Twenties Girl

Page 11


The hallucination girl looks fairly freaked out too. She turns and starts looking around the room as though taking it in for the first time. For a dizzying few seconds, she appears and reappears all over the room, examining every corner, every window, like an insect buzzing around a glass tank.
I’ve never had an imaginary friend. I’ve never taken drugs. What is up with me? I tell myself to ignore the girl, to blank her out, to pay attention to the vicar. But it’s no good; I can’t help following her progress.
“What is this place?” She’s hovering by me now, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. She’s focusing on the coffin at the front. “What’s that?”
Oh God.
“That’s… nothing,” I say hastily. “Nothing at all! It’s just… I mean… I wouldn’t look too closely if I were you…”
Too late. She’s appeared at the coffin, staring down at it. I can see her reading the name SADIE LANCASTER on the plastic notice board. I can see her face jolt in shock. After a few moments she turns toward the vicar, who is still droning on in her monotone:
“Sadie found contentment in marriage, which can be an inspiration to us all…”
The girl puts her face right up close to the vicar’s and regards her with disdain.
“You fool,” she says scathingly.
“She was a woman who lived to a great age,” the vicar carries on, totally oblivious. “I look at this picture”-she gestures at the photo with an understanding smile-“and I see a woman who, despite her infirmity, led a beautiful life. Who found solace in small things. Knitting, for example.”
“Knitting?” the girl echoes incredulously.
“So.” The vicar has obviously finished her speech. “Let us all bow our heads for a final moment of silence before we say farewell.” She steps down from the podium, and some organ Muzak begins.
“What happens now?” The girl looks around, suddenly alert. A moment later she’s by my side. “What happens now? Tell me! Tell me!”
“Well, the coffin goes behind that curtain,” I murmur in an undertone. “And then… er…” I trail off, consumed by embarrassment. How do I put it tactfully? “We’re at a crematorium, you see. So that would mean…” I wheel my hands vaguely.
The girl’s face blanches with shock, and I watch in discomfiture as she starts fading to a weird, pale, translucent state. It almost seems as if she’s fainting-but even more so. For a moment I can almost see right through her. Then, as though making some inner resolution, she comes back.
“No.” She shakes her head. “That can’t happen. I need my necklace. I need it.”
“Sorry,” I say helplessly. “Nothing I can do.”
“You have to stop the funeral.” She suddenly looks up, her eyes dark and glittering.
“What?” I stare at her. “I can’t!”
“You can! Tell them to stop!” As I turn away, trying to tune her out, she appears at my other side. “Stand up! Say something!”
Her voice is as insistent and piercing as a toddler’s. I’m frantically ducking my head in all directions, trying to avoid her.
“Stop the funeral! Stop it! I must have my necklace!” She’s an inch away from my face; her fists are banging on my chest. I can’t feel them, but I still flinch. In desperation, I get to my feet and move back a row, knocking over a chair with a clatter.
“Lara, are you all right?” Mum looks back in alarm.
“Fine,” I manage, trying to ignore the yelling in my ear as I sink down into another seat.
“I’ll order the car,” Uncle Bill is saying to Aunt Trudy. “This should be over in five.”
“Stop it! Stop-it-stop-it-stop-it!” The girl’s voice rises to the most penetrating shriek, like feedback in my ear. I’m going schizophrenic. Now I know why people assassinate presidents. There’s no way I can ignore her. She’s like a banshee. I can’t stand this any longer. I’m clutching my head, trying to block her out, but it’s no good. “Stop! Stop! You have to stop-”
“OK! OK! Just… shut up!” In desperation, I get to my feet. “Wait!” I shout. “Stop, everybody! You have to stop the funeral! STOP THE FUNERAL!”
To my relief, the girl stops shrieking.
On the downside, my entire family has turned to gape at me as if I’m a lunatic. The vicar presses a button in a wooden panel set in the wall, and the organ Muzak abruptly stops.
“Stop the funeral?” says Mum at last.
I nod silently. I don’t feel quite in control of my faculties, to be honest.