Safety in Numbers (by James Parsons)

Through the window, the moon cast a ribbon of light diagonally across her body, revealing a shoulder, two ribs, and the curvature of a hip.  A path of skin like fresh snow beneath a streetlamp.  The smell of lilacs – her ever-present scent – invaded his nostrils.  This time mingling with sweat and the moist August air.  Yet the rest of her was veiled in storm cloud gray and grew more indiscernible despite his staring.  Sheldon had known Tatum for over a year but she seemed so vague to him, as if he were peering at her through a rain-splashed windshield, betrayed by broken wipers.  She was opaque lying there in the tousled bed linens and that made him anxious.  It occurred to him to quietly exit the room and leave her to her dreams, so he made his way out the door, down three floors, and into the silent streets.

The city pulsates like a switchboard of energy in the waking hours.  Yet, after midnight, within certain neighborhoods, it is a cloister.  The small streets can be like portals to a quainter era.  The atmosphere so different than in the daylight.  This is what he loved most about Philadelphia.  It rested.  And because of his inability to do the same, Sheldon walked.  West, on Locust, toward the river, he meandered past narrow, cobblestone back alleys.  The giant silhouette of a cargo train vanished northward toward the Art Museum.  Around a corner, a cat, like a sentry, slinked back and forth on the slender top of a property gate, and startled him.  Ahead, on a street perpendicular, two women in flowing skirts passed by on bikes that seemed too large for them; even at this hour, in the bright darkness, they looked purposeful yet carefree, as girls in skirts on bikes often do in the summer months.

Sheldon favored Fitler Square to the much bigger Rittenhouse.  Rittenhouse Square was a spectacle.  Fitler Square, at this hour, a sanctuary.  The brass ram in repose greeted him.  The bear in mid-stride paid him no mind.  He imagined them coming to life like in a child’s daydream.  He sat on a bench next to the tortoises conferring with one another.  The moonlight was still strong and it gleamed off the helmeted backs of the tortoises; the largest casting a fatherly figure in front of two attentive children.  Be patient, you’ll get there, don’t worry, it is who you are.  Sheldon began to feel at ease and the edges of his mouth curved upward forming a wry smile.  He sat and enjoyed the solitude for minutes which seemed longer.  Suddenly the drone of the southbound #12 bus on its final run grew closer and it roused him.  Above, some lonely stars shone in defiance of the city and its artificial light.  The warm air was sweet with alyssum.  It reminded him of lilacs.  He thought of Tatum.  Was she still sleeping?  Perhaps she too had left the house.

(James Parsons is a writer living in Philadelphia.  When he's not writing you can find him on his bike, running in the Wissahickon trails, or coaching on soccer fields throughout the area.  He has a master's degree in journalism from Temple University.)


  1. Very visual, evocative writing. Just lovely!

  2. Thank you for reading, and for your feedback. Much appreciated. James

  3. Such a visually vivid snippet.

    "as if he were peering at her through a rain-splashed windshield, betrayed by broken wipers."

    This line really provokes some interesting thoughts. Also liked the full circle with the lilacs.

  4. There was something luxurious about this. The richness in the safety and contemplation allowed to the narrator.