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The Power of Invisibility

flash fiction about how private obsessions can manipulate one's life



You wouldn’t pay any attention to her because she was one of the unattractive invisible. But that was exactly her thing. A woman of the common masses. She didn’t party, didn’t go to church, didn’t rock and roll. She wore her coarse dark hair braided and left it unwashed. She balanced thick, clear-rimmed glasses on the pinched bridge of her nose. Across her narrow sloped shoulders she hung a dingy navy-blue nylon jacket that covered a faded lime and grey jogging suit. If you removed the apparel, her body would have exactly the same quilted lumpy texture as the jogging suit. She wore broken down sandals that barely clung to her feet. 

She didn’t talk, she didn’t hide. Nothing eventful was in store for her life and she was comfortable in that knowledge. Most people like her would compensate by coveting friends, pets or hobbies. She desired none of these pre-occupations. She did hold one private excitement. She waited all week long, counting the hours until Saturday night, absently daydreaming at lunch in her factory's cafeteria about her special evening. Back home after a dinner consisting of a half-frozen pot pie and month old fig Newtons- selfishly washed down with two pints of warm chocolate milk-she would wipe her thin lips on her knit sleeve and shuffle over to the closet to don her discoloring nylon jacket.

She left her motel-room sized apartment, clutching her worn black vinyl purse to her side with sweaty hands and walked to the nearby bus stop at the corner. She predictably rode the main street bus, number thirty-seven, to the Tinsel Tree strip-mall. Sitting mid-way in the bus, she blended almost chameleon-like against the bleached plastic seat. The bus rolled to a stop belching exhaust fumes right where she would exit from the middle doors. Number thirty-seven groaned away and she stood motionless next to the bus stop sign. Her face was bathed in neon glow from the many retail signs hanging above each strip-mall shop. Without pomp, she shuffled toward her anticipated objective of the evening.

She entered the Carousel Record and Tape Music store by closely following behind a stranger. She intentionally avoided touching the door as she entered. This is the moment her invisibility meant everything. She savored every second like a short-lived moth chasing the flicker of a candle’s flame. Her understated excitement made her skin clammy. She slowly passed each row of tapes stacked in little coffin-like plastic containers that were jammed into pigeonholes in the display walls. She wasn’t looking for any performer in particular, she had no idea of the musical menus she blankly passed by.

This is the moment she existed for. She gradually filtered down to the bargain tape bins. There she stood, hypnotized by the terminal symmetry of the merchandise. People passed around her and never noticed her apparition-like presence. The part-time store clerks only noticed her long enough to make bored, derogatory comments about her clothing; ridicule helped to pass their idle time at work. But she just stood in front of those cheap, cutout cassettes, motionless until almost closing time. Then after several hours of virtual invisibility, she left the same way she entered, unnoticed, untouched, un-touching. 

Back in her forty-watt enlightened apartment, she begins to come down from her private, secretive high. Carefully placing one freshly unopened cassette on a stack of twenty in a row of fifty, on the wall next to the rust-streaked toilet. All of them priced under two dollars, all receipt-less. She stood slouched as the last traces of her anemic adrenaline faded. The thought of owning a cassette tape player never crossed the slow-motion world of her mind. Without turning on any lights in the room, she slowly shuffled back to the corner that served as her bedroom. Lacking pre-meditation, she set her alarm clock before she rolled onto her back, fully clothed and began to snore.

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