Invisible: A Love Story

by Joel Fishbane


And then, just like that, he was gone, driving away, opening the window, releasing the stink of the fight and leaving her to stand in the jessamines cursing his name. As he looked back, he caught a flash of blue in the back seat and realized he still had her suitcase. He had planned to take her the airport. His wife was a pilot; now they might delay her flight.

He drove to the lab, knowing it would be deserted. The lease wasn’t up for another week but they had lost their funding owing to, in the words of an email from the foundation, a startling lack of tangible results. This had led him to take an extraordinary step: in the tradition of all great scientists, he had swallowed the very serum he had been developing, the one which they had refused to fund. But the serum had never been tested, not even on mice, and his wife was horrified by what might have been a suicidal act.

“If this succeeds,” he had said, “I will win the Nobel prize.”

She scoffed. “You’re too good at failure. It’s like they said: you never produce tangible results.”

“You’ve never believed in me.”

“Five years and what do we have? We were going to have children.”

The acrimony continued over dinner, extended through the night, and ended with him driving away the following day. Now he was at the lab, the sanctuary of his ambitions. He checked his vitals, which would have slowed if the serum was taking effect. Heartrate: 75 BPM. Blood pressure: 121 over 80. He thought of her suitcase, a wedding gift from his mother. Heartrate: 75 BPM. He remembered the creamy thank-you notes and the bliss of seeing his wife’s signature next to his. Blood pressure: 121 over 80.  Glancing out the window at the maudlin sky, he imagined her signature in the clouds, then her plane, then her as she flew into the sun. Heartrate: 75 BPM. No change. No tangible results.

He felt a spasm of regret as sudden as a seizure. Even death would have been a tangible result. Was he this incompetent after so many years? He flew into a tantrum and tore up his notes. There was brandy in his desk and he drank from the bottle as he destroyed his remaining samples. Through the window, the sky was a blackboard with the stars drawn in chalk. Equations he couldn’t read. She was up there, twenty thousand feet away. What was her route today? She might be halfway around the world; she might also be on the express between Boston and New York.

He called the airline only to have the cheery representative refuse to tell him where his wife had gone. She said it was private information, but he suspected a conspiracy and imagined his wife sending an email that had been forwarded throughout the company. Warning! This man can’t be trusted. He will produce no tangible results! Checking her  social media feed, he found she had recently posted a picture of a sign: Keep Portland Weird. Portland! It might have been Mars. Five years together and they had never left the east coast. Conferences, yes. Business trips. But a vacation? A no-expenses-paid-non-tax-deductible-for-pleasure-only-jaunt? He drowned in the gulf of lost time. He had married a pilot; she could have taken him around the world.

He would go now. He would find her hotel, throw himself at her feet, and surrender his ambitions like a knight giving up his sword. Soon, he was waiting for a cab while he hugged the blue suitcase. His briefcase held the few items he had cared to save: the brandy, his Benjamin Franklin Medal, and a copy of Frisch’s The Dancing Bees, a gift from some years before. He considered his future, believing a new chapter had already begun. He was right, but not in the way he thought: in the cavity of his chest, beneath that broken spirit, his bones were turning translucent and his blood was running clear.


At the airport, he queued behind a tall woman with almond-colored hair who wore a perfume that bore the scent of spring. She had a loud voice and he overheard, as she checked her luggage, that her name was María Flores and she was on her way to Portland too.

When he reached the desk, the agent told him the only seats were in first class. He must have seen him watching María Flores because he leaned forward and added, “Would you like to sit next to her, sir?”

“Why would I want that?”

“Why wouldn’t you?” the man winked. “Just be careful. Women who fly first class almost always have their husbands to thank.”

He shuddered at the thought of talking to a woman and explaining why he was forty-five and alone. When he sat next to her, he didn’t even nod in greeting, hoping to make himself seem so unapproachable so as to be ignored. In the window seat, María Flores dabbed a hot towel over a constellation of beauty marks that ran down her neck. As the plane climbed above the troposphere, he tried to read The Dancing Bees but he couldn’t stop reading her. In the first paragraph, she stared out the window. In the second, she watched a movie. The chapter continued with her eating, stretching, yawning, releasing her hair. The twist came, as all twists do, just as the chapter was coming to an end.

“You’re reading von Frisch.”

He was stunned. “You know this book?”

“Von Frisch was so important he was kept alive by the Nazis, even though one-eighteenth of him had Jewish blood.”

“It’s astonishing you know that.”

“I wanted to study science. Mama wanted me to be a wife. Guess who won?”

“Do you want to read some?”

“Will you tell me about it instead? It’ll be so much better than flying. I’d hoped first class would make things exciting but it’s just the same boring flight with wider seats.”

He told her how Karl von Frisch had noted that there were certain flowers with colors only bees can see. María Flores gave an audible gasp when he revealed the incredible truth that honeybees are blind to the color red.

“It’s because of where it sits on the spectrum,” he explained. “If jessamines were infrared, we wouldn’t be able to see them either.”

“But why would the Nazis care about the spectrum? I mean, why would Hitler care about bees?”

“I doubt that he did. But a genius in your camp is better than a genius in theirs.”

She considered this.Don’t you hate the fact that there’s so many things you don’t know? So many things you’ll never know, no matter how much you work?”

He replied with all honesty: “It’s why I never sleep.”

“People want science to give us things we can see and touch. But what about the people who study for the sake of studying? The people who spend their whole lives trying to do something just to see if it can be done?”

He smiled at her in the cabin and found her phosphorescent as she sat framed by the window’s glow. When it was time to land, she let him lean towards her so he could see the approaching city bathed in the wavelengths of Oregon light. Again, he caught the scent of spring in her hair. Meanwhile, she squinted at him and frowned. As he leaned back, she removed her glasses and cleaned them on her shirt.

“These things are worthless. I tell you, they give me the eyes of a woman twice my age.”

At PDX, he waited while María Flores searched for her luggage. He had already claimed his wife’s suitcase. Logic suggested she would be at a hotel close to the airport; it would be easy to learn where the pilots liked to drink. Yet when María Flores returned, revealing an overbite with her smile, he found himself asking if she could recommend a good hotel.

“I’m staying downtown,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll have space.”

By luck, there was a suite for him to rent. In the elevator, he surprised himself again and invited her to dinner. He told himself he just wanted to keep talking about the bees and his investigations into the properties of light. It was innocent. Hadn’t her mother won and made María Flores into a wife?

She considered his request and her eyes were small pools of mercury, deep and liquid drops of grey.

“I’ll meet you downstairs in an hour,” she said.

In the elegance of the suite, he studied his reflection and he saw that his hair had lost its brown and his tongue was indistinct. In the shower, he blended with the soap foam. Shaving with the hotel razor, it took him several minutes to realize he had cut himself, for although he felt the sting, he saw nothing and only understood what had happened when the cut bled into his mouth and he tasted copper and chlorine. He checked his pulse and found it had slowed. Everything was as predicted; it had just taken longer than he thought.


After hiding the blue suitcase under the bed, he bought slacks and a poplin shirt before following Maria Flores into Mount Tabor Park. They passed the reservoirs before idling by a bronze statue of a stern newspaperman pointing away as if to say, “Get Out!”. With the help of some adamant locals, they found a café where they ate lentil burgers and shared three bottles of organic wine. Throughout the meal she squinted at him and continued to scrub at her glasses with the embroidered cloth.

“I think my prescription’s changing.”

“Forget them.”

“I’m blind without them.”

“So be blind.”

She agreed. For the rest of the night, she didn’t notice that his irises had whited out or that his vanishing hairline really was slipping away. Guiding her by the elbow, they walked down Hawthorne Boulevard, where they wandered past the boutiques holding each other by the arm. She told him she worked for her husband, who had his own consulting firm, but it was mindless work: she was a glorified secretary. Sensing he was expected to make a confession, he told her of his wife’s departure, though he was elusive in the details, and implied that she was the one who had driven away.

“Is that why you came to Portland?” she asked.

“Sometimes, it’s better to disappear.”

“Marriage is a beast.” She admitted that she and her husband slept in separate rooms.

Back at the hotel, there were other confessions. Years before, while she was a babe-in-arm, her mother had smuggled them into the country. María Flores had married a Cuban exile who lived off a visa he had to renew. She had no high school diploma, rendering her ineligible for safety under DACA, and leaving her in a purgatory which had been her home for years.

“Why did you come to Portland?” he asked.

“It’s embarrassing.”

The room was lit only by a lamp and the ambient light of the street. She was phosphorescent again, just as she had been on the plane. He wanted her secrets and knew he would have to give up his own in exchange.

“I came here to find my wife,” he said.

“You still love her.”

“I thought I did. Maybe I’m just tired of failure.”

She drew him close and invited his hand into hers and she felt like the cool side of an Erlenmeyer flask. He remembered the agent from the airport. Why would he want María Flores? Why wouldn’t he?

“I just went to the airport and bought a ticket,” she said. “There was no reason. It’s a terrible risk. For me, flying always is. You’re tired of failing? Try being trapped all the time. It’s exhausting. You’re running and fighting, even in your sleep.”

When they kissed, he felt unlike himself. No longer a scientist, he was the champion striding into the ring. He turned off the lamp as she took him in the sullen dark. “You’re such a blur,” she whispered and indeed, as she clambered on top of him, he could hardly see himself, as if he was out of focus, soft and surrounded by mist.

It was well after midnight when her magnificent energies were finally spent. When she began to snore, he slipped into the bathroom where he found the mirror was blank. The world was a honeybee; he was the color red. He felt the great longing that comes from seeing a missed train roar out of the station. Only a day before he had been desperate to see, or rather not see, this very result. Now he touched his nose to the glass, searching for one last glimpse of himself, some minor proof that he was there.

One of the great principles of light is its ability to split into many directions. In his imagination, he tried to follow them all only to find his future had become as unseen as his present. He returned to bed where he lay down next to María Flores. His missing finger traced the lines between her constellation of birthmarks and snaked down the skin until it stopped just above her heart.




Waiting for her return flight, María Flores overheard two flight attendants discussing an incredible tale: three days before, a mummy had tried to fly to New York. “At least, he looked like a mummy,” said the attendant. “He was bandaged from head to toe.” They had pulled him over and given him all sorts of grief. María Flores wasn’t surprised; she knew what airport grief was like.

“He said he had a skin condition,” said the attendant.

“Did he get on the plane?” asked the friend.

“Of course not. He wouldn’t even tell us who he was.”

María Flores felt a pang of pity before returning to The Dancing Bees, which she had found on her nightstand along with a note of farewell the morning after arriving in Portland. At first, she had been pained to wake alone but, as the week wore on, she decided the experience had been ideal. A Casanova when they met, her husband had long ago become a monk. Everything fades, thought Maria Flores. Had her scientist stayed, didn’t it stand to reason that he would have faded too? By the time she heard the story of the mummy, she was intending to spend the rest of her life thinking of the brief affair as one might recall a great meal.

Upon returning home, her euphoria didn’t last. Her husband was suddenly revealed to be responsible for a string of financial crimes. He fled the country in a night and, in the speed it takes to read a sentence, everything changed. Her assets were seized and María Flores, now penniless, moved into the house of a friend. She took a job at a factory that sold nothing but maraschino cherries, a singular business that produced a thing which, she now knew, a honeybee couldn’t see. She worked for cash, six days a week, and was harangued by men in dark suits who did not believe that she knew nothing of her husband’s activities or the millions in his offshore accounts. She wept through the interrogations. The dark-suited men had discovered she was not a citizen. Who knows what will happen to you next? they asked. You would be wise to be our friends. She could not convince them that she already was.

Her panic was so acute that when she missed her period, she assumed it was because of the stress; it took two more weeks for her to figure out the truth.


Her areolas grew dark; spider veins poked through her skin. Why had she not learned his name? Romance. The stranger on the plane, the sunlit walk through the Pacific Northwest. Phone numbers, emails, condoms. What was sensible anywhere else had seemed crass. His first name was common and he had never given his last. Her only clue was his work in the properties of light. She spent her evenings trawling the internet, following search results to red herrings and dead ends.

During a sleepless vigil, she skimmed The Dancing Bees and discovered, for the first time, that two pages near the front had been stuck together. Prying them apart, she found an inscription made by what appeared to be a loving wife. The wife’s name was unusual enough that an internet search produced a promising result.

I met your ex-husband once, she wrote in an email. I’m hoping to find him but he seems to have disappeared.

I’m not surprised, came the response. Disappearing was his life’s work.

 They met for lunch. The woman was tall and elegant with a stud in her nose that shimmered in the sun. She had a regal elegance and María Flores hid her hands, which were dyed pink from Red No. 40, the chemical used to give the cherries their stain.

“He loaned me The Dancing Bees,” she explained. “I want to find him so I can give it back.”

The woman smiled. “I found it at a street sale. Didn’t even know if he’d like it – I just needed a gift. We were such a disaster. Early twenties and grad school crazy. Wrong for each other from the start.”

“Is that why you left?”

“Why do you think I was the one who left?”

“He told me you walked away. Or flew away, as the case may be.”

“You’re thinking of the other one.”

“The other one?”

“His second wife is a pilot. I’m a chemical engineer.” Her spoon rattled against the teacup. “All he ever wanted was work. We fought all the time. One day, I woke up and he was gone.”

So. Her scientist was a chronic vanisher. Would he even want to know of his child? Or would it provoke one more exit in a history of escapes?

“Does he have any family?” she asked.

“Only a mother, unless she’s dead. Which I doubt. That woman is all tooth and claw. Death is probably staying away as long as it can.”

She still had the mother’s number. As she gave handed it over, María Flores thought she saw the woman’s expression change. She wasn’t a fool; she knew María Flores was not here to return a book.

That night, María Flores spent hours on chat boards for undocumented immigrants. When this became depressing, she turned to von Frisch. Bees communicate through dance. They can’t ask for love. They waggle if they want you and waggle a different way if they want to never talk to you again. Survival depends on knowing the difference.




He was working one afternoon when he heard María Flores downstairs; she had come to return a book.

He flew into a panic. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to find her; in fact, she was now the thing driving him to find a cure. He couldn’t be seen as he was. He was a horror, even to himself. When he ate, the food remained visible for a time, so that an observer saw only a carrot chewed, reduced to mush, and then deposited into an unseen stomach where it slowly faded from view (the toilet was thankfully empty while a sneeze produced a wad of imperceptible snot). His transparent body no longer absorbed the heat of the light. The neighbors, who only ever saw him in his bandages, thought he had been trapped in a fire.  His mother did nothing to dissuade them; she hadn’t even told the he was her son. It was her who had come to get him in Portland, driving cross-country while he spent three days hiding in a cheap motel, the kind that had taken his cash and not asked why a mummy needed a room. She had not been stunned by his condition; he had called her precisely because, of all the women in his life, she was the one who had believed in him from the start.

“Just don’t go crazy,” she had said, “like the man in that book by H.G. Wells.”

“He went crazy because it was 1897,” he’d replied. “It’s easier to be invisible today.”

It was true. Using a series of false names, he now made money writing how-to articles and top-ten lists with a scientific bent. Top Ten Scientists Made Famous After Death! Top-Ten Self Surgeries! But his real work was done while he shivered in his mother’s guest room. To reverse the serum, he first had to reproduce what he had done, which meant recreating his life’s work.

Now María Flores was here. How had María Flores found him? Listening from the top of the stairs, it did not seem his mother was surprised to see her. So. He was the victim of a conspiracy. Terrified, he looked for a way out. They would hear him if he tried to leave out the back door. His room had a window, but it was a three-story drop and, assuming he survived, where would he go? Accepting his fate, he dug out the strips of cloth he had worn when he left Portland. The sight of them brought back the hotel and that singular night when he had traced a constellation of birthmarks with his invisible hand.

Downstairs, he heard the clatter of his mother’s china. She was preparing tea. Covered like an Egyptian king ready for the tomb, he stood in the room and waited for the knock on the door. María Flores’ laugh carried up through the vents. It tickled like a passing breeze.

His mother’s floors were well-carpeted and he made no noise as he crept to the top of the stairs.

“You aren’t serious!” exclaimed María Flores.

“On my mother’s soul! The house stunk for a week.”

“And he did it all himself?”

“Using only what was in the garage. I knew then I was dealing with a brilliant mind.”

“Do you really think he’s brilliant?”

“I gave up everything for him. Would I do that for a fool?”

“You really don’t know where he is? I was hoping to see him.”

He waited for the obvious reply. Oh you can see him, but you can’t see him. The punchline to the joke he had become. But his mother gave another punchline – and a better one at that.

“He’s probably working somewhere. These days, I never know where he is.”

María Flores pressed on but his mother did not break. The conversation shifted until they were discussing the President and María Flores’ voice hinted at a growing fear. She left soon after and he spent the afternoon dreaming of that night in the hotel when he had felt himself popping into existence, like a star being reborn.

His mother summoned him promptly at six. He had dressed for dinner – or rather he hadn’t undressed since that afternoon – and as he trudged to the table, a stray bandage followed him like a tail. His mother, an extraordinary chef, had prepared a Latin feast with huarache, ceviche, and stuffed poblano peppers. He did not think this was a coincidence. In his whole life he had never known his mother to move without some secret plan.

“That woman’s pregnant,” she said.

“You’re crazy.”

“A man isn’t a library. A woman doesn’t hunt him down just to return a book.”

“Did she leave it? The book?”

“The book, the book!” She crossed the room and took up the copy of The Dancing Bees, which María Flores had left behind. She threw it at him and uttered what was her common prayer: “Lord! Save me from idiots and thieves!”

The book hit the table and something fell from between the pages. As he reached for it ,he understood his mother had not discovered the secret because of some supernatural skill. In returning the gift, María Flores had added one of her own: a picture of what looked like a kidney bean encased in light. The sonogram. Her email address and phone number was on the back.

“If you disappear on her, you are no better than your father,” said his mother. “You might as well leave this house forever. I won’t live with a fool.”

Upstairs, shorn of his bandages, he sat before the vanity and ran his mother’s make-up across his face. The shape of his features began to return until, at last, he recognized himself in the clownish reflection. His mother did not make idle threats. She truly would exile him. Well, so what? He’d survive. He spent the evening writing an article about the history of Egyptian Blue, the first synthetic pigment in history, when Egyptians had mined cuprorivaite to paint their tombs. The room was full of pictures of him, for he was terrified of forgetting what he looked like. The only pictures his mother had were from his weddings and his wives looked down at him as he worked, ignoring the world as he always had. It seemed to him the pictures were alive; he swore he saw them shaking their heads. That night he rose in his sleep and woke to find himself downstairs holding The Dancing Bees. It was the only act of somnambulism of his entire life and he took it as a sign.

Dear María. My mother told me you found me. I am currently out of town . . .


She responded at once, as if she had been lying in wait. To his surprise, she wanted to talk science. Had he heard the Mystery of the Red Honey? Some years ago, in New York, the bees had produced a crimson confection that no one could explain. At last, it was discovered that spills at the local maraschino cherry factory had infected the hives. The world noticed the change, but the bees didn’t. How could they? Bees can’t see maraschino. The change, a crisis to us, was irrelevant to them.

Can you imagine? wrote María Flores. What if the whole world was in a chaos which no one could see?

He told her he was conducting research in Antarctica – it was the furthest place he could think of – and claimed the internet connection would not support video chat. Could he call her instead? An hour later she was in his ear. She told him of her missing husband who, even if he were found, would never grant a divorce because he thought it a mortal sin. He admitted his second wife was in a fury. Returning home after days in the air, she had found the mailbox overflowing and the windows smashed. The abandoned house had attracted attention: every last thing of value had been taken away. Then there was her suitcase: a maid had found it in the Portland hotel. She believed he had orchestrated these things to annoy her and her emails had become screeds; their marriage would not end in peace.

“Marriage is a beast,” sighed María Flores.

“It’s not forever. My divorce will happen. And eventually your husband will die.”

“So I should sit here praying for tragedy. What kind of life is that?”

She didn’t mention the baby and the next day, when they spoke again, he waited in vain for her to bring it up. They began to talk every day by email or phone, but she never mentioned the coming storm. He almost broached the subject until, in a moment of panic, he wondered if the silence was actually grief. Not wanting to bring her pain, he stayed mute even as he endured the same sensation which had grabbed him back in Portland: he was standing at the station, marooned forever, having missed his train. What was a a child but the chance to see himself again, the tangible proof that he was real?

“She says that it’s a crime to be alone,” he told his mother.

“She wants you to marry her,” came the reply.

“She has a husband,” he said. “And right now, I still have a wife.”

His mother wrote down an address. She had been visiting María Flores for weeks; they had gone to the doctor together and bought things for the baby. “Figure it out,” she said. “I gave you everything so you can have that big brain of yours. Don’t make me wish I had forced you to be an artist instead.”

Now he was aware of a need to claw through the earth, as a seed does when it starts to sprout. He redoubled his efforts and, one evening, it finally happened: he replicated his fabulous serum, the first step to engineering a cure. Thrilled, he called María Flores. She didn’t answer. For the rest of the day, he called and texted and when there came no reply, he began to fear that she had ghosted him, just as had done to his first wife and then his second and then to María Flores herself. Divine justice. He deserved nothing less. Faced with what he saw as his cosmic punishment, he tore off his robe and slippers, taking advantage of his great curse to burrow away.

His mother found him naked and filled with rage. She was unimpressed; she had seen his tantrums before. “Lord protect me from idiots and thieves!” she said and she clawed at the air until she found him. Then she wrestled him to the ground and tried to shake him into sense. In his madness, he began to rave about his own funeral where, at a forlorn gravesite, his mother would watch the apparently-empty casket be lowered into the ground, exactly what they did for soldiers whose bodies have been destroyed.

But his mother only scoffed. “I won’t be at that grave. You’ll be buried alone. You’ve made me into a failure: you’re nothing but a fool.”

Then she left him to his pain and went downstairs, where, after several minutes, she witnessed the event she had been waiting to see: her son left the house with María Flores’ address clutched in his hand. He was swaddled in his bandages and had chosen a periwinkle trench coat and a rainbow plaid scarf. He wanted to be bright; he didn’t want there to be any chance that he wouldn’t be seen.


He was seen when he reached the house, but it was by the neighbors who had come outside to watch the cars with the flashing lights. The friend María Flores had been staying with was standing on the porch talking to ominous men in flak jackets which bore the acronym of authority. It had happened; the nightmare had occurred.

He escaped with his fists buried in the pockets of his periwinkle coat and dreamed of finding the detention center, stripping himself bare, and sneaking inside. He didn’t know how he would do it but he was certain he would succeed; he would never be good at failing again. At his mother’s house, he crept in through the back door and stripped down to nothing, for now he was bold in his condition, he wanted to revel in it, this gift he would use to storm the barricades and somehow set her free.

Plotting these heroics, awakened to the thrill of the hunt, he charged into his bedroom only to find María Flores, sitting at his desk and looking through his books, as if she had always been a part of the house. Remembering he was naked – and forgetting she couldn’t see it – he snatched at a pillow to cover himself. The pillow appeared to levitate on its own which also had the effect of announcing to María Flores that he had returned.

“Your mother let me in,” she said. “I had nowhere else to go.”

He found her diminished and slightly plump, with hands that were pink from their days in the maraschino bath. She should have been nine months fat by now, with glow of motherhood in her cheeks, and he collapsed inward, believing his fears had come true. Then he heard the sound of a baby in the other room and his mother singing a lullaby, the one she had sung to him when he was small.

“It was a home birth,” said María Flores. “But they found me just the same.”

She had come home to find the men waiting at the house. She and the baby had escaped before being seen and, after several hours of terror, she had come here. It was the perfect safehouse, for she had never told anyone about him.

He responded not to her crisis or his exquisite relief but to the fact she had caught him at the tail end of so many lies.

“I just came back from Antarctica,” he said.

“Your mother told me the truth weeks ago.”

“I suppose this is the moment you tell me what a terrible person I am.”

“No,” said María Flores. “This is when we get our happy end.”




Government agents couldn’t scare his mother, who was unmoved by their fierceness and reminded them, in the voice of a queen, that she was a citizen with constitutional rights. They didn’t care. “Idiots and thieves!” she exclaimed even as they shoved her aside to tear tore through the rooms. The leader showed her a photograph of María Flores, who they had been hunting for several days. Even now, her car sat in their driveway, its license plate the beacon which had drawn them to the house.

“I know her but she loaned me her car. She said she was going out of town. And, no, I don’t know where she went.”

“Whose baby is that?” asked the agent, nodding to the child in her arms.

The new grandmother beamed. “My son finally did something right.”

She had no choice but to admit that her son was upstairs. She called his name even as the men thundered towards the second floor. There was no reply and she reached the top of the stairs to find the men rushing into rooms with guns drawn.

“Clear!” said the man who had checked the bedroom.

“Clear!” said the man at the closet.

“Clear!” said the man in the bathroom.

One room was left. She held her breath as the agent ducked inside.

“Clear!” he said.

She exhaled in wonder. “He must have stepped out.”

She waited to lie about the baby’s mother, but they dismissed her and their arrogance was absolute as they left, a small army defeated in battle but certain they would win the war. She wandered through the ravaged house, trying to deduce where María Flores might have been hiding. She understood only when she looked into her son’s room and saw a pair of green spectacles float through the air before coming to rest on an unseen-but-still-fragile nose.

“I’m so blind without these,” sighed María Flores.

“Idiots and fools! You might be stuck like this forever. There were other choices.”

Her son groped in the nothingness and found María Flores’ hand. “She was tired of running and fighting.”

“Sometimes,” said María Flores, “it’s better to disappear.”

The mother couldn’t have known it but they had turned to look at each other, each believing they could see a glow even though they were nothing but empty space.

They stayed disappeared for many years, though their daughter hardly noticed, for she couldn’t see her parents’ condition any more than the bees of New York had seen the chaos in the honey, and their days were spent in peace, with María Flores and her husband working together for a cure, each of them steeped in the work they loved, and taking breaks to sit in the garden, watch for bees, and teach their daughter about jessamines and all those things whose dazzle not everyone can see.

JOEL FISHBANE’s fiction has been or will be published in Ploughshares, New England Review, Witness and numerous other places, both online and in print. His novel The Thunder of Giants is available from St. Martin’s Press and he is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Visit him at