Diana by Sheldon Costa
The first time she becomes invisible what surprises her most is the lack of weight.
She has no frame of reference, really, other than what she has seen in comic books and movies. She would have expected to still feel the sweat collecting under the crease of her elbow, or the straps of her backpack on her shoulders. Instead, she nearly falls over because she can’t feel her feet on the pavement, and when she looks down, she isn’t there anymore.
She’s been working at disappearing for a while now. Small steps. A few months ago, she faded so much on the bus that a man didn’t see her sitting next to him, and spread his legs out so wide that his knee touched hers, and she had to stand up. There have been days when almost no one in the office acknowledged her, or walks through the grocery store where she seemed to phase through stacks of pre-cut cheeses and heads of lettuce. But she’s never been able to completely disappear. Until now.
It’s come at an opportune time, because Borris is currently walking behind her. Borris is the man in the Seahawks jersey, with the greasy beard and red eyes, who follows her home at least once a month from the bus stop on twelfth. He usually walks a few feet behind her, all the way to her front door, shouting the same thing:
“Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am?”
She hates Borris. She hates Borris because she is afraid of him, even though he has never tried to touch her. It’s the way he looks at her—she can’t miss the threat in his eyes. I could touch you if I wanted to, it says, so consider yourself lucky that I’m not.
So this is an ideal time to disappear. Which she does. And while Borris swipes at the empty air, shouting at nothing, she makes her way home unencumbered by his presence.
There are perks. Like going to parties. She doesn’t like going to parties. But she gives herself a quota each month, to go out with her friends, because she’s afraid that if she doesn’t they’ll stop texting her.
But now she doesn’t mind following them to these events. Once the room is broken by shafts of neon light and heavy bass, she can simply disperse—can go to some part of the backyard by herself and sit under a tree. Since no one can see her, she just waits, listening to the wind in the leaves, until her friends are ready to go home.
She can also pick her nose in public, or readjust her underwear, or do that thing where she smells her fingers after rubbing them through her hair. She can stare at people while they walk by. She can follow them for blocks, watch their hands as they test fruit at the farmer’s market, look at the concern that flashes on their face when they look down at their vibrating cell phones, or the shame that crinkles around their eyes when they try not to see a homeless person.
She doesn’t follow them into their homes. She doesn’t care about their private lives. She wants the time to scrutinize the public face, wants to look at what people hide in plain sight. When people can see her, there’s never enough time to stare; they flow past like shooting stars, too bright and fast to see. It feels less vulgar when they can’t stare back.
Maybe this is wrong, she thinks, to read the maps that people print on themselves without knowing, like blind cartographers plotting their own lives on their faces. She doesn’t care. She wants to see.
She finds that leaving the house is much easier now. She used to feel self-conscious about every outfit—about the way the pants hung on her thighs, about the way her stomach looked in a new blouse. Now she can wear these silks gloves and this fake pearl necklace, or this low cut blouse, or this eye patch and these riding boots, and she doesn’t have to worry about being harassed or embarrassed in the street. She can walk outside at night and never feel afraid, can go the park at three in the morning and drink wine from a bottle and stare at the sparkling circuit board of downtown. She can take off her clothes and dance between cars in the street, and no one will even turn their head.
She had never realized how heavy she was. The way that walking is a sort of falling, how gravity is always trying to press her into the dirt. She did not realize how bone and sinew, how teeth and hair and finger nails, fat and muscle, were like so many anchors on her. The various discomforts—the impressions tight waist bands leave on her skin, the itches on the arch of her foot, hang nails—suddenly become so obvious, so intolerable. She had never realized how much she hated having a body.
She disappears for an entire day for no reason. Simply sits on a street corner, unseen, watching the people go by. Then she spends three days in bed, Patti Smith on her laptop, and watches the dappled light from the window dance on the sheets where her body should be. She spends a week naked in a church, listens to the organ player practice every morning.
One day, she sees Borris following a woman home, shouting his usual interrogations. The woman, her purse tightly clutched under her right arm, looks not unlike how Diana once had. Scared. Tense. Resigned. Borris trails behind her, his arms raised, his face full of hate. She thinks about how easy it would be to take a rock and smash it against his teeth—to become an unseen force of female vengeance on the streets. But then she thinks about how heavy the stone would be, how it would rub hard against the palm of her hands, how it might hurt her wrist when she brought it down on his face. She thinks about how he might snarl and struggle, how he might grab hold of her and bring her back down to the street, back to the pavement, back to gravity and her body. How could she be sure, even if she was invisible, that he couldn’t still get a hold of her? The thought of it—of the fighting, of the fear, of the blood rushing quick and hard through her veins—makes her very tired.
Sheldon Costa is a writer living and working in Seattle, Washington. He hails from Post Falls, Idaho.