The aging plumber stood at a slouch, an artifact from the decades of mushroom-hopping, ingesting and turtle smashing in a bespoke suit. The subtle pinstripes of said suit were only visible to the discerning eye at extreme close range, watching as Timmy sat disinterested on an old, broken down couch. Their relationship had existed — much like many of his relationships — for dozens of years, dating back to their childhoods and extending deep into the throes of adulthood. Timmy, like many before, had changed. A lot had changed, including the Plumber himself.
“So,” Timmy said, breaking the silence.
“So?” The plumber sheepishly replied.
“You look good.”
“Oh,” he said, patting his white gloved hand on the breast of the suit. “Thank you.”
Timmy wasn’t a boy anymore, he was a man just barely into his thirties. His childlike, devil-may-care smile had been replaced by a frown and a five o’clock shadow that persisted throughout the days like a symbol of his disdain. The Plumber had changed since those early days as well, those times that they shared in the late 80’s. Everything was so fast and loose then, concerns weren’t of the narrative or existential kind, simply the shared thrill of the chase, the contentment in the princess being in another castle meaning more time together.
Things changed, though, for the both of them. The world lost its core innocence while they both grew, their once immeasurable bond slipped while the years of wear and tear battered at their hull like the unrelenting sea. The Plumber knew his role, but also knew that there was a world outside of Timmy and his like, even if it was difficult for him to fathom. This hurt Timmy, he could see it in his eyes, in the way that he glanced at the Plumber longingly before the look of betrayal sunk in. Sometimes that was what happens when two friends grew apart; their worlds once converged, but over time diverged and grew on their own, only for future meetings to become painful and strained.
“Hey,” Timmy said, “you think that we could break out a turtle, you know, for old time’s sake?”
“Oh wow,” the Plumber said. “I’d really like to, but I don’t do that anymore. My back, you know?”
“Right,” Timmy said, crestfallen. “I forgot about that.”
“I’m sorry, I know that we shared some good times, but a lot has changed since then. Look at yourself, Timmy, you’ve grown into a fine man. What about Patty?”
“She’s out of town and you know how she thinks that you are kind of, well… childish,” he said. “I just thought that we could get together again, old time’s sake?”
“I’ve just moved on is all. Patty is a smart girl, you know, she might be right. I’ve changed as well, Timmy.”
“I get it, I get it. Fine,” Timmy said.
“I’m getting older, the world is changing, this isn’t the mushroom-stomping 90’s anymore. We can’t delude ourselves. You are grown up now, Timmy. You’re starting a family. You two are trying, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, we are,” Timmy said. “And I know all of this, but I just… Remember the good times?”
“Of course I do, but I’m not that person anymore, neither are you.”
A tense silence fell between the two men, the Plumber burying his hands into his pockets and searching for something to say to lessen the blow of the inevitable. This was a terrible idea and he knew it going in, but still felt a sense of responsibility towards this kid, just like the rest of the kids, and it ate him alive knowing that he couldn’t be that avatar for their childhood anymore. The gravity of his influence hadn’t eluded him over the years, but instead weighed heavily around his neck like an albatross in the calm seas. Everyone wanted him to be something different; to freeze himself in time at whatever period they wished and to never change, but change was inevitable, and in a lot of cases, the Plumber was happy with his own evolution.
“Oh hey,” Timmy said. “How about this?”
He was trying, which the Plumber appreciated to some degree, but he did wish that he’d just let the Plumber move on, without these painful reprieves to delve into past history. With a sigh he lifted his gaze from his shoes only to see a turtle next to Timmy’s couch, crawling along the tile floor with its red shell glistening under the soft white overhead light. Red shell, fire, it all flooded back to him like a fever dream. It looked up at him with its cartoonish, bugged eyes that had no mal intent behind them. He couldn’t bear the thought of hurting such a creature again, especially after all of those years.
“Oh, wow,” the Plumber reacted. “Hi there, little fella.”
“Don’t you just wanna hop on his shell, for old time’s sake?”
A swell of emotions overtook him while staring down at the hapless turtle, conjured from the nether for nothing but simple amusement. What was that turtle but his sad reflection? It drove him crazy. Tears began to streak down his weathered cheeks, catching at his carefully manicured mustache while he turned his back to the boy that he once knew and the man that he couldn’t stomach and walked towards the door.
“Hey, wait,” Timmy said. “Where are you going?”
The Plumber paused briefly, considering the range of emotions tumbling through his consciousness and the many things that he wanted — no needed — to say, before realizing that none of it mattered anymore. He stepped through the door one last time, the stark realization that there would need to be another castle and another princess for both men.