?” or “How is our angel this evening?” Father on the other hand always sat silently, chewing forcefully on his food hoping to ignore his daughter’s excitement over an imaginary friend.
Sometimes the child would take out paper and colored pencils to draw with her angel. He liked to pose for her. Other times she would bring out cards, imagining Angel was playing with her. She’d sometimes take her baby doll out with her to play with in the garden before the angel. She liked to pretend Angel was blessing them both with fantastical powers. A lot of the girls at her school played with baby dolls too, but even though their daughter had a cute, lacy doll, she wasn’t friends with any of them.
Every evening, Father would walk in through the front door, kiss Mother hello, and go straight to the back door to watch his little girl. He never went out into the garden to say hi. The beauty of the garden would slowly disintegrate as he watched his daughter talk eagerly and play with no one. He’d rub his temple and stare uneasily at the angel. That grin wasn’t cheerful at all to Father. He’d shake his head and walk away, afraid to interrupt his child’s play.
One evening after dinner he turned to Mother and inquired, “What’s wrong with our daughter?” She looked up from her wine and cocked her head, “What do you mean?” He waved his hand, “She always goes outside and talks to that fountain. Meanwhile she doesn’t talk to anyone at school like that. What’s wrong with her?”
His wife sighed and relaxed her shoulders, “My Lord, there’s nothing wrong with her. It’s normal to have imaginary friends.”
“She’s seven,” Father persisted. His wife just shook her head, “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a game. At least she’s outside.”
Father closed his eyes and pressed his hands against the dining table, “I had a nightmare last night.”
“I know,” Mother chuckled good-naturedly, “You woke me up.”
He rubbed the back of his neck, “Our daughter was playing in front of the fountain again. But then I think her games and the angel started coming to life. It’s like our world morphed into hers. God it was creepy! The angel’s eyes lit up and he was giggling. It was like an angel out of hell.”
His wife sighed, “You’re overreacting.” If he heard her, Father didn’t say. He instead headed for the stairs, ending the conversation, sorry he started it. Mother looked down into her wine calling after him, “It was just a dream. Nothing bad will happen.”