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Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #1107187
A story about the importance of friends.
“What had happened was this…” said Nathan, stuttering in his haste to get the words out.

His father glared at the 10-year-old child, daring him to lie, as he shouted, “No, I don’t want to hear excuses.” He grabbed the boy by his right ear and practically dragged him over to the swimming pool. “Do you know what it’s going to take to clean up this mess you made?”

“But, Dad, I…” Nathan tried to explain, but the furious adult was too incensed to listen. All he could see was the swimming pool, no longer filled with crystal clear water.

For Nathan, the day had started out like any other summer day, cool and foggy but with a promise of a temperature into the 100s by afternoon. His father was away at work earning money, while his mother was busily shopping to spend it. Both parents were gone, leaving Nathan alone with his nanny, Betsy Wooster, a sweet but slightly absentminded woman in her late 60s.

Nathan, who lived miles away from children his age, often resorted to playing with imaginary friends. George, a gray stray dog of an unidentified breed, was Nathan’s most common companion, a pretend dog who seemed real to the lonely child. He listened to the many secrets whispered into his furry ear and never ignored or yelled at Nathan, unlike the boy’s parents.

About 3 p.m., Betsy was sound asleep inside the air-conditioned home while Nathan and George played outside under the now scorching sun. The concrete around the kidney-shaped pool burned Nathan’s feet as the two of them went in and out of the water, but it did not seem to bother George’s paws at all. Nathan, however, soon tired of swimming and thought maybe George must be, too.

“George,” Nathan said, standing on the edge of the pool and looking down into the clear water, “I’m bored. Aren’t you?” George nodded his shaggy head, since all his imaginary friends always agreed with Nathan. “Do you have any ideas what we can do now?” Nathan cocked his head to one side and listened to George’s brilliant suggestion. “You’re right. I bet Mom and Dad would like a prettier pool.”

After silently tip-toeing into the house, Nathan passed the sleeping nanny and went into his bedroom. There, he searched for a particular item a favorite aunt had given him last Christmas, over the strenuous objections of his parents. They had forbidden Nathan to use it, saying it would make a mess, and they did not have time to clean up after him. Therefore, it was still in the unopened box, waiting for a day like today.

“Come on, George,” he whispered, quietly walking around Betsy’s recliner and outside again. The dog followed, long red tongue hanging out of his grinning mouth, and padded noiselessly behind the boy. George sat down on his hindquarters next to the child, waiting to see what would happen next. That was one good thing about imaginary friends, they were always patient.

Nathan sat down at the edge of the pool with his skinny naked legs dangling into the water. He tore off the cellophane from the box and started to pry open the dozen containers inside. His aunt might never have given him this gift if she knew how Nathan would use it. On the other hand, maybe she would have since she considered her brother and his wife too uncaring and self centered to be parents. In fact, she might have joined Nathan and George in what they were about to do.

“Which one first, George?” asked Nathan, gazing into the box. “Okay, I’ll pick one. How about the purple?” Seeing the dog once again nod his head, Nathan snapped off the cover of that particular jar of finger paint and slowly poured it into the pool. The contents of jars holding pink, blue, and orange paint quickly followed. By now, the clear water had turned a rather odd color. The various paints swirled around, forced into intricate patterns by the whirlpool attachment at one side of the pool. The pungent smell of the paint rose up from the heated water, causing George to wrinkle his sensitive doggy nose in delight.

When all the contents of the jars were in the water, Nathan and George sat back, admiring their handiwork. At one end of the pool, pink paint coated the fiberglass sides. Orange paint had settled on the three-step ladder at the other end, and a combination of blue and yellow created a variegated design that oozed in places into sickly green.

Hours passed with the sun beating down on the paint-coated pool, while the whirlpool continued to create beautiful patterns. Nathan had soon tired of watching the ever-changing colors and gone inside with George to play in his cool bedroom.

Betsy woke up about 5 p.m. to the sound of the furious yelling of her employer. She joined Nathan and George, who were coming out of his bedroom to investigate the noise. When she saw the condition of the swimming pool, she quickly returned inside, far away from the angry man.

It was at this point that Nathan tried to explain. For a second time, he said, “What had happened was this. It was George’s idea. Don’t you think the pool looks prettier this way?”

Not knowing who George was and definitely not agreeing about the pool’s improved beauty, Nathan’s father unclenched his fists and tried to calm his temper. During the next few hours, the two of them (and George) worked together to clean the painted pool. For the first time in years, they spent more than a few minutes together. By the end of this tedious chore, Nathan’s father had learned how lonely his son was and vowed to spend more time with him.

Over the next few weeks, Nathan watched as George slowly faded away, disappearing to where imaginary friends finally end up when no longer needed.

Microsoft Word Count = 996

Written for a daily Writer's Cramp forum contest.


© Copyright 2006 J. A. Buxton (judity at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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