I reappear in the corner booth of an old-fashioned diner on East 42nd and 3rd. The ruby red kiss of a previous patron lingers on my cup like a cherry ghost. A bell above the door counts down as I steel myself, determined to meet his eyes when he enters. My trembling hands silently tap an SOS on the chipped Formica table.
‘Hurry, don’t let Hyde find you.’
When the lights of his old Buick beamed like searchlights through the living room window, mom and I would race to my bedroom where she’d cloak me in a blanket or conceal me in the closet under a pile of clothes. She’d make it into a game for us to play together.
His whiskey-soaked voice rumbled through the timbers. I’d lie as still and quiet as I could, surrounded by the black shroud of my room, but his great hand would inevitably seize me. Weightless, he would draw me from the impotent veil of my hiding place. Hyde would then shout and swear and send me flying from pillar to post. Mom’s the one who named him that. Hyde.
Others may have found it difficult to spot the difference, but mom and I could tell in an instant. It was all in the eyes. Dad had soft, kind eyes, deep brown, the colour of old tree bark. Hyde’s were liquid venom, black and tough as leather.
‘That’s why they can see in the dark,’ mom said.
One night before Hyde got home, my mother told me that her great great grandmother was a witch and that she’d found a secret spell in one of her old magic books. She said that the magic would protect me for as long as I believed in it, but I had to keep it a secret. My mother held my tiny face in her hands and relayed her incantation. The words spilled out of her and covered my body like liquid. She told me that any time I needed to vanish all I had to do was to recite the words and I would become invisible from Hyde and his hateful black eyes. Over the years I’ve perfected my mother’s charm. I can walk through bustling city streets and not be seen by another living soul.
My mother died on an unusually warm February morning. From beside her hospital bed we shared stories with our eyes. My tears told her how scared I was of losing her. Hers told me that I never would. She held my frightened face within her frail hands and with her final breath whispered her incantation. As the words poured from her lips, cascading over her small and weakened body, I watched my mother vanish into thin air. It was then I decided that I would vanish as well. Mom would be the last person to see me, and I her.
Eight years. Gone.
Don’t let Hyde find you.
Then a phone call. A familiar voice. From there my memory becomes fragmented.
Terminal. Stage three. Two choices. One year sober. One last chance.
‘Can I see you?’ he asked.
Somewhere above a door a bell chimes. In the corner booth of an old-fashioned diner on East 42nd and 3rd he finds me. My mother’s words swim silently on my lips as his soft brown eyes draw me weightless from my hiding place.
Charles Prelle is a writer and playwright based in London, UK. His plays include A Close Personal Advisor To…, The Rabbit Hole, The Whisper Network and All That’s Left. Charles also writes short fiction and has been published in The Cabinet of Heed and longlisted in the Flash 500. Twitter @CharlesPrelle.