You forced your way into my life on a Friday morning. The only friend I’ve ever had.
I remember I heard you before I saw you. Or maybe I felt you. You always itch when you speak. And the evenings when you snore are unbearable. An invasion of the senses. I can stifle the racket if I tuck the duvet under my neck and lie on my hand. But the itch! Jesus! No cream or herbal remedy exists out there that’ll do the trick. Nothing. Nada.
Believe me. I’ve tried them all.
I was in Mr. Davies’s English lesson when you first spoke. You announced your arrival in your thick Austrian accent. “Knock, knock!” Your voice echoed in the classroom and I jumped in my seat. My book and biro tumbled to the floor. To my right, Ted whispered something and others laughed. Becky at the desk on my left rolled her eyes. Mr. Davies tutted and resumed his Hamlet ramble.
You persisted. “Over here. Turn around.” And then you unleashed your booming laugh. I flinched but nobody seemed to notice. Everyone else was either staring at the board or into space.
In the sudden confusion, I didn’t realise I was scratching my hand.
I looked down and that was when I saw you. Red, mottled and swollen. A perfect circle. Like the guts of a blood orange. Or a promising sunrise.
In your heavy Austrian speech you boomed, “Brian…you son of a bitch!” My face must’ve been a picture. I knew your voice only too well. And that line… without the ‘Brian’ bit. My favourite actor and movie. The classroom ceased to exist. You chuckled.
I gawped and you asked, “What’s the matter? Mr. Davies got you pushing too many pencils?” Then you unleashed your guffaw. I remember trying to cover my ears but your belly laugh only got louder as you came closer.
Ted jabbed my elbow and mouthed, “Freak!”
I felt myself grow hot. But you weren’t phased. You gave as good as I got. You answered, “You’re one ugly motherfucker.”
Ted didn’t seem to hear you but that was fine. He must’ve realised I had back-up because he gave me a strange look and turned away.
I lifted you up and, concealing you with my other hand, whispered, “Let’s talk later.” You didn’t reply but I knew that was fine by you.
You stopped itching.
In the beginning, it was kind of cool. We’d watch Arnie films together and you’d humour me. We had this fun game where I’d pause Predator or Commando or Terminator or Total Recall (those are my favourites but I’ve got them all) and you’d quote the next line for me in your thick Austrian accent. I knew you were getting sick of, “Get to the Chopper!” because you would itch like crazy as that line approached. And I’d hear an irritable undertone in your voice. You always did it for me though.
Even when I made you repeat it. Again. And again.
We used to do a fun role play in the house too. Whenever my sister, Sally, left the room and nobody was listening, I’d whisper, “What did you do to Sally?”
And you’d reply, “I let her go.” For a while, we’d laugh at our own joke – you bellowing like Arnie and me tittering – even though it didn’t make much sense.
I kept you covered though.
You had grown quite big and you were mine. All mine. If anyone saw you, they’d take you away and our games would stop.
I’d lose my only friend.
I could tell you were growing tired of the Sully – Sally Commando game though.
As with our video binges, you were starting to itch more and sounding less Austrian.
I knew things were coming to a head and I’ll never forgive myself for what I did.
We were watching Terminator 2 and you were inflamed worse than ever. Every time I paused the film, you’d remain silent. Stubborn. And the irritation was unbearable. For both of us.
I applied some calamine but you dug your heels in. You totally refused to say the words. You burned a furious red.
I forwarded the tape to the easiest line in the movie. We skipped all the action in between. I thought this would be punishment enough in itself, but you held firm. Arnie’s most famous quote that everybody knows and you wouldn’t do it.
I glared at you and gritted my teeth against the soreness. “Go on. Say it. Go on. Fucking say it. Say I’ll be back. It’s not hard. Just three simple words. I’ll be back, see? I just did it. Do that and you can watch the rest in peace.”
After an unbearable standoff, my hand on fire, you replied in a weak Austrian accent, “I’ll….be….back”
That night, you didn’t snore but neither of us slept.
I now refer to that specific moment in time as Judgement Day.
Nothing was the same after that.
You swelled so large I could no longer hide you.
I remember my parents’ and Sally’s horrified stares when they set eyes on you. They couldn’t understand why I’d kept you quiet for so long. They thought you might be gangrenous and they rushed us to the hospital.
I told them we were OK but they wouldn’t listen. If truth be told, I had grown bored of you anyway. The games had stopped weeks before I gave you up.
After Judgement Day, you had refused to speak. Your itching and soreness had been relentless and unforgiving. I think I welcomed the treatment.
In the waiting room, you spoke for the first time in ages. You raged, “This is all bullshit! All of it!” But it was too late. Your words fell on deaf ears and I closed my eyes as the needle sank into my hand.
For a few months, I slept well but I had a nagging guilt, and I ached with loss. The days were empty.
I lost all interest in Arnie films. And my best friend. I stopped watching movies. I was restless.
Once I felt itching on my hand again. Excited, I inspected the skin and I even asked, “Are you back?” But there was silence.
An insect bite which faded the next day. A cruel reminder.
Then it happened. I don’t know what changed your mind. You’ve never really explained why. Maybe you forgave me. Or perhaps you missed my friendship too.
I was lying on the sofa, staring at a movie magazine when I felt the tickle and heard your familiar voice, “Knock knock.”
Your snoring is loud at night and your itch can be a bit much, but we understand each other now.
I never make you quote Arnie (unless you want to).
And we keep you well hidden.
Mark Humphries has a BA Honours degree in English from the University of Sheffield and teaches ESOL in Leeds, England, where he lives with his wife. His work has appeared in the online publications, Horla and East of the Web. He has written a speculative novel and is currently working on a horror anthology.