A memory

It has been eleven long years since I have seen her and I wait in silent, excited anticipation for the doorbell to ring. As I perch on the edge of my bed, restless, my eyes flicker to the purple spine of a Shirley Barber book tucked in the far corner of my bookshelf. Suddenly unable to resist myself, I ease it from its resting place – brushing away a thin cover of melancholy dust – and lay it gently on my lap. Slowly, I turn to the first page. A line of glittering fairies. A tall, golden castle. A bright, shimmering sea, flooded with the dreams of childhood fantasies. I smile at the memory...  

We are five – Olivia and I. In the car, listening to the quiet banter between her and her mother, I am filled with the innocent excitement of a child visiting a friend’s house for the first time. When we get there, however, I am surprised. Her house is small and dark with a rusting, corrugated roof. The windows are grimy. There is no garden.

However, these thoughts slip from my mind as Olivia beckons me inside, her curly hair an erratic frame around her delicate, pale face. ‘Come on!’ she urges, one hand still buried deep in the pocket of the colourful woolly jersey she always wears. Her glasses are wide, gleaming pools that reflect the light of childish creativity that shines from her eyes.

An hour later I find myself listening... ‘And the fairies danced across the shimmering waters...’ she recites from the purple book clasped in her small hands. She pauses then and looks at me expectantly. I dutifully walk across the blue fabric set out on the floor between the old, worn sofa and the coffee table that is still sprinkled with the remnants of our afternoon tea. While I cannot quite puzzle out quite how the dirty blue cloth represents a ‘shimmering sea’, I play along because, even at five, I can see that Olivia has left her small, grimy living room behind and, taking me with her, has joined Shirley Barber’s fairies dancing across the playful waves of their shining sea of dreams...

The ring of the doorbell startles me out of my memory. Excited once more, I fly to the door and open it wide. Then, I take in the slender figure standing before me and frown slightly. The girl at my doorstop is not Olivia. She cannot be. Her dark hair is straight and pretty. Limp. She is not wearing glasses but, instead, is dressed low cut singlet top with tight jeans. There is no spark in her eyes, none of the childish creativity I remember. Later, I learn that she has a boyfriend.

When Olivia has gone, when I finally close the door behind her fast retreating figure, I realise something. Sometimes, people change. Sometimes, people grow up and leave you behind with nothing but forgotten crumbs from an afternoon tea long ago. But then, as I return to my room and replace the purple book on my bookshelf, I decide something: the Olivia I remember will always have curly hair, glasses and an untameable imagination. And, together, we will fly with the fairies across the distant memory of a shimmering, shining, sea.

The End

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