What is a shadow? It is the self without a face or a name, all outline and no feature, the self on the verge of being erased. It is the incidental child of matter and light. Look how it spreads itself on the ground, weary but weightless, unable to leave a trace.
Another one of those days when we’re standing by the side of a road with our mothers, sweating in our Sunday dresses, waiting for the bus home. You stand in the puddle of your mother’s shadow, twisting your body so your own vanishes inside the darkness. I’m invisible, you shout, counting the three shadows left, then blowing me a stiff kiss. It’s cooler here too.
Is it possible for this not to be a story of disappearance?
Your voice from a phone booth on a sidewalk, in the rain, outside a diner with an unreadable sign. Your voice speaking in code, coming to me in bits and pieces, syllable by syllable. Your voice doubled, echoing, bouncing off a stained glass dome, traveling through a dark tunnel where a train is about to pass. The lilt in your voice betrays you as you pretend to sell me potato peelers and non-stick frying pans. Your voice from another time zone, competing with the waves of the sea. In a letter with no return address, your voice cracks jokes and says “my feet hurt” in another language. Your voice in the tired words on my computer screen, hidden somewhere in the identical towns of postcards. Your voice like a shadow on a road.
When we were children, you didn’t care for words, you only filled pages with vertical lines. Beyond the page, the bite marks at the tip of your pencil, bare knees, a scrawny cat sleeping at your feet. We lived in the city and I thought you drew lampposts, telephone lines, the long, rusty rods scattered in construction sites. Your voice insisting, no, no, these are trees.
I walk one block and pass a series of testaments to failure—the skeleton of a building, a half-built bridge already breaking down. On the dusty metal fence hangs a sign that promises a highway.
You were in love, you wanted out of a city that screamed abandonment.
A new mayor, a new name for this road. The man selling sweet corn at the corner makes it a point to recite all the names to every customer in need of directions. I don’t listen to him as I make my way to this place, known to me now only as the road where you last stood. I stare at its slender body, following the shape of a tree that has fallen down, beaten endlessly by the weight of buses and trucks.
I fall into a puddle on my way to catch a bus, and unlike a dog, I can’t sit around and lick my wounds, I have to walk away like nothing has happened. The face of Jesus looms on a billboard, but where is the comfort that can be bought? Let me watch the blind men by the terminal massage commuters for a fee, let me listen to karaoke music and stare at the stall selling cheap umbrellas, let me stand under the shadow of a lamppost as is my habit, though it is evening, the weather is cool, and you are gone. If I keep still enough inside this shadow, it is as if I am not here. If I keep still enough, there is no proof you are not here with me.