Wendy Elizabeth Wallace
She’s walking home, taking the diagonal zag through the park that saves her five minutes, the one she always takes from late nights of drinks, the one her friends always warn her against. She’s never been approached, has felt nothing but the urgent press of her bladder that reminds her she’s nearly back.
But tonight, there is suddenly someone behind her. She hears crunches of gravel that are just half a beat offset from her own, huffs of breath, loud and rough. The steps of a man, the breath of a man. She doesn’t turn, but she feels how dark it is, that she may as well be invisible to everyone except him, just behind her, not speaking, growing closer.
When she was young, she imagined the night as a liquid poured down from above the sky, injected into the highest point of the dome over her head and slowly pooling downward. She liked leaving the lights off in her room, watching the night drift in, settle blue on the walls and the pages of her book and her skin. It didn’t frighten her the way it did her older brother, who couldn’t sleep without the bear-shaped glow beside him. Her brother imagined hidden fanged things, read her stories of creatures formed of darkness, became frustrated when she would shrug at the bloody endings. She knew there was nothing waiting for her in the shadows of her room except what she allowed to be there.
On her left, a park lamp shines dully, and she watches her shadow rotate, begin to spread ahead of her down the path, lengthening. She sees the second shadow, too, reach towards her own. It’s longer than hers, thicker. There is a lot of him, to block this much light.
For Christmas when she was eight, her mother bought her a book of shadow puppets. There would be a page, bright blue, with a shadow cast against it in the shape of a dog, a car, a tree, a horse, a house. She, too, could make the shapes appear, just as sharp and accurate, just as alive. With the lamp with the stark white bulb her mother moved into her room, she learned to control the shadows with her body, this power of illusion and transformation.
The first shadow she’d ever learned was the rabbit. She’d clasped her hands together, the index and middle of her right rising to form ears, a small space left between her palms to allow a point of light to travel through for the eye.
She feels like this rabbit, her heart thrumming like prey, wondering about the strength in her legs, the speed.
She thinks of another shape she could make, the profile of a man, fingers curled against each other to form heavy brows, a protruding nose, a mouth she could open and close. In her mind, the mouth opens and opens, far wider than her child’s fingers would have ever allowed, hungry and ready.
She has begun walking faster now, but so has the man, his strides eating up the distance between them, and she is nearly certain she can feel the wind from his mouth on the back of her neck. She watches the grey cutout of her shape on the ground, the way, as she moves further from the lamp, it continues to stretch and dilute. She wants to de-couple from it, to become shadowless and unhunted, to arrive at her door unseen and untouched.
Wendy Elizabeth Wallace is a queer writer who grew up in Buffalo, New York, a city she will talk about for hours if you let her. Currently, she teaches English in Connecticut, and writes when her dog is not demanding walks. She is the co-founding editor of Peatsmoke: A Literary Journal. She met the good people who are willing to suffer through her rough drafts at the Purdue University MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, jmww, The Carolina Quarterly, Two Hawks Quarterly, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere. Twitter: @WendyEWallace1