“New Shadows” by Kaj Tanaka


Several of us have noticed that the shadows, of late, seem somehow greater—seem to be multiplying in size, quantity and level of darkness. Have you noticed the generally increasing darkness? We attribute that to the shadows. It has been a difficult conversation to broach for those of us who have noticed because we do not want to seem like alarmists. There are, no doubt, other, more scientific, explanations, although we are not exactly sure what those might be. We are aware, for example, that it is winter here in the northern hemisphere, and, once again, darkness has become our principal currency. That is not so surprising. That is not what we are talking about here.

Look outside, if you want an example. Do you see the trees? Do you see the shadows beneath trees? Notice how dark they are. Notice how long and improbably wide they are. Notice the way they seem to swallow up the earth itself. I’m not asking you to do any math right now, but there is no way those shadows could be so long as deep as they appear to be—not with our artificial light situation being as impoverished as it has been of late. Have you noticed, for example, that the streetlights are not as bright as they used to be? That your car’s headlights are not as bright as they used to be? For a long time, we thought we were gradually going blind. We visited our doctor and found that our eyes were completely normal. In fact, our doctor assures us, according to scientists the world is gradually becoming lighter. He assures us that our fears are completely unfounded, and we should maybe just try to get some sleep. We are not convinced, so we have opened ourselves up to alternative explanations.

We have noticed that these new shadows have something of a mirror-like quality. Not that they reflect light exactly. You can’t check your hair in them or shave in them or use them to amuse yourself by flitting points of light around your bedroom—that isn’t what we mean at all. There is something familiar about the darkness—something reflective. Each of us knows this feeling. It is the same feeling you have when you look in a mirror and see someone else for moment, someone who looks eerily like yourself, though it is not you (though it is actually you). That is the way of these new shadows. They are at once completely foreign to us, and also uncomfortably familiar.

Attempt this experiment, if you like. Go down into your basement with a powerful flashlight. Shine your powerful flashlight on anything, something tall works best—say, the back of a chair, a walking stick or a floor lamp—anything that will cast a long, observable shadow. Watch the quality of the darkness. Look for movements at your periphery. I’m sure you will see what we mean.

At night, while you are waiting for the train, you might see the new shadows milling about. Eating up the floor of the train platform. If you do not look directly at them you will notice them moving, shifting from leg to leg, checking their phones, hefting their overnight bags. Watch them as they board the train. Watch the shadow train depart alongside your train.

As far as we can tell, the shadow world is much like ours. In the shadow world, shadow patients visit their shadow doctors. The shadow patients wonder about their vision. They explain that the world feels somehow lighter, recently, somehow less. The shadow doctors assure their patients that, if anything, the world is getting darker—shadow science proves this. The shadow doctor examines the shadow patient’s eyes, and he finds them completely normal. The shadow patient goes home, then, a little disheartened, wishing he could feel normal, bothered that he cannot. If the shadow doctor is correct, and cause is neither internal nor external, well then, what could it be?

The shadow patient believes in the observable world, he believes in his senses, but given the situation, he begins to seek other explanations outside of his own experience. He stands on his shadow porch at night, deep in thought, he smokes his shadow cigarettes, and beneath him, the shadow moon passes across the shadow sky. Like a tiny hole, it illuminates a pool of dark snow.

kaj-photoKaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Joyland and The Collagist. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine.