by Alice Whittenburg

Published in Issue No. 19 ~ December, 1998

It was fear that held him prisoner in a flat on the thirtieth floor, and, whether he was working or sleeping, his blinds were always firmly closed against the city that seemed to surround and menace him. For years he had lived this way, placating fear, and the only thing he really missed was the clarity and variety of the natural light of day. One morning he heard on the radio about a heavy fog that was causing flight delays and traffic accidents. Cautiously, he opened one of his living room blinds, and, intrigued by the unremitting blankness of the fog and the tender, filtered light it gave him, he left it that way. He expected the fog to burn off as the day progressed, but that didn’t happen. When he finished his work, he watched the gray window slowly lose its light and fill with a darkness tinged red by the city’s glow.

He slept only a few hours and woke to watch his window as the satisfying grayness came again. He listened to the weather reports to assure himself that the fog would continue. He bathed himself in the subtle and diffuse natural light and reveled in the difference it made in the appearance of his things and himself. It was hard to concentrate on his work.

That night he dreamed he was outside the building, climbing the fog like a snow bank. As though he was on the spying side of a two-way mirror, he watched people eat and sleep and work and make love, and they were unaware of his presence because they saw only the fog itself. He was outdoors in the light of day and he felt no fear at all. He awoke refreshed.

The fog continued and became a crisis for the city, but he was drunk on light and a new way of seeing things. He began to wonder what would happen if he tried to bring some of the fog into his flat, and after a while he could think of nothing else. He imagined its taste, like a vanilla liqueur; its smell, like just-ironed cotton; the way it would feel as he gathered it in, like the tail of a grey cat, twitching, flicking, densely furred. He opened a window and swirled a bit of fog inside, but it proved disappointingly insubstantial and without any taste or smell at all. Yet he wanted something that it offered. Opening the window wider, he thrust his whole head and shoulders out into the fog, breathing it deeply again and again. Then he realized that it had been a very long time since he’d been this far outside the building, so completely bathed in the natural light of day. His feeling of delight grew to a kind of euphoria, so that when he actually thrust his whole body out into the fog, he was more surprised at how suddenly fear returned than that he was falling.

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Alice Whittenburg divides her time between the United States and Prague in the Czech Republic, where she is an English tutor. She is also co-editor of a new e-zine called The Cafe Irreal. Her fiction has appeared in Optimism, a Prague-based English language literary magazine, and in the e-zine DoorKnobs & Body Paint.