fiction by Alex Tubbs
You have never seen yourself.
In the mirror, there’s nothing there. For a brief period of time, you thought for sure that you were a vampire; but without a thirst for blood, you have no choice but to assume that this idea is incorrect. But the real cincher, the last nail in the “vampire” coffin, is that when you look down, you still see nothing. You’re fairly certain that vampires do not have this problem. Sometimes, if you squint your eyes, or if you’re standing in sunlight during the golden hours of the evening, you think you see a faint shimmer – but you know it’s just a trick of the light. For all intents and purposes, you are utterly, completely, undeniably, invisible.
But only to yourself.
Everyone else can see you, it seems, but sometimes you’re really not sure. You haven’t told many people that you’re invisible, but when you ask those special what you look like, they all give you different answers. One friend says you have brown hair, green eyes, tan skin. He says you’re tall. Another insists that you’re blonde, or at the very least, more of an ashburn. They all insist you’re beautiful. But once again, you’re not sure how much you can believe.
What you do know, is that you’re here. You aren’t a ghost, and this is reassuring. When your fingers graze your forearm, you know it’s there. When you touch your ears, they’re there to greet you. When your legs are sore, you can massage them. You can run your fingers through your hair with no trouble. So you’re not a vampire, and you’re not a ghost. Check and check.
But who’s to say you’re not Frankenstein’s monster? Sometimes you feel so awkward in your skin. When you feel bloated, you’re certain that others can see your tummy jutting out, misshapen and unsightly. What if you’re just a hodgepodge of ugly pieces, assembled hastily? What if you’re a werewolf? Shaving is hard when you’re invisible. You’re relatively certain you aren’t the creature from the black lagoon, since you can’t breathe underwater. At least that one would’ve come with perks.
There are days where you stand in front of the mirror, hoping something happens. You lean in close, tracing your fingers along your nose, your cheek, the cleft of your chin. You try to create a portrait of yourself from the bumps and grooves of your flesh. Sometimes you give yourself goosebumps, and you try to picture what that looks like too. But it’s all disembodied, just features without a canvas to place it on.
And maybe your friends are right – after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But you are not a mind reader. You’ve considered consulting a third party; a stranger on the street, an impartial judge. But how are they going to react when you tell them you’re invisible? The words monster, freak come to mind. They’d probably think you’re crazy, or weird, and to be honest, you’d rather be ugly than weird. You wish you could be okay with just being weird.
One day, you decide you have to know, if only for yourself. You briefly consider wrapping yourself in toilet paper, but that’s tacky. When you accidentally burn your dinner (because in addition to being invisible, you are also cursed with being a bad chef), you run your finger through the burnt, black ash. You realize that you can see your finger tip.
You collect all the paper you can find. You pull pages out of your old journals. You take your old poetry, the shitty kind from middle school that your writer friends would laugh at nowadays. You peel drawings of your prospective self out of sketchbooks, because where you’re going, you won’t need them anymore. You crumple these pages up, one by one, and place them gently in the firepit in your backyard. With a match, you set them ablaze, and sit watching as the old you burns brightly, becomes cinders, and is extinguished.
You place your hand on the ash. You pull away and hold the floating handprint in front of your face. You run it across your forearm, now a silvery blur, floating in the sunlight. A shimmer. You drag the ash across your tummy, along your ears, through your hair. You trace your fingers along your nose, your cheek, the cleft of your chin. Slowly, you begin to come into view. Like a phoenix, you are reborn from the ashes.
As Often As It Sweeps Through
fiction by Alex Tubbs
As Often as It Sweeps Through
It was snowing when Annetta Marquez went missing. Amber Alert, 8:15 on a cold Tuesday in March, she’d disappeared from her mom’s low-income apartment in lower-west Chicago. The Police looked for her for a week before being thwarted by a Spring blizzard that put the whole city in a state of emergency, clouds of white snow falling down from the overcast sky. When the weather cleared and the temperature rose, they had already given up; the police report said to assume that Marquez was dead, gone forever, absent, ceased to exist. Memorials sprung up across Pilsen; Chicago’s Hispanic community mourning the loss of a sweet young girl, another product of the city’s cold, harsh truth: that in the windy city, the poor get swept away like crumbs.
As the community grieved, a demonstration was held in Lincoln Park in defiance of the police’s lackluster search efforts. Signs hung over the crowd like halos; chants and calls to action echoed like the street novenas dedicated to Annetta in the neighborhoods miles west. A young Hispanic woman who identified herself as María Marquez, Annetta’s mother, stepped onto the improvised plywood stage and wept for her forgotten daughter. All around her, people remembered.
María didn’t speak English. A translator named Cleo Montero volunteered to honor her words and her wills. The protestors were all moved to tears by María’s maternal mourning and her plea; that while her daughter may never be found, that no other girl share her fate. That no other girl be eaten by this city.
And then Annetta was found three months later, shot dead point blank in an alleyway in Little Village, and everything was in flux. All around Chicago, the pain of Annetta Marquez’s death showed up like scars across the community’s face. Pockmarks and keloids, you could identify the grief of the individual based on how it wrapped itself around the owner’s face; some grief was long, deep, discolored. Some grief was kept hidden, wrapped under scarfs or behind sunglasses. Upon the buildings, Annetta’s name was painted in pink and blue chalk-stains; a constant reminder that there was a war that had been lost.
The police called it gang violence without a second thought; that maybe her mother had gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd and that the loss of Annetta was an unfortunate consequence. Really, they said, just a sad day for Chicago’s poor community. The investigation was dropped, the police having given up on finding the individual who had executed the girl. Annetta Marquez’s name became another statistic; a number in a book, an obituary; just another dead brown girl.
In our Chicago, Annetta Marquez was never found.
Miles from where she had gone missing, we saw the young girl smiling every day; her chopped bangs and long dimples framing eyes that held us captive, silent in front of the television set. The protests continued, and we joined them to do what we knew was right, to pray for her return, against all odds. With record low temperatures, June ended, but our fight did not, we marched bundled through Millennium and under the Cloud Gate, but the police had stopped us – riot shields forming a wall as dense as the Hancock Center. A twenty-two-year-old officer who patrolled Chicago’s north side was recorded saying that “the bitch probably deserved it” when a Hispanic man named Rodrigo Jiménez was arrested for protesting, wielding a sign that read Justice for Annetta. It took another month for the cop to be fired. As the Summer grew colder, our fire grew larger, fed by the Hawk Winds which blew so cold, so very cold, that we could feel them gnawing at us.
When María Marquez went missing, August brought snow. It fell on us but did not melt when it touched our skin; we used our palms to wipe it clean as we trudged through the city. We painted our signs in dark colors so that our message wouldn’t be obscured: as often as it sweeps through, it will carry you away. Morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through. We demanded justice, and vowed to bring righteousness to our home. Those in power were silent, frozen by guilt as both a mother and her daughter stay lost, absent, gone forever.
When Cleo Montero went missing, the snow became painful to the touch. The temperature dropped below zero, and we carried shovels during our demonstrations so that the snowdrifts would not be an obstacle. With the roads devoid of cars, we took our protests to the streets, the police sliding back upon the ice as we pressed on, unable to stop our forward march. The wind froze the tears that we cried, and as we opened our mouths to speak the missing names, it pooled inside us, refusing to leave.
When Rodrigo Jiménez went missing, the snow filled the Willis Tower, covering the looming black tombstone with a fine white; blocking its shadow and barring its gaze. The snow reached the height of buildings, and we pressed on, our bodies covered head to toe, creating new paths where skyscrapers had once been, the wind carrying us forward like dandelion seeds on a summer’s breeze.
And then we go missing, and with us, the snow, and the city goes on. Annetta has died, and we become the wind; grazing the poles of skyscrapers, pulling tears from the eyes of businessmen and businesswomen as they hurry through the ravines between the buildings. Tourists board the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, throwing their arms into us as the engineer stops them at the highest peak, so that they may see, so very, very far.