Shadow Alignment and Balancing
Last week, walking down Avenida de los Insurgentes, between a dusty vinyl store and a small ice cream parlor, I saw a sign that read "Shadow Alignment and Balancing." I immediately thought it was a joke, that it was due to an orthographic error like those that abound on the façades of the businesses of Mexico City. Besides, I was unaware that shadows could be repaired. I believed that, once broken, they were given away or discarded (in the organic or inorganic bin?) but I never imagined that there were honorable people dedicated to such a noble undertaking. I was wrong, dear reader.
I cupped my hands and peered through the glass. It looked like any business. A counter, a shelf crammed to the ceiling with drawings, books, and a young clerk dressed in the casual style of the Roma neighborhood. He kept his hands busy with an enormous cloth that he unrolled and reshaped in an endless black stream that slipped through his fingers. Through his manipulation, imaginary figures emerged, which he tried to tame with delicacy. He stretched them, molding them between his palms before folding them. The amorphous mass yielded, dark and ductile, to each upward and downward movement of the dispatcher, until finishing its small metamorphosis as a crease in a sheet on a shelf. It was the first time that I saw a shadow ready to be collected.
Suddenly, an assistant opened the door in the back and through the gray undefined light of the warehouse I could see four more shadows hanging on metal coat hangers. (First question: dramatize my story by drawing a resemblance with the violent cattle of Francis Bacon or recount things how they really happened?) They didn't seem to suffer but I managed to distinguish sadness in their loose shape, as if they were damp.
I know, this story would be much better if I had dared to enter. But I remembered what happened to Peter Schlemihl after playing with the fate of his shadow and a literary hunch forced me to stay outside, beneath the shelter of the three o'clock afternoon sun with my shadow glued to the pavement.
Nevertheless, curiosity began to overwhelm me. After buying an ice cream to play the fool, I wondered if this business was similar to the dry cleaners and tailors. How many days could a man last without his shadow? How many must they repair to pay the rent? Observing the cracks that dotted the twenty square meters of the establishment, I guessed that it couldn't be that expensive. Thirty shadows per week at a thousand pesos each, enough to survive until you find something better or while you await the results of your Master's application.
But the math startled me: a hundred and fifty shadows a month equals one thousand four hundred shadows washed and waxed per year. Who would be the regular clients of this shop? At what moment did they so badly mistreat them that they needed recalibration?
Decent people, those who pay taxes, wear a tie and, contrary to any sort of metaphysics, claim with a suspicious pride to be physical and moral people, usually carry their shadows with them when they walk under the sun. They never lose sight of it and if they were informed of this business they would answer nervously: "What if they make a mistake and give me another one that does not obey me? Or if some millionaire comes in and buys all the shadows he wants? I'd rather take care of it every day and go to bed early."
It couldn't be poets either, they like to cast their shadows when they arrive at the street corner to continue with Girondo's tradition. But since there are no longer any trams to mutilate them, they remain as decals lying on the asphalt, yearning for a lost epoch. Until the authorities arrive, that is, and they are forced to continue moving.
Others dismiss them entirely, bet them on soccer games, give them enthusiastically to their first love and when they ask for them back, find them withered; some set them loose on the street and wander alone, dirty and with long nails; those that enjoy shadow-flexing, fold and extend them, making monsters they project at their feet to frighten the most innocent; the people in the Historic Center are the worst, they step on them with such clumsiness that they cause holes they are forced to take two or three days off work to repair, and, since there is no money for such luxuries, sir, one simply tears off the damaged part and continues to face life, praying there won't be another trampling, especially by others; in fact, there are inhabitants of this City who have confessed to me to be distant relatives of Diogenes of Sinope, who even scorned the shadow of Alexander the Great.
So, who would those clients be who decide to remain unshadowed over a weekend to arrive at the office on Monday with their shadow well ironed? A question that will remain unsolved by this cowardly writer.
But at the end of the day, mysteries were created with the purpose of remaining hidden… besides, a shadow is nothing more than a shadow and one can do without it, so it's not worth kicking up such a fuss over. I finished my ice cream and, shadowed, continued on with my affairs.
Gabriel Martinez Bucio (Uruapan, 1989) is a Mexican writer who lives in Barcelona during the day and in Mexico at night. He studied literature at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and received a Master’s degree in literary creation at Pompeu Fabra University. He received the Punto de Partida national essay award (UNAM) for his work about Macedonio Fernández. He is currently completing his doctorate in Linguistic and Literary Studies at the Universitat de Barcelona.
His stories have appeared in Letras Libres, The Barcelona Review, Grafógrafxs, Panenka, Escritores que nadie lee, Le Miau Noir, El Barrio Antiguo, Crítica and Periódico de poesía, among others. Vidrios en el parque (La Equilibrista, Barcelona, 2018), where this story is excerpted from, is his first book.
Sam Simon is a writer and translator from Oakland, California. He is an associate editor for the Barcelona Review and teaches creative writing at the Institute for American Universities. He is a co-founder and managing editor of Infrasonica.org.