Old-Times: Imaginary Friends
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

Dorothy was my imaginary friend until I was nine years old.

My whole family spent most of September vacationing on the ocean, every year. We rented the same shack of a house on the beach. "A great deal!" father would proudly proclaim as we dropped our luggage in the middle of the main room. Mother would immediately set to cleaning while father located firewood and fishing poles and all the things he'd want.

The summer tourist season was always winding down at that time of year. When we first arrived some restaurants and shops were still open, but the flow of customers was slow, then feeble, then within the week most places were boarded up and closed for the winter. Some years, if it rained for a few days before we arrived, things would be nearly closed by our arrival.

I had no siblings, no friends there. No children lived near the cabin at all. I had only Dorothy to play with.

We played checkers, or with dolls. We ran along the beach and into the woods. Sometimes her playful laughter turned slightly, like a wrong bone, and I had to run as fast as I could, running for mother or father or at least the open beach, before she could push me and send me sprawling into the thorns and brush. Usually I made it. It became so common that mother and father would laugh as I lept, screaming through the weeds onto the sand toward them.

The last summer we went to the cabin, there was an incredibly warm day. Dorothy and I were playing in the waves when a barrel bobbed over to us. It must have fallen of a ship's deck or a pier or something. It was the first new toy we'd seen for a week, and we set upon it. It was a boat, a carriage, a steam train, a house. We competed to see who could sit or stand on it the longest. Finally I fell in the water laughing, looking up at Dorothy. One of my feet was on the barrel and I was up to my chest in the water. She reached out and grabbed my foot, and too late I noticed her smile had changed. I had a shiver and a voice inside screamed to run, but I just stared.

"Why?" I asked, a sob escaping.

She lifted my leg into the air and my head and chest fell backwards into the water. I thrashed and gasped but couldn't get enough air. The world flipped between dark aquatic echoes and brief frothy windows of breath and her evil laughter. I grew tired and it became hard to even thrash when I was suddenly pulled up out of the water by father. I coughed and coughed and he held me, looking at me with concern, confusion, fear. The barrel was still there, but Dorothy was nowhere to be seen, not then and not ever again.

The next spring a developer bought the entire strip of beach for a park, and mother got sick, and the beach we'd visited just wasn't there anymore.

[ tags: friends imaginary notmine old old-times stories times ]

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