By Evan Shapiro ©️ 2020
I’ve become invisible to her. She moves through the life we’ve built together as if I’m non-existent. I watch her as she readies herself for bed. She doesn’t seem to notice that I’ve stopped reading and that I’m just watching. She sits at her night table and removes her makeup, her actions almost automated, her routine entrenched and systematic. She stands then moves towards me, but it’s not me she sees. I’m just part of the bed to her. She turns down the sheets, drops her nightie to the floor and curls onto her side, her naked body turned away from me. I feel the gentle warmth of her skin begin to radiate across the sheets and know I’m no longer permitted to touch it. Her hand extends from the bed and she flicks off her bedside lamp. She whispers, ‘Good night.’
‘Good night’ floats in the empty space between us. She wasn’t really talking to me. Saying ‘good night’ has just become part of her routine. The only light now is my bedside lamp. I’m so invisible to her that I also want to be invisible to myself. I turn my light off and stare into the darkness.
She’s gone when I wake up. She’s gone every day when I wake up, but in the morning light that pours in through my window, I remain. I lift my arm through the warm, dust-filled beam of sunlight to confirm I’m visible. As I make my way to the lab I wonder what she does when I’m not there. Is she ignoring my presence when I’m around or is this how she is when she is alone?
We are working with pigment neutrality in the lab. If I can find a way to make pigment translucent, to allow light to pass through it instead of reflecting it back, then a new era of stealth will open. Not just objects, like my military employer’s jet planes and drones, but organic matter. Imagine what information an invisible spy could obtain moving unseen through enemy lines.
As I’m looking through the electromagnetic microscope, seeing cell structures the human eye alone can’t perceive, I think of her. How did we get to this place of isolation, where she no longer sees me? 10 years, no children, professional careers. Is it just boredom that makes me invisible to her now? Is it because she has seen me so many times that her brain has decided not to bother constructing that part of the picture? Knowing something is there but choosing deliberately to exclude it?
Suddenly I realise the answer. I have to make light work the way her mind is working. Not through boredom or apathy, but through reprogramming. Whatever part of me that reflects or blocks light must be told to allow it to pass through. Then it won’t only be her that sees through me completely, sees past me, sees a world that exists not simply absent of me, but one constructed around me, one in which I only exist as an echo. And in that world I can observe her. The part of her that thinks I’m still in the room and worthy of ignoring will no longer function. When I’m truly invisible to her then I can observe what her life is like without me.
I delve into the DNA structure with purpose and determination. A labour of love or perhaps lost love but I’m driven nonetheless and find a structure I can manipulate.
I attach my sequence of genetic reprogramming to a non-lethal virus. I inject it into my lab rats and watch them vanish before my eyes as the virus spreads through their systems. I pat their invisible little bodies and don’t forget to feed them just because I can’t see them. Strangely their fecal matter remains visible. It’s a little disconcerting seeing a tiny rat poo appear a few inches above the floor of the cage and see it drop, seemingly out of nowhere.
A few days later and their antibodies have kicked in and my virus and its effects are cleared. My little furry friends are now visible again and none the wiser. But I am, and I am ready to discover just what goes on when I’m not around in the world my love and I have created.
I drive into our garage and park the car. She’s not home yet. I texted earlier and told her I would be working late, maybe into the early hours. I was on a breakthrough, that was true. She replied with an emoji. She’s been replying with lots of those lately. A happy face. Does that mean she’s happy I’m not coming home? Does it mean she’s happy to get a message from me? If she’d sent a frown would it mean she was upset that I wasn’t coming home or would it mean she was irritated to have to look at her phone and see it was just another text message from me? I guess, all things considered, I was reading too much into her emojis. But they were, after all emotional.
I close the garage door. She always parked on the street so wouldn’t see my car. She would just come home as usual and enter through the front door. It was only ever I who came into the house through the garage.
I take off my clothes. My genetic re-sequencing wasn’t going to work on them. I retrieve the syringe with my virus from my briefcase and jab it into my arm.
I feel the virus working almost immediately. A slight tickle at the back of the throat, like the onset of a cold, then a few aches and pains in my legs, my arms and then my shoulders and back. I flip down the sun visor and pop up the mirror flap. I see my hands fading before me; then as I look at my own reflection my mildly transparent skin suddenly vanishes. All goes black.
I can feel the car seat. I reach out and I feel the steering wheel. My other hand touches my face. It’s there, I’m there, but I can’t see anything. Everything is black. I retrace the steps in my mind up to the moment I see my own eyes vanish before me in the reflection of the sun visor mirror. Then it hits me and it hits me hard. Reflection! Goddammit, why didn’t I think of reflection? How can I see if I’ve genetically programmed my cells to pass light? How will my retina operate its basic functions without the ability to reflect light? Without reflection I’m blind.
I take a few deep breaths. My mission is not a failure. I’m in a familiar environment. I can get myself inside and I can still monitor my lover’s life. I can listen, I can feel, I can smell and taste.
But quickly, I have to move quickly. How’s she going to feel if she sees a set of keys floating in the air? I feel around for the keys in the ignition and pull them out. I clutch them firmly and begin to feel through them to find the house key. But first where the hell is the door latch. I must do this every day, why now can’t I find the car door lock. I close my eyes, not that it matters, and breathe again, my hand feeling along the inner door. Finally, I find the latch and pop the door open. It smashes into the side of the garage and I hear something break. Damn it, that piece of glass I should have simply thrown away instead of keeping; as If I was ever going to reuse it myself; as if I was ever going to take it to a glazier and get it cut to size for some, as now, unknown purpose. No, I just had to keep it against the wall all this time, not so it would be of use to me but so it would be a hindrance.
There must be glass all over the floor, but it’s safety glass, it will be in clumps, maybe. I feel around the car and find my shirt. I throw it on the ground hoping it will cover anything potentially dangerous and gingerly put a foot to the floor. It seems ok. I take the other foot and drop it down.
The pain is immediate. My foot throbs at the point of entry and my fingers instinctively find the piece of glass and pull it out. I grab what feels like my boxer shorts and wrap it around my foot, satisfied I’ve stopped any bleeding. Still clutching my keys I hop to the door and pray I don’t land on any more shards of glass. A few fumbles with the lock and key but I soon marry the two and once I’m inside I rest a moment with my invisible back on the door to the garage. I imagine what it must look like. If another human being were in the room they’d see a bundled up pair of boxer shorts bobbing in mid-air.
Then I hear her car pull up. Hiding places quickly run through my head. I could lie behind the lounge or just sit in the armchair. She wouldn’t see me. But now I’ve got this goddamn pair of boxer shorts tied to my foot. If she hadn’t trained me out of being a slob it would go unnoticed, but ten years together and now I’m some kind of neat freak my former self wouldn’t recognise.
I hear voices approaching the front door. She’s not alone. She is with her dickhead boss. Dickhead. I hate that dickhead. What’s he doing here? Why isn’t he on the train home to his wife and three kids in the suburbs. Dickhead.
I feel my way around the walls and make it to our bedroom door. If I linger here, I can easily make it to en suite for refuge if I need to. I suddenly wonder what will happen if I take a piss. Will my urine be visible as it streams out of my body, a mid-air flow of yellow liquid arching from nothing into the bowl? Or would it be like my rats? After a few days, I could see their insides working before the outer layer became visible again.
She’s at the door and I hear it suddenly fly open and a gust of air races across me. They fall into the room laughing hysterically and slam the door behind them. My body shudders with the sharp sounds but then my knees buckle when their laughing continues. How come she doesn’t laugh like that with me anymore? They are drunk, I can smell it. Expensive botanical gin. Transparent but potent, always her weakness.
The hysteria dies down but it’s replaced with soft short breaths. What are they doing? No, they can’t be? Not kissing?
‘Are you sure he won’t be back tonight?’ the dickhead says.
‘I’m sure. He’s geeking out with his geek ‘friends’ at his geek work on some geek project.’ She replies breathlessly between kisses.
I’m not sure what hurts more, the constant pejorative reference to geek or that she’s being unfaithful? Or is it that she knows so little about me that she can only refer to what I do as geekish. My work, my colleagues, the things in life that bring me joy all lumped into a single misused verb or noun depending on which part of speech you want to focus on.
‘Can we do it in your bed?’ dickhead says.
No. Not our bed I think. I crawl into the room and slam the door shut behind me. At least I hope I have. She’s pushing at the door now, wondering what slammed it. Was it the wind or some supernatural force stopping her from having sex with another man in our bed? My body is blocking the door as she shoves against it.
‘Something’s blocking it.’ She says.
‘Let me try,’ says dickhead. He shoves his weight against the door and my fingers get caught under the base and burn against the carpet. I roll out of the way, cradling my broken fingers and biting my tongue. I move my head forward to sit up and it pounds into the wooden slats of the bed. Without realizing it I’ve rolled under the bed. I use my hand with the unbroken fingers to feel out the space I’m in and check if any of my body is exposed. I pull my leg in to avoid any further injuries. I feel safe for the moment, if somewhat claustrophobic. For the first time I’m grateful I can’t see. I hate small spaces, but at least I can’t see it.
In their drunken state they have concluded it was the wind that shut the door, that nothing was blocking it. Perhaps to her mind it was the last remnants of our connection?
‘I don’t really like you,’ she says, followed by her drunk hushed chuckle that I always found endearing, until now. ‘I want to use you, to remove him from my existence. Just so we’re clear,’ she says.
‘I can work with that,’ dickhead replies as they fall on the bed.
I feel the air under the bed diminish as their bodies sink into the mattress. Their kisses turn to moans and I feel the air oscillate as the mattress goes up and down. Her moans of passion, almost forgotten by me, fill my invisible ears. Is this what I expected to find when given a doorway into her private world? No, I just wanted to see her sulking, pining over our lost love, not trying to fuck it away with some smarmy dickhead from the office.
The movement from the bed gets faster. I can’t see the bed moving but I can feel it. If I could just slide out, then I’d be able to make my way to the bathroom. I could nurse my invisible wounds in solitude. I’m resigned to slinking around invisibly until the virus runs its course.
I keep my hands on the bed slats, feeling them move faster as their climax builds. Her moaning is like a dagger to my heart, his pounding driving it deeper. Faster, less space, I can hardly move, faster, pounding, moaning, yelling, no air, no space then bang, the bed slats bounding my head with their climax. Unconscious oblivion.
I wish I could tell you that my predicament ended well. That I had an out of body experience, that I floated over those two as they tore my life to pieces, a life that was already in shreds but in ways I could not see. That I floated joyfully away, uncaring into a blissful realm. But it didn’t end that way. I lay there until I could be certain they were gone. Hobbled almost, beaten, bruised and bleeding, I tended my invisible wounds as best I could. Three days of sightless dragging along the floor between bathroom and bedroom, fearful of her return or the presence of any other human being until my sight returned: until being invisible no longer robbed me of my vision. My fingers, still broken, would probably need to be broken again and reset. My foot, infected and painful, would heal, but how long until my pride, my invisible unseen feelings, how long would they take to mend? At least now that she is gone, I no longer live in the shadow of her light.
I lift my arm each morning now and wave it through the shaft of morning light that beams in through my bedroom window, displacing specs of dust as they float aimlessly, subject to airflow, gravity and my movements. I see this small part of myself and the warmth of the sun makes me feel better. I wonder how I came to fade into the background of my own existence. I draw in the nurturing sunlight so that I’ll never vanish again.
Author – Road to Nowhere
A near-future pre-apocalyptic novel set 30 years after a climate crisis