No Two Shadows, No Two Ghosts

Here’s a half-thought-out experiment that involves my recent foray into drawing, which can charitably be described as still in the “learning” stage. But even Rembrandt had to start somewhere, am I right?

As noted earlier on this blog, I took up drawing several months ago to fill in those creative gaps from all the fiction I no longer write – fiction and I having had a falling out of sorts. I’ve given a lot to fiction over the past few years, but it doesn’t give back, the selfish bastard.

Drawing doesn’t come easy for me (neither does fiction, really, the selfish bastard). I have always sort of sucked at drawing. I didn’t show much interest in it since, oh, high school, when I would draw comics in the margins of my notebook instead of actual notes (hence my mediocre grades after 9th grade or so).

BUT: I have kept at drawing. I recently filled in all the blank pages in a How to Draw book I purchased last fall. I enjoy drawing. It’s mostly fun, and I’ve made certain strides.

Now I am putting words to some of my drawings in an attempt to find a truce of sorts with fiction (the selfish bastard). The following tale was written after a few weeks of attempting to draw human forms, which is harder than you think. I have no real idea what the story is about. It’s mostly an exercise in putting words to pictures, in case I ever decide to write comics. It’s called “No Two Shadows, No Two Ghosts.”

All your life you’re taught that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. All the snowflakes that have ever fallen, or ever will, and none exactly alike.

But how can you know?

Same thing with grains of sand, blades of grass. Trillions upon trillions, none exactly alike.

How can you know?

No two sets of eyes are exactly alike. No two faces, thoughts, spines, minds, crimes.

This city has 40 million human eyes, give or take. None exactly alike.

How many eyes are in this neighborhood, on this street? How many thoughts?

My own eyes are focused on the ground, dodging other eyes. They see broken glass and cracked pavement, shadows on shadows.

No two shadows are exactly alike.

It’s dark here, even during daytime. The sun barely seeps through, but weeds still manage to grow.

No two weeds are exactly alike.

The air is foul in this part of town. The clatter is endless. The alleys carry secrets.

I was told to search here, in this part of town, on this street. This is where I’d find her.

I reach in my pocket, pull out a photo, name, and date.

I lift my eyes. They seem surprised to be looking up instead of down. They blink, blur, focus, refocus.

Focus – always my problem. I lacked it. That’s what they told me, anyway. I always thought I lacked interest instead of focus.

My interest right now is on the money. It’s why I’m here – the money.

No, that’s a lie. It’s not the money.

It’s the guilt.

Guilt is what separates us from the rest of the animals. Guilt, and inflicting pain for pleasure. No other animal does that.

No two animals are exactly alike.

I haven’t been on this side of town in years. The alleys and weeds and doors look the same, but not the faces, not the eyes, or the thoughts, or the shadows.

I haven’t seen her in years. I don’t even know what she looks like these days. The photo is recent. It doesn’t look like her.

Except for the eyes.

People are queued up outside a tired old building with a sign that says, “Department of Social Services.” I look at the photo. I look at the line. The second woman in line, the one with the ankle-length skirt. I look back at the photo. I look back at the woman in the ankle-length skirt.

Could she be the woman I’m looking for?

But no, it’s not her.

A man I don’t think I know uses a switchblade to lift the brim of his hat. His eyes meet mine. There’s a message in those eyes, and a bigger one in that switchblade.

Plenty of switchblades are exactly alike.

Across the way a woman cop pretends not to be watching Switchblade.

I peek through a window in the Social Services building. A man in a small, cramped office is slumped over his desk. Bad day at the office.

The woman cop watches Switchblade watch me watching a bad day at the office.

Just down the block there’s a pool hall with a neon sign that says “Biliards.”

I slip inside and order a beer. I lean against the bar, look outside, see if Switchblade is hovering around.

“You’re in my line of vision, Chief,” a voice says. I look up. A man with a pool cue is glaring at me.

“Sorry,” I mumble, and move out of his line of vision.

The pool player stretches over the table, a long stretch, a tricky shot. He takes aim at the 12 ball in the corner pocket. He sinks it and spins the cue ball back into position for the next shot, an expert leave, like he’s been doing this half his life. He chalks his stick.

A TV in the corner has a women’s basketball game on. A lean and muscular player with long flowing hair dribbles into the lane, hesitates, then blows past the defender for an easy layup, like she’s been doing it half her life.

I down the beer and pay up.

The pool hall disappears behind me.

Outside it’s still daytime, still shadowy. Switchblade is gone. So is the woman cop.

So is the line with people in it.

So is the Bad Day at the Office.

I look around. My eyes take a mental shapshot.

A man in a fedora smoking a cigarette, shifting his eyes.

I look at him. He looks away.

He disappears.

I look around some more.

A young guy with too many teeth walking up to a woman, giving her a smile and a wink, a thumbs up.

The woman doesn’t smile back.

She’s not the one I’m looking for.

They disappear.

Across the way a woman practices her flute in front of an abandoned building. She is alone in her thoughts, alone in her music. Sweet music in a sour part of town.

She’s not the one I’m looking for.

She disappears.

I move to the next block, look around,

A woman in a beret, frizzy hair, dark round shades covering eyes that are not exactly alike any other two eyes. Or maybe it’s a man.

She’s not the one I’m looking for.

She disappears.

There’s a woman on a stool, staring into space. What could she be seeing with those eyes? What could she be thinking with her thoughts? I check the photo again. I look at the woman on the stool.

Could that be her?

A man sitting on a crate watches me watching her.

She watches me watching him.

They disappear.

I stare at an old building where a ballroom used to be. The wall still holds the faded painting of a couple dancing, dressed to the nines. Back when people used to dress up and go to ballrooms.

Back when this neighborhood was more than weeds and cracked pavement.

Back before I was last here, long ago, when it was still a neighborhood full of life, full of eyes and thoughts, back before it was nothing but shadows and ghosts, ghosts and shadows.

No two shadows are exactly alike.

No two ghosts.

But how can you know?

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