~ Hermester Barrington
I suppose the phrase “imaginary friend” will work as well as any other. My uncertainty arises because he’s not imaginary to me—but if you look over my left shoulder, close one eye and squint the other, you might be able to see him, or think that you do.
People have seen a lot of strange things when they do that—a thin tall figure with long fingers in a pale jumpsuit and bat’s wings, a girl with rabbit ears in a frock, Dame Helen Mirren, my favorite actress—but most of them see a man in his thirties to fifties at a desk, leaning over a keyboard, scanning through books, scribbling notes, frowning all the while. He stands next to a window through which one can see the tops of trees—pines, most people say—on a golf course. He often supports himself with one hand on a desk—a Craftsman, I think, like my own, but not as well cared for. The light comes in as in a Vermeer painting, at an angle, and, reflected from the papers scattered on his desk, illuminating his face from beneath. Based on descriptions by those who have seen him over the years, he has aged since first he was spotted.
Mind, he’s not exactly anyone I would have imagined as my imaginary friend—I would have expected some version of Prometheus, or Coyote, or that girl at the supermarket who shyly flirts with me, but we don’t always get to pick our friends, do we? At least not imaginary ones.
He has only appeared directly to me once. At 3:12 AM, precisely—I don’t know how I know that, because we don’t have any clocks in the house—he opened the door to the bedchamber, and, frowning, stood at the end of the bed and recited that Robert Frost poem about a cord of maple logs burning slowly in the swamp. While I was figuring out how to respond, he knocked over a glass of water on the bedstand and disappeared. Getting out of bed to clean it up, I glanced out the window, and saw the lawn and the lake littered with loose pages, on which I had been writing my poetry, and which I had left on the deck . . . I went out and fetched them, the ones on the lawn I mean. When I looked up, Willoughbuoy was standing in the window, looking down at me, but he was gone by the time I got back upstairs.
I’ve also seen him in dreams late in the morning, when my bladder awakens me. As I debate whether I want to arise, I recall him before the memory fades—it’s 5 AM, but he’s already at work on his book, on ideas of progress in the Atlantic world in the 19th century, before he goes off to his day job (he’s an archivist at a law firm). He mutters to himself in any number of European languages as he searches through the pages of a book, sometimes more than one at a time. He takes a sip of some soft drink, some knock off version of a much more popular heavily caffeinated citrus soda, the original being my own preferred beverage—and winces as it hits a bad tooth. I sometimes get back to sleep afterwards, but never dream of him again, if I do.
Sometimes he is writing fiction, viewers say, a novel shaped like a Klein bottle about an amateur protozoologist/haiku poet. I’ve heard this from people who don’t know that this description fits me pretty nicely, so perhaps there’s something to it.
I first learned about him some thirty years ago. My wife Fayaway and her friend, Mistress Dionaea, were discussing the best way to use magnets, a Leyden jar, and a gyroscope to figure out the exact shape of the earth, when Dionaea stopped, stared past me, and said, “Hermester, there’s someone standing behind you, over your left shoulder.” Our questions to Dionaea elicited the following information: he was tall and slender, with a full head of thin chestnut hair, a t shirt and jeans, and Birkenstocks. He was holding a chapbook edition of “Bartleby the Scrivener,” with illustrations by Barry Moser—our copy, as it turned out, which was missing the next time I looked for it. He was standing in front of a window—the window, in fact, that I have already described. “He wants to tell you that his name is ‘Willoughbuoy,’” Dionaea said then, and spelled it out and told me how to pronounce it, which brought to my mind the image of a tall slender lad bending in a breeze I could not feel. Somebody’s car alarm went off then, and the vision or whatever it was disappeared.
He has borrowed or stolen a number of our books since then—usually works that would interest him, I suppose. Occasionally I find works on our bookshelves that no one remembers acquiring—Alice in Wonderland in the language of the Voynich manuscript; a dismembered copy of Hopscotch with the “chapters arranged,” a handwritten note reads, “for ease of reading;” a rough draft of The Da Vinci Code autographed by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. If he is trying to tell me something by stealing my books, or leaving others, I’m not sure what it is.
I’ve thought about writing his book, tentatively titled The Millennium is on the Horizon, for him—he seems to rewrite the same chapters over and over—but maybe a book about time and fugitive progress should be impossible to finish. Someone once said that in order to be happy, you should find a project that you enjoy and which is too big to complete in your lifetime. That being said, it doesn’t seem to be working for him.
I can only imagine why he might have been appearing to me over the years. Is he the dross of my realized desires? A reminder of the decades in which I lived a life of drudgery, moving through my life as if befogged? Might he be a sort of memento mori, or an admonition to be true to my own self? I had hoped that by writing about him, I would exorcise him, but I having drafted and revised this piece for three nights in a row, he has nonetheless appeared in my dreams on the past three mornings, and has been the focus of my mind’s eye as I stumble out of bed and fumble my slippers onto my feet. As has been the case in the past, his image remained in my thoughts until I turned my hand to my pursuits—my haiku, my protozoology, my ficciones—and then, at about the same time that the dew evaporated from the leaves of the sycamores outside the windows, my memory of him faded as I turned to greet the morning sun.
Hermester Barrington is a retired archivist, a haiku poet, and a deliberately genre-ignorant artist whose most recently published ficciones have appeared in Fate Magazine, Mythaxis and Tales from the Moonlit Path. For over four decades, he and his impossibly beautiful wife Fayaway have traveled the round earth’s imagined corners in search of lake monsters, spelunking sites, and geomagnetic anomalies.
His latest project is a short film celebrating the protozoans of artificial ponds and streams he collected from miniature golf courses in the United States.