“An Unnoticed Disappearance”
Marta drove onto the cape alone. She parked, cut the engine, and sat watching the sunset. She would miss the office party. Her absences had begun defining her more than her vibrant presence in those days.
As the Pacific choked down the sun, an off-shore breeze rippled sawgrass growing in the dunes. Marta nodded, stepped out of the car, and stood for a moment shivering. “Okay, okay.” She got a coat from the back seat and put it on. Bundled, with a scarf across her face, she locked the car and trudged through the clumps of sawgrass, thistle, and dead Queen Anne’s lace to the down-slant of sand.
Wind had chewed apart her foot prints by the time anyone looked for them.
Marta never meant to disappear. As she gained years, pounds, and debts in the course of life, she faded; invisibility came like grey hair, wrinkles, and single-piece swim-suits.
She saw her husband now and then, in passing. She was no longer sure how he spent his days or evenings. Friends, she guessed.
Her kids had grown and gone. They had lives, kids, and concerns of their own now. Holiday visits became calls. Cards came late now, sometimes not at all. Rare visits sufficed for them but seemed ad hoc, hasty, and crammed-in to Marta. So it seemed to her. She would rather see them more often for longer, or every day really.
No one asked her.
It occurred to her neglect could be privacy, or used that way. Her craving for privacy had never been strong. Nor had she shenanigans to pursue when on her own. No antics or frolics in mind meant solitude was wasted on her.
Marta liked to read. She was smart but did not think of herself as an intellectual. Her favorite writer was John Brunner. His science fiction wrung remarkable stories from science, myth, and intelligent imagination. His books, largely forgotten, were almost entirely out-of-print now but she’d inherited mass-market paperbacks from her cousin, a completist who’d collected a wide range of genre fiction in its cheapest editions. “That way they’ll die with me, or just about,” he’d say.
Brunner had adopted various styles to match the voices and tones of given stories. His work ranged through literary realms in a disciplined way. They were not mere ideas presented hastily for a penny a word.
To Brunner, via his forgotten work, Marta owed a love of chess viewed as a life pattern, layered awareness of social commentary in people’s words and deeds, and spectacularly accurate, eerily prescient trend analysis of near- and mid-distance futures.
Using these skills, she’d examine her own life over and over, spotting futures that varied only subtly.
None looked hopeful.
Between precedence and subsequence lurked anticipation. Sequence kept the arrow of time flowing, like the blood, blood from countless unnoticed wounds that pooled, psychologically if not in reality, and Marta looked neither forward nor back as she sank deeper into crimson emotional inertia. How bad could drowning be, really? When breathing burdened, a gasp of STOP NOW appealed strongly to her.
She paced her long walks to a surf’s rhythm echoed in her sea-blood.
Marta’s maternal grandmother had loved music. Her tastes had ranged from pop classical such as Boston Pops, with avuncular Arthur Fiedler, to the suave, slightly sexy jazz-tinged smarm of Henry Mancini, even reaching, or leaching as with capillary action, to the Vegas lounge lizard sounds of Ferrante & Teicher and their twin grand piano onslaught. Liberace, run.
Marta learned classical pieces this way and absorbed musical structure. She grew up responding to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Yes. From The Nice to ELP proved a seamless slide on Keith Emerson’s flying fingers, while King Crimson opened her to Bowie and even, somehow, to The Who.
It was a mix she took refuge in, a chromatic fortress in which even discord added color and eventually balanced into a whole.
Opposite of her life.
On many of her long beach walks she carried a miscellany of songs along, a soundtrack that kept her apart from harsher truths. Disharmony worked best for her as a part of a composed, performed whole conducted on the cold steel tracks of musical theory. She dared not face discord in silence.
Her clothes, never fashionable due to a lack of money, grew gradually more comfortable. She wore practical shoes. Showing off her shape never entered into her considerations. She used LL Bean and Land’s End catalogues if she needed anything new. Such mail-order clothes fit and wore well, all without having to face sneering arch clerks or funhouse mirrors.
She did not stand out. Glimpsed at a distance, she was sexless and unremarkable. Her walks went unnoticed, gazes passing over her as wind caresses sand, as clots of fog bob by like ghosts past moaning.
She was ignored like yet another gull.
Marta kept her hair short, easy to manage. It more or less mirrored a standard male haircut. She trimmed it herself, allowing a visit to a barber or salon once or twice a year.
She let grey seep into her mouse-brown hair. Had she gone bald she would’ve worn a hat outside to keep her head warm but would otherwise have counted it as good riddance, as one less annoyance.
Her legs and arm pits she trimmed if she noticed them. She removed what bothered her, otherwise ignoring such chores as mere grooming, an affectation of the vain.
A sexless marriage of passing in the hall with a nod, of finding piss on the floor, the toilet seat up, dirty dishes, of she or he entering or leaving via doorways gaping like mindless empty eye sockets in discarded skulls, all this cemented her apathy and reinforced her occasional approach to personal hygiene as eccentric, perhaps neglectful, but comfortably so.
What did it matter, until it mattered to her?
Marta stood 5’8” and weighed 210 lbs. She was not the kind of petite woman targeted by most male predators. Or so she figured. A pretty face with no makeup and proportionate curves from long walks joined a desultory appetite to keep her solidly slender. She had a belly and could defend herself but did not flirt or accept attentions. Her main skills combined avoidance with fending off notice, ducking past perked ears, evading bushy tails.
Many predatory species favored larger females, she knew; it was the males at risk in such a hierarchy.
Define compassion, Marta had once thought, watching three other high-school girls bully a fourth for having clothes no worse than Marta’s own. Yet they had left Marta unscathed.
Marta had felt sorry for the bullied girl had not not moved to help the smaller girl.
Size matters, but not how they think, she told herself.
Now define compassion.
She conceded the rhythm to gain the pitch, or switched melody for counterpoint. Adjusting life to her idiosyncratic music theory. It still felt off-key, off-kilter, bounced off unseen edges. She’d lost the knack for living.
Drummer’s off, she thought.
Every step became a trip or a divot dive, a stub or a plunge, even walking on a beach newly smoothed by an out-going tide. Were her hips cockeyed? Had one of her legs grown or shrunk? She’d reach for a pocket and slap a rib instead of a hip, all body geometry lost to her for a moment. She’d miss third steps on two-step stairs. Less clumsiness than a lack of sympathy with reality afflicted her. Syncopation from other dimensions invaded at irregular intervals.
December the First surprised her with the realization that she’d missed Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving both, along with Black Friday’s flails and frenzies. It seemed others had, too.
“They broke it.” She heard many saying this in lines at grocery stores or gathered to pluck their coffee from a counter.
“They broke everything,” would come the knowing affirmation.
Marta knew what they meant without knowing to whom these mysterious strangers, who belonged to tribes Marta never saw, referred.
“Doctor My Eyes” could be a Steely Dan song.
But it’s Jackson Browne.
I know, but it COULD be.
Much of what she heard when she forced herself to buy food, get gas for the car, or otherwise expose herself, as obliquely as possible, to those people-things made neither sense nor impression. People pursued and apparently captured invisible pocket monsters with their smart ‘phones. Everyone began saying, “Dilly-dilly,” for awhile.
What did any of it mean? Was it as meaningless as its jargon babble?
Marta had no clue and did not care. That she lacked such social referents made her feel free. She was the empty cargo plane doing acrobatics in a gaping cerulean sky.
It hit 75° Fahrenheit on the first of December. “Even in the midwest,” the weather girl wearing the revealing blouse chirped.
Marta wondered if her parka would be needed that year at all. It felt too difficult to drag the plastic box out from under the bed just to be warmer.
Rain came, as it always does, a condensed opprobrium. Vicious storms avalanched from the Pacific to hammer the North West coastal cities with tons of pounding rain. Some of the cities flooded.
Marta had read that rain drops averaged bigger now. No one knew why but she figured it was climate change due to global warming.
Glaciers cringed and crept back up their mountains.
Marta left a mess she wasn’t sorry for. Her conscience had fled along with her feelings and most of her memories. By the time anyone wanted to catch up with her, even she wouldn’t be able to find herself. Traces faded fast, she knew. Trails ate themselves.
Great White sharks were one of the species in which the females were much larger and more powerful than the males. Trivia clung like jellyfish to her sea-level thoughts.
She took what she wore, which included smears of his blood, spatters of his inertia. Who noticed details when swapping world for world?
She’d promised always to take care of him, so she had taken care of him before finally looking to taking care of herself.
That morning via the car radio a DJ had been excited to announce to Marta a way out. Great White sharks had been spotted in significant numbers close to shore near a few popular surfing beaches. People were warned to stay out of the water. Even sea lions took this advice, clustering on rocks, wharfs, and bobbing boats like giant barking bewhiskered slugs.
Marta decided to hitch a ride out of her life with a Great White mama shark. All she’d have to do would be to swim out and say hello to one of them. I’m one of you, she’d tell them. Hunger would do the rest.
Hers, and theirs.
As she stood beside the car, Marta spotted a dorsal fin break the ocean’s turbulent surface. She nodded. “Okay, okay.”
She locked up and walked to the beach, then out toward invisibility.
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