Vanishing Act

by China DeSpain

The whole thing began the day she didn’t get any mail. Nothing so strange about that. But after four days with no deliveries, Maya decided that something was wrong. Surely she should have gotten something? A credit card offer, a circular, anything.

She contacted the post office, assuming it was merely a delivery error. But it was much weirder. Not only did they not have any record of her at her address—a place she’d lived for four years—but they had no record of her at any address ever. She argued for an hour, but thanks to a misplaced driver’s license, she couldn’t prove her address.

Exasperated, she gave up.

But then things got weirder still.

First, her cell phone stopped working. Same story: the phone company had no record of Maya Hernandez. Next came the day her apartment key didn’t work. When she confronted her building’s super, he didn’t recognize her.

“Never heard of no Maya Hernandez,” he said.

“But I’ve lived here for four years. I give you cookies every Christmas!” she said.

He shrugged. “I don’t know what your game is, lady, but I ain’t got time for it.” He shut the door in her face.

She banged at it, demanding he come back, but the door remained closed.

“Dammit,” she muttered.

Frustrated, angry, and a little terrified, she sought refuge at the Ballet Academy, where she’d been dancing since she was twelve. She went straight to the director’s office.

“Madame Sokolova, something terrible is happening,” she said.

The tiny Russian woman with the severe bun and even more severe face glared at her. “Who are you to interrupt me this way?”

“Madame, it’s me. Maya.”

Madame Sokolova flicked an irritated hand. “Away. I have no time for pranks.”

“But, Madame—”

“I said go!”

Shaken, Maya drifted through the practice rooms, beseeching friends to remember her. But no one did. No one remembered her hundreds of performances in the corps, her time as the understudy in The Firebird, or the small solo she’d had in The Nutcracker two years ago.

Maya fled to the company’s blessedly empty office, goosebumps dotting her arms.

What the hell is happening? she thought. I’m disappearing from my own life.

Her breath came in jerky spasms, and she fought to control it. Desperate, she grabbed the phone and called the brother she hadn’t spoken to in nearly a year.

“José? It’s Maya,” she said.

There was a pause at the other end. “Who?”

Terror coursed through her. Not him too. “Maya. Your sister.”

“I don’t have a sister,” he said.

“Oh, God. Listen, José—“

He interrupted her. “If I had a sister, we’d talk more than once a year. If I had a sister, she wouldn’t hold grudges about insignificant shit.”

All Maya’s breath rushed out in a whoosh. Jose knew her. He recognized her. He was just mad. “José, look, I’m sorry about that, but I really need to see you. I think I’m in trouble. Can you meet me?”

His tone was still gruff. “When?”

“One hour. Vine and Bean?” Once upon a time, the cafe had been their favorite place to eat.

“Yeah, okay. But I expect an apology, little sister.”

She was swollen with relief. “Yes, fine. I’m sorry. I’ll grovel. Just please be there.” She disconnected.

*~*

An hour later she was settled against a banquette in Vine and Bean’s lounge, a huge glass of Chardonnay in front of her. Bradley, the attentive bartender, had topped off her glass twice, and she was flush with the alcohol. But even the buzz didn’t settle her nerves, the terror that simmered right under her skin.

When José arrived, he took one look at his sister, ordered a Modelo, and sat down. “Maya, what’s going on? You look like hell.”

She took a deep breath, but it wasn’t enough to keep her voice from trembling. “I don’t know. First I stopped getting mail, and when I looked into it, the post office had no record of me.” She told him the rest, and his eyebrows climbed higher and higher.

“Damn,” he finally said. “You’re sure about all this?”

She frowned. “Does this seem like the kind of thing I could mistake? Do I look like someone who’s life is okay?” Her voice shot up an octave and he leaned back.

“Okay, okay. It’s not that I don’t believe you. It’s just…how could something like this even happen? It doesn’t make sense.”

She tossed back half her wine, drowning her hysteria. “Hell if I know. But as it stands, I have no apartment, no job, no phone, no friends. No life, basically.”

“All right, calm down. First of all, you can stay with me. We’ll figure this out.”

“Sure.” Maya shrugged, but she wasn’t sure she believed it.

“Look, I have to go back to work,” he said, swallowing the last of his beer. “Get what you need and meet me at my place later.”

She nodded, pondering how to get her stuff back. Presumably it was all still in her old apartment, unless it had somehow magically vanished with the rest of her life. But without a working key, she’d have to break in.

So be it.

Luckily, the fire escape ran along her bedroom window, so she broke the glass and climbed in that way. Her things were just as she had left them—bed slightly unmade, a cup in the kitchen sink, some paperwork strewn across her table. A sense of comfort blossomed within her at the sight of her belongings. Her life had upended, none of her friends knew her, but at least some things were still familiar.

She pulled a suitcase out of her closet and began filling it with her favorite things. She didn’t know if or when she’d be back, and although she couldn’t take much, she wouldn’t leave it all behind. She tossed some clothes, including her comfiest pajamas, into the bag. A couple of framed photos, her toiletries, her laptop, her pointe shoes, and more went in. She grabbed a second duffel for important paperwork and other necessities.

In less than 20 minutes, she’d packed up her life’s essentials.

She glanced around the apartment, petrified that she’d never see it again. “Goodbye,” she whispered, raking a hand through her hair.

She left through the front door, letting the knob lock behind her, and dragged her two bags to the train. It took nearly an hour to get to José’s, but he wasn’t home yet. She settled on the stoop and tried not to cry.

What was she going to do?

It’ll be okay, she thought. José will help me. I’ll figure this out.

Fifteen minutes later, José came walking up the street, and the sense of relief was crushing. At least she wasn’t alone in all this.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” she said as he approached.

He stopped and looked at her, his expression blandly curious. “Do I know you?”

Her heart sank. No. “José?”

“Yeah. Who’s asking?”

*~*

She’d tried to remind José of everything that had happened, but like her landlord and Madame Sokolova and the dancers at the Ballet Academy, he had no recollection of her. He’d been nice enough at first, but had quickly tired of her and gone inside, leaving her alone with her bags.

She truly had nowhere to go. She’d tried to book a room at the closest hotel, only to learn her credit cards no longer worked.

Desperate, she made her way back to Vine and Bean, where Bradley was still manning the bar.

“Maya,” he said warmly. “Back so soon? What can I get you?”

“You know who I am?”

His brow puckered. “You’ve been coming in here as long as I’ve worked here. Of course I know who you are.”

She nearly collapsed with relief. “You can’t possibly know how good it feels to hear you say that.”

“Rough day, huh?”

She nodded. “Rough life.”

“In that case,” he said, “you deserve a drink on the house.” His competent hands mixed an expert Manhattan, and he slid it to her with a flourish. Manhattans were her favorite. He knew her. Thank God.

She sipped the drink, trying to figure out what to do next. She was nearly out of cash, and the only thing she could think to do was break back into her old apartment. But that was a temporary solution at best, and with the broken window, it wasn’t exactly the safest option. Honestly, she never wanted to leave. Vine and Bean was the closest thing to home right now.

“You wanna talk about it?” Bradley asked.

“It’s a long story. Suffice it to say, I’m both homeless and jobless.”

“Wow, that is a bad week. What are you gonna do?”

She shrugged. “No idea. My phone and credit cards don’t work, I’m out of cash, and my brother seems to have disowned me.”

“Holy crap,” Bradly said, his eyes wide. “You know, I may be able to help. We’re looking for servers. I could probably get you hired on. I know it’s not what you’re used to, but maybe until you get back on your feet? And Mikaela, one of the baristas, is looking for a roommate. I have her number.”

Maya thought about it. Something was very wrong with her life, and maybe the world at large. She shouldn’t have simply vanished from people’s lives. She had to figure out what was happening. But she couldn’t do it homeless and penniless. Until she could solve that mystery, this was a way to stay afloat.

“Okay, Bradley, I’m interested.” She gulped down the rest of her drink. “When can I start?”

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Photo (commercial license) by Andrea Rose.