Fiction · 09/02/2009

What It Means To Disappear

Cindy and Leah were nearly identical twins—both had almost-white skin and almost-black hair, but Leah’s eyes were a strange pale green and Cindy’s were a strange pale brown, more like a shade of orange. Also, Leah could make things appear, and Cindy could only make things disappear. When we were in elementary school, both seemed equally impressive. If anything, Cindy had a slight advantage with us, because little boys attach themselves to destruction. But by middle school we had a different kind of interest in girls, and even though Leah and Cindy were equally gorgeous, all the boys wanted Leah. They would follow her around like a pack of lemmings, and she would conjure trinkets for them out of thin air, pocketknives and key chains and playing cards. She would giggle nonchalantly and flip her hair over her shoulder, and they would hoard her gifts in shoeboxes under their beds. They all said that Cindy was weird and creepy, and I felt like the only one who remembered that Cindy had been as bright and happy as her sister before everyone stopped wanting anything to do with her. She never seemed sullen and dark until everyone else decided that was how she should be.

I was the only boy in our grade who had no interest in Leah. Not that I disliked her; she was a nice, friendly girl who got along with everyone. But Cindy was more intriguing. I wondered where things went when she pointed her finger and vaporized them, what it meant to disappear. After school, while the rest of the boys were counting their mementos from Leah, Cindy would sit in my room and I would give her things I didn’t want anymore so that she could make them vanish. Old baseball caps and shirts that didn’t fit and papers I’d gotten bad grades on. At first I worried that I was making her feel like a freak, but then I realized this was exactly what she wanted. To feel like what she could do was still special, too. There was never any smoke or fire, nothing exploded. She pointed at an object, and it blinked out of existence. Sometimes, I waved my hand through the empty air where something solid had just been, and she would laugh at me, a shy, warm sound I could feel ringing all the way down in my stomach.

Cindy didn’t really have any friends anymore, and because I hung out with her, I didn’t really have any friends anymore either. But I didn’t mind. She seemed like enough. I don’t know if she would have ever picked me out of a crowd, but there was no crowd, and it never bothered me that she might be mine only by default. We would sit and talk for hours, and there were times when I thought her fiery eyes could burn holes right through me and sometimes that was what I wanted. I don’t remember feeling sad those days, but I remember wanting her to make me disappear. It didn’t feel like a death wish, exactly. But I saw the way her eyes flared in the instant before something vanished, and I wanted to be in the center of that. To know how it felt for everything inside of her to be aimed only at me.

After the first time we kissed, I started giving her things that I secretly wanted to keep. Old toys from the back of my closet that I had saved forever. Autographed baseball cards. Trophies I had won. Part of me was afraid that if I ran out of things she could zap away, she would stop coming back. But mostly, I wanted that feeling, the sharp pang in my chest at the split second when something I used to love disappeared before my eyes.

At the end of eighth grade, Cindy told me she was moving away. I don’t think I said much of anything. We were just barely fourteen, and powerless, and no protest would have done any good. During our last month together, I made her vaporize my video games, most of my CDs. I only kept the ones I didn’t really like. She never asked why I wanted my favorite things to disappear. It was like she understood.

The last time she came to my house, she didn’t say anything to me at all. She took her clothes off and lay down on top of my blankets. We had only awkwardly touched each other a few times, but when she offered herself to me in that way, it seemed like the most logical thing she could have done. I took my clothes off and crawled into bed over her; she smiled at me and mostly lay still while I fumbled my way through five or six minutes of uncontainable bliss. But after I caught my breath and slid away from her, she took my hand and placed it between her legs. She showed me where and how hard to touch her. When she came, her body shook so hard I was sure I had broken her somehow. She dug her fingers into my shoulder. I realized, minutes later, that in the places where her fingertips had pressed into me, my skin was gone. I wasn’t bleeding. It didn’t feel like anything. There were simply empty spaces there, tiny portholes to everything raw and red underneath.

It’s been fifteen years since Cindy, and my skin never grew back. I never warn women about my shoulder before they see it, maybe because I don’t know how, or maybe because I enjoy being something unexpected, if only in the smallest of ways. They always try not to gasp or look too disturbed when they ask me what happened. I tell them I have a condition. Some of them will place their own fingertips into the holes, though they never fit just right. They ask if it hurts. I never tell them I wish that it did. I never explain what my condition is: that the only girls I love are the ones who make things disappear, who will take a part of me away.

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Angi Becker Stevens spends her time playing with her five-year-old daughter, selling robot supplies at 826michigan, and studying creative writing and philosophy at Eastern Michigan University, where she received the 2009 Jumpmettle award for fiction. Her stories can be found in recent or future issues of many print and online journals including Barrelhouse, Pank, SmokeLong Quarterly, Storyglossia, and more.