Fiction

All that matters

It’s so exciting you’re here to stay. I remember when I was the new one. A lifetime ago. You’re going to love it here. Our friend is so amazing. All friends are… Well, almost all. But ours is the best.

When I was new there was an old one already here. They were lovely, so kind. They taught me everything I needed to know: where to go, how to ask for in and out, what kind of games to play until I came up with some of my own. Then they and our friend played those games with me. I was so proud.

They’ve gone now, the old one, long ago. I miss them. One came from the place with strange, sharp smells. Not all places are happy. That one brought some of those bad scents along and the old one left. Their smell was so different the moment they went and our friend cried, so hard, for so long. I did everything I could to help, but sometimes pain is simply there until it’s not. Although a little seems to remain every time. There’s room for it, inside us. I think we can take some of the friend’s pain, we bear it more easily. Especially when we all have each other to love. That’s the secret, you know. Love and kindness. It’s always the answer.

Sometimes our friend still cries, looking at pictures of the one before, and pictures of others. I think they came even before us. That’s what the old one told me, when I was new, that there was one before them. When they were new another was already old, who was the teacher then, and I suspect there was another before them. Always and forever, one after another in our friend’s care.

Our friend loves us so deeply, you’ll see.

You’ve already had a taste of it, eh? Of course you have.

So I’m the old one now. How wonderful. I’ll teach you all the things I know. That will be fun, you’ll see. Please excuse me, though, if I get a little cranky now and then. My joints ache and my bones are cold, and sometimes I’m just so very tired. But your arrival has cheered me up. I feel more energetic than I have in a long time.

Our friend doesn’t change. They’re eternal, these wonderful friends. The old one told me that when I was new. Our friend had always been there, they said, and always would be. And they were right, because now I’m very old, but here you are, and our friend is unchanged. They walk with us, play with us, feed us all the good things, cuddle us. Ask for nothing in return, but I’d give them anything. I just love. That seems enough. Love and kindness, you see. It’s all that matters.

They trust us. It makes me worry, when they go without me, and trust me to guard this place. I get tense about it, but I always do my absolute best. They tell me I’m good, so I think I do it right. I’ll teach you that too. It’s important not to be scared when they trust and go. They say they always come back and I think they’ve gone forever, but they do come back. Every time! I still worry though. It’ll be easier with you. I’m glad you’re here.

Look at you, so much energy! I know you want to exercise your teeth, but only on the things they give you, okay? I need to teach you so much. I’ll do the best I can. Our friend will make sure you know anything I miss, I’m sure. Be good, okay? I’ll have a little nap, then we’ll get to it. I’ll show where to get drinks all around the house. A little later. You go play.

Ah, look. Our friend is back. They always come back, for all of us. Always have. Always will. I told you that already, didn’t I? Look at their smile. I’ll have a little lie down, you go play. Love and kindness, remember? Always. It’s all that matters. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 3, 2021 as "All that matters".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Alan Baxter is a multi-award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers and dark fantasy.