‘The Shadow’ by Michelle Penn, a London-based poet and fiction writer.
(Tone: humorous jealousy)
I am only her follower, her echo, barely noticeable. She flits and she flirts with the bird in her hand and she sings, she sings, tra-la-la-waltzing her way across a patch of grass, her stage, lit just for her by a gracious sun. I do my best, follow and keep up, but she’s more graceful, more subtle than I — a mere shadow. She has even dressed for the occasion, outdone me once again, her snappy white dress and hat match the house perfectly. They even match the clouds, those perfect painter’s puffs. Or no. Of course. They dressed to look like her.
(Humorous, singing a little made-up song)
How can the river and trees even compete
when my little mistress takes to her feet?
Even her dog, what’s-his-name, even he can’t command attention the way she can. He simply barks his unbroken adulation, his anthem of love and she laughs, taps him playfully on the nose before joining a new duet with the birds. If she could, she’d take wing, her dress billowing, drawing her above the treetops and toward the clouds. I’d be clinging to her ankles, hoping not to fall.
Low and silent as I am, I try to accept my place. I try to be generous in thought and spirit, more picturesque in my own private way.
‘Just act naturally,’ she whispers. ‘Please don’t worry so.’
I am my mistress’s shadow. Only the trees and river don’t know, the big house doesn’t know that the little miss doesn’t exist. She’s no more solid that I. She is an artist’s whim, a flick of colour on canvas, a fine detail in a splendid scene. A happy phantom perhaps, but a phantom nonetheless. Even the prettiest landscape needs its shadows.