“You’re not real,” said the girl.
She was about seven and rather precocious too. But little girls are always either petulant or simpering, at the least the former tend to be more interesting.
She was addressing the monster who was sitting cross-legged on her floor. His shadow fell across her beige carpet, conveyed by a night-light, which throbbed placidly in the corner of her bedroom. The ensuing scuffle as he wriggled out from under the low bed had awoken her and he’d been sitting there quietly for a few moments now. Watching her.
“Mummy says monsters don’t exist,” offered the girl. “You don’t exist,” she said, shrugging her shoulders in a delightfully nonchalant manner. Not really expecting any sort of response from the monster, given that he didn’t exist. She was only seeing her deepest fears projected before her now, and yet, she felt the monster’s manner was hardly threatening. Whilst he didn’t look particularly cuddly, there was something sweet about the weary poignancy of his stance.
“You’re not real either,” said the monster, grumpily.
The girl frowned. “Yes I am,” she said. Moving her arm into the light, she pinched it and winced. “See,” she said, triumphantly, “it hurts!”
The monster raised one arm, soberly, into the light. He pinched it also. “Ow,” he said.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” the girl said. “You’re just copying me.” She leaned forward, sticking her tongue out at the monster. “Ha! Copycat, copycat, you’re a copycat.”
“Meow,” replied the monster, sarcastically.
After a few minutes pulling faces at the monster and evoking no tangible reaction, the girl gave it up. She rubbed her eyes and fell back against the pillows. “I’m tired,” she said, to no one in particular.
“Why are you tired?” The monster asked her.
The girl sat up in bed with surprise and looked back at him. “What a stupid question!” She said, gesticulating her shock through circular arm movements. “It’s way past my bedtime, obviously I’m tired.” She pulled at her pyjama sleeve as though emphasising her right to be tired. “Why aren’t you tired?” She demanded.
The monster fell back against the carpet and drew snow-angels lazily. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, “I think it’s a bad habit to get into.”
“Saying that you’re tired, of course!”
“I don’t understand.”
“Look. You’re only young so this won’t make much sense to you now, but take it from me, I’m an old monster and I know what I’m talking about-”
The girl snorted with laughter, interrupting him. “How can you know anything about what it means to be human when you’re not even real?” She cried.
“Look,” said the monster again. “We’ve been over this: if I’m not real, then neither are you. We both did the pinch test, didn’t we?”
“Yes but how do I know it really hurt you when you pinched yourself,” the girl began, “see if you were a clever monster-”
“What do you mean ‘if’?” He interjected, sitting back up and glaring at the girl.
“If you’d just let me finish,” she complained, “you would see I do think you’re a clever monster but I think you’re cunning too.” She crawled out from under the sheets and sat cross-legged on her bed. “I think you only pretended to be in pain when you pinched yourself so I was fooled into thinking you’re real.”
“What an elaborate theory,” said the monster. “Very impressive, but you see little girl-”
“I’m not little,” said the girl, frowning. “I’m almost a head taller than my brother and he’s a year older than me,” she said, obviously proud of the inches she held over him.
“Alright,” said the monster, raising his open palms towards the girl in a purportedly apologetic manner. “You’re not little. But what shall I call you then?”
After a moment’s consideration, the girl replied. “You can call me ‘April’.”
The monster smiled. “That’s not your real name is it?” He said. The girl nodded. “I know you’re real name already,” and as the girl opened her mouth to object, he continued. “But it doesn’t matter,” he said quickly. “Why do you like the name April?”
The girl hugged her toy dog to her chest. “April is my favourite time of the year.”
“It’s not your birthday though, is it?”
The girl was not even surprised the monster knew her birthday anymore and nodded. “I love April because it always rains,” she said happily. “I wish it would rain forever and ever and never stop.”
The monster laughed. “Why do you like the rain so much?”
She thought for a moment. “It makes me feel something.”
“I don’t know,” said the girl, looking down at her dog. “It sounds stupid...” She said, blushing.
“Nothing is stupid to a monster,” he said. “What does the rain make you feel?” The monster repeated.
“Alive, I guess.”
The monster watched the little girl carefully for a moment. “I don’t think that sounds stupid at all,” he said. “I think it’s one of the most intelligent things anyone has said to me in a long time.”
The girl blushed again, but this time with pleasure at the compliment. Praise for the girl, like for so many of us, seemed to have induced her to become more forthcoming because she began to speak again.
“When I am in the rain all these feelings seem to come together,” she said. “Anger, sadness, happiness, they all melt on my shoulders when it rains.” She paused. “Sometimes everything feels so static, like I’m in box, contained, and I can’t get out of it. I’m trapped feeling one thing- nothing really. But the rain,” she said, leaping to stand, “the rain is cold and hot and fast and slow. It mesmerises me. It makes me forget about the box and the feeling of nothingness.”
She flopped back onto the bed. “See,” she said, turning to the monster, “that’s how the rain makes me feel something.”
He smiled at the girl. “What about the sun?” He said. “How does the sun make you feel?”
“Good, I guess,” said the girl, biting a nail. “It’s just the clouds I hate. Not one or two, they’re ok. It’s when they all clump together and threaten rain which never comes. I hate that. The anticipation- waiting weeks for it to rain.” She gestured towards her head. “It’s like all the clouds filter into my head and sit there and I can’t get rid of them and it’s like I’m back in the box again.” She looked at the monster. “How do you make the clouds go away?” She asked. “They make me feel so tired.”
The monster pulled himself up from the carpet and approached her bed. He crouched on the floor and rested his forearms on her duvet. “Look,” he said, “you’ve said it again. That word. ‘Tired.’” He smiled her, “we can’t seem to escape it, can we?”
She frowned and settled back into her pillow. “What were you going to say earlier?” She asked.
The monster thought for a moment. “You mean before you interrupted me?”
The girl laughed and hid behind her pillow.
The monster smiled at her. “I was going to say this. One day when you’re older, maybe in five years’ time, maybe in ten years’ time… But one day, on a beautiful morning, the sun will be rippling through your curtains. You’ll wake and you’ll lie in bed and even though everything seems fated to please you; it won’t. You’ll lie there and you’ll say ‘I’m tired.’ I’m tired of this.”
He looked down at the girl. “I know this doesn’t make sense now, but eventually your mind will outweigh your body. Those limbs that have a tendency to feel so heavy, those days when you fall asleep and your parents carry you home – they’ll be gone – replaced with a different load.” He paused. “Even now, it’s clear you’re a thinker. Now that is a blessing and a curse. Already, I can see you mind is trying to find ways to contain you. That box you’re describing, little girl, it’s all in your head.”
She didn’t interrupt him that she wasn’t little, not this time. She felt being little might not be so bad after all. Usually she was excited by the prospect of growing up- all the independence it would bring. She hated it now, she decided. She feared it.
Snuggling back down into the duvet, she closed her eyes and imagined this was one of those stories her parents used to read her as a child. She didn’t want it to end because then she would have to go to sleep.
“I’m not tired now,” she whispered.
The monster sighed, smiling again. He pulled the duvet up to the girl, tucking her in. “Yes you are,” he said. “It’s ok to be tired sometimes. The mistake people make,” he continued, “is growing tired of life itself. This is a gift. It might not always feel like that, but the world isn’t out to get you. It wants to watch you grow and change.” He tapped her forehead lightly. “It can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with this.”
The girl yawned suddenly. She couldn’t help it. The monster didn’t mind. It was late. There was faint hiss and spatter, the girl sat up in bed. Was it? He was ahead of her already, pulling back her curtains. She craned her neck to see out of the window. The orange dawn met her outstretched gaze.
“Yes,” he said gently, “it’s raining.”