Mary Casts a Shadow on the Ground by Maureen O’Leary

Work for enough to live on so that you pass as human. This isn’t a supernatural story. You are a human being. Human is your species. You walk along the streets of your city at dinner time when the lights are on inside and people are cooking or watching television or kissing or fighting. Feel how outside of their worlds you are. They don’t want you to knock on their doors for anything. They don’t want to know you. They don’t know that they don’t want to know. Maybe you don’t exist.

You wait for the bus one morning down the street from the house where you rent a room. Nothing belongs to you. The house is not yours. You enter and leave through a door that the landlord cut into a narrow sunroom in the back where you sleep. There is a communal kitchen you rarely use. The communal bathroom is a toilet and a moldy shower that turns into a brackish pond every few days because one of the housemates clogs the drain with his long hair. You met him once and he told you to never touch his things. You use his shampoo and conditioner sometimes and go through the day smelling like one of the babysitters who looked after you when your mom went out to dinner. 

The morning on your way to the bus stop, the sun is yellow and casts long shadows in its slanting butter. You sit on the bench to wait. Your stomach hurts because you are hungry. You are usually hungry. There is no food at the moment in your sections of the cabinet and refrigerator. You have no money for food during the last days of a pay period so you do not eat. After two days of that you don’t exist except as a walking stomach that feels lined with concrete.

You notice a piece of chewed up gum on the sidewalk.  Its shadow reaches the street and you think that piece of chewed up gum has a lot of courage. It sits there and makes a shadow just like everybody else. The gum is blue and grooved in the shape of a stranger’s molars and its shade is bold and black. You are afraid to compare shadows with that piece of gum because you fear that perhaps that morning you do not cast one. You pick the gum from the sidewalk and put it in your mouth just to have something in there besides your own tongue. You test your teeth against the hardness until it softens and the bus comes and you stand, knowing you are the only one betwixt you who casts a shadow now.

Biography: Maureen O’Leary lives in California. She appears in Bourbon Penn, The Esopus Reader, Reckon Review, Occulum Journal, Flame Tree Press’ Alternate History, Penumbric Speculative Fiction, Sundog Literary, Sycamore Review, Nightmare, Sequestrum, and Barren Magazine. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a graduate of Ashland MFA. Twitter: @maureenow