At first, he wasn’t sure if he blinked away film on his eye, saw the shadow of a plane pass over the window, or caught a reflective object at an odd angle. His brain, he thought, misinterpreted some momentary phenomenon.
But soon he learned to predict the circumstances. Standing in a doorway preoccupied with a newspaper, food, a note, a pen, his phone, he sensed a flicker, a change of light and then a positive thing, an entry for his exit. From the beginning he knew, though he couldn’t say how, that he and the other couldn’t share a room. His presence pushed the other out.
Just as you’d predict, he altered circumstances as soon as he noticed them. He put distractions aside and rushed into rooms after feigning a move in the opposite direction. That’s how he caught him, or began to. More than a flicker, the solid image disappeared not quite instantly enough—a flash, but real.
At first, he couldn’t have told you much. Like a crime victim, he couldn’t recall detail. Clothes, height, or any distinguishing features evaporated. He was a he, that’s all, and, though he tried to stay calm and take it all in, every encounter surprised him equally.
You’ll ask why he didn’t go see a doctor to be checked out, but weeks passed between the early encounters. At first he hoped he’d experienced the last. That doesn’t entirely account for his neglect, though. Looking back, he always knew what was happening.
Later, he saw him when others were around. He asked, “Did you see that?”
He couldn’t answer, and, by the time he could, he also knew no sane person would ask. He should have gotten help. He meant to. But other necessities took over. The moment of intervention passed. Then the lingering presence of another made their meeting inevitable, desirable even.
Less time fell between encounters, and one day he woke believing he was seeing himself. The next episode confirmed it. He looked at his own back leaving. He’d never seen his back of course, but he knew it.
If you’re scoffing, perhaps you should examine how impossibility seduces us. What seems a long way to run or an excessive sum can become ordinary. Habits can seem peculiar, but not to those who live them.
Only his nervous system rebelled. His stomach leaped as if he teetered on being discovered in an error, a lie, a scheme, an affair. You need to know—he almost thought he wanted that feeling. Perhaps his dwindling life needed another, so he crept into rooms, hoping to find himself already there.
One day, he heard a voice in the next room and came in to discover an old friend in an armchair, a sheaf of papers in his lap. The friend gave him an odd look and said, “That was fast—so you found it?”
“No. No, I forgot what I was looking for.”
Recovering from awkwardness was easy until great absences pocked every day. Life became waking from sleep. Dimly remembered afterimages of dreams faded so quickly he stopped trying to retrieve them. Anything that seemed impossible to piece together—almost everything—he fled. He knew someone would be around soon with a remedy.
You’ll see sense. You’ll know what happened next. He exited and always exited. Maybe he traded one dwindling for another, but you might too—the challenge became being gone, staying gone.
For his friends and family, nothing changed—this transition no different than the daily shift from day to night. But he knew. He wouldn’t be seen again.