There are those stories in the papers where a person has died and their pets have eaten their faces off, and everyone's always so disgusted by the dear trusted pet eating their owner, (how can you blame the animal? It's efficient.) Sometimes the owner isn't actually dead, they've just passed out, so they wake up and have no lips, and they look like they're grinning. Like a skull.
My childhood Smiley Man was like that, but no eyelids either. He looked like a skull, in that way, except he had eyes and there was skin on his face, just not over his teeth. And all he ever did, really, was chase. So I'd run, and I'd think I'd have got away, but he had long fingernails, so he could just scratch me, rip my clothes. Seemed perfectly natural, then.
I'd go to the closet to get my coat and stand on a box, because I wasn't tall enough, and I'd think I see him, but he was just something out of my dreams, my own, slightly sicker Bogey Man. The Smiley Man. Sounds like a clown. It's always the childish sounding things that are most frightening. Something scientific would never scare me, that's logical and easily explained. Nothing frightening about cold white things, unless you're the thing the scientists are experimenting on, strapped to a stainless steel table. Even then, I think I'd just close my eyes and let it happen. For Science, after all.
Then the Smiley Man was gone for a very long time, and then I remembered him. Not the kind of thing that scares me now, a vague shiver, perhaps, but more just a bleak interest in the nightmare.
Still, easier to think of the morbid thing in the light. It's sunny today. So I go out and lie on the grass and think about all the things that ever scared me.
Of course, they don't scare me now.
I lie out in the sun, and then crawl into the shade. The sky keeps changing, grey, blue, grey, blue. Sat next to the garden table, head on the grass, legs up on the chair. The broken tyre swing is hanging from a frayed rope, tied (badly) to the tree. Shame, the ropes too rough and ragged for anything useful now. I kick the table and it shakes, then steadies itself. There are cigarette butts on it. I stopped smoking a while back, because I wanted to. But summer always makes me crave them. When I was a kid dad used to blow smoke out his nose like a dragon for me and I'd laugh and say he was a snapdragon. Like the flower.
The Smiley Man had a blue heart. Strange it's been so long since I dreamt of him, way back when I was, what, six? Seven? And I still remember him with too much detail. I'd be sat in a room in the dark, swinging my legs (in my dream), and he'd be sat opposite me, playing cards with himself. I always wanted to win but I didn't know how to play. As a kid, I just wanted all the hearts. He wanted all the spades. Clubs were bad (clovers, I called them then), and diamonds were made of glass, so would break if you threw them too hard. I think I'd always cheat, and that's why he would chase me. I'd run through forests and hide down rabbit holes, and he'd always be around corners.
Mundane places that I knew well, like my Gran's house, or home. Every place I knew well in my real life I had a hiding place in, where I'd go play. At my Gran's in was in the attic, where no one went, because it was so hard to get to. I'd hide in all the old clothes. At home, the cupboard, huddled in coats. Or under the bed. I'd make faces in the dust. I'd like the idea that no one knew where I was. I think even then, I'd think, if I died, how would they find me? I'd get a funny little thrill out of that.
In the dreams these places would mould together, one after another. Even the priest hole at Corsenside, where I hid the lucky horse shoe. I'd hide in there, and the latch on the door would open, and his grinning face would be there.
Looking at my feet, up in the air still, on the chair, a shoelace is untied. Not like I need to run anywhere, so I just stare at it, battling with myself. I end up tying it. Just in case he turns up. Senseless.
Wondering now if Smiley Man was meant to represent someone. Can't remember now. Can't remember most of my childhood, no matter how much I still pretend, playing hopscotch on the pavements. I remember random, insignificant things. There are months and months missing.
I doubt it though. He's just a figment of my imagination. I think once I was running and I tripped down a well. I couldn't swim then, so I was treading water, but mostly, just sinking. I always think of wells as green at the bottom now. And they go up for miles and miles so there's just a dot of light at the top, and he was grinning there in the sky. Still had that dream, except it's just a well, and he's not there.
Thinking about this with a dull interest just makes me want to smoke more, calm me down even more. Snapdragons. Funny I remember this man, but just funny, nothing else. Just further emphasis on the strange child I was. Was. Not so sure. Orwell said that you have nothing in common with the picture of the child on the mantelpiece, except that you happen to be it. Not sure how much I agree with that.
When I got up to go back inside, I hear a noise and check over my shoulder. Nothing, but I'm still nervous. It's always nothing, but I'm still nervous. If it was a dream I'd turn back around and there'd be something there, and inch from my face, not blinking. Or some cold long-fingered hand would grab my hair now and throw me down, because I cheated at cards and hid the queen of hearts, my favourite. I hid all the hearts.
Children will be children. All that silliness.