In the kitchen he found Diane standing over the sink, which was filling with hot water.
“Just look at all these dirty cups. It’s a good job you’ve got a good friend like me to wash them up for you. Haven’t you washed anything up since Becky left?”
Max was about to reply that that he’d been too distracted to do anything much, but he stopped. Why should he have to defend himself to her? Instead he watched her sleeves roll themselves up, revealing even more nothingness beneath them.
“Why are you wearing Becky’s clothes?”
“Well, you do want to see where I am, don’t you?”
“But why her clothes?”
Diane picked up a dishcloth in her left hand, revealing the shape of her fingers beneath it. She transferred it to her other hand as she replied, “What else could I do? It was too hot to wear a veil today. And my clothes without a head would have caused a riot on the streets.”
From where he was standing, Max could see the surface of the water in the sink part, and a bubble shaped like a woman’s hand form under it. A second later, the surface closed and a coffee mug rose out of the sink, held by a ghostly hand made from water droplets. The dishcloth in her right hand flew over, and began wiping inside the mug.
Aware that he was staring, Max tried desperately to continue the conversation:
“It must make buying new clothes very difficult.”
“Not really. I’m always getting new clothes. I just buy them on the Internet, and send back the ones that don’t fit.”
“Won’t the companies get suspicious if you do that too often?”
“Maybe,” she giggled. “They probably just think I’m a crossdresser.”
A small plate joined the cup on the rack beside the sink.
“How can you afford it?” asked Max, his curiosity steadily getting the better of him. “Have you got a job? A private detective? Or a spy?”
“No. I haven’t worked since the Incident. The company gave me a very generous compensation package. They had to, to buy my silence.”
The words slipped out before Max could stop them. It was silly, but as long as he didn’t know how Diane had disappeared, there was still a chance he might be able to pretend that this wasn’t real. To ask meant to accept her condition, her existence. But it was too late now.
“I was a junior lab assistant in the chemical research division. The lab was next to the processing plant and the bean-counters were always cutting corners. One day, there was a leak, toxic gas seeped into the air conditioning. Everyone had to evacuate the building. But I was overcome by the fumes, and collapsed into a workbench covered in test tubes, beakers, all full of chemicals. When the all clear was sounded, they returned to the lab and found me lying there, unconscious and invisible. I’ve a lot to be grateful for, I should have been dead.”
“And you’ve been invisible ever since?”
“Yes. In fact I’m less visible now than I was then. My hair and nails didn’t disappear straight away. I had to wait for the old, visible, part to grow out.” The last spoon joined the rest of the crockery on the rack.
“But what happened? Did the company try to find out what made you invisible? Why did they let you go?”
Diane laughed, as a towel wiped away the liquid outlines that were her hands.
“You’ve been watching too much science fiction, Max! Those jerks couldn’t even afford a decent chemical safety system. They’re not going to waste money on secret dungeons with armed guards.”
“So, they didn’t do any experiments on you then?”
“Oh, the company boffins kept asking me in so they could do all sorts of tests and biopsies. I still have to visit them once a fortnight as part of the compensation deal. But they really haven’t got the faintest idea what caused it.”
The towel hung itself back on the rail and Diane’s sleeves rolled themselves down, revealing the shape of her arms once more.
“What about your friends? Your family?”
“My boyfriend left me soon afterwards. He said he couldn’t love someone who wasn’t really there. And after all these years, I still haven’t dared tell my family about me. I’m alone like you, Max, I haven’t got anyone.”
Max didn’t want to argue this point, not again. He just said, “You must have someone.”
“Yes, now I’ve got you. Even if it’s only as a friend. I’m so glad we could talk like this today, but I really must be going now.”
“Going?” Max was relieved, but also slightly puzzled. This wasn’t like the obsessive Diane he knew.
“Yes Max, but not like this.”
She sat on a chair, and started to remove a white sock. Max stared, half revolted, half intrigued as it slowly came off, following the contours of Diane’s unseen foot. The other foot followed, then she stood up and lifted the sweatshirt over her head.Staring at the empty space where her torso should be reminded Max just how wrong the whole situation was, and he turned away, hoping to find something normal to focus on.
“Don’t be shy,” teased Diane, who must have misunderstood his actions. “It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Literally!”
Max glanced back, and saw the old orange jeans lowering themselves, to reveal a pair of knickers floating in midair. Those quickly followed, and then there was nothing left of Diane.
“Goodnight, Max. See you soon.”
He felt her lips give him a gentle peck on the cheek, but no more. Then, he saw the jeans float themselves of the chir where they were lying, and two keys fly out of the pocket and vanish. The jeans threw themselves into Max’s face. He removed them and saw the door swing open, then closed again.
He ran into the hall just in time to see the front door closing itself. Max breathed a sigh of relief, then wondered. How could he be certain that she wasn’t still around? He turned back into the sitting room, and sank down on the sofa. There was no sign of her; he really was alone. So why did he feel almost disappointed?
Continue to chapter eight