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Never Touch It
I couldn’t stop looking at it. None of my friends had cell phones. Dad had argued that a ten-year-old didn’t need a cell phone, especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. My mother was a smotherer and had been working Dad for years, and now I had a Smartphone.
“Jimmy, put that stupid thing away and come on!” Ronak screamed back at me as he raced down our street toward the forest.
I stuffed the phone in my shorts pocket and rode after him, feeling the bulk of it banging my thigh as I pumped. It felt like I had the world in my pocket. The forest surrounded me when I hit the edge of the road at the T and bounced along the dirt path to our treehouse that Ronak and I built two years ago.
After dropping my bike next to his, I climbed up the rope ladder to find Ronak waiting impatiently. He too loved to play Angry Birds on my phone and hated that I always played first. It was my phone. I settled into the pile of pillows next to him and pulled out my phone. The game icon was on the screen. I poked it and started level 34, which was killing me. Because of the challenges at certain levels, we’d instituted a new rule of all lives lost before switching if we didn’t level up.
“Dude, you suck!” he yelled as he punched me, bumping my arm, which caused me to miss my target and lose my last life. He snatched the phone from me.
“That’s not fair! You made me lose my last life!” We wrestled amongst the pillows, pushing them out of the way, scraping our elbows and knees on the rough wooden floor from the unfinished wood planks. A tingle-a-ling-a-ling announced a text. “Give me my phone. That’s a text from my mom. If I don’t answer it, she’ll make me come home.”
Ronak handed me the phone with a sigh and rolled onto his back to inspect his elbows. I looked at the text. Mom didn’t usually text so soon after I left. Mostly just to let me know to come home for lunch.
“Look. It’s not from my mom.”
“What? Who else would text you? I though only your mom had your number?”
We read the text together, “Don’t touch it! Never touch it!” There was no number, only a blank space.
That was the first communication from Lorena, who explained that she lived in a parallel universe. Even though they could read her texts, my parents called her my invisible friend throughout my entire childhood, convincing my best friend, though he’d been there for the first message.
For years, I had no clue what “it” was, for she was not forthcoming with an explanation. We discussed everything else. Her responses came always a day later, apparently due to some time-space interference that I still don’t fully comprehend. She had no clue why we could communicate by text, just that it was a rare phenomenon which made her a minor celebrity in her town and me a weirdo in mine.
In a new home way out in the country, my dad decided to get satellite TV, and a dish hung off the southwest corner of our house. We got some new stations, some in different languages, intriguing my dad, who watched despite the language barrier. He especially loved Bollywood films in Hindi.
“Dad, that’s the doll! In the left corner on the dresser.” He spit air through his teeth and changed the channel. “There it is again! I swear—on the bookshelf next to the blue book.” Another channel.
Before I could point it out on top of the fridge in the soap opera, Dad burst out with, “Stop it! Just stop it!” He took a deep breath and continued, “Son, it’s not there. You’re old enough to give up these games. No one sees it. It’s not there. No connection with your invisible friend. It’s time to let her go, Jimmy.” He held out his hand to me, man to man. “Deal?”
I shook his hand and said, “Deal,” and mentioned it not once more, though it appeared on every show.
Again and again, Lorena texted, “Don’t touch it! Never touch it!” Why, I don’t know. It was on TV. I couldn’t touch it.
Until I was 21 and saw the little, pinkish, angelic papier-mache doll in a store, sitting on a shelf next to toothpaste. Then another store, right by the candy I was choosing. I noticed it as I was picking up the bag, and I dropped the bag at my feet, picked it up, and went on my day. It was unnerving to be so close to a forbidden object from a parallel universe that no one else here could see.
I married in my mid-30s a widow with two children, children I adopted and love as my own. Lorena knows about my wife, yet she remains my secret. I’m still in the dark about her connection to the freaky, papier-mache doll that I’m now seeing everywhere. My wife knows nothing.
Last Tuesday, the doll appeared in the fridge behind the milk. I spilled milk all over the floor when I saw her. I cleaned it up, but I did not cry. Honestly, I wanted to cry. I mean, in the fridge…really?
Lorena chose to stay with the woman who was selected as her youth partner after school. She says this often happens. I’m glad she’s happy. I know that throughout her life she has continued to be a recognizable figure for her unusual connection to me. I, however, may be going mad from it. That freaking doll is everywhere, and I’m not supposed to touch it. I don’t know the consequences of such an action, but my lifelong fear of accidentally doing so keeps me on edge as she proliferates in my life. I have no one to talk to about this. Not even Lorena.
I now stand still in my living room, staring at my little girl as she gradually morphs into a little, pink angel.