Mary gave me the name Potts before I opened my eyes. I know it was directed at me because she pointed with her stubby, chocolate stained fingers high above her blonde head. Her index finger was the first anchor to reality for me and I saw her dolls and stuffed animals lying haphazardly on the floor around her.
“Do you want to play?” I asked because that was what she wanted me to say.
Her face lit up and I could see several of her teeth were missing. She jumped up and down on the floor and her mother shouted at her from below to stop bouncing around. Mary stopped and she raised a finger to her lips, telling me to be quiet. I nodded and she took my hand. I could not see it but I know that it was there. I could feel her soft skin on mine, the pressure of her grip as she brought me to the floor. She handed me a doll.
“Here.” She says, her voice the only one I have ever known.
“Okay.” I grabbed it but the plastic fell through my invisible fingers and onto the floor.
“Don’t drop it, Potts! It hurts the dolly.” She said, adopting an authoritative tone. She places it back in my hands only for it to fall through again.
“I’m sorry.” I say because that was what she wanted to hear, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to.”
“Why can’t you hold it, Potts?”
“I don’t think I have hands.”
Her gaze directs to a notepad and several broken crayons at the foot of her bed. She picks up the purple one and draws a figure of a body, taking particularly long strokes for what I assume are the legs and arms.
I feel a gust of wind enter the center of my being. It pulses upwards into my skull and into my hands and feet. Warmth envelops me, caressing my limbs and torso. Mary grabs another crayon and yet another, giving me skin and eyes and a mouth and even hands! She draws clothes on the paper and I know exactly what I look like even before she smiles and shows me the picture.
“All done!” She says. She even wrote my name, Potts, on the bottom with big green lettering.
My skin was purple and I wore an outfit that looked as if I was wearing the drapes over her window except that it was yellow and bore blue stripes travelling from my shoulders to my wrists. My eyes were green and my nose was long with a sphere on the tip. I sort of looked like a clown.
“It lights up during danger, Potts, my daddy had something like that.” Mary said, pointing to my nose on the drawing.
Interesting, my birth certainly was. I knew my name the second that Mary decided upon it and I even knew that she wanted to play dolls before she said it. It’s liked we are linked together, Mary and I. I know her thoughts and she knows mine.
I pick up the doll with a purple hand, “Want to play?”
My legs are long and I take up most of the room. My back arches and I am given a more aerial perspective on the dimensions of where her bed, door, and closet is. There is a picture of a man dressed in a fire fighter suit, smiling. He is very handsome and I know that is her father. I don’t know why I have this knowledge. The window offers light and I wonder if anyone can see my shadow through the curtains because I know that they can see Mary’s. I doubt it because I am Mary’s friend and no one else’s.
We played with her dolls for a while. I was every character that she wanted me to be, even before she said it. Her face lit up when I manipulated my voice in a myriad of accents to better perform the roles she wanted of me. If she wanted to pretend her doll was a celebrity, I would be the person always trying to get a picture of her. If she wanted to be the popular kid in school, I would play the parts of the girls that was jealous of her fame. I don’t mind that I am given the passive and side roles. Mary is the main character in her play and mine. I’m here to make her happy. I only failed in doing so when she wanted to play house and I offered to be her father.
She shook her head, “No no no, Potts. You can’t be Daddy. Daddy’s not here anymore.”
“Can I be Brad? You’re Mommy’s boyfriend?” I ask, trying to mold into a role. I feel my insides beginning to tremble. I do not want to make Mary sad. She’s even visibly upset.
“No.” She says, “You can be my friend Suzy at school.”
My doll is pretending to make dinner when I feel a presence in the room. It’s her mother. I gesture with a nudge of my head that Mary should turn around and she looks up from the doll house.
“Mary, who are you talking too?” Her mother asks, holding a cup in her hand. It is still steaming and I see heavy bags under her eyes. I hope Mary never gets them. She holds her herself in a bathrobe and leans against the post on the door.
“To Potts.” Mary points to me and I see a faint flicker in her mother’s attention to where I am sitting. I wonder if she would be alarmed by my presence. I am a purple skinned, yellow friend with an illuminating bulb on my nose after all.
Her mother shakes her head, “Whatever. Come down to dinner. Brad will be home in a couple minutes.”
“Can Potts come too?” She asks, pointing to me.
She pivots and says with a sigh, “That’s fine.”
The table in the kitchen had three chairs surrounding it. I pick the one adjacent to Mary out of instinct that I do not want to be separated from her. She stops me and tells me that one is for her mommy’s boyfriend. She tells me to wait as she turns the corner of the kitchen and escapes into another part of the house.
I am alone with her mother. I wonder if she hears my breathing. I have to crouch to avoid having my head hit the ceiling, and I find it odd that she does not notice me. She simply sighs and finalizes the dinner as if I was nonexistent, imaginary even.
Mary returns, having been gone for ages. I had wondered if she left for good. Her small body, half the size of the chair retrieved from the dining room, struggles to maneuver into the kitchen. I stumble forward and feel the back of the chair push into my palm, carrying it to an empty side of the table for her.
No one talks during dinner except Mary and I. Brad, a man in a business suit, keeps whispering something to Mary’s mother that neither of us can hear. He looks at me once and I think he is perplexed at my appearance but he does not motion that he saw me. I’m invisible to everyone but Mary. He keeps looking at her and I see him rub his thigh every once in a while. Mary won’t look him in the eye and his presence makes me angry although we have never interacted.
Her mother keeps her eyes to her food, pushing the bits of broccoli and carrots around with her fork. A watery film is beginning to grow in her eyes and she says to Brad, “I think you need counseling.”
He slams his fist on the table and says, “Mary, dinner is over. Your mother and I need to talk.”
Mary is brought upstairs by her mother who kisses her on the head and tells her that her love has no bounds and that she is sorry. I follow in suit behind the steps. I want to hurt this man but I feel a magnetic urge to be within Mary’s vicinity indefinitely.
We play with dolls and we could both hear the arguing in the kitchen down below.
“Does this happen a lot?” I ask.
“All the time.” She says, putting a jacket on her toy.
Brad shouts something about how he isn’t sick and her mother says something about the police. Brad says something about money and how Mary and her couldn’t leave him even if they tried. I am growing anxious hearing these words because I know that they apply to Mary but I cannot make sense of them. I want to be calm for her because I see her anxiety is rising. I want to be strong. I want to protect Mary from the fire that is in this house.
Eventually the day grows dark and the sun sets. We play with dolls and games such as hide-and-go-seek and no one bothers us. It is dark outside and her mother comes in and tells us that is time for bed. Mary nods and goes to get dressed. She brushes her teeth with me standing behind her in the mirror. I look so big compared to her, I must be at least five times as tall. She smiles at our reflections with a mouthful of toothpaste. I do the same and I see my teeth are sharp and pointy like a shark because that was what the picture Mary drew looked like.
I sit at the edge of her bed and we talk about many things. I already know what she is going to say and she knows that I am going to say but we talk to one another anyway. I “learn” about horses and cartoons and dresses and her stuffed animals.
And then Mary stops speaking and she tells me to hide in the closet, her eyes wide and her lips trembling. She points with the same hand that marked my existence earlier today.
“Why?” I ask.
“Mommy’s boyfriend is coming. Hide!”
“Like the game?”
I maneuver myself off the bed and within two steps I close the closet doors behind me. I hear Brad enter the room and they exchange some words. I look through the crack in the doors and I see that he isn’t wearing anything and his genitals are swelled. I lock eyes with Mary as he slips himself under the covers. Something tells me this is wrong. I feel dirty, Mary feels dirty. My nose lights up, a red beacon beckoning her to safety, to the sanctuary of the closet where we can play dolls forever and we can draw and sing and dance and laugh. I don’t want to be the one hiding and I shout for her but I don’t hear my own voice and my eyes close before I see Brad taking off her pajamas from underneath the blankets. I reach my purple arm out through the crack in the closet doors but a furry hand, its green tint permeating even in the darkness of the room, grips my wrist.
“You can’t do anything.” It’s a giant rabbit with long whiskers and fallen eyes. A red bulb that looks very similar to mine rests on his nose. It is shining scarlet in tandem with my own.
“This is always the hardest part of the day.” A blue and yellow parrot with a monocle and mustache on its beak leans down and speaks into my ear from the shelves up above. An illuminated bulb rests on the tip of its tail.
“The only thing we can do is watch.” The rabbit says, pushing my arm down to my sides. He guides me into the corner of the closet which has become very spacious, and I am greeted with figures of differing colors, sizes, and proportions. A collection of colorful friends, bonded like myself to the collective purpose of making Mary happy.
“I will never get used to this. And I was only born yesterday.” A red bear with a tie and top hat says from the corner of the closet. So I sit down with the others and watch from behind the closet doors. I am a discarded friend that failed to protect her, just like the others.
Glenn Dungan: "I am a writer living in Brooklyn, New York City. I like black coffee and people watching."