Some children never grow up. I’ve known such a child since I was six.

I saw her for the first time in my bedroom before sleep.

“What’s your name?”

I couldn’t help but envy her white dress. She motioned to me with her hand.

“C’mon. I’ll show you ‘round.”

It was dark. I didn’t care. My parents were asleep. She led me to the barn.

“This is where Daddy keeps horses.”

“You have horses?” I tried to imagine the smell of their sweat. The beauty of their manes.

“Yes,” she said. “They scream in the fire.”

Chaddy knew the flames too. She was kissed by them many years ago.

“I was alone, but now I have YOU. Will you stay with me always?”

I said yes.

She sat with me at breakfast and followed me to school. We ate dinner on the patio and talked together at night.

Mother worried sometimes. Said I needed friends. Daddy got mad when I talked out loud getting dressed for school.

“Ain’t proper for a child to act this way. Nella, you’re seven years old. Pretend friends are for babies.”

I didn’t say nothin because girls had nothin to say.

And so, I carried Chaddy in my head, and she was happy.

I turned ten. Daddy got a doctor to come see me after school.

He asked me questions. I told him I was fine. He didn’t see it that way.

He gave me medicine. And Chaddy? She just crawled further in.

#

My parents couldn’t visit because of their rules, and when I was twelve they punished me. Put those pads on my temples. Put rubber in my mouth.

Chaddy stayed with me as the current stole my body.

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“Then stay.”

When I found the nurse’s lighter, I hid it until dark. Then I knew flames. We all knew flames.

“What’s your name?”