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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Painting Bruce (A Free Flash Fiction Story by Graham Downs)

It's been a while since I did this. How about a free flash fiction story? This one's called "Painting Bruce". Enjoy!


When I was ten years old, I had an imaginary friend called Bruce. Bruce was a small child with blue eyes and short brown hair. He was a wonderful friend, who never got me in trouble with my parents, and we played together often.

That’s not such a strange thing in a child, particularly a child who struggled to make “real” friends, so when I would speak about him to my parents, they would just shrug and laugh it off. The fantasies of youth.

When I was sixteen and still talking about Bruce, they got worried. They told me I was too old for an imaginary friend, and that I should grow up and make some friends. Maybe meet a nice girl, they said. Surely there were some girls at my High School that I was interested in?

There weren’t. There was only Bruce. Bruce had grown up with me – his was now a broad shouldered young man with dishevelled hair who helped me with my homework. But I overheard my mother talking to my father one night. She said that she was worried about me, and if I didn’t stop talking about Bruce, she’d have to send me to the psychologist.

Bruce said that if they did that, they’d put me in an asylum, and pump me so full of drugs that I wouldn’t be able to see him anymore. I didn’t want that, so that was the last time I mentioned Bruce.

Now I’m thirty-seven and live alone. Well, “alone” as far as everyone else is concerned, at least. Bruce is still with me, a haggard man with a scraggly beard, long hair, and a paunch. I keep telling him he needs to exercise, but all he does is sit on the couch all day and vegetate while I’m at work.

Last week, I’d finally convinced him to come with me for some fresh air, so we were taking a walk through the park. At one stage, he stopped and pointed.

“That’s da’!”

I followed his finger and saw an old man, perhaps sixty. He was standing under a tree, painting something on an easel.

“Who? The old man?”

“Shh!” said Bruce, as a passing jogger slowed down to gawk. “They can’t see me, remember? You want to go the asylum?”

I shrugged, as he went on. “No, the painting. Look.”

I couldn’t quite make out what the old man was painting, so we walked a bit closer. As we approached, his painting came into focus. It was that of an equally old man, one who looked quite a bit like Bruce.

My friend jumped up and down excitedly. “I told you. It’s him!”

I tried my best to ignore him, and approached the painter.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but I could help but notice your beautiful artwork. What are you painting?”

The man started, and I gave him an apologetic look, feeling a bit guilty for scaring him.

“Why thank you, young man. It’s so lovely out here. So peaceful. I keep telling him to come to the park with me, but he won’t.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

The man motioned towards his subject. “Him. That’s Stephen. He’s been with me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.”

Beside me, Bruce was getting more and more excited. “That’s da’!” he kept saying, pointing frantically at the painting.

I started to feel it too. The excitement. Maybe I wasn’t alone. Bruce had mentioned his father once before; all he’d said at the time was that he’d left him shortly before Bruce and I found each other. He never mentioned him again, and I knew nothing about his mother either.

“Has… can anyone else see Stephen?” I asked tentatively.

The old man sighed. “No. No they can’t. You probably think I’m crazy. Most people do. I’m pretty far past caring, to tell you the truth.” With that, he returned to his painting.

I pressed on. “No, sir, please. I don’t think you’re crazy at all. Please tell me, does Stephen have a son?”

The man looked at me, and I saw a glimpse of recognition in his eyes. Of belonging. Of someone who finally discovered that he wasn’t alone.

“Why, yes,” he said. “As a matter of fact, he does. Or at least, he did. He told me about him, once. I think his name was… Bryce. No, Bruce. He disappeared about thirty years ago, maybe a bit less. Stephen says he never saw him again.”

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