"Look at the old fool dancing around as if he's got some sorta friend."
"At that age!? Fancy having an imaginary friend at that age!"
"I read about this sorta thing on that Facebook website. Senile old git is seeing things. Needs to be put to sleep."
Unbeknownst to old Georgie Davies, these were the words that fluttered around him, tittering from the watchers in the windows—the people of the cul-de-sac.
They were like pigeons bobbing on telephone wires, looking down, shitting on everything. Georgie couldn't hear them, sure, but a quick glance over his shoulder and he could see them watching, judging.
Tudor Close was full of those sorts. People who sip tea and dip biscuits and point and chuckle and make fun. But old Georgie had a friend, and it didn't matter none if only he could see it.
Sure, his friend had a few greys on his chin, glassy eyes, hips and elbows that were one move away from someone shouting 'JENGA', but the old dog, a brown and white border collie, had a joy and vitality in him that made old Georgie feel alive.
It was only that morning that he was stuck there, on that park bench, gathering dust and watching as one kid with stretched-anus ears and a throat tattoo rolled what Georgie could only assume was a wacky-backy cigarette. All the while, just a little further up, a young mum (too damn young in Georgie's opinion) pushed her toddler back and forth on the swing-set.
Georgie would have shivered if he could still feel the cold. He watched in dismay as his opinion of humanity dampened along with his pants. And that was when he saw the dog—no collar, no name. It parked itself up next to Georgie, tongue lolled out the side of his mouth, and gave him a loving smile that was more refreshing than a pint of bitter on a Friday's eve. It was a look that nobody had given him in years‚ one of friendship, one of recognition.
And when Georgie called out to see if anybody was looking for the dog and nobody answered, he realised that the dog was lost. Or not owned. At least for the time being.
"Like me?" he said as he scratched his head with one hand and the dog's with the other. "Lost like me, eh, boy?"
There's a magic that sparkles between dogs and men. It starts off small like bunched up kindling, but with a little air, it rolls into itself, warms and glows like hot coal, and makes engines run—makes worlds move.
A little of that same magic sparked between Georgie Davies and the dog. Not enough to make engines run and worlds move, but enough to lift old Georgie's cheeks up, up, and up, until his big row of domino-teeth were on display and the dog returned with a smile of its own. A little wagging of its tail, too.
"Ah bless yer," Georgie said as he patted the dog's head, feeling the grease and dander coming off in his fingertips.
Georgie wondered, at this point, if the dog really existed at all. Perhaps it was made of dust and memories and the senile loneliness that sometimes made him imagine things that weren't there. Perhaps this dog was just another imaginary friend. The thought of it made his shoulders slump. He'd seen the dog before. He knew it then. In dreams. It had been sculpted from candle wax, dipped in hair, made for him in that moment, to breathe a little more life into him—just a little more.
And it was as if the dog could sense it too, because the dog cried, stood up, lazily bumbled away, disappearing into the copse of birches behind. And the engines cooled and the coals turned back to simple black stones, and Georgie coughed up a mouthful of soot, blowing it into the wind.
"Oh well," he said, his jowls falling back down… until something pressed against his hand.
He looked down to see the dog had returned, this time with a knobbly stick, brought to him from the trees—the smoke blew, the fires alighted, and Georgie and the dog's eyes met.
Georgie lifted the stick and threw it, and the dog padded slowly after it, returning it and pressing it to his hand. It was damp and slobbery, but Georgie didn't mind none.
"I don't mind none... at... all!" he said.
An hour passed, or more, and the world got ready to turn its back, lift its skirt and moon them all, and still they played, still they barked and laughed, still they lived.
All the while, the residents in the houses that circled the park on the cul-de-sac watched on, sipped their tea, and dipped their biscuits. Some smiled at the magic they saw before them. Most laughed. After all, they could only see one side of it, because only one of these two existed. Just one old fool and his imaginary friend.
"Look at the old fool… dancing around as if he's got some sorta companion," said Mrs. Pratchett from number 10.
"At that age!? Fancy having an imaginary friend at that age!" said Mr. Butcher from 13.
"I read about this sorta thing on that Facebook website. Senile old git is seeing things. Needs to be put to sleep," said Ms. Fitzpatrick from 20.
All of them watched as the moonlight came and washed old Georgie Davies away, carrying him up, up, and up into the night sky, but the dog remained, the faithful imaginer.
It laid down and gnawed on that old stick, alone—just one old fool in search of another.