We want deeper insights into this woman who left us; we want her secrets; we want to know how she managed to do what she did—how she just one day vanished. The nightstand next to her bed has a single drawer. Inside, we find a small wooden box. The box’s lid swings open on tiny golden hinges. It reveals a compartment lined with brown velvet. Her old driver’s license rests inside and we pass it around, each of us remarking on how young she looks in the thumb-sized photograph. Heavier, yes, but so much younger. Her face full, her skin smooth.
“Like a baby,” a woman says, but that isn’t true.
Her face is pale in the picture, and the creases along her forehead are already visible, though not nearly as deep as they will be when we begin to know her, when the lines will carve valleys on her face, intractable borders, islands of skin. But in this picture the lines are light, barely discernible. It’s as if she had not yet found the reasons to scowl all the time.
And there’s an address without an apartment number, the street named after a flower: Gardenia Drive. We picture this house on this street, and we picture her there, or at least driving there with her driver’s license in her wallet. And we picture the wallet, too: a leather bi-fold. Inside are credit cards, pictures of a man, a little girl and boy, his nose small just like hers, a membership card to a video store, an old lottery ticket, and two receipts: one for gasoline, the other for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread and two bags of M&Ms.
We picture her younger self, and we think she must have still been solid then, casting shadows, her translucence undetectable, and that’s when the argument erupts.
“What translucence? She never faded,” an elderly man begins, and he soon has his supporters. The room divides into two camps: the faders and the disappearers.
“She was solid until the end,” a woman calls out, “until she went up in smoke, left that scorch mark on the lobby carpet, her canvas sneakers burning their soles into the shag, no pun intended.”
But a bearded man has pictures of her, of her fading, faded. A blurry photograph gets passed around. A young man, one of the disappearers, says it could be anything, a wisp of hair, a bird midflight, the room spinning. Some nod; others do not.
“Deniers,” a pink-faced woman shouts, practically spitting as dresser drawers fly open, revealing bottles of perfume that have lost their scent, that smell only of alcohol now, their metal nozzles greasy and yellowed.
Soon cardboard boxes embossed with the names of banks that no longer exist emerge from the bureau. Barnett, Nations, Commerce. Checking registers show checks made out to the light company, water and sewer, Bellsouth. The woman who vanished had neat handwriting, the letters all caps. We search for checks made out to people, to someone named Suzie or Bobby or Charles, but find none.
“None of it means anything,” a young girl says, and we all turn to her. What can anyone say?
“I have other pictures,” the photographer of the blurry image calls out, “of the day she finally disappeared.” He reaches into a canvas bag that we all know was in the woman’s closet, though no one points this out. Already, two checkbooks have slipped into pockets. He passes around the photograph that we’ve all seen at least a dozen times. It’s a picture of our lobby just near the mailboxes. A stack of letters hovers just above the ground where we know two scorch marks will later appear. We all look at the photograph again and try to make out the senders on those letters that are suspended in the air forever. It’s hard to tell, though one is clearly a coupon for the household goods store down the street—the flyer we all receive each Tuesday.
The young girl slips into the bathroom and steps inside the bathtub. She shuffles along the porcelain in her sandals, and we all think she should have had the decency to take off her shoes, though there’s no good reason why.
“It’s just hair,” she calls to us, “here, in the drain.” We feel her disappointment. We were saving the bathroom for last—the place where the woman who vanished went every day and slipped out of her pants, her cotton shirts. We stop short of picturing her body in the shower, her sharp clavicles, her concave chest. The girl plucks the hair from the drain with a square of toilet paper, and we stare at it inside her hand, the thin brown hair—a brown so ordinary it seems almost an uncolor. The girl drops the hair and paper into a wastebasket, empty save for a cotton swab. In due time, we all leave this place.