This story is also available in Polish.
Since the breakup Melanie lived in two worlds. In the weeks with me she lived in zoos and museums and books, in the weeks with her mother she lived in bible classes and religious movies and churches.
It was confusing for her, the constant switch from reading books to believing books and back. Maybe that’s why we failed to protect her.
It was in the summer. Melanie had just turned 10. Her first summer week was spent in a bible camp. When her mother finally dropped her at my place she also brought a big bag of books.
I still remember how Hailey cocked her head.
“You always want her to read. Now she has good books. What more do you want?”
Later I saw the titles.
“My friend Jesus”
“Jesus for children”
“Bible stories for kids”
We had lunch and Melanie told me about her time in the camp.
“We watched movies,” she said. “Did you know abortion is bad?”
I nearly choked on my food.
“Because God gives babies and so you can’t hurt them.”
Melanie smiled proudly.
All I managed to reply was “Oh.”
After lunch we walked straight to the bookshop. Melanie ran ahead inside the shop. By the time I came through the door she already had a book in her hand. She showed it to me.
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
“You like it?” I asked.
“There’s a lion on it!”
Back home Melanie jumped on the couch and crossed her legs. She started reading with a big smile. The big smile soon turned to a big grin and then to the serious face she always made when she forgot the world around her.
It didn’t even take her a day to power through the 200 pages. We bought the whole set.
For the rest of the summer Melanie didn’t stop talking about Narnia but already in autumn new worlds filled her mind.
It was just after the new year when Melanie started talking about Jesus.
“You know,” she said. “Jesus doesn’t like my bed.”
“Mommy says I can’t have a new one.”
“Is it too small for you?”
“Then I guess mommy is right.”
“But Jesus doesn’t like it.”
“Why doesn’t he like it?”
“He says the railing is too high.”
“He can’t see me.”
“Oh, but I’m sure mommy told you that Jesus can see you all the time.”
“No. I can’t tell mommy about Jesus.”
“You can’t tell mommy about Jesus?”
“He said I can’t.”
“Who said that?”
“You talked to Jesus?”
“Not mommy’s Jesus. Jesus of Narnia.”
“Jesus of Narnia?”
“You know,” Melanie said. “He looks like Jesus but he is from Narnia.”
“And where did you talk to him?”
“He lives in my wardrobe.”
Every time Melanie came she told me more things about Jesus. His white hair. The long beard. The spindly body. That he likes to play boardgames with her and tells her where to put puzzle pieces.
And always she begged me not to tell her mother.
“He said I can’t tell her. Else mommy will be angry.”
After the third week of hearing about Jesus of Narnia I told her mother about it. She just laughed.
“See what all the nonsense you give her did?”
Whenever Melanie told me about her Jesus I wasn’t sure what to think. I was bemused but I was also concerned. She never had any other imaginary friends and this one sure was odd.
Particularly odd was that Melanie told me Jesus always stayed close to the wardrobe.
Hailey didn’t take Jesus seriously and so I did neither. I found it strange that the imaginary friend never appeared in my house – only when Melanie was with her mother. Then again, at her mother’s apartment she likely also heard all day about a different Jesus. I figured it was her method to cope.
Once Hailey heard Melanie talking to someone. When she opened the door she found her sitting alone on the floor with a puzzle. The wardrobe was closed.
Melanie got upset when Hailey went to open the wardrobe. Melanie tried to block the door. When Hailey finally pushed Melanie aside and opened the doors there was nothing unusual.
I got used to hearing about Jesus of Narnia. Melanie liked him because he was there every night to play games with her. Jesus was the friend that filled her spare time.
I remember the car ride. We were just getting into town when Melanie turned to me.
“Can I see Narnia?”
“I’m not sure sweetie.”
“Jesus wants to show it to me.”
“I don’t know. You should ask your mommy.”
Melanie asked. Hailey said No. Melanie asked again until Hailey said yes.
That same night I got a call. It was Hailey’s phone.
Melanie sounded as if she was crying.
I asked her what happened.
“Jesus didn’t come,” she said. “He promised to come.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Jesus will come. Don’t worry about him.”
“Are you sure?”
Jesus never came back.
It was exactly four days later, on a Thursday, that Hailey noticed the smell. She looked for the cause, didn’t find it, and gave up.
Only a week later, when the smell had become unbearable, did she search properly.
She quickly found that the smell was coming from Melanie’s room. That it was not from under the bed or the shelves. That it was from the wardrobe instead.
She emptied the whole wardrobe. She wiped it out. Only then, while wiping the back wall with a wet cloth, did she notice that the wall moved.
She pushed against it. She saw the hole in the wall. She saw the room behind it.
The man’s thin body sat right behind the hole.
The police said it was a heart attack “from stress or excitement.”
They said he must have died right that Sunday, that day when I brought Melanie home.
In his car they found a rope on the back seat.
The trunk held two suitcases.
One with his clothes.
One with Melanie’s.