Invisible

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“Just one more day, that’s all I ask. Just be invisible for one more day”, she implored.

“I can’t, how can I make you understand, love? I can’t even do it for another hour”, I replied.

“Do it for me, please Tim?” She wrapped her arms around my neck and looked up at me, reading my unseen expressions.

It had always been hard for me to deny her anything. “I wish I could, I really wish I could, but I am so exhausted, so drained. I need to come back. We need to share this work with the world. I want to marry you. Please let me come back.”

“Just one more day, that’s all I ask, she repeated. I’ll tell him everything today and then we’ll be free.”

“But that’s what you said last week, last month, last year-in fact you’ve been saying it for years. Look at me, do I look like I can take any more of this?”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“Look at you”.

“Ha! Good one Lena. You know…I know everything, I know why you think you can’t leave him…invisibility has its advantages”.

I lifted up the journal, her old journal with the faded cover. “I’d be lying if I said what I read here didn’t shock me…it did…but I have given it some thought since. I know what happened and it doesn’t matter anymore. It was an accident. You must have been carried away with your eagerness, your impatience. He can’t keep you enslaved. Now let me show you how I look.”

“No, stop! He’ll be home any minute now. I can’t let him see us together.”

“Lena, I’m afraid I must leave then. I have waited long enough. This is it”.

“No! Don’t go. You can’t leave me, not with him”.

“Then come with me, leave with me”.

“I can’t. You come with me, let me show you why”, she said, as she led me to his den again, to a tiny room within, a record room of sorts with a couple of microfiche readers.

I ran out of her home, a few hours after spending some time in the room poring over several headlines and other news items buried in the inside pages of several newspapers.

I made my exit as swiftly and carefully as I possibly could – her voice trailing behind me, trying desperately to grasp at what I couldn’t give anymore, not after what I had just seen and what she had finished telling me-the very last vestiges of sympathy, love and lust were now drained, replaced with disgust at abject failure and smooth cover ups, at the lack of remorse and contrition, at the greed, the scientific corruption and at the sociopath I had failed to recognize before. How could my judgment have been so clouded for so many years?

There was a time, eighteen years ago, before I left her the for the first time, when things were different, or at least in my view they were. We were dedicated scientists working together in the lab. Our excitement was palpable – we were closer to the finish line than we had ever been before. We had turned our first rat invisible the day before. We had watched the cage for three days and on the third day we saw the tail reappear followed by the rest of him. We knew what we needed to do next to control the duration of invisibility, to make it last as long as we needed it to last. Our present state of excitement was caused by the antidote we had developed. We had made our invisible lab rat visible once again and when we sprayed the antidote on him he reemerged, visible again.

The applications, the repercussions were going to be immense Doctors Lena Brown and Tim Hollister were going to be on the front cover of every magazine and leading every news broadcast on television the world over. The Nobel Prize couldn’t be far away. Their work on invisibility was going to make them the most visible people on the planet.

And then, three days later their rat exploded. His insides splattered inside the cage. We felt as shattered as the subject of our experiment.

Lena had never been one for infinite patience. This was the last straw for her. She didn’t want to try again, to persevere, until we solved the problem. She wanted to move on with her life. We were still partners but her interests had changed. She was still pleased with our work on invisibility and for some reason I was no longer able to convince her that working on the antidote was as important and that invisibility without the possibility of return to a visible state was a dangerous proposition. She wanted to tell the world about our discovery but I couldn’t allow it, not until we were successful in controlling the duration of invisibility.

We had been partners and lovers since we were freshmen in college but our disagreement was festering now and turning gangrenous. I didn’t trust her anymore. I started locking up our papers and encrypting all our work, I didn’t want her publishing anything without my knowledge. She confronted me in the lab then. Our quarrels escalated and in a fit of rage she picked up the canister that contained the serum and sprayed it on me.

Looking back now I remember a sense of elation, of empowerment. I should have been angry, upset but I wasn’t. That moment of elation is hard to forget. Lena stared at the place where I had been standing, contrite and fearful. She was asking for forgiveness, looking ahead at the spot where I had been standing until my warm breath on her neck startled her. I had walked up behind her and was slowly gliding my hands up along her sides. She arched her back as I turned her around and kissed her. She melted in my arms. All our disagreements of the last few days vanished as we made love on the lab floor, repeatedly until the wee hours of the morning.

Then reality set in as I watched her snatching the last few hours of sleep in early dawn. I saw the beautiful lines of her face stretched taut one moment and then morphing into lines that were barely perceptible and then etched deeper and deeper until she became unrecognizable as the Lena I had known. I fingered my own face then, fingering the stubble that my mind’s eye saw as a dark five o clock shadow. I walked up to a mirror and I didn’t see myself. I wondered how long the effect of the serum would last and found myself wishing it would last forever. I didn’t want to see myself aging, I didn’t want anyone to ever see me age. I felt sorry for Lena. I walked out then, leaving her asleep on the lab floor.

My invisibility didn’t wear off in three days like it had in the lab rats. I woke up every morning and stared at my hands but never saw them. I checked the mirrors periodically but never saw my reflection. Several years went by. Invisibility suited me well in the beginning. The basic necessities were easily accessible now. I could pick up food in any kitchen, anywhere, and sleep in any hotel or home, unseen, unfound. Sex was somewhat tricky but I soon realized that most women, especially the married ones, were keen on invisible lovers. Their lack of surprise at being seduced by an invisible presence was always fascinating to me. They often imagined they had dreamed up the entire episode and that was just fine by me.

I lived hard and fast. I never bothered shaving, didn’t see the point. My hair had grown long as well. After the first pair of shoes, the ones I had on when Lena sprayed me, wore out, I had to find myself a place to stay; a place where I could be bare feet forever. What better place than a hotel; food and shelter all in one place. I never left the Blue Orchid except for the occasional jaunt to the beach in stolen footwear, in the wee hours of the morning, before alert individuals, strung out on caffeine, hit the streets. It was easier to convince street drunks that the shoes they saw crunching along the sidewalks were visions under the effects of inebriation.

However, the novelty started wearing out soon enough. I had done the most I could do, seen things and done things I could never imagine doing if I could be seen, all my wild oats were now sown. There were no “moral” boundaries, no ethic I hadn’t breached. And now I often found my thoughts traveling back to the time when I was really happy, when I was in love. I sometimes wondered if it was love, if it could have been love if I found it so easy to leave her, simply because in my youth and immaturity I was fearful of seeing myself or my love wither under the effects of age.

Then one day I saw her again. I was seated at the bar helping myself to the drink the guy sitting next to me had ordered. The tension between the bartender and the customer was steadily escalating as the customer complained about his missing drink and the bartender pointed to the perpetually empty glass. I was watching with amusement when I heard a familiar voice and smelt a familiar fragrance. It had to be Lena. She wore glasses now and those lines that I had imagined appearing on her face the morning I left her were yet to appear. She looked as striking as she had eighteen years ago.

I stared at the hand with which she raised her glass to her lips; a diamond glittered on her ring finger. She was soon joined by the man who must have slid the ring on her finger. I knew him. He was our rival. I still kept up with the journals and I had read some of his papers where he had shamelessly taken credit for much of my work since my disappearance. Dr Rukanick’s name always appeared next to Dr Lena Brown’s. I had never realized they were married.

Lena looked on with amusement at the escalation of tensions between the bartender and the unfortunate customer whose drink never seemed to arrive. I couldn’t tear my gaze away from her. A glass that raised itself unseen, its contents emptied, didn’t escape her amused glance and then she looked straight at me and smiled. Her hand rested on my bare thighs. She turned toward Rukanick and excused herself with a slight peck on his cheek and we took the elevator to her penthouse suite.

I realized I had never stopped wanting her. She left in the morning. The scientific convention they were attending had ended the night before. But she returned often. I went back with her to her home the next time I saw her. She asked me to move in. I couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t as if I was in any danger of being seen. Rukanick didn’t mean much to her, or so it seemed to me.

I was in love again, it was as if the eighteen intervening years had never happened. Lena and Rukanick slept in separate bedrooms and rarely communicated. I asked Lena why she hadn’t continued the work we had been doing together, why she abandoned the project. She told me she was heartbroken when I left. She had regretted her actions and her heart just wasn’t into the work after losing me. She had felt alternately angry at me and upset with herself, at her regrettable actions that had rendered me permanently invisible.

I told her I was ready to take up our research again, that I was ready to be seen again. A life unseen had lost its charm for me. I wanted a normal life, a family with her. I even asked her why she continued what seemed an “arrangement” at best with Rukanick. Her face always clouded over at that question as she sought ways to evade or obfuscate. She always found a way to leave my question unanswered.

We carried on for a couple of years. She had given me access to the labs of the vast scientific empire she had founded with her husband and I devoted myself to the search for an antidote once again. I was close, again. I had tried the antidote on my big toe and had watched it emerge once again after all these years. The effect lasted for twenty-four hours and the toe remained unexploded and intact. I knew what corrections needed to be made to the formula; I saw the solution with immense clarity.

I was excited. I felt more alive than I had in the past several years. I tugged at my invisibly flowing beard with unexpected force, I wanted it off, I wanted to restore normalcy. I wanted to finish the research, publish my work, see it celebrated, collect accolades and then settle down to living the rest of my life with Lena.

I asked her why she didn’t divorce Rukanick. I told her how close I was to regaining visibility and that she would soon see me again.

She told me to wait, to not be hasty. She told me she had a few things to straighten out before we did anything like that.

Her reluctance soon became clear to me. One thing that makes invisibility worthwhile is the ability to snoop unobtrusively. One can always be the proverbial fly on the wall. My curiosity led me to snooping and I soon learnt the reasons behind her reluctance, her desire to keep me hidden and the hold that Rukanick had on her.

I learnt that I wasn’t the only researcher at the forefront of science to have disappeared without a trace in the last few years. There had been a couple of others who had simply vanished or stopped all work in this field. Lena had continued her work on finding an antidote for the invisibility serum after I left, but in her eagerness for results, she hadn’t been able to resist human experimentation. She had lured a homeless bum into the lab one day and had first turned him invisible and then administered the antidote. Rukanick had witnessed the unfortunate explosion and had spent many hours helping her clean up fragments of human brain from the lab walls. It had been the secret that bound them in these unbreakable bonds since that fateful day.

I knew this now because I found a journal where Lena had kept her notes in the days leading up to the experiment. I found it in a safe that was hidden behind a painting in his den. He checked on it every night and it wasn’t that hard for me to observe his nightly routine and to memorize the security code that opened the safe.

I confronted Lena that night and told her everything I had learnt. I told her that she didn’t need to spend another minute with the slimy creature; that she could leave that very second.

And that brings us back to the present with me out of her life once again. The reader will wonder why I left in a hurry the second time around and that’s because I haven’t shared with them the fact that Rukanick didn’t just know about the disappearance of the homeless bum who had disappeared, there were many other clean ups in which he had been of invaluable assistance within the stiflingly white, disinfected walls of the lab where I found my antidote. This had all been revealed to me that night in the room where old newspaper articles illuminated by microfiche readers told a tale of treachery that I can never forget.

I am visible now although the world thinks I am dead, she has announced me dead and conducted a memorial service in my honor. I can’t reveal myself or what I know, not as long as Rukanick and Brown are out there looking for me. I escaped an explosion that day when I ran out of Rukanick’s den; still invisible and trying my best to dodge the spray from a hose containing a deadly mixture that had been pointed in my general direction.

But I am alive and I bear secrets that beg to be told…

2 Comments

  1. Intriguing. Wanted to know more.

  2. that was a beautiful read.and left one wondering about the deviousness of the human mind along with its brilliance


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