Out Late

by Janet Shell Anderson

It’s so dark I can’t see my hand before my face.

Midsummer night. Late. Clouds black as oil roll across the moon. I can hear someone behind me in the dark street, but I can’t see him. I hear his heavy footsteps.

There’s not a car on the street; no one comes out of the bars. Leftover rain, like spilled mercury, pools on cobblestones. I hear him. Ten steps behind. Nine. Closer.

The brick buildings tilt in the night, lean away. This is the Haymarket, a century old, jammed with brick buildings, cobble alleys, loading docks.

She comes out of an alley. I can’t believe it. I know it’s her the way you know who someone is in a dream, but this is no dream.


She was always fearless, when we were teenagers, when we were young women, when she was sick, when she was dying. In the hospital they told her, “You’ll die today.” She shrugged, talked about horses, went to sleep in that white room. I prayed for her, although it meant nothing to me and I knew if she heard, she would have hated it. I just didn’t know what else to say when she began to sleep the sleep that would never end. Nunc et hora mortis nostrae. Now and at the hour of our death. Then I sat there and listened to her breathe half the night until at three a.m. there was no more breathing.

I always thought she would live longer than me.

Black leather jacket on her, black leather pants, boots, she looks like trouble, like she always did. My sister, my flesh and blood, I can feel the shape of her walking without seeing it.

“Jen,” she says.

She knows I am afraid. It’s so black here; where are we? How can she be here?

The railroad tracks are close; we move toward them. I want to go down the tracks, go somewhere. I want to hear music, want to party, want this to be a dream. The tracks are silences, a shape of darkness in the night with a ton of empty train sitting there. No stars. Our childhood, our husbands, our children, our lives, where are they? What happened?

Behind us, footsteps. What is tracking us?

He comes so close, so close. Lynn is not afraid. She has been in the white room; she has fallen asleep dreaming of horses. She went away forever listening to me babble about horses we rode as teenagers, triple jumps we jumped, races we won, hearing me pray old prayers neither of us believe in.

“Out late?” he asks.

The night is so dark. What am I doing walking with Lynn through the Haymarket at this hour?

Someone is talking over us. Muttering. Nunc et hora mortis nostrae. Now and at the hour of our death. Over and over. What are they talking about?

It’s so dark I can’t see my hand before my face.

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