Imaginary Friends

My imaginary friends judge me.

Don’t feel sorry for me. That first sentence should repulse you just by the way it’s placed. Look at it. All dramatic and lonely. I created my imaginary friends willfully as an adult, to cover-up my inability to lie when a man asked me, as a secret prerequisite of his for dating a woman, whether or not I had had any imaginary friends growing up. I would not answer yes to his question, but I would say I had imaginary friends, and then in my head I’d say, two seconds ago, because that is the extent to which my lying is believable; a half-truth or omission. What’s more is that I made up that man, and that date, and that prerequisite after witnessing a real man in a wool coat lean over a bar and fondle the tendrils of hair that a real woman seemed to place along her face so as to invite that exact act from that exact man.

I gotta get some imaginary friends, I thought, and maybe some tendrils.

Tina is a proud slut. In fact, she’d say there’s no such thing as a slut. She used to play with Ouija boards and ride horses before she found boys and cutting herself. She smells like cigarette smoke and grape jelly. She likes to use the words cunt and pussy whenever she gets the chance. She rolls her eyes and calls me a pussy when I tell the stylist I want natural-looking highlights. She tells on me to my other imaginary friends when I’ve said something kind or sentimental. Oh my God, she says, did you hear what she said? I’d rather punch myself in the cunt than listen to this pussy. She only says that because I heard a stand-up comedienne say that once.

Mac is like Tina only he’s a slut for his country. He smells like gunpowder only because my mind can’t conjure another smell for an ex-marine. He likes to use the word pussy a lot too, and I imagine Mac and Tina in a corner, huddled close together, touching each other’s lips while they whisper pussy, pussy, pussy. But really, they hate each other. If they knew I thought about them together, they’d be pissed. Mac likes to tell stories about how quickly he can disassemble and re-assemble his gun, or any gun really. If all he had was his finger and a rubber band to shoot, he would figure out a way to dismantle both, on a molecular level, and then put them back together again. He likes to comment on my inability to time anything correctly. According to him, the extra half-hour the chicken took to roast in the oven cost me an entire day somewhere down the line and that, ultimately, means a loss of an entire day of life, which then translates to a wasted life. It happens a lot with chicken. Chicken and grilled-cheese sandwiches.

Then there’s Krystal. She’s always happy and can’t understand why anyone would choose to be otherwise. I say she’s happy, but she’s not kind. She has no compassion for the unhappy, or more precisely, the unhappy do not exist for her. All she ever says to me is It’s a choice. She’s not willing to divulge any more information about happiness. I’m starting to think she doesn’t have any. She meditates eternally. She eats candy and poison to prove her point.

Reginald is a devout rationalist, if there is such a thing. He wears a monocle because I’m woefully ignorant of the refined, and he hates me for it. He has an English accent; another source of contention. If he had it his way, he’d be speaking Greek. I’ve explained to him that I wouldn’t know the difference between Greek and Italian but that only makes him hate me more. He doesn’t understand anything but logic. If A plus B does not equal C, then I’ve done something wrong. What’s more, I could never get it right in a million years because I just don’t have the background to solve the problem. And by background he means pedigree. Reginald hates his mother for bringing him into this disgusting world of flesh and clumsiness, but loves his father for beating him in order to expedite his learning of Latin.

Taj is a starving child. Whenever he sees me throw away anything he says I could eat that for you.

Then there are the triplets, Mary, Lucy and Gwennyth. As much as their mother tried to acclimate them to the outside world, bringing them lilies from the garden, pouring cool mountain water over their toes on a hot summer day, encouraging them, any of them, to take one bite of a warm black plum picked straight from the tree, she could never coax them to break out of the cauldron they created with their own language of grunting and screaming. They only know what they want to know, or what they can agree upon learning, which is nothing. They are the loudest of the lot. They scream at the top of their lungs when my chest hurts after a night of drinking and smoking, or when my daughter’s breathing is too shallow to witness from the doorway of her room. They are violent; they were put into a custom straitjacket to protect themselves from themselves. They are bound by canvas and their arms are intertwined with one another’s forever, and I wonder if they’re holding hands through the sleeves of the straitjacket or if they’re just pretending to.

The triplets disturb everyone. Even Krystal can’t hide her irritation. They came screeching through her meditation room once, and I saw her smile falter just at the corners of her mouth. When she exhaled, her teeth hissed out a word that I couldn’t understand, but the hiss was there for certain. Taj runs away from them, and Mac and Tina swear at them. Reginald has the most patience for them, but that’s not really saying much. He can stand them for all of two seconds before he starts cursing their mother. I think the reason everyone is unnerved by them is the irony of their image. They always come into the frame of vision from very far away. They look like they could be a small chorus of ballerinas, hands in hands in hands, listening to the same joyful music in each other’s heads while bouncing gracefully on their toes and heels. But as they come closer, it becomes clear that there is no reason to their movements. Someone’s always

trying to take control of the set. Gwennyth, the middle triplet, can inflict the most pain on the other two by sheer placement. She rips her sisters’ hair out with her teeth when she gets the chance, and bites their earlobes when she’s really emphatic about something. But while Gwennyth gives, she gets. Most of Lucy and Mary’s time is spent combating Gwennyth’s acts of force, which leaves Gwennyth scarred on both sides of her face and head. She’s missing the most hair, and has a more detailed account on her neck and cheeks of what happens to the skin when it is lacerated over and over again. But on occasion, Lucy and Mary argue with each other. The only means of expression from the distance Gwennyth’s body creates is spitting, and in those cases Gwennyth thrusts her head forward and backward to avoid the spray. They’ve fallen during these arguments, clunking their heads together on the way down. Each one of them is shocked to find themselves on the ground, and they murmur the word murmur and they cry the word cry until Gwennyth decides she’s angry enough to hoist the threesome back onto their feet; an act that then pushes Lucy and Mary to protest all over again. This is the cycle. I still don’t have tendrils, though.

 

Erin Osborne

About Erin Osborne

Erin Osborne's short fiction is currently appearing in the 2015 issue of NOON Annual. Her work has also appeared in Elhoi Gadugi, M Review and Habit. She lives in Beaverton, Oregon and is at work on a collection of stories.
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