Once upon a time, there was a girl who, upon waking at dawn on her eleventh birthday, had become entirely invisible. So, also, was anything she touched with her skin. Waves of light slid around her, the way rainwater beads and dissipates before touching the lava flows, so every rhyolite stone is cool and dry. She used to go scavenge for rhyolite along the path where the caldera, the caved-in volcano, met the shore, and there were smooth platforms and pebbles instead of sand like the more populated beaches. Because the light could not even touch her eyes, she was blind, and very cold.
Her name was Kahula, and her name meant ‘dancing.’
Her mother, named Akeakamai, whose name meant ‘wisdom,’ counselled her daughter to stay on trails and paths she knew, because of her blindness, and from then on to stay away from the caldera or the shore, lest she harm herself on dangers she could not see. “And stay out of the jungle,” her mother insisted; after all, were Kahula to get lost, no one could see her to find her again. Paths only: the village schoolhouse, the market, and home.
Kahula was sad to lose the caldera and the jungle when she’d already lost the sight of sunsets and the privacy of books. But she was a good girl and did not disobey her mother.
Instead, she turned her mind to other things. She practiced moving so silently no one would notice her and listening to conversations. People had such intimate conversations when they thought there were alone with a friend, or they had vapid conversations that went on much longer. One woman sat on a park bench and told her friend about her mother, her dying mother, who broke her nose when she was fifteen to make it smaller, and she had swallowed blood for three days, but she was a good mother overall wasn’t she, so why couldn’t she muster up enough guilt to cry at her own dead mother’s funeral? Oh she’s not dead yet, but what if I can’t cry when she is? Why is she putting me through another test even in her death?
In line at the grocery store, a man was on the phone the whole time, speaking to three different children from two different women, one right after the other, advising and admonishing and shifting his feet uncomfortably—Kahula heard the squeak of his shoes. He obviously preferred the company of the second child he spoke with, but was unaware how much he telegraphed this fact. Perhaps, she hoped, the children couldn’t tell. Most people, Kahula noticed, were not very good listeners.
Kahula was a good listener. She repeated every word she heard silently, shaping the syllables and tones in her own tongue. She practiced speech and storytelling. She went to hear the ancient storytellers who sat at the mouth of the Loa Ana, big cave, far enough from the caldera for Akeakami’s approval, but close enough she still smelled the sulfur. She never spoke to them, and was pleased when they told stories for ghosts.
She listened, and grew older, and was focused, if lonely. She kept a rhyolite stone in her pocket for luck.
When Kahula was sixteen, a new boy came to her class at school. His name was Makoa, and on the dawn of his eleventh birthday he had become intangible.
Water and wind and even the finest dust passed through his person as though he were as substantial as a cloud. He had taken to floating through walls instead of bothering with doors, and when he stood his feet were a half-inch beneath the ground. But when he spoke and walked, the vibrations ran as smooth as any other sound; purer, even, as he was said to be pure vibration, a soul riding electromagnetic waves. Sighted students saw him as tall, brown skinned and dark haired, though this could not matter to Kahula.
“I am so used to being stared at,” he said to her once. “But you never stare, and you are never the center of attention.”
“People sometimes glare at where they think I am,” Kahula replied. “I think. I feel that sometimes.” She shrugged, then grimaced when she realized Makoa couldn’t see the gesture. “I dunno,” she added aloud.
“But you can always disappear, if you want to,” he insisted, and his voice blended seamlessly with the rustle of grass, the outdoor sounds of distant traffic that danced around her. “You have privacy whenever you need it. That must be nice.”
“I have privacy even when I don’t need it,” Kahula said.
“Why?” asked Makoa. “You could end it whenever you wanted. Speak up; grab someone by the hand.”
Kahula lay flat out on the grass, inhaling sharply. “I guess invisibility becomes a habit.” She ran her fingers through the grass. Though she couldn’t see the patches of brown, she could feel the bits that had gotten stiff and prickly. Autumn would be coming soon. “I miss seeing more than I miss being seen,” she admitted. “What is there to see of me anyway?”
Makoa studied the empty-seeming patch of ground where Kahula lounged. “I miss being able to touch the ground,” he said quietly. “To hold things. To hold hands.”
Kahula sat up. “Makoa,” she asked quickly, “You are all waves, right?”
“Yes,” Makoa said uncertainly.
“And I’m all particle. All flesh and no light, and you’re all light and no flesh.”
Makoa nodded, then caught himself. “Sure,” he said.
Kahula paused, letting the idea knit together in her mind before she spoke. A cool breeze whipped dry leaves across their feet. “Maybe together we can undo each other,” she finally said. “Maybe we can make each other whole.”
It was no sooner spoken than an act committed.
There on the grass, Makoa leaned into the invisible girl, letting each crest of his wave riding spirit undulate through her skin, diffracting through her tissues and bones. It was easy, like breathing, like dancing, as if he were designed to fit in this moment. He guided himself groundward, waiting for the solid smack as his ether self into a bodily form, through her chest, her lungs, her spine, her back.
The smack didn’t come.
Instead, he kept on falling.
Makoa passed through Kahula’s body like a ghost, seeping into the cool muddy ground beneath the grass, never feeling a thing.
Later, Kahula apologized to Makoa for getting his hopes up. Privately, she apologized to herself too, for letting herself dream of seeing again through borrowed eyes. Another person may have berated themselves, but that kind of self-punishment Akeakamai never allowed.
She offered to tell him a story to make it up to him, but he said he tired of words. After that day, Kahula never heard him again, and she wondered jealously if he simply drifted away to all the places she could never go.
And darling, because this is a true story, it ends in death. Kahula grew up and grew old, though no one could see the lines on her face and the wrinkles in her hands. The crack the false hope chiseled into her soul grew deeper too, as she aged. She stood at every funeral on the island. She found other quiet ones. When it was time for her to die, only then did she break her mother’s rule. She gathered us around her and told us this story that I am now telling you. Then she climbed to the lip of the caldera and threw herself in.
For a brief moment, as the fire seared her body, she saw the stars for the first time since her eleventh birthday. Then she became ash, and was gone.
—Lucy Merriman is a Senior English major at Kent State University. Her poetry has appeared in Pif and Grace Notes, her nonfiction has appeared in Long Weekends, The Burr, and Ohio Magazine, and her artwork and comics have appeared in Flywheel and Luna Negra. This is her first fiction publication.
This story is part three of Broken Heart Symphony in Four Movements.