In the corner of his eyes, the man detected movement. He was standing beside a door length mirror and he glanced to his left, at the mirror, and saw his reflection. Had it moved? Probably not. He thought it strange how we perceive mirrors as somehow gray yet when he gazed at it he only saw light reflected from him and the room he inhabited. Yet that perception—that grayness—persisted.
He slipped his feet into his shoes and stepped outside. Outside, darkness settled over the earth. The earth hummed, glowing. Glowing, streetlights hung over sidewalks. Sidewalks merged into streets. Streets stretched for miles.
Somewhere in the darkness, between houses, a dog howled. An awful noise. Terrifying: a dog howled, between houses, somewhere in the darkness.
Gray. Everything seemed gray. The sky, the streets, the houses and the cars—everything. He couldn't perceive the grayness, but he sensed it. And it bothered him. It irritated him the way a hair in your mouth might irritate you: you can sense it, you know it's there, but you can't locate it; you can't work it to the tip of your tongue and pluck it off and throw it away. That's how the grayness felt, but in an abstract sense: a conceptual hair he couldn't locate.
He crossed the street and stood on the corner, near a bent signpost. Someone had stolen the sign, with an illustration of a bus that resembled a water bong lying on its side, three weeks in a row. The man had written a letter to the editor of the local paper imploring the city to redesign the sign, to make the bus more buslike and less bonglike, but the editors, for whatever reason, didn't run the letter. The pricks. They must be liberals, he thought. Then he froze, almost recoiled. Why had he thought that? He was liberal. Although not a pot smoker, he didn't condescend to them.
He was standing in a cone of light cast by a streetlight overhead. He glanced up and saw streams of light pouring down on him. He yawned, and the water forming in his eyes, water forced by the yawn, haloed the light.
The light pole stood beside the signpost. He wrapped his fingers against it. His ring, a titanium number he wore on his index finger, tinged the aluminum, and the light fixture overhead swayed. He glanced at the light, curious. It wasn't moving, so he grabbed the pole with both hands and pushed and tugged it. The light didn't move. As he tapped the pole with his fingers again, certain to hit it with his ring, he craned his head back and focused on the light. Ting. It moved. Again.
He tapped the pole with his fingertips, but the light didn't move. He tapped it with his elbow, then kicked it. Nothing. Taking off his ring, holding it like a coin, he slid it along at the pole and the light swayed. The lights down and across the street swung and swayed. Clouds overhead dissolved and moonlight drenched the city. Lights in buildings and storefronts and houses shone, illuminating the streets and sidewalks. Headlights and tail lights in cars and buses clicked on. Pointing in every conceivable direction, they helped the buildings et al. illuminate the streets, the city, the town.
The man strolled down the sidewalk, spinning his ring as he passed stores and houses. An empty sensation swirled inside him; it started in his stomach and spread to his limbs and skull, and it deepened as he studied the ring. Sadness consumed him. He stood still and stared at the ring, examining it, thinking, wondering what it reminded him of, what sensations it triggered. They felt three-dimensional, those sensations, but hard to pinpoint. What were they trying to convey? He analyzed his experience in that moment, but he couldn't unpack it. He couldn't make sense of it. And that sadness and that emptiness worsened, and he felt a sensation like phantom hands wrapping around his neck and squeezing. Tears bubbled in his eyes. He felt on the verge of vomiting.
Clouds merged until they amputated the moonlight. One by one, every light in the city—every streetlight, every light in stores and buildings, every head- and taillight—dimmed and died, and the man was left in darkness.
What were those sensations?
He slipped the ring on his finger and ambled up the sidewalk, toward his apartment. The windows glowed, but he sensed silence inside. He sensed emptiness. No movements.
There was no one inside to fill it with noise, to move.
As he opened the front door, he tapped his ring with his thumb. Then he stood in front of the door length mirror and stared at his reflection, hoping to detect movement somewhere in the room, somewhere in his world.