The Visible Woman
Posted on October 23, 2011
Jeanette Merqua’s alarm clock set for seven a.m. broke the silence of her apartment. With a groan, she pulled an arm from beneath the covers, and without lifting her head from the pillow, shut it up with a smack. She lay inert for several more minutes, enjoying the post-slumber warmth of her bed, before she urged her body into action. Still half asleep and with eyes barely open, operating on automatic she walked to the bathroom, turned on the water, stepped into the shower and screamed.
She watched mystified as the spray from the shower splashed off, ran down the contours where her body should have been. She rubbed her eyes, lifted arm after arm, leg after leg, bent over and looked down at where her stomach should have been – nothing. Nothing? The teal green tiles in front of her began to waver. She steadied herself against the wall, and taking a deep breath, looked again for her body. `What’s going on? This can’t be!’ There was nothing to be seen; but she felt the hot water on her skin, and she moved about in the spray desperate to convince herself she still existed.
Jumping out of the shower, she grabbed a towel without thinking, sat down on the cistern and hid her head in her hands. `This can’t be right,’ she said to herself, `I’m not really awake – still dreaming.’ She waited, as if at these words, the spell would be broken and she would wake. `This is some trick, illusion. I’m not mad. I can feel my hands on my face. I can feel my bum on the toilet. I can feel myself breathing. I am alive. What is going on? Pull yourself together girl!’
After several minutes of internal terror, she raised the courage, to drop the towel, to open her eyes, see through her missing fingers, on the floor, no feet, and covered her eyes again. “Oh my God, I’m invisible!”
She realised she was gasping for breath, and consciously slowed her breathing. She felt cold, and reasoned that sooner or later she would have to test her apparent new reality. Standing up, she turned and looked in the mirror.
“Aarrrgh!” There was nothing there, except the reflection of the bathroom door and towel rack on the other side of the room. She dodged about as if her own reflection were eluding her. `How can this be?’ She felt lost – missing – only her thoughts floating in the air.
She shivered and rubbed the goose bumps on her upper arms. There was nothing else for it, so purposefully, without thinking further, she went into the bedroom to dress. She pulled out a white blouse, panties, pantyhose and the pale blue suit she had planned to wear to work for the day. Once dressed, she sat back on the edge of the bed, and stared for some seconds at the empty cuffs of her suit jacket. It was a strange feeling; even though dressed, she felt naked. Turning her head, she looked across at the dresser to see a very strange sight. She stood up and walked over to it. Her clothes taking on a life of their own were now mobile, filled and suspended in air without visible support. She dropped her head and sighed, disengaging from the mirror image, but it stayed with her as she walked up and down the room. She sat on the edge of the bed on her hands. Looking at herself now, her dress, pantyhose, shoes she might believe there was nothing wrong. But something was wrong; she could not ignore it, and she had to do something. ‘And when something is wrong with me, I see Doc Wong.’ She reached over, picked up the phone, and after several mis-dials, made an appointment – he could see her at eleven. Phone in hand she called work and told them she wouldn’t be in. She looked at the clock – eight-thirty. Her stomach reminded her it was time for breakfast, and she got up to go to the kitchen, but her absence of hands disturbed her. Angrily, she pulled out a bureau drawer and after fossicking about, found a pair of cotton gloves. She could tell people she had dermatitis. Eating her Rice Bubbles she realized her hair was a mess.
In the bathroom, she stared dismally at the absence of head above her collar. She picked up a brush, and approximating the position of the right side of her head, ran it though her hair. `This is so weird – I can feel my hair, but not see it.‘ The idea of being invisible, made her think of re-runs she had seen of the old television series; `The Invisible Man’, and how he would cover himself in bandages so as not to disturb others. She wondered if she applied make-up. Grabbing her powder compact she liberally dusted her face. In seconds there was a horrible pale mask with two empty ragged holes looking back at her. She rushed back into the bedroom and put on sunglasses and a scarf; looking in the mirror again she saw her lips still betrayed her absent condition. Not trusting her skill with the lipstick, she removed her gloves, and feeling her way tentatively with one finger, smeared her lips with colour, curling them inward repeatedly until she considered she had done a fair job.
Breathing deeply, she turned her front doorknob, and willed herself out the door. In the street she walked uneasily, wobbling and over-correcting her path, as what were normally instinctive actions, for some reason she took under conscious control. She avoided looking at people, until she figured out the reason they were looking at her strangely was because of it. No one, she was happy to discover, saw anything odd in her appearance. Even so, fearing she might meet someone she knew on her bus, she hailed a cab.
There was only a short wait under the scrutiny of other surgery patients, before she was called into the doctor’s office. After their usual salutations, she sat in the chair at the edge of his desk. He finished with some paperwork, and then looked at her.
“Jeanette, what can I do for you today?” he asked.
She had been dreading this moment. “It’s my appearance,” she blurted out.
Noting the gloves, sunglasses and scarf he inquired, “I see you are all covered up, so you have some sort of rash?”
“No, it’s more serious than that. When I woke up this morning there was something wrong,” she began, feeling the need inexplicably to ease him into the situation.
“You see, or don’t see,” she laughed nervously, “for some reason, I am now invisible.”
“Invisible?” he repeated. “But I can see you.”
“No, my body is invisible.”
“I see, well let’s have a look.”
Anticipating him to recoil in horror, she removed her sunglasses, scarf and gloves. “You see, it’s horrible.
Possibly so as not to frighten her, he stared at her inscrutably, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. He sat back in his chair and a frown passed across his face. “Hmm,” he intoned, and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I can tell you, that I can see you.”
“But my eyes, my hair? Look, look,” she held up her arms and waved them frantically, “I have no hands!”
“Yes you do. I can see them,” he smiled.
“You can?” She was amazed.
He saw her distress and tried to reassure her. “Yes, I can see your hands, your eyes,” he peered closer, “they’re a pretty green, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” she murmured. “So what is wrong with me then? I can’t see myself. Honestly, I can’t see me.” Putting her head in her hands, she looked at the floor, tears running down her face, for the moment overwhelmed.
She felt her doctor’s hand on her shoulder. “Calm down Jeanette, calm down, we’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise.”
“Okay, okay . . . if I’m not invisible, why can I see through myself? I looked in the mirror and could see the bathroom wall behind me.”
“Ah, well that can be explained. The human eye is a complex and marvelous organ, but in actuality our field of vision compared to what we see is relatively small. Your brain remembers and anticipates what we see to a large degree. This is because our eyes are rarely still and our heads are constantly moving. I would hazard a guess, that if you were perfectly still, looking into a mirror, you would see a gap in your vision. Besides if you were really invisible you wouldn’t be able to see at all. There would be no reflective surface at the back of your eye to allow sight. And you can see the world around you, can’t you? You have no other problem with your vision?”
“No,” she answered, though contemplating perhaps there was something she missed.
“No, so there is nothing wrong with your sight. There is another reason for your condition.”
“What’s wrong with me? What’s happened?” She threw her hands up and down.
“Calm down, Jeanette, you must remain calm. I don’t know to be frank. I have never come across anything like this before in my practice. It maybe psychological, but knowing you for sometime, honestly I doubt it. I think there is a physical reason for what you are experiencing. I’m going to refer you to a specialist: a neurologist. He will send you for some tests.”
Before she left his office, donned once again in her disguise, he had some words for her. “You don’t need to hide you know. The biggest problem is for you to come to grips with what has happened – adjust. I know it is difficult, but remember this condition may only be temporary; after the tests we will know for sure. But don’t panic, try and remain calm, okay?”
Two weeks later, all the tests were in, and she was sitting across from the specialist. Blood tests came back negative for all know indicators of disease, virus or foreign biological.
“The MRI scan revealed no visible tumor or lesion on your brain.”
She looked at him incredulous, “So I am in perfect health, there’s nothing wrong with me?”
“I said there was no observable lesion, but I suspect there is one. Very small; most likely in your temporal or occipital lobes. Possibly an injury, a bump on your head when you were younger, that has only now, as your brain has developed, caused a problem. You have a form of visual agnosia.” The delivery was monotone, without emotion and although there was gravity in his voice, he was detached unlike Doc Wong.
“What does that mean?” She sat forward, on the edge of her seat. “What can you do?”
“A lesion, or small scar is causing an interruption in the perceptual comprehension of your body. Sort of a mis-firing of nerve connections. As far as I know, your form is unique. There have been reported cases where people cannot see their own fingers, but not their entire bodies, as in your case. There are also other similar conditions related to seeing only faces, or the inability to recognize shapes or text . . .”
“Oh,” was all she could reply, while he went on to tell her that they could poke about in her brain, trying to identify the area which was not operating correctly, but there was a high risk that in the process they could cause greater damage, and even if they did identify the site of the problem, it was unlikely they could rectify it. He could not say whether the problem would be permanent or temporary. The upshot was she would have to live with it for the time being, or forever.
* * *
She sat in her apartment alone for another week and vacantly looked out the window imagining the goings on of normal life outside on her planet. Without the constant reminder of her corporeal existence, a more subtle, personal disconnection was taking place. She had told no one; dared not even tell her closest friends for fear that they would think she was crazy, which she was in a way – crazy-wired. She knew despite what she said or did they would think her strange, or she would think, they thought . . .
`Have to face realities. Sick leave is gone. I have to pay the rent. Have to buy food. I have to live. Can’t go on social security; how can I walk in there, even with medical certificates, and tell them what my problem is? I can’t do it. I will have to go back to work. What did Doc Wong say – adjust? I have gone on this long, all I have to do is conquer the fear that someone will notice. I am my own greatest enemy in that respect. All I have to do is face people without freaking out. Pretend nothing is wrong, pretend and carry on like always.‘
The first week back at work it was difficult maintaining her cool. She found she still needed to wear white cotton gloves, as if she were some Disney character, because not seeing her hands was too disturbing. But her boss and work mates were sympathetic, and although the Personnel Department knew differently, she told them all it was a form of dermatitis. Most kept clear on the premise it might be transferable, but her friend Cindy, caught up with her at lunch most days. To talk to someone, after so long alone, was a joy.
“Wanna come to Club Troc, I’m going with Mia. We’ll make it a threesome. She says last week Eric turned up, remember him, he’s going to be there with his friends. I mean he’s gorgeous.”
“No, thanks anyway.” She took a bite of her sandwich.
“Why not? What’s the problem?”
She held up her gloved hands.
“Come on, that’s nothing, put on some dress gloves. No one will notice.”
“Sorry Cindy, I’m just not in the mood for a bunch of dopey blokes.”
Cindy put down her salad sandwich. “What’s wrong with you Jeanie? Ever since you’ve come back, you just haven’t been yourself. You’ve changed. Look at you, don’t you care?”
“What do you mean?” She was worried.
“Go look in a mirror. You used to be really hot looking. I’m telling you I’ve seen guys eyes practically drop out looking at you. I was always so jealous, but now. Look at your hair, it’s always a mess, and your make up – girl, it looks like you plastered it on with a paintbrush. And check out your legs, there’s clumps of hair you’ve missed with your razor. What’s going on?”
She blushed, mortified to the core. “I don’t know,” she lied, “I’m just, I don’t know . . . lost interest I guess. “
“Are you sure, Jeanie?” Cindy leant across the table. “Is there something you want to talk about?”
“No, I’m okay.” She stifled an urge to break from her isolation. “Just in a slump, I guess.”
“Well, wake up. You’re slippin’ fast.”
Her boss, Tom Bryson, seemed displeased with her as well. She was still doing her work to standard, if anything her performance had improved as she took on more tasks and responsibility. Yet he was increasingly off hand, and she thought unfairly critical, as if he simply didn’t like her any more.
Putting on make up was still a problem, and her hair care even more so, to the point she considered getting her long locks cut off for a pageboy style that would be easier to look after. Even though she couldn’t see herself, she hated to think what she would look like.
She didn’t think things could get any worse when one day looking up from her desk, she noticed a troop of people with cameras at the reception desk. They weaved their way through desks and filing cabinets towards her. Behind them flocked an increasing number of excited staff.
“Jeanette Merqua?” asked a smart looking woman in a daffodil yellow pants suit.
“Ahh, yes,” she answered meekly, trying to avoid the huge lens of a video camera pointed at her.
“You’ve been nominated for a total make-over courtesy of `Good Morning Sydney’,” gushed the woman, who she now recognized as the always-smiling, constantly-bubbly, compere Susie-Ann McClemman.
“Oh my God, no!”
“Yes, yes, yes!” Cindy screamed jumping up and down.
“That’s right, your work mates told us your story, and the problems you’ve had lately. When we heard about it, we thought: `what can we do to help?’ And here we are. Let’s go.”
“But I can’t. I’ve got all this work to do and . . .” she started.
“No need to worry about that. We’ve cleared it with your boss, you’re okay to go. Come on, up you get.”
Before she could stop her, Susie-Ann had taken her by an arm and was dragging her out of the room. Jeanette looked over her shoulder to see Tom Bryson smirking ear to ear.
What followed was a merry-go-round of indulgence; body toning massages, skin exfoliation, dental work and teeth whitening, and then off to hair-dressing and make-up stylists, and trips to numerous up-market stores for clothes and shoes. It had been impossible to stop them stripping her, and re-designing `her look’, and in the end she just hung on for the ride. In the process, any reservations she held of her unseen presence were washed and scrubbed, massaged, poked and prodded, abraded, polished and painted out of existence. A seemingly endless round of photo shoots followed, culminating in her arrival here today at the television studio. She stood in the wings of the set, waiting for her cue, feeling a little giddy in the head and queasy in the stomach.
She listened intently as Susie-Ann read from the autocue, until she heard the words: `A big warm welcome for our make-over girl; Jeanette Merqua’. She was frozen to the spot, until the segment producer unseen took her by the elbow and propelled her out onto the set. Her eyes swept over the fifty or so people in the studio audience applauding loudly, before she focused on Susie-Ann who stood up to greet her.
“Jeanette, you look amazing.”
“I feel amazing,” she answered, looking briefly down across her empty neckline and at a gaping armhole of the sleeveless dress. It was a beautiful dress, it fitted as if made for her, and she imagined she looked delicious in it.
“Let’s get a good look at you, give us a spin.”
She complied, doing a little turn on the balls of her feet, as she had seen models do so many times on television.
“What do you think? How do you like your new look?”
“Oh Susie-Ann . . . I don’t know myself. I feel like a new woman. I don’t know how to thank you.” An air kiss was in order and delivered.
Susie-Ann took her arm and sat her down in a lounge alongside Derek, the stylist who had consulted with her several times during the week. Derek at Susie-Ann’s prompting related the details of the make-over; who, what, where and why, accompanied by flounces of her hair and pointing out details of her dress. It all seemed to happen in a blur, then Susie-Ann was addressing her again.
“We’ve another little surprise for you Jeanette,” she bubbled and her green eyes sparkled beneath her golden fringe.
`Oh my God, what now!’
Susie-Ann beckoned a man forward out of the audience. He was short, blonde with a neat haircut and dressed immaculately in a Thai silk suit that said dollars plus.
“I’d like to introduce you to Michael Stepswick of Stepswick, Balsam and Associates Model Agency.”
Jeanette found her hand being shaken.
“Jeanette, we were so impressed by you, as were our photographers, that we have decided to offer you a twelve month modeling contract.”
* * *
Weeks later she caught up with Cindy for lunch. Before she could sit down Cindy pinned her arms in a massive hug. Cindy pushed her back holding onto her and shook her. “Will you look at you! My God girl, you look, you look – you just look fantastic. I can’t believe it’s you!”
“I can’t believe it myself. Everything’s happened so fast. I haven’t had a chance to think. They pick me up every morning, next thing I’m on location somewhere, they do my hair and make-up, dress me . . . I don’t have to do anything except what the photographer tells me.”
“For real? I saw you in Women’s Weekly,” Cindy gushed. “Who would have thought, my friend Jeanie?”
“Oh you got no idea. Guess what?”
“What? Tell me, tell me.” Cindy demanded, about to jump out of her skin.
“Next month, you won’t believe this – I’m on the cover of Vogue.”
“Get out! Oh Jeanie, Jeanie, holy shit! Vogue, are you serious?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what I got, but they really like me. The photographers keep saying they like my attitude. I’m unpretentious, natural, down-to-earth, they like that, easy to work with . . . apparently.”
“I told you, you were hot. Vogue, imagine; I can’t believe it,” crooned Cindy, drifting off in her own fantasies.
“I have to thank you, you know. You pulled me out of that funk I was in. And if you hadn’t nominated me for that make-over thing, none of this would have happened.”
“Me? I would have, if I’d thought of it. No, it was Bryson, your boss – boy is he pissed now,” she laughed. “Hey, lucky that dermo cleared up eh?”
Jeanette looked down at her coffee cup, surrounded by satellites of Magenta Surprise floating mid-air. “Yeah,” she smiled.
Inspired by H.G. Wells & Dr. Jonathon Sachs
Last edited by Brian Armour on October 23, 2011, 5:32 pm