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Seen by Half-light

by Rudi Dornemann

Miranda Edison went out into the indigo of the suspended evening to walk. The city was just familiar enough that she kept looking, kept searching for the alley and the interior courtyard that she remembered.

The memory was one of her oldest; she couldn't have been more than four or five. Just images and emotion: twilight saturating everything, buildings on four sides lit from within like paper lanterns, lulling buzz of distant traffic over the more distant whisper-vesper of the sea. She'd dropped a glove, bent to pick it up. In a window, she saw a face mostly shadow, laughing. He saw her. Answering laughter welled up in her and she clamped her throat against it, ran away down the alley.

A creepy memory, really. The laughing man still scared her. But the vividness - the texture of the stone, the realness of the trampled snow and the worn-fingered gloves, the illuminated drapes, the glimpsed piano in one window, the shelf of candy-bright books in another, the woman in the white mutton-sleeved blouse laying out silverware on a table in a third - had drawn her back to this city on the edge of the arctic twenty years later.

It might have been a thickening of the clouds or one of the sun's occasional feints further below the horizon, but the sky tinged deeper and Miranda found herself noticing how far apart the streetlights were and how dark it got between them. She was lost; she turned at a corner that seemed familiar from the way out. It wasn’t the corner she thought it was, but this was the memory-place, an alley-end behind tall buildings like the bottom of a square-sided well. The windows were dark; an open one creaked and slammed in the wind.

If the laughing man was there, she couldn't see him. She almost bolted, then remembered her coat, the scarf nearly up to her eyes and the hat down over her brows - all black. He couldn't see her either. She laughed, silently, and the panic slipped from her.

She started back for the guesthouse. On the near wall, in chalk that glowed like ultraviolet fire under the evening purple, a line of slanted curly-tipped numbers. She had no idea what they meant, perhaps just the city offering a safer mystery to replace the one she'd just traded away when she found the lost place and broke its mystery.

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