Flash Fiction: Old Friends

“If something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn’t there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

I nudged open the bathroom door with my foot, revealing the humid darkness inside. Even after so many years, I remembered where the light switch was. I slipped on one of the latex gloves I’d brought and flicked up the switch. The dim florescent lights flickered a few times, then stayed on with a buzzing noise that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I did not have very many pleasant memories of this place.

The sinks were filthy, drains stopped up with grime and dry insect bodies. The mirror was almost opaque with filth. I prodded open one of the stalls. The toilet was dirty and dry.

“Hello, old friend.”

I’d been expecting it, but the sudden words in the utter quiet still startled me. I jerked back, letting the stall door swing closed.

“Hello,” I whispered, trying to calm my heart.

“It’s been a long time.”

I let out a breath, either relief or exasperation, I wasn’t sure. “It has.”

“You’ve changed. A lot.”

“So have you.”

“Only makes sense, I guess.”

“Yeah.”

Silence again. I shifted my weight from foot to foot. This was why I was here . . . to say goodbye, right? So —

“So this is it, isn’t it?”

I nodded, then shook myself. “Yes. They’ll be demolishing the school in morning.”

“I’m surprised you came. When we first met, you would have been far too scared to do something like this.”

I gave a little laugh. “You’re right. Back then. But now . . . You helped me, y’know. Be brave and all that.”

“And to move on.”

“Yes.”

After a moment’s hesitation, I opened the stall door again, slowly. I stared at the toilet, not at all wanting to sit down on it. I hadn’t changed that much.

“I’m glad . . . there are good memories here . . . in between the bad ones.”

At the words, images flickered in the back of my mind: harsh laughter, snide remarks, mocking glances, and the feeling of shame, shame, shame of being fat and shy and unpopular while using the girls’ bathroom.

I shook those away.

“I might not have made it through. Without you,” I said as I fully entered the stall. I turned around to look at the back of the door, which unlike the front, was still shiny and bright blue.

My reflection shrugged. “You would have. You were always stronger than you thought.”

I smiled. “I guess you would know.”

“Indeed I would,” my reflection said. She looked somewhere behind her — somewhere that wasn’t the dirt-covered tiles that were behind me.

“Nearly time, I think,” she said, turning back.

“Thank you,” I blurted out. “For everything.”

My reflection grinned. “Thank you. For talking to me. For listening. For being . . . you.”

There wasn’t really anything else to say, so I let the tears come. My reflection tilted her head to one side.

“I guess you’re right. You haven’t changed all that much.” She came a little closer with her hand outstretched, palm facing me. “Just in the ways that matter.”

I felt a warmth over where my heart was, and I reflexively reached up to touch the spot. My reflection winked at me . . . and then began to fade away.

“Goodbye, Other Me,” I said softly.

My reflection laughed, a sound that hung in the air even as she disappeared. “Goodbye, Other Me.”

Then my reflection was gone completely, and but for my memories, I was alone in the old bathroom.

 


 

I never had an “imaginary friend” in the traditional sense, but when I was little, I did pretend that I had a twin sister who just like me in every way. So like, I guess I’m a narcissist?

This prompt can be found in this book: 400 Story Seeds to Crush Writer’s Block.

“Hygiene is important” by Wyncliffe is licensed under Public Domain.

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