When I was little I thought John Cole was some kind of alien. A large head on a long body, like in vintage comics. His thin yellow skin contrasted with his large watery blue eyes; they looked too thin somehow, like they might peel, like onions.

When I was little I thought John Cole was some kind of angel. I’d look up and he’d bend out of the sky for me. I only saw him on sunny days. The sun behind him would light up his thinning hair like a halo and he’d speak to me in low tones and elongated vowels, “Hello little girl.” He always said that to me, I’d make him say it several times.

John Cole only ever wore black, layers of it, no matter the weather. He’d shiver and sweat, take his coat off and put it back on again, no matter the weather. His nose would run and his legs would twitch, he’d smile and give me lollies from his pocket. I had to ask a few times before he’d pick me up.

John Cole’s girlfriend had curly hair and a bitter disposition. She gave me a gobstopper to ‘stop my gob.’ I didn’t like her, I sat on John’s lap and waited for mum and dad to get back. He taught me how to play Boxes on the last page of his paperback novel while she talked about people who were ‘cunts.’  I can’t remember her name.

When we wouldn’t see John Cole for a while I’d ask my mother where he was, if he was okay, when we’d see him. She’d say she didn’t know, that he was fine, and we’d see him soon. Sometimes we saw him in passing, a dark figment flitting around the peripheries, he hardly ever stopped to talk anymore. Sometimes I’d see him in the city and mum and dad wouldn’t notice him. He’d smile at me as he walked past. He looked like he was made of Papier-Mâché.

I started to think maybe John Cole was a ghost. I saw him at the clinic one day, sitting off to the side, seeming kind of translucent. No one really payed him any mind. I sat by him and he smiled and gave me a lolly. This confused me some. When mum came to get me she smiled at him too, as we walked out hand in hand I told her “John Cole’s alive!” I think it worried her.

We didn’t see John Cole for a long time after that. I started to think I’d imagined him, like the little girl down down the street mum told me wasn’t real. I thought I heard them mention him though, at night when I was in my room. Words like ‘sorosis’ and ‘fucked.’ The first one meant nothing to me and I knew the second one was bad. I thought maybe they were mad at him, that or he wasn’t real. They never mentioned him to me.

He started fading in my memory. I’d see him from across the street and feel vaguely wistful. I was never sure if he was someone we knew. Then I stopped even thinking I saw him. We moved, my parents didn’t go to that clinic anymore, we never saw any of the people we used to. Daddy got a job and bought me dolls to play with. Third grade at a new school and I became obsessed with Cleopatra.

Years later, when my mother died, I trawled through all my memories. I knew what ‘sorosis’ and ‘cunt’ meant then. Paper yellow skin over bones wasn’t alien anymore. I asked my father about everything, I asked him about John Cole. Had he died like Bonnie, like Kane, like John Van Gulik? Like Brian and Kevin and Mum now? Dad said he probably had, but he didn’t know. All he could really remember was that John was a ‘good guy.’

He was my favourite childhood friend.

Words by Bella Morris