He slumped beside his shopping cart, crackly blue tarps pulled tight over the top. Nine days already being invisible, after sixty days of hiding in the apartment he no longer had. Holding a dejected hot dog in a soggy ketchup-stained bun, wrapped in aluminum foil so crinkled the metal looked like felt. Another day sloughed sunset, and alley cats started circling around crumbles of cat cereal scattered on paper plates, giving the invisibles suspicious stares. Anything human received wary stares, but hunger outweighed skittishness. He had to piss, but he didn't want to leave his shopping cart for other invisibles to steal stuff from it. And they would, filthy scavengers, all of them. Himself included, sometimes.
New socks hidden among the layers in the cart, and socks were more valuable than a non-existent bed. Socks got filthy, washed in public bathroom sinks or park fountains, until the water ran dingy. Socks worn wet and cold because suddenly you weren’t invisible when you washed socks in a bathroom sink or a park fountain. Socks were thrown away when they were crusty, or worn through with holes, and holes came easy when socks were worn wet and cold and shoes didn’t fit because they were the wrong size. He had other clothes in his shopping cart, but he only had one pair of shoes.
Crimping until bladder aching, he squirmed, and he felt a dribble escape. Damn. He didn't want his clothes to smell more like urine. He became more invisible when he stank, and he knew the layers of stink were bad. Armpit odors and greasy, sweaty skin from blown adrenaline from working and being scared. Ball sack odors and odors of feet sliding around in shoes that didn’t fit. He hadn’t shit in three days, mostly because it required food in order to shit, but plenty of gas when the stomach started digesting itself, and that left ghosts in his pants that wouldn’t die. It lent to the invisibility. People walk by and their eyes focus far away and their nostrils would flare from offense. He had a shower once, he hated smelling subhuman. Little kids were the worst because they hadn’t learned not to be honest.
Exhausted weary from the day of chasing. First, hide his shopping cart and hope no one messed with it. Into the zoo of other invisibles and those on the verge of being invisible. Paperwork. Always paperwork. Fill out this form and that form and go to this office and meet this person who had more forms and answer questions about drugs and alcohol and handing out suspicious glances when he said he did none of those things. All he wanted was a house. Yes, but there’s a process. There are hundreds of others who need housing too, and some of them take priority over you. Like if they have kids or they’re veterans. Are you a veteran? Then you have to wait. As he left the office, the worker hit the seat with a shot of disinfecting spray, didn’t even wait for him to leave. Because he returned to being invisible.
No point going near the shelter for the invisible. All of them were too many stacked stones around the the impossible, the chance of getting a bed, walls of stacked stones.
Four wasted hours later, pushing the shopping cart he found on the third day, fighting with the gummy front left wheel, constantly heaving on the right side of the handle, and he canned from trash bins, thankful to those to set recyclables aside so he didn't have to dig, or climb to root. Every find was one more nickle. Hauled the metal and glass to the center, getting only silver. Push the shopping cart, back and shoulders hurting, really leaning into it because he was already tired. Stopping by the church where hot dogs were given, feeling small. Everyone had to pray to Jesus before they got the limp thing in the aluminum foil. He hated the patronizing, being made to pray before he received his only meal for the day. He wasn't religious, and shouldn't have to be just to eat, but they were the only hot meal available that day, and that was the only church that made them pray. He closed his eyes and arranged himself to appear pious, long seconds ticked with the smell of food gnarling at his guts. Because when you’re getting free food, you shouldn’t be picky, should do what you’re told, should deal with the strings attached to those being generous. Generosity usually had strings, agendas, forms and paperwork.
He rested on a bench downtown a few blocks from the church while a suit and tie tapped his leather souled shoes toward him, a five dollar coffee one hand, a rectangle of cell phone in the other. The suit focused on the cell phone, brushing his finger along the glass. A whiff of his smell, and it broke the suit’s focus. Cold, judgmental stare, down the length of the nose. Now he wasn’t invisible, as the suit clacked by, now he was a stain, a blight, and each of those stares he forced himself to be numb. It was better than feeling those stares. Whatever. He chewed on the lukewarm hot dog stained with ketchup, zoning, fading away, distancing himself. Because fading away was better than living in the filth of his own body.
“Get a job!” broke his reverie. The woman ducked into the minivan with the baby seat, slamming and locking the doors before he could respond, giving the wheels a squeak as she yanked the car away.
So easy, just get a job. Besides, he had been working all day to try to make things better for himself. It was the invisible that didn’t care, that lost the battle, that crawled into booze and drugs and hunched wasted on the corners. It was the invisible that shouted at nothing, babbled and drooled because they had no other options. Those were the invisibles the suits finally saw and those were the invisibles they typed and took pictures on their cell phones to share with their friends, and those were the invisibles that ruined it for the invisibles that had drive and desire to try to regain their humanity in the eyes of the others.
The coins tugged from the inside of his pocket. Tempted him. He’d push the cart to the market on the corner, get the chance to take a piss because he had his belongings with him. Just one beer. Maybe two. And he could save the cans to start with tomorrow.
But, no. It took courage to endure being invisible, and though he was worn weary, a beer would be easy. He was better than that. He ate his soggy, cold hot dog, and curled under the coat the church had thrust upon him, though he didn't want it. It was one more thing to push in the cart and his space was limited after putting everything he could save from his apartment in it. Sleep was refuge, and tomorrow endure another day of being invisible.