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Fiction by Anna Louise Steig

An Evening in the Summer

Out from the corner of my lazy sagging eye, I am watching in silence as a man below is stalking his prey. He is slinking down the desolate sidewalk in pursuit of a sweet little thing, but he looks a fool doing it, condensing his massive strides to match her fluttery, spastic pace. He hides in the jagged edges of her shadow as it dances, ignorant. Innocent.

The outside world must be getting heavy by now; at noon I cracked a sweat just climbing the stairs, and now the sun is dangling low over the skyline. The world is dripping all around me. Everything is wet and dim and dank, but with an effusive golden glow that reminds me of a hidden beauty, except that such beauty is remaining stubbornly hidden. Every now and then, a breeze ripples in from the open window and caresses the pages of my Bible for me; I’ve long since turned my attention away from John, and am intently watching a scene of natural selection unfold below. Though dusk is crawling along, the city still teems with creatures big and small: ambulances wail down side streets, gentlemen in suits and mullets saunter on, the stoop children refuse the calls of their mothers, they won’t abandon post. The sultry stench of marijuana drifts by. These are the ubiquitous signs of life in a city.

The woman down below is still being followed; she has not indicated any awareness of the lion stalking just some feet behind. I find it ironic that she is glancing around herself in that typical womanly way; women are trained to do that from birth, I suppose, to be subconsciously aware of the dangers lurking and yet also be inherently stupid enough not to recognize the difference between friend and foe. That woman must be blind, or dumb, or just naive - she’s just a girl.

I feel like a child peering into a dollhouse. I am so close to her, yet so tragically far; I watch in silence as the shadowed creature increases his pace and extends his claws toward the fluttering tail of the woman’s sundress. Were I down there, too, I wonder if I would reach for her hand, or if I’d simply let her go.

When the distance between them is that of atoms, a peal of thunder crashes overhead, even though the skies are cloudless and clear. A remnant of the seventies, perhaps a Montego, then cruises by with his tinted windows down, thumping a boosted nineties beat, and briefly consumes the street with the sound. The woman and her pursuer both pause to watch the car narrowly avoid a curb, and then the sound of heels clacking on cement resumes. It is the only sound in the city - no one breathes.

I keep my eyes wide open.

Only then does it occur to me that the rest of this world must be deserted. Not a single person has stomped up these stairs and disturbed my quiet in the whole day that I’ve spent here watching the show; not a single person seems to hear the howls echoing off the asphalt and the tenements below. There are no policemen around to chase after the animal as he rips chunk after chunk out of his prey’s bloodied scalp, nor are there any passersby to snap a photo with their phones. There are no witnesses except for me, and yet I do not worry that I’ll sleep tonight. The stars watch lives flare in and fizzle out with every tick of the clock, and they do not question their silent role in this motion. I, too, will unattach: no longer fully human, no longer fully real.

The tangerine glow of the dying sun feels warm upon my skin, but no shadow casts and the pages of my book are suddenly untouched. I feel as though I am merely a watcher: I watch the streetlights flicker on and the garages shudder closed. I am a listener: I listen to the primal snaps of tendons and warm meat slapping the concrete sidewalk, the skittering of ants’ legs as they rush to the rivers of blood. I am a feeler: I feel the gentle evening air sift so lovingly through my hair, and I think that yes, this must be what being God feels like.

Anna Louise Steig

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