Peripheral
Alpheus Williams

I’m the chiaroscuro in a charcoal drawing that continues to melt and shift before your eyes, an Escher-like enigma that baffles and befuddles. 

 

You’ve seen me, and even though sober as stone you convinced yourself you didn’t, told yourself I was a blur, a floaty running across your eyes.

 

It’s a mistake to think that. 

 

I’m here. The Raggedy Man, on the edge of your vision, in the corner of your eye. When you turn to face me, I disappear. I’m like that. Fast and crafty.

 

I’m a penumbra in your peripheral, the fuzzy edges when you’ve just woken up or when you haven’t slept for hours. 

 

Soft and fluffy as whispers in gentle breezes. My voice dulcet and smooth as a cello played just on the edge of hearing, deep, melodious, sensual and seductive. I’m the low chuckle in a dark closet when you hid from an abusive parent or sibling as a kid. I’m the voice under the bed when you were little and afraid of the dark. I’m the soft laughter that isn’t yours when you duck into an alley to escape your pursuers. 

 

I’m the Raggedy Man and my face is a hundred shades of grey, black and white, an endless palate of monochrome. My rags are light, feathery, mercurial as gossamer. I’m a shadow under a streetlamp, a blur seen from the window of a speeding car. When you turn to face me, I melt into leaves, trunks of trees, darkened doorways and lightless shadows. I am swallowed into backgrounds. 

 

Convince yourself I wasn’t there.

You didn’t see me.

 It’s a lie.

 

I walk the cold flinty sidewalks of cities, the windy gullies and canyons of metropolitan towers, the seedy alleyways where yesterday’s papers bounce and tumble and mix with garbage cans and dumpsters.

 

I’m covered in vermin. Cockroaches scurry from my ears, nestle in my armpits. Mice roam freely through my straggly beard and long hair. My skin is alive with lice. At heart I’m a gentle soul, wish them no harm and happily provide for them. It’s not their fault they are what they are.

 

I am god to the homeless, the destitute, the hungry, the persecuted, the haunted, the insane, the simple and the damned. And sometimes, if they’re lucky, I deliver a swift and brutal justice to those who do them harm. Straight razor, severed throats and rivers of blood attest to my effectiveness.

 

See these vigilantes. See them come at night to a place under an overpass to prey on the homeless. See them emerge from muscle cars with links of chains and baseball bats. See them rush into the night, tipping over burning barrels where the homeless warm themselves, break bones through sleeping bags and set tents alight. When the Raggedy Man appears, they see swift shadows and ghosts and a nanosecond of starlight reflected in a razor so sharp it leaves no pain, only blood. Blood to clog their throats and silence their screams.

 

Unlike Excalibur, Stormbringer or Durandel, mythic swords of legend,  there is no clang of steal on steal. There are no screams of dying men on battlefields. This is quiet work, only the soft whisper of the Raggedy Man’s straight razor, quick as light, silent in the night.

 

There’s an urban legend that says if you look into the eyes of the dead, you will see their killer’s face imprinted on their retina. It’s nonsense of course. I’ve looked into those eyes and I’m not there and even if I were, I’d only be a blur running across your eye like a floaty or a dust moat in a shaft of light.