Ember [Short Story]

Rain was knocking on the roof above Mary’s head. She leaned against her wardrobe looking into the distant vastness of the woods surrounding her parents’ home. Even though I was standing at the door, she seemed lonely, desperate and empty. She did not even turn her head. I still remember the first time we met. It was a day quite similarly rainy and depressing. We were both five years old and I was crying because I hated water. She came straight to me, gave me a warm smile and whispered silently into my ear: “Do not cry, I’m here for you,” while she hugged me. I was a stranger to her. She saw my desperation and started what would become the most important and long-lasting friendship I would ever experience.We went to school together, played together, went through ups and downs together. We have even gone to college together. But the way Mary is sitting there, soul-crushed and emotionless, breaks my heart as much as hers. She was so pale. I did not know what to do. She was like this for weeks now. It all started with her ex-boyfriend Steve. She met him on campus. They started dating for three weeks and then things started to get serious. At least that was what Mary thought would happen. While she was obsessively in love with him, he distanced himself increasingly and people saw him flirting with other girl.

Mary’s entire life was orbiting around this guy. While she thought him to be this bright shining star, he was nothing but a black hole. He treated her like garbage, used her to fulfill his dark pleasures and Mary went along with it because she was afraid to lose him. He was her first boyfriend. The first male soul to show interest in her that met her (pretty low) standards. Mary never was socially rich. She kept her circle small but fostered it with care and contribution.

I started noticing changes in her appearance, behavior and mood. And I saw him flirting, kissing and taking girls with him after parties. Mary wouldn’t listen to me. She didn’t listen to anyone. She distanced herself from close friends, then family, then me. My childhood hero and companion screamed at me that I should go to hell. “You don’t understand! He’s different when we’re alone! If you can’t stand Steve, I can’t have you around! He certainly doesn’t like you! He wants you out of my life and I totally get it now! Get the hell outta here!”

She never was one of the most mentally stable people, to be honest. Huge chunks of her teenage years were a little bit like the current situation. She never felt pretty, even though she was the most beautiful girl of them all. She never felt thoughtful, even though she was the most interesting and clever girl in school. She never felt worthy, even though her kind and honest nature deserved deep appreciation. Mary always was close to the dark side. But never like this. She was drugged, heavily underweight, lacked necessary sleep. After she found out about Steve sharing his bed with two of her best friends, the ember of hope within her eyes went out and the darkness that lurked deep beneath the surface overtook.

Her parents didn’t even notice. They always were obsessed with their work. In fact, they spent so much time working, they didn’t have any left to spend their money on. They always tried to compensate the lack of social interaction with and love for their daughter with expensive gifts that barely ever matched Mary’s style or taste.

I was the only person left. She tried to get rid of everyone in her social sphere while the relationship lasted. I was the only one who stuck around. I walked through the door and sat right next to her. “Mary,” I said, “You should seek out for help!” At first she didn’t seem to hear me, but at some point she responded: “There’s no point!” I grabbed her hand and told her: “There might not be a point for you, but please, I beg you! Come with me! I’ll take you to somebody who will help you. Somebody who will make things better!” A tear silently left my eye and slowly faded from my cheek into my beard. I stood up. She looked at me and didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to. Even now she cared about others more than about her broken self. I pulled her hand a little and she surrendered and rose as well.

I walked her to the clinic in the city center. It was quite a walk through the rain from the suburbs. At the counter was a lady. She looked at Mary and knew what was going on. It was hard not to see her misery. “How can I help you, sweety?” she asked in a warmth but worried tone. “My friend brought me here. He wants me to seek for help.” The lady raised her eyebrow: “And he left you on your own?” “No,” Mary responded, “he’s here, right next to me.” “Honey, there’s nobody next to you…” Mary turned her head and looked me in the eyes, then looked back at the lady. “Are you trying to fool me? Look! I’m holding his hand right now!” But all Mary really raised was her own empty hand shaped like it would be squeezed by another one. “He took me here because I’m depressed, lonely and drugged and I need help,” she cried in a steep burst of helplessness and tears.

A doctor came, he tried to calm her, gave her some medication. This was the moment I would forever disappear out of her life. I never noticed until now… I was her imaginary friend. Mary kept me since she was a little girl. I do not exist. She suffered from schizophrenia her entire life. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.

This short story is based on the following writing prompt from reddit:

[WP] After years of gentile persuasion your best friend since childhood finally agrees to seek professional help for serious mental problems. Much to your dismay, as she begins to improve you slowly start to realize that you are her imaginary friend.

BYThumbnail: Lonely… by Thomas Leuthard (CC BY 2.0)

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