Whenever I mention the title of my book An Invisible Woman to any woman over 40, she instantly says, “Oh, I know how THAT feels!”
It happened to me. One day I woke up and I was invisible. Men bumped into me on the street as if I wasn’t there. I was twirled around in revolving doors. I started fighting back and eventually had to call my lawyer after I kicked a man who cut ahead of me in line at the deli.
I found out there?s a physical reason for this. We all give off sex scents called pheromones, which we can only sense subconsciously. As we get older, our pheromones weaken, so we literally fall off the male radar.
Then I realized that if I was invisible, I could become a spy in my own life. Once I sat quietly and demurely in a meeting after my husband left the room and the other men instantly began talking about what they REALLY thought of our project. I reported back to my husband afterwards.
My heroine, Kealy Ryerson, becomes a spy in her own life after her husband Jimmy is killed and she fears for her own life and the lives of her kids. Here’s an excerpt from the book, where they?re hiding out with a black family in Brooklyn, whose daughter is Kealy’s daughter’s roommate at school. The mother, Roselle, cleans offices at night, and Kealy wants to get to the bearer bonds her husband has in the safe in his law office. She realizes that going in there disguised as a cleaner is one way to get them.
Kealy says, “You don’t know what invisible is until you’ve been female on the streets of New York in a hideous scarf and no makeup. I am not going to be noticed, believe me.”
“She’s right,” Roselle said. “Women like us just plain aren’t seen. And with one of these uniforms on, boy, you gonna have to be careful people don’t walk right through you. We’re the “not there’s.”
Kealy slipped uneasily into the secret world of night workers. They were never seen by the day world, but it revealed itself to them. They were the ones who threw away the empty bottles of celebration and the shredded reports of disaster. But she wasn?t thinking about any of those things as she rolled the appallingly ungainly rug shampooer along the sidewalk. The huge machine must weigh a hundred pounds or more.
She went into Jimmy’s office suite, entering a place almost as familiar to her as her home. With its deeply stained paneling and leather furnishings, the sitting room glowed with invitation. Kealy had chosen every picture, every piece of furniture, even the stain on the walls. Now it all looked oddly pretentious. The Kealy who had done this was no more, gone with the powder that use to cover her blemishes.
She pushed the outer door closed and turned on the machine, expecting that she would leave it running while she went into the office itself and got at the safe. She ran it and ran it, but still the door to the inner office did not open. This was something she hadn’t counted on at all. She’d been here for fully twenty minutes when the outer door burst open. “Whassa Matter,” the supervisor said, “You sleepin’ in here?”
“No ma’am! I clin!” She nodded towards the closed door. “I go in?”
“Somebody’s working, you come back. Now get on your ass. This job doesn’t complete, you don’t get called back, Sister.”
“No, no! Complit!”
Filling the bucket, dragging it back, she looked again toward Jimmy’s inner office. The door was still closed. Dare she knock, dare she ask, “Me clin?” in her newly acquired accent? The hell with it, she’d been in here nearly an hour.
[She goes in and] she slid open the right top drawer of the desk, felt the upper surface where the pouch containing the combination was kept. The instructions were coded, but Kealy knew the code because she and Jimmy had devised it together. “If anything ever happens to me, the first thing you do is get these bonds.”
She could crack the code on a yellow pad in a few minutes. Or she could have, if the combination had been there, but it wasn’t. Increasingly frantic, she searched the rest of the desk.
Okay, supposedly your memory for the distant past improves as you get older. They had used a line of poetry, that she recalled clearly. And you did a back count from each consonant, but what poem, which line?
“What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.”
She’d said, “It’s so sad.” At the time, she’d not seen it as an epitaph.
It took another five minutes to reconstruct the combination. She turned to the safe, turned the knob two, three, four times, dropped the handle to the first click, then fed in the rest of the complex combination. Along the way, one tumbler after another ticked satisfyingly over. Good, better best: the handle went all the way down and the door came open and thank you, God, thank you for this one gift, at last, at long last.
The safe was empty.
(The poem is “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, written during World War I)
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