by Patricia Russo
to disappear me, in a voice so sweet it sounded like the offer of a small,
loving gift. Cotton candy, a stroke on the cheek, a velvet flower.
No one will ever know you existed at all, he said, smiling his lovely smile.
It wouldn’t take much; hardly anyone notices you now. Has anyone,
ever? You’ve been invisible since you were born. To disappear
would be a very simple step. He snapped his fingers. Easy as
Born to disappear.
This was so completely
true that I was hit by terror, struck down; I sank to my knees right there
on the sidewalk. He always made his threats in public; this time,
we were on our way to a party at the home of a couple he knew from work,
both of whom, naturally, always ignored me. I knelt on the pavement
and bowed my head, and whispered, “No.”
What a mistake.
So stupid. I had exposed my fear. Now he wouldn’t be able to
resist the urge to do it, to finish with me, completely and forever.
I kept my body as still as I could, but inside the panic roared and crashed
like storm-roiled waves.
The world is
sad, and to be alive is a cruel fate, one that can be endured only through
self-beguilement, but still. I knew I was invisible, but the thought
of being disappeared filled me with anguish. To cling; it is the
only thing I have ever been good at.
He said nothing
for quite a long time, and this surprised me so much that at last I looked
There were people
about, which was only natural. It was early evening in late spring,
the last of the sun not yet died out of the sky. People existed on
foot and people existed in automobiles; those in cars glanced and drove
on, but those on foot slowed, some of them, and stopped, some of them,
At me, yes. Not at him. Stunned, I gazed from one face to another,
and the people gazed back, their eyes concerned, or mocking, or amused,
or indifferent, but all of their pairs of eyes pinned on me. None
of them paid any attention to him.
I glanced up,
directly at him this time, and saw that he had noticed it, too. The
expression on his face was most peculiar.
Slowly, I stood
up, and brushed off my knees.
Some of the people
on the street moved on, some stayed.
He stood, not
I stood, not
We looked at
each other for a long, long time.
So Tony wanted
a pink plastic shopping bag with string handles. It had to be pink.
It had to be plastic. It had to have string handles. There
was no reason for this, of course; absolutely no reason for any of it.
But I can understand desire, and how pointless it is ninety-nine times
out of a hundred, and in order to keep Tony out of trouble I offered to
accompany him on his search.
“Thanks a lot,”
he said, all fawning and grateful and everything, but almost immediately
he started making problems.
desire. There is desire in the mind, and desire in the gut, and desire
in the marrow of our smallest bones. But stupidity I cannot understand
and cannot tolerate. It makes me crazy.
“Not that way,”
I said, when Tony began to head toward Blue Street.
“Why not?” he
said, and kept walking. Now this was deliberate imbecility.
I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and shook him hard.
are people that way.”
He dodged out
of the way before I could hit him, and I was seriously going to hit him
for that, and not some wimpy open-handed slap, either.
stay away from people. What are you, retarded? You get close
to people, they grab you, latch on to you. Cling like leeches.
Once you let them near you, you’re finished. They never let go.
How the fuck old are you, anyway?”
Tony just sort
of looked confused and shook his head, then started back toward Blue Street
again. Hopelessly dumb. So I grabbed him again and took him
to the corner of Denby and Third, and showed him. Had to almost shove
his face into it, to make him see.
The guy, or it
might have been a woman, who knows. Who cares. Made no difference
either way. She or he was bound up tight, in strings and ropes and
vines, still alive of course, no point to it if the person dies. Tied down
by all the strands and coils and connections, twitching more than wriggling.
Some of those responsible were standing there, quite close to him or her;
others were ringing her cell phone; others were writing him letters; others
were way across the world, thinking about her.
“See?” I said
to Tony. “You see what happens when you get involved with people?”
bound and twitching on the corner of Denby and Third rolled his or her
eyes at us. Nothing I could do, of course. There were others
like her or him all around us, on every street, in every apartment, in
every house. I used to cry for them. I would not cry any more.
The person I brought Tony to see shivered and jerked and gasped, and kept
being squeezed tighter and tighter by the tendrils and threads and arms
and the fingers and the strands of the others. All the others.
It was twisting and crying and dying
happens,” I yelled. “Do you see? That’s what happens when you
get close to people.”
He looked, and
then he looked at me. His face was gray. “Always?”
Oh my fuck, how
many times had I told him the same damn thing? “Yes, you fucking
He stuck his
tongue out, licked his lips. “Then why do you hang out with me?”
That sort of
shook me. I gaped at him for a second. “What, do you think
you’re a person?”
“I thought I
was,” he said, in a small voice, and I just had to laugh. Taking
his arm, I pulled him away from the intersection of Denby and Third, and
walked him far away from it, and even farther away from Blue Street, in
search of the pink plastic bag with string handles that he wanted so much.
He walked down
the street, cutting off his hair, that first, strand by strand and clump
by clump, letting the locks drop wherever they cared to, feeling lighter,
more liberated, with every snap of the blades. After the hair, the
clothes. That was simple; he didn’t need the scissors, but he used
them, for the parallelism of it: snips of hair, snips of cloth, marking
the path he left behind him, Hansel with his pebbles, though he was a Hansel
who was never going home.
What next, after
clothes? Skin, naturally, and the less difficult bones, the joints
that could be cut through cleanly, and the easily discarded dangly bits;
the blood left him of itself, no need to cut blood, to snip or slice or
shear it. Lighter, freer, less perceptible with each step, he walked
down the street, removing piece after piece, part after part, of himself,
wondering, with no fear, with merely a mild impatience, when it would be
enough, how much of himself he would be required to eliminate before he
could finally disappear.
I’m always the
last to find out. Nobody ever tells me anything, no one ever bothers
to clue me in. It’s like I’m invisible or something, a shadow barely
brushing across other people’s lives. Even the fuckers I see every
damn day. Same exact shit as high school, like when they did red
t-shirt Friday. Everyone knew except me. So that Friday at
John Adams High I was the one button-down plaid in an ocean of red.
Even the teachers laughed.
People tell you
high school ends, but that’s a lie. It’s all high school, all the
time, all your life. And I’m sick of it.
So the new thing,
the foremost fashion of the moment, seems to be to go barefoot. Not
that anyone let me know. Not the old lady across the hall, whose
light bulbs I change whenever she asks me, not the customers at the dry
cleaner’s where I work, certainly not my coworkers, or the smiley guy at
the kiosk where I buy the paper every day. No. I had to figure
it out myself, like always. All of them were going barefoot, and
so was everyone else I saw.
So I did, too.
Took off my $19.99 brown Outland boat shoes, took off my six-pairs-for-five-dollar
socks, and went out barefoot, like everyone else. Everybody else
in the city, everybody else in the damn world, it looked like. People
on the TV were doing it, folks on the news, presidents and prime ministers
and models and football players and rock stars I’d never heard of.
Everyone. So of course I did it, too. You think it’s fun being
the only button-down plaid in a sea of red?
don’t know. You’ve always been invisible in the red.
So I go barefoot,
even though it’s March and the pavement is cold. I don’t mind that
so much. I don’t mind cutting my feet on broken glass, I don’t mind
stepping on frozen spit and warm dog diarrhea. I just want to fit
in, to do what everyone else does. I want to be invisible.
Like the rest of you.
There’s one thing
I don’t get, though.
I can’t ask anyone
about it. They’d all laugh because I don’t know. Besides, nobody
would tell me, anyway.
But here’s the
thing. My feet are filthy. Everybody else’s feet are clean.
On the street, in the dry cleaner’s, in the store, in the lobby of my building.
People look at my feet and smirk, and my face gets hot and I start to shake.
It’s not my fault.
I don’t know how to do the right thing.
I wish someone
would explain it to me.