Fiction · 08/31/2011

A bit about Le Pue, the imaginary friend Patrick had imagined as a boy and then forgotten, and what Le Pue was up to now

Le Pue sat on the patio of a café, drinking lemonade through a striped straw. Le Pue’s legs were crossed, one knee over the other. Le Pue wore leather loafers and tailored white pants.

Le Pue, of course, could not be seen.

Le Pue could not be seen, and so Le Pue could not order a lemonade, when Le Pue wished to drink one.

Le Pue could only wait at one of the café’s empty tables until someone at another table had ordered a lemonade, had been served that lemonade, had drank whatever that someone liked of it, had paid for that lemonade, and then, abandoning the unfinished lemonade, had walked away from the café back toward the sea.

Perhaps another way of saying it: Le Pue could drink only someone else’s leftovers.

Le Pue was sitting on the patio of a café, drinking a lemonade. But before Le Pue had finished it, an aproned server came and took his lemonade away.

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It would have been possible, instead, for Le Pue to drink an imaginary lemonade. But Le Pue could not imagine a lemonade for himself. Le Pue could not imagine anything. Le Pue could wear only those clothes Patrick had imagined for Le Pue as a child.

Patrick had forgotten him, now could imagine nothing for Le Pue.

Neither could anybody else, of course. Nobody knew that Le Pue existed.

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Le Pue had tried to overcome this.

Le Pue had been following a graffiti artist when it had occured to Le Pue that doing so would be possible. The graffiti artist had been a nine-year-old girl who had lived in her grandmother’s apartment in a city in a swamp. The graffiti artist had spraypainted her city’s streetcars, its streetlamps, its bridges’ undersides, with the tag PiPER. This tag had often included a cartoonish jellyfish. The graffiti artist wore neon yellow hoodies and glittery hightops that came halfway to her knees.

What had occured to Le Pue was this: if Le Pue could make the graffiti artist imagine him, as Patrick had once imagined him, then it would be possible for the graffiti artist to imagine new clothes for Le Pue, to imagine him lemonades.

And so, as the graffiti artist had tagged the doorway of an abandoned bakery, Le Pue had taken one of her cans of spraypaint. Then Le Pue had spraypainted, onto one of the bakery’s boarded windows, IMAGINE A MAN NAMED LE PUE DRINKING A LEMONADE.

The graffiti artist had heard Le Pue’s spraypaint, had seen Le Pue’s can of spraypaint hanging there. Then she had seen what Le Pue had written.

Instead of a lemonade appearing in Le Pue’s hands, however, another imaginary man had appeared there with them. The man had had a gray mustache and hairy arms and had worn a bloody butcher’s apron over a white shirt. He had been drinking a lemonade.

“No — ” Le Pue had said, but before Le Pue had been able to ask the man both 1. if the man’s name were also Le Pue and 2. if he could have the man’s lemonade, the man had disappeared. The graffiti artist was holding the can of spraypaint that Le Pue had dropped — the can of spraypaint that before, to her, had appeared to have been floating — and was now looking at it. She had forgotten the man named Le Pue that she had imagined — was thinking now only of the floating spraypaint — and so the man had disappeared.

But that was not the problem. Le Pue understood the problem: the problem was that the graffiti artist had not been able to imagine Le Pue, Patrick’s Le Pue, drinking a lemonade, because she had never seen him — ”LE PUE” to her had suggested someone else imaginary entirely. She would be unable to imagine Le Pue a lemonade because she could not imagine Lue Pue himself.

The next morning Le Pue had followed the graffiti artist to her school, and as the graffiti artist had napped through her math class, Le Pue had walked into the anatomy classroom across the hall and taken chalk from the classroom’s blackboard. The rows of students in the anatomy classroom had been bent over an anatomy quiz, while the anatomy teacher played mahjong on the internet.

Le Pue then had written on the blackboard, in chalk, letter by letter, IMAGINE A MAN NAMED LE PUE WITH LARGE LIPS AN UPTURNED NOSE LARGE GREEN EYES HIGH CHEEKBONES BLACK HAIR BUZZED TO THE SCALP WITH A RECEDING HAIRLINE ABOUT THE HEIGHT OF THE SKELETON AT THE BACK OF THE CLASSROOM AND OF AVERAGE WEIGHT AND CLEANSHAVEN, THIS MAN LE PUE WEARING A PALE BLUE SHIRT AND BROWN LEATHER LOAFERS AND TAILORED WHITE PANTS AND A BROWN LEATHER BELT AND ALL OF THIS FITTING QUITE WELL AND HIM WEARING NOTHING ELSE, IMAGINE HIM STANDING HERE, THIS MAN LE PUE, AT THE FRONT OF THE CLASSROOM, DRINKING A LEMONADE.

Le Pue had put the chalk back on the blackboard. “Time,” the anatomy teacher had said, not looking up from his game of mahjong. The students had looked from their quizzes to the anatomy teacher, and then to the blackboard at the front of the classroom. Then they had begun reading what Le Pue had written.

As they had read, men had begun appearing there at the blackboard with Le Pue — one sitting on the teacher’s desk, another standing behind it, one standing next to Le Pue, one standing near the light switches, another standing next to Le Pue, one floating there above the blackboard. More of them appeared, many of them looking somewhat Le Pue, but others looking not that Le Pue at all — one man’s shirt was gray, another man was shirtless, one man’s eyes were of the wrong shape, one man had scars on his neck and his face, another man had dreadlocks, one man’s white pants were denim, another man’s white pants cotton, another man’s white pants what appeared to be lamé, one man’s shoes were the size and shape of loaves of bread, one man was tattooed, another man had no nose, one man was quite fat and one man was even fatter and another man, Le Pue saw when he looked again, was not even a man but was a woman, a woman in white pants and a pale blue rainjacket and rubber boots standing at the back of the classroom with the skeleton, drinking a lemonade.

Le Pue had known that not all of the anatomy students would imagine him, Patrick’s Le Pue, exactly. But he had thought that at least some of them — at least one of them — would. But none of them had imagined him. None of them could imagine him. No lemonades had appeared in his hands.

“Who wrote that?” the anatomy teacher said, looking up now from his game of mahjong, and a freckly boy who had imagined the man with dreadlocks shouted, “I did!” and then the imaginary men and woman in the classroom disappeared, one by one, as the other students laughed, at the freckly boy, because he had been so clever to write something on the board while nobody else was watching, and then the teacher had sent the freckly boy to detention, which was what the boy had wanted, to leave, to leave the quizzes and the lessons and go off somewhere he could doodle.

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Matt Baker’s fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, Meridian, and Denver Quarterly, among others. Baker has an MFA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the founding editor of Nashville Review.