The story itself may be surreal, but the location is authentic. It takes place at a tiny square in the Park Blocks of downtown Portland, Oregon. Every Day Fiction originally published the tale in June 2017.
Roosevelt’s Long Shadow
by DL Shirey
It is nearly impossible to remain motionless, though I’m persistent in trying. Even as I hold my breath and concentrate away a blink, my crossed leg tics. It’s barely perceptible, but the slight tide of blood causes my dangling foot to bob.
How can I turn invisible when I can’t stop moving?
I place both feet on the ground and continue.
The park where I practice has a bench below a statue of Theodore Roosevelt. Here the wind is blocked, lessening the chance it brushes my hair; the bend of a single follicle can undo an hour’s work.
I start to slow the unmistakable pulse in my neck, increasing the time between beats. Midway, my body is completely still and I’m able to vanish, to see the world without me. But in the next instant I’m back, and for a while I flutter like this. Seen and unseen.
Someone rolls by in a wheelchair. The motion reminds me to concentrate harder.
Eventually my heartbeat slows like an unwound metronome, the flutter becoming more an oscillation. Enough of a change to make a crow cock its head at me. Then the breeze rearranges tree leaves and sunlight mottles my face. When my pupils constrict I’m totally visible once more.
I move to the end of the bench where the statue casts a shadow. Begin again.
The trick is to slow the oscillation. I once clicked off for almost a minute until an evening chill caused goose bumps to rise. In those moments I was away from the world, not apart from it; separate, not separated. I existed in a space that hid my disparity, where no one could see my scars. Instead of divided-by, I was divided-from. I was happy.
A woman sits on my bench. I’ve trained my eyes to view a wide swath without moving them. She unpacks a cello, leaving the case on the damp bricks before us. She knees the wooden hips, saws it into tune, then the music swells to something so lovely it could bring tears to Roosevelt’s marble eyes. I stop any fluid from entering mine.
Passersby stop, linger, unfold bills or find coins to drop onto the purple velveteen case lining.
The woman packs away the cello, takes a final sip of coffee and leaves the empty cup just next to me. She never looks my way, nor does she see the dime that has escaped her case. It lays on the ground in Roosevelt’s long shadow.
The shadow also holds the shape of a person beside the statue. The shadow moves, attached to an elderly man in a motorized wheelchair. He rolls into my periphery and I’m careful not to let my eyes follow his movement. He stops the chair, bends forward and struggles his stiff body to reach the dime. He grunts from exertion, hands clawing up his own stick legs to lever a return to the seat back. I watch exhaustion in his face turn to a resolute grimace.
The old man throttles the chair into a pivot and rolls up in front of me. Our knees almost touch.
“Your performance was just as good as hers,” he said, dropping the dime in the paper cup beside me. “People treat me like I’m invisible, too.”