“We are shadows cast by real people.”
I awoke to the voice of the woman standing above me, an ethereal mass, clouded in the haze of morning. She vanished into the fog, and I didn’t hear from her again for six years.
“My days are long and happy,” I said under my breath, a snarl in my voice and a hesitation in my step.
I stopped and looked up; in the window on the third floor, above the regular windows – a loft, perhaps – was a small window that was a half circle. I saw her in there, watching me. She caught my gaze and backed away, our eyes locked, mouthing words I dared not guess.
It was seven years this time. Seven years before I caught hide or hair of her. And I wasn’t happy about it.
She was face down on the floor, my fist grabbing at the roots of her hair.
“Who the fuck are you?” I screamed as the spittle collected in the corners of my mouth and in her hair.
She began to shake and I heard a snorting laughter.
“You can’t do it this way,” she said and turned her head so I could see her face under a weave of hair. She began to feel soft under my hand; I smelled a floral, earthy scent and she collapsed into wispy black threads before vanishing entirely.
The rocks were bruising my fist in the pavement and my hair was slicked to my face as I caught my breath.
“Damn it, damn damn damn!”
Every shadow was a conviction, every speck of darkness to be consumed, everything black was stomped out from under foot.
The dark circles under my bloodshot eyes betrayed the inner turmoil. Nobody would speak to me. She wouldn’t even come back to me. She wouldn’t. I’m an old man now, nobody wants me. I’m just a fat old fuck, irrelevant and invisible.
I grabbed the bottle, drained the last amber drop, and watched the glass smash into a billion little pieces on the ground. I fell and grabbed a shard, pulled it from my wrist to my elbow before I passed out.
“You can’t do it that way, either,” she said as she walked out of the alley.
My arm hurt under the blood-crusted bandage. Three revolutions of unwrapping and I can see a modest stitching job. Passable. She’s gone before I re-wrap.
It was 14 years that time. Fourteen years of misery, fourteen years of fear and isolation and cowardice and failure and self-loathing.
Fourteen years doesn’t sound like much, in retrospect. It was 17 years before I saw her again.
I woke in sleep paralysis to a voice I, at first, attributed to hypnogogic hallucinations.
“You are a naughty one, you are,” she said in a whisper.
My heart was racing and I managed to crack open one lid. Soft morning light in the room lit her from behind, obscuring all hope of discovery. She was putting on elbow-length gloves and I could see the orange speck glow and fade as she puffed on the cigarette.
“I am just a shadow,” she said as the smoke came streaming towards me. “I cannot exist. I am not a *thing,* I don’t *think*, I just am,” she turned as she put her purse out and rifled through it. “Shadows are cast by THINGS… we need you, haven’t you caught on?” Her mouth turned up and the lipstick shone at me, a north star, a guiding beacon.
Reds and oranges flashed behind my eyelids before slowly fading to black.
I stood on the cliff, the wind whipping my ashen hair. The sea lay below and a verdant vastness behind me.
I raised my arms and the wind was cool in my hot armpits. I laughed and almost fell forward when I heard her voice.
“You didn’t have to, you know.”
I turned slowly and looked at her, my hair changing directions as I turned around. She was radiant, ageless, black satin on eggshell flesh. She as wearing a small hat with a transparent, black lace veil. Her dress was caught and rippling. She clutched her handbag.
I squinted one eye shut and narrowed the other. I spat, looked up at the clouds for a few moments, then back at her.
“I don’t need you. You need me.”
“YES! YES! I knew you’d understand,” she took a step forward.
I put my hand up, closed my eyes and put my head down. Slowly, I met her gaze.
“It ends today.”
“I knew you’d come around!” She stepped up and clutched my hand and pulled it to her chest, giddy and bouncing.
I pulled her towards me, stepped aside, and let go as she stumbled towards the edge. her eyes opened wide as she turned to look at me, off-kilter, and slipped over.
She watched as I died three days later.