In Absence of Shadows
It’s been three days now, I think. Three days since the kid at the park alerted me to the fact that I had somehow become... incomplete.
I hadn’t been feeling very well that day. I remember that. I’d had a restless night, filled with unremembered nightmares and, when the alarm went off, I’d almost rolled over and decided to call in sick to the office. Almost, but not quite. Too much work to do and at least two meetings which couldn’t be rescheduled. Pretty typical, actually. So I’d pulled myself up and out of the sack, stumbled around much longer than usual and finally dragged myself in.
By 11:00, I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t have a headache, nor stomach upset, nor any kind of pain at all. No nausea, no sweats, no sniffles. Yet something wasn’t quite right. I just felt... well... awful.
I looked awful, too. Several people in the office commented on the fact. Even they couldn’t tell me what, exactly, it was that seemed wrong with me.
So, I decided to go out for lunch. My first meeting wouldn’t take place until 2:30 and it had been a long time since I’d gotten out of the office in the middle of the day. Not at all hungry, I decided that a walk in the park might help my “condition.” Maybe I’d just not been getting enough sunshine and fresh air.
Or maybe, I speculated, I was just suffering some sort of office burn-out.
Maybe some kind of spring fever.
I might have gone on all day speculating about what it was that was bothering me, if it hadn’t been for that kid. The one playing frisbee with his dog. The one that came within inches of crashing into me as the dog leaped up to return the well-chewed disc. The one whose giggles were choked off with surprise when I said, “Careful there, buddy,” causing him to whirl around and look up at me, as though I was the last thing he’d expected to see.
“Sorry mister,” he said. “I didn’t see you there...”
Then, swallowing hard, he looked back down, onto the ground, where the shadows of both he and the dog were splayed out like dwarfish caricatures on the cement. Looking back up, he blinked and stepped back.
“Mister,” the boy said. “You got no shadow...”
I reeled back as though I had been slapped and, with that movement, broke the spell that held the kid in place. He bolted, calling the dog after him, and left me standing there alone, staring down at the brightly reflecting cement.
I lifted first one foot, then the other.
The kid was right.
Whereas everyone around me had a smudge of darkness either following behind, or moving ahead of them on the sidewalk – I had none. I felt disoriented and suddenly dizzy. Stumbling to a nearby bench, I sat heavily, staring at the brightness surrounding my shoes.
As impossible as it seemed, I had somehow lost my shadow.
Now, three days later, I find myself wondering if, maybe, I should have gone to a doctor the minute I’d made my discovery. Would the medical profession know what to do about my condition? Would they even have a name for it?
And would it have made a difference in the end? How long, after all, can a man live without his shadow? Such an insignificant thing and often overlooked, but important, nonetheless.
As if a vital part of who I am, or who I was, had been removed.
Oh, I tried to function without it. Once I’d made my discovery I pulled myself together and tried to get on with my day. I figured, what the hell, it’s just a shadow. Would anybody besides an occasional kid even notice?
And if someone did, would they think anything of it? It’s not like I had ever paid any attention to it when it was where it was supposed to be.
Even so, something about its absence bothered me. As if the uneasiness I had been feeling all day were a direct result of this odd phenomenon.
I walked back to the office and found some small comfort wandering its fluorescent shadowless hallways. The day passed uneventfully and I cheerfully tried to fend off the well-wishers, whose concern for my welfare caused them to check up on me intermittently throughout the day. I’d even made both my meetings and managed to accomplish the business they had been called for. After that, however, it was all down hill.
I drove home only to discover that I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. And when I’d looked at my watch to see how long it had taken, I found that the symbols behind the glass meant nothing to me.
My dog, Bumpers, refused to come into the house when I opened the door for him. Usually enthusiastic to the point of being spastic when he saw me, he darted away, tail between his legs and remained fearfully cringing inside his doghouse all night.
As the evening wore on, the lights in my house began to hurt my eyes and I found myself lighting candles in order to see where I was going. It was odd not to see my shadow dancing across the walls when I passed them.
The next morning I called in sick. I had to. There was no way I was going to go in looking like I did.
When I first saw myself in the mirror, I almost screamed. All color had left my face and what I could see of my body. I wasn’t just “white as a sheet,” nor was I “deathly pale.” No such cliché could quite come close enough to describe it. It went beyond mere paleness. Instead, I was completely lacking in color.
The black hairs on my face, chest and arms, stood out with razor clarity, like some strange negative-hued vegetation on the glowing surface of the moon. I stripped off my pajama bottoms and saw that the odd transition was complete. Pubic hair stood out in stark obscenity, as did the usually unnoticeable fine hairs on my legs.
I showered sluggishly, wrapping a bathrobe around myself afterwards, only to remove it minutes later when the filaments of the material began to irritate my skin.
I closed tight all curtains and shutters to keep the sunlight, which had become agonizing to both eyes and skin, out.
Then I tried to force myself to eat a piece of toast, only to discover that any hunger I should have felt was as absent as my pigmentation. I wandered nakedly through my house, unable to sit for long before my oversensitive skin forced me up again.
Was this, I wondered, a result of having lost my shadow? The rational part of my brain refused to accept it, but a nagging fear kept bringing it back up to the surface for review.
By evening, any thoughts of my shadow had been replaced by stomach-wrenching worry and fear. Even my hair had begun to fade. It slowly lost luster, silvering to the point of whiteness, until, finally, it matched the non-hue of the rest of me.
I cried when I realized I couldn’t remember what color my eyes had been.
As night fell and the hour grew late, I continued to wander. I found I had no desire, nor need, to sleep. Lying down had proved as uncomfortable as sitting.
So, I stood for hours, peering through the blinds at the world outside, marveling at the life that surged though the darkness while the world slept. Retreating only when the sky began to lighten and signal a new day.
The next morning, I had to exert an enormous amount of pressure to operate my speaker phone, but when I finally reached my secretary, she couldn’t hear my voice, even though I was yelling.
A knock at my door roused me later in the day; from what I didn’t know, for I had lost track of time. When I tried to open it, my hand passed through the doorknob. I watched through the blinds as my next door neighbor, John, entered my backyard to, first, comfort and feed Bumpers, then inspect the doors and windows for signs of tampering.
I yelled and screamed his name, but he didn’t seem to hear me. He stood for a long time staring at my car, before returning to his own house.
Another knock and I realized it was already dark. I watched quietly as John used his key to open my front door, flipping on lights and causing me to retreat into the shadows. Though I stood only a few feet from him, his eyes passed over me without recognition.
My fears had been realized. I was now, really and truly, invisible.
I watched as John inspected every room of my home. The unmade bed, the discarded bathrobe, the uneaten toast, all these things he made note of. I watched as he listened to the messages that had somehow filled the tape in my answering machine, becoming more and more urgent as they progressed. Then I watched as he picked up my phone and called the police.
That was yesterday. I think. It’s all become something of a blur to me. The police came and went, referring to me as “missing.” My mother came and went, tearfully taking Bumpers with her. My belongings were packed into boxes and stood in the middle of the living room for a while, but now they’re gone too.
My house stands empty, though occasionally I become aware of movement during the bright moments, which come and go with seeming randomness. Even so, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my predicament. Plenty of time to run through it all in my mind. Plenty of time to piece it together.
I’ve decided to venture out tonight, if I can remember to do so. Venture out to see if I can make contact with some of the others I’ve seen nakedly wandering the streets at night, through the blinds.
Venture out to see if any of them have found what I have lost. That special outline that made me what I was. That insignificant smudge of darkness that once accompanied me, defined reality for me, and protected me from obscurity.
I must venture out, at some point, to see if any of those others have seen my shadow.
* * *
© David Salcido, 1993. Registered with the Library of Congress and the Writers Guild of America, 2013. All rights reserved.