Asher’s house was covered in wallpaper. Every room, every wall, each with a different pattern. The living room was a pattern of lines weaving in and out of each other. A brown and pink mix. The bathroom was littered with small roses, matching the pink sink and pink toilet and pink thing that shot water into the air that he washed his feet in, which he eventually figured out was not necessarily for washing feet. His bedroom was simple—thick lines of dark blue and white with raised edges so that the texture was bumpy to the touch. Each of these wallpapers was covering another layer of wallpaper. His bedroom lines were covering giant clouds. The clouds covering a cityscape. The cityscape covering small dinosaur prints. He used to try and peel back the layers, but that resulted in a wooden spoon to his ass from his mother. He used to think about being wallpaper. His favorite way to disappear became thinking about the wallpaper and the images, how they changed the room, how they repeated patterns. He would think of the lines, the colours, and then disappear.
Asher could disappear. Not just like a magic trick, but literally vanish. He had been able to do this since he was a kid. It started at about age three, but he didn’t really figure it out until he was 13 when he was trying to get out of class, which got him in a lot of trouble. Once, During eighth grade PE, Bobby called him a “fucking little girl” and was about to punch him in the face. Just before the punch landed, Asher looked up to see the fluorescent lights of the gymnasium. They grew bright, then in less than a second, a bolt of light shot into him and he was gone. Well, not gone; still there, but gone. He felt a strange sense of power overcome his body. It tingled like when he rubbed his feet against carpet and touched the doorknob to the bathroom. He disappeared and didn’t even notice at first, so he was confused when the class left to search for him and the police showed up.
I am the mirror, I am the hardwood floor, I am the dust floating, I am the light reflecting off the mirror.
After that, he would stand in his room, in front of the mirror, disappearing and appearing, back and forth. He did it as much as possible to get it right. It originally took some muscle strength to do it perfectly so he tired himself out quickly. He tried to hold it as long as possible. He wanted to make it to ten minutes. He got closer and closer, timing himself. It was about three months since the school bully incident that it finally happened. He lasted ten minutes, but he wasn’t tired. It took him saying the objects around him to train himself to turn invisible with ease. I am the mirror, I am the hardwood floor, I am the dust floating, I am the light reflecting off the mirror. And poof. He figured it out like a switch being flipped and knew he could hold it now for as long as he wanted. He made himself visible again and smiled at his reflection in the mirror, like Jim Carrey in The Mask. “Smooookin’,” he said.
As a teen, Asher’s main use of disappearing was to masturbate, purely in response to a priest telling him it was a sin, and he figured this was a loophole. But his disappearances expanded to spying. He used to disappear and snoop on his teachers, his classmates, and finally his family. He caught his father having an affair, his mother pouring whiskey into her mug at breakfast, and eventually, his mother also having an affair. He kept all these secrets to himself. He used to think about how he sucked up all of the secrets in their house and it was like taking them into another world.
The month after Asher graduated high school he immediately tried to get a job. He tried working at Subway, but was fired when he kept disappearing during work when a customer was rude or too demanding. He tried Uber, but his rating dropped substantially when the riders reported that their driver would randomly go missing behind the wheel. Disappearing felt like the only way to get customers to stop chatting about inane things to him. Work was a struggle for Asher until his cousin offered him a job. It was simple. Tape some bags to himself, lie in the backseat of a car or in the trunk, cross the border, get paid. If anyone at the border opened the trunk, disappear.
“You want me to traffic drugs?”
“No, no, just make them disappear.”
Asher had that sinking feeling in his gut that this was a bad idea, but his cousin assured him he would get paid 1000 dollars for the ride there and a bonus for the ride back. Plus, he couldn’t get caught because no one could see him. It would work.
On his first trip, Asher paid a lot of attention to the clothes he would wear in the off-chance he got caught. He figured a preppy look would make it seem like he was kidnapped and forced to bring the drugs across. He tried on several outfits, pretending to be surprised. “Me? A mule for drugs?”
His roommate, Carl, walked in. “Did you say something?”
“Do I look like I would uh, traffic drugs?”
“You look like you would traffic girl scout cookies.”
Asher smiled. “Perfect.”
When he arrived, the driver didn’t get out. He just nodded at Asher from the window and said, “Get in.” Asher buckled in, and the driver, covered in tattoos and wearing a muscle shirt, added, “Hi, I’m Giovanni.” He had a gentle tone.
“I hope you’re cool to talk to, these trips can take up to eight hours.”
“I am, I think.”
“I didn’t hear what you said.”
“Sorry, I am, I said.” Asher tried to be louder.
“Ok, we’ll have to work on your tiny baby voice.” Giovanni chuckled. He had a deep laugh that was both soft and took up the entire car. Giovanni took him through the process, step by step. He was calming to Asher. Giovanni would let him sit in the back seat until they were about ten minutes from the border station. He would then put Asher in the trunk, which had a ventilating system so he could breathe properly. Asher asked why he couldn’t just sit in the front and Giovanni said they felt it was smart to keep him there in case he had to stay invisible for a long period of time. They would go through the check point, and usually there wouldn’t be any searches, but if they did get searched, border patrol would ask to look in the trunk. Asher would be invisible, border patrol would see an empty car and move on. Then the two would drive to a drop off point, put their cargo in an underground safe, and take the second batch of bags from the safe. Then they would repeat the process back home, which should be easier because the Canadian border agents tended to be more passive.
It didn’t make him feel any safer, like the way his father kept a gun in his closet to protect them against unknowable dangers, but the danger was the gun itself.
As they approached the border, Asher’s anxiety crept up on him. He took long breaths and focused. He could hear Giovanni talking to the border security and immediately disappeared. He felt the car start to move. No one bothered to check the trunk. When they pulled over, Giovanni let him out and told him this was more common than not. “Usually not too much hassle at the border,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long-ass time. Border patrol isn’t the ones you gotta be afraid of. It’s someone trying to rob us. Don’t worry, I got protection for that, so we’ll be safe.”
Asher didn’t pry him for details. He understood that meant a gun, but immediately started to wonder where he hid it. It didn’t make him feel any safer, like the way his father kept a gun in his closet to protect them against unknowable dangers, but the danger was the gun itself.
They dropped off the bags, picked up the new bags, then went for lunch to make sure their return wasn’t so quick, then Giovanni went grocery shopping. “They bug you less when you have a bag full of cheese and shit, think you’re just being cheap.” On their way back, Giovanni let Asher move to the back seat. Asher was watching videos on his phone, decompressing. “What are you watching?” Giovanni looked into the rearview mirror to catch Asher’s eye.
“It’s nothing, it’s stupid.”
Giovanni laughed. “Is it porn?”
“No! It’s just these stupid videos of people cutting up soap.”
“You mean when someone slices up a bar of soap? I watch those videos to calm myself down. I really like the videos where the ladies with the long fingernails squish around slime.”
Asher perked up. “Wait, you watch those too? Why?”
“I dunno. I get really tense sometimes. Like anxiety or something. Crowds and stuff. Just feels like my body is constantly ready to fight or like, fuck off somewhere and never return.”
“What do you mean fuck off somewhere?”
“Like, escape or… fuck, I dunno. It’s hard to explain. I can just feel weird sometimes. Helps when I watch those videos. Helps me zone out.”
“I kind of get the same feeling when I disappear. Calms me down when things feel intense.”
“Must be nice.” Giovanni chuckled. “You want to join me for a beer?”
Four months in, their routine became like clockwork. It was an easy process for Asher and he enjoyed sitting and talking with Giovanni. Giovanni was protective of Asher, making sure he was comfortable in the trunk, and kept the amount of time he spent in there limited. He would ask Asher if he was dating or if he had a boyfriend yet and would show him pictures of his girlfriend and tell him about their relationship.
“Why do you think you haven’t had a boyfriend yet?” Giovanni asked.
“I don’t know. I go out. I just, don’t know how to talk to people.”
“You try online stuff? Aren’t you all like, on that app or something?”
“Yeah, but it’s all the same problem. Everyone feels like a stranger to me.”
“I like talking to you. Maybe you just need to imagine you’re talking to a friend.”
“I don’t think it’s that simple.”
During one trip across the border together, Giovanni got a text that said the exchange was late and they should stay overnight at a hotel. In their shared hotel room, Giovanni opened the mini bar and threw Asher a beer from inside. “If they aren’t paying for separate hotel rooms, we’re going to drink this entire mini bar,” he said. Giovanni threw him a mini bottle of tequila. “Take a shot of this first.” They turned on the TV and let the news scroll by as they got drunk together.
Giovanni quickly became bored of the news and being stuck in the room. “This sucks. There’s gotta be a hot tub here.”
Asher and Giovanni found the hotel’s deserted hot tub and quickly de-robed and slipped in. Asher’s body warmed up and he immediately felt a little blurry. “How did you end up doing this job?” he asked.
Giovanni’s eyes were closed when he answered, “It’s easy as shit, and the money is good.” Asher assumed that was all he would say. Giovanni’s answers tended to be short, but he continued on, “I was failing college. I just didn’t get it. I was always pretty bad at school but got in through a football scholarship, but my grades were shit and I got cut from the football team, so I dropped out and took a shitty job for a construction company. I ended up being shitty at that too. Your cousin and I were friends in high school and he offered me this job.”
“Aren’t you scared of getting caught?”
“I dunno. I try not to think about it.”
“Isn’t there anything else you want to do?”
“I always thought I would be a football player, but that dream died after getting cut from the team. After high school, I thought I’d figure it out, but I just didn’t like anything I was doing. I was so easily bored, and all the lectures started to sound the same. At one point I thought maybe I could get into kinesiology and work with football players, but it was too hard to get into the program and by that time, I was a fail away from getting kicked out, so I just quit. Maybe I’m only good at quitting things.”
“Same,” Asher said. “I know all the things I hate, but still haven’t figured out something I actually like. I never was really good at anything. My grades were always bad, even when I tried. I never made a sports team, I never lasted longer than a week in any school clubs. Once I was in a play in high school, but I think I did such a bad job that they cut my character in half so that I didn’t even have lines. I just came in, bowed, and then ran back off stage.” Giovanni sprayed out some of his beer from laughter, and Asher, realizing how silly that must have seemed, started laughing as well.
'The only thing I know I’m good at is disappearing.'
“Stop it. It was really embarrassing,” he said, but he laughed off the memory in a way he hadn’t before.
Giovanni couldn’t stop laughing. He was hitting the side of the hot tub. “I’m sorry, that is so fucking funny. I mean, there’s gotta be something that you’re good at.”
“The only thing I know I’m good at is disappearing.”
Giovanni nodded, emptied his beer and stood up to grab another from the stash they had brought with them. He stood for a while in his white boxers, now turned see-through from the water. Giovanni looked at Asher, who was trying not look, but sneaking a glance anyway. “You can totally see my dick, can’t you?” Asher laughed and Giovanni sat back in the water, pulled his boxers off, and threw them aside. “There. If you can see it anyway, I might as well be comfortable.” Giovanni let out a sigh, almost like a grunt. He closed his eyes and smiled. “I like you, you know. You make me feel comfortable.”
“Thanks. You make me feel safe.” Asher laughed, “I mean, like, you do your job well.”
Giovanni chuckled and clinked his beer with Asher’s.
By the time Asher got up the nerve to take off his underwear, Giovanni was ready to get out and head back to the room. Asher watched as the water dripped down Giovanni’s body to pour back into the tub. “I’m just gonna stay here a moment,” Asher said with a deep exhale, hoping Giovanni wouldn’t notice the beer and nudity had made it too awkward to leave the tub. Giovanni gave him the thumbs up as he threw a robe on and exited into the locker room.
Asher let his body float, feeling the warm water brush around his neck and his back, bubbles rolling down his leg. He thought about the tub being a weird human soup of himself and Giovanni. He closed his eyes and remembered standing on stage, waiting for his moment, bowing and running off. The audience laughed every night he performed. The sinking feeling of the memory returned, like it was pulling him down to get swallowed up by the hot tub drain. He wondered if there was a way to make a memory disappear.
He heard a noise, then the door flung open. A couple came in giggling and immediately took off their robes. Still naked and hard, he quickly disappeared. I am the water, I am the heat, I am the .
Asher quietly opened the hotel room door and found Giovanni asleep face down and naked. Asher slipped into the other bed. He laid on his side and looked at the way Giovanni’s tattoos rolled down his shoulder to his lower back and connected to his thigh. He stayed up for hours replaying the conversation with Giovanni in his head. The only thing I know I’m good at is disappearing.
“Package is ready, we can head back now.” Giovanni was fully dressed, shaking Asher awake. Asher jumped out of bed, forgetting he went to sleep completely naked. He rushed to put on clothes and they drove out to the safe. After they collected the package, they threw the bags in the trunk and drove to their normal spot before Asher would tape the bags to himself and get in the trunk. Giovanni walked into the forest to pee and Asher sat playing a game on his phone. When Giovanni re-emerged from the bushes, he said, “I forgot to ask you last night, but can you make me disappear?”
“Yeah,” Asher replied. “I used to do that with friends in school all the time. You just have to be holding on to me.”
Giovanni put his arms around Asher and pulled him into a strong embrace, his beard rubbing against Asher’s cheek. Then they were gone. He could feel it, like a gentle breeze. They reappeared. Giovanni laughed, pulled Asher in harder so that Asher was pressed tight against him. “Holy shit! I didn’t think it would feel so cool. Can we do it again?”
They disappeared together again, almost for a full minute. They re-appeared and Giovanni sounded almost frustrated when he asked for it one more time. He pulled Asher in. I am the polo shirt, I am the belt, I am the gold chain, I am the chest hair, I am the tattoo, I am the breeze, I am Giovanni. I am. Giovanni had one arm over Asher’s shoulder and his other arm on the small of Asher’s back. He fingered the top of Asher’s pants, feeling the elastic of his briefs. Giovanni pulled him in closer and lifted him into the air. “Stay like this,” Giovanni whispered, and kissed him. Asher felt a pang of fear in his gut, like Giovanni was doing this as a joke. He almost forgot he had made them invisible, but the shock subsided quick, and he gave in. Giovanni moved Asher towards the car and pressed both their bodies against the hood. He guided Asher’s hand down his pants and then Asher was gripping his dick, still invisible, in a haze.
Giovanni stopped kissing him when they heard a horn honking and noticed people getting out of their car. “Stay invisible with me,” Giovanni whispered, and all the people saw was an empty, abandoned car.
Later, curled up in the trunk of the car, Asher replayed the entire scene in his head. It felt impossible. He was warm, his body was jittery, he couldn’t stop smiling. He almost didn’t hear the border agent asking Giovanni to open the trunk. I am the carpet, I am the dark interior, I am the spare tire, I am the jumper cables, I am the rubber, I am the metal, I am the fibres, I am the space between the fibres, I am the. The trunk opened. I am the light coming in, I am the gym bag, I am the empty water bottle, I am the last droplets of water, I am the water, I am the moisture, I am the saliva, I am the lips, I am the wetness of mouth, I am the kiss, I am the rough skin, I am the beard, I am the follicles, I am the sweat, I am the tongue, I am the beat, the heartbeat, I am the heart, I am the warmth, I am the embrace, I am the. Just before the trunk closed, Asher saw the light of the sun. It grew bright, it sent a bolt down of light towards him and he felt it course through his body, then his clothes, then the bags taped to him. The trunk closed. Asher’s body shuttered.
The trip lasted longer than usual. Giovanni didn’t stop to let him switch to the backseat until they had been driving for thirty minutes. When Asher looked up after feeling something tap his head, he at first thought it was a joke, so he laughed.
“Don’t fucking laugh.” Giovanni was direct and did not look away. “This isn’t funny.”
Asher began to shake and apologize, but Giovanni cut him off. “Shut up. Don’t ever do that again. Don’t you ever fucking tell anyone what you did to me.”
I am the gun. Asher disappeared.
When the pills came back from Giovanni and Asher’s last job, something had changed. People felt the similar high they were used to, but when someone was at their peak, they felt a breeze, then vanished. Not forever, just for a moment. Some didn’t even notice it happen. Asher figured it out one night at a bar, when he saw people flicker in and out of existence. He asked them how they did that. They all pointed back to the pills that Asher noticed were the same pills he had strapped to his body.
In turn, he could feel an energy he hadn’t felt before, as if all of his feelings were compounded into a dark pit in his stomach.
Giovanni never came back to work with Asher after their overnight trip. Asher’s driver was replaced and he began to work overtime, begging his cousin for more work. He wanted to do anything to distract from the thoughts in his head, anything to stop obsessing over Giovanni but still holding on to a sliver of hope he would be paired up with him again. His cousin was happy to offer him extra jobs. Asher stopped being visible most of the time, disappeared for the entire job, even when alone in the trunk or in the back seat, even when he dropped off the bags. He could feel it, every time he disappeared. Something had changed. It felt as if his entire strength was being put into his invisibility. In turn, he could feel an energy he hadn’t felt before, as if all of his feelings were compounded into a dark pit in his stomach.
One night, Asher and his roommate decided to try out the MDMA from that final job with Giovanni. They spent the evening sitting in a park, watching the moonlight as the chemicals coursed through their bodies.
“You’ve been invisible so often lately,” Carl said. “You ok?”
Asher hesitated, then said, “I just let myself get hurt. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Ok, but like, being vulnerable sucks and is hard but if you can’t even do that with me, maybe you’re not fine. Also, you think you’re like this nothing or whatever, you like, go away and don’t want people to see you, and that’s cool. I get it, I would love to disappear but you’re also a human, so you gotta be, like, a human every day and that’s the fucking worst sometimes, but also it’s cool sometimes. I don’t want you to just be air or wind but like… earth.”
“The Earth?” Asher laughed.
“The earth, totally, like dirt and soil and… ok, I can hear it,” Carl said. “The drugs have fully kicked in.”
“Hold on to those thoughts,” Asher said. He got Carl to focus on everything around him, to say the objects in his mind, over and over again. I am the earth, I am the moonlight, I am the . Then Carl vanished. He reappeared with a grin on his face, then disappeared, reappeared, disappeared again.
Asher smiled, watching him flicker like a light. “I know I shouldn’t just disappear, but like, I feel a million times more alone when I’m visible. I never thought the first person who didn’t make me feel so alone would just …”
“In my experience, that’s how the first one always works,” Carl said. “Feels like inviting someone in for a hug and they punch your throat instead. But sometimes you gotta be the water and not the earth. Sorry, I’m so high, I know it doesn’t make sense.”
Asher laughed. “I guess I just need to be wind for a while.”
A week later, Asher went to a bar near the border, hoping he would see Giovanni. Inside, there was velvet green wallpaper with ornate swirls, a pink wall filled with flamingos, and one giant wall covered with banana leaves. It was the perfect bar for Asher. Asher spent his days watching the patrons. He learned about their lives, why they came to this bar to escape reality. Slowly, he began to notice the people like him, the people who felt invisible, or stuck, or alone. He offered them a way to disappear. At first there was skepticism, but eventually more and more people showed up by word of mouth. A pill to make you invisible. Asher was selective of who he gave it to, taught them how to stay invisible, not just for a moment or two. He started to feel the dark pit in his stomach fade away as more people became like him, became invisible. They visited the bar daily. They would walk into the bar, then disappear. The bar staff hated it; it threw off how many people were legally allowed in the building and they couldn’t keep count.
Two weeks later, a sign was posted on the bar’s front door: “NO DISAPPEARING!”
Shereena first learned she could disappear when she came home one night, high and drunk. She struggled up to her bedroom and landed face first on her bed. She heard steps coming from the hallway, and she knew exactly what was coming. She always visualized her father’s fists whenever she heard the sound of his footsteps on the stairs. As the door opened, she became the bedsheets. I am the bedsheets, I am the blanket, I am the comforter, I am the pillowcase, I am the fabric, I am the linen, I am the thread pulled tight, I am the space between the knots, I am the bedsheets. She held herself invisible as long as possible and came back in the morning.
Elijah realized he could disappear when he and his boyfriend went on a small retreat trip. Just the two of them to try and refocus on their relationship. They both took a little pill the first night to relax and watch the stars and fuck. It was about time for fucking, but his boyfriend started to bring up their problems. He felt the need to tell Elijah that he was falling for someone else, that maybe the two of them should—and then Elijah disappeared mid-sentence. I am the stars in the sky, I am the chair that holds my body, I am the space between, I am the earth, I am the time it takes for the light to reach the earth, I am the light, I am the moment the light touches, I am the round shape, I am the bend, I am the reflection, I am the stars in the sky.
Elijah didn’t reappear until the next morning when his boyfriend had left. He checked his phone and found several messages that let him know the relationship was over.
The room became energized the more people who went invisible; there was a vibration you could feel when it happened.
Olivia couldn’t afford her rent. Her bank account was empty and she had been dodging her landlord. She spent every day emailing employers, and chasing down late checks from freelance jobs. When her friends decided to take her out to help her forget about her troubles, they all took a pill before going dancing. Olivia felt high all night, and it lasted until the morning. Until the landlord was banging on her door, telling her she was about to get evicted. She heard the key slide into the lock. I am the bed, I am the comforter, I am the sheets, I am the sweat, I am the stale air. Her landlord pushed open the door to find an empty apartment.
Carl and Asher went to the bar every night. They had a couple of drinks and counted the vanishings. It would start off slowly in the early evening. A handful would disappear, then a few more, then by midnight almost a third of the room, gone. Each of them reappearing before last call with huge smiles on their faces. The room became energized the more people who went invisible; there was a vibration you could feel when it happened.
The bar started to close early, because between the wallpapered walls, the space was empty. But they were there—Asher and Carl and all the rest—invisible, waiting. Asher took a big swig of his beer, polished it off, smiling with beer foam coating the top of his lip. “We’re gonna change the world.”
Carl laughed, “you’re drunk, Asher!” He finished off his beer too and went invisible.
“True,” Asher smiled, then disappeared. The room vibrated and the lights pulsed, growing brighter and brighter.
I am the lilac, I am the cold water puddling the plastic floor, I am the grain of wood, I am the cocktail, I am the ice, I am the glass, I am the shakes, I am the vibration from the speaker, I am the speaker, I am the noise, I am the stink of bleach, I am the apologies, I am the number, I am the voices, I am the plink plink plink. They waited. I am the sorry, I am the door, I am the window, I am the light refracting the glass, I am the shadow, I am the puke lining the toilet, I am the doorknob, I am the dj, I am the turntable, I am the blinking lights, I am the disco ball, I am the leather, I am the seat, I am the hesitation, I am the drunk one singing off key, I am the blacks and blues, I am the glitter. And waited. I am the leftover Halloween decoration, I am the keno, I am the tv flashing scores, I am the border, I am the art, I am the sun beam, I am the flash, I am the low murmur, I am the bass, I am the cold fridge, I am the excuse me, I am the lime, I am the frost of the glass, I am the fzzzzz of the beer, I am the shot, I am the chaser, I am the soapy suds in the dishwasher, I am stale pretzels, I am the pull tabs, I am the stool. And wait. I am the table, I am the jeans, I am the belt, I am the cologne, I am the musk, I am the wall, I am the peanuts on the floor, I am the tile, I am the wood, I am the glisten of sweat, I am the crumbs, I am the veneer, I am the liquid left in cups, I am the ice cubes, I am the straw, I am the flecks of dust on the counter, I am the condensation. Wait. I am the thump thump thump, I am the blood, I am the sweat, I am the saliva, I am the wall, I am the single strand floating in the light of the sunset, I am the glimmer. Wait for it. I am the hair standing on the skin, I am the skin, I am the sweat ducts, I am the bead of sweat, I am the oxygen, I am the atoms vibrating, I am the moment. They collectively held their breath as the room turned to light.. I am the breath. Wait. I am the. Ok.