That’s the thing about this city; the more you look into the shadows the more shadows look at you.
The noise of an alarm clock was too annoying to ignore. Melissa could turn it off without looking, her eyes still closed, and her mind still processing the dream. It was something nice, she was sure, but she already couldn’t remember what it was. Her second move, so comforting in the past, was to put on her glasses. The quick glance through the glasses made Melissa shake in disgust. Cheap brown plastic arms were helplessly trying to find a familiar solid surface, the shadows appeared and reappeared in the corners of lenses while the glasses flew through the air. They landed near the wall, nearly missing a broken TV set.
If somebody had asked Melissa why she had kept the glasses, she wouldn't have been able to answer. Perhaps, it was a masochistic way to remind herself what she had achieved in the recent months. Or maybe, it was a desperate attempt to get back to the past. She hadn’t driven a car since the time of an accident.
She could see the shadows’ vague silhouettes even without the glasses on. The glasses gave them not only shape; looking through lenses revealed an awful stench, protruding here and there deformed hands, eyes closed by white cataracts, and gigantic penises reaching the ground. The shadows were brown or black, or, more frequently, of iridescent origin. They leered and showed obscene hand gestures; some could whistle, some could hysterically laugh, and all of them caused a feeling of nausea.
They were everywhere and nowhere. Melissa caught sight of them in the corners of the city’s shop windows and the beautiful waterfalls in the country. They could pop out in the room’s reflection on the TV while she was watching a favorite movie. She could hear their laughter between the dialogues in TV series, and she could see a slight image of their grins on the faces of strangers. She broke a TV screen by throwing a remote control into it to no avail; their figures were still visible behind the cracks.
She reluctantly accepted their existence as a terminally ill person gets tired of constantly thinking about his illness. She couldn’t get rid of the glasses.
She changed the job and started working in a supermarket where an owner, an elderly Pakistani, allowed her to do any improvements in the interior at her own expense. She removed almost all transparent surfaces, used decorative curtains and table napkins wherever possible so that the shop looked more like an old ladies’ apartment.
Melissa’s new world was foggy and sometimes dangerous. A strict daily routine – doing one familiar thing after another – was leeway to safe ground. On good days Melissa could convince herself that she was content with her life, on bad days the shadows danced their ugly dances on every surface in the city and every raindrop falling from the sky.
After placing a spectacle-case with the cursed, still unbroken glasses into her purse, Melissa went to the bathroom. She removed all mirrors from her home, that’s why she wasn’t sure how she looked. A quick shower, quick breakfast, and she was ready to go to work.
The early summer morning greeted her with a pleasant chill. People hurried to their workplaces, oblivious to the secret world that surrounded them. They looked without fear into each other’s faces, they drove cars, constantly checking the mirrors, and they bought the new flat TVs without second thoughts.
Melissa’s workday started at 6 am. She wasn’t complaining. After all, the work was a great way to distract herself from disquieting thoughts and barricade herself from gray contemplations.
A usual control round between the shelves showed nothing extraordinary. Melissa prepared the coffee machine for the busy day and put two plastic stools outside the shop for the occasional procrastinators. A truck with fresh bakery was late, but it was also a common thing, as Gary, the driver, was a well-known lover of long sleep.
The morning went on, and the shop was full of customers in need of a quick snack before work. The next wave of buyers came with lunchtime, then again a little respite, and in the evening people started to buy supplies for dinners. Melissa had a jaw with some regular customers who passed by only because of her: a man in his 40s after a painful divorce who lived nearby, an elderly woman who felt lonely, so she came at least twice a day, and an old acquaintance of Melissa’s who just loved to chat.
Melissa was already cleaning the shop and putting things in their places when a woman came in. She was of Melissa’s age, with brown hair covered by a formless headscarf and an all-age coat of the same dark hue of grey. There was something in her manner that caught Melissa’s sight. The woman was reserved, and it seemed that she was afraid of looking around. She looked mostly at the ground, calculating every next step. The little bells, a decoration hanging from the ceiling near a fridge, lamentably jingled, as the woman bumped into them with her head.
‘Can I help you?’ Melissa wanted to be polite. She was certain that she had never seen the woman before.
‘Yes, please. I need water. I’ve been walking…a lot,’ the woman’s voice was almost a whisper. She didn’t look at Melissa even while talking, only bent her head a little to the side.
‘Do you want a cold or warm bottle?’
Melissa approached the woman, opened an opaque fridge door beside her, and handed the woman a bottle. To her disgust, Melissa caught a glimpse of an ugly lonely shadow in the glass and involuntarily shook.
‘You saw it too?!’ the woman suddenly exclaimed. Melissa looked at her in amusement and saw that the woman’s eyes went huge. They silently stared at each other for a moment.
‘I don’t know what you are talking about,’ Melissa deadpanned.
‘You saw it! Brown, with big white eyes, giggling!’
‘I haven’t heard it giggling.’
‘But you saw it! The shadow! Please, tell me that you saw it too. I thought I was the only one who could see them. The shop…you removed all mirrors and reflective surfaces. I noticed that from the second I entered your shop. The fridge doors…You don’t want to see them, but you still see them everywhere!’
Melissa without a word took the bottle from the woman’s hand and went towards the counter. The woman obediently followed murmuring to herself: ‘I am not crazy, God, I am not crazy.’ She tried to get Melissa talking, yet, all her attempts broke against Melissa’s stone face.
The woman looked back twice while leaving the shop. She hoped that, after all, Melissa would change her mind. The last glance was made through a shop window, though it must have been sickening for the woman; a shadow with especially deformed face frantically twerked in it, illuminated by the lights of a street lamp.
Melissa pretended she was too busy with counting money. When she allowed herself to look around, the woman was already gone.
Without thinking, Melissa carefully took out the glasses from the spectacle-case. She turned around toward the shop window and clearly saw the shadow. It laughed and winked at Melissa, showing off its best moves, swirling its butt from side to side, and clapping its tiny womanly hands. Its gigantic penis clashed violently in rotation with one of its legs, then with the other, but this didn’t interrupt the dance.
Melissa started to twerk.