In Plain Sight: A Short Story by John Miskelly

 

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I went to Benny’s sister first because he’d been such a fag about the invisibility cloak. She’s not even that hot, but there was a principle at stake: Benny’d  contradicted me right there in the park—in public—right there in front of the old guy and his clapped out ice cream van. That’s assuming, of course, the wizened old bloke was even an ice cream man at all. Looking back, there was obviously something more to him than just soft-serve and popsicles—one wonders which council permit the sale of supernatural powers might come under. All I know is that when I want a Pepsi, I want a cold one. A whole van committed to serving chilled goods and he couldn’t find room in the fridge for a couple of cans of pop? It was a hot day. All I wanted was a cold Pepsi, and he couldn’t give it to me. I was pissed. The only reasonable course of action was to lob the piss-warm can he’d proffered my way into the park lake and go to town on the side of his van with my pen-knife—not in a frenzy, I’m not a nut, just surgically scraping away at Mickey Mouse’s nose—that sun-bleached faded paint job, unique yet derivative; a wobbly, counterfeit interpretation by a friend of a friend’s daughter with a B grade GCSE in art. Benny just sort of looked on in mute disapproval, as acquiescent as usual.

This whole flying versus invisibility thing was the first time in a while he’d contradicted me. The possibilities of invisibility were so bleeding obvious I could barely articulate them—the power, the sheer possibility for indulgence. Benny just kept on going on about some hippy shit about flight and mankind and helping people out. Even when I’d got the cloak off the old ice cream guy—delivering some contrived, pseudo wise-man proverb as he handed it over—Benny still wouldn’t go along with it, merely taking the hexed bubble gum ball off the guy, chewing away on it with that “monkey-at-a-typewriter” fuck-witted look he has when he concentrates, and then spitting it out onto the grass.

“So I just kind of hop?” said Benny.

“Exactly, sir.”

The old prick hadn’t called me sir. But anyway, Benny did his little hop and floated upwards like the sorry sack of methane he figuratively already was.

“Check it out, I can do a back flip,” he said, spinning backwards in mid-air.

“Big deal, I can do that on a fucking trampoline,” I said.

“I never said that was all I could—”

“Just help me get this cloak thing on,” I said.

From seven feet off the ground Benny pulled the hood over my head. I stepped sideways and looked from the old man to Benny. Their line of sight remained on the spot a foot to my right. I took another more ostentatious stamp further to the left and watched their eyeballs fritter blindly in my general direction. Success.

“Well, see you later old man. I’d say come with me, Benny, but I can’t have you floating about in plain sight like Tails the fucking fox while I do what I need to do.”

“Fine,” said Benny, and he flew off to air lift supplies to some refugees or whatever worthy bollocks he had in mind.

So as I said, I went to Benny’s sister first, primarily as payback. She wasn’t doing much to be honest, just some university course work, but no matter; I’d fabricate some details when we were back at school on Monday—maybe something to do with a shower and an electric toothbrush. The rush of sneaking through the open back door, past his mum, and up to Jenny’s room was undeniable. Standing there watching her chew her pen and play with her hair, I recalled all the times she’d baby-sat Benny and me, playing Nintendo with us and lifting me up so we could reach that second off-limits tub of ice cream from the freezer. The authority to elicit fear, confusion, and vulnerability felt like my first ever shoplifted beer—it felt like freedom, like what I think manhood is supposed to feel like.

Next I went down to the mini-mart and fucked around with the shop assistants, lugging eggs from aisle to aisle, watching the looks of bestial confusion on the acne-ridden faces of the white trash, teenage shop assistants, then their bowed resignation as they fetched the mop and went to work. One had the nerve to whistle as she did so, so I topped off the spectacle with a classic: a packet of Mentos in a shaken up bottle of Coke, a fizzing, frenzied geyser of sugar, another half hour of work for the desperate, low-level saps.

From the mini-mart I hopped the bus to Little Shop of Horrors, the local sex and S&M store that Benny and I and a bunch of other kids from school are routinely chased out of by the weird looking freak who runs the place. If I’m honest, without the thrill of the chase it all seemed a little tame. I killed an hour or so quietly studying the back of the scat DVDs, then clandestinely arranged the dildo display according to size, creating little dildo nuclear families—daddy dildo, mommy dildo, and little kiddie dildos. I tried my best to keep the skin tones consistent; my favorite was the family of Martian dildos I created with four dildos in various shades of green. I put a three-foot monster dildo on its side and put some smaller dildos on top of it, like dildo people riding a dildo banana boat. I imagined a whole island resort of dildos going about their dildo business at their own dildo leisure. I came close to being busted when the androgynous teenage assistant came to restock the cock ring display, cornering me against the magazine rack, her shoes edging closer and closer to the hem of the cloak. I was saved in the nick of time by a guy delivering some boxes of god knows what, taking the chance to quietly slip out of the door.

I shoplifted some snacks and wandered around town for a bit, thinking what wanky shite Benny might be up to. Thinking about the old ice cream van guy. In retrospect an invisibility cloak seemed awfully generous compensation for a non-chilled carbonated beverage. As far as I’d been told they didn’t even make them anymore, or Benny’s flying gum, especially with the U.K.’s stringent health and safety laws—imported perhaps? I pondered all of this as I loitered outside the Harbinger of Poon strip club, an institution shrouded in myths and folklore cultivated by the trickle-down stories of older siblings and loose-lipped dads; my own included, of course—late at night, out of earshot of Mum and dozy with gin—Dad would regale me with tidbits of his wealthier clients’ sordid visits. Only morsels, mind—the details he’d leave tantalizingly veiled.

The inside of the club felt and smelt like the inside of a vagrant’s pocket. A miasmic curtain of feted air—sweat, stale beer, and the acrid breath of middle-aged self-neglect—mixed in my palate as I made my way toward the stage, lifting the hem of the cloak a few millimetres off the soiled carpet. I took a seat next to a bloated old bastard transfixed by the sexless convulsions of the gyrating woman on stage, his blank and lifeless face matching hers almost to a tee. His hang-dog stare reminded me of my Uncle Richie’s face when he’d watch hours of darts or Formula One, or god knows what other existentially crippling drivel, until a coronary mercilessly put him out of his fat fucking misery.

I hung about like an underwhelmed tourist, purely out of a sense of posterity, for another half hour or so. This was another instalment I’d have to embellish back at school, partially out of a sense of pride and one-upmanship on Benny, but also a strange sense of duty to perpetuate that myth of hedonistic pleasure ensconced in The Harbinger of Poon, regardless of its apparent falseness. As for Dad, I felt a new sense of matured kinship with the old man—like we were finally in on the same joke. I’d figured out a puzzle, discovered, by my own means, the truth behind the lie. With a reinvigorated sense of purpose, I headed to his office to surprise him right there and tell him all about it, demand he buy me an expensive lunch, and play some pranks on his wretched underlings.

I timed my entrance through the revolving door with the exit of a harassed-looking sucker in a cheap suit. I imagined Dad having just fired the poor sap, and strode across the lobby like I owned the place. And then I saw him, heading into the company sauna, wrapped in just a towel like it was nothing to walk through a corporate lobby semi-naked. And for him it was nothing. This was his house, his living room.

It was going to be perfect—I’d follow him in, loiter inside the cloak, then emerge from the steam like some kind of messianic phantom.

Naturally it was stifling as hell inside the cloak, inside that heaving cloud of hot vapor, but I held off as long as I could, letting dad settle in and get comfortable. In hindsight I wished I hadn’t delayed my revelation.

I was working on my opening line when the boy came in—no more than a couple of years older than me—and went down on Dad with all the reserve or hesitation of a mechanic returning to a routine job after a crafty dump. Without compunction, without qualm, with zero nonchalance he went to town on Dad’s member, the loins of my own fruition, sucking away while Dad barely flinched.

My horror was absolute; it froze my gaze, crippled my muscles, locked my joints, sent every watt of energy to my brain, until the imprint was complete and indelible. By the time I finally gathered the necessary wherewithal to escape, I was too late. As I tip-toed to the door, drenched in sweat, salty tears mixing with salty sweat, Dad decided to take the initiative, pulling the boy to his feet and pushing him up against the sauna door, working the kid from behind. I was trapped in my own personal steamy hell, a wall of coagulating flesh between me and whatever semblance of blissful ignorance I might otherwise have salvaged — writhing, slapping; sweating away at the membrane between objective complacency and subjective introspection. To reveal myself from beneath the cloak would only compound the embarrassment. There was no escape, only scant relief. I crouched in the far corner, silently weeping, praying for the steam to thicken and obscure the scene before me. I balled the sleeves of my cloak in my fists and pressed them to my ears, trying desperately to block out the moans, grunts, and slurps.

I fed a line to school about the mumps and settled into a week or two of rehabilitation. But unbeknownst to me it was already out there.

“They film it,” said Benny, “they film them all. Half the company’s profits come from selling the videos—all under the table of course. Your dad’s an internet sensation, a gay icon of sorts.”

“But no one knows I was there, right?”

“Dude, it’s a middle-range invisibility cloak, it doesn’t work on CCTV. On any kind of camera, actually.”

I thought instantly of my other antics on that day. “Shit. They could have tracked me all over town then?”

“Yep. I think the manager at Little Shop of Horrors and the convenience store dropped charges when the tape with your Dad did the rounds, out of pity I guess, or sense of justice. I dunno.”

A long pause. I pictured Benny fidgeting with the hem of his hoodie, chewing on the outside of his pinkie nail.

“So, how did your day flying go?”

“You know… pretty good… I guess.”

I knew he was just being polite, just being Benny.

After that it was just a matter of living it down. I spent less time with Dad—we talked briefly about it, in low mumbles and averted eyes, and then left it at that—and more time defending myself against cheap jibes and constant references at school. I distanced myself entirely from my Dad, used every slur I knew to disassociate myself from his “kind.”

But the weird thing was the more repulsed I pretended to be, the more disgusted I tried to seem—the less disgusted, the less repulsed I genuinely felt, until the whole episode seemed in retrospect not a harrowing nightmare, but an exotic curiosity. I found myself thinking about it while riding the bus, mowing the lawn, or staring out the window during double Maths, reliving it in my head, dragging it to the forefront of my mind instead of making any attempt to repress it. What does that make me? A pervert, a degenerate, the worst kind of gross, a bona fide wrong ‘un? I don’t know for sure yet. A hypocrite, that’s for sure; a coward, maybe. I shredded the cloak, of course, and yet here I am, wearing it every second of every day—although I guess it’s more like a strait jacket now.

///

John Miskelly lives in the hipster barrio of Ruzafa in Valencia, Spain (Present Simple), teaching English and pretending (Present Continuous) he knows (Present Simple) anything at all about the rules of grammar. He is twenty-nine. More filthy and depraved modern grim fairy tales are available on this site.

 

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