I’ve Seen the Other Shadow in the City

by Emma Miller

Lately, I’ve been catching glimpses of myself. I don’t mean in storefront windows.

I’ve taken to long walks in the city. Down empty streets and under highways, through alleyways and marketplaces, sometimes even over the long northern bridge, just to turn around when I reach the end of it. I like the invisibility of it, the slipping between. I see everything. The flower market pickpockets, the paper district price-gougers, the place where the butcher dumps blood in the river, late, when he thinks no one is watching.

When I do sleep, it’s in the kinds of places you pay for by the hour. Back rooms in dives, back rows of buses. It’s rainy this time of year, all fog and shadow, and I rarely take the same route twice.

I think that’s why it took so long for me to notice her.

The first time, I thought it was a trick of the darkness. A trolley passed by, and in its window, I saw her face.

A few days later, I saw her again, illuminated by the sallow light of a streetlamp, a reflection in wax.

The next morning I asked for coffee, and the deli man said he’d just given me one. When I went outside, I saw myself sitting on a bench across the street, drinking coffee.

Now I see her everywhere.

It’s little things: a familiar coat in a crowd, a boot disappearing around a corner, the uncanny feeling of seeing the back of your own head. The questions seep under my skin with the city fog. I wonder whether she wants something. Whether she’ll do anything for it. Whether my hair is really as thin as hers seems to be; whether my teeth are really as pointed.

What you must know is that these things have rules. Garlic and crosses, silver and pentagrams. Even if you and I don’t understand them, there are always rules.

One of hers, which I discovered after several weeks, is that I determine her routes. She appears in the places I was precisely 24 hours before. Following me, and always arriving a day late.

I was, if not content, resigned to watching her from this distance. Until the day she reached for me.

I had just boarded a trolley. I turned around, and her hand was inches from my face. The door snapped shut just before she could reach it, and for a terrible moment, her fingertips lingered on the glass. Only when we pulled away did I remember the car I’d missed the day before.

But I hadn’t left my hand on the trolley for so long. I hadn’t gazed after it so intently.

And most importantly, I hadn’t seen anyone. Not like she had so clearly, for the first time, seen me.

That night I stand before the mirror, naked. I touch the features of my face until it frightens me and I must turn out the light.

What you must know is that there is a place near the northern bridge where the trolley tracks turn sharply, enough that the conductor cannot see around the bend. There is an old signal box there, with five steps and one door and one window, but the signal is broken and the box unmanned. The trolley passes this signal at 3:40pm. It does not run on weekends.

I arrive at this place on Sunday afternoon, and it is raining so hard I have to duck inside to light my cigarette. At 3:39, I step forward and—fighting a sharp jab of fear, even though I know the trolley is not coming today—I lay my body across the tracks.

The rain falls on my unprotected face, and I am a cadaver in a battlefield.

I wait. Five minutes. Ten. Thirty. Then, soaked and shaking, I stand. That should be enough time, even if the trolley is delayed.

On Monday morning, it has stopped raining, but I wake up with a bad cold, head hazy and throat cracked and lungs full of yellow. I go to the signal box early, coughing between cigarettes. When the moment comes, I stand to look out the window.

There is a heavy footfall on the steps outside.

Damn it all to hell.


Before I laid down on the tracks yesterday.


I lit my cigarette in the signal box.


What you must know is that the signal box is five steep stairs, one door, and one window.


More essential is that it is five stairs that have creaked under five footfalls. One door whose handle is turning. And one window that I am now realizing is impossibly tight to scramble through, even as I suck in my stomach, even as I wish myself small, even as I claw at the decaying wood, driving splinters under my nails.

A cold, familiar hand wraps around my ankle.

I kick, foot hitting air. The hand pulls and I pull back. Another yank, another flurry of struggle. I scream. I kick. And I push, push, will myself through the window. My chest is through. My torso is through. My hip pops wrenches out of its socket—I scream again—and then my legs are through, and I’m tumbling down the side of the box, sprawling on the tracks below.

Crumpled, I gaze up at my face in the signal house window. Watching myself watching myself watching myself watching myself.

And in the window, she looks terrified. Terrified and relieved.

As I said before. The corner is so sharp, I do not see the trolley—

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