If I ever questioned Griffin, it was never to Mark’s face. That seemed like the easiest way to handle the existence of an incorporeal entity in which he had invested so much time. I didn’t have the energy to deconstruct Mark’s fantasy, I had done enough of that when we were together. Indulging Mark became a way of repenting for my constant callousness, my inability to appreciate him in the way he deserved. He must have known—at one point, he knew everything about me—and it must have hurt him, because I once found a paper-envelope plane in the recycling with “She is humoring me,” on one side and “A four letter tragedy,” on the other.
I flew that plane out the window, like I did with the other envelopes he told me to make disappear and pretended I hadn’t seen. I think he appreciated the play-acting.
Ours had not been an easy break up, but it had been inevitable. We both saw it coming. Neither of us had fought it when we began to fall apart. Maybe we should have—maybe I should have, because after our split in early Spring, Mark disappeared. His parents were frantic. I tried not to care and failed abysmally, to the point where I spent my hours in the precinct haunting his missing person’s case.
He was gone for four months before he came back.
At first, I refused to speak with him, to forgive him. He bore it for a while, and then one day, showed up on my doorstep, carrying a Virginia rose, a bottle of white wine, and a draft of his newest story.
It was easier than breathing to let him return.
Mark introduced me to Griffin nine weeks later. I was unpacking a box of shoes in the middle of my new apartment when he barged in, bringing with him a flurry of October rain. He was declaiming Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” reciting from a sodden paper clenched in his right hand, and I waited until he reached the end of the verse (“And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier—!”) before pointing at the open door.
He blinked at me, wrinkled his nose at the studded saddle shoes in my hand and said, “I thought you threw those away. Griffin, shut the door, Kate hates rudeness.” He nudged a yellow stiletto with his toe, wincing as the bells I had attached with conviction and superglue chimed discordantly together.
“I needed models of atrocity for my new fashion brand. I’m thinking of calling the collection Drunk Undergrad Decisions.” I stole the jangling stiletto from him, over-handing it into an empty box. “Griffin?”
“My Invisible Man.” Mark waved vaguely over his shoulder. “Wells had one, I have one. Actually, mine followed me home on Monday from workshop.” A drop of water quivered off the end of his nose, and he sneezed. Mark had a habit of catching cold when the October rains started, and for a few weeks, he’d live in a world of tissues and tea. “Be nice, he’s shy. How’s moving going?”
“It’s going fine, and I’m always nice. Is he too shy to close the door?”
“I don’t know, ask him,” said Mark and flung himself onto the couch, poking absentmindedly at one of the holes in the slipcover. The pen behind his ear shifted against the side of his face. Uncapped, it drew black ink stains along his cheekbone.
In the hallway, the elevator cheerfully announced an arrival.
“Knowing the kinds of friends you bring around, he probably is,” I said and pushed myself upright with a groan. “Never mind, I’ll get it. Tell Griffin he can sit down.”
“You heard the lady,” Mark said. “Sit down—no, not there, Kate will kill you if you sit there. That’s a family heirloom disguised as a bench.” He paused. “I know, I know. I did warn you about her sentiment.”
I flipped Mark the bird, accidentally insulting the couple that had bundled out of the elevator, and closed the door with a pang of remorse. I had been doing so well as a normal neighbor; trust Mark to be the catalyst for the inevitable spiral into eccentricity and cats. “Did you warn Griffin about my habit of exacting painful revenge on people who mock me, too?”
“Kate’s studying criminal justice,” Mark said, rolling his eyes. He had never been a fan of my profession, nor the people I worked with. Something about cop shows and politics. “She’s an analyst. When I write murder mysteries, I talk to her.” He smiled at me, the kind that stretched his mouth too wide, and I threw a shoe at him. He caught it mid-air and turned it over in his hands. “I don’t remember this.”
“You wouldn’t. They’ve been in the box since before I knew you.”
“‘The box.’” He tossed the shoe back to me. “Kate’s always had boxes,” he informed Griffin, as I sat back down. “I once spent a month buying her dollar store gifts to see what would go in the box and what would make it out. She put in a tasteful scarf, but kept all the terrible Christmas ornaments.” A beat, and then he laughed. “I’ll try that next time.”
It was unnerving to have him share so many things aloud. We had never been open about our relationship, never tried to explain it to anyone else or even to ourselves. Mark’s honesty was unprecedented.
Mark’s limbs spilled over the edges of the couch as he leaned forward, dragging a sticker sheet of labels out from underneath the coffee table. “‘Magazines,’” he quoted. He began to tap his foot, too fast. “I think this is supposed to say ‘my 45 issues of GQ that nobody except Mark knows about,’ right?”
“I cannot believe you remember—”
I looked at him.
“Can I sleep here tonight?” His voice was suddenly haggard. The lines on his face had been scored on, his mouth pinching as he stared at the lace curtains I’d hung that morning. The ink on his cheek was smudging as lingering raindrops rolled from hair to jaw.
Mark was out of place on my couch, out of place in a room without books, out of place in a fourth-story flat I hadn’t even turned into a home. If he stayed, he’d drink all my coffee. He’d vent about deadlines, his writing, his inability to write. He’d make jibes about my kitchen plants and steal all my envelopes for hundred-word stories.
I’d give him my laptop charger, so he could reach a thousand words at least, and remind him by the hour it was his choice to make a living in writing. Computer science, I’d point out, was a bright and booming field. I’d belittle him for thinking cactuses were the only acceptable plant pets, and I’d eventually buy him a ream of paper when the envelopes, but not the ideas, ran out.
I’d build my home around him in the quiet moments. I’d put up paintings and make paper planes and move lamps. If I ended up building him into my home as well, into the couch in the living room and the table in the kitchen, into the toothbrush in the bathroom and the underwear in the bedroom, it would be the kind of half-accident found in catharsis.
“There were forty-six issues, actually,” I said. “I take GQ seriously. Do you mind the couch?”
He was relieved. “Not at all. The box with the blankets is in your bedroom, right? I’ll take Griffin with me.” He grinned at me, but I heard the question.
“Griffin can stay too,” I said, and I smiled in the direction Mark looked: at Griffin, at the Invisible Man, at the empty expanse of white wall next to the heirloom bench.
* * *
When I woke the next day, I was surprised to find that Griffin had not vanished overnight. I had been half-expecting a cactus to take his place, or maybe a cat, and I blinked twice when I walked into the living room to find my boxes arranged in a semi-circle, surrounding a nest of blankets. Had Mark slept there? Impossible—he was too picky, the wood was too hard, there were spiders. I wouldn’t have put it past him to tuck his manuscripts into bed in the hopes they’d improve overnight, but the chances of that were slim. Mark wouldn’t want his manuscripts on the floor either.
“Don’t wake him.” Mark was leaning on the kitchen doorframe, dressed in plaid and jeans, a cup of coffee balanced in his palm. He nodded at the cardboard boxes. “He’s had a rough night.”
“So did you. I saw your light on when I went to the bathroom. When did you go to bed?”
Mark shrugs. “The usual time. Did you hear Griffin snoring? I was afraid he would wake you up.”
I almost said no. Almost. “Was that what it was? It sounded like a plane passing overhead.”
The faintest of smiles flickered over Mark’s face, and he changed the subject. “I made coffee.”
The kitchen was as unfurnished as the rest of the apartment, though I had rescued my plants from my parents’ house and set them up on the windowsills and counters. Mark had moved all my air plants to one side and put my cactuses in front, and I frowned at them, him, and the coffee machine, which was nestled between a woolly torch and some sub-species of agave. There was an assortment of mail on the table. Most of the envelopes had been opened, their contents separated into neat piles. Mark had gotten up early to write.
“Finish anything good?”
“Not since the last time you’ve seen me.”
This was a standard answer, the non-answer of all non-answers. In the time we had been together, Mark had never finished anything good. I asked the question now out of courtesy, and because I knew he was expecting it, knew that he needed it. Mark invested too much of himself into his stories. His peers never understood what he was trying to say, never realized how vulnerable he made himself for the sake of narrative. The workshops he attended always ended in catastrophic failure. “They don’t get me, Kate,” he would tell me later. “They don’t understand.”
There was more than enough coffee in the machine for me, which meant he had already gone through a pot. I watched him poke at envelopes for awhile, seeking out the changes in his face, the expression in his eyes, the uncertainty in his hands.
Anything that would validate the question I wanted to ask him.
The morning light trapped shadows in the kitchen as it filtered through the windows, autumn-crisp and bright. Mark’s hair was silver this month, and the sun turned the tips gold. I found my validation in the fact. Mixing silver and gold was a no.
“Where did you go?”
The envelopes stilled. Mark tapped the table once, twice. “I’ve answered this before, Kate.”
“You disappeared completely, Mark. That’s all I know. That’s all you’ve told me. It’s been three months since then, and I still know nothing—”
“Are you asking this because you want to fill in my missing person’s report at work?”
“I—no. Of course not. I’m not asking for me.” A lie. “I was worried, Mark, we all were! You know the kinds of things that happen to people who go missing? They get kidnapped, they get killed—what did you expect us to think? I just want—”
“Then don’t want,” said Mark. His expression had shut down, the sunlight trying to coax open the tightness of his mouth. “It won’t happen again.”
“That’s not what I’m afraid of.” I set my coffee on the counter. “Mark—”
“I’ll write stories about missing people instead. Is that better?” He turned his head towards the living room and cocked it, listening. “Griffin is waking up,” he said, and stood, pushing the envelopes towards me. “Can you please not talk about this in front of him? I think it will upset him.”
The book of origami was in one of the boxes around Griffin’s nest. What if I didn’t make paper planes this time? What if I folded question marks instead and surrounded Mark with them while he was sleeping? Would he be subconsciously overwhelmed enough to answer, then?
“Good,” he said, and waved at the kitchen door. “Good morning, Griffin! How are you?” He paused. “Yes, I am, thank you,” he beamed. “And eggs sound lovely.”
* * *
Once, when we were still together, Mark showed me a series of photographs a friend “in the business” had taken of him. The idea behind their existence was that they’d one day grace the back panel of a successful novel, chapters of prose whose heartbreak could be credited to a black and white rendition of a man who preferred color. The versions he showed me had not yet been gray-scaled. He had been eager to present them to me, to get my opinion on which photo had best captured him in appropriate contemplation.
“I need to look thoughtful,” he said, as he hovered over my shoulder, twisting my hair into knots around his fingers. “Pensive. Like if you asked me the meaning of life, not only would I say it with confidence, I’d convince you I was right.”
“Pretty sure I’m more qualified to answer that than you,” I snapped. He had left the car half-parked on the curb that morning, too busy trying to capture the burst of inspiration that had attacked him while he was in line at Grand Bagel Bakery. I was forced to go out and re-park, and by the time I returned inside, Mark had written a frenzy of permanent marker-words on the white tablecloth. “You don’t know anything about life.”
Mark was silent. “That’s not the point,” he said eventually. “I just have to look like I’m smart. It doesn’t matter whether or not I actually am.” He’d sprinted up the stairs, and perspiration flattened his sideburns to his cheeks.
He’d been able to capture enough of the inspiration to be momentarily happy. The tablecloth, covered with unintelligible chicken scratch that made my eyes water, was folded into a careful square and laid reverently on the couch armrest.
I predicted to myself the way the evening would go: he’d re-read the tablecloth, purse his lips in disgust, and leave me a note to “Get rid of the damn thing” when I got home from my internship. Tablecloths were harder than envelopes. I couldn’t turn them into planes.
The prospect of visiting the dumpster at the end of a long shift exhausted me into patience.
“Let me see.” Our computer was old, a relic that matched the antiquity of the apartment we shared. It took some forty seconds to open the folder where Mark had stored the photoshoot.
There were 31 photos: an excess of Marks.
I was momentarily stunned by the thumbnail faces that stared out at me through thumbnail eyes. “I thought you were going to re-dye your hair for this,” I finally said.
“What? No, obviously not.” He poked at the screen, his finger obliterating the face of the first Mark. Without a head, the neck could have belonged to anybody. “Hurry up.”
I clicked unwillingly. Patience had turned to faint nausea. It was too early in the morning to be judged by 31 pairs of brown eyes. “You can see your roots,” I said. I pointed at the top of his head, where dark streaks bled into an unnatural platinum blonde. “You look greasy.”
In all fairness, Mark has a face built for photographs. Long face, high cheekbones. Thin lips, an expressive mouth. Dark brows, though when we first started dating, he was dyeing them blonde as well. He relented only when I told him he looked better with black hair. His square jaw balanced the span of his forehead and the ridiculous comb-over he had gelled into place, terrible roots and all.
Mark has always been tall and thin. I wanted to congratulate the photographer. He had managed to contain Mark’s explosion of limbs into the graceful rectangle of the photo, folding and pinching and crimping until a thigh lifted and a knee bent and a wrist curved. I tried to rearrange Mark for Christmas photos every holidays, but his elbows always brought disaster.
There was no disaster in these photos. By the time I said, “This one,” I was feeling thoroughly usurped.
Mark squinted at it. It was a forward-facing headshot, completed by the faintest traces of a smile. “My eyes are different sizes in this one,” he said.
“I said choose the photo that made me look most pensive, not the most realistic, Kate.”
What happened after that is less of a memory and more of a tradition, the kind where I left for work in anger and came back in irritation. I was mollified only when I realized he had made the day’s paper envelope planes himself. In this case, I think he bought me a new tablecloth as well.
He ended up deleting the photos one humid afternoon when nothing was going right, and thumbnail eyes were judging him as much as they hadjudged me. I managed to save the photo I had chosen, though—it was in the box I created for him.
It was the closest I came to ever fitting him in.
* * *
In late November, I made the mistake of telling Anna and Peter about Griffin. My two fellow interns were already less than enthusiastic about Mark. They had met him once, at a precinct Christmas party, and he had insulted Anna’s shoes, Peter’s hair, and all of our professions within five minutes. That might have been forgivable, but then he went missing. The wreck I became was justification enough for their continued dislike.
Their disapproval was carefully constructed. Anna collected red flags against my ex-boyfriend, and Peter pinned them into place on the map of unhealthy relationships.
“The last time I had an invisible friend, I was six,” Anna said.
“You’re letting him live with you?” asked Peter.
We were on lunch break. We took advantage of the days we could eat together, because they were so rare. I didn’t want today to become another exhausting session of defend Mark, defeat Kate, but Anna had complimented my lunch, and I had copied Mark’s answer from that morning without thinking: “Thanks, Griffin made it.”
“I know it sounds unusual—” I began.
“Your ex is unusual,” Peter said. There was jelly at the corner of his mouth. “Your ex is weird as fucking shit, Kate.”
“He’s just staying over because his apartment’s flooded.”
“So he’s living with you.”
“Are you having sex with him again?” Anna’s voice was loud. A passing co-worker did a double take as he walked past the break room. Anna waved. “I thought you said you wouldn’t fuck him after the night he showed up with apology wine.”
“He’s sleeping on the couch.” I put down my fork. “And it was only once.”
We’d talked about this before, so Anna and Peter didn’t bother to tell me they didn’t believe me. I was a little disappointed. This time, I wasn’t lying. Mark hadn’t touched me, and I hadn’t touched him, since he had arrived with Griffin. The lack of a physical relationship was at once complex and relieving. We wanted each other: it took more than moving, flooding apartments to make two people uninterested. His eyes lingered on the curve of my neck. Mine—on his shoulders, his back.
Griffin was a good scapegoat. Mark believed in his presence so thoroughly it was easy to make him the reason I couldn’t ask Mark if the couch was too uncomfortable. Griffin knew we had broken up (Mark made this very clear), but the way Mark talked to Griffin was like a father to his child. I didn’t want Griffin to ever ask him why two people who didn’t love each other were lovemaking.
I didn’t want to hear Mark’s answer.
“—not going to tell you how to run your life, but seriously, Kate, if your ex is showing up with an invisible friend?” Anna raised her eyebrows at me and lowered her voice. “That goes beyond personality problems.”
“Why are you telling her that?” Peter demanded. His fuse for these conversations was short. He had lost his conviction I would do anything about Mark long ago, and it infuriated him. Back when he was trying to get me to open up, he told me that he had been in a similar situation once. Some old girlfriend. He, however, had gotten out. “She’s a goddamn behavioral analyst. She should know psychopathy when she sees it.”
I tensed. Psychopathy had never been broached, just brushed.
Anna said, “Peter.”
Peter said, “Kate, you’re the best goddamn analyst I know. You’re going to get hired the moment this internship is over. Hell, the precinct isn’t going to let you go! And yet you still can’t see that your ex is one of the most high-functioning psychopaths I’ve ever met? That he—”
“Peter,” repeated Anna, “shut up.”
“Mark only said your hair was disgusting, not that you’d killed a man,” I said.
“You think that’s the reason I—Kate, he brought home an invisible man. He’s making you live with an invisible man. He’s taking advantage of you—”
I stood up. “I’m going back to work,” I said. Peter glared at the table. Anna sighed, tired and sad. “If you want to keep finding faults in my personal life, you know where my desk is.”
“What are you waiting for?” Peter shouted. “What do you need for him to—”
The door shut behind me.
In the precinct, it was thankfully quiet.
My team and I were working on the murder of a young boy, a crime of late spring that ensured the evidence was long since stale. We would have relegated the case to a smaller office long ago, but the boy’s father was wealthy, and financed our investigation, and our coffee breaks. I’d been tasked to work with my boss to try and profile the criminal, but we’d had no luck. I knew the murderer was unskilled and inexperienced and much stronger than their victim, but besides that there was nothing. My boss had given me permission to work on other cases in the meantime.
When Mark had disappeared, Peter had been on the recovery team, which made the reason I opened up Mark’s missing person’s report now somewhat spiteful. The photo of Mark had been taken after he returned, and he wore red hair and a tired, blank look.
I read through it for posterity. In truth, I knew every word already, down to the very end.
July 29: Subject reappeared at family home of own volition at 4:04 p.m. Compliant with investigators. Found evidence of habitation as subject described, in old farmhouse 90 miles away. Case closed without incident.
We fell into routine, the three of us. I’d go to the precinct, try to read a criminal’s mind for a day, and come home exhausted from small talking with Anna and tiptoeing around Peter. While I was gone, Mark and Griffin would putter around the apartment until they became bored of small rooms and dissatisfactory furniture. They offered to help me unpack, but Griffin broke a vase the second day, and Mark had solemnly declared such endeavors were over. If things got too stagnant, they played opera so they could make fun of art—if things got too oppressive, they went shopping.
They took me with them once, when early December was edging forward and the temperatures went from a gradual fall to an anchor-weighted plummet. It had rained the night before, and Mark pointed out the icicles that hung from corners and streetlamps to Griffin, who had never seen the ice before.
“Hasn’t he been around before this, then?” I asked Mark casually, when a series of indulgent nods and grins told me that Griffin was running ahead of us.
“Hm? Oh, no, he hasn’t—Griff, don’t go past the snowmen!” Mark beckoned him back towards us. “He was born in the spring. Or at least, that’s when he says his memories start.” He raised his voice. “Don’t pick up the shovel either—yes, leave it. Yes, I know, I know, but Kate wouldn’t like it.” He leaned towards me. “Sorry I’m using you as an excuse,” he said in an undertone. “For what it’s worth, Griffin thinks you’re great.”
“Does he really?”
“Yes, of course.” Mark gave me an odd look. “Who wouldn’t think you’re great?”
I wanted to kiss him. He had dyed his hair rainbow, a multitude of colors on his head that made him look alive. Griffin had asked for it. Griffin had asked me to dye my hair, too, but I told him that would never happen—that, unbelievably, I liked my brown hair and brown eyes.
Instead of kissing him, I laughed. “Let me think,” I said. “The criminals I’m chasing?”
“I said don’t touch the shovel!” Mark yelled and then turned towards me. “I don’t know, Kate. I think even criminals would think you’re great.”
That took me off-guard, but Mark hurried ahead before I could reply. By the time I caught up with him, Griffin was running recklessly through snowdrifts, and Mark was too distracted in the worry he might hurt himself to remember what had been said.
I insisted on paying for Griffin’s fare on the train downtown. I told Mark it was so he wouldn’t waste money, and he gave in after I told him if he really wanted, he could pay me back. “Griffin’ll pay you back,” he promised me, and elbowed the air by his side. “Won’t you? Hey, don’t pout—”
I smiled at the staring woman across from us.
We reached the bookstore a short trip later. I browsed historical fiction while Griffin and Mark argued in the art section, snippets of Mark’s voice drifting through the aisles to me.
“Put that down! Kate hates landscapes. No, she doesn’t like Picasso, either. Or Georgia O’Keeffe. Or—that’s not even art, stop joking with me. Oh, that’s nice, but she’d never go for it. No, it doesn’t matter that you and I—‘you and I,’ Griffin, not ‘you and me’—like it. Kate’s a whole different person. That’s why we go to her when—”
Mark’s voice lowered, and I moved on.
He found me in the crime novels, frowning at one of the new bestsellers.
“I can hear you scoffing all the way from the front of the room,” Mark said. “Author didn’t fact-check, as usual?” He grinned. “Griffin wants you to have this.” He presented me a packet of origami paper, beautiful with detail. “He wants you to make him a dragon.”
Dragons were new. I closed the book and set it back on the shelf. “I’ll make one tonight,” I said. I opened the packet, rifled through the patterns. “It’s been a long time since I made anything with real origami paper. This is lovely. Tell Griffin thank you.”
“He’s hiding. He was afraid you’d hate it.” Mark smiled. “I’ll go find him, and let him know.”
* * *
In general, I didn’t ask questions—not the serious ones, not the ones that mattered—after that morning in the kitchen. I resisted the urge to read Mark’s envelopes, too, except for the ones in the wastebasket, and contented myself with throwing them out the window. I used the paper Griffin had bought me to decorate the apartment: cranes, sharks, tigers, the single dragon. I told myself some kinds of satisfaction would never be attained, and it worked well enough.
I spent my off-days catching up on envelopes and watching television. Sometimes, Mark would leave Griffin behind, and we’d hang out together.
Griffin unnerved me when we were alone. Mark’s conviction in his existence made him more believable, and there were times I tried to talk to him before realizing I lacked the imagination for one-sided conversation. I tried to picture Griffin, too, to put a face and a body to him, but any and all attempts ended up bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to Mark himself. If I was tired and it had been a long day, Griffin would also look like the victim of whichever case I was working on, and that was disturbing enough I stopped imagining him altogether.
Actually separating Griffin from Mark was easy. Griffin, after all, didn’t torture himself by going to writer’s workshops.
Neither did he slam his way back into the apartment when those writer’s workshops ended in failure. The noise shook the ceiling; I jumped and tore the paper I was folding.
The distance between the living room and the kitchen seemed impossibly long as Mark barged his way towards us, and then he was standing in the doorframe, face red and raw from the cold. He had the papers he’d printed that morning in an excited rush, but they were damp and the ink was running, a travesty Mark would have never allowed if he still cared.
He looked down.
Pressed at the dark circles underneath his eyes.
Said to Griffin, or me, or the air, “Does every man who wakes up changed warrant a comparison to Kafka? Can’t a man just wake up for goddamn once and discover that today he is different without being a bug?” He picked up an air plant and folded over a leaf, snapping it off in his hands. “I am grasshopper,” he snarled. “I am cricket. I am cicada, I am roach of all cocks. I wake up changed and I write four thousand words, and the first thing they say is that I am Gregor Samsa.”
He coughed his laugh and put the air plant back on the windowsill, pushing it into place with his fingertips. My kitchen was small. Mark took up more than half of it when he turned around, Griffin and I forced to share our corner with a heater.
He threw the papers at me. “Get rid of them,” he growled. “And don’t throw them out the fucking window. I can still see them when I go out in the morning, if they haven’t been run over by a car. Aren’t you supposed to obliterate them? Absolve them of their awfulness? Do your fucking job, Kate. And you—” he rounded on Griffin and stopped.
“You,” he said and left the room.
* * *
Late December, and my life was devoted to deadlines. I had enough time each morning to linger over my coffee, but only for five minutes: the clock was ticking, time was moving, and both Mark and Griffin knew enough to stay out of my way. The internship dictated late evenings while job applications coaxed out whatever was left. I had no thought to spare for my roommates except when I remembered they weren’t paying rent. Mark’s apartment must have been fixed, but I didn’t ask.
I didn’t mind. I liked the company, and they didn’t get underfoot. I was able to ignore them when I needed to, and because Mark’s outburst had gone entirely unresolved, it also meant I had no obligation to try and dissect it for meaning.
Friday nights were the best, when I knew a day I could devote to nothing and Netflix was less than five hours away. Mark and Griffin would remain thoughtfully inconspicuous until the snow I had tracked in on my boots had melted, puddled, and evaporated. They’d approach with hot chocolate or cider, whatever Griffin had wanted, and I’d let them share the living room with me. Sometimes I’d even contribute to the conversation they were having, usually a lively discussion about the horse-faced lady in Mark’s workshop class who wrote alien erotica. Forty-five minutes later, I’d excuse myself with, “Good night, you two,” and go to bed.
That was the way it worked, until the Friday that it didn’t.
“Kate? Griffin needs to tell you something.” Mark’s voice was the jangling of bells on stilettos: discordant, nervous, determined. “He’s made a mistake.”
“Not now, Mark.”
I looked at him.
“You know the boy who was murdered? The case your office is working on?” Mark was too pale, and he’d re-dyed his hair today, a bright red that looked nothing like copper.
I wanted to tell him that whatever look he was going for, it wasn’t working, but I couldn’t begin to express the enormity of the wrongness. A broken piece of never-used chalk, maybe, or the color of old snow on sidewalks.
“Griffin killed him.”
* * *
The beauty of nighttime in a city is its emptiness. Sometimes, there will be people going home, praying for the final train or running for the flicker of a bus, but they are few and far between. The homeless people are empty too, lying in forgotten lumps of sleeping bags and shopping carts, pitied only when they have a dog or it is too cold for snow. They could be built into the alcoves they are sleeping under and nobody would care, human bones the foundations for human buildings.
Somewhere in the world, it is day.
Somewhere in the world, people would notice if I took apart this city brick by brick and rebuilt it to show a new kind of reality: the one where a man vanishes for four months, kills a boy, comes back, and is shot point-blank by the gun of regret.
He calls his ghost the Invisible Man.
“Where are you going, Kate?”
I listen to all the excuses, all the nervous trembling explanations I can stand, but they blur together until Mark is smudged and fading and the photograph in the box is all I have left. It occurs to me: this, then, is the danger of building somebody into your home.
“For a walk.”
There are paper airplanes when I step outside, paper bodies frozen into the concrete. The words are indistinguishable, and I wonder if he expected me to read them, if he thought I knew long before I did. If he thought his confession wouldn’t be a surprise—if he thought, instead, it would be permission.
“I was trying to help him. I thought he could change, but I wrote four thousand words and no one thought the same—”
I circle the block. Mark didn’t follow me out, and there it is, that permission again, but Griffin did. He waits quietly for me on the front steps of my apartment and stands up when I come around the corner. There are already sirens wailing up from my lungs to my heart, and the noise of their callousness nearly drowns out the first words I’ve ever heard him say.
“Kate? I’m sorry.”
Sirens from heart to mouth. This, Peter, is what I was waiting for.
Part of the Obvious issue