Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t exist. She lived in a room that wasn’t there, surrounded by things that never were. A doll with blonde ringlets that could say the word “mama.” A rocking horse with a unicorn horn. A lovingly knitted pink blanket trimmed with lace. A book of fairy tales with pictures of princesses dangling long flowing hair from the windows of towers. All these things and more were in the room that wasn’t there with the little girl who didn’t exist.
She spent her days doing nothing, and playing with the toys that weren’t there, and wondering about things that would never happen. She wasn’t sad, because she wasn’t real, and she wasn’t happy either. She wasn’t really there at all, in the room with the dolls and toys and books.
Somewhere else, in a place that did exist, was a mother. She was not the little girl’s mother, but she thought of her sometimes. She thought of her in the aisles of stores, passing the little pink dresses and sequined headbands, making for the T-shirts and jeans. Or at the park, glancing at a picnic blanket fluttering in the breeze, before running down the path to keep up. She thought of her in the hustle and bustle of bedtime, splashed with sloshing water from the tub and wrangling pajamas onto flailing legs. She thought of her sometimes. But mostly not.
As time passed, the girl grew. The dolls and unicorns replaced by lip gloss and posters for bands that weren’t real. Now the girl lay on her stomach on the bed that wasn’t there, her feet up in the air behind her, nodding her head along to the music that didn’t stream through her headphones that weren’t real. If she thought, sometimes, of the mother, she didn’t know it. The mother was real and she wasn’t. It was hard to think of her.
And the mother, too, didn’t think too often of the girl. Only sometimes. In quiet moments. In tiny droplets of milk left in the jug in the refrigerator moments. In tripping over video game controller moments. In the aftermath of post-game pizza party moments. But mostly not. Mostly the mother didn’t need to think of the girl. Mostly the mother was happy. Loving and loved.
And one day the girl dressed in a dress that wasn’t white and wasn’t really a dress, picked up a bouquet of flowers that wasn’t there, and walked down the aisle of a church that didn’t exist. She took the arm of a man who no one saw and spoke the words that would bind her to him forever. And the mother stood in a grocery store aisle and watched her go. And, driving home in the car, the mother took into her arms the baby that, a few years later, the girl didn’t have. Bent close to the downy head that would never be, and kissed the soft fuzz that didn’t grow there. And she cried, for just a moment, in the car where no one would see.
And the girl grew old and the mother grew old and thought of her less and less. And eventually there were girls who really were real — not the mother’s girls, but close. And there were dolls and unicorns and dresses fluttering in the breeze. And the girl who didn’t exist paled in comparison to these living, breathing girls who flung themselves into their grandmother’s arms and planted kisses on her wrinkled cheek and lisped that they loved her and wanted to make cookies.
But sometimes, still sometimes, in the quiet house, in the silent night, the mother remembered the other girl. The one who didn’t exist. And wondered how she was doing.