SHE’S MOSTLY THERE CHAPTER ONE

It was hard to see her. Make out exactly where she was. Her arm could be there, but, you could almost see through it. The clothes too. She wasn’t naked, you could tell. It was like a field around her. Her first birthday was a strange one all sound and no sight. The doctor had to feel around like a blind man to slap her lungs into shape. The umbilical cord, who owned that was a fuzzy matter — and it appeared quite fuzzy, starting to fade out in a gradient.

When they wrapped her up, she wasn’t that hard to miss, but pretty quickly, it started to get hard to see the blanket, the cap. Confounding, simply confounding. Her parents didn’t quite know what to do. Certainly her father didn’t give it to her, you could see him plain as day, and her mother, well, she was a better door than a window.

Not that she was much of a window. Sometimes in, sometimes out. You could make out an outline. She was particularly unsettling to people when it rained. Water’s transparent, but you see its motion, running off of her. She wasn’t quite sure what color her hair was. She was a prodigious reader, in part because holding a book, you had a good reference point for where she was.

Her parents were a panicky sort for the first five years of her life, and she couldn’t ever quite figure out why. Often she would simply be behind them, or looking at a different pair of pants in the store, checking some tomatoes, or some peaches, kiwis. She liked the fuzzier fruits. But a mostly disembodied thing, holding a kiwi — who looks for a floating kiwi when they think their child has run off?

People stepped on her toes a lot. She was frequently marked tardy or absent, and then, you’d see a hand, well, you would see through a hand, fading away as fast as it had faded in. She had tried to control it, but, it didn’t ever work out for her as much as she’d hoped. By the age of 10 she’d realized that a lot of the world wasn’t ever going to find room for her. She had a name, but, what’s a name on the ephemeral, the vanishing and reappearing with no reason.

Reading was a fascination of hers — fantasy especially. She felt more akin to an idea than a living, breathing, flesh and blood girl. When you cut her, she bled, but it dried up clear. The images in her brain were foggy, they weren’t all that sharp. The Hobbit, what was he even, just parts, fading in and out, bloodied feet, a finger about to get bitten off — she liked the idea of the Ring, especially.

She felt twin envies. Visibility, on the one hand — who wouldn’t want to be normal, she wondered, then often, she would wonder why she would want to be normal. Invisibility, on the other hand, she wondered why couldn’t she just simply be unseen. Being partly seen, kind of seen, difficult to see, it wasn’t all that great. She rarely lost at hide and seek when she was young. But then again, if you were really invisible, it’d be hard to prove you were around at all. She felt patchy.

When she was a teenager, it took her an extra year to discover she had an acne problem — it always seemed like a few simple breakouts, small areas. Then one day she saw her face, and yikes. But then, her eyes started disappearing, her cheeks, her forehead stayed for about an hour, slowly becoming transparent while her stomach and her toes became a bit easier to see.

She shoplifted the Clearasil. And why not? She’d been pocketing chocolate bars for a long time. She thought clear skin wasn’t exactly what the product delivered, but the next time she saw her face, about a month of wishing badly to see it later, there was some marked improvement.

She was a patient photographer in high school. She thought of it more as self-portraiture than a selfie. People liked her work. She would take a long exposure, sometimes a minute, maybe two. Her parents bought her an expensive DSLR for her 13th birthday. What do you get for the girl you can barely acknowledge? She got good at standing very, very still. And then, slowly painting whatever it was that might really be there. She knew what she was, by feel — she supposed she had that in common with the blind, or, at least the very nearly blind. But she had a real opportunity to be an artist, and she gave it a go, throughout high school, slipping out of class when someone needed a bathroom break, making her way into the studio, or to the computer lab, and she would start painting, either over a digital photo or a blown-up print.

What couldn’t she look like, she wondered. The field of possibility was filled with the solid things of her imagination. A robot arm? But why a robot arm. Why not four arms? The arms of someone whose arms she wanted. She learned quickly to look at people as a gangly conjunction of parts, seeing a beautiful pair of legs on a stubby torso with a flat head and fat arms. She could give herself those legs.

Of course her talent didn’t get her As in class and the ADA doesn’t accommodate something that isn’t all that much of a disability. People compared her to the Invisible Woman, and she was something of a myth around campus. The freshmen didn’t believe at first, no matter how insistently they’d be told, and then, wait, did that locker open by itself? Oh wow, boots, a hand, a scarf, a face, then a back, and you could see who was in front of her? Were they pumping gas through the vents?

For a while in middle school there were announcements about her, telling people to please be considerate. Fortunately for her she was mostly invisible, shrinking away from the gaze turning to the empty seat was easy enough. But even then, she felt like she was that absence they were staring at, even though she was crying in the bathroom — she’d learned to quietly exit when the announcements started.

There was more anonymity in high school, not that it helped her graduate. She flunked out, her teachers were always concerned and somewhat confused as to whether she was applying herself, or there at all. Truancy officers would visit the house and complain that they’d need thermal goggles to detect her.

Her parents weren’t all that sure what to do with her at that point when she was 16, largely invisible, and out of high school. She wasn’t exactly about to get a job. What, a cashier? It’d freak people out.

But what did she need money for? She’d snuck behind tellers at the bank before. They went on break and there the cash drawer was, a button away. But even then, it wasn’t like she hadn’t walked out of Walmart with a computer. Grab the keys of the person in electronics, pick the most expensive one stuff it under her coat, walk out through lawn and garden.

Getting keys was a hassle sometimes. She learned to pick locks. She stole her parents credit card one night, again, pretty easy, and she went ahead and ordered a set of lockpicks and a manual on how to do it. Within a day, she could get into her home without any trouble. The next day, she slept on her neighbor’s couch.

She followed a pharmacist into the pharmacy one day and stole a bottle of Vicodin. She had to sit in the corner and wait for one of them to need to use the bathroom, but, she got pretty trashed that night.

She stole a car the next week, and decided, hey, I’ve never been to the ocean. The Midwest, maybe it didn’t suit her all that well.

She picked West, it seemed like the American thing to do, and surely it wasn’t as bad as The Grapes of Wrath made it out to be. And if they were dousing the oranges with kerosene, she could always light a match and run away.

She stole an Astrovan, with some illegal ass window tint on the windshield, and made it to Denver before she realized she was living out of an Astrovan. She decided to try to live it up a little. At the very least she could freak out new people.

Again, why bother with money when you can take it before they’ll see you?

The first grocery store she was in had a security camera. They spotted her torso, but she ducked behind a stack of oranges and pears and waited for maybe something less conspicuous to be a bit more or less visible. Her hair, damn. Her hair.

She shook it and tried to wander around, maybe she’d hit that sweet spot of semitranslucence where she could pocket a week’s worth of tasty food, some smoked salmon filets, maybe, she had her eye on those, and some of those pears, she’d already gotten two, and a Cara Cara Orange? Hell, this was nice.

She felt bold, so she went out the back, and started peeling an orange in front of a bored looking delivery man with a joint lit and ready. He blinked, and she offered him a chunk of pink orange. He took it and offered the joint and seemed even more surprised when she took it. She blinked a bit and realized he could see her eyes.

“So you’re real? I can’t fucking believe it.”

“Well stay quiet, I’m trying to keep them from noticing me. I kinda need a ride.”

“Well, I’m headed to Colorado Springs, but, I don’t know about how you’d get out of there.”

“Well, I’m like this pretty much all the time.”

“Well I guess that’s got advantages?”

“Sometimes I have trouble seeing the perks.”

The driver started laughing.

“I’ve got a friend here who can put you up.”

“Yeah, he a creep?”

“Why’d you ask that?”

“Lotta creeps out there.”

“Well, he’s blind as a bat, I think he’d get a kick out of you just being around. Got a nice place though. Cousin.”

“What’s his name?”
 “Jared. What should I tell him your name is?”

“Hmm. Sophie, I always liked that one.”

“Well you can finish that, I’ll give him a call, drive you over there.”

“They’re not gonna miss you in Colorado Springs?”

“I’ll tell em I got stoned with Sue Storm.”

She shook her head, exhaling through her nose. Colloids suspended in the air, blowing back against her face gave him an idea of what she looked like.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 16.”

“How long you been like that?”

“I think 16 years and nine months.”

“Well, how could they tell on an ultrasound, right?”

She shrugged. She looked down and saw at least part of her arm was showing, hopefully that registered as a shrug. She sighed. Another cloud of smoke to mold around her face.