When Aaron was five and a half he conjured up an imaginary friend. Unfortunately, after just one week Groucho, as he was called, began to doubt Aaron’s existence. Groucho could, at a stretch, concede he might, possibly, be the figment of a single being’s imagination – but he could not fathom the statistical improbability that, out of all the people on earth, he would ever run into his creator, and, even less likely, that it would be his only friend: a small boy named Aaron who liked to climb the neighbours’ fence but didn’t have enough moxie to climb down the other side.
Suffering from an identity crisis which would cripple any week-old imaginary friend Groucho left poor Aaron in search of answers, never to return.
Happiness in Aaron’s teenage years depended on the availability of one thing – not friends, not video games, not good report cards – just a box of Kleenex on his bedside table. This may be the time for authorial comment (read: disapproval) but Aaron’s happiness was genuine, and who am I to quibble? The author? His creator? Please. It's damp. The walls are damp, the floor is damp, my monitor is thrushed with water vapour. And probably-cockroaches scuttle beneath my keyboard, upset by these key strokes. They are probably-cockroaches not because they're probably there – oh, they are, believe me – but because I'm only pretty sure they're cockroaches as opposed to some other insect. The doubt is seeded by their size – they aren't the Cameo Crème-sized cockroaches in your nightmares (maybe they’ll be Aaron’s nightmares?) – they're smaller, seedlike. Juvenile specimens, ranging from the size of the ‘O’ on my keyboard to the entire backspace key. As they crawl out from under my pulsing spacebar, they look like they could grow up to be something else, some other kind of beetle. Maybe one could morph into a moth if it could build a cocoon. And perhaps, if these probably-cockroaches could only figure how, they could become something other than insects – a patch of lichen, an Alsatian, an mp3 player. But the thing is, for all their potential, they will just become bigger cockroaches, and that comforts me as I squash themfkajdagho ih fij e oijpewoijdeoj cwojoij
No. Aaron did not have nightmares, of cockroaches or otherwise. He was happy most of the time, and when not, he was patient, and soon enough he was happy again. He would go on to marry the fourth girl he slept with, and they remained married until he slept with his fifth. Not one for upheaval or seeing other people cry – Aaron was unhappy throughout the divorce proceedings, but knew that if he waited, happiness would one day return.
He was on his knees pulling up the ragwort and burdock which had appeared in the garden since Isabelle left. He knew weeds bothered his mother, and since she was the only one kind enough to come and visit him on his actual birthday, it was the least he could do. When he was halfway down the row of what used to be Isabelle’s azaleas, he realized he was wearing his good trousers. The weeding had been a whim, the vigour of which – had he actually changed his trousers – would have faded and been replaced by the need to straighten the fridge magnets or find his recording of Debussey’s Nocturnes which he knew his mother liked. Instead he was weeding the garden and muddying the knees of his good trousers.
Aaron slowed his movements down so the weeds would last until his mother arrived and the mud would be justified. He took the time to investigate each weed. As he inspected the leaves of an oxalis – the shape reminded him of a clover; the texture of a dried apricot – he became less and less sure this was in fact a weed. He was almost certain it had not been planted there, but was it really so bad? He liked the way the pinky-yellow five-petalled flowers reminded him of a propeller, but then he had never seen a five-pronged propeller before.
He thought about Groucho, his fleeting imaginary friend. He could be anywhere right now. No, more than that. He could be anything right now. Who’s to say that an imaginary friend doesn’t change with time, mature, evolve into something else? This seed of his imagination could now be a butterfly or a set of measuring spoons. Or the figment formerly known as Groucho could have taken root in someone else’s imagination, encouraged them the hold Jamie Love’s hand that day on the school bus, or suggested playing with that box of matches. Or he could have joined forces with other dislocated imaginary friends and formed a general misconception, like: you shouldn’t swim after eating.
Aaron looked down at his hands and realised he was pulling the petals from the oxalis. In the deep regret he felt, the sympathy for this probably-weed, he realised happiness was returning.
“Thank you, Groucho,” he said, looking up into the branches of the neighbours’ blue gum.
“Who are you talking to, Aaron?”
His mother had arrived. She made him change his pants, but it didn’t matter. Happiness was already at work, glazing over the bad, the annoying, the regrettable, and turning even the most floury fruit into candy apples. Now – even if his keyboard and shirt pockets and coffee mugs were full of cockroaches – Aaron could see the wonder in a nightmare. He saw the wonder when his house was flooded and when his second wife was concussed by a falling tree branch. When his kidneys failed and he had to be hooked up to a dialysis machine. When there was a power cut and the batteries failed and he slipped away wearing the biggest smile you would ever see.