“Are you serious?” David said. He had listened uncomfortably to his wife’s description of her after school conversation with CarolLee. “Where did she ever come up with an Indian? One of the dark ones. With a turban, no less.”
“There are a couple of Indian kids at school,” Beverly said. “But I am pretty sure they are Christian, not Hindu. They don’t wear turbans. You work with people from India. Maybe she got the idea there.”
“They don’t wear silk coats,” David said. “And none of them are named Hand Job.”
“It’s not Hand Job,” Beverly said. “It’s Hunjab, or Hanjub. Don’t make more of this than it is. Kids develop imaginary friends because they are looking for companionship. That’s all.”
“He showed her his penis,” David said. “That’s not what imaginary playmates do. That’s what perverts do. I mean, why is she looking for companionship with a flasher?”
Beverly had been ready to dismiss the whole thing as the result of an over active imagination, but David’s words were making her think twice. “You don’t suppose somebody… flashed her, do you?”
“I think we have to consider the possibility,” he said.
“Who?” she wondered allowed.
Adam came in through the back door and David watched him seize in apprehension when the boy saw his parents. He seemed to be avoiding them more and more, spending all of his time in his room. He said, “Hi,” when he saw them, but then tried to rush out of the kitchen.
“Hold it,” David said. “We want to talk to you.”
“Adam,” Beverly said, “do you know anything about CarolLee’s imaginary friend?”
“Nope,” he said quickly, and tried to leave again.
“Adam,” his father said angrily, “this is important. We are very concerned about CarolLee. If you know anything, tell us now.”
“All I know,” Adam said, speaking softly, “Is she says he lives in the attic. She is batshit crazy.”
“She is not crazy,” Beverly said. “Kids have imaginary friends. Don’t start telling everyone she is crazy.”
“Then why are you two always going off the rails about it?” Adam asked.
Beverly tried to sound very on the rails, “We are just trying to better understand– ”
David interjected before she could finish, “Has she mentioned anyone showing her their penis?”
The look on his son’s face told David he knew something. The boy started looking around the room and fidgeting. “Well?” said David.
“What?” Adam responded, as though he hadn’t heard the question.
“Has she seen any penises?” David repeated.
“No, she’s never said anything about… those,” Adam said.
“Well,” David said, “if she says anything let us know.”
The boy nodded and walked away. David said, “What the hell is the matter with him?”
“I wonder,” Beverly replied.
Mr. Feltman was a tall, angular man who was either older than he looked, or loosing his hair far earlier than most men. Beverly had always thought him a good teacher with a lot of positive energy toward his students. She found it difficult to approach the subject with him as he sat behind the desk in his classroom eagerly waiting to hear the reason for her requested meeting. Eventually, after more small talk than was necessary, she told him of CarolLee’s invisible playmate, his foreign background, and that he lived in the attic and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The teacher smiled broadly, but said he hadn’t heard anything about Hanjub, nor did he have any idea where she might have acquired the unusual details of his person. He assured her, though, that this was not a subject for worry, and that although CarolLee was a little old for imaginary companions, she was extraordinarily bright and creative, read continuously, and was more than capable of developing elaborate fantasy worlds, should she put her mind to it. He suggested, in the least offensive way possible, that her lack of close friends at school may be a factor in her need for an imaginary friend.
His expression changed, however, when Beverly mentioned ‘the very nice penis,’ and he agreed that was an unusual detail. Mr. Feltman took her into his confidence at that point, and related to Beverly that there was a girl in class who had been molested. For obvious reasons he couldn’t say who, and he did not believe the girl had discussed it with any of her classmates because it was such a difficult topic for her. He couldn’t exclude the possibility, however, that some of the details might have trickled from parents to children to classmates, and that CarolLee may have become aware of them, and they found their way, innocently, into her fantasy. He suggested that as long as CarolLee appeared untroubled Beverly should not press her for details. Doing so might make her feel she had done something wrong. He confidently declared the girl’s fantasy would fade once its purpose in her inner life was achieved.
The conversation with Mr. Feltman left Beverly feeling greatly relieved as she stood to go, and the teacher took the time to show her some of CarolLee’s artwork on the way out, praising it as he did so. Beverly noticed a man playing chess with a classmate of CarolLee’s in a corner of the classroom. Mr. Feltman explained that was Mr. Norbert, the janitor, who sometimes taught the kids to play chess after school. When asked, he stated that CarolLee had never shown any interest in learning the game.
“Guess what I found in the attic today?” David said. Their after dinner conversations about Hanjub and CaroLee had become a regular occurrence, as though the Indian nobleman was an unfavored boyfriend who was leading their daughter astray. David was drying large pots and pans as Beverly loaded the dishwasher, and she waited for David to answer his own question. “That old coffee table that used to be in the living room, a chair and a stool, and a chess set with a half played game. She is playing chess with Hand Job.”
“Stop calling him that,” Beverly said. “It’s bad enough as it is.”
“And what the fuck is she feeding him? You should have seen that disgusting half-eaten sandwich.”
“It’s chickpeas with chutney sauce,” Beverly said. “I had to get it because we ran out of peanut butter, and because he wanted food from his native land.”
“That’s what she said, food from his native land.” Beverly shrugged, “I don’t know where she gets this stuff. She has never even mentioned Indian food before.”
“Well, he’s in America now,” David declared. “Tell him to eat baloney like the rest of us.”
“Oh, I thought of that, but he can’t eat baloney because he is a vegetarian.”
“Fuck me sideways,” David said. “This has gone too far. Shouldn’t we try to put a stop to it?”
“How? She is the only one who can see him. He doesn’t like adults, so he only shows up when she is alone.”
“And then he shows her his schlong,” David said. “I’d love to hear how that comes about. I mean, does he offer to show her what’s under his big turban, or does he whip it out to move the chess pieces around?”
“Nothing like that,” Barbara said, trying to sound reassuring. “From what I can tell, she just happened to see it, sort of.”
David was growing exasperated, “How do you just happen to see a man’s penis?”
“Now, don’t get upset,” Beverly said. “She has seen him in the nude, is all.” She could tell by David’s look he wasn’t going to settle for that. “You see, he sleeps in her bed with her.”
“Are you serious? Why does he sleep in her bed?”
It sounded much less absurd to Beverly when CarolLee was telling it in her nonchalant way. Beverly tried to make it seem less so now. “She says he’s tall, and the attic is too small for him, and he is more comfortable in her bed. And she saw his penis because… he doesn’t wear… pajamas… or anything.”
David threw up his arms, spun around once, and sputtered, “He sleeps in her bed, in the nude?”
“She says it is too hot for pajamas… in India.”
“This is ridiculous,” he said.
Beverly could see her husband’s anger blossoming into a familiar rage. “There’s no reason to get so upset,” she said. “After all, you sleep in the nude.”
“That is hardly the point.” David threw the dishtowel on the counter. “I’m going to put a stop to this right now.”
“No, David don’t.” Beverly pleaded. “I have the name of a psychiatrist. I’ll make an appointment tomorrow. Let’s not do anything in the meantime that might damage her.”