This is David. My invisible friend. He’s been my friend for like forever. He always looks out for me. He always protects me. He makes me stronger. He once held his arm over a lit candle, the flame inches from his pearly white skin, for 2 minutes, 32 seconds. I couldn’t even make it to 30 seconds. It hurt. And the smell of singed hair made my eyes water. Running the burn under a tap relieved the pain but as soon as I pulled my arm away, the pain came back. My arm was under the running water for a long, long time. I remember Mommy yelling at me. And Daddy scolding me, screaming about the water bill. David just glared at Mommy and Daddy, gave them both the evil eye. They didn’t survive long after that. David’s evil eye was really effective.
You can’t see him. He is quite possibly the most beautiful man in the whole wide world. Not that he looks like a model, or movie star, nothing like that. He’s flawless. He doesn’t have any spots, or wrinkles, or pockmarks, crinkles, his skin is really smooth, and velvety to touch. He is hairless. I know that because he is naked. He isn’t embarrassed, though sometimes I am, especially when I have someone over for dinner. Definitely makes me uncomfortable when I have a lady over. What can I do, though? He’s my friend. The greatest friend anyone can ever have. I can’t tell him to leave. He doesn’t bother anyone. unless they bother me. Then he gives them the evil eye. Then I’ll know I’ll never see them again. Works out quite well. Plus he doesn’t eat, or fart, or snore, or tell bad jokes, or laugh inappropriately. He’s perfect.
He tells me things about my neighbors. He knows a lot about them. For instance he told me the story of Mrs Hickson.
Mrs Hickson is a wonderful old lady who lives two doors down from me. Always pleasant, always courteous. She asked me once if I knew anything about drains since hers was clogged and was making an awful mess. David told me to say yes, and she invited me into her home. I had to take my shoes off at the door before I entered. She had a polished wood box just for shoes. It looked as if she just bought it straight out of the store. This way, she said, and please mind the clutter, this drain has gotten me all flustered. I searched around for something out of place, and all I could see was a couple of used tissues laying on her coffee table. I figured it must be bad since the mess had made her cry. She walked me through her living room which looked like one of those showrooms you see at home and garden shows. Pristine, dust free. Immaculate. I imagined this is what a house would look like in Heaven. Everything looked new, spotless. The couch was covered in plastic, as were the two high back recliners sitting in front of the fireplace. The mantle has many photos of Mrs Hickson with a man who I assumed was Mr Hickson. David told me he died two years ago from an aneurysm. They were childless. The largest photo was framed in gold. It was old. Black and white. Blurry. There was a huge man holding a little girl high upon his shoulders. The little girl was laughing, and the man had the biggest smile. Her father, David told me. Do you mind? asked Mrs Hickson. she held a pair of gloves in her already gloved hand. They were the type you see in hospitals. I must have looked perplexed because she said do you mind putting them on? its just that I have just scrubbed and waxed the banister and, well, do you mind? No, no, not at all Mrs Hickson. Glad to. Thank you she said, rather relieved.
We walked up the stairs, the thick white, and I mean white, carpet making our climbing quiet. Well, that and the fact that I was walking in my stocking feet. I didn’t hear a creak though. Not a sound. It was kind of eerie. We got to the bathroom. It gleamed. The bathtub was a thing to behold. The jolly green giant could fit in there. Here it is, said Mrs Hickson, pointing at the sink, a look of horror on her face. A couple of spots of black sludge lay around the drain of the sink. Can you do anything about that, she asked with a tremor in her voice. David told me to say yes, of course. You got any tools? David told me how to fix her drain, and I did everything precisely as he said. As soon as I was done, Mrs Hickson was already garbed up to attack the stain without prejudice. She had her rubber gloves, her spray bottles, her scrub pads, cloths, apron, mask. She looked as if she were about to go to war. Thank you she said, tears in her eyes. She fumbled about in her apron pocket, took out a fifty, tried to give it to me. No, no, no I said, I couldn’t, really, Mrs Hickson, it was an easy job. A plumber would have cost me a lot more, she said. Please, take it. She was quite firm, so I relented. As David and I left, my worn shoes looking filthy, unworthy, Mrs Hickson, broom in hand, methodically brushed away my footsteps.
OCD? I asked David. Yeah, he said. She was born in a small coal mining town in Kentucky, he told me, her father was a great big man with a hearty laugh, and a big heart. Dorthy Fitzburgh loved her daddy. He was the gentleness of souls. And he doted on Dot. She was his favorite of the six children he had with Francis, his wife. After a day in the mine, he would come home, try to shower and scrub away all the dust and grime off his skin. Then he would sit in his favorite chair, pop open a Schlitz, and take it all in in one big gulp. He’d sigh, burp, then open his arms, and Dot would jump up from wherever she was sitting and leap into his arms. They were strong, and protective, safe. How’s my girl bin t’day? He’d ask. And she’s tell him all about school, and what her brothers got up to, and all about the games she played with her friends, but he’d never get to hear all of it because he’d fall asleep, tired, exhausted after being in the mine all day. One night, when she was 7, David told me this in a stage whisper, she had gotten up to go to the outhouse to pee, and found her father sitting in his recliner, sobbing. She ran to him, forgetting all about her bladder, and kneeled next to him, trying hard to keep the tears springing up, and asked him what was wrong. He looked up with such despair. Oh, Dot, he said, oh my sweet little girl. Ahm feelin’ down, is all. Ah see this tiny little house, with it’s cracked windows, and stained ceilings, and lousy plumbing, rotting wood an ah just cannot stand it anymore. Ah wish ah could give y’all a better place to live, a better life, an education. Your’n Mama works hard trying to make this place look livable, and then ah come in all dusty and dirty messin’ it all up. And ah don’t make enough money to make things better. Ah work hard, Dot, but my paycheck don’t reflect that at all. It makes me ashamed, ah feel less of a man. Dot stood up, put her arms around her daddy’s neck and told him you are the greatest Daddy in the whole wide world. I don’t care about cracks and rot and damp. Who cares about all that when they’ve got nothin’ but love surrounding them. I love you, Daddy. I will always love you. Everyone loves you. He lifted Dot, hugged her and sobbed even harder. You, he said are the greatest daughter not in the whole wide world, but in the universe. The greatest ever. And ah am so blessed to have you as ma child. God has given me a gift that ah can never repay. I love you, Dot. always remember that. You are so special. He sat her on his lap, wiped his eyes. She could see that the tears had cleaned some of the grime off his face. It looked like a map showing rivers, and creeks. She stared at his face for a long time. Listen, he said, a catch in his throat. Listen, tell ya what. Help your Mama clean this place. She needs a lot of help getting all the dust out. Your brothers ain’t got a lick of sense when it comes to being clean, so that has to be your job. Keep it as clean as humanly possible. It’ll help me when ah come home full of coal dust. It’ll ease my sadness. ah’ll figure out somethin’ for the comin’ summer. Hook up a shower outside, get a laundry basket to put ma dirty clothes in. You just make sure Daddy has clean clothes. Can’t do it now, not with winter comin’, but when it starts warmin’ up. That way your Mama won’t be huffin’ and puffin’ and grumblin’ about all the dirt ah’m draggin’ into the house.
He smiled, but it was a sad smile. Whaddya say, Dot? She hugged him again. Smelt the sadness and despair. Promised, before God, that she would do it. Daddy? Yes, my baby girl? She kissed on the cheek. I gots to go. I have to pee. He laughed, kissed the top of her head. Well, go on. Watch out fer critters,tho’. Them skunks are around. Either that, or Mr Scrooge farted. Daddy! Playfully punched him in the arm, then ran, ran fast out the door. Mr Scrooge was the owner of the coal mines. a miserable human being married to a miserable wife, producing an even more miserable son.
On her eight birthday her father went deep down into the mine, and never came out. They never did find his body. The jolly green giant was gone and it tore his whole family apart. Dot especially. She vowed to get out of that town no matter what. And she did just that on her 16th birthday. Just up and went. Hitchhiked to Ohio, got a job in a grocery store, saved up money for a place to rent, and then she met Daryl Hickson. He was a regular customer at the IGA, and he always made sure he got in line when Dot was at the cash register. After a while he asked her out. To his surprise, and Dots, she said yes. They dated for a year, then one day he proposed. They were married for 49 years. She always remembered her Daddy, and she always made sure the house was clean for when Daryl got home from working at the steel mill. She scrubbed, and washed, and mopped, and polished, and it took her a whole day to get things right. After making love she would strip the bed, put new crisp clean sheets on. She did this three times one night. Made Daryl roar with laughter. Smacked her on her rump when she was changing the sheets. Oh, no, I’m going to have to change them again. And she’d turn around, hold him and kiss him.
That’s why she is the way she is, David said. And I felt sad for her, but happy too. For she did get out of that miserable little town
I do have a friend you can see. His name is Jeff. We’ve been friends for like since we were 7 years old. Jeff isn’t pretty. More rough. Face is pockmarked, nose is out of shape, chin is pointed, and he has a slight squint. Put him next to David and it’s like yin and yang. Complete opposites. Jeff doesn’t have an invisible friend and he sometimes make fun of me for having one. David will get angry and attempt the evil eye, but I tell David to stop because I don’t want Jeff to come to any harm. I mean everyone needs a visible friend. I tell David at night when we are alone that I need a visible friend otherwise I’d be alone. You have me, he’d say, you’ll always have me. I say hey, I know, but, no-one can see you and its not like I can go out for a bite to eat and have a conversation with you. It would look like I’m crazy or something. David relents, says he understands. Look, hey, look at me, I say, look, I’m 30 now. When I was a kid invisible friends were OK. Mommy and Daddy would play along pretending they can see you. Drink their invisible tea, eat their invisible cake. Daddy would fall down clutching his chest pretend to be dead from an invisible arrow. Those times were good until you gave them the evil eye.
They were just being parents, David. They were doing their job. Maybe if they’d had another child, maybe then they would have eased up. But, they couldn’t. I was always at the fertility clinic seems like for forever. And always, always, Mommy would come out of the doctors office crying and Daddy would have his arm around her shoulder, handing her tissues, trying to console her. We’ll keep trying, he’d say. we’ll keep trying. Didn’t help her. I’d hear them talking in their bedroom, whispering fiercely, trying not to raise their voices, arguing whose fault it was, she telling him her eggs were fine, him telling her had an overabundance of sperm. Both saying they should have a houseful of kids by now. I remember Daddy saying that maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe Hugo, meaning me, was all they were supposed to have. They just didn’t know that you had something to do with their barrenness after I was born. You didn’t want me to have a brother or sister after I was born, after you came into my life. You were the first thing I remember, you were, not Mommy or Daddy. Their faces came after. That’s why they thought something was wrong with me when I was a baby. Thought I was autistic, or something. They told me, laughed about it actually, that it seemed I wasn’t there. That my personality was blank. That I never cried for food, or to be changed, or to be hugged and loved. That I never smiled or laughed. It scared them. I was taken to a lot of specialists and they couldn’t figure it out. Did all kind of tests and stuff. They even discussed about putting me away. Then bam! One day I became a human being, not a blank state. That’s when you came along. Helped me through the process of having a sense of identity. They were so happy, so relieved.
I wonder how different my life would have turned out if I had a sibling. Would you have disappeared from my life? Would a brother or sister upset the apple cart? I ponder that just before I go to sleep. Not that I want you to go away or anything, I mean don’t take it personally. It’s just that, well, it’s just that you are always around. You are always by my side, an invisible shadow. It suffocates me sometimes. Especially around women. If you’d just go to another room while I’m trying to talk. If you’d just stop staring at the women as I attempt to put my arms around them. They can’t see you, but somehow, they sure can sense you. Stiffens them up, makes them very uncomfortable, which is why they don’t stay long, why they make excuses to leave, why I spend my nights alone. Oh, leave off, you know what I mean. I want a relationship. With a woman. Just a kiss. One kiss. That’s all. But no, I don’t even get that. You interfere. You screw everything up. You’re supposed to be my friend, so act like one. Leave me alone for a while. Let me see what that’s like. Let me be myself. Okay? Please?
Damn. That didn’t work out at all. I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk. I just sat there, saying nothing, doing nothing, just stared at the TV. Jenny put her arms around me. I didn’t react. She even put her lips on mine. Jesus, she screamed as she slammed the front door, it was like kissing a doll. I was a blank slate again. I was nothing. I didn’t exist. A flesh puppet without a master. I am not myself, am I? I am nothing without you. Truly nothing. I came around when you walked into the room. Do you know how frightened I was right then? To realize that I have no power of my own? That I am utterly powerless without you?
Jeff just showed up. It’s unnerving for he always calls ahead. Hey, Hugo, how’s things? He asks looking around the cluttered room, at last nights uneaten dinner for two, two nights of dirty dishes fighting for room in the sink, the stacks of broken pencils piled into a precarious pyramid on the coffee table. I really don’t remember doing that. I didn’t even know I had that many pencils in the house. Where is he? He asks. Beside me, I say. Oh, hey Dave how’s it hangin’? On my left, I explain. Oh, Dave, my man, what’s cookin’ bro? David hates being called Dave. And hates the way Jeff speaks to him. His eyes are getting dark. Why are you rubbing your chest? I ask Jeff. Oh, just some heartburn. Should’na had that Pepsi on the way here. Pop always gives me the burns. I turn to David. Don’t, I say forcefully. Yeah, Dave, don’t. It’s not me, Hugo. He really does have heartburn. I blush with embarrassment. Why are you here,Jeff? Need ya to come with me. It’s important. Where to? It’s a surprise, Hugo. Just for you. Davey boy ain’t invited. Don’t! I yell. Yeah, don’t! yells Jeff. What happened, he get up out of the wrong side of the bed this mornin’? You grumpy, Davey? I bow my head, shake it, please Jeff, I’m tired, too tired for surprises. Jeff comes right up to me, stands with his hands on his hips, then pushes the air to the left of me. David had already moved away. Jenny called me. Told me this godawful tale about you just sitting there like you were in a coma or something. She said you were a nice guy, but too weird for her. And Jenny’s been with some weirdo’s Hugo. For you to spook her like that? Jesus, that must’ve been one strange date. So, what happened? Huh? You want to tell me? I’m your best friend, remember? We’ve been friends for years, Hugo. Davster get all jealous? Freak out? Interfere? You can tell me all about it while we walk to my car. Dick, I mean Dave can do some housecleaning while we’re away. Is he able to do stuff like that? Can he enter the physical world, the real world? Can ya, Davey boy? There’s so much venom in Jeff’s voice. So much hate. He’s the one that’s jealous, says David. Wants you all to himself. But, tell me, who saved you from those boys who wanted to rob and beat you? Who took care of that horrible English teacher and his threat to give you an f? Who showed you the diseases that Harriet carried before you plucked up the courage to ask out on a date? Who took care of the mechanic that tried to rip you off? Jeff? No, Hugo, it was me. I will always look after you because I’m always with you. Jeff comes over when he damn well feels like it. And it’s been a while since he last came over. It’s been getting longer and longer. His wife thinks you’re weird, his kids think you’re weird, his other friends think you’re weird. He laughs when they make a joke about you. They tell sordid tales about us. Quite graphic, very detailed. Oh, if you ever heard them, you would explode, Hugo. Would you like that? Shall i tell one-no! I scream loudly. Shut up! Tears drip on the stained carpet and I absurdly think thank God Mrs Hickson can’t see that. She’d have a stroke. Jeff grabs my arm, tries to pull me up. C’mon, Hugo, we’re going. Let’s go. David whispers in my ear. He’s taking you to a shrink. He think your head needs examined. A shrink? A shrink? I ask incredulously. Jeff’s eyes widen and I see the truth. You think I’m mad? You think I’m insane? Is that it? No-now wait a minute, here, wait, Hugo, calm down, calm down, okay? I don’t know how- Jeff clutches his chest, falls back, crashing onto the coffee table, pieces of pencil flying everywhere. Jeff! Jeff! I get up, rush over to him, scared, unsure of what to do. His eyes are wide, and his face is turning blue. He coughs up bloody phlegm. CPR! CPR you fool! or call 911! Do something! Where’s my cell phone? Oh, hell, where did I put it? Compressions, never mind, do compressions! How many, oh, how many? I place my hands on his chest, his face is now almost black, like a miners. In my peripheral vision I notice David moving away from me. David! David! Please, help me! Talk me through this! I need to save him! David turns to me, smiles, walks into the bedroom, shuts the door. I turn my head toward Jeff, and become nothing. I watch the light go out of his eyes. I watch my visible friend die. My only friend die. The screaming in my head becomes louder, and louder, and louder, and invisible tears roll down my cheeks as I hear laughter coming from behind the bedroom door.