The Disappearance of Diane
fiction by Pamela Perlman

Two fingers on Diane’s left hand disappeared the day she told me she didn’t believe in global warming. 

We sat in my grandmother’s wicker rockers on the front porch, appreciating how an autumn breeze rustled the golden catalpa leaves holding fast yet to their branches. Their tenure was swiftly ending; that wind held a promise of winter. 

Diane shivered. “Brrrrrr. It’s October and I’m already freezing. Global warming, my foot,” my best friend said. “The earth hasn’t changed temperature. It’s just mass hysteria propagated by the media elites who want to shut down American business.”

“What?” I said. She may as well have said our blue-clouded Kentucky sky was green. “The scientists all agree —”

“I’m a scientist.”

“Well, you’re a doctor.” I kept my eyes on hers and saw surprise register there equal to my own. “I mean, you didn’t study environmental science.”

She rocked back in the chair, dragging her fashionable boot heels across the weathered wood porch slats. Her lips flatlined. “Never mind. We shouldn’t talk about this.”

Shouldn’t talk about it? Since seventh grade, we hadn’t stopped talked about everything. Boys—then men. Childbirth. Books. Death. Cancer. I surveyed the scene in front of me, feeling as if I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. It was my porch. The catalpa trees in the front yard were turning. It was autumn. The high school band was practicing “Oye Cómo Va” in the parking lot two streets over. Yes, this was fall in Kentucky.

Outside the knit of this moment, global warming was causing melting glaciers, destructive hurricanes, land loss. All you had to do was read a newspaper, turn on the evening news. Right here in our own state, devastating flooding frequently uprooted and even took lives. 

I wanted to talk about it. “So, where’d you hear this thing about the earth not changing temperature?”
“THE News network,” Diane said.

I laughed. That explained it. “Same with the mass hysteria, blah blah blah . . .?”

Her eyes narrowed, wary. “What’s so funny?”

“THE News network is a joke. A propaganda factory for . . . well, it’s not reputable journalism.” My journalism degree allowed me confidence in this opinion. Plus, no one I knew watched that network. Diane and I had always disagreed on politics, to a certain extent, but we often agreed on principles too: goodness, kindness to others, volunteering of our time to good causes. Dogs.

“What do you mean propaganda?” She said, her tone unfamiliar. The last time we had a fight was in ninth grade over a boy who was interested in both of us.

“Selective information used to create a certain impression. Propaganda. Not real, not objective news,” I said, unsure whether she really needed this definition. But then something caught my eye: there was a fading, a flickering like an old movie reel across the surface of her left pinkie finger. I stared at the wavering fingers; she didn’t seem to notice anything.

While her hand faded, her large brown eyes intensified, glaring at me. “I know what propaganda means —” 

“I figured you did —”

“I just don’t know why you’re saying that denial of a hoax is propaganda?” Now the index finger of her left hand was disappearing too. I reached out to grab her fingers, but she moved just that moment, and I couldn’t catch her. 

“It’s  . . .” I shrugged. “Well, I haven’t actually watched that network,” I said, hoping to stop the mutilation.

She smiled like she had in eighth grade calculus when she was the only student who could solve the unsolvable problem. “Then you don’t know. You should watch it.”

I told her I would, and I did try—once. But seriously. Propaganda was the least of it.

Months went by without us speaking of it anymore. I missed her fingers; I missed the sight of her capable hands with all five digits working together but I didn’t ask about them and she didn’t bring up the subject. The fingers might have been gone, but Diane still worked, drove, gardened, cooked. We still met for lunch and dinner and although her left hand freaked me out a little, she seemed fine.

I gestured to where her hand should have been. The hand that had wiped tears from my face when a favorite dog died. The hand that held my bouquet when I said my marital vows. The hand that held mine at cheerleading try-outs in eighth grade. 

Then came the tornadoes. It was December, 2021, and we were continuing our Christmas tradition of lunch and a movie with her kids. During the previews, she whispered to me: “Isn’t it sad about the tornadoes in Western Kentucky?”

“Devastating. That one town, Dawson Springs, is leveled.”

“That Democrat governor was born there, wasn’t he?” In the darkness, suddenly, the popcorn moved from the container to her mouth but where her left hand should have been, there was nothing. Nothing at all. The popcorn levitated.

“Diane,” I said. “Your hand?”

She turned to stare at me. “My hand what?”

“Don’t you know?” I gestured to where her hand should have been. The hand that had wiped tears from my face when a favorite dog died. The hand that held my bouquet when I said my marital vows. The hand that held mine at cheerleading try-outs in eighth grade. 

“Tell me later,” she said. “The movie’s starting.”

But I didn’t bring it up, not in front of her kids. I did keep watch over the next few months to see if this was some sort of party trick or optical illusion. Instead, I saw Diane’s visible body shrink again.

“NASA says global warming isn’t caused by human activity.”

We sat in her sumptuous kitchen, drinking tea as summer sun glazed the floor-to-ceiling windows with heat. Ice clicked against the sides of the tall glasses, enlivened by fresh mint harvested from her kitchen garden. The drink was delicious, but my stomach hurt. 

“NASA?” I said. “That cannot be true.”

“That’s what The News says.”

A quick internet search on my phone disproved the assertion. “Here.” I held the screen out for her perusal. NASA’s actual global warming page contradicted Diane in bold type: “These natural causes are still in play today, but their influence is too small or they occur too slowly to explain the rapid warming seen in recent decades.” 

Diane handed the phone back to me, shaking her head from side to side. “I don’t think that means what you think it means. You should watch The News. I think they are actually more objective. They give you both sides of the issue and then let you decide.” She stood. “Do you want to see my rose garden?”

Oh no. “Uh, Diane. Your foot?”

She looked down to where her left leg ended in a blur. “What?”

“Does that hurt?”

“Does what hurt?”

Can you imagine how bizarre it is to watch your best friend walk without one hand and on one foot? I began to wonder if I was losing my own mind. But I witnessed no one else disappearing, only Diane.  Finger by finger, hand and foot. 

Still, I probably took it too much for granted that though my best friend had pieces missing, she remained my best friend. She loved me, she said. I was essentially her sister, she told me any number of times. It didn’t matter that I was divorced and childless; if it came to it, she and her husband and their kids considered me family. I would never be alone. Her daughter was my goddaughter. I’d been with her in the hospital during her double mastectomy. Brought food when her husband had an aneurysm and her daughter an emergency appendectomy. Sure, we disagreed about politics sometime, but she was fond of telling me I wasn’t a real liberal. We had lots of common ground.

But then I sent a mass email to friends attaching a New York Times article about the damage of pollution and climate change. The animals now extinct. The beaches eroded. The mountains corroded. Diane loved animals, dogs particularly. She had children. Surely, she wanted to ensure they had a future on this planet.

She took it as a declaration of war.

“What is this?” She drove over to my house and shoved the email in my face with her invisible hand. “Talk about propaganda. This from the failing New York Times? That’s such a liberal rag. You should know better than to believe any of that.”

“Diane . . .” I yearned for my friend, for normalcy, but like her newly vanished neck, it was gone. As she walked back to board her super-charged Range Rover, all of 16.0 mpg, her head bobbled, unsupported by anything other than air. My friend was becoming a chalk drawing with multiple erasures.

Tension grew between us but with a thirty-year friendship, you try. Besides, I hated to abandon her in her time of disappearance. Diane was now a head with fabulous hair, thin torso, and athletic legs. She was the same height as always; I just didn’t see that her head had any visible means of support.

“Do you feel alright?” I asked her, one day in mid-July. We were hiking the Gorge, my idea. She was walking on invisible legs but still, I was sure that spending the day in this glorious place would remind her of her love of nature. The lichen licked the limestone along our path. We had reached a summit and this uniquely God-painted vista of green and gold and blue sparkled below us. I was sure it would prompt her to realization of the destruction we were wreaking.

“Oh, I’m fine. I don’t think this China virus is anything to worry about,” she said. Like some genie from the bottle trick, Diane’s midsection vaporized. When I realized what was happening, I reached out to grab her by the waist—an old cheerleading hold. But her torso was gone. 

“Diane?” I said. “I’m worried about —”

“Don’t be. You’ll be fine.”

“I wasn’t worried about myself,” I said, trying to point out her missing pieces. By now, the virus had killed well over a million people in the U.S. If I was fine, it was because I’d had every vaccine available. “But, your hands, your legs, . . .”

She turned her face downward as if to inspect the hands that I could no longer see and then shrugged at me. “What about my hands? I guess I need a manicure.”

Defeated. If I specified the problem, I expected her to deny it. Her kids hadn’t noticed anything. Her husband hadn’t said anything. It was only to me she disappeared, like some bizarre reverse visitation of an archangel.

Somehow, she drove us home as clouds in dark masses gathered along the ridges of mountains. A few fat raindrops plopped onto the windshield when I swung my feet to the driveway. “Careful going home,” I said, as her car revved away.

The rain fell. For hours. For days. For years it seemed. A few miles from us, houses rode the rivering creeks like cowboys bronco busting. In one small place, water swallowed up roads, schools, a century of literary art then disgorged it all in ruined soggy piles of mud. 

Diane and I exchanged horrified information in the beans/rice aisle of Kroger.

“My mother’s family used to live right in that holler,” Diane said. “Thank God they got out. Why would anyone stay there knowing how bad the flooding is?”

“It’s a gorgeous place to live. So rich in nature. And history. Well, remember that view we had on our hike,” I said.

She grunted, rolling her cart toward the boxes of couscous.

“But this was a thousand-year flood,” I added. “You can’t plan for that. And more than that, it shouldn’t be this way. Global warming that sends the Gulf of Mexico into Kentucky, surface mining, vegetation stripped away,” I said, almost to myself.

It might as well have been. 

Diane’s face turned to me one last time, and I saw an expression full of pity for my ignorance as well as contempt for my radical views. “I’ve got to go,” she said, as she turned. A breeze from her swinging hair stung my cheek. I felt her movement, but I saw nothing. She was gone. 

Diane, the friend of my heart, was well and truly gone.

Pamela Perlman is a native of Lexington and works as an attorney and author in Central Kentucky. Her work has been published in Still: The Journal, the Literary Journal, Nowhere Magazine, and AvantApplachia. She is the winner of the First 500 Word Contest sponsored by the Carnegie Center of Lexington and has twice been a finalist for the Next Great Kentucky Writer Award.

home               return to fiction