I forgot to have breakfast before I left. That combined with rising, overwhelming nerves about my upcoming appointment — I had a profound fear of having my eyes poked and prodded, those hulking optometry machines full of refracting lenses, deeply mysterious and mobile like red light-blinking HAL 9000s — transformed me into a floating consciousness, as I slid into my car and drove to Costco.
The Costco parking lot itself was a terror to behold. Miles across, pandemonium in every aisle, the rules of society snapped in two. Cars jammed past each other through narrow gaps, hunting for shoppers like huge prowling animals, zeroing in on their targets laden with groceries and creeping along behind them to their parking spots, turn signals flashing like a warning to all the other hungry predators lurking nearby — this one is MINE! I drove around endlessly, looking for somewhere to park, and wondered if anyone had caught sight of me and said — look, no one’s driving that car! It was me, driving the car, but I was invisible. It was remarkable, though, what some people wouldn’t notice.
I found a parking spot after selecting my own shopper-target, a woman who looked like my deceased mother pushing a cart that held a new microwave, and claiming the space she left behind. I joined the tide that streamed toward the Entrance doorway.
Inside, it was another world. Heavenly white lights rained down from above, falling across tubs overflowing with affordable merchandise, orange shelves stacked to the ceiling with pallets of gummy vitamins and spaghetti and canned corn and peanut butter and paper towels. Hundreds of rotisserie chickens overran the meat department, baking headless under yellow light, and dozens upon dozens of sharp baguettes punched through the bakery section, more than the eye could handle, like a grocery store run through a mutated copy machine. A long row of massage chairs, filled with weary shoppers. Fleece jackets for $14.99! People wandered around with big eyes, calling out to each other “Look how big this is!” and “I can get so many!”
I had an hour to kill before my appointment. I wandered through the store, invisible, and remembered gliding along the concrete floors as a ten-year-old in Heelys — worn hand-me-downs, one with a sticky wheel — holding my mother’s hand. She liked to come to Costco when she was sad. “There’s nothing a free sample and a good deal can’t fix,” she would say. She was the one who taught me how to be invisible. “There’s nothing to it,” she said. “First, close your eyes and imagine something untethered — a balloon, a bird, radio waves, vapor from the freezer. Then, imagine your feet lifting off the ground. Focus on that feeling of lightness, and think about something that makes you happy. Then — if you did it right — poof.”
I turned into the freezer aisles, long rows of foggy plastic doors stretching out into infinity, and remembered following a pack of teenagers off the bus as an invisible middle schooler, walking behind them as they lollygagged to Costco. They bought slices of pizza as big as their heads for $1.99, snickering to each other about “warehouse-chic” and “poor-chic” and “normie-chic.” Once inside, they ambled around sneaking sips from juice jugs and ripping Babybel Cheeses from their nettings and grabbing pilfered handfuls of powdery trail mix.
When they traveled to the freezer aisle, daring each other to smash milk cartons, I separated from them, opening one of the freezer doors and crawling inside, where it was so cold I could see my breath, even if I couldn’t see myself. I stood behind the racks of yogurt and whipped cream and butter and looked out at the people: the boundless tide of hunter-gatherers beyond. The expressions they didn’t even know they made, as they reached with hungry fingers for the products between us. An interior door then banged open and two Costco employees stumbled inside, making out. I ducked down out of habit, even though I was invisible, and crawled back out the way I came, canisters tumbling in my wake.
I was now two years into college. I lived with two roommates, who shopped at the boutique grocery store down the street. I went with them once, saw the prices, demurred and said I wasn’t that hungry after all, and then snuck off to Costco, where I bought huge palettes of food and toiletries and hid the extras under my bed and in my closet, anywhere people wouldn’t look.
The Kirkland label, peeking out at me from odd corners of my room, made me smile.
Before my mother died, she made me promise not to be invisible too much, especially since she wouldn’t be here to look after me. “It’s one of those things,” she said. “Seductively comforting. It’s easy to indulge in too much of a good thing. I don’t want you to slip away entirely. Promise me.” “I promise,” I said. It was a hard promise to keep. Being invisible made me feel powerful, like my corporeal self was entirely and fully mine. Sometimes I just didn’t want to be looked at.
It was time for my appointment — past time. I walked to the optometry department with invisible dragging footsteps. The woman behind the check-in desk, haggard with a medical mask, looked up and then back down again, not seeing anyone.
I took a deep breath, and pulled my Costco card out of my pocket. It hovered in front of me, cradled in my invisible hand. It was my mother’s, passed down to me with a wink — we share the same name. I marveled at that little plastic card, the worlds upon worlds that an object, a place, a person, two people, a whole crowd could contain. I relinquished my invisibility, and felt my feet return to solid ground.
“I’m here,” I said. It felt good to say, so I said it again. “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.”
Allison Kelly is a writer who’s spent her whole life in Los Angeles, California, and plans to never leave. You can find her work in Maudlin House. She’s currently working on her first book, which is about the end of the world.