For the first few weeks, it felt like she’d expanded slightly outside the realm of her body. Now it lagged behind every motion, the corners of her vision overlapping slightly. It wasn’t as if she could tell anyone, so she tried her hardest to keep herself inside of herself and found particular sensations were better or worse at that. For example, the cold made the tips of her fingers turn slightly blue—had they done that before?—and the edges between her and the rest of the world felt even fuzzier. Black shapes appeared at the edge of her vision. She kept the dusty radiator in her apartment turned all the way up. It was only October, but she brought out her Michelin man coat and ski gloves and tried her hardest to never leave the apartment. Light had a similar impact, especially sunlight, so she took to closing the shades in her apartment, leaving all but one light off at night, only just enough to see by.
She tried to assign symbolic meaning to these things—warm and dark. Visions of dirt, churned up earth, slashes cut through the ground, graves raced through her mind. Was that ominous? No, she decided, but it was a sign. Everything was these days.
She got called sometimes, in the evening, as she sat by the radiator in her coat—not the Michelin man, a lighter coat (being a recent Chicago immigrant meant that she was prepared for all eventualities)—and her cell phone started ringing. She picked it up, dutifully, a habit she’d never lost from being a child.
“I’m sure you know something,” a young woman’s voice said on the other end of the phone.
“No,” she said. “I told you.”
“You were there,” the young woman on the other line hissed. “I saw you. I know that you were there.”
It’s not like she didn’t try to tell anyone. She just never knew what to say, how to explain what her new state of being felt like. The only exception were the people who called in her on the phone. There were a few—an older man, a younger man, and the young woman. She had no idea how they’d gotten her number. But they each had a different style when they called her.
The young man was casual, almost flirtatious:
“Come on. Just tell me the truth. Come down to the office, we can sort all of this out,”
“You know how to fix it?” she whispered, almost too hopeful. She held the phone to her ear with her shoulder. Her bluish fingers were almost transparent, hovering over the radiator in hopes that it would start producing heat soon.
“No,” he said. “Well, not exactly. But who else are you going to go to? Who else will know?”
The radiator clicked on. “How did you get this number?”
“Names, faces, databases. It’s easy, nowadays,” he said. “Please, I can explain everything. But not over the phone.”
Unlike him, the older man was almost threatening on the phone. But the threats were never tangible, she decided, or else she would call the police on him.
“It’s a terrible thing,” he said. “To lose the barrier between one’s own body and the outside world.”
“Shut up,” she said, as her hand clipped through the edge of the comforter. She needed a drink, she decided, or some warm soup. So she got out of bed, the cold air of the apartment hitting her like a wave and took the three steps to the kitchenette and turned on the stove.
“What is your family going to think, if you disappear forever?”
“What makes you think they’d care,” she reached for a saucepan, but her fingers went into the metal, the texture replicating itself inside of the surface. She grabbed onto the pan firmly, from inside of the metal, and pulled it out, knocking the back few pots together. Her legs were already cold again.
“I don’t think so. Hope so. It makes it so much easier. Please tell me you’re not suicidal. It makes this so much harder.”
“No, I’m not,” she said. “Anyway. Not interested. Take me off your list.”
“Is that true? You don’t want to know what is happening to you?”
“No,” she said, and hung up.
There were times, however, particularly when her vision got bad and the shadows in the corner of her vision sent black tendrils across the entire field (something which was often accompanied by the sound of running water in her ears), that she did wonder why this was the route she had taken. It was true that she wasn’t a particularly contentious person. She could fill notebooks with fights she’d decided not to take, comments she’d let fly over her head, things that she persuaded herself that she didn’t really care about. But why this?
The phone calls were annoying, a nuisance. They always came at the wrong time, when she was too busy or didn’t care to give out any answers. And no one else in her life seemed to notice anything that was wrong.
What is your family going to think—
Maybe that was why she kept taking the phone calls. To reassure her that someone else in the world knew what she was experiencing.
—if you disappear forever?
About the author:
Madeline Seibel Dean grew up in Denver, Colorado and graduated from Vassar College with an English degree, where she worked on the school literary magazine and wrote all kinds of things before returning to her first love, spec fic. She now lives in Washington DC.