Shadows

My sister has a shadow. It’s three times taller than her, and it’s opaque, and it whispers insults at her all day long. I sat by her day after day and then one day she took out some rubber cement and pasted it to the soles of my feet when I wasn’t looking. It started following me around after that. The shadow is murky and sinister; people look at it and walk in a wide circle around me. The shadow envelopes me, and tells me I’m ugly and stupid, a waste of space, a loser, and that I will never amount to anything. When I’m around my sister it gets louder because it has to belittle two people instead of one. Even when I’m alone, though, in the dark, in the silence, the shadow weighs on like a physical presence. When it follows me to work, my co-workers give me funny looks at my panicked expressions.

“The shadow is so dark,” I tell my boss. “It makes it hard to see, sometimes, or pay attention. Its quiet whispers distract me.”

“Well, find a way to fix it. We don’t have time for shadows here,” my boss says.

*          *          *

            I knew this couple who used to be madly in love. They planned on getting married and living happily ever after; their love was a forever love. They would argue for an hour who would hang up first when talking on the phone, who loved who more, and they even went to the bathroom together. On their honeymoon they got matching tattoos with each other’s names in hearts with arrows pointing through them.

Two years later they came to the decision that maybe they weren’t meant to be together after all. Actually, she decided. She said that maybe he really did love her more, and that going to the bathroom together was actually really disgusting. My friend was devastated. A week after their divorce she was seeing somebody else. I went with him to get his tattoo fixed, made into something else. It ended up getting really infected; he went to the hospital and almost lost his arm. I don’t think I’ll ever get a tattoo after that.

*          *          *

            I get home from work and my sister is still sitting in front of the TV where I left her eight hours before. She hasn’t showered or even gotten dressed. The curtains are pulled shut and the lamps are off. The light from the TV flickers across her blank face.

“Can I make you something to eat?” I ask her, kicking off my shoes. She doesn’t even look at me.

“Not hungry.”

“Have you eaten at all today?” I ask, sitting down next to her on the couch.

“No,” she says, deadpan.

I reach to stroke her hair, and she lets me, still not looking at me. “You need to eat something.”

“What’s the point?” she finally asks. There is a slight sound of hope in her voice, like maybe I have the answers.

I chew my thumbnail, not knowing how to answer, what the right thing to say is.

Annoyance crosses her face. “Knock it off, that’s gross.”

I put my hands in my lap and stare at the TV, trying to understand what it’s like. She’s chronically depressed, and she doesn’t always take her meds. I sit and try to imagine a state of mind where you’d rather be dead because you can’t find the upside to anything. She says it’s like a black hole sometimes, where it sucks up all the light, motivation, and life, leaving an empty t-shirt and jeans that just goes through the motions. She exists, she doesn’t live.

I remember how she was before; before she had to take her medication. She used to dance and paint and laugh. We used to make up stories together. We’d debate about politics and religion and books, before what happened to Mom and Dad.

My hand finds its way back to my mouth, and my sister stalks off to her room in disgust at my chomping. I close my eyes and chew harder, biting my cuticle too hard on accident. I’m bleeding.

I think about the last time she bled. She cut herself with a rusty utility knife. She said she had to hurt on the outside to balance the hurt on the inside. Maybe next time she’ll bleed too much and fall asleep, like she says she wants. I press my eyes shut tight and tell myself I can’t cry; I have to be strong for her.

*          *          *

            Josh’s dad is in jail. His mom is really neurotic because she had to raise him and his brother by herself. His brother does drugs and causes scenes. Josh moved out so he could get away from it, and he ended up moving into the duplex next to us the same day we moved into ours.

Josh is a great neighbor. He lets us borrow stuff and he mows our lawn. Sometimes we stand outside to talk and smoke, and he takes me bowling sometimes to get away from the house. I really suck at bowling. He tries to show me how. He comes up behind me, his body touching mine. He holds my hand with the bowling ball steady, and pulls my arm back to show how to do the motions. I feel his breath on the back of my neck, and I can tell he’s excited. As he shows me how to push the ball forward my fingers spasm and I drop the ball. It lands on his foot, and he yelps and limps back to the bench, taking off his shoe and sock. His toes are purple. He says he’s not mad, but he looks like he is.

*          *          *

            I stand in the hospital waiting room until the doctors say I can see her. She has IVs and stuff hanging out of her. She took a bunch of pain pills I had leftover from my bicycle accident, and then she drank what was left of the bottle of whiskey I never finished from my birthday. I try to hide this stuff, but she finds it anyway.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken her to the hospital. Probably not the last. She’s suppose to be taking her medication, but sometimes she doesn’t or she forgets and I don’t know about it until we end up rushing to the emergency room to get her stomach pumped or for stitches. The doctor says I need to be sure to watch her take her medicine, to remind her. Sometimes it’s too much. She lies to me, or throws up after I go to work.

I stand by her bed and her eyes flutter opened. The glazed-over eyes see nothing at first, and then they focus on me.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, and starts to cry.

I can’t feel anything, so I just stare at her.

“I won’t do this anymore, I promise. I promise I’ll stay on my medicine. I’ll eat, and I won’t hurt myself anymore. I won’t lie.” She grabs my hand; her hand is soft and frail, her grip weak. “Just don’t let them take me away, please Beth.” She seems so small and pale. Her arms are crisscrossed with scars, and her eyes are sunk into her head. But she looks afraid.

What can I do? I want to make it better, but she fights me every step of the way. Except times like these. She makes promises, and then breaks them later. I chew my nail. She’s not afraid of death, but terrified of living.

She glares at me. “Stop that.”

“I’ll stop if you do,” I say quietly, and clasp my hands.

She glares and turns over. She has a new mark on her arm, but it’s not from a razor blade. It’s from thousands of tiny needle pricks.

“When’d you get the tattoo?” I ask.

“I got it while you were at work the other day.” The skin around it is still angry red, and its colors are bright and puffed up from the swollen skin. “Don’t worry, I won’t let it get infected.” She sighs and falls asleep.

*          *          *

I come home from work to find this time she has used a hunting rifle. She broke into Josh’s garage. I don’t bother calling the hospital, just the police. Hospital bills are expensive. As I pace out front waiting for the coroner, my shadow stretches out in front of me, but it’s just a shadow. It’s translucent and doesn’t whisper at me anymore, but I feel empty. Josh stands on his porch and offers to stay the night, but I just want to be alone.

*          *          *

            I always read about how those people in Spain have bull runs, where they let a bunch of people start running and bulls chase them through the streets. What possesses a person to want to do that? Why would someone run frantically through the streets to avoid a painful situation that they put themselves in? Because if he runs, the bull will chase him. Unless for some reason it goes after the person running next to him instead. Both can’t escape.

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

 

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