I pretend they don’t exist.
Wait, that’s not it exactly.
I know they exist. They exist more than I do.
This is the problem.
I’ll be on the bus, staring at somebody and I start to think their thoughts, look into their faces and hear their inner voices.
I become them.
All of them.
Their voices crowd my head.
My own voice gets lost in the crowd.
I can’t tell if I am thinking, or they are.
It’s a jumble.
So I never look at them, wear sunglasses and headphones with the music turned up loud as it can go.
“He was sent home again. Not a stitch on this time.”
“Can’t they stop him?”
“They would, but nobody sees him undress. It’s like one minute he has clothes on, and the next minute he’s starko.”
“Does he still say he’s invisible?”
“He doesn’t say it anymore, but I’m pretty sure he believes it.”
“Even though everybody can see him?”
“Look, I have no idea why he’s like this. All I know is that it’s a problem. It’s getting worse, and everybody there is at their wit’s end. They can’t exactly fire him, you know.”
“I may have an idea.”
The warehouse was brick-oven hot, but Chaim was the only one who seemed to be sweating. The man in crisp shirtsleeves sat cool behind the desk, his dry palms leaving no stain on the paper as he filled in the form.
“Living relatives?” said the man.
The man looked up at him. “You’re certain of this? We will verify everything you say here.”
“I may have some distant cousins in the States, but no living relatives that I know of.”
“And you understand what we do here?”
“Not really, no.”
“But you have heard stories?”
Cardboard Bob peeled back his tarp and took out the magic basket. Atop the photographs was the charm Marnie had given him, a Barbie wrapped in rainbow pipe cleaners. “This will keep them demons out of your head,” she’d promised. “You won’t want to drink no more.”
That hadn’t happened, but Cardboard thought the cham might have other properties. Lately he’d taken to asking it questions about the people in the pictures.
He’d found the basket last year, setting atop a pile of furniture with a sign saying FREE.
He knew when he saw it that it contained secret messages.
I feel peculiar, as though every cell in my body is an Alka-seltzer dissolving in a glass of water.
I have no memory of anything, my thoughts bubbling around and away.
The lights are bright but not painful.
I vaguely wonder if I should feel afraid, but it seems unimportant.
Now I seem to be lying down, and though I have no weight I can still feel my body.
Now there are others.
They glitter like fish in an aquarium, glide around me, smooth and noiseless.
This is only a dream, one says without speaking.
I wake on the playground.