The Seeing Kind
by Sandra Arnold
Lucy became aware of the existence of the watchers at the same time she became aware of the existence of her mother. Just as she was able to recognise her own mother in a group of strangers, she was able to recognise her own watchers, even the ones who were barely there like the reflections you see in shop windows. None of this needed commenting on or questioning any more than it would have occurred to her to ask her mother why she looked the way she did and not like the woman next door.
In her first year at school no one took much notice when she chattered away to the empty spaces around her, but by the time she was seven some of her classmates were calling her weird. When the class teacher brought Lucy and her mother in to discuss this, Lucy’s mother looked surprised and said she’d never noticed Lucy talking to herself. Lucy piped up that she didn’t talk to herself. The teacher smiled patiently and gave her mother the name of a good psychologist.
Lucy listened to the psychologist telling her mother it was common for children to have pretend companions, especially those without siblings, and there was no need to worry and she would grow out of it. This gave Lucy her first inkling of why her classmates called her weird. From this she extrapolated the astonishing fact that other people didn’t know they had watchers of their own. While the psychologist talked to her mother about imaginary friends, his own watchers listened and smiled at the watchers clustered around her mother. One of them winked at Lucy and made her chuckle, which made the psychologist glance behind him nervously.
“So what exactly do these – watchers – do?” the psychologist asked her in a kind voice.
“They watch,” Lucy said.
“Who do they watch?”
“What do they look like?”
“When do they watch?”
She was on the verge of telling him that when she played sports, threw a ball for her dog, painted a picture at home, went to school, they were right there beside her. Always. She would have explained that they whispered comfort when she was sad, held her when she was hurt, encouraged her when she struggled with maths tests, though they wouldn’t tell her the answers, no matter how much she wheedled, that they told her stories and sang to her as she was falling asleep. But just in time she caught the look that passed between her mother and the psychologist.
On the psychologist’s advice Lucy’s mother enrolled her in a children’s drama club so she could find an appropriate mode of expression through taking part in drama productions. By working alongside like-minded imaginative children in the club and acting out a variety of roles she would learn to differentiate between what was real and what was not, he assured.
In the club Lucy acquired enough friends to quell her mother’s alarm and she loved her role as the Ace of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, though her real interest was in getting to know everyone’s watchers. At one of the rehearsals she noticed a watcher she hadn’t seen before arrive with a transparent child around Lucy’s age. She told Lucy she was teaching the boy how to watch. Lucy was intrigued and wanted to know more, but her mother was attending this rehearsal and Lucy could feel her eyes boring into her back, so she avoided asking questions.
When they got back home her mother said, “The teacher said she’s pleased with your progress, Lucy. Just make sure you don’t slip back into silly habits. We don’t want to hear that word ‘weird’ again. It’s embarrassing.” Lucy thought of the new watcher’s gentle face and the way she spoke softly to the boy, letting him find his own way of being, and so her response wasn’t what her mother wanted to hear. Despite the number of slaps her mother gave her, Lucy refused to agree that her companions were figments of her imagination. Holding her stinging, red cheek, she wept, “It’s not my fault you can’t see them!” before running to her room and shutting herself in.
In the middle of the night Lucy’s grandmother had a stroke. The hospital rang and advised them to get over there as soon as possible. Lucy sat in the back of the car while her father raced through the dark streets and her mother sat beside him ashen-faced and silent. In the hospital car park the newly dead were gathering in the shadows. Some of them were arguing with their watchers that they had to get back home to put the cat out, feed the dog, or chop more wood for winter. A few floated in the starlit air.
As they hurried along the white-tiled corridors, Lucy waved at the watchers she saw escorting young and old, noticing how calmly they talked to those who didn’t believe they were dead.
“Don’t dawdle, Lucy,” her mother hissed, yanking her along by the arm. “I have enough to worry about without you behaving like this!”
When they approached nanna’s room two nurses ushered them in. Lucy’s mother struggled to breathe. One of nanna’s watchers looked up from the group around her bed. “She’s ready,” he told Lucy. “She just wanted to wait till you got here to say goodbye.” Nanna opened her eyes and smiled. Then she stepped out of her body and into her watchers’ arms. As Lucy’s mother sobbed over the empty shell on the bed and her father tried ineptly to console her, Lucy smiled to see the way the watchers embraced nanna so warmly. Before nanna left with them, she turned and blew Lucy a kiss. Lucy blew one back. Her mother glared. The two nurses stared at Lucy, glanced at each other and raised their eyebrows. She heard one of them whisper, “Ah, she’s the seein’ kind,” before returning to their task.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. Her flash fiction appears or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Blue Fifth Review and the UK 2017 National Flash Fiction Day international anthology, Sleep is a beautiful colour.
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