Authors: Lorena McCourtney
I jumped out of the car, rushed into the house and down the hallway to the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror over the bathroom sink. My stampeding heartbeat slowed, and my moment of panic felt like some foolish social gaffe. The mirror still reflected an image.
Of course it did. This was, after all, Madison Street, not the Twilight Zone.
Same possum-gray hair. Same hazel eyes. Same crow’s feet, with deeper lines wrapped like half-moons around my mouth. My neck did look rather more scrawny than I remembered, but it hadn’t disappeared.
So, technically, I wasn’t truly invisible. I blinked. My image blinked back. All quite normal. And lots of people still saw me. Magnolia and Geoff and Kendra. The meter reader, who always waved. But still, for all practical purposes in the larger world of youth and beauty, rush and struggle, hype and hustle, I was indeed quite invisible.
It was, I must admit, a shocking discovery. I sat in Harley’s old recliner and tried to assimilate this unexpected revelation of my new status in the world.
Actually, I reflected, this wasn’t as new as it felt at the moment. As two little old ladies—LOLs, perhaps, in this era of timesaving acronyms for everything—Thea and I had been losing visibility for some time now. There was that time Kendra’s young man almost ran over us near the back steps. It wasn’t dark; the light over the steps had been on. Yet we’d been as invisible as radio waves to him until he actually bumped into us.
We’d also been at least temporarily invisible at the sheriff’s office, a part of the lobby furniture, until my whistle demanded attention.
There were times further back too, now that I thought about it.
The department store downtown, where we’d gone to buy Thea a new pair of gloves. A pencil-slim, blond saleslady was strolling around with a tray, handing out samples of a new moisturizer. To everybody but us. Victorio’s Seafood, the upscale restaurant where we’d gone to celebrate our three-days-apart birthdays. The waiter had hurried past our table near the swinging doors to the kitchen time and again, as if the space was occupied by only the salt and pepper shakers and an unlit candle.
“What do we have to do to get noticed here?” Thea had grumbled. “Jump up on the table and do a cancan?”
“I will if you will,” I’d said boldly.
Then we’d looked at each other and giggled at visions of ourselves kicking our way across the polished table and flouncing our behinds at astonished diners.
The waiter had actually seemed startled to see us when I finally stuck out a stiff arm and snagged him. At the time I’d assumed it was a judgment call:
LOLs don’t leave good tips. Ignore them.
Now I wasn’t so certain. Maybe it was the encroaching invisibility.
So this had been creeping up unnoticed for some time, I had to acknowledge. It simply hadn’t been so obvious when there were two of us. Or perhaps it hadn’t really mattered, when Thea and I were laughing and enjoying life together, that we were becoming an island of invisibility in a bright sea of youth and energy.
Now Thea was gone, and life on Invisibility Isle was much less fun.
I sat in Harley’s old chair so long that shadows of dusk crept through the old maples and into the windows. I felt as if they were settling into my heart.
I would, I supposed, become ever less visible as time went by. Like a figure in one of those old sepia photographs, I’d gradually become dimmer and dimmer until I completely faded away. Maybe my image in the mirror
Of course I didn’t have to let the dimming happen. There were actions I could take to snatch back visibility. I sat up straighter in the old recliner. Magnolia Margollin and I were of an age, and certainly no one would ever suggest she was invisible.
I could never duplicate Magnolia’s imposing figure, but I too could color my hair stoplight red or insulation pink. I could do gold eyelids and rainbow cheeks, earrings that dangled to my elbows. Lime-green tights and T-shirts that said outrageous things. I could plant so much ivy that it would cover the house. Put up a sign proclaiming this was Ivy Mansion. Wear ivy jewelry, wind ivy in my hair, and get an ivy tattoo on my ankle.
I bounced my fists on the arms of the chair, warming to the subject.
I could write outrageous letters to the editor and sign them Poison Ivy. Call up radio talk shows and offer radical opinions. Poison Ivy would gain notoriety all over the city. Perhaps even the state. The world! I could become a one-woman Good Manners police force and blow my whistle whenever I spotted an infraction. Especially if it involved rudeness to some older person.
I could become so unconventional and flamboyant I couldn’t possibly be invisible!
Yes. But . . .
I slumped back in the chair. Defeat washed over me. I might have some teensy leanings toward eccentricity. Perhaps a few quirks here and there. But I could never go the full route. Magnolia Margollin’s flamboyancy came naturally to her. But it just wasn’t in me. Even in younger years, I’d been small and quiet, not all that noticeable.
Apparently I had no choice, then, but to let the inevitable invisibility engulf me.
I’ll probably get used to it,
I decided sadly. It might even have certain compensations. I could eavesdrop on conversations without being noticed. Wander stores without being pestered by overeager clerks. Go back a dozen times for some especially good sample being handed out at the supermarket.
* * *
Next day as I walked into the bank, the thought occurred to me that invisibility might even have a practical usefulness. Boldly testing this theory, I slid into the middle of the line rather than going to the end. No one noticed. The man behind me continued studying his bank statement. The young woman ahead gave an absentminded glance over my head and went back to appraising a good-looking bank teller.
Hey, how about this? All right!
I could probably use invisibility for even more nefarious purposes, it occurred to me as the line inched forward. Who’d see me if I walked into a movie theater without paying? Or I could drift into fancy get-togethers I hadn’t been invited to—weddings would be good—and stuff myself with caviar canapés and shrimp on toothpicks.
Invisibility opened like a doorway into a spectacular new world.
I could shoplift whole jars of caviar and no one would notice! Treat myself to filet mignon and lobster tails from the meat counter. Pick pockets and melt away like a ghost. Rob banks, and no one would remember what I looked like. Smuggle jewels across international borders.
But that was a glittery world, I had to acknowledge only moments later, that I could never enter. Because even now guilt prickled me for grabbing this unwarranted place in line. With a sigh, I ducked out of the queue and circled around to the end, where I should have gone in the first place.
Flamboyancy was not in my makeup. Neither was a bent toward criminality. What was left? Only that inevitable dimming toward invisibility.
* * *
Yet at 2:24 a.m.—I know the exact time because I looked at the red numbers on the digital clock above the bed—I woke with a fantastic revelation.
This newfound invisibility wasn’t a curse of advancing years; it was a gift. A marvelous gift.
And I knew exactly how I was going to use it.
I planned carefully the following day. Black slacks, dark blouse, the stained sneakers I always wore for gardening. I didn’t have dark socks, so I’d just go without. Isn’t that what the kids did these days?
In the midst of my preparations, however, I paused to consider.
If I’m invisible, why all this camouflage?
Because I’m basically a prudent person, and a prudent person, even an invisible one, doesn’t take unnecessary chances. Besides, I was new at working this invisibility thing.
I laid out a dark scarf to cover my hair. Took off the diamond-chip earrings I always wore, a gift from Harley on our twenty-fifth anniversary. Starlight might glint on them. I was concerned about starlight also revealing my glasses, but that couldn’t be helped. Without them I couldn’t tell a vandal from a tombstone.
Just before dinner, I tried everything on. Great! A black cat had nothing on me. Except for those shoes . . .
I frowned at my reflection in the full-length mirror on the closet door. Even dirty, the once-white sneakers stood out like a pair of untanned legs at the beach.
I was on the back porch smearing shoe polish on the dirty sneakers when Kendra cut across the yard behind Effie’s vacant house.
“Ivy . . .” Kendra’s smooth forehead wrinkled in concern after she watched me for a moment. “Did you know that’s . . . um . . . brown polish you’re putting on those white shoes?”
“That’s because I don’t have any black polish.”
“Oh.” Kendra hesitated but apparently decided not to question that line of logic. “I see.”
I held up a sneaker. “But this is a really dark brown.”
“Yes, it is. Really dark. Ummm . . . I think I have some white polish at the apartment. I could run over and get it.”
I squatted back on my heels and scooped up another dab of polish. Sweet Kendra, thinking I may be slipping into senility, but rather than laughing or saying something hurtful, she offers a helpful way out.
“Oh, thanks, that’s so nice of you. I appreciate it, but . . .”
But what? But I don’t want white because I’m camouflaging the shoes for a midnight stakeout? Kendra would have a fit if she knew that. So I improvised with one of her own detour tricks. “They’re really comfortable old shoes. I didn’t want to throw them out.”
Kendra knelt down beside me. “Look, I know how expensive shoes and polish and everything else is these days. How about if we go shopping together this weekend, and I’ll get you a nice pair of shoes that are already black?”
More sweet Kendra. I was almost tempted to tell her what I was really doing. Instead I patted her hand with a finger, lightly, so I wouldn’t get brown polish on her. “I’ll see how these work out. So, how are things going over at Bottom-Buck Barney’s?”
“Same as always.” Kendra paused. “But if you ever decide you want a different car, don’t patronize Barney’s.”
“The Thunderbird suits me just fine.” This was a nice, safe topic. I smeared more brown polish on a toe and rubbed it in. “It has only sixty-two thousand miles on it, you know, even though it is a 1975 model. I don’t drive much.”
“Your husband bought it, I’ll bet.”
I heard a bit of curiosity in Kendra’s voice. Maybe even a minuscule twinge of censure.
Your husband bought a Thunder-bird . . . but didn’t leave you enough to buy a pair of black shoes?
“We happened to come into a bit of money,” I explained. It was an unexpected share of a great-uncle’s estate, the other shares going to those cousins in Idaho, although I didn’t feel the need to supply Kendra with those details. “By rights I suppose we should’ve done something sensible with it. But whenever it came time to buy a car, Harley always looked at Thunderbirds and Cadillacs first. Then we’d settle on something smaller and more sedate and sensible. But this time, when we got the money, I said, ‘Let’s not be sensible. Let’s just do it.’ So we did.”
“That’s wonderful. Sometimes tendencies to be sensible need to be squashed.”
“It’s a great car. A wonderful ride, everyone says. Although,” honesty forced me to admit, “it does get terrible gas mileage. I imagine you get wonderful mileage with your little car.”
“It also doesn’t hurt that my friend lets me use his charge card for gasoline.” Kendra gave me a conspiratorial wink. “Next time the Thunderbird needs gas, let me know, and we’ll sneak it through on the card too.”
Again I saw that tiny facet of Kendra’s personality that troubled me. It slipped through whenever mention of the “friend” came up. Something sly and scheming and . . . not quite nice.
“Well, I’d better be running along,” Kendra said briskly. “I just wanted to drop over and say hi.”
“I’m going to fix a nice shrimp salad for supper. Could you stay?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Not tonight. I have some . . . papers I have to go over. But I’m definitely planning church with you this coming Sunday, if the invitation is still open.”
“And I’ll give you the money for another month’s rent then.”
I watched the young woman cut across Effie’s yard. A sudden thought occurred to me. How about asking Kendra to come along on this . . . what was this sort of thing called in those hard-boiled mysteries? A caper. Yes, this was a caper. Kendra was sharp, observant, nice company. She’d want to do this for Thea, just as I did. It would be good to have a partner on a caper.
“Kendra?” I called.
Kendra turned. “Yes?”
She was in white shorts, skimpy red top, and frivolous multicolored sandals, her dark hair piled on top of her head with a tangle of tendrils framing her face.
I decided regretfully.
Not a workable partnership for this endeavor. Leggy, beautiful Kendra is definitely not invisible.
* * *
I didn’t leave the house until almost 10:00. I felt reasonably certain the vandals wouldn’t go into action before that hour. I timed the drive. Forty-five minutes. I drove slowly past the metal arch over the cemetery entrance and across the bridge where I’d watched the little boy fishing. This time I noticed there was a name sign by the bridge. Hangman’s Creek.
a name to inspire confidence,
I thought a bit uneasily. Was the person who had inspired the name now under a tombstone at Country Peace?