Rachel starts painting as soon as I’m dry from the shower. On days when I’m feeling strong, she uses bright earth tones—rich ochres and Afghanistan blues and Arizona reds. More often, I ask her for something more muted—flesh tones all across the scale, blank like me—and she streaks it across my body in silence as we watch the light come in the skylight, inching along the tile and getting caught in gauzy coils in the lingering steam. We hold tight to our rituals around here. You have to at certain points in your life, as you draw closer to your own personal lock-in date.
On weekends, we don’t bother—I spend the day invisible and she saves her paint. We tried to find a happy medium—clothes were too upsetting, floating and filled out in a Hammer horrorshow spectacle, a Spandex bodysuit too binding and kinky. So I announce my arrival in each room and humming a minor etude wherever I go. I weigh less these days, am growing attenuated somehow—I can’t see how much weight I’ve lost, of course, and I don’t wear clothes often enough to gauge that way—but I work to develop a heavier tread, so I don’t frighten Rachel. When she leaves the house to run errands or walk Sogbo, I practice being silent again, easing from room to room over the noisy floors, free again to become a specter.
We still sleep together, but I come to bed after her and wake up before, so she can feel my presence without having to see the lack of me. I sometimes catch a nap in the afternoons on weekends; she can tell from the indentations on the cushions how I’m lying. On the rare occasions when she naps, too, she retreats to the bed, corner to corner in an X-shape. The couch is my territory, just as the old chair I brought over from my post-college apartment is Sogbo’s, just as the doorjambs are the spiders’. When your borders leave you, it’s up to you to set new ones. Cartographers know this; generals know this; the invisible learn this.
She tried to sell photographs back in the early days—even with a brief narrative overlaid on each, people thought she was trying to make a statement, not reflect actual reality. After we hit on the idea of using the paint, she sold a few to a coffee shop downtown, the Clay Cup. People saw them as simple—a painted man in his living space, well-shot and -lit. I’ve never seen them hanging—the shop opened after I started going invisible, at the moment when I was most sensitive.
On a certain Thursday, we’re standing in the bathroom, and she’s dripping a simple ivory tint into the airbrush, and she’s moving slowly, as though all the mass I’ve lost is weighing her down, some transference brought about by exposure to mutation. She stipples me along my backbone, blends it into wings with a sponge, without losing that aquatic detachment. I tell her to stop, just stop. I shower again, wash myself transparent under the hissing faucet, tell her over the rush of water that I’m going to take the day off, work from home, my skin’s started to itch from the repeated applications, I just need a break.
When she leaves, I slip out in front of her, stand at her back as she sighs and pulls her shoulders back, follow her down the block until she gets to her car. I’m leaving bloody toe prints behind me by the time I reach the Clay Cup, and I scrub my burning feet against the cool, damp grass. I stand in front of the largest photograph, quietly appreciating the evenness of the paint, the steadiness of Rachel’s hand. I could have been anyone under there. I could have been visible, under the layers of paint, light bouncing off of me and casting shadows on silver plates as though I was as solid as anyone else, as though I wasn’t perfectly camouflaged until she saw me.
Rob Bockman is a native of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He lives in Columbia, SC, where he is working on a collection of stories. His work has been published in Vanilla Sex Magazine, Cease, Cows!, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.