Sophie Baker’s Vanishing Act

Sophie Baker wasn’t sure when she began to disappear. Her fingertips faded first. She knew that. By college she’d given up painting her nails. Spring break photos revealed toes not buried in the sand, but hidden from existence.

At first, she thought it was one of those women’s things. The squishy unpleasantries that are talked around and fogged over with high-pitched laughter. Something more or less normal. Until one crowded subway morning, Sophie realized the man with the cappuccino-breath swaying by the strap next to her wasn’t stepping on her foot. He was stepping through it.

A queasy feeling filled Sophie as she stared at the hefty, black and white sneaker occupying the space at the end of her boney ankle. That settled it. It was time to take her embarrassing little problem to a doctor.

The doctor’s waiting room languished in shades of gray. Sophie tugged at her itchy red sweater, glad of the discomfort if it saved her from blending into the walls.

The receptionist’s lacquered nails reached for Sophie’s insurance card, gouging her skin before extracting the flimsy plastic. The woman demanded payment, pointed fingers rattling over keys, make-up smeared eyes fixed on a computer screen.

Sophie hesitated, unsure what she was paying for. But she surrendered her debit card, worried too long a void would cause the receptionist to forget a customer was present.

Sophie waited.

And waited.

A wet-nosed toddler, determined to touch every chair in the room, crawled across Sophie’s lap, while the child’s mother kept her attention safely below the horizon of her magazine.

The doctor never saw Sophie.

In a flesh-rippling, sterile room Sophie was weighed and measured. A nurse breezed through questions both too personal and too absurd. A light flicked here and there. Astringent disinfectant crept up her nostrils. The door cracked open. She caught a flash of white coat and the hearty announcement that everything looked good. Come back in a year.

On the way home, glancing in a glossy shop window, Sophie noticed her sweater hanging limply. Rolling back the rough, red wool she found her arm vanished to the elbow.

Of course, there were plenty of alternatives to traditional medicine. Sophie spent months clicking through opinions, advice, and admonishments from faces that populated her computer in small, blurred pixels. It was hard to tell if She_Ghost43 was really a blonde. And did she really think garlic paste reduced the vanishing effect? They weren’t vampires after all. Did Saved_InHisSight, whose age was indeterminate, actually believe Sophie’s uncleansed soul was the root of her problem?

One night, deep in a discussion of organic topical solutions, Sophie’s reflection in the screen grew fuzzy. Snapping the computer shut, she sought the bathroom mirror. The loss of definition around her ears and chin was not the result of eye strain.

After that, Sophie stopped wiping the shower condensation off the mirror and she spent less time online.

Disappearing had advantages. When no one drew her name in the office Secret Santa, Sophie ceased reporting to work on Fridays. She grew tired of dodging elbows and choking on aftershave in the elevator, so she decided to forgo Mondays as well.

Her grocery bill declined sharply. She pushed full shopping carts through the swishing doors, whistling to herself, without cashiers so much as twitching. She enjoyed cheeses she could not pronounce and rich, red cuts of meat.

Her apartment grew cheery with fluffy throw pillows and bits of porcelain that had no discernable use. When the silence grew, Sophie strolled into the aggressive lighting of an electronics store. She wandered past vibrant sand dunes filling impossibly large screens without once being speared by the ever-hungry gaze of a salesman on commission.

Sophie left with modestly sized boxes. She’d learned that the first-floor neighbors wouldn’t notice her struggling with unwieldy packages and offer assistance. One young man often trudged past Sophie’s landing, all the way to the fourth floor to bring the yoga instructor there her junk mail. But he never heard Sophie’s labored footfalls.

So, Sophie carried her invisibly gotten gains to her snug living room alone. She unpacked them, read the instructions twice, and with more ease than she expected, assembled a sleek, ink-dark stereo system.

She went out collecting records to feed it with. She wandered into cluttered shops where dust clung around her, occasionally revealing a shoulder or a knee.

In one, a balding proprietor turned on his stool only to meet shifting sunlight. He shook his head, scratched his ear and didn’t lose his smile. In another, a young woman with long braids started friendly chatter and stopped abruptly, convinced she’d seen a ghost flitting across a display case.

At each flicker of recognition, Sophie froze, holding her breath in a burning chest. What would it feel like to solidify before someone’s eyes? The shape of her body had become a vague and distant thing. Sophie had forgotten how it felt to have strangers register the difference between her flesh and dead air.

Perhaps, if she spoke to those clear-eyed people, they would hear. But Sophie’s tongue was heavy and tasted of lead by then. So, she only scattered bills across their counters and ducked away with slim, square packages of music.

Sophie contented herself with the voices pouring from her speakers. Invisible voices that vibrated in her chest. A reminder that she still possessed muscles and bones.

Often her fingers curled around hot coffee cups without flinching. Or she wandered to the laundry room, bare feet slapping on icy tiles, only to wonder later if her toes had turned a freezing red.

Days like that, when Sophie also forgot herself, worried her most.

She should talk to someone. Surely, there were people she could pay to see her. And if she didn’t like the questions they asked, Sophie didn’t have to answer. Let someone else wonder if they’d been heard.

Maybe the best remedy for vanishing was to pass it on.

But when Sophie paused beside someone in the grocery store, her stomach fell away. The air in her lungs vanished. And Sophie hurried out with a cart of prizes that no longer seemed quite so rich, sweat she was glad no one could see gathering beneath her arms.

Sophie knew she shouldn’t complain. If she hadn’t gotten everything she’d ever dreamed of, at least she’d gotten everything she’d expected.

Sophie returned to the music stores. She hungered for voices that required no answers. If she sang to herself there, no one noticed. She might’ve been just another ripple from the speakers.

She found herself there on a Saturday, when a particularly hard rain had more people than usual shuffling and dripping indoors. The cramped shop with its handwritten price stickers was Sophie’s favorite. She liked flicking through the bargain bins, reading the notes left by various clerks. $5-What a Steal! in a neat, block script. $3-Ought to be Free scrawled carelessly. Totally Groovy and Unsung Masters left by a spidery, aging hand.

Sophie replaced a record with no comments or price, just a sketch of a spiraled sun, but it shuffled half out of the bin on its own. Laughter drifted through the damp air by Sophie’s ear.

She squinted hard at the space beside her. The only empty space in the crowded store. Sophie’s foot had been stepped through twice already, and the ponytailed man on her left kept passing an arm through her ribs.

The record dropped back into place.

It was the poor light filtering down from distant ceiling fixtures. Everything inside seemed as gray and clouded as the rain splattered sidewalk. That was all. Someone stood there, plain and visible to everyone else. Sophie just wasn’t looking right. Maybe her pupils were starting to disappear.

Sophie shuddered her way out of the store, glancing over her shoulder the whole way home, half expecting to catch an outline in the rain.

A few weeks later, dust motes streaming through the same store’s windows, Sophie spotted a translucent shadow near the bargain bins. She blinked, and blinked again. The form neither vanished in a sun-dotted haze or solidified into a regular body.

Her chest knotted. Her fellow vanisher glimmered just a few feet away. Sophie spun around. It would have to wait. She needed to plan. They were strangers, after all.

Even when people saw her, Sophie found talking to strangers awkward.

Laying on her floor, stereo vibrations playing along her spine, Sophie considered her options. She weighed risks. She debated rewards. She was nothing if not methodical. Since vanishing, she didn’t feel the need to rush anymore.

When the needle clicked out of the last groove and drifted aside, Sophie decided.

The next Saturday, she went straight to the discount bins. A board squeaked beneath a foot that didn’t belong to her.


Sophie’s voice startled her. She’d expected it to be weak, strained. Scratching like the less cared for albums she sometimes played. Instead, it tasted clean. The word as solid as the pulse in her throat.

No one answered.

But the air shifted. Static brushed along her arm.

Sophie wanted to ask how long this someone had been vanishing for, but she feared it might be rude. So, she pulled out the first album in the bin. A faded white, grayed at the corners. The singer’s picture so old it looked out of focus. A name Sophie didn’t recognize.

She flipped the album over, read the tracks off aloud. Wondered to her unseen companion if it was worth the $5 to Roll the Dice as the price tag suggested. Another burst of static prickled Sophie’s arm. She might’ve imagined laughter hovering beneath the upbeat guitar on the store’s speakers.

Sophie laid the album aside, wanting to give the forgotten singer a home. She skimmed through the bin, cardboard brittle and flaking beneath her fingers. She paused here and there, reading off titles, commenting on once vibrant artwork dulled by time. She wondered how many years it had been since anyone saw this or heard that. Her voice grew steadier as she remembered the shape of her own mouth. The sheen of her teeth. The always chapped corners of her lips.

No more static grazed her arms, yet Sophie didn’t think she was alone. The gravity of another body hovered close. And when she took her purchases to the counter, dropping her usual bills by the hand of the daydreaming cashier, the boy slid off his stool.

Sophie went still. Something forgotten stretched through her body. It might’ve been hope.

The boy picked up the money. His fingers were clumsy, eyes searching the store. He glanced at the register and back at the spot where Sophie stood. An uncertain smile wavered on his face.

Sophie smiled back, just in case.

That night Sophie stood before the bathroom mirror with her eyes closed. She took a deep breath, one that pressed hard against her ribs.

Opening her eyes, she saw herself—real and solid.