Paper Dolls, Paper Nights: Tasting The Dark Of My Shadow Self.
I played at being a shadow last night.
I walked with my hand through the crook of the moon’s elbow, under orange streetlamps and through the haze of smoke that I could almost pretend was the fog I saw from a bus window once, relaxing on the Irish countryside.
I settled into the lone rhythm of my steps, the flush of my hair sticking just so to the back of my neck in the August heat. I walked with all the eyes of my body open to this beautiful muggy night, that took me past the blue-green oasis with its chipped red docks; they were slowly being undressed as the water drained for Fall’s approach.
I stepped past the boys on their bikes who attempted to say Hi to me in that awkward junior high way they have — hair flopping in their eyes, hands sticky on rubber handlebars.
Past the older ones in rust-bottomed pickups, who asked, “Where you going, sweetheart?” as though I must be going somewhere — that I couldn’t possibly decide to be out for my own feet — not like the old man across the street walking with the last of his cigarette pinched between his fingers. He wore the gray tangles of his beard like armor.
You cannot take the night from me, I tell them with my eyes, the doorways and the blinking neon. You cannot take my steps. Do you not know that I am my own escort?
The gray of alleyways are more frightening when you don’t look down them, and see that instead of hands lying in wait for you, there are old red bricks that lead to secret gardens in their holds. It could be a portal to another world, you know — you need only look. I’ve been there once, through the paint-chipped window frames and under the green archways.
We brought Mexican take-out and sat on a crumbling bench, the vines tickling at our mouths in the half-autumn air.
I see myself in paper-doll cutouts that I can shuffle in a box — the morning girl, the smiling girl, the flowy girl, the afternoon girl, the evening girl; I pluck the night girl, the one of gray shapes on warm pavement, gliding by in a turn of hair that only the leaves and the unspooling spider-silk reach to catch hold of with their reverent touch.
I’ve spent too long being afraid, my shadow-shelf decides. It is time to learn what it is to be truly alone — to be a paper doll, on a paper night, steps light on the balance beams of yellow parking stops and small weeds pushing up from sidewalk cracks. For even though I’ve spent five years following my feet by myself, the we in my sentences has always been a given. It’s time to feel what the dark tastes like without your known scent to my right.
Because, as Lizzie Bennett told me once from an old green book, “I am very fond of walking.”
And darling, the night is calling.
Autumn Toennis is a former beekeeper, part-time tree, and has spent the last year getting used to saying, ‘English degree’ instead of ‘English major’ (though she’s still not quite sure what means). Other work of hers has been published in Opsis, First Class Lit, and Heron Tree.