Invisible

by Máiréad Loschi

I don’t know all the technical jargon and stuff, but I can tell you what happened to me. I guess if you need to know all those medical details it’s in the chart. I mean you guys can read those charts, right? Maybe those regular doctors don’t put down the relevant brain information, I dunno. My sister’s a doctor. Well, I say a doctor—she’s still got three years of med school left. I guess you might wanna hear about the rest of my family, all that nature-nurture stuff. I don’t really know how to describe them other than saying, normal. My mom’s pretty depressed, about the way life turned out and all that. Everyone thinks they’re gonna be special, you know? My dad’s on a health kick. He eats yogurt and canned sardines and spends around four hours at the gym, walking like twelve miles a day. I visit them every couple of months, sitting in the living room while Mom knits and Dad reads Men’s Fitness. They haven’t seen me in years. The first psychologist I talked to said my family might have exacerbated the condition, but I dunno about all that stuff. I guess that’s your department.

The brain’s a funny thing. You know all about this, I’m sure. My last psychologist explained that it represses memories and tricks itself. It’s a protective mechanism. That’s what happened to me in my family’s minds. They can’t see me. No one can. “Out of sight, out of mind,” the saying goes. The last psychologist said that their brains corrected for them. In photos where I used to be, their senses changed them, interpreted them so the background blended out the space I had filled. Baby pictures of me sitting on my parent’s knees just look like a smiling couple to them. Sans baby. Photos of my sister and I arm-in-arm are just of her. The basketball team is missing a fifth player, the sailboat is uncaptained, and the soccer trophies don’t specify a name anymore. I’m slipping from their memories so they don’t go crazy. I don’t blame them. Their child is gone, unseen, invisible. If they saw pictures of me everywhere they’d go insane. Sometimes I think they might remember me, a shining moment when Dad might say, “I could’ve sworn there was someone else with us on that trip.”

I don’t think it was ever a single moment of epiphany. I think it was more of a dawning. The furthest I can trace it back is to my grandma. I guess it makes sense, the doctors said it’s hardest on the elderly, diminished eyesight and mental capacities and all that. The first thing to go was my name. Not too shocking, Gram was garbage at names in general. She called me my sister’s name, then my aunt’s. I could see her struggling, recognizing that those names weren’t right, recognizing that they weren’t mine. The trouble was, she wasn’t recognizing me. She’d call me Blarney or Shultz, names of past dogs she’d owned. My sister and I’d roll our eyes. It’s fine she’s old. She’s just going senile. Then she started introducing her “beautiful grandchild.” I’d tug on her sleeve, “No Gram, two.” “Two what?” “Two grandchildren.” “Yeah, yeah.” She’d brush me off. I’d chalk it up to another senior moment. I told Mom about it once. “Does Gram have Alzheimer’s?” “Why would you say that? She’s sharp as a tack.” Gram wasn’t sick, I was.

The doctors said it starts at the edges, just a blurring, like if the wall behind you is blue, then your edges are kind of blue too. They said it works its way in, something about peripheral melanin and the condition being like ALS, slowly paralyzing you from extremity to core, except I was slowly disappearing. In high school it took a trained eye to spot me, you had to know I was there, had to want to see me. At first it was fun, a relief. I could sneak into any movie theater I wanted to. If I walked very quietly and held my breath, I’d get past the ticket collector. My friends and I used this to our advantage. We’d cheap out, splitting three tickets four ways, with me walking clear as day right past the collector. If they’d been paying any attention they’d have heard four “thank yous” after directing us to the proper theater. I only got caught once. I must’ve hit the light funny or the red vested collector had spotted me out of the corner of his eye. Once he knew to look for me, there I was. “Ticket,” he said extending a hand to me, and I wanted to kiss him full on the mouth, but sheepishly turned back to the ticket booth and payed the seven dollars. The last movie I saw, I left a $50 bill on the ticket counter and tucked $5 into the collector’s pocket as I passed. You’ve gotta make up for what you get. Free movies for the past six years… you’ve gotta pay it back, you know.

I snuck into an estate sale once. The woman who had lived there had died at 102. I saw the certificate of congratulations signed by the President. I took it, a testament to life. She’d outlived her husband, watched her children age and die. There had only been distant grandnieces in the end and helpful neighbors who had taken her for weekly manicures and baked her lemon bars. She’d been alone. I got this feeling that she would have seen me. Eyes creamed over with cataracts, hearing almost gone, trapped in a failing body, but she’d have seen me. I bid on the house and moved in a month later. It felt like she’d bequeathed it to me.

The diagnosis was the easiest part. I found the specialist after a three-minute online search. The nurse popped her head into the waiting room and said the doctor could see me now. I damn near lost it right there. He could see me, yeah right! Suppressing my laughter the whole way down the hall and into the sterile examination room. I was still laughing when the doctors entered, even if they couldn’t see me maybe they’d still see the humor in the situation. Their gravity disproved that. The doctors told me that it’s an extremely extraordinary diagnosis. “A singularly rare melanin disorder,” they called it. Basically, where normal people lose melanin in their hair and it greys, I’m losing melanin in my whole body and I’m going invisible. Apparently only 1 in 300 million cases get reported. If you think about that, there are 2,500 people in the world right now who have this disorder—maybe more, but you just can’t see them. I looked into the odds. Everyone’s always getting hung up on the chances of being killed by a shark: 1 in 3,748,067. You’re more likely to be killed by fireworks, lightning, drowning, a car accident, a stroke, or heart disease than be killed by a shark. I avoided all of these, but I’m the sucker who gets “a singularly rare melanin disorder.”

The symptoms start with the peripheral blurring that works its way in. Once it reaches your core it’s just a constant feeling of being insubstantial. It’s like that lightheaded feeling you get from only eating an apple all day. And you think maybe if I eat something solid, four glasses of milk and a beefy burrito it’ll reverse itself. Maybe I’ll gain visibility. Sometimes I think if I ate all that, you’d be able to see it sitting in my stomach, through my invisible skin, but then I remember that’s not how it works.

We met in the online support group. Goldenboy398 was his username, a Paris native, so I called him Louis. He told me what it is to be in the most crowded part of the city and not be seen, never bump into another person, never meet the eyes of strangers. I told him about the feeling of driving late at night on rural roads and there’s nothing but turns ahead of you and no headlights behind you and you feel like you’re the only person in the world. I didn’t book a ticket, snuck past security, and boarded with priority passengers. It’s an unwritten rule that one first class seat is always open. Treat myself to reclining, top shelf liquor, leg space. He met me at the airport and we wandered the city. Didn’t stand in line at the Louvre, climbed the Eiffel Tower after hours, and walked the streets, along the Seine. We became nocturnal, claiming the midnight streets as our own and walking endlessly. The witching hour and we felt like magic. I couldn’t see him, but I knew him. My mind created his features, solid and brassy. Golden. We visited Versailles and hopped the barriers in the king’s chamber. Careful not to ruffle the bedding we sat, facing the crowd, unseen and holding court over our adoring subjects. In the fabric I was so small, drowning in a sea of opulence and extravagance with Louis beside me, the heirs to the Sun King wanting to be part of the splendor. Wanting to be remembered. I left the next day and back home I couldn’t remember if it was real.

The Discovery Channel heard about my case, so did TLC and all the other science channels. I started talks with the producers of a show called, Diagnose Me: Medical Mysteries Revealed. These guys were supposedly really good, they’d revealed the woman who was pregnant for 50 years to the world (the fetus was calcified, it was actually pretty cool). The talks were getting serious. But, I didn’t want to clean the house, didn’t like the time commitment, and didn’t see how they could reenact the vanishing. Was this vanity, a desperate cry for recognition? What made my story any more important than the other people who had faded? How can you capture losing yourself in a one-hour special feature?  I turned it down.

People are always asking me how it feels. It’s a favorite of your psychoanalyst, headshrinker sort. “And how does that make you feel?” Are there words? The best I can do is analogy. It’s like that moment when your leg seizes up in bed and it’s paralyzing. You can’t move because your trapped in sleep, but your mind is raging against your body, screaming for your calf to release. You’re helpless and all you can do is to take a measured breath and relax from your chest through your pelvis down the length of your tensed leg until it eases. When your leg cramps up you can fix it, but when you’re invisible it’s irreversible. Your body is screaming for recognition but no one will acknowledge you, your very essence is questioned. It’s a slipping of sorts, slipping from family, from memory, from reality. At first you get complacent, it’s a relief, you can hide easily, can sneak around, but now it’s a horror. No one touches you, sees you, hears you. You might not exist at all.

That’s why I’m here, really. I mean the answer to that question put me here. Sometimes your mind plays tricks on you. It protects you but it also deludes you. What if I wasn’t real? What if I were a ghost? Am I dead and just clinging to a shadow of a life here? Do I even exist? It’s a whirling and a spiraling and a slipping. That’s how it feels and there’s no clarity, no voice of reason because no one can see you.  That’s where I was mentally, I guess. I tried a tattoo first, something permanent. It looked like the rainbow light that comes through prisms or reflects off watch faces onto the wall. A stamp on my skin, punched onto my collarbone. Visibility guaranteed. I’m here. But am I? The feel of my body is real to me, but did my consciousness construct it? What proof of physicality is there? I wasn’t gonna do anything stupid, I just needed to see. Pulling the plastic head off the razor, bending the blade out at a crude angle. It wasn’t a death wish. I just cut into my arm, not even near my veins, like on the side of my arm, not life threatening at all. And there it was just spilling out of me and there was clarity and I was alive. I existed and I saw myself for the first time in years. Really saw me. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when there’s nothing to behold, how do you know? I’ll tell you this, that crimson trickle was beautiful. Garnet and rubies falling to the floor from my veins, surety was beauty. And now I’m talking to you, and you’re trying to see if I’m suicidal or crazy, but I’m not, I just needed to be sure.

I don’t know what else I can say, and maybe at this point it doesn’t matter because you’ve already sized me up and come to your conclusions. I’ve only ever had three fears in this world. The first is jellyfish, the second being alone, and the third, being forgotten. I haven’t left anywhere or anyone behind, I’m still here, I’m alive and I’m slipping from their hearts. I am alone and forgotten and afraid and invisible. I haven’t told a lot of people these fears.

Sometimes it seems if you voice them, they’re more real.

“Turner’s Comedy”

by Martin Bremer (2015)

The pistol lies across the desk from me—out of reach, but pointing straight at my chest.

Halogen lamps flood the interrogation room—I can almost feel my innards incinerate as the brightness forces its way through my retina—every crevice, every wrinkle of me, laid bare, out in the open—illuminated. I’m trying to sit straight and still, but someone turned up the AC and I can’t help curling up and shivering violently. The smell of red wine from the stain on my cocktail dress invades my nostrils—the wet spot where it spilled clings to my waist and crotch, revealing my figure underneath and intensifying the cold. Only the rasping sound of pages turning and the officer’s quasi-asphyxiating breathing while he leafs through the police report register over the humming of the AC.

“Mr. Turner,” the officer begins leisurely, “do you have any idea of what they’ll do to people like you in jail?”

I was sitting at the bar alone when Harry came up to me. He was the first one to man up and take a chance—he said hello, asked if he could sit with me, and offered me his hand. I must have gripped more firmly than he did—most of his strength had deserted him sometime between drinks seven and eight.

The bar was packed with men. Cocky seniors and juniors, most of them. A few in grad school—Harry included. You could tell none of them had ever been with a real woman. They’d either peacock around or just stare at my legs when they thought I wasn’t looking. I was about to leave when Harry walked over and introduced himself.

“Linda Turner,” I said.

“Pleased to meet you,” he smiled back and took a swig of his J&B.

His hands had something very delicate about them—the way they seemed to caress the air when they went for his glass. They were kind hands.

I finished my drink and let him order me another one.

“Are you trying to get me drunk, Harry?” I flirted.

“Oh good, you’ve done this before.”

I smiled at him.

He spun around on his stool and leaned back against the bar. For a moment, he observed the people there with a sincere, composed intensity.

“Do you ever get the impression—looking at people in places like this—that they’re just… well, children?”

I turned to look at them. Sexual innuendo, vulgarity, drunkenness—some invisible force transplanting their states of mind into a primitive, instinctual mode. There was an aura of innocent confusion surrounding those disillusioned by the night—as if, for a momentary lapse of belief, they recognized the alienness in their identity, the ritual became obscene, imposed by an ancestral nature. Tomorrow, they’d be back to denying. Tomorrow, they’d be back to their usual, faithful selves.

“Yes—yes, I do.”

His eyes were the palest shade of blue, barely short of emitting light of their own. That whiteness completely subsumed the tiny black dots in their middle. There was something relentless in those eyes—if you looked straight into them, you’d feel like you’d seen a crushing void, the whole cold and empty universe, staring back at you. But beyond that vastness hid a purity overwhelmed. That tinge of blue—bursting out of a profound core, travelling unfathomable distances, and revealing itself pleadingly in those oceans of nothing.

Before long we were in my apartment sharing the last glassful of wine I had in my cupboard. He was moving over on the couch, undressing me already with his eyes when I put my hand on his cheek. That last moment, that last instant before everything changes, before you surrender all control over yourself and step out of reality hoping to see the true meaning of anything, however fleetingly—that moment… and all I could see were those two blank and endless pits promising me absolute silence. I pulled him closer and kissed him.

Clothes slid off in the haste of young lovers who fear the reawakening of their innocence from its temporary slumber. Bodies moved in the half-light and our kiss went almost unbroken until both of us were completely naked. I was over him, closing in. He was breathing very heavily now and letting his gaze run over me—slowly.

I braced myself.

He jolted and I restrained him. He let out an unintelligible string of sounds—the alcohol had affected him more than I realized. I tried to calm him and eventually got him to lean back. The bewilderment in his eyes gave way to orders from his body to either lie still or risk losing consciousness. His eyes filled with water.

I gradually released him and began stroking his hair as he sobbed with incandescent suns locked behind his eyelids. Softly I slid down his torso, leaving a trail of kisses on my way…

“Mr. Turner?”

I look up.

The name-pin on the officer’s tan sleeveless shirt reads ‘P.O. Perry’. He’s middle-aged, overweight, and apparently immune to the cold. His glistening bald head looks as if it’s melting under the room’s bright lights. His hands, also drenched in sweat, lie on his lap covering his groin region. The folder with the report in it lies on the desk now, visibly crumpled where he had grasped it. His face is red. A discrete but persistent twitch grabs a hold of his lips. His eyes, previously avoiding me and glued to the desk in front of him, now rest hungrily on my implants.

He turns away with a jerk of the neck when he sees he’s been caught peeking. After sliding his hands even closer to his groin and shifting his eyes around over the desk for a second, Officer Perry stands up abruptly. He grabs the folder to cover up the noticeable bulge below his belt. There’s not enough space in the room to pace, so the policeman just turns around and faces the exit in the corner.

“It’s too bad you’re only a witness. I’d love to send your sodomite ass to county,” he utters in a frenzy, grinding his teeth. “It’d be only fair, since you’re the one who caused all this horseshit.”

“Excuse me? How is any of this my—” before I can finish, he darts towards me and slams his open palms on the desk.

“Don’t talk back to me, you filthy freak!”

He slaps me across the face, knocking me out of my chair.

I hit the floor of the apartment. The blue in Harry’s eyes was gone—they were blazing, fueled by a rage I had never seen in them before. Fists clenched—the infinity in his stare, now filled with hate.

His flat mate had returned three days early without any notice, cutting short our secret rendezvous. Half-naked as I was, paralysis grabbed a hold of me—the flat mate’s stare alternating between the contradicting volumes in my briefs and bra. In this perplexed state, not much of a fight was put up against Harry pushing him out the front door again. Harry swung around—then came the blow.

The flat mate was banging on the door now, asking what the hell was going on. We could hear keys jingling outside and a fumbling noise from the lock. Harry pulled me up by the arm. “Get the fuck out. Now!” He was half-whispering between his teeth, but his voice lacked none of the menace of bellowing commands.

            “My stuff—

Fuck your stuff! Just fucking leave!” He dragged me to the backdoor in the laundry room, muttering, “Just look what you’ve done to me,” only stopping to pick up a random pair of jeans and a white t-shirt from the hamper. A second later I was outside in my underwear with a small heap of dirty clothes at my feet.

            The sunlight outside was ravaging. The contour of things was losing sharpness. Everything was blending together—fusing with the background wherever the light hit. Not a tree cast a shadow. Around the corner, a concrete saw screeched against the pavement. I noticed a couple of red spots on my t-shirt. My nose was bleeding. A metallic taste inundated the inside of my mouth. A chilling wind crashed on me from behind. It spun me around and I was blinded by a glare from a window pane. The shriek of the concrete saw raised in pitch and loudness. I clasped my ears and shut my eyes. The blood was pouring out in a thin stream, dripping from my upper lip. Its smell overwhelmed me.

            I ran into the subway station. The platform was deserted. I was finally shielded there—under the dim, flickering lighting—from the obliterating sun outside. Suddenly, the ground started to shake, a mechanical growl rose from the bowels of the city, and a murderous flash emerged from around the corner. A torrent of people spewed onto the platform and knocked me over. Somehow, I managed to crawl my way into the train, where I sat on the floor and pressed my face against my knees.

I tried to hide my bleeding, unshaven face the best I could from the other subway commuters—a woman’s breasts and a man’s two-day beard on the same body proved to be too much of a paradox for them. The sight elicited a wide range of reactions from the subway audience—from indignation and disgust through to panic and confusion. Harry’s flat mate had reacted essentially the same way as he walked in on us. At least now I was fully dressed.

            I didn’t turn the lights on in my apartment. I just buried my face in the couch and finally let the overdue tears out. I clutched a nearby blanket and curled up as tightly as I could, trying to contain the pain that threatened to spread my limbs apart and pull at them until they were ripped off, leaving only that aberration of mixed parts and my sodomite ass.

The pain in my jaw and nose where Harry’s punch hit me made my head throb. Those kind hands had hurt my body, but the guilt and shame on his face had left a scar on my heart. I began wondering if his hands were that kind after all; if what I took to be a charming personality all those months ago wasn’t just a technique he perfected; if I had really seen or just imagined the drop of blue in the shade of his eyes.

But nothing had changed—no, the world has been this bleak place all along. We irradiate hope and see only how it bounces back at us—a mere projection of wishful living. The hope decayed for me that day and revealed a barren planet. Radioactive hope.

All we create is an illusion. Nothing means anything outside the ego. Life does not deal in matters of worth. In this, I find my liberation—I finally find darkness. Exhilaration floods all my senses—fuses them together. Ecstasy. A sexual, creative energy engulfs and elevates me to a transcendent state. No sound pierces my ears. No scent invades my nostrils. No taste fills my mouth. I have no boundaries. No light blinds me now.

“You piece of shit.”

My eyes are closed. The air in the interrogation room is warmer now. I’m not trembling anymore.

I feel a strange sense of peace wash over me—the bald, little man cannot hurt me anymore. He’s a victim—his very identity rests on phantasmal tenets. The order he fights for is shattered. I am the aggressor, not him.

LOOK AT ME!”

I open my eyes to find the report folder open on the desk, covered with photos of the victim’s face—pure gore. Beyond the report, the pistol still lies where it was.

Curious thing, a pistol.

“I’m so glad you forgive me—darling. Such a relief. So much so that my bladder is trying to get a piece of the action, if you know what I mean—I’ll be right back.”

He left me at our table with his steak vanished from his plate and my cannoli untouched on mine. I had my hands on my lap and my gaze on the cannoli. If I had looked up and seen someone staring at me, I would’ve bawled.

“Are you alright, miss?” a voice asked, startling me.

“Yes—yes, I’m fine,” I said, straightening the cutlery beside my plate, flattening a crease on the tablecloth.

“Is that guy being disrespectful to you?” the man pointed at the restrooms. “Girl like you doesn’t have to take that, you know.” He sat down in Harry’s seat—smirk on his face.

“What’s the idea, pal? Get the hell out of my chair!” Harry said, marching back from the toilet.

“The lady and I—are having a conversation. Why don’t you go take a hike, huh? Go get yourself some apple juice or something, okay?”

“That’s it.”

Harry grabbed the intruder by the jacket and lifted him out of his chair. A little commotion ensued—people were looking. The maître d’ excused himself from a table across the restaurant and strutted our way. I got up to try to calm Harry. The other guy pouched his lip, nostrils flaring, brow curved—conflict was imminent. I put myself between the men and a split second before the maître d’ reached us, the man threw a punch at Harry.

He missed him, but thumped his shoulder against my face. My heels slipped. My left ankle twisted inwards. I lost my balance, tried to grab the table for support, but grasped only the tablecloth, taking a wine glass with it, and spilling it on my lap. I fell on the floor, flat on my back, and my hair came off.

For a moment, people had to adjust to the absurdity that had just invaded reality. The maître d’ was in shock. The intruder looked down at me, saw my face—makeup, earrings, and scruffy, short hair—and eventually recognized the meaning of the wet lump on my groin. Harry was eyeing the wig with an expression of sheer panic.

Next came the laugh. Hysteric in pitch, maniacal in volume.

“Are you serious!? Alright, man. You can have… this,” the man said, gesturing at me. “What a fucking faggot.”

The man had taken a lot of blows before we could finally restrain Harry. After that, there was a broken nose and a pool of blood where that bastard fell.

“You fucking disgust me, you hear?”

Nothing new will ever be created again. Freedom doesn’t mean anything when all you’re free to do is to follow the rules. We are all slaves.

“Someone should rape you—that’s what you deserve.”

People are oblivious to their shackles—wristwatches, ties, jewelry. There is no more personal expression. The more we see ourselves as unique, the more we’re glorifying meaninglessness. Our narcissism keeps humanity tame.

“I pray to God that your kind never be accepted.”

The pistol glistens on the desk. I break a sweat. My mouth is watering. The barrel almost pulsates. A current of blissful energy races across my entire body. The trigger twitches. My breathing accelerates. The pressure rises. I gasp.

“YOU ARE THE BLIGHT THAT PREYS ON HUMANITY!”

The pistol goes o—

Martin Bremer was born in São Paulo, Brazil, where he lived for 19 years before moving to Heidelberg, Germany, where he’s currently in his seventh semester as an English major. He’s been at UConn for over a semester now, as an exchange student.

“Morning on Cathedral Parkway”

by Lillie Gardner (2015)

Waking up after being awake all night from sweating under your blankets and out of your blankets and leaning against the wall to cry and cough, with your loose shirt slipping off my shoulders, with too much of the moonlight bouncing off the cold cars in the parking lot below and shining through the cloth of your cheap one-panel curtain to keep me awake. We came home late, after the others had left and I had too much to drink so we pretended you would take me home, but we both knew you were taking me home. As usual, we wanted each other without really wanting each other. On the subway we didn’t talk but I giggled and you stood next to me smiling with your hand in my back pocket because everybody on the subway is a stranger. And we came in and I collapsed onto your bed and you collapsed onto me and I let my mind slip away and let myself want it and not care about anything, not even about how you flirted with the nineteen-year-old girl at the bar all night. My friend, our friend—an innocent. Heart still intact, a small halo glowing over her smile. The chilly night and the heated little room and the sweaty sheets and the smell of naked bodies consume us both and then as suddenly as it starts it ends. You lie on your back, beckon me to sleep on your shoulder, but I roll over and away, prefer to be alone. You sleep.

And I think about him, of course I think about him. I sit up against the moonlit wall with my legs in the hot sheets and I think about him, and I think about the warm October night in the little apartment in Brooklyn, in another set of sweaty sheets, with the little black cat slinking between us, when he turned over to face me in the dark and he looked to me with fear in his eyes like a little kid looking to a mother and he asked me, “How do we know we’re making the right decision?” And my heart broke, and it breaks again when I think about it. How certain I was, and how badly I wanted it to be mutual, painless, easy, obvious. And it was mutual, sort of, but it wasn’t painless, easy, or obvious. It was me, blindly jumping into an abyss. And him, looking at me with confusion sweating out of the pores on his tensed forehead. “I guess so, yeah. I guess so.” And the next morning I sat at the kitchen table and the steam from the teakettle was rising frantically into the air, the pressure furiously pushing it out into the open, and I stared at it billowing in a mad rush to the ceiling while he stared at the floor and tears streamed down his face, endlessly. I didn’t cry.

But now I’m awake at four in the morning, cold and coughing against the wall of a strange bare apartment that has recently become familiar, and now I’m crying. And you’re lying in front of me—you, unavailable but there, just like me—and you’re asleep but you care. Your eyes squint open tiredly, a hand reaches out to my leg. You whisper: “Hey, what’s up. What’s up. Tell me what’s up.” I don’t say anything. I’m sick and cold and coughing and crying, silently and slowly, and you know what’s up. “Come here, get under the blankets, you’ll catch a cold,” you say, and close your eyes. Three nights ago when this happened, I’d apologized. You had sat up and said, “It’s okay, it’s normal. I still miss Her sometimes, too. It takes time.” You’d stared out the window at the cars in the parking lot, or maybe only at the moonlit haze lingering in the delicate spaces between. “A lot of time.”

I think of fighting in the parking lot at the lodge at the Grand Canyon; yelling at each other, drunk, in a friend’s Midtown studio; screaming on the icy front steps after an expensive New Year’s Eve in Saint Paul; throwing my heavy wallet at the wall of our tiny Brooklyn apartment (“I’m afraid of you, you know? You’re scaring me.”); being called a bitch; watching his face transform into hate, meanness; feeling my face transform into hate, meanness. Screaming into a pillow and wanting to punch walls, just like during the divorce when I was nine years old, when I couldn’t understand things the way they were, couldn’t express something I needed to express—overcome by frustration, clutching a plastic rosary from Catholic school in my hand under the sheets, crushing it in my fist: “Why are You letting this happen?”

I think, too, of his warm skin and the way the curly black hair above his ears gets sweaty when he’s worked up about something. I think about our walks together, our talks of ambitions, joking about our future kids, naming them, holding hands, hugging him around the waist, around the neck—his neck always tense, me always needing to know. His soft voice, his corny sense of humor (“I was born in a corn field!”), his naïveté. My naïveté. Eating teriyaki stir-fry together on the cheap IKEA futon that the cat had scratched up and watching reruns of Seinfeld. Talking like we’d always have each other. Always having each other. Promising we’d always have each other, just to keep having something.

I wake up drenched, hot and cold at the same time. Your heavy arm is around me and I lift it off. I splash water on my tired face and comb through my newly short hair with my fingers but it still sticks out in every direction. Back in your bed you open your eyes to see me getting dressed, putting my coat on, my boots. “See you later,” I say. “Yep,” you say. You smile from your pillow, then you go back to sleep. Last night, and many recent nights, you had wanted me. And being wanted is a new feeling to me, something naturally without emotional complication, with no committing or sacrificing required—purity, an honest physicality: the usefulness of needing to be used. But don’t compare, don’t compare, quietly descend the stairs. But they creak loudly and a dog barks viciously in the neighboring apartment, confirming that I exist, that I can be heard.

That this is where I am.

The crisp air outside is a fresh burst of something. It’s Saturday morning and people are out. A woman pushes a baby in a stroller, and shortly after, two laughing kids and a nanny cross my path. Can the people see me? I wonder. Is it obvious? Can they tell that I am wandering, lost? I feel naked, exposed, emanating a strobe-lit cloud of disorientation from my being. Yesterday’s faded makeup. Sunken, tear-dried eyes. I still smell like you, a man whose buried essence of brokenness and need is pungent in the sheen of sex and sweat on my body—and yet, a man who is merely there, who is merely a crutch in need of a crutch himself; but is not an entire life. Can they see that I’ve put a stop to an entire life? A clear and comfortable path firmly closed, and for what reason? I walk forward with effort, like I’ve just lost a limb, and like everybody can see that I’m completely lopsided, that I’m not used to it yet, that I have not yet learned how to carry myself with this new emptiness. And it feels like everybody is staring, and everybody is whispering: How precious, how broken. But nobody looks, and nobody asks, and nobody offers a helping arm. And I want to scream, cry out, hit something: I’m here! But my silent scream falls unheard onto the hard pavement. The air stabs my lungs like cold shards of glass. A tear slips down my cheek. I walk to 110th Street and turn to begin the trek uphill to the subway station, alongside the Cathedral.

The Cathedral is huge, ominous in the mist. Something out of medieval times, taking up an entire block with its awesome power, formidably out of place in the middle of New York City, where everything is tiny and pressed together and explosive. It scares me. Spacious, reaching up to the endless gray sky above. Endless emptiness. It knows me. It feels the imprint of my crushed plastic rosary. I try not to look at it as I walk by the stone retaining walls that support the hill it sits upon. I try to bury the guilt deep in the pit of my stomach—guilt for everything—for him, for you, for myself, for the brokenness of it all, for the lost pieces. Years of guilt. Years of feeling responsible, still feeling responsible for never being good enough, for never knowing, for pretending to know, for hurting myself, for hating myself. I hide it, numb myself. Breathing the fresh air around me, the changing of this season for a colder one, the people carrying coffees and wearing earmuffs—going places—the strollers, the whole day ahead.

Lillie Gardner is a writer and classical pianist currently pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts degree at UConn. A lover of Lucy van Pelt and Bette Davis, her biggest inspirations in life are bulldogs, fire hydrants, and gin.

“Glorious”

by Amy Martin (2015)

Glimpses of his dreams pass by his eyes in the calm solitude of the waiting window. It’s one thing in Sean’s life that he wants slow and still and calm. One of few. He always seems in a rush. In a way, he is; in a way no one but James has ever been able to describe. Even James can’t explain him in words. James uses art that is enchanting. Sean’s constant movement blurs the edges of James’ sketches, and the movement is tangible. That art, that inherent magical quality when putting charcoal to paper- it is something Sean has only ever known James to posses. It is beyond his words. It is perfection. It is glorious. Sean hardly thinks he’s seen anything quite so breathtaking. He jokes that it’s because he is the subject of these creative endeavors, but he can hardly lie to himself.

Now he sits patiently, cold leaching into him from the unsealed cracks around the edges of the glass pane, he waits for the other thing he wants slow and still and calm. James enters. Sean can sense him, and his stomach does that odd flip he hasn’t yet accustomed himself to. He wants to hear the quiet voice say “Sean?” half a question, half an announcement of his presence. Instead, James simply crosses the room to him, standing silently beside him as the view into the swirling snowy darkness changes.

James doesn’t say the view is beautiful, or picturesque, or magical, or any of the sappy things that Sean suspects he’s thinking. Sean suspects James would love to sketch this scene; he is no doubt imagining how much black he’d need to cover the canvas, how to make the pinprick flakes of white swirl in a whorl that swallows you in the same way he makes Sean move. Sean guesses James isn’t quite sure himself how he makes his art come alive, that it’s simply a natural talent that surprises James as much as it amazes others. Sean has no reason to think this, but he guesses from the way James will stare blankly at a canvas or his sketchpad for full minutes, stops work and simply gazes, before becoming once more absorbed. Sean has always wondered if there is anything else in the world that can absorb James the way creating art does. He hasn’t yet found anything that does.

James shifts beside him, and Sean finally tears his gaze from the mesmerizing snowfall, tears his brain from its racing commentary, his senses from drinking in the presence of the man he knows too well yet not enough. He grins, and looks into the dark-soft eyes that have accompanied him through six years of friendship. James’ smile is broad, James the artist, James the quiet one, James whose innate happiness most people cannot see. But Sean has always seen it, and he will until the day that inner brightness fades.

Somehow, Sean knows James isn’t thinking about drawing or painting or art or the view out the cold glass, because that smile is for Sean, and no one else can see it. James’s eyes are subject to that goofy grin when they adore him in that moment. Sean lifts a hand from his lap, the crinkle of plastic too harsh between his fingers and real as is any noise in these moments with James he tells himself every day mean nothing.

“Cracker?” he offers, and it is the first word spoken between them and the sign for them both that this is just going to be another normal, casual, friendly encounter, and once again they won’t address the sparking fire that has been lit by their smiles. Sean doesn’t know James is slightly crestfallen, this time as well as every other; James himself refuses to acknowledge the slight lurch in his gut as he reaches out to take a salty delight from the proffered package.

He holds the foodstuff delicately, nibbling at the corner, and Sean laughs uproariously as is his custom when seeing James behave overly politely. To enhance the disparity between their eating methods, Sean shoves his fist into the plastic sack and, still chuckling, shoves a handful of crackers into his gaping mouth. He chews with his mouth open, too. James grins. The humor of this friendship is infectious. Even if no one but Sean sees it, James’s secret smile is never more satisfied than when they’re together.

Sean shrugs his legs off the window ledge, kicking his heels against the wall and staring at James, who no longer has a cracker to conceal his unrefined glee. It wouldn’t have had much chance, in any case.

After a moment, not a second too soon, Sean leaps off the windowsill, eyes sliding past James into their living room, where he spins in a dramatic circle before falling back onto the couch. It’s not long before he’s rifling through James’s things, James sitting in the armchair beside, ignoring the constant commentating Sean has running about the half-concealed personal belongings he’s sifted through a million times before. James is unconcerned, an empty page in front of him being filled with darkness by his nimble fingers. He’s recognized by now that he’d waived his right to privacy when he’d accepted Sean as his friend, even more so when they’d become roommates. He learned on the first day he’d ever met Sean that nothing would ever be safe from his sticky fingers and prying eyes. Prying, in Sean’ case, simply translated to curious. Or bored. Or, even, very occasionally, suspicious. But, it was always a good-natured suspicion, and James had never since kept anything he didn’t want Sean to see.

This was why he was confident as Sean rambled on about the state of his underwear, the hideous porn that Roger had slipped to him, and even James’ handwriting on business documents and meeting notes. James smiled and laughed and let his eyes wander to survey Sean discreetly, only to return them instantly to his fresh drawing when Sean held up a new object for inspection. Sean fell silent for the first time in ten minutes, and for the first time fear crept into his veins. As the waves of sound rolled away, James’s ears pricked and he froze, waiting for the moment when Sean would rip James’ attention from the sketchbook and demand an explanation behind the acquisition of some new addition to James’ belongings. It didn’t come. Slowly, James raised his eyes to examine Sean. A page of James’ notes was clutched in Sean’s hand. There were doodles in the margins partially concealed by Sean’s fingertips. Sean’s eyes had gone blank as he gazed down at the paper. James tried to surreptitiously sneak the page from his friend’s hands, but Sean drew back to life, and held it tighter to himself. Before James got the chance to ask what was wrong, Sean pulled a fresh stack of paper from a pile beside him on the coffee table and covered the offending document, launching quickly into a new rant on the CEO and how he was an enormous greasy jerk. James let it pass. He returned to his charcoal drawing, but kept an eye on where Sean placed that pile of parchments, keeping track of where he moved it six different times. He wanted to know what Sean had seen that had made him so uncharacteristically silent and distant.

Sean was cold, colder than he’d been at the windowpane even though he had a warm comforter bunched up around his waist and James’s long legs stretching out across the sofa beside him. In fact, James’s closeness had made him warm in a way he refused to acknowledge, but the chill in his brain and his chest had not been touched. Office meetings were ridiculously boring, notoriously so- had James spaced out so much that he’d not realized what he’d doodled? The picture of the man, from waist up and shirtless, on the side of the page was unmistakably the same as the image Sean faced in the mirror each morning. James must have done the doodle from memory, which begged the question- how much did James stare at him half-naked? So, alright, he was shirtless quite often at the gym or parties or swimming in the summer, or hell just wandering around their apartment- but that didn’t give James an excuse to remember the lines of his body so well.

Surely, this was a fluke. James had never drawn anything like this before, at least not that Sean had managed to get his hands on. Either James’s imagination had gone haywire while listening to the boss’s droning, a real possibility, or he’d been concealing immoral feelings for his best friend for an undetermined length of time. Sean hoped to God it was the first.

After he’d scattered James’ possessions everywhere, Sean retired to the kitchen for a beer. Since the tense moment with his notes, everything had been normal, or at least he thought it had. The camaraderie and easy routine the two of them had had only skipped a beat, then Sean had been back to cracking jokes and leaving the both of them laughing. Still, as soon as Sean had left the room James picked up his things and carefully replaced them into piles around his briefcase. On the pretext of organizing them, James hurriedly rifled through the stack that contained that particular page of his notes. Despite their near-instantaneous return to friendly banter, James was curious what had caused Sean’s momentary lack of composure. He had not yet located the correct page when Sean returned, holding out a beer for him, his hair tousled messily in his usual fashion. Sean’s eyes were drawn to James at once, and suddenly James felt guilty for prying, although the notes he was shuffling through were his own. For a moment, Sean stared at him with an expression that James had never seen before. It left him feeling raw and thoroughly examined. Sean raised the beer to his mouth and disappeared towards the kitchen once more. James was struck still for a moment, then returned to his task as quickly as he could.

Eventually, he found it in the stack. He scanned the doodles that filled the sides of the page until his eyes found it and fixated. His brain took a few seconds to process the drawing, and in that time his jaw dropped open. When his brain caught up, he quickly scanned the room, relieved to see that he was still alone. He slid the paper out of the stack and into his pocket, and hurriedly replaced the pile on the table where Sean had found it. He finished organizing the last of his belongings, and walked into the kitchen.

Sean didn’t look at James as he leaned against the edge of the counter. It wasn’t really awkward, just silent for a few minutes until Sean announced he was going to bed, and disappeared into the other room.

James heaved a deep breath, finished his beer, and decided that retiring was probably a good idea. After shutting the door to his room behind him, he pulled the paper from his pocket, his charcoal stained fingerprints smearing the edges of the page. The drawing of Sean was left intact. James didn’t remember drawing it. The boss’ lecture had been droning on, and he’d spent the lesson staring at Sean’ head. His face was in profile to James, and he could see himself idly scratching out the lines of his nose, the familiar angles of his face, but he’d thought that then he’d dozed off. James tried to confront himself honestly. What were his feelings for Sean? At this point, no matter what they were, Sean deserved to know the truth.

Sean, who had been raised devoutly Irish Catholic.

Sean, whose Dad had disowned his Uncle Matthew when he’d come out to the family.

Sean, whose priest had had such a kind face and such gentle fingers when they’d lain themselves across his arms while he’d said his prayers.

Sean, who’d been such a disappointment to his father.

Sean, who’d discovered that kissing Sadie Brown after the Christmas Party was not half as exciting to him as being close to James.

Sean, who was even now curled in a ball against his bedroom door, clutching at his rosary and chanting, repressing the tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…

***

Amy Martin is a senior studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is an Environmental Writing individualized major and an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology minor. She loves dogs, travel, and food.