Do you imagine that floors are flat? They are not. As with many things, this cannot be perceived from afar. Most see the ground as though from the window of an airplane. They miss the details. But if you press your cheek to the kitchen floor, and keep it there long enough, you’ll discover that each tile has its own unique axis. An ordinary level is not precise enough to measure this, but my eye most certainly is. Each tile is horizontal in its own right, and yet no two are identical in their embodiment of horizontality. What is flat after all? Move in closer; push the side of your face against the vinyl; grind your jawbone around. Your cheek should squish up into your eye socket. Increase the pressure till you think your eyeball’s going to pop, and ask yourself again.
One tile in my kitchen began to nag at me in particular. Its edge loomed above the others like a cliff face. I couldn’t help but tug at the corner a little. Even though I pulled quite gingerly, the tile loosened. It was a loose tooth. The more I tried to ignore it, the more it bothered me—there was no use in pretending I wasn’t going to tear the thing out.
The corner curled back evenly. As it peeled off, the sucking sound of the separating glue assured me the square would be extracted whole. But then, as the center bent back on itself, the vinyl snapped. I tried to rescue the other half in one piece, but it was just a mess, so I grabbed a claw hammer from under the sink to pry off the bits still attached to the plywood sub-flooring. It was not surgical. The tile just kept breaking into smaller and smaller pieces. And then there was the gunk underneath. It got all over my hands and in my hair, but the floor wouldn’t come clean. The harder I scraped, the worse it got, and without realizing it I had bashed a hole clean through. I just kept swinging away, widening it. Most people wouldn’t think my slender arms would be powerful enough, but I can do quite a lot when I put my mind to it. Eventually, under the calming light of the moon, I filed away the edges to line up with the floor. The result was a 12 x 12 lacuna in the middle of the kitchen.
It looked wide enough to fit through. What else could I do? The emptiness was magnetic. First I dipped my head in to inhale the black air. It was warm and rich. I could finally breathe; I’d breached the surface. Deep down, there was wood. I scraped my nails against its grain, and the texture was correct. Extending myself a little further, I found the board was sturdy enough to brace my palms against. But as I bent my elbows, my shirt snagged on a nail, so I pulled myself back up and stripped bare. Now I fit cleanly through. Purely. The wooden beam bowed under my weight, but it was obviously meant to hold me. That is because my torso is 12 inches wide, just like the hatchway. Far off crystals of light beckoned me further. Pushing myself along the planks, I could feel powder tickling my lips. It was like playing in the snow. Then I was wracked with a fit of sneezing, lost my grip, and fell through onto the kitchen counter of the downstairs apartment. I was in 5B now. Your unit.
The fall was painful. On reflection this was not bad, because it jarred me into a new understanding: Your floor tiles were the same. Your cabinets the same. Your living room the same—but unstained by human occupancy. I had fallen out of the sky and landed in an alternate universe, almost identical, but governed by different laws of being. Rustling leaves reflected in a still pool do not have the same properties as those of the tree above it. Water is the key. Curled up on the counter, I could drink as much water from the faucet as I liked. The body can go for many weeks without eating, but not without water.
Days came and went, I’m not sure how many. Once I heard a phone ring, and wondered if it was from my unit. Maybe it’s an important phone call, I thought. Maybe it’s for me. I imagined springing off the floor to answer it, but this wasn’t a realistic goal. I couldn’t reach the ceiling well enough to climb back up, and I couldn’t get back through my own front door without the key, besides I couldn’t go out in the hall stark naked. Eventually they quit calling. To stave off the hunger I kept my belly filled with water. I expended as little energy as possible by moving as little as possible. It’s an idea I got from reptiles. When I did need to move around, I tried to undulate along the floor like a gopher snake. Think about how energy inefficient walking is. Walkers throw one foot in front of the other to catch themselves from falling, over and over, until they somehow reached their destination. Not me. I conserved a lot of energy through these techniques, but hunger finally overwhelmed me. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I slid into the kitchen where I’d swept the ceiling foam from my fall into a tidy heap. Pushing my head in close, I extended the tip of my tongue to touch a large succulent wedge. As I suctioned it into my mouth, I pictured my jaw unhinging so I could suck it down whole. When I bit down though, the foam cracked into dry chemical lumps. Startled, I sat upright. I was still spitting out chunks when I heard your voice for the first time.
“So the deposit is, um…”
“Fourteen hundred. That’s first and last.”
“And if I move in on the 15th, I don’t have to pay the full month?”
“I’ll have to talk to him, but yuh. Maybe.”
I dropped to my belly and scrambled across the floor, pebbles of paneling still stuck to my chin with saliva. When I reached the opposite wall of the living room, I froze up. The key was turning. The door swung open, and I saw you for the first time.
They mustn’t, they mustn’t, I thought, and you didn’t. You were looking all around, and yet you didn’t notice me.
“Okay, there’s a ceiling fan.”
“Yuh, with these windows you can get a pretty good cross breeze going in the summer. Save quite a bit on AC.”
Your backs were to me. You hadn’t turned around, because you weren’t expecting me to be there. This is one of the secrets of invisibility. Another is food: The floors and the walls don’t eat. If you want to blend in with them, you shouldn’t either. I had thought of the water as filling me up (in lieu of food), but it was really flushing me out. If you drink enough water, the color drains right out of you until you become transparent. Food, on the other hand, fills you up again like a syringe of colored dye. When you’re hungry enough to go dizzy, you can pass through into invisibility if you concentrate. That’s how I was that day. Close enough to touch the back of your shoe, but completely unseen. You didn’t hear me stand up either, because of the whirring fan blades. Then you both walked over to the kitchen, curious about the damage in there. I started to follow you, but thought the better of it and doubled back. I had two choices: I could leave through the front door, or I could stay inside, invisibly hidden. If I left, I knew I’d never come back. The act would be an acknowledgement that I had no right to be there. This was not the case.
The closet door in the bedroom needed oiling, so I waited until I heard you running the water in the bathroom sink to slide it open. I scrunched myself all the way over to the left, pressing my face into my bare knees to be as small as possible. Sure enough, when inspecting the closet you pushed open the right panel, the one I had left ajar. There were three coat hangers dangling from the rod. You batted at them. You didn’t look down and to the left. You didn’t know what you were supposed to see in there, so you didn’t see anything at all.
“Yuh, the credit check’s pretty much instant once we get him the paperwork so it might take the weekend. I don’t see any problem though. Like I say, we want to get it rented, and uh, there’s a lot of blah blah blah.”
I picked at my feet as you went through some more formalities. My toenails had gotten rather long, and I realized they could be a source of protein. And calcium. By the time I’d finished chewing them down to the skin, you had already left.
Day by day your things began to arrive. I would slip out from under the sink to find some item of furniture or an appliance where there had been only emptiness. It was all very exotic, and though I felt it a bit excessive, I was filled with nostalgia, remembering how a certain shirt might be one’s favorite, or the way a brand of cereal defines, in part, who we are. If each person has hundreds of such preferences, they congeal to form an identity so that they don’t confuse themselves with others. My favorite of your possessions was the refrigerator box in the spare room. I’ve always enjoyed the smell of cardboard. It was roomy inside and all the bubble wrap made an excellent nest to burrow down into. On days when I wasn’t feeling especially invisible I felt safest there.
All of that food was an awful temptation. I was so hungry, especially at first. Were you looking for a job? Or maybe you were a teacher and it was summer. It seemed like you were always home. And always cooking. I’d stuff myself as deeply inside the box as I could, and press the bubble wrap to my face to dampen the smell, but it'd still just drive me wild. At night, as I slept under your bed, the rumbling in my belly would cause you to stir. Sometimes you even woke up and fixed yourself a sandwich, unaware in your half-awake statethat the growling stomach was not your own. How I wish I could have joined you in those midnight snacks. But the more delicious a meal is, the more visible it makes you. When you were away I would gorge myself on tidbits, making sure to eat and drink only a little from each open container so that you would never notice anything missing. But each time I gave in to this temptation, I would lose the ability to hide in plain sight, and be forced to retreat deeper into some nook of the apartment where I hoped you would not chance upon me.
There is a flip side to eating: What goes in must come out. Wishing to be discreet, I would wait until night. You have a curious habit of not flushing until the morning. It’s kind of gross, but maybe you’re an environmentalist or something. In any case, it allowed me to add a little of my own to the pot, unnoticed. I did slip up on occasion. If you remember the time you threw out all those cherries, well half of them were still good. As there was a fresh bin liner, I decided to gather up the firm red ones and gobble them down while you were on the phone with Gail. That night I really paid for it. Afraid of soiling the bedroom floor, I realized I’d have to risk a foray into the bathroom. I waited until I could hear you snoring to roll out from under the bed. Assured that you were deep asleep, I crawled over into the bathroom to relieve myself. Imagine my terror when as I was getting ready to wipe, the living room light came on. I only just had time to leap behind the shower curtain before you appeared in the doorway. You didn’t see me in the tub because you were mesmerized by the toilet bowl. You couldn’t make sense of it, so you just flushed and stumbled back to bed. I was terrified you’d sooner or later realize the stool wasn’t yours, but actually, since we were eating all the same foods, I was able to match you pretty exactly for color and consistency. It was a wake-up call though. Here I was indulging in olives, Cheerios, Heinz, 2% milk, kidney beans, sweet corn. Why did you have to buy such dense, fibrous foods? I considered writing you a note, but my confidence flagged as soon as I picked up the pen.
What I needed was a milder source of nutrition, substantial enough to cut the edge, but still leaving me light-headed enough to pass through into invisibility. Once, when I was resting in the belly of the box, I was so hungry I began to gnaw on the bubble wrap. To my delight, a little gust of air shot into my mouth. After another and another, I realized that I had hit upon the perfect food source: light yet filling, and the sort of thing that you wouldn’t miss. It was neither liquid nor solid, so I’d never have to use the toilet again.
I was ravenous. In fact, I ingested so much air that I began to float after popping half the sheet. Thankfully the box flaps kept me from drifting up to the ceiling. I had little inclination to leave my nest at all now. However, one day as I was curled up in my nest, the spare room door burst open and you entered in quite a huff, bumping and banging things around. It wasn’t immediately clear what you intended to accomplish with this violent rummaging, but your announcement gave me some clue:
“I have got to get rid of this shit,” you said, and then stormed out as abruptly as you had come in.
Imagine the weeks (months? years?) I’d spent without any human interaction at all, finally broken by someone calling me “shit.” How hurtful. I never caused you the slightest harm. I fully intended to stand up and tell you as much, but burning with shame, I felt too weak to open the box lid. Were going to throw out all the boxes and bubble wrap, and me along with it? That is how shit is disposed of. I imagined myself out by the dumpsters, decomposing into the asphalt. No, survival. I would have to try to float myself back to 6B.
I sucked the air out of a few bubbles, giving me the animus to flop out of the box. Splayed out across the floor, I began to inhale as much bubble air as I could. Very quickly I was aloft, sailing up off the ground with the ungainly sheet clutched in my arms like a child’s security blanket. It was exhilarating, but I had little control. Though I tried to move along the ceiling, I was so weightless that I just bobbed along like a helium balloon. The added encumbrance of the bubble wrap didn’t help either. Worse, you had left the fan running in the living room. If I couldn’t get past those blades, I couldn’t get to the removable ceiling panels unique to the kitchen. The whirling created such a vortex that several forays sent me reeling back against the living room walls. I just didn’t have the control and feared that if I pressed much further, I’d get chopped up. After a time the current blew me back into the spare room, where I let my armload of bubble wrap drop and then drifted back to the floor myself over a period of days. Or maybe weeks.
The problem was that the armload of bubble wrap had been too cumbersome. What if I were to fashion it into an aerodynamic flight suit, like the kind Leonardo da Vinci sketched out in his journals? This would leave my limbs free to push off against the walls and ceiling. It took nearly all the remaining wrap and a good bit of scotch tape, but I tailored trousers, a long tunic, and accordion wings to ride the air currents. After fitting the suit, I looked at my reflection in the window to see how exactly I’d been able to copy da Vinci’s design from memory. I was so invisible it was hard to tell, but I suppose I looked more like a remora fish than anything else. There was one large strip left over which I fashioned into a cape. After affixing it to my shoulders I looked back at the window. Perhaps I resembled like Batgirl. I’m not sure, it was so difficult to see anything of myself in that reflection.
Once airborne, I realized the fan was on again, and its rushing winds jetted me back into the far corner of the room. But determined to reach the kitchen, I wedged myself with one arm flattened against the ceiling and the other against the wall. By undulating my legs, I could rocket around the edges. Riding this momentum, I shot like a human cannonball into the living room. Now I was pinned flat against the wall, and struggled to creep along without getting sucked into the great central vortex. The cape snapped violently against my shoulders, but the scotch tape hinges held. With great effort I inched my right forearm up to my face to chew open the bubbles around my wrist. Success! Bursting with energy, I sprung off the wall and into the maelstrom. The gale spun me round with such force that I lost all sense of direction as I tumbled head over heels. First a fan blade clipped my foot, then my cape got twisted up in another. Now I was pulled along by the nape of my neck. The fan’s dizzying rotation whipped my limp body around like a windsock, hurtling me round and round. With each revolution the fan seemed to go faster. Everything blurred.
Until the scotch tape tore free of the cape, I was at the mercy of the winds generated by that infernal machine, the ceiling fan. The hinges popped off one by one at an abysmally slow rate. As they were loosed, I began to flap and twist, losing my equilibrium and any sense of how the world fit together along with it. Which form represented the front door and which the window? Which ones were the electrical outlets? By the time I tore free and shot tumbling into the ether, I was completely lost. I smacked into a flat surface, but I could not tell whether it was a wall, ceiling, or floor. Too weak to bite off any more bubbles, I passed out in exhaustion.
When I awoke again I still had no idea which section of which room I had wound up in. The universe was (and is) too flung apart now to allow any understanding of depth or directionality. Light, color, and texture have been unwound to such a degree that I can’t use them to navigate. After chewing at a little of my suit, I am powerful enough to maneuver myself through this void, but to what end? Occasionally I stumble upon a 90 degree turn, but I can’t judge whether it is the boundary between the floor and the wall, the meeting of two walls, or where the ceiling meets a wall. Little by little, I have sucked out most of the air remaining in my suit. The helmet is gone, as are the leggings, and most of the tunic. Only the finger webbing is left. I am rationing it as best I can while finishing my urgent appeal, which as you can see if you are reading this, I have written in the dust with my finger. It is the only record of my unparalleled achievements. As I search for a way out, the presence of this writing should keep me from doubling back on my path, but I still feel as though I am wandering in circles. I hope that you will find my message soon, but perhaps it is already too late, as I have never once stumbled upon a piece of furniture and it is possible that you moved out a long time ago.
Deva Eveland lives in Beijing, China, where he is active in the Spittoon Arts Collective. His work has been published in Alternating Current, Shanghai Literary Review, and New Dead Families. He has also collaborated with the historian Hieronymous Atchley on "Oft Neglected Wars," a compendium of strangeand forgotten military conflicts. Website: http://spittooncollective.com.
photo: P K