She was all cute and shit. I liked her. She went to the bathroom. I didn’t see her go but I heard a napkin say it was going to the bathroom and I recognized the voice as hers. Then the napkin was gone. That’s when I decided to ask her friends,
“Does Chloe get to choose what she turns into?”
Their machines sputtered like I’d poured water into their gas tanks. A few of them backfired. They tried to pry me into shape with their eyes like I was something bent, but I wasn’t the bent thing no way no how. They chunked on without saying anything, relying on the certainty of their moving parts—an organic perpetual motion machine—as segues from silence.
Fine. Be like that.
It was clear they didn’t know or care what I was talking about. They didn’t know me that well, and when people don’t know you that well you’re more like a painting than a person—something to stare at for a moment before moving on to the sculptured nudes. It’s the added dimension and familiarity that gets you. I couldn’t remember the last time someone fingered the dust from my canvas or polished my marble collarbone. My fig leaf was the lid of a petrified jack-in-the-box, eternally teasing.
I thought it better to hike to safer verbal ground so I asked them questions about themselves. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. The footings are surer.
John said, “I’m studying the birthing techniques that take place in impoverished countries.” Then he went on about how he’d grown ill while in Ethiopia, and how the natives thought he was someone very important, maybe even a doctor, because he was white and tall.
I nodded, hearing but not hearing, tying my fingers into knots. I worried they’d tell Chloe what I’d asked. Apparently, I was the only one who lost her in the décor. I’d never met someone who could change like that—an adorable woman with a crooked, endearing smile one moment and a crumpled napkin on a chair—that could vanish sans magician—the next.
When she returned I said, “That’s a nice jacket.”
She whispered, “Thanks. I like you, too.”
She nestled close to me, our feet flirting. I hugged her, then myself, then her, myself. We listened to the low, grinding gears of her friends as they shifted to infant mortality. At times, when Chloe looked straight at me, I had trouble discerning her from the tablecloth. When we were finally alone she said,
“You won’t die if you love me.”
I blinked and she was wallpaper, her human shape subtly bubbled, smile a humid crease. I could make out her arms, fleshy and limp with life. Then she faded, and I was left with only a sense of her movements as she—was she?—reached—reaching?—for me, arms ninety degrees from a rigid gown of floral patterns.
My eyes gaped, juxtaposed, I suppose, like two inverted mouths. One of them was smiling, sloppily. I asked if she wanted some water, adding,
“Maybe we’ve both had too much to drink.”
When Chloe, full form, told me to stop hiding I stood, upending a nondescript chair, myself, these illusions.
Mel Bosworth is the author of When the Cats Razzed the Chickens (Folded Word, 2009) and Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom (Aqueous Books, 2010). Visit him at http://eddiesocko.blogspot.com/