By Niikah Hatfield
Down the street, rubber soles slapping against the pavement and squelching in the little places where there is water. One of the laces has come untied, and it drags along behind each step with a funny jump. Grit from the sidewalk starts to work its way into the threads, and the pale white fades to a much grimier brown.
At the corner, a business woman taps Amilay on the shoulder.
Amilay turns, surprised, with uncertainty etched in the corners of her eyes. She pushes up her glasses and says nothing. Waiting.
The business woman sticks her nose in the air and gestures towards Amilay’s feet. “Your shoe is untied.”
Amilay doesn’t even glance down.
“That happens sometimes,” she says, and turns to cross the street without even looking.
When the business woman is far out of view, she stops and bends down. In the two seconds it takes her to look up again, small tears have formed in the inner crook of her eyes. She brushes them away with a chartreuse yellow sleeve, but the damage is already done.
When Amilay finally reaches her apartment, it is dark out. She flicks on the lights and tries not to notice how empty it feels with the white walls and sparse rooms. The keys fall to the floor with a clatter, muffled a moment later by her falling coat. She will find them again in the morning.
She goes to the bathroom first and sticks her hands under the spigot. The hot water splashes over her cracked hands and into the sink. She tries not to look into the mirror as she scrubs—scrubs away at the imaginary layers of skin and shame. They exist like a lost limb, invisible and yet so incessantly there, and with nothing to be done about the itching.
She doesn’t eat or drink—just crawls into the pile of downy blankets and turns away from the window.
Amilay wakes to the bright light streaming in her window, to the spotlight of the moon. Dreams swirl under her mind, and she shivers, climbing deeper into the pile of blankets.
Outside her window, a crow knocks its beak against the glass. A sharp tinny sound, its marble eyes blinking in the moonlight.
Her hair is a black yang to the white pillow as she tries to shut out the sound. The whispers.
Two feet are walking, just shoes, down the cobblestone street. Rain drips from the leaves and ripples down between the stones. The laces tangle themselves, muddied in the rain, and she stumbles and falls to the ground.
“Please,” she mumbles, helpless as she reaches out into the night for something solid to grab onto.
The hours seem too long before the pink creeps in her window. She is already up, sitting before the mirror and brushing out her hair. In the light, the shadows don’t seem so scary anymore. They slide back down the walls into their hiding places, giving her the space to breath.
In the kitchen, she boils water for tea, fingers tapping an incessant beat against the counter. Old feelings rise up the back of her spine, but she pushes them away and dials her mother’s number.
No one picks up.
The water boils, and she pours it into the porcelain cup. Tannins from the teabag burst into the water and mirror the curls of steam.
In the other room, there is a knocking at the door. Her spoon clatters against the saucer. When she opens the door, no one is there, but a crow sits halfway down the sidewalk, head cocked at an odd angle and his eyes fixed upon her.
“Go away,” she whispers.
She pulls at the thin wraps of her clothes. A red leaf flutters down beside her, its descent stopped abruptly by a spider web. When she looks back, the crow is flapping its wings and has disappeared behind the flaming maple.
For a moment, the constrained feeling is gone, and she thinks that maybe she will be free this time. Yet on her way back inside, she stubs her toe against the doorjamb and the thought is forgotten.
The tea grows cold. She stands in front of the mirror, water gushing from the spigot and down the drain. Her hands are already clean. So clean that they are starting to shrivel and crack, but she still puts them under the water and washes them again.
The light fades in the room as the sun rises over the roof. She sips her tea; the phone rings.
She stares at it for a moment, letting it sit there and jiggle all by itself. Then she squeezes her eyes shut and picks it up.
“Amilay! I am so glad you picked up.”
“Hi, Mom.” She puts down her spoon.
“Listen, can you come over tonight? I really need help getting ready for the dinner party. You know, the cakes and the wine and the decorations.”
Amilay’s head sinks down to the table. Her heart throbs, saying ‘look at me, look at me’. But the voice is like a pigeon in her ear, babbling on and on by itself.
She emerges from the conversation winded and empty. The tea sits half-finished on the table as puts on her shoes and finds her keys in the pile beside the door.
She drops coins into the bus diver’s hands and grabs at the railing as they lurch forward. People sit in the all of the seats already, and they pretend to look past her as she clings to the rail that is the only life line she has.
At the next stop, the doors open with a hiss of hydraulics, and someone else gets on. She doesn’t look up, but when they are moving again, she feels the eyes tingling the skin on the back of her neck.
Slowly, she turns, and finds herself staring into two black marble eyes. Her reflection goes white, and she just stares at the man standing before her. A hundred things well up in her chest, slipping across her tongue and making her want to throw up and gag and hug someone all at once.
Every particle between them shivers with energy; if either of them would have moved, it would have shattered like a broken mirror. But they stand there, both seeing the ghost of their past and both not seeing the person standing before them.
Amilay reaches out and pulls on the bell. At the next stoplight, the bus shudders to a halt and the doors burst open. She doesn’t look back when she stumbles down the steps and the doors close with a metallic click, when she realizes that the strings of her shoes are so tangled that they have formed a knot under her feet that make her walk with a crooked step.
She never makes it to her mother’s house. On the street corner, she stands inside a phone booth and watches the rain trickle down the glass. It pools up on the sill, then splashes down to the pavement in an endless stream.
Her hand fumbles for a pocketknife hidden deep in her coat pocket. She flicks it open and pushes it against her thumb until she can feel the hot wetness seeping into the wool fabric.
She sees his eyes, beady and bright, in the crow that sits outside, oblivious to the pouring rain.
About the Author:
Niikah Hatfield is currently studying creative writing and ceramics at Northern Michigan University. When she’s not writing or creating art, you will find her farming, paying music, or chasing dreams. She is the author of “Kana’s Vardo”, a novella.