Enjoy the first chapter of The Shadows At Their Feet.
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Part I: The Color of Her Eyes

The Girl


—is this young woman, this girl. She stands on a traffic island in the middle of a busy street near a wide intersection. The island is small and she never sits. She stands there day and night. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year—standing on a traffic island in the middle of a busy street. She never sits. She never rests.

Her eyes sparkle like hazelnuts dipped in the night sky.

The road around the island is a wide avenue of gray-black with three lanes in each direction. An equally wide road crosses at a large intersection, a crosswalk at every point but that which runs before the island.

She is like any other fixture on the street. She is like the green copper lamps with their lazy yellow glows. Like the brown-red gratings of the storm drains. Like a crack on the curb. The cars pass her, and it is like she is nothing more than the storm drain or an ornamental tree. The people pass her as if she were a yellow line in the road.

Her hair is dark and short, part of it is braided haphazardly.

The road is an avenue. It stretches on and on—a river—deeper into the city in one direction. It slopes across graceful hills of small Victorian apartments and houses in the other. There are a few stores along the road but most of the buildings are apartments, at least at this point on the road. A small green park surrounded by wrought iron fences sits between two of the larger brown brick apartment buildings.

She is beautiful.


In this city—there is a young man. He lives across the street from the girl, and he often sits by the window and watches her. He considers himself an artist, and he will sit and watch her and sketch her on a pad of paper. Then sometimes he will sit there with his easel, and he will paint her. There are dozens of half-finished portraits of her—all the same angle, all focusing on her eyes—scattered haphazardly in his apartment. Some rest against a wall, others lay face down on tables, or on the floor, or sticking out from under the couch. Some are scattered in his bedroom, others sleep in the bathtub. They line the closets and the hallway. Sketches suffocate drawers and paper the floor in his bedroom. A layer of them rest between the blankets in his bed.

None are complete.

He pays attention to any change he believes that he sees in her demeanor. Some days she appears sad, and so he uses blues, blacks, and deep violets in his paintings. Other days she seems bored or indifferent, and so he uses greens and browns. For a week he thought she seemed angry, and used splashes and explosions of red.

When he dreams, he sees her standing on an island in the middle of a volcanic lake of sulfuric acid. There are no clouds in the sky to protect her from a constant and temperamental sun that swells and shrinks with radiation. She does not speak in his dreams, nor has he ever heard her speak while awake. He pushes a wooden boat into the lake, but it dissolves.

It is always the same dream. It always ends with him at the edge of the lake, and her standing on the island, thirsty but with nothing to drink. Tired, but with no room to rest.

His neighbor is an old man with a large beard who rarely wears a shirt and who never leaves the apartment building. His teeth are yellow and his hair is gray and thin unlike the thick dark hair on his chin. He squints whenever he speaks and his breath smells of onions and ginger. If feeling particularly lonely, the young man visits the old man, and together they sit at a window and look at the girl. Most people who live in buildings that look out at the street spend time looking at her through their windows, and from the street, you can see all the faces staring out. Never has any one of them tried to speak with her. Never have they paid attention to her away from their windows.

The windows.

The old man and the young man sit and drink tea made from yellow and pink flowers that tastes like a sweet chamomile, and the old man serves toast and homemade jam of apricots and oranges and their little bits of rind. The two of them sit in high-backed chairs facing a window, the old man without a shirt, and sip their tea and eat their toast.

And they look at the girl.

She has been there for a long time—had been standing there the day the young man moved into his apartment. The old man cannot remember a time when she wasn’t standing on the island in the middle of the street. She holds no sign. She stands in the rain, the snow, in wind, and hail. She stands when it becomes so hot that parts of the street melt into a sticky tar, or so cold that her only companions in the road were rivers of ice.

“But she is beautiful,” the old man says. The old man always says this. “But she is beautiful.” It is his coda of choice when discussing the girl with the young man. “The snow makes trouble for the people, but she—she is beautiful.”

The old man sips at his tea and lights a hand-carved pipe filled with cherry-flavored tobacco and a little something he claims is for his eyes and then closes those eyes and smiles as he thinks about how beautiful the girl is. The young man brings his sketch pad with him to the old man’s apartment, for the old man likes watching him draw. The old man was an architect before his fingers gave out. He laments the loss of his fingers. The something special in the tobacco helps with that too, he claims. The young man draws with a graphite pencil with a sharp end and a wide edge. He creates shadows around the girl’s eyes, because there are shadows around the girl’s eyes. He always starts with the eyes. He says little, and lets the old man speak because he knows it makes the old man happy to talk and be listened to. The young man knows that people like to be listened to, and there are far too few people in the world who choose to listen. Most choose to speak.

When the old man finishes with his tobacco and refills the young man’s cup with tea, he presses a hand against the window and sighs. Old men are filled with memories, young men are filled with dreams, he says. “She lives where the two meet—she is so beautiful.”

The young man always starts with the eyes because no matter how far away he is as he looks at her, those eyes haunt him. They are always as clear to him as if he is standing right on the island with her, tasting her breath as she breathes—even if he were five stories up and looking at her through glass. Clear and bright and full of those stars no matter how tired the rest of her face looks. They are the color of hazelnuts dipped in the night sky. When he draws her eyes, he always uses his magic pencil. Even when he paints her—

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