Shadows of Want
The boy who sits in front of me is not perfect. Volcanoes erupt on his pale cheeks, though his dark hair is combed to try to hide that. I know him as Vlad, though I doubt he remembers my name, Feliz. He sits with his shoulders hunched, cheek resting on his hand as he doodles in the margin of his completed worksheet.
At the front of the classroom, I see another version of him, muted and translucent as if I peer through layers of reflective glass. His skin is smooth, his hair wild in a deliberate way. His wide eyes spark as he finishes writing something on the board. I can’t see it. I see only him as he smiles, nodding and bobbing at what must be praise. He hands an invisible marker to someone only he sees.
The corner of my lip twitches upward. It’s not a bad wish. Some might call it silly, but it is not meant to be seen anyway. I do not know why or how I perceive them, but I do. I call them shadows of want, and if I could grant them like a genie, perhaps I would, but I am only a bystander. In this wisp, I see Vlad how he wishes to be and what he wants to be doing.
It is Miss Cole who writes on the board instead, long strings of numbers I will never understand. That’s nothing against her teaching ability, just that people make more sense to me than abstract integers.
Her gray suit fits her well, a cold color against the warm brown of her skin. Her hair flips up in the back in a way that makes me think of riding in a fast convertible down a country road. Her lips purse as she draws the last parenthesis and turns to face us, brows rising above dark, sharp eyes.
She calls for a volunteer, and I try to be as invisible as possible, rump sliding forward and shoulders level with the back of my seat.
From the corner of my eye, I spot another version of Miss Cole at her desk, popping cubes of chocolate in her mouth, one after another. Her hair is a decimated army, few remaining strands erect and jagged. The essence of night fills bags beneath her eyes, oozing out into canyons on her cheeks and brow, pouring into cracked, shriveled lips.
Usually, a shadow of want shows what one wishes to be, but sometimes one’s negative view of oneself becomes so powerful, it crushes any other image. Those in that rigid grip see the worst picture of themselves and nothing else.
The bell chimes, and Miss Cole joins her shadow at her desk. As I approach, her gaze remains pointed down, locked on papers that shouldn’t be that interesting.
I clear my throat. “I just wanted to say you look pretty today.”
Her eyes slide to mine slowly, like a whetstone scraping a blade. “What do you want?”
Her shadow stands and lumbers out the door.
“I want you to know you’re pretty. You need to hear that.”
Shallow straits of crow’s feet deepen as a shaky smile tugs at her lips.
I tuck my rebellious bangs behind one ear. “You’re busy, so I won’t take up more of your time.”
With a shaky smile of my own, I turn and leave.
The next day, her new shade of lipstick glistens like wet cherries as she explains another indecipherable calculation. The black and orange of a monarch butterfly stripe and dot her scarf as the grace and energy of that beautiful creature flow through her every movement.
It catches her attention, and she points the marker at me. “Feliz, come up here and give it a try.”
My heart bursts, its pieces fluttering to my toes. I stand, slow as cold syrup dripping from the bottle.
From the corner of my eye, I notice Miss Cole’s shadow of want still at her desk eating candy, but her hair shines like a silver plate. Her skin is taut, and though the bags of night remain, they are smaller.
Beyond her, another shadow begs my attention. Perfect Vlad is absent today. My classmate’s arms lie folded on his desk, supporting his chin. His shadow of want sits curled in the corner, face hidden in his elbows, skin covered in boils.
I accept the marker and approach the board with a sigh. A jumble of squiggles greets me. Something sticky churns in my gut. Needles prick my arms and hands. My knees go numb.
I turn and hold out the marker. “Vlad, I believe this is your specialty.”