Diana blew out the candles to her twenty-ninth birthday with a sigh. One candle refused to extinguish, flickering in the faint whorls of invisible wind from her breath. The grocery store cake glistened in the light, the white frosting almost reminding her that there was only a few more minutes left on her birthday. Brown eyes, the color of Mississippi mud, looked up to focus on a digital clock attached below the cabinet of her kitchen. The baleful red letters read “11:58.” Two minutes until midnight. She remembered reading her birth certificate, she was born at exactly at midnight, or at least that is when the nurse finally filled in the blank.
Leaving the single candle burning, she stood up and stretched. The red sequined dress sparkled in the flickering light. Her bare feet padded out of the small dining area into the tile kitchen, the floor tiles that were so remarkable when she first got the apartment dulled underneath the constant use of two years. She opened up one of the dirty brown cabinets and pulled out two plates. Two forks from the drawer joined it as she set it out on the table.
“Damn it, where is he?”
As she spoke in her very faint Southern accent, she twisted her wedding band on her hand. The yellow gold felt heavy on her finger. It started to itch, so she slipped it off and looked at the scratched, weathered surface.
One year and two months.
Her wedding day hovered in the back of her mind as she struggled to remember what she looked like, what her husband Terry looked like, or even what they had for the dinner. Her memories remained infuriating out of reach as she clutched at them like mists.
Outside of the apartments, she heard a car door slam shut. Perking up, she frantically looked around for her shoes. She found them on the couch, where she tossed them off in quiet annoyance some hours before. Smoothing down her black pantyhose, she slipped them on and got ready for the night of her life, as Terry promised. Dancing, dinner, and even hopefully some proper romance.
It wasn’t to her door that the door shut for. It was someone down the hall, she could hear a woman laughing loudly, giggling as she fumbled with lock. Diana rolled her eyes and tried to tear her attention away from the couple. The first few moans told her more than she needed to know and she hoped they wouldn’t make too much noise. Taking a deep breath, she slipped her shoes back off and set them careful down at the edge of the couch. Her eyes furtively glanced at the door, then back at the dark television. Her eyes bored into the darkness, seeing only distorted reflection staring back.
With another a sigh, she’s been doing that a lot in the last few months, she reached over and picked up her cell phone. Flipping it open, the glare of the blue and white letters blinded her for a moment. Thumbing through her speed dial, she found Terry’s work number, number three, and hit the green dial button hard. Long moments later, the phone began to ring loudly. She held it up to her ear, her freshly painted fingernails teasing the hair along her ear.
“Hello, this is Terry.”
“-I’m away from my desk working on the TS-448 problem. If you are calling to report on it, please use the bug tracking system to monitor the results. It is ticket number 2234… um… 45. Current estimated time to completion is in ten hours or at six Thursday morning.”
Diana’s lower lip trembled as she pressed the one button, rewinding the message to hear it again. Tears clung to her eyes as she snapped the phone shut, staring at the tiny colored display until it flipped to the current time. Ten hours, he knew something was wrong almost four hours ago and he didn’t call once.
She threw her phone across the room and slumped down, letting the bitter hot tears roll down her cheeks. Through the paper-thin walls of the apartments, she heard another neighbor starting to snore loudly. She counted down reflexively until her husband poked her to roll over. On cue, there was a snort and the snoring died down.
Tears still wet on her cheeks, she pushed herself up to her feet. Her hands fumbled with the golden clasp of her dress for a moment. She felt the tiny spring clip teasing her fingertips for a moment before she pried it open with her fingernails and felt the releasing of pressure. She curled her finger along the deep cleavage and pulled it open, exposing the naked skin below to the warm air of her apartment. As the strap slipped over her shoulder, gravity tugged it from her body like a lover her husband was no longer. She watched as the fabric slipped of her body, puddling on the floor like a blood-red stain sparkling in the dim light of her apartment. She stepped over it, wearing nothing but her black hose. A hopeful night of teasing and passion crumbled away as she padded back to the dining area, to stare at the half-burned candle in a forest of extinguished ones. Diana swept up her ring and inspected the golden symbol of their love.
Closing her eyes, she tossed it up into the air. The ring sparkled in the air and she reached out to grab it. It bounced off her palm and she watched it helplessly as it tumbled in the air to land on the burning candle. To her surprise, the hole of the ring slipped around the candle and it landed at the base with a muted plop. The blue and white stripped candle looked absurd coming up through the center of the ring, the white frosting splattered from the ring’s impact.
Diana stared at it for a long time before she pulled back her hand. Leaving the ring and the burning candle, she padded down a short hallway. Her breasts, heavy with the natural sway of womanhood, perked up at the darkness, a half-remembered night of passion months back when Terry came home with sex on his mind. She let a ghost of a smile cross her lips and stopped in front of the bathroom instead of heading back to the bedroom to let slumber erase the night away. Flipping on the light, she reached down and drew a hot, steaming bath. She picked up her favorite bubble bath, scented rose and slick against her skin, and emptied the entire bottle into the steaming water. As the tiny white bubbles formed, she smiled again in anticipation of sinking into the water.
Peeling off her hose, she stood naked in front of the mirror. She didn’t feel like admiring herself so she stepped into the water and sunk into the delicious sensations of hot liquid surrounding her. Settling into place, she closed her eyes and disappeared into a sea of foam. Her lips worked with the last motes of frustration.
“It is like everyone forgot me.”
In the other room, at the same time the last echoes of her frustrated sigh echoed down the hall, the candle sputtered once and snuffed out, a single red ember glowing in the darkness before winking out seconds later.
Diana woke up with a start. She sat up, icy water streaming off her body. The murky water had only a few tiny islands of bubbles and she shivered. Goosebumps prickled along her skin as she scrambled out, feeling weak and cold. Clutching, she snatched her robe from the back of the door and slipped it on. Outside the bathroom, she saw morning light streaming in through the shades. Frowning, she padded down the hall and peered into the kitchen.
It was Saturday and she was twenty-nine. Walking past the kitchen, she looked into the living room and saw her dress still on the floor. In the dining area, the cake sat in the center of the room. A large slice had been cut out of it, a dark brown wound in the white frosting. A faint frown furrowed her brow as she stepped closer, looking down at one of the plates with smears of frosting and chocolate cake. Her ring shone from the center of the other plate, where someone had cleaned it off, probably with his mouth, and set it down. Frowning in disgust, she still picked it up and slipped it back on her finger. Turning around, she saw Terry’s coat hanging from near the door and his car keys in the basket in the kitchen.
Slowly, she walked down the hall to their bedroom. Terry was sprawled out across the bed, his slight paunch up in the air and wearing nothing but a pair of boxers she bought him two years before. She smiled, then frowned again. Coming into the room, she sat down on his side of the bed and looked at him.
Terry groaned and cracked open one eye.
It was question and it shouldn’t have been. Diana looked at him quizzically.
“I was home all night.”
He yawned, “Oh, I didn’t see you.”
“I was in the bath.”
He blinked and didn’t even seem disturbed, “Did you enjoy it?”
She spoke with accusation in her voice, “I fell asleep, didn’t you see me when you got home?”
Terry sat up, shaking his head, “No, sorry. I must have been so tired I didn’t see you.”
Diana felt a prickling of annoyance filling her, but she pushed it aside. Instead, she shook her head and smoothed down his blankets.
“When did you get home?”
“About five, I finally convinced Saul that the system needs to be replaced. This is the third time its crashed and we can’t afford to have processing cut into the store hours.”
Diana toyed with the edge of the blanket, not trusting herself to speak at first.
“Why didn’t you call?”
His eyes opened lazily, “Ah, shit, your birthday. I’m so sorry.”
She smiled, fighting back the tears that welled up in her eyes.
“No problem, we can do something today.”
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him. He held out his hands.
“I was going out with Gary and Steve, remember, we had this planned…”
His voice trailed off as she continued to glare at him. He sighed after a moment, obviously put out.
“I’ll call them. We can do it next month.”
She smiled, “Thank you.”
He hugged her.
“But, we both need some sleep first. Why don’t you come here and snuggle?”
She felt her mood lighten and crawled under the blankets. After a minute minutes of giggles, kissing, and playful touches that never grew into passion, they both fell asleep.
Diana woke up as the door to their apartment slammed shut. She sat up frightened for a moment, her hand reaching out for Terry. Her probing fingers only found cooling sheets.
When she got no response, she slipped out from beneath the blanket and pulled on her robe. Shivering slightly at the sensations of the room around her, she padded down the hall.
The apartment was silent, completely and utterly silent. She walked past the kitchen and into the living room. He wasn’t there or even in the bathroom. With a nagging feeling growing, she peeked through curtains and watched her husband of almost two years laughing as he jammed himself into Steve’s SUV. Her mouth opened in shock and outrage as the doors slammed and the engine revved loudly. Steve pulled out of the parking lot and her own husband didn’t even glance up toward their apartment.
She watched at the black SUV disappeared from sight before letting the curtains drop back into place.
Her voice trailed off as she stood there in stunned shock. More tears threatened to leak from her eyes as she stepped back and sat down heavily on the couch. Around her, the apartments were filled with the din of life but in her home, it was just silence. Her hand reached out for the remote, but she suddenly couldn’t find the energy to even turn on the television.
It felt like even her own husband had abandoned her. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she sat there, staring at the television. Finally, she managed to stir up enough energy to stand up. Listlessly, she dressed and grabbed her cell phone. Pulling her own keys from the basket, she went out for groceries.
Just as she was pulling into the parking lot, a car rushed around her, cutting her off as it squealed into the parking lot. She shrieked, jerking her car to the side and bumped it hard against a concrete pole. Shaking, she remained in her car, staring at the pole trying to figure out the damage. Shaking, she stepped out to survey the damage, but to her relief, it was only a mangled fender. The concrete didn’t even have a scratch on it.
She looked back into the road leading up the store. A line of cars filed into the turn lane, passing her and her injured vehicle but not a single person met her eyes. She felt growing frustration rising up inside her as she dropped back into her car. Throwing it in gear, she pulled it out. A car wailed on its horn but gave her enough time to pull back on the road.
Instead of stopping, Diana kept on driving out the other end of the parking lot. She didn’t know where she wanted to go, so she just took a random turn, then another. A bank of houses looked interesting, so she turned into the parking lot. Moments later, she pulled back along the road, feeling restless, and continued along her way. In her growing listlessness, she just drove, turning randomly until she was more than lost, she was in the next state. Passing the state line finally broke her from her fugue and she pulled into the next rest stop.
Sighing loudly, she leaned against her car and listened to the pops of the engine and the rush of trucks across a thin screen of trees. It was late afternoon and Diana sighed again.
“What am I doing?”
She fretted for twenty more minutes before deciding to head back home. However, when she went to turn on the car, it just rolled over uselessly.
She tried a few more times before yanking the keys out. Slamming the door behind her, she peered around the empty parking lot. For a busy interstate meters away, the parking lot of the rest area was completely and utterly empty. She flipped on the hazards and pulled out her cell phone. Flipping it open, she started to dial 411 but then paused as she saw a new error message.
“Phone not activated? What? How?”
Tossing the phone on the car seat, she headed toward a small shelter with vending machines and a bathroom. At the far end, she found a pay phone.
Without a handset.
Sighing, she stormed back to her car and sat on her trunk, waiting patiently for some kind soul to help her. An hour passed. A second joined it. A third hour just passed her as darkness started to flood the parking lot when a dark red car came roaring up, squealing as it threw itself into a parking spot, heavy rap music pounding the walls. Diana watched with growing trepidation as two large black men squeezed out of the doors. She felt her stomach knotting up, automatically fearful. She never considered herself a bigot, but the idea of asking them for help was actually causing her heart to beat loudly.
She watched as they headed straight for the shelter. She thought they were about to do something illegal, but they came out only a few minutes later, one of them zipping up his pants. As they started back toward her car, she gathered up her courage and stood up. A white woman asking two large black strangers, it was everything she was frightened of but she needed to get home.
Diana walked over, “Excuse me.”
They didn’t seem to notice her. Joking, they started to speak loudly as they headed back to their car. Diana cleared her throat and spoke louder.
Again, they didn’t seem to notice. She stood in front of one of them, a weightlifter by the looks of it, but he just walked around her, not even glancing at her. She stamped her foot, bit her lip. Taking a deep breath, she screamed after them.
Both men stopped and slowly turned around. As one, they jumped back from her, a look of surprise and shock on their face. The weightlifter swore loudly before responding.
“Damn! Where did you come from?”
Diana blushed, “M-My car is broken.”
The other man snarled, his face darkening almost instantly, “Do we look like mechanics?”
Quickly, she shook her head, “No, but I was hoping you had a cell… that I could borrow.”
The weightlifter pulled a phone out of his pocket and handed it over. She caressed the warm plastic for a moment, then dialed home. It rang through and she left a message on the voice mail. She looked up to ask for another phone call, but the weightlifter wasn’t in front of her. Her eyes scanned the parking lot and she realized they left. She stood there, surprised, as she stared at the lot, the black man’s phone forgotten in her hand. Stunned and just slightly disturbed, she dialed 411 and got a number for a towing company. After ten minutes on hold, she finally convinced someone to come rescue her from the empty rest area.
Three hours later and two phone calls, the tow truck finally came. Relieved, she watched as it circled once around the parking lot and started to head out. Feeling disconnected from the world, she ran after it, screaming at the top of her lungs. Brake lights flashed on and a greasy-looking man peered out at her.
She screamed at the top of her lungs, “Hello!”
He backed up and she wondered if she was invisible.
“Sorry, madam, I didn’t see you.”
Panting, Diana pointed to her car, “It’s there.”
Thirty minutes later, she had a recharged battery and followed the tow truck back out to the interstate. Many hours later, she eased her car into the crowded parking lot around her apartment, thankful that her trip was gone. Seeing the light in their apartment brought a smile to her lips and she promised herself she wouldn’t mention him wasting the day or her being stuck out at the state line. Pausing at the end of the walkway, she took a deep breath.
Just in time to see someone press their body up against the window. She gasped, wondering if it was Terry, but then she saw Terry pressing up behind the shadow and she saw the spread of breasts against the glass. Her heart stopped for a long moment as she watched her own husband fucking some strange woman right up the glass, where anyone in the apartment complex could see.
Her heart ripped out, Diana flew into the apartment, her shoes slamming up the stairs. She hit the door of the apartment hard, fumbling with the key before bursting in. Terry still had the woman against the glass, his naked ass pumping with hard, powerful strokes. She heard the moans of pleasure, raw and throaty escaping both of them. Even knowing what she was walking into, there was that long moment of stunned shock as she stared at them. Then, she screamed out as loudly as she could.
He didn’t even flinch as he continued to drive up into her. He shoved his hands below her right leg and lifted it for even more angle, pumping harder and faster, about to orgasm. Diana screamed out again and again. When neither responded, she stormed over and grabbed him by the air.
And her hand passed right through him.
It smacked up against the flesh-warmed glass. Gaping, she drew it back through the body of her husband and the trollop and stared at them in shock. Whimpering, a high-pitched sound of a frightened girl, she tried to press her hand against his back, but once again it pass through. His form seemed to shiver from her hand.
“W-What is going on?”
She felt herself right on the edge of blind panic and stepped back, stumbling. The rug caught her heel and she plummeted to the ground, smacking her rear hard against the threadbare carpet.
He continued to drive into the woman, hard and fast. She could see the signs of his orgasm, his face red and pinched, his body moving in short, desperate strokes. She saw everything, but he didn’t see her. As he came loudly in a scream, tears began to flow down her cheeks. When they disengaged and the woman dropped to her knees to suck off her husband, Diana couldn’t even move. They finished in a few minutes and headed to the bedroom, walking through her as if she was nothing more than a breeze of warm air.
Diana sobbed loudly as the sounds of sex came down the hall. Her hands pounded on the ground, somehow knowing that they wouldn’t hear her. Tears splashed hotly on the ground and she watched them fall to the ground, and pass through the carpet as if it wasn’t even there.
“What! Why is this happening?”
Her pitiful wail barely echoed against the walls. She wiped the tears from her face and looked around. Next to the television, she spotted a picture of her and Terry. Crawling over, she tried to grab it, but her hand passed right through. Biting her lip until it drew blood, she stared at the picture, praying to return to the life she knew. In the bedroom, the sounds of sex continued to shake the walls, driving her further into her desperate prayers.
She cried for a long time. The last tear burned down her cheek and she opened them to find herself curled up on the ground. Moving shakily, she sat back up and tried to grab the picture again. Her hands passed through it and she froze as she stared at it.
Diana was gone. It was just a picture of Terry, standing in the same place, but instead of having his arm around her shoulder, he was pointing out into the distance. She let out a sob and peered through the other pictures. She grew more desperate with every picture missing her, until she found a single one in the far back of the pictures, one of just her sitting on the couch, smiling with the happiness she felt so long ago.
Desperate, she tried to grab the picture and failed. Feeling her throat squeezing up, she stared at it, swearing that she would never let it fade. She could not be forgotten.
The rest of her world faded around her as she focused on the picture, straining to remember how she felt, what was happening. It came slowly, a dim thread of thought as she remembered the feel of the sun. It was right before their marriage, when they were both happy. She lost herself in the memories, forcing herself to relive every single second of that moment, not willing to giving up the last shred of her presence in her apartment. In her focus, she finally broke through and started to relieve it, feeling the smiles and joy that had long since fled their home.
Diana smiled sweetly, knowing she would never be forgotten.
Her ring fell to the ground.
Snapping her head down, she started at the yellow gold as it sunk into the floor, fading away as it disappeared beneath the carpet. She tried to grab it, but her fingers passed through the floor. Let out a muted shriek, as loud of a noise as she was able, she pulled back her fingers. The very tips of her fingers were gone, faded away into obscurity. She sobbed and tried to scramble to her feet, but her toes were sinking into the carpet, the edges of her body fading away just like the photos.
She tried to stand up again, but she couldn’t move. She watched as the edges of her body faded away, disappearing with bitter slowness. Her senses faded even more, turning gray and faded, then disappearing. It felt like the universe itself had forgotten her.
She tried one more time to stir herself, but she ceases to exist as if she was never conceived.