An Old Friend by Gracie Motley
So I’m sitting in a coffee shop, nursing my unpronounceable milk and coffee drink. I’m at a table in the corner by the window, where the view is the busy street. Inside the shop, there are people reading newspapers or books, and others staring at laptops. Still others are having quiet conversations. Though the place is busy, the lunch crowd hasn’t descended yet. I’m people-watching, that’s all, thankful it’s my day off.
Suddenly I feel this ripple in the air in front of my little table. There’s a — well, I guess you could say it’s a woman, but there’s something… odd about her, in front of me. She stands there a moment, hands on hips, looking at me scornfully, and then she sits across from me, without even a by-your-leave.
I’m surprised enough to be speechless, so I stare at her while she stares back. She has this gold-orange hair, so thick and curly that ringlets surround her head in a nimbus, standing out at odd angles, as if her head is exploding, or the sun is shining out of it. Her pearly skin glows, and her coral lips would have that rosebud shape if they weren’t pursed in a frown. Her eyes are huge and green — no, brown — no, yellow like a cat’s — I think they’re actually changing color as I watch. That’s what’s weird about her, but that’s not all.
“Well?” Her voice is clear and pleasant and annoyed.
“Pardon me,” I say as politely as I can, “but who are you?” She rolls those eyes — purple? — and sighs impatiently.
“I’m Sunny, of course. And you’re Walter. It’s typical you don’t remember.”
I blink my confused eyes and say, “I think I’d remember if we’d ever met before… Sunny. Sorry, but I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
“Oh, for the Mother’s sweet love. I told the Assignment Committee when you were born that this would happen. I begged them to match me with a being with more imagination, like a rock in the desert, for example. But no, they insisted that you needed my particular talents the most. Well, you and I had a good time for a few years when you were little, but then you forgot me. And I’m tired of waiting for you to wake up.”
I look around at the other people nearby with their coffees, papers, and laptops. I imagine what they must think of her little speech, how she must be certifiable — that is, if they can make sense of what she says at all. But nobody even looks our way. It’s like they haven’t heard a word. It makes me wonder if I’m hallucinating or something.
Sunny knows what I’m thinking. She shakes her head, making her golden curls bounce. She blinks her turquoise eyes.
“So I’m taking matters into my own hands, and none too soon, apparently. Just look where you’ve ended up on your own. You even doubt what your own eyes tell you.”
My bewildered head is spinning now.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She laughs, and though the tone is mocking, it sounds like wind chimes tinkling, or water bubbling over rocks. I’ve heard that laugh before, but I couldn’t say where or when.
“Naturally you don’t. You’ve spent most of your life since you hit puberty shutting me out, forgetting me, trying to shape yourself to this civilized world. And just look what it’s gotten you.”
I rub my eyes, thinking I’m finally losing my mind. But when I put my hands back on the table, she’s still there, copper eyes, fiery hair and all.
“All right. Just tell me who you are exactly before I run screaming out of here, please.”
“Oh, if only. That would be a beginning, at least.”
She lays her hand on mine, and suddenly an image pops into my head. It’s me, no more than six or seven years old, and I’m climbing a tree in the park, following a little girl who’s my best friend. We’re laughing almost too hard to breathe, and my mom is yelling at me to get down, to be careful, I could break something if I fall. Funny how random memories pop out of nowhere at the strangest times.
I look up, and this Sunny looks so much like that little girl… what was her name… No, get a grip, Walter, it can’t be the same Sunny. My teacher told my mom back then that Sunny was an imaginary friend, perfectly normal for a kid my age, and I’d grow out of it. And I did.
“Some progress at last,” this Sunny says, and gives me a blue-eyed smile.
“You’re telling me you’re my imaginary friend?” I need to call my therapist.
“No, I’m not an imaginary friend, you dimwit. I’m your Muse, and you don’t deserve me. And if you don’t get a clue soon, I’ll leave you forever, and you can rot in this plodding routine you’ve stuck yourself in. But I’m contractually obligated to give you fair warning and one last chance to change things before I cut out.”
“You’re a… Muse? But I’m not creative. Just ask anyone who knows me.” Yet I’m remembering that art class in summer camp when I was ten. I’d won an award for a painting I did, and the teacher said I should pursue that talent. I used to paint all the time. I used to love color and shape and texture. But it was just a hobby. A guy has to make a living, after all. I haven’t picked up a brush or a tube of paint in… I can’t even remember how many years, now.
Sunny stands up, shaking her curls again. They’re so bright, so vivid, like sunlight on a crisp autumn day when all the trees are on fire with color. And those eyes are sad, flashing a deep moss green, now a rich dove gray…
“It’s your choice,” she says. “But I’ve got to go now.”
And she walks out the door. She leaves a smear of gold trailing in the air behind her.
I jump up and run after her. She’s waiting outside in the sunshine, and she smiles at me. We walk toward the park, and I think of an old oak tree there that I’d love to climb.
“You’re not always this grouchy, are you?” I ask.
She just laughs, and we break into a run.
Gracie Motley is a lover of speculative tales: fantasy in all forms, horror, ghost stories, science fiction. “I have been spinning tales such as these since I was nine years old. These have been for myself and for my closest friends.” Her fiction rich site is Crone’s Cauldron Productions.