All men have shadows. Not all men know their shadows by first name.
It had been three years since Hank’s love, Norma, had passed. He’d been by her side since her eighteenth birthday when he had made her his wife. Every day since, up to her death, her touch made his cheeks flush a deep red and his stomach tie up in knots.
For the next fifty-two years they shared everything, from a bowl of cereal every morning to the very thoughts in their heads. There were no filters. To them, they truly were a union of body and soul.
When she died, something at the very core of him died with her. It curled in on itself, dry and brittle like a dead leaf, and snapped off. It rattled around in his left foot for awhile before finally falling out one night while he trimmed his toenails.
Watching the tiny dried up flakes, the last remnants of his love, float to the floor to be silently swallowed by the sea of maroon shag carpeting, Hank felt as if a gorilla had just mounted his shoulders. They slumped down and in, like he was being squeezed between the fingers of a giant invisible fist.
Three painful years had passed since her death. And finally the last of her had slipped away.
This was the night he met his shadow.
Typically, shadows are nasty little buggers when left unattended. They deceptively play the part of your faithful little buddy, but they’re really just protecting themselves from the damaging affects of direct light.
This particular shadow had ulterior motives however.
At the time, Hank didn’t know any of this, nor did he care. All he could think about was Norma. All he could feel was the emptiness inside. To the visitor lurking in the corner, this was a blinking vacancy sign a hundred feet tall.
The shadow moved quickly, silently weaving its way through the wiry white hairs crawling their way out of Hank’s ear. He was instantly wise to the intrusion and it wasn’t because of the sensation of someone funneling ice cold water into his head.
The cold snaked its way to the very center of Hank’s empty heart.
His droopy red eyes watered as he felt something other than the sinister bite of solitude that had gnawed at him for so long. Confusion whispered in one ear, jubilation led a marching band past the other. He had no clue that at that very moment a shadow was making a home of his damaged husk.
The shadow sent a chill pulsing through his veins, in time with the beat of his heart, which was now fluttering with bittersweet memories. It filled every crack and crevice of Hank’s shattered core with oily darkness, all the way down to his neatly trimmed toes.
Though, what he felt most keenly was the presence snugly nestled next to his heart, the same spot his wife’s soul used to affectionately nuzzle.
A familiar tingle played across his cheeks, which were slowly turning a dusky grey and felt cold to the touch. As if on cue, his stomach spasmed and began twisting itself into those uncomfortable knots he hadn’t felt in years. Oh, how he’d missed those knots.
Ink black tears creased his cheeks as he wept.
Not all men know their shadows by first name.
[Story inspired by Art]