GAZVODA: The Shadow
I see her shadow, glued on the wall like a damp kiss on my cheek. It undulates. I start to feel goose bumps. The light in the bathroom is blue; orange in the hallway. There's an orange line on the wall and a shadow in it. The blue light casts my shadow, and I pivot so that both our shadows appear on the same wall. She senses that I am observing her silhouette. She undulates.
"Hey ..." I say.
The shadow is gone. I zip up my pants and flush the toilet. The shadow on the wall does the same. I turn to the washbasin. I look, but I only see myself. There is no shadow in the mirror, there's a reflection. A reflection so common, I can't stand it anymore. I brush my teeth, standing in front of the hallway light, watching my shadow brushing its teeth on the bathroom tiles. The frothy toothpaste is dripping on my pajamas and the carpet. For a second it appears as if she's come back.
But when I turn around, I'm all alone, an idiot, brushing his teeth in the hallway.
I'm just saying, they should have the same rights as us. The same, you see? Did anybody say they're something special? Nobody. They wanna be something special. I'll have a large dark one.
Jager and coke
Small dark beer
Dario, haven't we already discussed that...
Fuck you, got it?
My granps shot one 'coz they were stealing the rabbits. They had made a deal to stay away from them. He fired a shotgun; his ass was full of rounds.
It's true, in that hairy ass of his. Then the others went at him, 'coz he broke the rules. All I want is them to follow the rules. That's all I'm saying.
You can't just shoot them.
What? They're not people.
You like the story, woman?
You're funny, Dario.
(Little Dario is always funny. Her name is Tina and she's having his baby.)
Are you listening, you little fag?
Yes, I am, Dario. (I don't return the compliment, because he doesn't get jokes, whereas I have to)
You sure you're listening?
(spill it, you primitive fuck, fucking sweaty retard, I'll cut off your balls and shove them up your stupid cunt's throat and watch her choke on them) Sure I am. Tell me.
One of these days I'm going to strangle one singlehandedly. I'm only waiting for an opportunity.
Come on, baby, let's go.
Hihihihihih. Is he coming along?
No, thanks, Tina. I've got other stuff.
You don't have other stuff, you fag. You don't have stuff at all.
(That, my dear Dario, I the honest truth. Except for ... today, the shadow returned once again. This time it lingered a bit longer, but it still bolted when I turned around.)
I'm kidding, you little fag. See ya.
I'm brushing my teeth again tonight. At first in the hallway, then in the bathroom. The shadow is not here.
I get to work on time, finish everything. I finish five minutes early. I give a ride to a colleague, who tells me about her kids on the way. I'm not listening. It's hard to be a part of the world you refuse to even think about, let alone live in it.
That evening Dario stops for a visit. He rarely stops by, since I wasn't pleasant company. Still, some people are a part of your life forever, like moles or chronic disease. He used to be my office coworker, but he quit that job quickly. Now he's unemployed, but richer than ever before. He's expecting his second child. He always stops by with a bottle of red wine, large as his impressive fingers. He winks a lot and spits when he talks.
"Why don't you have a girlfriend, you little fag?" He asked me this on that winter evenings, sitting behind the table, while I was pouring him a glass of wine.
I was looking down.
"Why don't you ever go out with me and Tina? Or just me? You like Tina? You wanna fuck my woman?"
I didn't answer; I just shrug my shoulders, which he took for a sort of affirmation, so he hit the table several times with his fist, yelling out that a faggot is not going to fuck his wife. He's a man who knows everything about everybody. I waited for it to pass. It did.
When he stopped spitting as much, he continued: "Why are you always alone, you fag? Sitting in this shack ... and working ... what do you do? ... Whose is this crib?"
"It was my mother's."
"Where's your mother?"
"O fuck ... sorry, man."
"Ten years ago."
He wasn't sure what to say, so he squeezed my hand. We've been friends for five years and not once did he ask me a personal question.
"Come on and join me and Tina," he said on his way out. Thick snowflakes were falling on his black knitted hat. "I have a friend who's single, you should meet her."
I nodded. Dario went to his car and unlocked it. The turn signals blinked and outlined for a moment the shadow of my arm. I smiled. I grew fond of shadows.
"Why you grinning, fag?" Dario asked. I shook my head and smiled at him.
"Man ... really ... don't you think you're weird, all alone like that ... alone?" He stared at me like I was a bad omen. I noticed he was ... almost afraid of what he saw. Such people are most frightened when they see, but don't understand.
"You know how old you are?" he asked. The turn signals blinked again. The car had locked meanwhile. I nodded. He eyeballed me for a few minutes, as if he couldn't believe his eyes. As if he hadn't known me. As if he didn't know what my life was. Only mine.
"I'm leaving," he said. "Do we have a deal?" He wanted to open his car door, but it wouldn't give in. He kicked them.
"Unlock it again," I said to him. He gave me the finger.
We made plans for the following day. I never showed up, I turned off my cell phone. I opened the wine and drank a few glasses. The snowflakes had grown so thick, they formed a scintillating curtain, unveiling in front of my eyes as I stared through the window and waited for the shadow. I was right to have had waited. That evening she came.
At first I noticed it in the mirror, appearing on the wall. I was just washing my hands. I carefully closed the faucet. I turned around. For a moment, the shadow was gone, but then it appeared again shyly. I smiled. I took a step forward. I stretched out my hand and turned off the light in the bathroom. The shadow grew stronger, more beautiful. I held my breath. She sensed that I accepted her. She stood still. She stopped shivering. It's time. I moved slowly. I slid along the tiles. One foot in front of the other. The shadow was still, but I didn't dare to hurry. I didn't want to hurry.
When I made it to the hallway, a power blackout occurred. That's what happens in this building. It's the snow. At that moment, the entire world was a shadow. I closed my eyes. Somewhere outside a road was rustling. The radiator in the hallways gurgled. A peculiar shiver went from my fingers, through my arm, all the way to my cheeks, where it stopped. I wanted to brush my teeth, I don't know why. It was then the power was restored, the light was on again. On my cheek there was a long leg of a lady spider near me. Its head was larger than my own; its body was dark as the night. I saw countless little bristles that quivered. That undulated.
I smiled. And eight eyes smiled back.
"You seem different," my colleague said after I pulled up in front of her house. For a second there I even wanted to tell her everything, but I noticed a change in her eyes. She was sorry to have had said that, because, the truth be told, she wasn't interested in what had made me this way. Different. I smiled and shrug my shoulders. I like shrugging my shoulders. It's what makes me ordinary. If you nod, you say something. If you shake your head, you express an opinion. If you shrug your shoulder, you remain ordinary. No one takes an interest in you.
The lady spider took me to her dwelling under the building that night. She threaded a bed, in which I lay. I didn't move; I only took deep breaths as she slid her long, gentle legs all over my naked body. I let her sting me and she kept sliding her legs over me. In that moment, in that ill-day-colored basement, still and half dead, I fell in love.
That morning I took some days off. In the dog shelter I picked a dog and took it to her. He barked in mortal fear as I dragged him into the basement. I lit candles and watched how she tangled him into her web while the candle cast a shadow of an animal dying in the name of love.
Her sons came to visit me at work.
I opened a drawer, put my hand in it and they covered me in the blackness of their furry bodies. This didn't remain unnoticed. Rumors spread of my peculiar illness. Yes, that's what they said. That I was ill because spiders were following me. But finally, I was different. That was it.
"You're different," the colleague said. We were in the car again. I looked straight at her. She was shivering. "I don't want to take rides with you anymore," she said.
"Is it a sin if I'm different?" I asked.
"No. It's a sin when you're not like us. Stay away from them. You don't know how it is ..." she mumbled and stumbled her way out. That was my last day of work.
That night the lady spider let me hold on to her back and we crawled all over the walls and the ceiling. Onto the roof. I fell several times and hit myself. She did it on purpose. She left me hanging on the roof edge and if she had come but a second later, I would have fell and died. She enjoyed what she was doing to me.
The night was bluish, the lights of the village orange. The stars were white. She was black. I no longer need the shadow. I finally turned around this life of mine. Forever.
Dario found me naked on the kitchen floor. I lied that I'd been drinking and to him that seemed a good enough reason.
We had tea and sat silent. On his way out he said: "Oh, Tina and I are coming tonight with that single friend of ours."
I couldn't make him understand I was busy. I ran about the house and tidied up. In the evening, they really showed up, all three of them. Tina's friend was Petra.
And she was beautiful.
All across the room the TV set quietly cast its nonsense, which leaked underneath the door in a jabber. Dario and Tina were in the kitchen, Petra and I were in the hallway. We had had several bottles of wine. I had Petra leaning on the wall and was kissing her. She was shy. She said she wanted to have coffee the next day. I said it would be my pleasure.
The lady spider was there all along. I felt the shadow she cast onto me and Petra, in the hallway where the lights were not on.
I changed jobs. I did the same work, but for another firm. They had dark wood furniture. Petra was holding my hand all throughout our first coffee we had in the tea room by the old bridge. In the end, she kissed me as if she had known me all my life. From head to toe, I was caressed by a feeling of safety. Because she'll be here when I wake up and she'll be close when I fall asleep.
That evening I stopped by her house. I caressed her naked body as she fell asleep. I fell asleep as well. I dreamt of sticky snowflakes, falling on my face like scorching stones of an infuriated god. In the midst of the night I woke up. She wasn't there.
I called Dario. He was enraged because I wouldn't explain why I wanted him to meet me at my place. He spat and cursed and raged. I insisted.
I took him down to the basement. He crawled in front of me and mumbled. He wanted to kick the door, but I held him and pushed him onto the wall. He looked at me with tiny eyes like never before.
"Fag ..." he whispered.
"Dario ..." I started, but suddenly he stretched his neck and kissed me. I turned away.
"I thought ..." he stuttered ... and stopped. He looked down. He was small. His fingers were small. He was breathing like a sick newborn.
"It's all right," I said. "We'll forget about this. You must help me."
He was still looking down.
"I'll never tell. Anyone. Just ... help me. Please."
In the basement the lady spider almost entirely entangled Petra so that only her pale face was free from the web. Dario cried out. The lady spider turned around. I took a step forward. Eight eyes, eight mirrors. In each something I hadn't known about myself. Something that incites me to climb ceilings. Behind me a man who only brings disdain into my life.
Dario yelled out: "Step away!"
My black shadow was ready to forgive me. I shouldn't have turned around. I should have looked in the direction where I had once dared to and where I had met her. She was ready to forgive me. In that moment, in the reflection of those black mirrors, I knew it. I felt it.
But I chose to whisper: "Forgive me."
And stepped away.
You remember the spider, woman.
Dario, I'd rather not.
I'm just saying. I strangled it with my own two hands. And you know what you beloved hubby said then?
He said to me: "People around you kill only what is exclusively yours." Little motherfucker.
I'm sorry Petra. You know how he gets when he's drinking. Hihihihihih.
Well, Petra, tell me – everything's OK now, right?
Yes, it is. Kind of.
What do you mean, kind of, woman. Yes, I'll have another one. And bring some for the women, whatever they're having. Well ... where were we? Oh – why kind of? You have another child on the way. He was promoted. Finally, he got promoted, fuck.
Yeah ... you're right.
Sure I'm right, woman. I'll take a leak.
What are you thinking about?
Nothing, Tina ... nothing. Well ... look. This morning, I found my ... oh, it's nothing. Forget about it.
What? Tell me.
I got up and went to the bathroom and bumped into him in the hallway.
And what was he doing in the hallway?
Oh ... you're going to laugh. He was brushing his teeth.