I Failed and So I Left by Kelly Kurtzhals Geiger (March 2022)
I dreaded turning invisible.
You’ll only become dark matter, my mother said, and dark matter is just matter, so what’s the matter?
My mother became invisible when she turned fifty. She’d still crop up from time to time whenever practicality deemed her necessary: to bake a birthday cake, to swipe neglectful crumbs off the countertop, to feed the cats when we forgot. But for the most part we couldn’t see her and she preferred it – tending to tasks in the complete oblivion. How she managed to change clothes each time she reappeared remained a mystery, though she kept to the same basic style of cropped pants and comfortable open-toed shoes.
“How do you know you become dark matter when nobody knows what dark matter is, Mom?”
Exactly, she said, then vanished.
I asked her about it whenever she reappeared - how it felt. She only gave me cagey answers.
A relief, she’d say. Very relaxing, she’d reply, before vanishing again.
“Where’s Mom?” we’d ask Dad, but he’d only laugh.
If we got into an argument about who got to take the car, Dad would say, “I don’t know, go ask your invisible mother.”
He wasn’t panicked or even bothered by it. He accepted it as a natural part of the female existence.
I didn’t accept it. I needed some drastic preventative measures. Really, though, I secretly didn’t believe it would happen to me.
I moved to the city and bore no children and took no permanent partner, thinking a successful career would keep me visible. I wasted time like the universe gave it out for free.
The first time I noticed it happening, I was forty-one. My arm tingled in the washroom at the crease of my elbow. I stared at it, blinked at it. I’d noticed the wrinkles forming there, sure. In fact, I’d become almost obsessed with the odd crinkles of it all.
There, right there. The crepey lines where my right forearm met my elbow disintegrated and when I grasped for my own flesh I found nothing, nothing. I stared at my reflection in the mirror above the washboard, grasping my hands around the stone basin and willing my arm joist to come back to me. Eventually, it did.
But invisibility crept slowly, like drowning in gradual gulps. My vanishing clawed like bedbugs that instead of red welt bites left trails of empty patches on my thighs. I rubbed the patches in the mornings with a concoction I paid a week’s salary to afford, until I could almost feel my empty thighs again, almost be whole again.
When I turned fifty, my boss forced my retirement, since he could no longer bring himself to pay an employee he saw so inconsistently.
I failed and so I left.
I moved back home to the country near my family where mosquitos still found me. They drained my blood from whatever dimension they could collect it. Spots itched that I couldn’t scratch because the itch remained where the flesh did not.
My mother hadn’t reappeared for years. My younger sister told me she’d only learned Mom sneaked aboard a great ocean liner when she sent a postcard from Timbuktu with a note that she was safe. I looked at the note and I couldn’t discern what else she wrote because the letters faded from the card at the end like scattering dust.
My nephew, my younger sister’s son, said that while he’d never become invisible as women did, he sometimes went unnoticed. He gave me the idea to go to the mosque pictured on the postcard. I regretted not thinking of it sooner, so I could go find her, find a way to make it stop.
I started at the mall, to gear myself up. I couldn’t get through magnetic doors on my own, because I had stopped interacting electromagnetically. I discovered I could slip through right alongside a person by holding my breath. Sometimes I got too close, or I breathed, or my hair whisked against their cheek, and they swatted at nothing. I remembered doing that sometimes.
Visibility became less frequent, but still struck unexpectedly. I got caught with my hand reaching over the soft pretzel display, my fingers wrapped around a buttered salty one. The younger women working behind the counter only turned to each other and laughed.
It hurt to see younger women walking through the earring shops in blissful denial with their half-shirts and smug smiles. Certain it would never happen to them.
I mastered the automatic doors, the turnstiles, the TSA checkpoints, the drug-sniffing dogs who still smelled me but couldn’t see me. I had only one place to go.
I found her in one of the madrasas of Timbuktu. I couldn’t see her, but I could tell she was there. She didn’t interact at all with the light streaming in through the windows in the huge white dome. I didn’t either. I didn’t ask any questions, but I knew to listen. Women weren’t allowed in such a place where men spoke, but… well.
The scholar spoke about dark matter, like he was speaking to us – although of course he wasn’t because we weren’t allowed to be there. He said dark matter birthed the universe and seeded the galaxy. Real matter accounted for less than five percent of the universe. But both types felt the force of gravity, equally the same.
I felt it too, when he said that. And I felt better for the first time in a long time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Kurtzhals Geiger is a 6-time Daytime Emmy-nominated television writer and producer who recently relocated from Los Angeles to Ohio with her cat, where she's now an MFA candidate in fiction at Bowling Green State University. Kelly has published stories in The Arcanist, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Trembling with Fear, The Northridge Review, the anthologies Hell Comes to Hollywood II and Cemetery Riots, and more.