The phone is buzzing. In my state of near-sleep, I don’t know if it is the alarm or a phone call. (Mental note: Change phone alarm tone). I scrabble at the phone on the bedside table and just grab it before it falls. I realise it’s a phone call, press the green phone button, and…
It’s my seven year old who has just discovered how much fun it is to phone Dad anytime of the day or night.
“What..Oh Hi Josh, how are you?”, I drawl in a tired undertone.
“I’m sorry to hear that Pickles is dead…Are you alright?”
“I’m alright”. Now he has a different tone : why would you think otherwise? As my mind clicks into wakefulness, I start to wonder that children are perhaps more mature than their parents. Or at least their father anyway.
“Oh. We were outside playing. And Pickles is Dead.”
“Okay, I’m so sorry, What happened again?”
“Oh. A man came along. He stared at Pickles and now Pickles is dead.”
Now I’m awake. I’m rapidly working through my incomplete list of pets, friends and toys. But to no avail. Pickles isn’t on any of them. Maybe I should keep some form of shortlist.
Time for a sidestep. His mother should know who Pickles is. But I don’t want to ask for obvious reasons. So I ask Josh what his mother knows. Then maybe he will tell me who Pickles really is. But I’m not ready for the answer I do get.
“Have you told Mummy?”
“Yes, she was there.”
“She saw Pickles die.”
“Yes, we both saw him.”
“Did anyone else, like your brothers see him?”
“No, only Mummy and I can see him.”
I’m stunned. This does not make any sense at all. I pause and regroup my thoughts. To gain more time, I rephrase his reply back to him, to keep him talking.
“So, you mean no-one else can see Pickles but you and Mummy.”
Now I don’t know what to make of this at all. I do know that children have vivid imaginations. I know I had one as a child. And Josh has never lied to me. So I can only trust what he is telling me.
I also know that children see things that adults don’t. But a child that sees something that only he and his mother can see makes no sense at all.
Deep breath now. Time to deal with something more confronting that dealing with Pickle’s demise and my son’s yet to be experienced grief.
“Josh, can I speak to your mother, please”
“Okay”. Pause. “Muuuuuum, Daddy’s on the phone”. I hold the phone out at arm’s length and shield my ears. I wait as the footsteps get closer and closer. I think now it looks like I made the early morning phone call. This has to go well. It doesn’t.
“Hello”. There is no inflection to the voice at all.
Friendly and warm, just like my customer service classes. “Hi, how are you?” Now I’m trying to sell my ex-wife eternal life.
Lightly, like dealing with a difficult customer. “Josh was telling me that Pickles is dead. Sorry to hear that.”
Nothing, no response at all, but a sharp intake of breath. She doesn’t know that Pickles is dead. But she knows who Pickles is. Otherwise she would have told me off. And then the phone goes dead. Which leaves me to add failed detective to my role of failed father, husband, etc, etc.
The mystery still remains. So I try my second son. I text Josh’s brother. He should know something.
“Hey Johnno, how are you? It’s Dad. Josh told me Pickles is dead. Who is Pickles?”
Even at this time of morning, he is always on the phone. So the reply comes back almost instantly.
The next week, the same thing repeats itself. The phone rings, I scrabble to answer it and it’s Josh. Again.
“Pickles is dead.”
He is my son, it is early am and I try to stifle my annoyance. But still I say.
“I’m really sorry but he died last week.”
“Oh no, he died yesterday.”
“What are you talking about?” I realise my annoyance is coming through. So I stop and start more slowly. ”What happened?”
“Oh Pickles came back.”
“How did he die this time?” Now I’m really thinking that this is made up despite his Mum knowing who Pickles is. But his answer completely stuns me into silence.
“I saw a big yellow man look at Pickles and then talk to him and then Pickles died.”
“Maybe he went away this time.”
“No he died.” How can children be so certain?
“This is what I think. I think you should tell Pickles to go away and not come back. And tell him to stay away from Mummy.”
And then the conclusion pops into my head. Pickles is her imaginary friend. And Josh can see Pickles. But who is protecting Josh?