I am standing on the corner of a four-way street. I only move from this spot to take a shit or a piss in the bushes somewhere nearby. While squatting in someone’s yard I worry about being caught. A figure flashes past me out of the corner of my eye. I wonder if it’s the occupant of one of the houses. I used to live on this block. Maybe it’s someone I know. Someone is hiding from me. I can hear him breathing nearby. “Who’s there?” I cry out. I do not receive a response. I wipe my ass with some leaves and hurry back to my spot on the corner.
People come up to me and ask me if I really am who I say I am. Barely looking at them, I answer something along the lines of “yes.” I can’t help but look away. I worry they might smell my waste nearby. They don’t seem to notice. Sometimes they look at me like they can smell it, but instead of expressing disgust, they smile like they deal with the same foul odors on a daily basis. I do my best to maintain a safe distance from them. I try to tell them exactly what they want to hear so they’ll go away. I lie. They mistake my hidden fear for pride, and walk away. They seem strangely satisfied by this smug display of false confidence.
The people that come to talk to me may have mistaken me for the man that used to occupy the corner across the street from me. He is no more than a dark figure in my memory—a shadow, if you will. I came to know him as my own shadow because he would mimic my every movement. For want of company I’d cross the street to join him. Those driving by in their cars would frown upon this action for some reason. Before long I’d work myself into a frenzy trying to get him to express himself to me. I narrowly avoided getting hit by a car one day and vowed never to cross the street again, no matter how tempted or provoked. Soon the shadow disappeared altogether. And the looks of the faces of the people in their cars changed from disapproval to that of being pleased. I don’t understand why I don’t share their feelings. In fact, I miss this shadow of mine most of the time and have to make a conscious effort not to cross the street in search of him. But I swear he’s still around. Now he’s been sneaking across the street to get to me! And he’s quite crafty about it. He always has a trick up his sleeve.
It’s nighttime. The light above my head suddenly goes out. I am surrounded by darkness. I immediately begin to panic. To comfort me I imagine my shadow has wrapped itself around my head like a blindfold. I envision myself within a small cubicle. I drag my body across the floor until I reach the wall. It’s cool compared to the hot room. I press my cheek against it. I notice that my body is trembling and my heart is racing. My heart feels like it’s in a blazing furnace, locked inside by the bones of my rib cage. It shrinks to the size of a piece of charcoal. The ember at its core lights up slightly with every labored heartbeat, struggling to pump the waves of blood coursing through my chest. I hear sirens. Their sound changes from a drawn-out wail in the distance to a high-pitched squeal next to my ear. I am carted away to an unknown place.
I wake up in a room of bright light. I am lying on my back on a metal table. My body has been sliced open from my neck to my abdomen. Out of the corner of my eye I see several doctors analyzing my body parts on a table beside me. There are large, black spots encrusted on the outer walls of my innards. They turn them around and around in their hands, letting them fall with a thud back onto the table before picking them up again. They pass them back and forth between each other. My body parts have a hard, rubbery consistency, telling me that they have been exposed to the air outside my body for a long time. Either that or they have succumbed to some sort of disease. Overhearing the doctors, I learn that my irresponsible behavior has lead to my current condition. The head doctor tells me he’s “disappointed in me.” The air about me is thick and cloudy. The humid fog makes me cough. This triggers a gag reflex and a mouthful of black blood comes sputtering out of my mouth and onto my face. The moment it makes contact with my skin it turns into a horde of bugs that run about my head in different directions. They make a crackling noise under the nurse’s thumb when she manages to crush a few.
The head doctor holds up an X-ray of my body. It looks like someone scribbled on it with a pencil. I immediately notice a tangle of cracks and fissures in the most unlikely of places. He tells me I’ll be lucky if I live out the year, that the quality of my life will show a steep decline in my remaining months. He is too disgusted with me to continue. He waves his hand in front of his nose as if to air out the stink emanating from my body parts and me. “Get rid of him!” he shouts and kicks the table I am lying on. It has wheels. I slide across the room and bang against the wall near the door. The other doctors quickly shove my organs back into my body and staple me back up. In spite of the great trust I hold in the medical community, I worry they might have made a mistake from working so hurriedly.
Weakened considerably, I am returned to my corner. With my back against the streetlight, I sink down to its base. The sun is blinding and the air I breathe tastes like exhaust from a factory. I imagine the ozone layer being sliced open by the hand of God and injected with poisonous fumes. I can feel the staples digging deeper into my skin every time I inhale. The signs cluttering the streets come into view. Their letters are straight and hard and unfeeling. The cars pass me indifferently. I shield my eyes against the glare of the sun to see a group of people standing over me. I don’t know if they want to help or harm me. They ask me the same question they always do: “Are you who you say you are?” I am lying on my back in pain by now. My head feels like it’s going to burst. My voice stammers. I mumble some sort of response. The words trail off before I can remember what it is I said. As usual, they appear satisfied with my reply and walk away.
I do not return to my feet until sundown. Through half-closed eyes I look over the peaks of the rooftops in my neighborhood to see the branches of the trees splayed out against the auburn sky. At a certain point in the quiet calm of the approaching night an unexpected rush of euphoria seizes me. My surroundings are no longer cruel and alien. I realize that a special harmony has always existed between each and every object in my environment and me, and I play an intricate role in this special balance. My eyesight grows increasingly keener and I feel as if I can penetrate deep into the very core of all that surrounds me. This knowledge fills me with a deep sense of gratitude and relief because I finally come to see that all that belongs to this world is fundamentally good, from one of the many scrawny maple saplings that line the parking lot across the street to the rusty mailbox with a red flag two houses down. What endows all matter with this beautiful radiance of hope travels over distant hills and frozen glaciers, across desert plains and all of our vast oceans, to visit both the living and the non-living at twilight. I’m taken on one of these journeys around the world. I’m carried from one awe-inspiring landscape to the next, from fields of shimmering gold to emerald jungles where snakes dangle from thick branches the color of greased muscles.
Meanwhile, the sun is consumed by the night, which oozes over the hills and burbles up out of the sewers like lava. A million spiders descend from Heaven’s dust-infested attic to where I’m standing on the corner. My thoughts are cut short. Fragments of my past suddenly come to mind: trivial memories, like the fact that my father used to save rubber bands by wrapping them around the doorknobs about the house. I ask myself what happened to my father as I can’t remember when I saw him last. Come to think of it, everyone who ever played a part in my life is gone. But I can’t recall why. There just came a day when I lost track of them and they stopped contacting me altogether. I try to figure out why they are no longer in my life and can’t. My entire past is a dead end. The blank pages making up the story of my life negate all that I believe in with an emptiness that drags me down into my former state of despair. It begins to rain. The air is as damp as a sponge. I start to choke on it.
My shadow runs across the street and disappears.