“It’s nothing to be ashamed of!” says Dr. Bolt.
He is tall and lean, his hair close cropped, he reminds me of Steve Jobs; same thin hint of a smile, same lithe gestures, more like the shadow of a cat’s tail flapping against the blank wall of the examination room rather than a flesh and blood man talking to me. Talking without any movement of his chin which seems to be only an extension of a smooth skull, a large but unlit light bulb. Filled with residual electricity in the form of a gentle glow.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” at every semiannual routine appointment – call it a checkup or follow-up— he recites this mantra right after my account of the latest incidents of invisibility and he does this before asking any questions.
I’d much prefer if he commented on my report, but his answer is just a hurried nod to each event I relate no matter how extraordinary or downright silly it is. Even I laugh at some of them, but he never goes beyond a light shrug, his narrow face never widens into the warm recognition of a human foible, it never thaws into relaxed interaction.
“Keffta can reduce the recurrence of invisibility, but the causes are manifold, and no one medication can cover all of them… The main thing is to be prepared to deal with it when it happens… Not to panic but relax and let it pass.”
“And it will pass, I assure you…” Dr. Bolt finally turns on a faint smile, but it’s still too sterile, too therapeutic to light up his gray eyes.
So far the semiannual checkup interview follows the usual script, nothing new about it, not on his part. But things are drastically different from my point of view, and I’m rather annoyed he’s not catching on.
“But when? When is it supposed to pass? This time I’m not talking about an incident that happened a month ago or yesterday… I’m talking about what’s happening now…”
“Yes, yes… I can see you are invisible now… I could see it as soon as I walked into this room… And it’s in your chart, the nurse noted it and underlined it… You see we can tell when a patient becomes invisible… We’re trained to recognize the symptoms…”
“Can’t you do something now to make it go away? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a panic but not exactly relaxed either… I find this condition rather disconcerting, and I was hoping you’d do something about it now that you can see the problem for yourself.”
Dr. Bolt’s stony smile turns even stonier and his gray eyes even smokier. They form a gray cloud between us. But his voice remains as silky as ever.
“Now, now, let’s stop for a minute! I have good news for you! You’re doing just fine. Go home, take your medication and relax. There’s nothing to get – how did you put it? —disconcerted about.”
He’s lying as usual, but I had no proof before, not like now when I can clearly see he’s looking at the eye chart on the wall. He cannot see me, he’s only pretending. But why? Why can’t he admit I’m just as invisible to him as to everyone else? As to myself? Why is maintaining the tradition of reality more important to him than comforting a patient? Or is he protecting his professional status? But what threat am I to him in that regard? I’m not a doctor questioning his competence, so where is the threat? I’m a nobody, now may be permanently invisible, disabled; I may not even exist.
All this flashes through my mind in no time at all, and yet I make a tremendous effort to concentrate on my problem and on getting relief for it before it’s too late, before the good doctor scribbles something on my chart and moves on to the next room.
I cannot confront him with his lying to me, pretending to see me; that would surely sour the healing relationship between us. I too have to pretend he can actually see me and then demand immediate help.
“I was hoping you’d give me that therapeutic touch you do sometimes at night… when you climb through the window and pull the covers off…” I lower my voice just in case the nurse is hovering by the door. “That would instantly make me visible, as usual…”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” he talks back at the eye chart over my shoulder, but at least his rigid lips seem to come alive, “what you’re saying is impossible. At night I, too, turn invisible. You couldn’t possibly see me.”
He’s right. I’m speaking out of turn. I hasten to repair the damage.
“Invisibility is not the same thing as nonexistence. I know I exist even when I’m invisible. The feeling of wanting to exist forces the awareness of my existence on me, but underlying the whole process is existence, pure existence itself; therefore, I exist just as much as this chair does or you do…”
I stall here seeing his pen stop in midair with his eyes on the ceiling, his tight-fitting dark suit looking every bit as stiff as the pen in his hand.
“No question about it. I don’t have to climb through your bedroom window to prove I exist and you don’t have to be visible to prove you exist. It’s just that being visible makes things so much more convenient for everyone involved.” Dr. Bolt looks at his narrow-toed shoes as if for confirmation of his line of thought.
Obviously, he’s trying to bargain with me. Now we may be getting somewhere; I have a few chips of my own.
“Like your shaved head so that glows in the dark as you slip through the window,” I say quietly, more with resignation than aggressive zeal.
“I never shave my head… I have it cut to three millimeters every two weeks… I find it comfortable that way, especially when I work out in the fitness center. Never in a patient’s bedroom. Unless we’re both invisible… and painfully aware of our existence… But as you said my quasi skinhead gives me away… Or would, wouldn’t it? By the way, what kind of diagnostic procedures does your nocturnal visitor perform on you? And what kind of treatment, if any?”
He seems to be forgetting about time; my fifteen minutes’ of expert therapy has long been used up. Paltry victory on my part. Or is it? He may be thinking about getting my driver’s license suspended again. I’d better start acting as if I were visible and I believed it too.
“The same things as in the hospital, I suppose. I cannot be sure, I was invisible already on the train going to the hospital, I was nothing but a flat backpack floating through the air. Good thing it didn’t get tossed into a dumpster… I would’ve gone with it, no doubt… But then in the hospital they got me undressed, pricked me, shoved things inside me, hitched me to instruments, but I saw only the screens and the dials and the blinking light, I didn’t see myself, my body. My body was only a bundle of sensations, not something I saw. Perhaps it had no shape either, no color, and that’s why it was invisible. It had nothing but pure existence. And a keen sense of wanting to keep on existing, even progressing through higher levels of consciousness corresponding to higher forms of existence. But you know all about these things, no need for me to expound on them in my layman’s terms and waste your valuable time…” I stall to a halt slowly, fearing I’m saying too much.
He gives a slow shake to his head; a dead light bulb dangling from the ceiling.
“Seems to me like you enjoy being invisible, doesn’t it? You should think about that…”
He sounds triumphant as if he’d caught me red-handed at doing something atrociously unnatural. Quick, what can I say? I’ve got it!
“I wouldn’t be here if I did, would I?” I even spread my arms in a dramatic gesture of sincerity.
“But how do you feel now? Are you still invisible?”
He’s toying with me, and I’m defenseless, I don’t have much time to think. What should it be? I’d better give in.
“Yes,” I mouth the words, and I hear a voice too, though it’s not mine, it sounds like a poor recording, “but I’m beginning to see the outlines of my hands and legs too… Perhaps if I looked in a mirror I could see my face…”
“A face, yes, but would you accept it as your own?” Dr. Bolt snaps my folder shut and takes a step toward the door.
The two acts contradict each other. I don’t like it. What’s happening? What instructions is he going to leave with the secretaries outside? With his last question he set me a trap. The same old thing; I’m invisible because I don’t like myself. Didn’t I just tell him I was a bundle of feelings? Why would I want to save myself if I hated myself? It’s clearly a case of counter-transference; he doesn’t like me, so my existence is odious to him, something to be erased as if it never happened. I must think of something and do it fast.
“Yes, of course. What else would I do?” I quickly blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind. “I mean if it’s there, a face in front of me, in a real mirror, what else can I say? Of course I’d accept it as mine, no matter what it looks like… One must keep in touch with reality whatever form it takes…” I keep talking but now it’s to the back of his dark suit jacket, he’s on his way out the door.
“Six months. And we’ll do another e.e.g. then. Take care.” And he’s gone.
Six months’ reprieve. I’m okay, aren’t I? Dr. Bolt’s of no help. I have to take care of myself as best as I can, I remind myself as I gather my things, my coat and flat backpack. Out in the corridor I start looking for the restroom. There’s one before I get to the office. Unisex and handicapped accessible. Am I in a wheelchair? Suddenly I’m overcome by an irresistible urge to collapse into a wheelchair. Lucky thing there isn’t one nearby. But life would be so much easier, so much more understandable in a wheelchair, crippled for life. Never having to stand up and go places. In a wheelchair it would be impossible to turn invisible. I’d be cured once and forever.
As it is, I amble into the restroom and look for the mirror. I see nothing but a blank, cream colored wall where the mirror should be. The sink seems to be there, but there’s no mirror over it. That’s it, I realize, the ultimate form of invisibility: when mirrors become invisible. I only hope the door hasn’t become similarly invisible. I must get out of here. I can do without mirrors, they have nothing to do with reality, with feelings, with existence… Mirrors are only windows into a world of appearances, and it doesn’t matter what they show. But of course, Dr. Bolt would not understand that. He might even use this secret discovery of mine against me if I ever let him in on it.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of!” What a pompous ass. Or just a wily snake? But isn’t a snake the symbol of the medical profession? And a mirror only the reflection of appearances? And what’s behind the world of appearances? I suspect we’re all invisible behind the mirror.
Or perhaps Dr. Bolt is at least partially right; no, I don’t relish being invisible, but I admit it does make it easier for me to get along in life, at least with most people, in most situations.
Paul Sohar ended his higher education with a BA in philosophy and took a day job in a research lab while writing in every genre, publishing thirteen volumes of translations, including “Silver Pirouettes” (TheWriteDeal 2012) and “In Contemporary Tense” (Iniquity Press, 2013). His own poetry: “Homing Poems” (Iniquity, 2006) and “The Wayward Orchard”, a Wordrunner Prize winner (2011). Other awards: first prize in the 2012 Lincoln Poets Society Contest, second prize in RI Writers Circle 2014 Contest. Prose work: “True Tales of a Fictitious Spy” (Synergebooks, 2006) and a collection of three plays from One Act Depot (Canada, 2015). Magazine credits: Agni, Gargoyle, Kenyon Review, Rattle, Poetry Salzburg Review, Seneca Review, etc.