Eliot had been alone for so much of his life that he’d all but forgotten there could be an alternative. He was a drifter, and that was that. People tried, occasionally, to befriend him but it always became apparent that he was not interested in their friendship. He was alone, and content enough to be so.
It hadn’t always been that way. There had been the almost bright years of tentative hope, the times when he dreamed of it being another way. The cosmos had always whispered a promise that there was another for everyone. Eliot saw it in nature, in the most unlikely couplings, and it created an ache inside. He searched their eyes, offered them his reluctant smile, but he could not find his promised other. In time he accepted that the cosmic whisper was a lie. For some, Eliot knew, there was simply solitude.
Eliot sometimes thought that if he had been a different type of person, a more robust character, he might have handled his secret differently, and that could have made the world of difference. Instead of hiding it like a thing of shame, another person might have held it up with pride. They might even have had the temerity to present it to a disbelieving (and dare he think it – awestruck?) world as a gift from God. Why not? Some are adulated for their talent, but what was talent but an oddity fate had bestowed upon them? Searing beauty, a heavenly voice, insatiable curiosity or skill with a ball, these were nothing more than chance results of genetic fate, and yet those blessed with such oddities conquered the world.
But there would be no world-conquering for Eliot. When his peculiarity had first been noticed by someone outside the family, his father had taught him the tricks of concealment and thus ushered in the shame. If only during those sensitive years when he saw kingdoms in the clouds and marveled at the mystery of a creature as alien as a lizard cocking its head to look a boy in the eye, when he was a soft and unshaped thing, if only his father had treated it all with less reverence Eliot might have conquered the world. Or at least been a part of it.
But he had been told by his father that it was a thing to be concealed, so Eliot concealed. He learned the tricks, learned how to appear normal, he learned to deceive. When that period of his time had passed when he hoped there might be the luxury of another, he wandered.
And eventually, he wondered: If I can’t be me, why am I here?
Eliot decided that there must be another place for him. No place on this Earth, but some other place. He eventually decided it was time to leave.
On a clear, still night, exposed to the white glare of a full moon, Eliot climbed the disused bridge. He climbed the rusted iron with the same stoicism he’d performed all his tasks through all his life. Each task was simply something that must be done.
Eliot was not expecting to see someone else on the bridge. He had intended to end his life the way he had lived it, but here was this other peering out into the void, and Eliot could sense somehow that she too had had enough of life in this world. And where Eliot had considered his own solitary departure the most natural thing, he felt a shock of unbearable sadness that another could feel the same.
She saw him in the moonlight, just as she was about to leap, and it was just as though Eliot had caught her, caught her in his arms, caught her just in time.
The full moon stared blankly down at them, and when Eliot had somehow convinced her that there was more left to be done, she noticed Eliot’s secret, and she was puzzled.
“You have two shadows,” she told him. “How is that so?”
And Eliot, gazing down, smiled with a joy he’d never felt in his entire life.
“You have no shadow,” Eliot replied. “How is that so?”
They moved closer together and looked down at their two shadows, and saw a new beginning.