Child or Children

Davis was watching TV in the den, the Flinstones were on and he loved the Flinstones. Often his mom would make him a steak he could enjoy while he watched it. Today his parents were busy, like most every day. Only today wasn’t exactly like every other day because a new kid came in and introduced himself to Davis. The kid wasn’t someone he’d ever seen before. Davis’s parents had a home practice, which meant clients and patients came to see Davis’s father for health work stuff. That’s how Davis thought of it. Davis figured this poor kid got dragged in with his parents and then sent out to play with Davis while he waited for his mom or dad. Made sense.

Tommy sat in the rocking chair Davis’s mom always sat in but Davis could hear his mom scolding the new kid saying he wasn’t sitting, he was slouching. Once the show was over and the commercials came back on, Davis turned to look at the new kid and see what was going on and what he wanted to do.

Tommy straightened up and looked at Davis, pale freckled cheeks, blonde hair, blue eyes, and an absent quality that Davis couldn’t articulate to himself, but that he could certainly feel.

“I think we should go play upstairs. Have any good beds in this house?”

Davis thought about this a moment cocking his head to the side and sticking his thumb in his mouth, then it came to him and he grinned and nodded.

“My mom’s bed is the bestest bed in the whole wide world!”

Tommy grinned and stood, signaling that that was the best news he’d ever heard.

The two of them climbed onto Davis’s mother and father’s bed and began to jump on it like all little kids do. At some point, Tommy put out his hands and Davis took them in his. Tommy’s hands were rough and strong, almost splintered. Again there was that absent or vacant feeling that Davis felt deep inside his gut but that he didn’t understand.

The world looked like it was bouncing up and down while him and Tommy stayed still and that made Davis laugh. After a few moments of wild laughter, Tommy joined him and the two of them were laughing together, then Tommy made goggly eyes at Davis and that got them both laughing even harder.

At some point, as all kids do, Davis decided to try some new moves on the bed. When he launched into the air on one of his jumps, he twisted his body around and came down looking the other direction. He let out an exultant cry then did it again. Then Tommy began doing the same thing. Each time, Davis thought of a new idea and tried it out and then Tommy would copy him. They were still both laughing when Davis made one last move and miscalculated where he would land. His right foot came down on the wooden frame beneath the mattress near the edge and it sent him tumbling forward, his chin catching his father’s nightstand on the corner and gashing open with searing pain and blood dripping in fresh patters all over the cream-colored carpet. Davis rolled over onto his back, dazed and the world blurring through unbidden tears.

Then the pain exploded in his awareness.

Davis howled so loudly the windowpane by the bed trembled ever so slightly.

Finally, his mother came rushing into the room and scooped him up with practiced arms.

“Shhh, oh my God, honey, what happened?”

Davis could only continue to yell and cry. His mother, Janelle, took him into the bathroom and tried to staunch the bleeding with cotton swabs and then treated it with rubbing alcohol which invoked fresh anger and mistrust and outraged crying from Davis.

She bandaged his chin as best she could and waited on him hand and foot until he calmed down. It wasn’t until evening when Davis asked where Tommy went and what happened to him. This question arose with apparent reluctance and unhappiness. His parents exchanged a look and Janelle shrugged her shoulders to indicate she had no idea what Davis was asking.

That evening was spent watching television after dishes were washed and put away and Davis’s father, Stanley, had finished wrapping up last-minute business details with his patients and could join them in the den. The same den where earlier that day, Davis insisted Tommy had shown up.

“I’m sorry honey, but there was no little boy by the name of Tommy who visited with his parents. And your daddy just confirmed with his patient calendar that no one came in with a child. None of us saw one here the whole day.”

“But mah-ahm! He was there! I swear it!”

“Sweetie, I just don’t know what to say. I guess you made him up because you were really bored?”

“NO!” Davis’s eyes widened at the thought that you could make up an imaginary friend as real as Tommy had clearly been. It just didn’t make sense. How could his parents not have seen the kid?

The evening wore on in a similar fashion until Davis fell asleep.

“Hey Mom, Dad, do you guys remember when I busted my chin?”

They were driving to go see a movie about a lawyer who took a deal with the devil and it looked really good from the preview.

“I remember,” Janelle said.

“Can’t say as I recall,” Stanley said.

“There was a kid that day. He and I were jumping up and down on the bed. Whatever happened to him?”

His parents exchanged a glance at each other.

Janelle turned in her seat and looked at her son, Davis who was now 17, with as much compassion as she could find and said, “There wasn’t a little boy playing with you, sweetie. You must have imagined him.”

“Oh,” Davis said. He didn’t imagine Tommy, and either his parents were blind or weren’t paying attention to who came and went from their house, or he had played with a ghost. Or you had one hell of a hallucination. To that last thought he quietly doubted it very much.

“Anyway, why?”

“Why what?”

Such a teen, his mom thought. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I don’t know, we’re going to see this movie and something about it jogged my memory.”

“Well, memory is a funny thing. That was a long time ago and who knows what you’ve told yourself over and over about it since then,” Stanley said, ever the doctor, rarely the father.

Davis nodded his head, “Yeah, I know. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing this movie, aren’t you guys?”

Janelle shifted slowly back to a front-facing position in the passenger seat and said she was looking forward to it and how she always liked Al Pacino in almost anything. Except for Scarface, she wouldn’t watch that if you paid her.

Davis thought to himself quietly as his father guided the car along toward their destination: child, or children, was it me and him or just me and myself?

Child or childrenChild or childrenChild or children?