The following should be filed under "dream sequence": it is obviously fictional, yet there seems to be a connection to Real Life. Explanation afterwards.

Count the antique shops in Vermont? You might as well try to count the trees. Okay, the trees don't have parking lots, but frankly, I'd hate to count either of them, and after so many you just don't notice them anymore.

Then I rounded a bend and saw a neat wooden sign with the outline of an empty dress and the words "The Invisible Woman," and of course I had to see, or not see, for myself. I got out of the car, I took a picture of the sign for the archives, and I opened the door, to the accompaniment of the usual bell.

"May I help you?" said a young, pleasant voice.

I turned toward the source, and there was an empty dress: a green peasant number that would have extended to about mid-calf, were there any calves below it, and a pair of ersatz Birkenstocks on the floor below. A thin braided bracelet hung above the right shoe.

I thought it over for a very long moment. Obviously there had been no time to implant some sort of post-hypnotic suggestion, unless there was something behind those radio talk shows I hadn't been noticing before, and my vision didn't seem any worse than usual. When in doubt, play it straight, I always say, so I swallowed whatever it was had risen up into my throat and said, as teasingly as I could, "Truth in advertising, then?"

The dress shifted slightly. "Truth... Oh! You can't see me?"

"I see a very nice dress wrapped around a cloud formation, or something, but that's it."

Silence for a moment. Then:

"Then maybe it was true all along," said the voice, though not apparently to me.

"Do your customers run screaming from the store when they see you, or, um, fail to see you?" I asked.

"They always see me. It's nothing unusual for them."

The dress floated over to the door, and a "Back Soon" sign slid off a hanger and onto the door glass. "Perhaps you should sit down."

"I'm always leery of sitting in antique chairs," I said. "They're not designed for modern-day Fatso-Americans. Besides, I've been driving for two hours. Standing will probably do me some good."

"You do want to take care of yourself," said the voice, and I imagined it was slightly softer than before.

The dress wafted its way to one of the chairs and assumed exactly the position it would were it being worn by a woman with her legs crossed. "You're the first person who hasn't seen me," she — I'd decided that there was a "she" involved somewhere — said.

"Is that good?"

"I hope so."

"Might I ask what it means?"

She paused for a moment: the dress leaned backward slightly. "When I was in college, I was having a bad case of the Nobody Wants Me blues."

"I know what that's like," I interjected.

"And, well, I went to one of those soothsayer types. Fortune-telling. That sort of thing. And she said that there would be someone for me, but that he would not be able to see me."

"That could have just meant some blind guy," I said, and regretted it instantly.

"That's what I said. But no, she said, he would come to me, and he would not be able to see me, and that's how I would know it was him."

I shook my head. "And every other person on earth sees you normally, but you're invisible to me?"

"Looks that way," she said. "So to speak."

"And you opened a store called 'The Invisible Woman' to try to improve the odds?"

"It's a living." I saw what looked like a shrug. "Do I have to mention that I majored in art history?"

I laughed in spite of myself. "I'm old and decrepit, and I live a thousand miles from here. Is this what you really want?"

"You're not that old. And it won't happen right away. But you'll go home, and you'll think about me, and eventually you'll come back. It's already been predicted."

"Well, I certainly won't be able to forget this," I said. "Any chance I can get a picture of you?"

She laughed. "Not gonna happen." Faux Birks squeaking on the floorboards, she got up and walked to a spot in front of a mirror. "Do you see my reflection?"

I didn't.

"The picture wouldn't work, either."

"Well, I tried. What happens on the wedding night?"

"You'll just have to wait."

"Does this mean that you don't know either?"

"I don't. But I know that you're already thinking 'wedding night,' so I know that it's all true, you'll be back, and you'll be back to stay."

And from out of not exactly nowhere, she kissed me, and I knew she was telling the truth.

Here endeth the sequence. Obviously, I'm not likely to run into anyone invisible any time soon, and no one has ever said anything like this to me before. For all I know, the young lady in the story is quite lovely, but I'll never know: as a condition of the relationship, I will never be able to see her. So the apparent punchline is this: Am I being told here that if I'm actually to find True Love, I will have to give up something wholly unexpected? And if so, what might it be?

The Vent

#445
16 July 2005

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