Dude comes in, you’re fairly blinded but whatever, there’s a line.

I didn’t bring my video game this morning so that’s probably why
he didn’t see me 
but I saw him even though 
when he was standing in the doorway
everything on the front of him was like 
his whole head and shirt and belt all like 
the inside of a shadow
and when he came through the door with the big sun still across the street
he moved
like a cutout of a person
a weird empty space coming in where it was full
and he walked up to the counter and said words to Denise
and as his voice moved toward her his arm moved toward her and 
his thick sleeve stuck out from his flat shape 
in blue red green black curlicues and then 
it disappeared again when he turned toward me
I don’t think if it comes any closer the empty shape will take me
but I’ve squnched a little bit behind mom and I think 
with the table and bags and crayons and plates and us we are 
too big together 
to fit inside 

Dude comes in, you’re fairly blinded but whatever, there’s a line. Even with the shades down it’s still blazing in here in the mornings until like brunch, no matter how you angle yourself. Everybody’s here today, Otto and Sofie and Nick with his drawings, James looking like it was a late night, and so this dude comes in, you’ve never seen him before, says “regular coffee” and points at a donut. The sun is right there swallowing your eyeballs so you can barely see his face. He’s a big guy and moving slowly and you lose him in the mix of Sarah and Alfie nuzzling each other like they always do and finishing each other’s orders. And you just don’t even see it happen, is the thing. There’s nothing normaler than you missing something in the rush but there’s this thwongggg through the shop and then you’re seeing the guy at the far corner table across from the door in a paisley shirt, whatever, that’s cool. But you’re pretty sure Nick and Sofie were just there. Like, just a second ago. And then you look over at the door and there’s like a woman and a little boy standing outside but all you can see through the glass with the sun behind them is like, two shadows. And they’re just standing there, two silhouettes, like they’re about to come inside but can’t figure out how to get through. 

I stay close by mom a lot
beside her and a little bit behind
she bends left and so do I and I laugh into her waist
as her big body washes back and forth 
down aisles and sidewalks 
like a wave
and small things scatter
for example the things being held up in front of me 
by the other one who walks with us sometimes 
or always
though saying that makes it seem like mom 
does not have that great a power
though she does

what I’ve figured out is that
this thing about things appearing in front of me
jam jar pinwheel pinecone magazine
is not me getting distracted like my teacher thinks
it is the other

I’m telling you it is the strangest thing
not even a feeling but just a way it is
it lopes along beside us but I can tell when its attention has moved over
then away goes the shape of the other 
the smoke of it blooms like it was blown on
then back it comes sudden and so close
pushing into my face with breath that takes my breath
and what seems like a hand around my cheeks
directing me to look right here

so what I think now is
it’s like a roaming eye
but it can’t really see 
except through me

and now you see why I didn’t bring my game this morning
as an experiment in making myself less seeable 
because sometimes I get tired of looking for the other and

and now sometimes I feel like
it’s not enough for the other to get close and give me things 
to see for it
but that it wants to get in
and slot in behind my eyes like the card in my viewfinder
and I will be something it can carry 
or put in its pocket
or else something it can move somewhere 
where I can walk around by myself and see all sorts of things
for the other
go onto stages where people are cheering
go into big libraries where old men bring out books for my inspection
go into bedrooms and closets
skyscrapers and banks
make calls and order food for the other
who’ll be laughing

You sent Sally down the street when Nick and Sofie or whoever the fuck those shadows were took off. Fuck a rush, these are your people, little Nicky with his bleep bloop game and sleepy hair and his sweet mama doing whatever she does on her laptop to make a living. I guess he’ll be in school soon, maybe she can get a different kind of job and they won’t be coming in here anymore. So yeah, you were worried because that was really really strange of them, no goodbye, just out there looking like ghost things. So Sally ran out after them and you felt sick behind the register and the guy in the paisley sitting there like butter wouldn’t melt, like that was his place, what the fuck. You wanted to go right up to him and get in his face but yeah, something told you that would not go well, not to mention he hadn’t actually made eye contact with a single thing since he walked in. So you wait for something from Sally, go through the motions with the sun easing up finally thank God. Always weirdly dark in here when it moves above the window line. 

And there is Sofie standing behind your counter. 

it’s easy to be quiet with the instruments
down the street in Len’s Music
the wood of them is quiet like a tree until the strings snap against it
and it rings and grows way bigger than itself
in here is hazy rustly dusty bright
like a forest
but now
inside the door with sunshine beaming straight down on the street
the other was hovering
and I couldn’t tell for a second what was it 
and what was me or mom
but we looked at Len
our heads moved in slow motion
and his head rose up from the mouth of a cello
mouth wide
someone rode by on a bike with a bell
the bell of the door hadn’t rung when we entered
but it was ringing now and someone was coming in 
and I wanted to shout at them to go on back out again
but my voice was all smoke and I couldn’t catch my breath
mom’s shape went through my hand when I tried to press against it
and if it had gotten her it could get anyone 

so I slipped off and ducked my head 
to wait until the other had moved forward
so I could get back to her whenever she was back
and I found a pocket that was dark behind Len’s desk 
and the lady in the apron from the shop was coming in
and for a second she was standing in a line with Len 
with the shape like mom between them
and I closed my eyes 
and felt a loose hand passing over strings
and the space around me shook moaned echoed rang like
a sound falling out of an open mouth
it settled into quiet in my bones and 

I opened 
to see no Sally anymore 
and no mom but
Len on the sidewalk
a short fat shadow falling away to the left of him
turning his head right and left and right and walking so slow towards the coffee shop 
his hand plucking the petunias in the pots outside the windows
one petal between two fingers

So Len walks in but no Sally. Sofie’s standing with her arms out in front of her like she’s gonna lean on something but she doesn’t. Her fingers are feeling around at the air and you’re fully freaked, face it, there’s a lost kid on the block and the last anybody saw he was walking out of your shop. Where’s Nick? Every face is a blur right now and thank god you could punch in orders in your sleep because that’s what you’re doing. Len doesn’t have a lot to say either. You look down and see he’s got a full on shadow beside him. In a dim as fuck coffee shop. In the middle of the day. Just like those ones that were standing at the door. You stretch your face, scrunch your nose, headache pushing out between your eyebrows. Breathe out. Touch Sofie’s back. Look in her eyes. Breathe in together. What are you gonna do.

when we started coming over to this block 
I ordered scrambled eggs with lots of pepper 
and the smooth pink bacon they have here
at the other place it was dark slick curly bacon
and the tables had one leg in the middle I could wrap my feet around
someone said something loud in that other shop one time and
came real close to our table and
mom said we had to go
packed up right then real fast shoved things in pockets
and the next day we were here where it is quiet
talking is quiet
mom punches letters and little red squiggles crawl over the screen
and there’s a paper tornado hanging from the ceiling

What are you doing in here, Len. Sofie. What are you doing. Go sit down. We’ll figure it out. But they don’t. They just stand there on either side of you and you’re facing down a line that’s growing again after the lull. You counted on people staying where they were but not like this. People have their spots in this place. They go, they come, but they do it their own ways. Nick and Sofie ways. Sarah and Alfie ways. Sally always coming in at warp speed and then disappearing for half a year. When people come back, they’re still them, just maybe more so or less so, but what you see when you look into their faces is them. They’ve gone, they’ve changed, but they’ve stayed too. This Len and Sofie, it’s like they got picked up and dropped off by some Monty Python hand after some detour through someplace that turned them into cartoons. Stick puppets made from popsicle sticks and old transparencies. The paisley guy hasn’t done one thing besides raise and lower his coffee cup since he sat down.  

It just wants to live
the other is hungry
I’m sorry for your loss it says
as it takes over
makes itself at home
you didn’t invite it but
maybe something you did did
some way you looked out of the window
or said you were bored
doesn’t matter what you’re doing
the other is up for adventure
it wants to run
see sights
link arms toss heads
eat breakfast 
throw coins in waterfalls
and it needs us
but I think it can’t hold on to what we do 
I think it’s starting 
to do it

Where did you last see him, you say. Right here, she says. Right here.

Shop’s closing. Lights coming on at the corner soon. Sitting out back in the alley, three pairs of feet with elbows on knees and one long shadow stretching back. You, Len, Sofie, silent as stone. You flick your bic, no energy to smoke. 

I didn’t listen, she says. Last week when he pulled my shirt and told me. I didn’t listen.

What can we do, you say. What would bring him back.

Len looks at you, opens his mouth. Doesn’t say anything.  

Music, Sofie says, on the other side. Maybe music. 

I will not look 
for the other anymore
If I have to be blind and still for all time then let it be 
I want my hands and feet 
and my adventures 
so I’m staying so still inside so mom can find me
so she will find me
she can find me

the pink gold turquoise must be coming down over the street by now
I can hear buzzing
a hitchy breath
bell on the door
her voice yes my name
a sound like crying
like the shape of my own mouth
as it opens in the dark under the strings

and she holds me
and she plays me
and I sing

Alicia Chesser is a writer, dancer, choreographer, and arts worker. Her work focuses on connection, the language of the body, and what to do with what’s unsayable. She has published award-winning arts and culture journalism in the Tulsa Voice and other regional publications and writes a weekly newsletter for Root Tulsa. Her original, interdisciplinary choreography has appeared at Tulsa Ballet’s Studio K, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Crystal Bridges Museum for American Art, and elsewhere. Her poetry won first prize in the 2023 Tulsa City-County Library’s adult creative writing contest. She coordinates community arts programs and covers creative culture in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she lives with her three children.

Author Photo by Melissa Lukenbaugh
Chimera by Studio Fibonacci from Noun Project (CC BY 3.0)

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