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This moving shadow
Short story

By Zolaykha Soleimani
August 20, 2001
The Iranian

I work in an office on the second floor of a building, overlooking a nondescript parking lot and a residential building built of now-discolored bricks. My computer, across from which I spend most of my day faces the window. The window takes up the entire wall of the office.

I often look out of the window from my chair, searching for a sign of life outside the confines of this office, this screen, this imaginary world of business and bytes. And often, on these visual searches, I find my sign in the shape of a young woman who lives on the second floor of the brick-layered building across the parking lot.

The two windows that open to what seems to be her bedroom act as two screens upon which every day I watch a different scene from a movie. Every morning, even those in which I wake up with a nasty hangover from drinking Makers' Mark the night before by myself, in front of my television, I can not get dressed and get ready fast enough to get to work. As I shave, I wonder what will happen next. What she will do, how she will touch my life today.

I can't tell her age from this distance, nor what she looks like. She often undresses in that room, never pulling down the shades and only occasionally glancing towards our office as if to demonstrate to any possible voyeur that she knows he's there. She reminds me of another movie I once saw of an old man who could stare in the lonely darkness of his room at a young women who lived across the street from him. He would watch her in her daily life, he would watch her make love, and eventually, he would fall in love and die for this moving shadow.

I wonder if my shadow has seen this movie. I wonder if she thinks of, hopes for, a set of lonely eyes staring at her as she unwraps her towel from around herself in the mornings and stands naked, her back to her voyeur, as she decides what to wear.

Some nights when I am working late, I see her sitting on the fire-escape that faces my office. I turn off the lights, the computer, and sit in the darkness, in this movie theater of mine. Sometimes she's alone, sometimes she's with a young man whom I also see walking around the house naked some mornings. They sit there on the black metal fire escape with a blanket wrapped around them, holding each other and their glasses of wine. Often I see them kissing but sometimes they just sit there. I imagine their conversations, thinking of what I would be saying if I was there, on a fire escape with my lover wrapped in a blanket feeling warm from the familiar smell and taste of her skin. I close my eyes and let my head gently fall on my chest.

I imagine her bed to be right under the two windows. Sometimes I can catch the shadow of their bodies as they make love. Sometimes I can see their bodies as they face the window, daring me to keep watching, daring me to keep my eyes on them without feeling the pain of utter loneliness one feels when seeing two people moving in harmony in and out of each other. Loneliness is not complete until you see another's happiness. I am told I am petty because of this. I am told I am petty because at times other people's fortune -- the fortune to have found someone to talk to in words and in flesh -- makes me feel like I am in the bottom of a black pit with the black stone of Mecca pressing down on my heart.

One day, I look out the window and I see words forming on her lover's lips, and she breaking into tears, her body shaking. What were those words? I try replaying the scene in my head, reading his lips. What is so wrong with those words I think, glancing back at my computer monitor. What is so wrong?

What I had imagined to be a romantic comedy being featured at the movie house across from the parking lot turned out to be a tragedy. Lately, the young woman can't stop crying, her body rocking to and fro as if something had set off the inner faults of her body; the earthquake does not let go. She gets up alone from her bed every morning, her flesh barely hanging to her bones. I can feel her desire to rot, to disintegrate, to fly as a speck of dust in the air. Something has ended in her life and its deathly smell seeps through the shut windows of the office. No one but me knows the source of the smell, and my employers, in their ignorance, are fumigating the office for rodents.

At nights, when I now look across the parking lot, I only see one shadow stooped over, sometimes still as a black rock, sometimes shaking like the leafless branches of the tree in front of her window. The fire escape is empty and the windows that lead to the fire escape have not opened since the night the young man uttered those words to her.

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