How to Disappear Incompletely
Lynette Washington (University of Adelaide, Australia)
So we’re on the tram and it’s 9am and standing room only. His arm is raised to hold the leather strap so that he doesn’t stagger and he’s wearing last night’s black tank top and I can see his arm pit hair, the pale underside of his skinny arm, and his ribs poking through his translucent skin. Pale blue veins run undisturbed and perpendicular to his ribs. He seemed so rock n roll a few hours ago.
I’m trying to be polite, travelling back to his hotel with him, an escort through an unfamiliar city, but he’s tracing the tattoo on my forearm, his fingertips on my ink. Way too intimate, man. I flinch and he looks up, mascaraed black circles under bloodshot eyes. Those eyes say ‘after what we did last night?’ and I look out the window and tuck my arm away.
‘So I don’t think I can come to the gig tonight,’ I say to the blue sky outside.
‘That’s cool. Come by after? I’ll get you a plus one for the party.’
‘It’s just that I’ve got this thing on and I don’t know when it will finish,’ I say.
‘Babe, just come, we had a good time last night, didn’t we?’
I can’t figure out a way to say it nicely and there is a glint of despair hiding under his casual tone.
‘Alright, I’ll try,’ I say.
The eavesdropping suited commuters on the tram all know I’m lying. When we get off this tram and I point him to his hotel it will be the last time I see him. Except maybe on Rage.
The tram slides into the city square and the people spill off in a swarm, desperate to get to their hives. We, in our slept-in clothes, bed-hair, pale skin and tattoos, let them pass in a puff of aftershave and perfume.
‘Coffee?’ he says.
He’ll be leaving town tomorrow. It’s just coffee. And I need coffee.
We head to the markets where I know a great little café. Old wire seats with paint scratched off by anxious fingernails and pink Formica-topped tables that wobble with nerves. It’s as if the furniture itself is caffeinated. But the coffee’s as good as anywhere.
He buys me a short black double shot and we sit at our fretful table. We hold our cups with two hands and take our first hot sip simultaneously. Strange, awkward symmetry. Then a fleeting moment when I see a shadow skittering across the floor – a rat? No, it’s too big, but my twitchy eyes follow the shape and find nothing there – a shadow that has no solid form.
The coffee makes its way down my throat and I feel my chest constrict and my heart sprint, like a racehorse galloping its way down my oesophagus wearing hot iron shoes. I put my hand to my throat, and he’s doing the same thing. We meet each other’s eyes in the third act of physical symmetry since we sat down.
‘Strong coffee…’ I say. But I’ve sucked down Turkish short blacks like they were water and never had this happen.
‘Do you feel it in your throat?’ he asks.
I nod. ‘And my stomach. It’s moving down.’
The racehorse is galloping. He puts his hands over his ears like a comic book character blocking out a painful sound.
‘Mine’s going up. What the fuck?’ he says too loudly and people eyeball us then go back to their coffees.
I grab his hand and we run, lock ourselves into the disabled cubicle and stare at each other.
‘I know,’ he says, responding to the look in my eyes. ‘What the hell kinda coffee was that?’
I look down at the place where I feel the warm liquid, slower now, like it’s settled in my belly. I lift my Dead Kennedys t-shirt, expecting to find all sorts of nothing strange, but instead I can see a giant gaping hole where my gut used to be.
‘Hell…’ he says and reaches his hand out and pushes it through me. His arm is a warm breeze.
‘Sweet Jesus!’ I yell. But it doesn’t hurt.
He pulls up his sweat-stained tank top to show me his stomach. It’s all there, it’s not happening to him and that makes it worse. But then I look up at his face and there is a hole there now, where his face used to be. Like that rat-shadow: something then nothing. No more black ringed eyes, stained teeth and stubble. All I can see is his hair; his trademark black fop which used to cover an eye now covers emptiness. I lift my hand up to see if I can push it through his face and he shrieks.
‘No! Don’t do it!’
I don’t know where his voice is coming from because he has no mouth but the sound of it resonates inside my skull. I don’t stop though and I can feel a sort of throbbing inside his skull and I hear – or maybe feel – his intake of breath as my hand goes all the way through to the wall behind him. His breath flows over my fist before it gets to his lungs, which seems romantic and makes me think of my heart. Is it still beating in there under the Kennedys?
I pull my t-shirt down from the collar. I don’t know what I want to find, but I have to know what’s there. I see my bra and my breasts moving up and down too fast; I’m heaving like a rat on a wheel, but there is no hole there, my heart is intact. My gut might be blasted away, and his brains may be blown out, but my heart is there. Maybe that’s why this somehow feels like falling in love.
Lynette Washington is a short story writer and PhD candidate in the English and Creative Writing program at the University of Adelaide, where she also teaches. Her stories have been published by SWAMP Writing, Tincture Journal and Spineless Wonders. This story, ‘How To Disappear Incompletely’, was long listed in the Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award in 2013. In 2014 Lynette is editing an anthology of stories by University of Adelaide Creative Writing postgrads (for more info, or to submit, look here). You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or on her blog.