The world knew the position from times before the steam engine, before print, before Christ, probably before dirt: sitting, looking down at the ground, elbows on knees, chin on hands. Weather notwithstanding, the position came with two options: looking at one’s shadow with potential sunburn on the neck, or looking at the ground with the sun in one’s eyes. On this particular April morning Pat assumed the former as he blinked away the tears from his eyes. “Pat the cat was fat ‘cause he ate a rat” ran through his head, cemented much higher in his mind than being asked if he was pregnant. He looked at the blob shape shadow on the ground without really looking at it.
He had only wanted one chance to kick the ball; like most other recesses he had endured being picked last. He stood quiet as new comers to the game had cut the line. In his mind he heard his brother’s condescending: “You are weak, while I am strong”. That’s what his brother would have said when Nate said they were skipping him in line. Pat’s face grew red at the memory. He knew he was fatter than the other kids. He knew he was slower. He knew he couldn’t kick the ball as hard. It didn’t matter to him, as he just wanted to play. And after spending all recess waiting for his turn, only for it to be taken away, he finally snapped. He had shoved Nate away and stormed off. He walked to the old wooden bench on the other side of the playground and spent the rest of recess staring down at his shadow.
Shadows always appeared away from the Sun. Without the light, the shadow would not be. But then the shadow would always run from it, hide from the brightness and the heat. Like secrets and shames and sins, shadows do not want to be seen. Shadows want to be left alone in darkness, hidden from view.
Pat started to feel his neck slowly bake in the Sun’s rays. He glanced around for any trees to sit under, but all of them were behind the fence. He remembered a little from a song in Sunday school. “Get into the sunlight/Get out of that shade”. He remembered hearing that six years prior and immediately imagining someone stuck under the shade of the tree. The figure always looked like he was trying to jump, but failed on each attempt. Pat never quite knew why the man couldn’t make the leap. Were his feet stuck to the ground? Were his legs too weak move his body? Or did the figure not have the will to make that leap? Had he given up on feeling the light? Was he more comfortable hiding in the shadows with everything else unseen by the world?
Or did he, like Pat, just prefer the cool shade to the blazing heat?
He didn’t have much more time to dwell on the subject before he heard the familiar scuttle towards the top of the hill. End of recess; time for class. And Pat knew it was important to get to class quickly. Today his class selected topics for their social studies project. Only three people per topic, first come, first serve. Pat knew the topic he wanted (Ancient Greek Myths) with two back ups in mind (Compare/constrast Greek and Roman Mythologies and Summary of the Trojan War). Temporarily forgetting about the ruined game of kick ball Pat rushed to class, only for his heart to sink. He saw the majority of the class had already gotten in line. And the other kids were doing “Chinese-cuts” for each other. Ricky had been in front of him, now it was Rodney.
Pat waited patiently. He frowned when he heard Rodney pick the Acient Greek Myths topic. Finally at the teachers desk, Pat looked down to sign up for a topic. He found all three of his picks were already filled. Drastically he scanned the list for something, anything to work on.
“You should have had three topics in mind in case yours was already chosen,” he heard his teacher nag. Instead of replying he hastily scribbled his name beside something about Ancient Roman Triumph and took his seat. He sighed loudly as he pulled out his textbook and his notebook. After a minute Chris turned around in front of him. With an ugly sneer Chris started to heavily breathe through his mouth. Pat sealed his lips and tried to inhale through his stuffy nostrils. Feeling his face redden again Pat turned to the floor. He looked at the shadows. He quietly smiled at the thought of sitting on Chris’s chest, letting all his weight compress on his classmate’s rib-cage. He glanced around the room and looked at his other fellow students who had always made fun of him. I could kill them by sitting on them, he thought. He blinked as he saw something from the corner of his eye. Though he was leaning forward, he could have sworn his shadow was sitting up a little straighter than normal. Almost as quickly as he had noticed it the shadow changed to match his slouched position. Pat shook his head and prepared to take notes as the teacher started to talk about Athens.
That evening Pat sat in his room, flipping through a magazine when he saw a full-page perfume ad. He stared wide-eyed at the model wearing nothing but a thin silk scarf, her arms reaching behind her head to allow her ample breasts to stick out. Pat sweated for a moment, then quickly turned the page. A little bit of Matthew went through his head. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Pat threw the magazine aside and sat up. He walked over his desk and decided he might as well start his homework. He sat down in his chair and ignored the air being squeezed out from the well-worn cushion. As he wrote on his paper he glanced to his side and saw his shadow mimicking his movements. Pat looked down at his work, how Sally had cut her cake into three equal sections for her and her two friends only for another friend to show up, and the book wanted to know how all four could now share the cake with only one cut. Pat wondered what his shadow was writing about. Was there a shadow Sally somewhere trapped in the flat darkness on the wall? Or were other things being written? Secrets of school boy lusts, anger at the bullies, all his unhappiness being jotted down in a dark journal that only others in the dark could see and read?
Pat pushed back his chair a bit. His shadow did the same. It occurred to Pat that even if he was not looking at it, the shadow was always there. He raised his arm and watched his shadow do the same. Pat wondered. Did the shadow do everything he did, or was Pat forced do everything his shadow did? His shadow knew all of his secrets. What did his shadow think of him? Was it a passive observer? Did it like or dislike Pat? Would it rather be the shadow of something else?
A little touch of silliness passed through Pat’s mind. Dropping his pencil, he opened his desk and pulled out the pocket knife his dad had given him. He unfolded the blade. He looked over and made sure his shadow was similar armed. He sat up, the springs in the chair popping back up almost desperately. He stood in the middle of the room, and began to play out a knife fight scene, with his shadow as his opponent. Pat ducked and moved from side to side, thrusting and parrying in the open air. In the middle of his merriment he caught the sight of himself in the mirror. His face started to turn a bright red. If the shadows was a force of concealment, then the mirror acted as a force of truth. And Pat saw a truth in polished glass. Pat saw an overweight, awkward looking kid acting like Errol Flynn dueling nothingness in the middle of his room. Deeply embarrassed, he turned to face his shadow, the tilts of their heads matching perfectly. Turning away from his dark doppelganger Pat closed his knife.
Then the pain started. He looked down and saw red to start to spread across his white shirt, as he felt something warm and wet start to slide down his front. He looked up at the mirror and saw his shadow whittling itself. In a panic Pat sealed his eyes shut, even as the pain grew worse.
After hearing a loud thud, Pat’s family raced to the back of the house and through open his door. That’s where they saw his disemboweled remains with ruined nostrils on the floor. Only when they looked at the mirror did they see the skinny shadow, standing tall and proud.
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