In Sunshine And In Shadow
“Come on Danny Boy.” Jane lifted him off the swing. “Time to go home for tea.”
“I’m not Danny Boy, I’m Adrian.” he protested.
“I know darling. It’s a pet name.” She began to sing softly, as much to herself as to him. “Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling From glen to glen and down the mountain side.”
“Come on Robin we’re going home now.” The little boy called to an empty swing. “Time for our tea.”
Jane frowned and stopped singing. Adrian was their only child and a lonely boy she admitted to herself. They had wanted several children but after Adrian was born the specialist had informed them there should be no more. Bluntly, having another child would kill you. She had the sterilization operation a few weeks later and that was that.
Jane knew that she spoiled Adrian He had every toy and plaything he could wish for and she lavished time and attention on him. She had not returned to work after he was born and had resisted sending him to nursery class. “School will come soon enough.” she told her husband,” He’s the only baby I’ll ever have and I want to enjoy every minute of him.”
She couldn’t remember when Robin first arrived. Adrian was a little boy, about three and a half when he started to talk to an imaginary friend. Adrian would come to her when she was busy cleaning or preparing food and ask if his friend could come to play. She had joined in the game. “Of course darling. As long as he behaves himself.”
The game became more elaborate.
“Robin’s knocking on the door,” he would tell her, “He wants you to let him in to play with me.”
She entered into the spirit, opening the door on an empty hallway. “Come in Robin. Wipe your shoes on the mat. You’ve got mud on them.”
Sometimes that was sufficient, sometimes Adrian would correct her. “He’s not wearing shoes. He’s got wellies on.”
She humored him because she knew he was lonely and felt guilty that she had kept him to herself.
Adrian would play with his toys and talk half to himself and the imaginary friend. “Come on. Let’s play cars. You can have this green one.”
Sometimes something would get knocked over or a toy would be broken.
Robin was blamed.
“He’s broken this and he says he doesn’t care. He’s a naughty boy.”
Jane indulged him and sometimes scolded the imaginary friend. “That’s it Robin. Go home now. We don’t allow bad behavior in this house. ” She would hold the door open and Adrian, serious faced, would watch her solemnly. “Robin’s cross.”
When she gave Adrian his morning milk and biscuit, Robin had to have one too. She laughed about it with her husband.
“Cunning little devil.” he smiled, ” I used to have an imaginary friend when I was a kid. Runs in the family.”
“He is cunning.” Jane laughed. “I never see him eat the biscuits.”
Sometimes Jane became a little anxious that the game was getting too real. She would place the usual two biscuits on his play table and he would eat his but the other was left. “Didn’t Robin want his?” she found herself asking.
“No.” he answered,” Robin says he doesn’t like that kind of biscuit. He likes biscuits with chocolate on.”
“Oh does he.” she laughed,” Well he can whistle for one.” The reply stunned her.
“Robin says whistling is bad luck.”
One afternoon after his snack she called him for his afternoon nap.
“I’m busy playing with Robin.” he told her.
“He needs his nap too.” she responded, playing the game again.
“Robin doesn’t need naps.” Adrian replied. “He doesn’t go to bed.”
“He must sleep sometime.” she chided him. “He can’t stay awake all night.”
“He does. That’s when he’s busy. Doing things.” Adrian said and she let the matter drop. That night she told her husband what he had said and was relieved when he laughed.
“He’s lonely love. He’s got a vivid imagination. The poor lad has no friends, no company of his own age. I told you I had an imaginary friend. My mother used to tease me about him when I was older. Take him out more. It’s only six months before he starts school and this Robin thing will disappear then, you’ll see. Don’t play the game with him. It’s time he started to grow up.” He poured himself another glass of wine and topped her glass up.” Don’t fret yourself. It’ll be ok. Robin will just go away.”
The next day she decided to take some action of her own. Adrian came to her when she was ironing and said Robin was at the door.
“Can’t you hear him knocking?” he asked. “He wants you to let him in.”
She went to the door and called to the empty air. “Sorry, you can’t come in today. We’re busy. We’re going to the park, just me and Adrian.” She shut the door firmly, not sure what she expected Adrian to say.
“Robin’s very cross with you. He says you don’t like him and he thought you’d be his mummy but you won’t be.”
She unplugged her iron and took his hand. “I don’t care what Silly Billy thinks because he’s not real. He’s not really there. Now darling let’s put our coats on and go to the swings.”
It was his favorite treat. Robin was forgotten and they set off for the park.
It was a glorious, bright, Spring afternoon. The sunshine lit up the daffodil beds, the air was mild, the sky blue and clear. Children ran shrieking and laughing from the swings to the slide to the mini roundabout.
Adrian joined them, reveling in their riotous company. “Look, Mummy” he called,” I can go down the slide.”
“Yes. Be careful darling.” she replied.
She sat on a bench chatting to the mother of the two little girls who were vying who could swing the highest, keeping half an eye on Adrian as they talked He had climbed the steps and shot down several times but even as she watched him, he suddenly seemed to wobble on the top of the slide and then he fell, dropping like a stone and landing on his head. She screamed in her shock and ran to him. He was pale, very pale, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow. The young woman she had been talking to was already calling an ambulance.
The next twenty four hours were a nightmare.
Adrian was taken to the hospital, admitted and examined by several doctors. X rays revealed that there was no fracture or damage to his skull. A doctor assured her that he had only a mild concussion. “Children bounce” he joked, but they kept him in overnight and she stayed with him. They found her a parent room but she couldn’t sleep. The next day a different doctor told her that they were discharging him.
“All the tests are normal. He’s a bit bruised and a little subdued but he’s fine. If he complains of headaches or if he seems excessively sleepy, bring him to A and E, but I’m certain that won’t be necessary.”
“But he’s hardly talking to me, doctor.” she said. “When I speak to him, he doesn’t say anything.”
“The nurse said he was a very quiet. It’s most likely shock. It will have been quite a trauma, falling off the slide, being in hospital. It’s not uncommon for this sort of reaction. When he’s home in familiar surroundings he’ll be better, I’m sure.”
She felt a little reassured and went to gather Adrian’s things. I expect they think I’m an overanxious, possessive mother. she thought.
In the car she drove carefully through the lunchtime traffic, glancing frequently in the mirror, watching him on the back seat. Apart from being pale and the bruise on his forehead, he seemed alert as normal. He looked from side to side out of the window watching things they passed.
She pulled the car onto the drive, parked and lifted him out of the back seat, carrying him in her arms like a baby, into the house, up the stairs and into his bedroom. She sang gently to him as she walked.
“Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling,
From glen to glen and down the mountain side.
The summer’s gone and all the roses falling.
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.”
Reaching his room, she laid him gently on the bed, stroked his hair, and covered him with a blanket. “I’ll get you some milk and a biscuit, Adrian.” she said, turning to the door. “Is it nice to be back home in your own little bed?”
The voice that replied was different – childlike but with an adult timbre, soft, sibilant, slightly menacing, and when she looked at him the eyes were cold and stared through her, making her neck tingle and sending spasms down her spine.
“I’m not Adrian.” he hissed. “He’s gone. I’m Robin. Robin’s back mummy and this time I’m going to stay.”