Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can't See Me

You Can't See Me
by Steve Richman

Forty minutes into the Yonn Corporation's Southwestern Regional self-audit working group's Wednesday 3 p.m. quarterly preplanning subcommittee meeting, Herman Jones realized he had become invisible. He looked right where his left hand was sitting inert on the ergonomically designed ovoid conference table, but he could not see it. He saw high-tech designer wood grain, a few stray sugar granules and bearclaw crumbs, but no hand. The joke watch he wore, with a cat face in the middle and each hour replaced by "Nap," appeared to float in space. He faux-casually brought his right hand up to his mouth as if to yawn: also invisible. He had become, visually, an empty cheap suit.
Mind racing, Herman weighed possible courses of action. No one seemed to notice anything unusual--good, keep it that way--hold very still, stifle the slight coughs and sniffs that punctuate these meetings. Let's see now. Walk out? Bad idea, everyone here will be so desperate for distraction they'd look right at the moving empty suit. Must not call attention. In the movies about invisible people, the man always takes off his clothes. (Why is it always a man?) Get naked? NO. VERY BAD idea. He could just as suddenly reappear, and he was pretty sure Human Resources would frown on Walking Around Naked in the Workplace. Don't undress for God's sake, don't move, don't make noise. Just get through the meeting.
After an hour, an eternity of sweaty concentration, the meeting ended and it was time to go home. He was still invisible. In the hallway, on his way to grab his lunch bag from his grey-lined cubicle and turn off his computer, he passed Antoine.
"Hey, man, are you finished with that MST tape yet?" Antoine asked.
Herman checked his peripheral vision. "You're asking me?"
"Hah, yeah, buddy, I don't trust just everyone with my only copy of The Crawling Eye!"
"Ehh heh, yeah, sorry, long afternoon. Uhh, not yet. Can I give it you Friday?"
"Sure, man, sure. Next Sunday A.D. is fine. See you tomorrow."
So--Antoine sees me. Look at that--I can see myself again too! What the hell was that?
But the triumph, and the visibility, wore off as soon as Antoine ducked into his own cubicle. Moving quickly, mostly up on his toes but also trying not to look like a cartoon sneak-thief, Herman slunk to the stairs, out the building, down the sidewalk to his bus stop. Transparent as a mountain stream, he joined the scrum for his bus, held a strap for the fifteen-minute ride, entered his apartment building.
Crossing his threshold, Herman popped back into full clear visibility, almost audibly, as his Siamese cat Freddy meowed a hello. This gave Herman an idea. He stepped back into the hallway, pausing outside the door. Still there. He walked down to the elevators. Visible. He called an elevator to go down. He disappeared just after the arriving car dinged. He let the elevator go without him, and began walking back toward the apartment. After a few steps, *poof!* visible again. Aha!
As he now expected, Herman stayed visible right up until he got on the elevator the next morning. No one noticed the apparent empty, walking clothes. He decided he would figure out his invisibility's rules or limits. Before long, he'd confirmed that only two people at work could see him; or, to put the same finding another way, only in the presence of two people did Herman regain visibility. Around Antoine--with whom Herman frequently played Magic: The Gathering, swapped MST3K tapes, and went to the movies--Herman shone out like a lighthouse with nary a flicker. Christie from Reception, who always took a moment to chat with him when she wasn't too busy on the phones, cast Herman into a kind of quarter-light--nearly see-through, as if observed through a window at dusk. Otherwise, he remained completely unseen, unseeable, from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday.
This, he decided after brief consideration, was not a bad thing. Why not be invisible? When had anything good ever come from being noticed? He didn't trust his invisibility enough to do anything crazy with it--stealing, Peeping Tom-ism, playing poltergeistish pranks. He didn't even care about any of that. He had other, smaller ideas. He began taking two-hour lunches in the canteen, losing himself in fat paperback fantasy epics. Who ever chose 8 a.m. as a reasonable hour to begin work? Lacking a good answer, he stopped setting his alarm and strolled in daily between 9:30 and 10:30, depending. For that matter, why stay till five--or more accurately, five after five, lest the boss see you leaving on the stroke and--accurately--interpret that as eagerness to get the hell out? Four o'clock would work just fine. He stared out of windows, visiting other floors specifically for the purpose. He doodled at his desk. He perused every item in vast game and used-book catalogs. He wrote joke names for his in-house badge, though he didn't dare use them: avoid notice.
Herman stayed invisible this way for nearly three years. The time passed painlessly. One Thursday morning, shortly after breezing in at ten, Herman noticed Gary Schmidt, his regional assistant manager, standing at one end of the cubicle room thumping the door frame and speaking loudly. The Yonn Corporation was "right-sizing," he announced, sneering at the euphemism, and he was sorry to have to be the one to tell everyone, but the whole subdivision was being phased out as of noon today. Everyone had until that time to pack up all personal belongings and exit the building in an orderly fashion. He read briefly from a 3X5 card: "The Yonn Corporation values your contributions to our company over the time of your employment here, and wishes you success in all your future endeavors. Your wellness is our concern. If you wish to visit with a psychological wellness specialist, please see the Human Resources department right away to set up a salary-scaled appointment."
The room buzzed with reaction. Heads swiveled. Everyone looked at each other, variously wryly amused, wide-eyed with shock and worry, stunned, dejected.
Herman saw that he had now abruptly become visible again. He shone out to himself, to all others, suddenly as visible as a stapler, a printer, a penny loafer. He looked at people and they looked at him. He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. "You can't see me," he whispered under his breath. "You can't see me. You can't see me. You can't see me."

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