Archive for June, 2009

One Zero


Sky copy

At first the hissing of traffic and growl of the crowd was an awful specter at the bright end of the alleyway. It might have been a minute or an hour, but he lurched forth and forced the nondescript wash of sound and light to focus into meaning. He approached the busy street and suddenly meandering murmurs of the metropolis were about him. He stumbled at first, unsure of his trajectory. Above, the sky was dimming, easing toward navy as the streetlights spat electric tangerine upward at the low, bulbous clouds. The average colour of the celestial mottle was purple, warm like the humid evening. A good omen, perhaps.

He slipped into the line of shuffling feet and squeaking baby carriages. He eased into the routine of navigating the city such that it was as automatic and meaningless as his jittery pavement reveries, strewn in the alleys with those people living like rats. It was instinctive. He rounded a broad corner at a busy, four way intersection, just as the hazy evening mist began to collect into visible, individually distinguishable droplets of rain. The transition was so subtle, yet so complete and exact that he was lost in it for a second. In that second he bumped into someone. Just a shoulder check, but one that sent him teetering, as much out of shock as force. Without seeing the person with whom he collided, he tripped toward a storefront and reached out to steady himself on the window display. The glass thumped and shuddered slightly. The movement drew his gaze in a flash to his own ghostly reflection in the slick window.

He was dingy and gaunt, hunched with no pride. His eyes were clear, hazel and dilated, framed by shadow and adorning a crooked nose. His mouth was pouting agape, but it sat in a masculine, chiseled chin which sprouted two millimeters of salt and pepper scruff. It was, he realized, the first face he had stared directly into for some time. Just beside his doppelganger’s visage was his thick hand, still pressed against the window, now with drops of dirty water forming at its palm and sliding down the window. The streaks of liquid from the hand slid slowly off. He became suddenly aware of his own musty stink against the fresh breeze. As he looked beyond the hand into the window, there stood a mannequin. A man wearing a grey, pinstriped business suit. He knew it to be of a good make. The mannequin was posed erect and appeared commanding with its white, geometric head. For its stature, it curiously lacked hands. Then, as he began to loosen himself from the image of the businesslike effigy, he realized that a young store clerk was staring at him from behind it, from the soft yellow tungsten light, obscured by the white spotlights which exaggerated the mannequin’s display between them. Before he could even read the face he found himself drawing back his arm from the wet glass and starting to walk away. But as he left, he noticed the spot his hand had been. He had left a dirty paw print on the shiny panel, slowly dribbling away in the rain.