Tag: Faith Schleihauf

Stripped

It goes without saying that these sidewalks are never silenced. No matter how bare they appear in the darkness cast by the evening, the sound of parading and absentminded conversing has forever stained the concrete. The echoes of the traffic of the day passed rings in the man’s ears, barely quieter than his own rampant thoughts. More than anything, the innards of his consciousness begs him to get clothed.


A man rushes down the streets of Manhattan, bare from the peak of his bald head to the soles of his calloused feet. Nobody seems to notice, safe for him.


The air is crisp, swiping harshly against his sensitive bare skin with each gust of wind. One fatally positioned blow and the man fears he’ll float away, only landing onto the pavement as one of the many snowflakes garnishing his surroundings. Perhaps this outcome is preferable to the uncertainty of tomorrow.


The man doesn’t know what direction he is going; instead, he is only aware of what looms behind him and his animalistic desire to flee.


With his arms tightly wrapped around his shivering body, the man hobbles forward. He refuses to look up and acknowledge the stragglers accompanying him on this desolate evening, keeping his gaze trained on the hasty shuffling of his feet. He refuses to look upwards and catch their eyes, for he fears what they might see in his own. The man fears his own nakedness.


When he was a much younger man, a boy, even, his father used to tell him that he shouldn’t look down. “There’s a world of people to meet, boy, and you’re not weak. You look them in the eye, shake their hand, and say ‘nice to meet you’. You understand?” When the man was a boy, he never wanted to let his father down. Always, always greet those approaching. Smile at them, let them know you’re friendly, strong, passionate. For a fleeting second, the man regrets taking such advice to heart. Had he not smiled so widely at his wife the day they met, maybe she wouldn’t have fallen for him the way she did. Maybe, then the two of them wouldn’t have gotten married, and maybe she wouldn’t be resting in the warmth of his apartment while he wandered naked through the streets.


Just as soon as it arrives, the idea vanishes, and the man resumes the position of believing all of this was his fault. He deserves to be out in the cold, for he is the man and his wife is not.


No matter what she did to him, she will remain warm and clothed. She reassured him, drunkenly swaying, that nobody would believe him.


The man remembers the sharpness in her tone, the way he was struck by her voice almost as instantaneously as her open palm, almost as much as he remembers the nakedness of his body. He remembers seeing the rage in her eyes, so distinctly foreign in comparison to the resident softness present during the exchange of their wedding vows. He remembers how he begged her to stop.


For months, the man’s wife hid his clothes from him.


Of course, the man tried to adjust to the changes. He tried so hard to go to work, to go see his friends and to live his normal life without the comfort of his clothes. Nothing, however, could be normal for a man completely bare in the harsh winter of Manhattan. His suffering went unnoticed, his bareness avoided.


The echo of his father’s words stung his ears, the haunting taunt of “you’re not weak” reinforcing the opposite.
With nowhere to turn, the man left. His wife had been drinking and was experiencing a frequented intoxication-induced slumber on his brand-new leather sofa. With no clothes, the man braved the cold of the night.


She called to him while he left, her speech slurred and incoherent, telling him that she’d ruin his namesake. He was going to be sorry and would be running back to her when he came to his senses, but she wouldn’t take him.


It had been hours at this point, and the only sense he’d come to was that he should’ve left much, much sooner.


The man’s legs burned from the extended movement and with each stretch of the muscle, he could feel himself caving into the desire to collapse. At the end of the block, after hours of movement, the man’s legs failed him, and he descended to the frosted concrete beneath him. He’d find strength in this retreat eventually, but for now, the man sat, naked in the cold, watching as the world woke to brave the harshness of the proceeding day.

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN