Mikey was hard on himself. He was never satisfied with anything he did. Mikey was five. Most kids his age had an imaginary friend. Mikey didn’t think he deserved an imaginary friend, so he thought up an imaginary enemy named, Pencils, who dug into him any time he got the chance.
“Come on! You call that finger painting? You’re pathetic!” Pencils hollered at him.
Mikey tried harder, but he simply couldn’t get his five year old finger to draw a recognizable representation of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It looked closer to a smiley sun than God reaching out to man.
“Good job, Mikey! Good self portrait!” His teacher, Mrs. Eggers, praised, passing by to inspect his benchmate, Jenny’s picture of her family. No one in the family had the same number of fingers according to Jenny. Her dad had eight fingers, while Jenny’s mom had eleven. “Excellent, Jenny!” Mrs. Eggers sang Jenny’s praises.
“See? She even thinks Jenny’s family of mutants looks good, what does she know? Don’t take her praise personally, you dumb bum,” Pencils kept Mikey from getting a big head.
“When I’m older, I’ll be able to paint great, and the paintings will speak for themselves, and I’ll know it and I won’t need you any more,” Mikey told Pencils.
Pencils knew he needed Mikey more than Mikey needed him and hated him for it. For the first time, Pencils saw that Mikey would one day outgrow him, move on and forget all about his imaginary enemy. Pencils knew he was doomed.
“Hey, fatty, why don’t you ask the teacher if you can have your milk and cookies early, so you can get a head start on nap time, cause, you think you belong in the enriched kindergarten.” Pencils thought it wise to branch out the role of imaginary enemy, to include consulting. He realized he would have to revamp his job if he was going to hang on as Mikey’s imaginary enemy.
“I don’t want to nap right now, I want to paint,” Mikey dipped the baby finger of his right hand into the cool blue paint, before dropping it on the paper and drawing swirling trails of blue chasing his baby finger. In his mind, Mikey was looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, though, looking over his shoulder, Mrs. Eggers saw the sun in the sky being attacked by giant seagulls.
“You draw clouds very well, Mikey,” complimented Mrs. Eggers, “and those are great birds!”
“Those aren’t birds, they’re angels, can’t you see the halos?” Mikey was insulted.
Mrs. Eggers always tried to be extra positive with this boy, cause he was the most negative kid she had ever met. “Oh, very good! Excellent, Mikey! Good detail!”
“Little good it did me. You thought they were birds.” Mikey turned from his teacher and returned to his painting with his pinky finger.
“Hey, stupid head, why don’t you use your index finger? You’ll have so much more control.” It was Pencils to instruct, not his teacher. Mikey took the instruction, switching from his baby to his pointer finger, and showed improvement immediately. Suddenly, he could detail God’s beard, fine tuning the layers of hair growing out His chin.
“Oh! Is that Niagara Falls?” Mrs. Eggers asked.
“No, it’s God’s beard.” Mikey sulked.
His teacher was afraid of what to say next. She had never had such trouble with a student before. She really wanted to help, but, she feared everything she said was only hurting the child. “Wow!” She started with cause she couldn’t think of anything better to say. “What are you painting, The Sistine Chapel?”
“Yes!” For the first time Mikey felt his teacher could see. He credited it with the new skill that came from switching fingers.
Mrs. Eggers could see she’d said the right thing with the boy. “Oh, wow! The Sistine Chapel! Very nice! Where did you see the Sistine Chapel, in a book?”
“No, in Rome. Well, in the Vatican City, really.” Mikey stopped thinking his teacher was smarting up.
“Oh! Have you been to the Vatican?” Being a devout Catholic, Mrs. Eggers was truly fascinated.
“Just twice,” replied Mikey. He thought of his two summer vacations in Italy with his family. He hoped they could go somewhere new this summer, but, since his mother came from the old country, he expected a repeat of last summer.
“What’s it like?” Mrs. Eggers looked a giant sitting on the little seat next to her pupil.
“It’s ok, I guess. It hurts your neck having to look up all the time. Be better if he’d painted the floor.”
“And did the painting move you? Did you see God touching man and feel inspired?” Mrs. Eggers was leaning forward in the little chair.
“I felt sleepy. We went there the day after we got in Italy; I had jet lag.”
Mrs. Eggers realized she was looking for instruction from a five year old. She felt ridiculous sitting in the too tiny chair for her, and stood, towering over the little boy.
“Keep it up, you’re a budding Da Vinci!” The teacher encouraged.
“Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel,” said Mikey, unimpressed with the woman who called herself his kindergarten teacher.
“Yes, but Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, so there you go,” Mrs. Eggers walked away before she could do more damage to both their egos.
Pencils sensed it prime time to assert his place. “Hey, butt-face, what’s worse, being a bad teacher, or, being taught by a bad teacher?”
Mikey knew Pencils hated him, so it made him trust him more. He made a decision to stop listening to his teachers and trust his imaginary enemy who would one day grow to be his imaginary friend.