Neville has been my best friend since as far back as I can remember, in fact I can’t remember life without him. When we were both little we would share the same bed, I’d stroke his soft purple mane as he snored blissfully next to me. Logistics got in the way as we both got bigger. A man and a fully-grown unicorn just don’t fit into a bed together. Even the king size bed that I have now. Neville has his own room, but I have the en-suite. Neville prefers the great outdoors for his ablutions. I’ve fitted a latch on the back door that Neville can unhook with his horn, so that he can venture out to the garden whenever he wants.
It’s so much easier now we live by ourselves. When we lived at Dad’s it was a nightmare having to go out to the garden every time Neville needed to do his business. Dad was always suspicious why I needed to keep going outside, I’d regularly get my pockets checked for cigarettes when returning in from Neville’s toileting. Nev would find this highly amusing, suggesting I bought a packet so my dad could ‘find’ them on me and feel vindicated for the prison search.
I wished that I could’ve told him the real reason for my garden visitations, but the word unicorn was banned in our house when I was seven. Up until then I had included Neville in our family conversations and no one had seemed to mind, then Mum and Dad got divorced, and life got complicated.
It was an upsetting time for me, not Mum and Dad splitting up, but because they both said I had to stop pretending that a unicorn lived with us. They might as well have asked me to pretend the grass isn’t green. So I had to do the opposite, from that day on I had to pretend I couldn’t see Nev. He was upset of course by this, but when I explained it was necessary for him to stay with me, he stopped crying. Which was good because unicorn tears are tricky to get out of clothes, it’s the glitter in them. If Neville has had a cry on my shoulder my shirts always need a prewash, once when I was about ten I forgot to prewash and Dad wasn’t over the moon with his glittery pants. I blamed the school’s art department for glitter sticking to my school jumper, but Dad complained about his glittery pants for months.
I should point out that I did the washing at home as it was just me, Dad and Neville living in the house. Mum had moved to a flat across town. She’d wanted me to move with her of course but it was a tiny two bedroomed flat on the fourth floor. That would have been no good for Nev so we stayed with Dad. I also didn’t like Mum’s new boyfriend Warren, he smelled of herring and smoked, and that would set off Nev’s asthma. The smoking that is, not the herring smell. Did I mention Neville has asthma? When I used to visit Mum, Nev would stay at home in the garden. A few times he came with me and waited outside but the fumes from the traffic would set the asthma off too.
Mum visits me now in my house, but not that often. I think she senses Neville here and doesn’t want to admit to herself that he’s real. He stuck his hoof out once and tripped her up when she walking to the door and telling me I should get some friends. She blamed the rug. Neville laughed externally while I laughed internally.
I’ve mastered the art of laughing internally while keeping a neutral face over the years. When I had to pretend not to see Neville because we were in others company he would always relish acting the fool to try and make me chuckle. He got me a few times, usually when he stood on his hind legs and did demented disco dancing. On those occasions I would feign a coughing fit to leave the room for a glass of water.
It got tiresome though pretending I couldn’t see Nev and whispering when I wanted to talk to him, so I moved out last year on my twenty first birthday. I’m a postman and Nev comes out on my rounds with me. We’ve learnt which gardens to avoid, there are a few dogs that go nuts when they see him. Mrs. Jones in Laburnum Terrace has a poodle called Binky that poops on her lawn when he sees Neville. Nev either waits at the end of the road or crawls commando style past Mrs. Jones’s house, it depends on his mood. He can be quite moody at times.
Except on Sundays. On a Sunday Nev is buzzing like a bee in a florist shop. We go to the park every Sunday, even in bad weather. There’s so much space for Nev to gallop about in and he loves swimming in the lake. It’s our highlight of the week, and even more so now.
Two Sunday’s ago, we did our usual routine. I sat on the bench eating a strawberry ice-cream watching Nev frolic around the green. He was taking a longer and slower route than normal so I observed the rest of the park goers. There weren’t that many, a family feeding the ducks on the other side of the lake, a couple out for a romantic stroll who were holding hands and giggling as they ambled along. There’s another bench further along from the one I was sitting on, a young woman in a blue cardigan and jeans was sat alone, the sun highlighting her red hair. She was looking across the green, intensely watching something. I followed her line of vision, there was Neville, prancing about like a parade horse.
I looked back to her and then back to Neville. She was still staring at him. My heart started galloping alongside Nev as I tried to think what to do. I wondered if suddenly everyone could see him now or just this mysterious woman. The romantic couple and family didn’t stare though, which I’m sure they would have if they could see a purple unicorn. My ice-cream drew my attention back to myself as the coldness of it dribbled down my fingers. I dropped it into the bin next to me, having lost my appetite with nerves, and licked off the sticky strawberry from my knuckles.
Before my brain could work out what to do next my legs were walking towards the other bench.
‘Hello,’ I said, as I sat down next to the blue cardiganed woman.
She glanced at me quickly. ‘Hello,’ she said, before looking back across to where Neville was still showboating.
I watched Neville and from the corner of my eye could see the woman looking back and forth between me and Neville. I turned my head towards her and caught her in full stare. ‘I’m John.’
She held my stare gently, her green eyes sparkled. ‘Emma.’ She smiled a smile that would have morphed my ice-cream to a milkshake.
I felt myself blush so turned away, Neville was trotting back towards us. Emma was watching him. This was just too weird. Neville stopped trotting when he reached the bench and shook his head, fluffing up his mane.
I took a deep breath. ‘You look like you’re having fun,’ I said, raising my eyebrows to Nev for some help.
‘You can see her?!’ Emma’s eyes widened and she moved forward on the bench.
My heart bumped repeatedly against my ribs. ‘Him. He’s a he.’
Emma frowned. ‘She’s a she.’
‘Neville is definitely a he.’
Neville was looking back and forth between us and was unusually quiet. I thought he was upset being mistaken for a female so I stood up and started to pat him for reassurance.
Emma squinted. ‘What are you doing?’
My stomach knotted. ‘Stroking my unicorn.’
She laughed. The knotting tightened.
‘You have a unicorn with you?’ Her smile radiated through every pore in her face and her shoulders relaxed as she leaned back into the bench.
The knot in my stomach started to unravel. ‘Yes.’
She nodded. I was confused. I thought she could see Nev, but then it was obvious she couldn’t, yet she didn’t run for the hills. And there was no pity in her eyes, still just the vibrant twinkle.
She stood up and started to stroke the air next to Neville. I thought she was humouring me by pretending to stroke him.
I rested my hand on Neville’s back. ‘He’s here.’
She nodded, still stroking the air. ‘This is Moira.’
My eyes tried to analyze hers. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know what to say, so I just stared at her like an idiot.
‘Moira is a unibob,’ said Emma.
I looked at Nev and he nodded. I swallowed to moisten my throat enough to speak. ‘What’s a unibob?’
Emma glanced at the air she was stroking. ‘A unibob is a magical llama with a horn, but it has a little bobble on the end of the horn, unlike a unicorn’s pointy horn.’
‘She’s pink, what colour is your unicorn?’
‘Purple, he’s purple.’ I smiled at Neville, he just looked embarrassed by me.
‘They match well then.’ Emma stopped petting the air and relaxed her arms down.
‘Yes.’ I nodded again, like a goofball. ‘We come here every Sunday, I’ve not seen you here before.’
‘We’ve just moved to the area, I inherited my grandfather’s farm, up by The Grange.’
I nodded again. ‘Will you be here again next week? I’d like to see you again.’
‘I can be, I’d like to see you again too. And judging from how much Moira was leaping about on the green I think she’d like to see Neville again too.’
He did, and we did. The Sunday after was just the best. I’d never felt so relaxed in my life, and for the first time I felt I belonged in the world. That sounds corny but it’s true. I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because someone can’t see your unicorn, they know that you can, and someone accepting you for you is the best feeling in the world. No pretending.
Nev wants to move to the farm today, but I’ve told him it’s too soon. We’ll go next week, that’ll give me time to pack. Neville is a useless packer as he just packs snacks.