Sadie has many imaginary friends. She is 29.
There is the friend who went to a New York dance school so prestigious she framed the acceptance letter in gilt. Her body is more pipe cleaner than human, bending in places it shouldn’t, bookended by the prick of acrylic nails and pointe shoes. One day, she falls off stage and snaps her pelvis while performing 37 pirouettes in a row. She can never dance again.
There’s the friend who dropped out of school to leapfrog the world. Each morning she wakes up in a cliff-clinging Italian village, a treehouse in Costa Rica, a capsule hotel on the outskirts of Tokyo. Sometimes she is consciously alone, other times she plays little spoon to an attractive body who thinks tattoos are an adequate substitute for personality. Unfortunately, she gets into a terrible six car pile up on a highway somewhere near Tijuana, when the driver mixes valium with beer. She develops severe vehophobia, a pathological fear of driving that confines her to the cramped four walls of her mother’s house.
The friend who won an Oscar for Best Director aged twenty three, only to overdose the following year in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont. She is even more romanticised for her death than she was for her youth, but she is still dead.
Once a week, when Sadie’s boyfriend Benji is at the pub under the guise of practice for his social football team, she takes a bottle of red wine and a chunk of budget cheddar to bed. She opens a new document in a folder labelled ‘ADMIN,’ and unravels her friends’ lives in all their stark glory.
The lawyer who successfully took the owner of a frozen yoghurt chain to court for attempting to get their illegal workers deported. She subsequently lost the appeal and was jailed for handcuffing herself to the plane, though an iPhone photo of her efforts became a viral meme.
The surfer who won eleven world championships only to be gutted by a shark, intestines left tangled in the seaweed.
On a threateningly humid Tuesday, Sadie settles into bed with her bottle of red wine and her chunk of budget cheddar, taking care not to crumble mess over the fresh sheets. She spent the day at work ignoring emails and telling her boss that she’s “not in a good headspace right now.” This is true, though her boss merely smiled without moving his eyes and gave her a pamphlet on Mental Health. Her fingers start to tap out the story she’s been mulling on all week, about a happily engaged almost mother (who dies during birth).
A flash outside skewers her concentration. Sadie briefly thinks someone is taking photos through the window, before a deep groan of thunder reminds her of the forecast storm. She washes down the fear in her throat with a swig of cheap pinot.
The young mother’s sheets are slick with sweat and amniotic fluid. Her fiancé murmurs platitudes through the rising moans, his voice cold steel on a sunburnt back. Between her legs, a sticky newborn unleashes -
The clink of keys in a door. Sadie is back in her beige, orderly room. “HOME,” Benji yells. Sadie lurches out of bed and into the kitchen-lounge of their one bed flat to greet him. “No pub?” she asks, cloaking disappointment with nonchalance. “Drenched,” Benji says, wrapping his arms around her with the warmth of an overwashed lettuce leaf. “Starving,” he adds, with a suggestive glance at the fridge. Then he clicks to the bathroom for a shower. Sadie tries not to think about the scuffs his football spikes will leave on the hardwood floor.
She opens the fridge. On writing nights Sadie normally makes do with her chunk of budget cheddar, and there’s nothing in there but miscellaneous sauces, eggs and four half cut lemons they keep forgetting to use. “CHEESE OMELETTES OK?”, she shouts, but there’s no answer. She prepares them anyway, whisking salt, pepper and eggs in a silver bowl, mildly hypnotised by the circular whisking motion. She Googles ‘best sauces omelettes’ for inspiration, and gets stuck in a vortex of user-submitted egg concoctions on Recipes.com.
After finding some instructions for an oily lemon drizzle, Sadie wanders into the bedroom to check on Benji. He is sitting on the sheets in his football gear, wetting her side of the bed. Sadie’s laptop is perched on his thighs. Her guts curdle.
“Interesting stories,” he says.
“Oh, yeah, they’re nothing,” she says, twisting her rings around her fingers.
“Uh,” he pauses, running a hand from his forehead to the base of his skull. “Why are they all about someone called Sadie?”
Benji says he will break up with Sadie if she doesn’t go to therapy. When she refuses, he books her a non-refundable session, knowing wasted money is so repulsive to her that she once made them drive to another city to use a restaurant voucher she’d won in an Instagram competition, even though the gas cost more than what the dinner was worth.
He breaks up with her anyway.
The therapist’s waiting room is full of plastic coated chairs and fake plants. Sadie takes a seat, hoping their preoccupation with superficial adequacy extends to their services. The receptionist gives her a form and tells her to fill in her emergency contacts and current symptoms. Sadie leaves the latter blank. In the address section, she instinctively writes down her and Benji’s rental, where Benji still lives, then scratches it out and puts her mum’s cottage, where she has just moved. Then she scratches that out and rewrites the rental address, in case the therapist sends any follow up materials and her mum starts to worry.
Sadie looks up to see a woman in a door frame, a broad smile shattering her cheeks into a web of wrinkles. The woman introduces herself as Mary, and Sadie follows her into a room with even more fake plants and plastic covered chairs. She perches on one and feels the clinical squeak in her veins. Mary outlines the confidentiality terms of their session and says that today she will just get a feel for things, before digging deeper during the next sessions. It will be hard but she really needs Sadie to commit.
“Sorry,” Sadie says, “But this is a one off.”
“Let’s see how we go,” Mary responds.
“I can’t afford -”, she starts. “My boyfriend - ex boyfriend. He just got me the one.”
“Well,” Mary says, leaning back in her ergonomic chair. “That’s a good place to start.”
Mary takes Sadie through a series of carefully articulated questions that make Sadie feel like she’s being led through a forest fire blindfolded, Mary’s soft hands ushering her deep into suffocating heat. When Sadie gets to the part about her imaginary friends, which she says aren’t imaginary friends but writing exercises, she feels her face start to flush red. The thought of going red makes her go even redder.
“And you understand why it might’ve been somewhat troubling for your boyfriend to discover these,” Mary pauses, searching. “Fantasies?”
“They’re not fantasies,” Sadie says.
“So they’re real?”
“But,” Mary says, smiling like a kind-eyed serial killer offering to buy her a drink in a dive bar. “Do you want them to be?”
Sadie sighs, sticking her thumbnail in the plastic chair so it leaves a hollowed out crescent moon.
“I haven’t really thought about it.”
That night, after stealing some of her mother’s red wine from the pantry, she sits down at her laptop and meets a friend who wrote a best-selling thriller in three months. It got picked up for a TV miniseries starring an A-list actor and her C-list toyboy. Sadly, the writer recently contracted debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that turned her fingers brittle and aching. Her writing days are done.
Sadie is on stage in a swarming arena. A row of ugly criers surge against the barrier, shrieking the words to a bad song about good sex. She is euphoric until she realises what is about to happen. But she has no control over her body, she is a calm marionette, she is strutting across the stage to her death with a series of shimmies and head snaps.
Sadie reaches the edge and leaps off, a sequined figure soaring through neon strobes. She is caught by a pit of rabid hands grabbing chunks of her skin in their fists, latching on to limbs and ripping them apart in a fleshy game of tug of war.
She wakes up in her mother’s spare bedroom, anchored to the bed by a heavy woollen blanket from the seventies. Her body is sheathed in a clammy layer of damp, strands of hair clinging to her forehead like worms. Sadie’s mum is standing over the bed in her work uniform. Frown lines slice her forehead.
“Oh sweetie,” she says, perching lightly on the bed and taking Sadie’s hand. “Bad dream?”
“If you want to talk about it…”
Sadie fakes a yawn as her mum strokes her cheek, then leaves. Sadie pulls the covers over her head and inhales recycled hot air until she hears the front door close.
Sadie stays with her mum for seven weeks. She doesn’t go back to therapy but she does quit her job. They send her some “goodies” as a thank you for “three years of service.” It includes an expired box of chocolates, a hand soap and an unwrapped perfume sample, all things she had seen in the freebie cupboard and decided not to take. She makes cheese scones for the first time, and they are surprisingly good. She talks to her mum about bad politics and the new neighbour and the criminal price of cheddar. She scours the internet for a new job, reminding herself that all jobs look awful until you get there, when you realise they are in fact awful, but for a different reason than what you anticipated from the job listing. She hopes that at her next job, she gets in at least one solid year before coming to this realisation.
She doesn’t. On her first day as Office Manager at a small stationary firm, Sadie is accosted in the kitchen by a tall man with orange peel under his nails, who asks whether or not she intended to misspell the word highlighter in her first company-wide email. “Obviously not,” Sadie replies, to which the tall man recommends a spell check app. Sadie pretends to trip and throws the glass of water she’s holding over his crotch. She is given a disproportionately loud telling off by her boss, and her probation period is extended from three months to six.
That night, Sadie goes home to her new flat, a townhouse with rooms wedged on top of one another like a precarious game of Jenga. “Good day?” one of her flatmates calls out as she pummels up the stairs, but Sadie doesn’t answer. She shuts her door and dumps her bags, changing out of a shirt and leather shoes that have carved a red crevice into her achilles. She slides on a matching tracksuit and Ugg boots. Pulls out a bottle of red wine and a chunk of budget cheddar from one of the many canvas totes she can’t remember collecting.
Sadie sits on her bed and opens a new document in the folder labelled ‘ADMIN.’ She drinks from the bottle and eats the cheese like an apple. Her fingers trace the tale of a heroine consumed by the kind of love that fuels sonnets and wars, who stabs herself with a screwdriver when she discovers her lover’s limp frame hanging from the roof in his toolshed. When Sadie checks the time it is 1.17am.
Sadie does this once a week, with her bottle of red wine and her chunk of budget cheddar, until her death. She slips away in her sleep, calm and content, and is found by the hospice worker who brightened Sadie’s days with complaints of loud children and Bill down the hall shitting his bed on a nightly basis.
The funeral is modest. Everyone cries at the right times and eats stale cheese scones off paper napkins. Apart from the fact it takes place in a chapel, there are, as instructed, no religious references, no promises of afterlife or hymns about Jesus staining a wooden cross crimson under the wet-eyed gaze of his followers. Only a single fly and Sadie’s small circle of loved ones drift through the aisles. Her limited precious belongings, her jewellery and the cottage she inherited from her mum, go to her daughter. The rest goes to a charity store or landfill. And Sadie’s imaginary friends, all 2,751 of them, drift out into the ether, just as Sadie wanted. They were her friends alone, and dear god did they live. Until they died.
Georgie Wright is a writer from New Zealand. In a former life she lived in London and wrote for places like i-D, BEAT Magazine and Vice. Then she moved home and did a Masters in Scriptwriting but movies are expensive so now she writes short fiction.