INVISIBLE MAN (1952) is a novel by Ralph Ellison concerning African-American identity. It won the National Book Award.
11/25/09 | Novel

Invisible Man

by Kevin O’Cuinn

The days rolled over Ray with a sameness that numbed his nuts and froze any semblance of fantasy he ever may have known. Uninvited images arrived before his eyes with increasing frequency, frames from a movie he’d seen about an artist who awoke in the picture he’d painted. Spam, thought Ray.

The sameness that polluted Ray could be seen in the choices he made—at the canteen; in the way he dressed; in the sites he cruised and in the TV he watched. The sameness could be seen in Ray’s penchant for slasher movies and the three cans of Bass he lowered down his gullet each and every evening. Same same same.

Ray would recall that it was a Wednesday and he’d just stepped out of the shower. He stretched, and yawned across the steam-filled bathroom in the direction of the mirror. When his reflection didn’t respond, didn’t seem to respond, Ray thought Condensation and raised his hand and began to wipe. His chest and shoulders showed themselves, same, definitely his. There; his reflection wasn’t wiping, its hands gripped the edge of the sink. Pulse boomed in Ray’s ears. He exhaled, squinted and peered into the mirror; the reflection was wide and wild eyed. It folded its arms.

Ray backed into the hallway. He touched his brow, ran his hands along his limbs, stared at his palms. There was nothing untoward, nothing odd or noteworthy. Except. He arched his neck around the frame of the bathroom door, his reflection leaned forward.

Ray turned and walked calmly to the bedroom, each step echoed the crash of the pulse in his neck, in his head. He opened the wardrobe. The mirror inside the door reflected the wall behind him. Ray dressed, he didn’t miss a button. He didn’t need a mirror to fix his tie. He tied his shoes and took his overcoat from the stand in the hall. He lay the overcoat across his arm, paused, turned to the front door, then to the bathroom door and back and forth, and back again. This continued for a minute perhaps, perhaps two. Ray arched his neck around the bathroom door again – still there, still very much there, head bowed now so that the eyes were not visible, still there. A wisp of smoke, or steam perhaps, had appeared at a nostril. The face darted up, startled, the eyes swam on crimson lakes. Its complexion had paled to pewter.

Ray had no time for this, for whatever this was. There was a timetable that wouldn’t wait for him and if he didn’t leave n-o-w, a train would pull away from St Margaret’s without him and a connection would be missed at Liverpool Street and, well, it didn’t bear thinking about, the sequence of events that might follow. Ray stood in front of the door and lifted his hand to the bolt.