Janet couldn't remember when she'd first realized she was invisible. She supposed it had started, well, maybe it had started before, but she first noticed it when she would look into someone's eyes, say a passerby on the street, or even someone in the hallway at work when she was pushing the mail cart from office to office.
She had always thought it was only human. What you did as a part of a community, a part of society. When someone passes by, you look them in the eyes, smile and say hi, or hello, or how's it going?
Janet always did. To everyone. Of course, not everyone responded. Some people looked away. Some acted like they didn't see her, or didn't hear her. She always felt sorry for people like that. What was it like not to be able to smile and say hi? She couldn't imagine.
But lately, she had noticed that not only was no one saying hi back, no one was even acknowledging her. As if she weren't even there. Just as if they couldn't see her at all.
Then stranger things happened. One day, when she was in line at Dunkin' Donuts, the woman behind the counter waited on the guy in front of her, then looked through her and asked the girls behind her, "May I help you?"
She began ordering from the drive-thru window. They could hear her voice, apparently, through the cheap speakers. Could see at least her truck when she pulled up to the window. They would slip her the medium half-decaf and vanilla creme and take her bills and give her change. All without making eye contact.
She would drive away, smiling, eyes wide and shake her head and sip her coffee and wonder what was happening in the world.
This morning, a clear, hard winter morning, a Saturday, Janet pulled out of the drive-thru, doubled back into the parking lot still piled high with mountains of snow, and parked. She'd been stuck in the house for three days, the office closed, her neighborhood like something from another planet.
She grabbed the newspaper from the seat next to her. It was the first paper she'd gotten since the day before the storm. She found it sitting in the sun on top of a six-foot mound of snow at the end of her driveway like a yellow-plastic-bagged Valentine's Day gift.
With her coffee and bag in one hand and the newspaper tucked under her arm, she pushed through the door of the donut shop, where she hadn't ventured in months, and made her way to a small table by the window. There were a few people at a high-top at the opposite window. A couple of workers in headsets and caps moved behind the counter. No one looked up as she crossed to her table and sat down.
Janet sipped at the coffee. It was hot and almost burned her tongue. She slipped the newspaper out of the plastic sleeve and spread it out on the table. A small, wrinkled man was making his way toward her, sliding a large rag mop across the already clean floor. Janet lifted her feet as he mopped under her table. He put the mop in the bucket and reached over for her newspaper, sliding it halfway off the table before Janet slapped her hand down, stopping it. The man looked puzzled and tugged again.
"Hello," Janet said and smiled.
The man looked up into her eyes.
"Oh, hello," he said, smiling back. "I didn't see you."