Fanny is gone, but there is a new dog, and you are allowed to walk her.

Lucas asks if you had asked permission to come to his house when he open the door and you say yes, because you had. Dad had said you could come, and then glanced at Mom like she might rescind the permission, but she had just nodded tightly and told you to be home in time for dinner. Lucas calls your house to check anyway, and you want to stomp your foot and tell him you’re not lying, but you know enough about lying to understand that that’s what a liar would do. Instead, you wait outside as Lucas says “Yes– of course– alright, thank you, Theo,” and then he leashes the new dog and hands the looped end to you.

The new dog is named Dan, which is what he had been named when he came from the shelter. You think maybe you could call Dan Danny, which would rhyme with Fanny and that way when you call him it would almost be like nothing’s changed at all, but when you try it the new dog doesn’t even look at you, so you go back to Dan.

You take him to the patch of forest behind the kindergarten. You’re going to folkeskole next year, because now you are too old for kindergarten, but you still know the way to the place even when you’re busy looking at the cracks instead of where you’re going. You watch Dan trot along the sidewalk, stepping on as many cracks as he likes. He doesn’t even seem to notice when he’s done it, as if there’s no difference at all between crack and not-crack.

You wish you could forget about the cracks, but you can’t. It used to be fun to pretend you couldn’t step on them, especially when Lucas would hold your hand so that you could pay attention to them, or pick you up and carry you across the kitchen because there were far too many to step over. But you’re not pretending any more, somehow now you really can’t step on them, and you want to go back to when they might as well have not existed.

It occurs to you that there are more cracks in the sidewalk than just the big ones between slabs, there are smaller ones and teeny-tiny ones and probably even cracks that are too small to even see while you’re walking, and you are seized with terror that one day you might never be able to walk at all. You hold on tight to Dan’s leash and he pulls you along. If you closed your eyes, he would probably keep you on the sidewalk, and you would end up stepping on cracks without even knowing about it, and it would all be OK.

But you’re too afraid to close your eyes, in case the whole world is different when you open them again.

***

“I just have a very vivid imagination,” you say in a quiet voice to the new principal. All your teachers know this about you, after all; Grethe at the kindergarten had said so, and then Mom had repeated it to all of the teachers since. It must be true. It almost sounds like a good thing.

The new principal is crouching down in front of the chair you’ve been dumped in in the school’s office. You’re almost tall enough to touch the ground with your feet, but you slump back instead of trying. Your skin feels clammy. “I don’t hear it any more,” you say. “I must have just imagined it. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

The principal lays a hand on your knee. “But you didn’t mean to do it even this time, did you, Klara?” she asks gently, and you can no longer remember– there’s no reason why you would intentionally imagine voices that couldn’t belong to any of your classmates, calling you stupid and worthless and worse as you try to get through your fractions worksheet. Perhaps they were just there, always. Perhaps they were real. Or perhaps you did imagine them on purpose, for reasons that are no longer clear to you. Maybe because they’re right.

You have to lie. It always comes to this– an adult with big patient eyes looking at you and they won’t stop looking until you say the right thing– so you lie. “I did mean to,” you say. “I made them up. It was stupid.”

The principal lets you go. You’re not in trouble, even though you had started yelling and crying in the middle of class, which usually means trouble of one kind or another. The voices might tell you you’re a liar, later, but they will be right.

***

Sleepovers are good because they mean you have friends to invite you to sleepovers. They’re bad because you get asked questions, and the questions are supposed to be fun. Also, this sleepover is on a Saturday, and you usually always walk Dan on Sundays. You pretend that it doesn’t matter, that you’d rather hang out with your friends in the morning and eat a big breakfast together than go to Lucas’ house. You’re all up so late that you’ll surely sleep through the usual dogwalking time, and anyway they would probably think it odd if you said you had to leave in the morning to walk someone else’s dog. You and Tina and Inje all fit on one big bed in the basement, although Inje is nearly tall enough that her feet hang off of it.

You have gotten through “what boy do you have a crush on” by choosing three boys basically at random. Klavs is even nice to you, sometimes, so as soon as you say it out loud you decide that you do have a crush on him, and will have to start acting accordingly in order to corroborate your story. You have all three admitted that you’ve never kissed anyone, although Tina claims she was about to at the school dance before they realized they were being stared at by a teacher.

“What TEACHER do you have a crush on?” giggles Inje, and Tina manages to rattle off four teachers from the folkeskole and one more from the gymnasium the next town over that all three of you will be going to next year, who she only even knows about because her older sister goes there. It is dark in the basement, but you can feel both of their faces turning towards you expectantly.

“I don’t,” you say, the lie sliding out of your mouth as slippery as any other. “I don’t, I don’t I don’tIdon’tIdon’t…”

“Okay,” says Inje, “Okay, whatever, it was just a question, it’s not a big deal. Personally, I just think Mr. Clausen is hot.”

“Okay,” you say, because maybe for her, it is okay.

***

Just a vivid imagination you think, over and over, until Dr. Moller tells you it isn’t.

Thiothixene and haloperidol make your muscles jump around in your skin like they’re trying to escape from your sorry sack of flesh, but clozapine just makes you a bit tired and adds an extra twenty pounds to your frame, and the voices stop. Mom suggests a day trip to Copenhagen to go shopping at Strøget and even lets you drive, fresh off of drivers’ education and prone to rev the engine at stop lights just because you can. You buy expensive jeans and billowy blouses in your new size, and when you look in the shop mirrors, you think the round shape of your face suits you. Mom doesn’t question when you buy cargo pants and long-sleeved shirts, too– clothes that you could wear to school, but probably won’t. You would wear them, maybe, if anyone ever invited you to go hunting. Nobody is going to invite you, but when at the end of the day you’re too tired to drive home, you run your fingers over the coarse fabric in the bag as you doze in the passenger seat.

You wear the prettiest white blouse you bought and a new pair of soft suede boots the next time you go to walk Dan. He’s an old dog now, more likely to amble along the sidewalks than tear through the forest, so there’s no need for hiking clothes. You try to convince yourself that the drug has, miraculously, made it possible for you to step on cracks. Perhaps it will also make it possible to go to bed without washing your hands three times, or touching the place where the door touches the frame to make sure it is closed an even ten. You still don’t step on the cracks on the way to Lucas’ house, and try to ignore the sinking feeling that whatever it is that is wrong can’t be medicated away; it was inside of you all along, and always will be.

You had read, in one of the books Dr. Moller gave you, that almost half of all patients with schizophrenia don’t take their medication, because they don’t believe they really have a disease. That won’t be me, you’d told him confidently, a truth obscuring the bigger lie behind it; that you’ll take the drugs even if you don’t believe in the diagnosis, because if you can at least pretend it’s real, perhaps that will mean it was okay, finally. Perhaps instead of I wonder why that girl told such an evil lie when she was so little– or was it perhaps true? people will shake their heads and say ah, but she was crazy, that explains it. And now she takes drugs for it, so that’s all right then.

Lucas invites you in for tea, these days, after you return with Dan. Usually you sit across from him, simultaneously wound so tight your heart could explode out of your chest and the most relaxed you can be all week, and tell him about school in bits and pieces. Today, you tell him about the voices and the drugs, and it feels like the biggest lie you’ve ever told, even though every word of it is true.

No voice made me say it, you want to tell him, I just did. Just me. The lie of your blameless insanity is for other people; you need him to not forgive you because of this. But then, you can no longer remember whether that’s true or not.

“Will you walk me home?” you say, when the tea is gone and Dan is dozing on an ancient doggy bed in front of the couch. “I need someone else to keep an eye on the cracks for me.”

You take a deep breath in the foyer, as Lucas pulls his shoes on. You wish you could ask him to pick you up and carry you, but you’re too big for that now, and his leg has never been quite right since that day at the grocery store.

You step out into the fresh fall air, and set out together. Lucas keeps his eyes downcast to the pavement and you direct your gaze up towards home, cracks passing unnoticed beneath your feet.