J.P.M.

By Kate McCorkle

hadows detach, peel from the corporeal like masking tape. Easy once you pry an upturned corner. The skin goes on dancing or noshing or pacing the floor, mussing its hair, conferring with so-and-so. Distracted.

So it’s easy to worry a frayed edge, use the hint of a nail to scrape—breathlessly fret and gently strip—ease the outline away. Once the border lifts a shadow’s removable contact paper.

I have it, and you lost it.

You don’t know yet. You are preoccupied.

I snap the shadow out, a bedsheet freshly dried, and the crack pleases me.

A shadow is real and sturdy despite its ephemera. That part, the fragility, is actually a ruse. It’s evolutionary, like the lizard who can drop its tail when threatened or the possum mimicking death. This adapted, artful frailty lets them thrive.

The shadows vibrate and hum: an abyss, a hole that can never be filed. Because they are a chasm, and because no one looks, and because people think they are fickle and delicate—subject to the whims of the sun—no one notices how tricky and cunning, how fully powerful and awful these sinister shadows are.

They eat and eat. Their hunger is bottomless.

I look at it, holding it like a new suit. It squirms and recoils with the pained sound of metal twisting. It doesn’t want me. It wants to return to its meal. It slowly leans, becomes one dimensional, hopes to become invisible. Hopes to hide it vast maw. As the shadow does this, I question who is parasite and who is host.

I don’t want this one. I have my own shadow that fits just fine. It feeds off my fears, my anger. I don’t need someone else’s. I just want to inspect it—the one I skinned from the floor while you were talking on your phone and lying about who was on the other end. You made me feel guilty I interrupted. I didn’t know I needn’t have felt that way.

Would your shadow tell me this? I shake it, try to unroll the wrinkles. Snap it into a shape that makes sense.

I wouldn’t keep it—can’t keep it—but I’m studying. Trying to hear what it has to say. If it can say. So thirsty for clues, for some truth, some thimbleful of truth, that I sever your shadow; place one hand into the abyss where your heart is supposed to be as I cease my own breath, fearful of what may be retrieved.

You continue over there, phone to ear: blissful, unaware.

I am left with a shroud I do not know how to restore.

 

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Kate McCorkle’s stories and essays have appeared in several publications, including Barely South Review, r.kv.r.y Quarterly, Marathon Literary Review, and Penmen Review. A Pushcart nominee, she writes with the Greater Philadelphia Workshop Studio. Kate is currently working on a book-length thing about her time as a 9/11 infantry wife.


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