I was able to participate in the Word Count Podcast again. To listen to the show, click here
The theme was: the urn you bought at a garage sale still had ashes in it. Here is my story, Imaginary Friends.
“Tyler! Would you slow down!” I shouted at my four year old who was running circles around the sofa. “You're going to hurt yourself or break something.”
“Tag!” he shouted happily, reaching into thin air.
“Playing with Joseph again?” I asked, referring to his imaginary friend.
“Yep! No! Don't tag me!” He ran faster, skidding into the kitchen and stopping at my feet. “Can Joseph and I have a snack?”
I shook my head. Tyler was bright; his imaginary friend had more depth than most other kids. I'd asked at the day care he went to part time, but apparently he only played with 'Joseph' when he was at home.
“No, sweetie, supper'll be ready any minute now.”
“Okay.” Unperturbed he raced back into the living room.
“Joseph, Joseph, bo-boseph, banana, fana, fo-foseph, me mi, mo-moseph. Joseph.”
I came around the corner from where I'd been reading the paper. “Tyler? Did you learn that in daycare?”
“No. Joseph taught me. Tyler Tyler bo-byler, banana fana fo-fyler, me my mo-myler. Tyler!”
The name game. The song was old when I was little. Where did Tyler learn it? I sipped my coffee and watched him play, still with Joseph. They sang Mom and Dad and Trudy, his favourite among the daycare staff.
“Mom? Did you want to play with us?” Tyler noticed me still watching.
“No, you seem to be having fun. I'll make us some sandwiches for lunch, okay?”
“Okay.” He smiled and went back to his game, picking some other names from daycare.
“TYLER!” I ran from the kitchen to grab the large urn from the mantle. Tyler stood on chair beside the fire place and had practically crawled along the mantle. “You could have broken that!”
He jumped down, unphased. “But I wanted to play with Joseph.”
I sighed. “Then why did you want this?” I asked, holding it out toward him. It was a beautiful piece I'd happened upon at a garage sale years ago.
“Joseph lives in there.”
I sighed and tried to keep calm. He was only a child. He didn't know that his friend was imaginary. A quick count of ten and I saw humour in the situation. “Is he a genie? He lives in a bottle?”
Tyler pouted. “No-o, he isn't a genie. He doesn't grant wishes. He's just my friend.”
“Ah, so I can open this and show you no one lives inside? There's nothing inside, see?” I pulled off the top and pointed it toward him.
He looked up at me with what must have been one my exasperated expressions. I almost laughed to see it on his little face. “You tell me I can't bring dirt in the house. I'll just put it in a bottle next time, too.” He turned and trotted off.
Dirt? I tilted the urn back to look inside.
“Oh, my God.” There were ashes in the bottom of the urn. Who would sell an urn that still had ashes in it? I put the lid back on carefully and set it in it's place. I had a frightening idea who 'Joseph' might be. Was it possible Tyler could see and hear ghosts?
“Tyler?” I called when I was fairly certain he was 'playing' with Joseph. “What does Joseph look like? Is he a boy like you?”
“No-o,” he said. “He old, older than dad.”
I nodded. “I see. Can you ask Joseph a question for me?”
His withering look made me chuckle. I really had to stop making faces like those. “He can hear you, Mom.”
“Good,” I said quietly. “Joseph, where would you like us to spread your ashes?”
“No!” Tyler jumped up and ran to me, hugging my legs. “Don't make Joseph go away! He's my friend.”
I squatted down and hugged Tyler, smoothing his hair. “It's okay, sweetie. It doesn't have to be today. I'll wait until you can't see Joseph anymore. When you grow up.”
He sniffed and nodded and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Okay. But not until then!”
“I promise. Now, where would Joseph like go? And is he happy on our mantle?”
Tyler giggled and I took that as a yes for the second question. “He says he'd like to stay here. Maybe in our yard under the tree.”
I nodded. “Thank you, Tyler. You have fun with Joseph. And Joseph, don't play so roughly,” I said with a smile. “You two are going to break something yet.”
Tyler turned back to me instead of running to play. “Can you put the urn down lower?” he asked, pointing to the mantle.
“Of course I can,” I said, setting it on the hearth instead of the mantle. “Just be careful with it,” I reminded him.
“I will, Mom! You're it!” he called and ran around the couch, away from the ghost I couldn't see. How long would Tyler hold onto his imaginary friend? How long would he believe in ghosts? I hoped Joseph would be ready when that time came.
I felt an odd breeze through the house and with it came a sense of peace. In that moment, I knew Joseph was happy. Not for the first time, I admired the urn, shiny inlays and patterned ceramic. I was glad I'd bought it.