Suspicion

by Milena Nigam
My favorite time to run is in the early morning, before my family wakes up. If it’s still dark when I leave the house, I love knowing that by the time I unlock our side door on the return, the sky will have thinned to a whitish, grayish butter or blue, depending on the weather and depending on the time of year; in the summer, the change from dark to sun happens suddenly, whereas in the early morning winter, the minutes take their time. I never listen to music or a podcast. It’s the sound of my feet steadily knocking the sidewalk that encourages the string of words that play in my head: individual phrases that could grow into stories, paragraphs that shift a revision to within my grasp, a line of dialogue—from a character who may or may not yet be known to me—that shows up to the rhythm of my running feet.

But there are other things I think about during every solo run, when the sky is not quite dark but not quite light. Hug the inside of the sidewalk; the few cars that speed by might not be paying attention, could jump the curb. Watch that figure up ahead; you’re the only two people on this stretch of city road, who knows their intention? Rustling of leaves in the woods? It’s a squirrel, but I think murderer.

Why am I so fearful and untrusting in this quiet time of solitude? My husband cautions me to not run the woodsy park trails in the dark. “Because of the psycho killers?” I ask. “Because you could twist your ankle,” he replies, unamused. I’m not trying to amuse. I wish I could worry about twisted ankles, but to me, it’s not worth it. Ankles heal, whereas the scenarios I imagine end with me dead under a pile of logs.

Suspicion is such a fascinating theme for this issue of Halfway Down the Stairs because it is such a complex reaction to things unknown, poorly understood, scary. The irrational fear I bring with me on my runs barely skirts what our authors this month grapple with in their gorgeous poetry and short fiction. There is an element of shame in suspicion. How our fears of being hurt balance shakily on others being to blame. Racial profiling, building walls, limiting the freedom of groups of people because it makes some of us feel safer: these actions and even policies are based in fear, in needing to control a messy world (our own personal universe or the giant one), and in the great, unsettling state of suspicion.

My mother was hit by a car and killed almost five years ago. Learning the details of the accident and her death was excruciating, so terrible. But one of the worst moments of that time was hearing, briefly, a few family members questioning whether the accident could have been purposeful, suspecting there might have been someone out there who wanted to kill this lovely, kind, beautiful woman. Thankfully, those brief wonderings quickly passed, but I will never forget how entirely my world fell apart—how terrifying and senseless and ever dark—while testing out that dangerous and unforgiving feeling: suspicion.

We know this issue of Halfway Down the Stairs will leave you haunted, curious, sympathetic, and introspective. Give you something to chew over while your feet hit the sidewalk during an early morning run. Just be careful on those dark, empty forest paths.

We are sorry to say goodbye to our poetry editor, Haley Dean, with this issue and wish her all the best in her next adventures. This means a vacancy has opened in the editorial team. More information is provided on our home page.
Milena Nigam is an editor at Halfway Down the Stairs. For staff biographies, click here.

© 2016, Milena Nigam