The Geometry of Shadows

Lisa Amico Kristel



She wakes in the night and is drawn to his study. Since he’s been gone—almost a month now—she’s avoided the staid, wood-paneled room. Here, where she worked by his side throughout the night, surrounded by open books, as creativity visited them both in abundance. Here, where his brilliant mind shone upon her, and she became adept at the intricacies of his thoughts, mathematical and otherwise. Now the books are closed. Their graphs and diagrams, rolled and shelved. Since he’s been gone, she hasn’t had the strength to face these reminders of his death.

She takes two steps into the room’s silence. Light stretches across the floor in a skewed, rectangular plane before her. As the wind rattles the tall trees crowded outside, the band of light shifts with shadows. A bright edge ripples over her slippered toes, and she jumps back. How ridiculous she is! Still, when she walks farther into the room, she’s careful not to tread on the light.

She approaches the pair of French doors whence the light comes to investigate. Outside in the dark, across the bay, the always-there lights on the distant shore lay their uneven paths upon the water. There are three. There have always been three, and never have they crossed into the house.

She raises her eyes. Ah, the moon. It’s quite high and quite bright and quite flawlessly round.

Now that she understands the source of the light, she realizes she’s been shivering. She steadies herself. Moonlight, after all, is something she can understand.

Pressing close to the glass, she feels the night’s cold emanating through her thin white gown. The more she studies the moon, the more ineffable it seems. Why does its mottled skin seem to slip across its surface? Why has it called her into this room?

She turns her back to the window. With her eyes she follows the light’s path along the carpet, from beneath her feet to its farthest reach across the floor. Leaf and branch shadows cut into the rhombuses the moonlight throws through the windowpanes.

It’s lovely, she tells herself. Indeed, she recalls evenings in the garden, lit only by candleflame and moonlight. Or mornings, rising before dawn and bathing in the moon’s soft glow before the sun claimed the sky. And especially here in the study during the deepest night hours, where, as it shone outside, he first encouraged her to pen her name beneath the title of an article. A woman, published in a journal of maths! But he had been with her then. Alone, she no longer savors the night. Alone, she languishes in bed rather than rise before daybreak. And somehow, those memories ring at odds with the light she’s discovered tonight, like some strange miscalculation. Perhaps it is this imbalance that awoke her.

She sinks back into the velvet curtain and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, the tree shadows on the floor have gone still. Before she can consider the abrupt change, they disappear altogether. The lines between the panes—gone as well. From the base of the doors, almost to the other side of the room, a bright, uninterrupted trapezoid of light glows on the carpet. It is all straight edges, save for the curves of her shadow, which misshape its right side.

As she stares at this inexplicable phenomenon, a new shadow breaches the border between darkness and light. It is that of a hand, and the moonlight, as it is wont to do, elongates its fingers to unnatural proportions. The phantom fingertips reach into the floor-light from the left, toward her half-silhouette on the right. The shadow of an intruder, here, beside her! Her chest tightens, and her breaths go shallow. She dares not look left, nor will her legs carry her away. She is pinned as firmly to the carpet as her shadow is pinned to her.

With her body thus immobilized, her mind runs off along tangents. She becomes obsessed with the geometry of the shadows. If, some four metres from these doors, the hand-shadow is a half-metre from her shadow, how far is the actual hand from her? How close? Over and over again she attempts to figure the ratio, but her fevered thoughts falter and trip over her stuttering heartbeat.

While one part of her brain formulates mathematical thoughts, another understands the folly of wasting time on them. Even in the absence of precise calculations, she knows the shadow’s owner is near. She must get out. Instead, she ponders ratios, theorems, proofs. An insane-sounding laugh erupts from her mouth, perhaps delivered by a third part of her brain—the one with the black sense of humor.

The earth shifts, or the moon does, and now its light travels to the farthest edge of the room, where it bends and climbs the wall. She raises her arm into the shine. She reaches higher, until her shadow touches the now illuminated painting there displayed—their wedding portrait. Through the glimmer of tears, she watches the phantom hand grasp her hand-shadow. Her heart fills to bursting with remembered passions, and memories of moonlight flood her mind.

She looks left, where her hand hangs in the air, untouched and alone as she.

Instead, she directs her gaze into the land of shadows. She much prefers its geometry.






A recovering computer programmer and restaurant owner, Lisa Amico Kristel is co-founder and host of the #YeahYouWrite Reading Series in New York City. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and her work has appeared in LampLight MagazineThe Fabulist, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and others. She lives in Oyster Bay, NY with her husband and a dog that isn’t really theirs.