The Silver Year: Chapter 15/16

Chapter 15

The Happy Banshee



As​​ Walter​​ approached the​​ captivating​​ music, it fell into a​​ meandering​​ instrumental. The bar​​ from which it was emanating was just one​​ small​​ door​​ among many​​ that lined the bottom of a four-story,​​ dilapidated and​​ faded,​​ redbrick​​ building. There was a sign above the​​ entrance, dimly lit​​ by a yellowed light and​​ spotted with graffiti. Its edges were wrapped in​​ years of​​ rust.​​ The weathered words​​ on it​​ read:​​ Maloe Melo- Home of The Blues.

Looking​​ inside the open door,​​ Walter​​ saw nothing but a sea of​​ dancing​​ tie-dye.​​ Outside, as expected, were​​ some​​ old men, also dressed in tie-dye, smoking and conversing.​​ A​​ playbill​​ was posted to​​ the​​ left​​ of​​ the​​ door​​ under​​ a sign saying: TONIGHT LIVE!/ OPTREDEN VANAVOND!​​ On​​ the​​ playbill​​ was​​ a​​ portrait​​ of a​​ young woman​​ with​​ bright​​ gray eyes and​​ flowers weaved into her​​ wavy​​ vermillion​​ hair. A​​ wry​​ smirk played across her​​ pink cheeks​​ as​​ she mimed​​ playing an invisible guitar.​​ 

Kali​​ &​​ The Easy Wind: A Tribute to The Grateful Dead, Walter read above her image.​​ So​​ that’s​​ what this mysterious sound​​ was.​​ He​​ knew of the Grateful Dead​​ because they influenced much of the​​ music he listened to, but​​ remarkably,​​ he​​ had​​ never listened​​ to them​​ himself.​​ ​​ 

The old men​​ smiled as he walked toward the entrance. One of them gave him a peace sign. “Have a grateful time!” he said.


On the other side,​​ the place was perhaps slightly larger than a​​ one-bedroom​​ apartment with a bar running​​ nearly​​ the entire left-hand side​​ length.​​ The​​ narrow corridors were wallpapered with American and European blues festival flyers and an assortment of collected oddities typical of​​ any​​ dive bar. Wall to wall, beneath colorfully backlit​​ mists​​ of​​ swirling​​ marijuana smoke, men and women of all ages​​ danced, many of them in tie-dyed,​​ bohemian attire.​​ There were​​ no subdivisions​​ in the crowd, just a giant mass of varied personalities and energies stitched​​ together by the hand​​ of​​ communal​​ soundwaves.​​ It was as if​​ Walter had​​ stepped through a time portal into the Summer of Love.

On​​ a​​ corner​​ stage,​​ a​​ young and​​ statuesque​​ female​​ drummer​​ tapped along with an​​ energetic​​ female bassist in baggy overalls​​ and pigtails.​​ To their left,​​ a lizard-looking guitarist​​ was​​ whipping​​ his long​​ hair and tongue about​​ manically,​​ while a middle-aged and balding,​​ mad-scientist of a man​​ fingered​​ a​​ stack of keyboards.​​ However,​​ where or whom​​ the singer was, was​​ still​​ a mystery.

But as​​ Walter’s​​ eyes adjusted,​​ he saw her​​ at last, the redhead from the playbill,​​ in the crowd, dancing​​ in the whirlpools of tie-dye.​​ She was​​ dressed in​​ a​​ white​​ summer dress and​​ had​​ white​​ fringed and fingerless gloves​​ that went to her bicep.​​ Her long and balletic​​ body​​ was​​ spinning​​ wildly while people poured around her like​​ prairie​​ grass.​​ 

Turning​​ his​​ way, her spinning stopped. Smiling,​​ she​​ then​​ pulled back her wet hair and​​ splayed her elbows like the​​ cape​​ of a cobra​​ as an upsurge of music filled the room.​​ She then threw her​​ arms​​ down in a​​ dramatic​​ arc​​ timed with a disco-tinged synth chord​​ struck by​​ the mad-scientist.​​ The crowd went into a frenzy of​​ ahs​​ as everyone seemed to be anticipating something only unknown to Walter.

The redhead then​​ hopped​​ on stage and picked up a well-used, black​​ Gibson S-1​​ and began playing​​ it, bopping along to the music with a shit-eating grin.​​ You tell me this town ain't got no heart…” she sang​​ like a happy​​ banshee.

​​ Well, well, well, you can never tell…” the crowd​​ chanted​​ back,​​ dancing​​ as​​ if​​ they were​​ alone​​ at home​​ in their​​ underwear.

The sudden jostling of feet pushed Walter to the center of the room​​ and his​​ arms and legs​​ began​​ wagging​​ unconsciously​​ like the others around him.​​ WOO!​​ everyone​​ then​​ yelled​​ as they​​ jumped​​ into the air and landed on a springy chorus​​ about a place called “Shakedown Street”.​​ 

Like the first, this song too eventually went into another​​ long​​ and​​ meandering​​ jam, during which Walter was passed​​ several​​ joints​​ and handshakes​​ from the people around​​ him.​​ The​​ jam​​ then​​ tumbled into another bouncy tune,​​ but​​ this one more reggae-rooted, but not exactly reggae.​​ The change inspired another flurry of excitement​​ from the crowd.

“Shakedown to Scarlet—that’s unheard of!”​​ someone yelled nearby, while everyone shook their heads and bodies in agreement that they were indeed sharing in on something special.​​ 

As the song played and the​​ happy​​ banshee sang, phrases of verse caught​​ Walter’s​​ ear, each one​​ more relatable, until it seemed his thoughts were being sung into​​ lyrics,​​ lyrics​​ he had​​ just​​ heard​​ earlier that night.

Once in a while you get shown the light​​ in the strangest of places if you look at it right...”

The​​ phrase​​ stunned​​ Walter​​ into stasis.​​ Apparently the therapist in his head was a Deadhead.

To his surprise, the banshee also appeared to have been shot​​ by​​ the same​​ sensation.​​ Fingers frozen​​ over​​ her​​ fretboard,​​ she was now​​ dumbstruck​​ by​​ Walter. She then began​​ glaring him down with​​ bewildered​​ ferocity, making her miss the cue for the next verse.​​ She shook her head, then signaled​​ to her confused bandmates​​ to play another​​ measure, after which she finished the song, opting out​​ of​​ the typical​​ extended jam.

“Thank you.​​ Dank je,” she​​ told the applauding​​ audience​​ in what Walter​​ assessed​​ to be an American accent. “We’re going to take a​​ very​​ short intermission now, but we’ll be back soon.” Unlike her singing, her speaking voice had the​​ tranquil​​ nature of a folk song,​​ the banshee all but​​ dispelled—that is until she​​ advanced on​​ him.

 “Where did you get that shirt?” she​​ demanded. Walter, in disbelief she was actually speaking to him,​​ could say​​ nothing. “Spreekt u Engels?”

“What?”​​ he said.

“English.​​ Do you speak English?​​ Where​​ did you get that shirt?”

“Oh…” he looked​​ down at​​ his shirt.​​ “I-I​​ borrowed​​ it from a friend​​ after I made a mess out of my other one.”

“Who’s​​ your friend?”

“Um,​​ I’m not​​ so​​ sure I​​ should tell you by the way you’re looking at me​​ . . .​​ Why? What​​ is this​​ shirt to you?”

She pulled​​ back​​ her emotions​​ a bit​​ before answering.​​ “It’s​​ a lot of things to me,” she said,​​ “but​​ luna hunny​​ is​​ me.”

Walter​​ shook his head,​​ thinking​​ his brain was​​ playing​​ tricks on him again.​​ “Did you just say you’re​​ luna hunny?” he asked.​​ “You’re the​​ artist​​ on my shirt?”

“I was,” she replied,​​ “but I haven’t been​​ for​​ over two years now.”

“There’s no way . . . Well, if you really are,​​ I​​ have​​ some​​ questions​​ for you​​ then.”

“And so do​​ I,​​ and you’re going to answer them first. Like,​​ who’s your friend and where did he get the​​ shirt?”

“My friend…”​​ Walter​​ hesitated, not sure what he should reveal.​​ “My friend, well, I only met him tonight, so can’t say he’s a close friend.​​ I’m​​ just​​ visiting from California. This is my​​ first and​​ only night​​ in Amsterdam.”

“California?” she said. “I’m from San Fran myself.​​ Where​​ are you from?”

“Orange County and L.A. I’m kind of​​ in between​​ right now.​​ How’d you end up in Amsterdam?”

“Funny you should ask because it has a lot to do with that shirt.​​ I​​ moved to​​ Amsterdam​​ on​​ a​​ student visa​​ thinking​​ luna hunny​​ had a larger fanbase here​​ than in the States.​​ However, come to find out​​ later​​ after I was out ten thousand dollars for​​ a​​ new inventory​​ buy​​ and design costs,​​ the European label I thought​​ was selling so much merchandise and records for me was nothing but a laundering front for a cocaine operation. In reality, I had no fans​​ in Europe​​ at all.​​ Now spill it.​​ Who’s your friend?”

Inside, Walter began freaking out. No wonder Dug was so against this bar. He must’ve known she would be here. But having just met this girl, Walter was unsure where his allegiance stood, however, he also was never good at lying under pressure.

“Dug,” he answered. “His name was Dug.”

“Doug?” she said.

 “Yeah, spelt​​ D-U-G​​ though.”​​ Her face told him this was not a name familiar to her.

“Where does​​ Dug​​ live?” she asked.

“God if I know. Some apartment on some canal.​​ He found me in the streets pretty fucked​​ earlier​​ up after I lost my friends​​ and​​ let me clean​​ up​​ at his house,​​ even though I was​​ a​​ stranger.​​ He also gave me​​ new clothes​​ because I had ruined mine, and that’s how I got this shirt.​​ He really seemed like a good guy, however, we​​ didn’t part on the greatest terms.”

“Why’s that?”​​ she asked.

“I wrecked​​ his​​ expensive​​ tandem​​ bicycle​​ we were riding​​ on purpose.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“I’m still not exactly​​ sure,​​ because it​​ kind of was an​​ asshole move. However,​​ I​​ heard your​​ music​​ coming from the bar​​ and I​​ wanted​​ to​​ stop and​​ listen, but​​ he didn’t,​​ and​​ he​​ wouldn’t stop​​ to let me off, so I crashed the bicycle.”​​ 

She​​ snickered.​​ Hm,”​​ she​​ said. “That’s interesting.​​ Where is he now?”​​ 

“I’m not sure. And I have no way of contacting him.”​​ Walter​​ showed her his obliterated cellphone.

“What happened​​ to your phone?”​​ she asked.

“I was having a bad trip on edibles​​ and​​ thought​​ light​​ monsters were coming out of it​​ so I threw it. Like I said, I was pretty fucked up earlier.”

She let out a guffaw. “Making the most of your​​ night​​ in Amsterdam I see,” she said.​​ “Do​​ know​​ how to get back to​​ his​​ apartment?”

“We took a secret bicycle route​​ only​​ he knew and I was​​ on the​​ back​​ not paying attention.​​ We went over some canals and through some neighborhoods, that’s all I can tell you.”

Shiva scanned​​ Walter​​ over​​ for any hint of fabrication, which none of​​ it​​ was. He just​​ omitted​​ a few​​ damning details.

“Can I ask you something​​ now?”​​ he​​ said.

“What?”​​ she asked.

“What’s​​ the​​ phrase on my shirt mean?”

I think​​ the meaning is​​ pretty straightforward,​​ to say life has no meaning is not to say it has no value.​​ It’s a​​ lyric from one of my songs.

“Yes,​​ I figured that. But was there an​​ inspiration​​ behind the lyric?”

“Yes,​​ and​​ probably​​ more so than​​ any other lyric I’ve written. It was inspired by a​​ birthday​​ I​​ spent alone in​​ a place called​​ Pacific Grove​​ in​​ northern​​ California. Every year,​​ monarch​​ butterflies​​ gather​​ in trees​​ there during their​​ annual migration​​ over thousands of miles,​​ a journey​​ none of them would live long enough to see​​ completed. So as I watched​​ them take off from the trees,​​ I thought​​ how meaningless their lives were to themselves, but everything to the species.​​ But our lives are no different; just pieces of a journey we’ll never see completed​​ unless we somehow find ourselves at its end, which for us and butterflies could be soon if we don’t start caring more about the journey and less about ourselves​​ . . . Are you​​ tearing up?”

“Sorry,” Walter said wiping​​ his eyes. “You’re just—I mean that was​​ just​​ so​​ beautiful, and beautifully said.​​ Also, I find myself crying​​ easily​​ nowadays.​​ For the longest time I never​​ did, but I’ve sure made up for it in the last year.”

She smiled and took his hands​​ away from his cheeks.​​ “Don’t apologize,” she said. “There’s never a reason to hide your tears.​​ I​​ also​​ never​​ used to​​ cry,​​ but​​ now​​ I find myself needing​​ to​​ just to feel balanced​​ sometimes.”

“God, me too,” Walter said. “So, is the image yours​​ too?”

“No, the label provided it. I had my own artwork, but when they sent me that, I couldn’t refuse. It was perfect.​​ I never did find out who made it though.”

“Is there anywhere I can hear this song?”​​ he asked.

“Nope. I​​ wiped​​ luna hunny​​ from the earth​​ and the internet​​ because it​​ became nothing but a​​ painful humiliation for me.​​ I know​​ it​​ sounds melodramatic, but​​ the whole experience​​ gave me a breakdown I almost didn’t recover​​ from.”

“No...” Walter smirked. “I​​ actually​​ understand​​ completely.”

They were​​ then​​ interrupted by her lizard-looking guitarist.​​ “Hey Shiva, you okay to go back up​​ yet?” he asked​​ in​​ an​​ Australian accent.​​ Aussies just seemed to be everywhere in Europe.​​ “The crowd’s getting antsy since we cut the first set so short.​​ But also,​​ I​​ was hoping we’d have time to​​ play ‘Cobrasnake’ again​​ tonight.”

Shiva, Walter thought.​​ Her name is Shiva.

“No Lou,” Shiva said. “If I let you play your song​​ again, then Cage will want to play his stupid song about his​​ cat​​ again.​​ I only let you guys do them​​ that one time​​ because I was drunk.​​ This is a​​ Grateful Dead​​ tribute, not your own band.​​ Ashlyn and Jayleen never ask me to play their​​ own​​ songs.​​ I’ll go up when I’m ready.” She signaled him away.

Men,” Shiva​​ said​​ after​​ her guitarist left.​​ “Why do they​​ always​​ have​​ to stick their ego in everything? But he’s right. I should​​ get back up.​​ You​​ a fan of the​​ Dead?”

“I think I will be after tonight,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “This is my first time hearing their music—or I​​ think​​ it​​ is. I keep having this feeling like I’ve been here before.”

She​​ smiled.​​ “Your first show, I’m honored. And the Dead’s music can have that effect on you. It​​ just means the magic’s working. But just wait until second set.​​ That’s when it really starts flowing.”

“What do you mean?”​​ he asked.

“Well, let’s just say​​ anything can happen during​​ the​​ second set of​​ a​​ Dead​​ show—even if it​​ is​​ just a tribute​​ show.”​​ Shiva​​ then​​ eyed his​​ hat.​​ “I like your hat.​​ Mind if I wear it​​ for second set? I promise to give it back​​ after.”

“Okay,” Walter​​ said with no objection.

She leaned in​​ as if going for a kiss, but at the last moment maneuvered​​ up​​ and​​ lifted​​ the hat​​ away. She​​ put it on and​​ tilted​​ it​​ back​​ so that the brim formed a​​ bright orange halo behind​​ her head.

“How do I look?”​​ she asked.​​ 

“Like a psychedelic Virgin Mary,”​​ he​​ replied. She seemed very content with that.


In her​​ long and​​ breezy dress,​​ Shiva​​ appeared​​ to fly back onstage. She​​ then​​ picked up her guitar and romanced from it an icy blues riff, and like well-drilled soldiers,​​ her band fell in​​ step​​ as​​ the house lights drenched the room in a​​ bottomless​​ blue​​ while​​ a tune​​ crooned​​ like​​ cancer​​ slowly squeezing life from its victim like toothpaste from a tube.

Y'know death don't have no mercy in this land” Shiva cut the​​ air​​ like a preacher​​ from a​​ pulpit.​​ In contrast to their earlier playful manner, the crowd fell silent,​​ drifting away behind their eyelids​​ as they rocked to the​​ funeral​​ march rhythm.​​ A​​ Dead show wasn’t​​ just​​ flowers and sunshine​​ Walter​​ was seeing,​​ but​​ more​​ so​​ a journey which mirrored the​​ perverted​​ path and beat​​ of life.​​ 

After the song burned itself out,​​ from​​ it​​ arose a new one, fluttering​​ off​​ of​​ Shiva’s fingers​​ like the first flaps​​ of freshly-budded butterfly wings.​​ The crowd then rejoiced as the house lights warmed the scene​​ with​​ rays of orange, red, and yellow. She then went to​​ the mic,​​ her gray eyes​​ glowing in Walter’s​​ direction.

My favorite, she mouthed​​ to him, then​​ told the epic of​​ “Terrapin Station”,​​ a story​​ which​​ again seemed​​ to​​ strum upon​​ every​​ part of him.

The​​ rest of​​ the​​ second set was​​ as​​ tumultuous​​ as promised. At one moment exultant and​​ droll,​​ the next forlorn and frightening; at​​ one​​ moment psychedelic, the next country,​​ jazz, then who knows what to call it.​​ For​​ fifteen​​ minutes, the music​​ just hung​​ in an ambient space of hallucinogenic​​ soundscapes​​ and drums, while everyone including​​ the band took turns​​ going to the bathroom. Then​​ like​​ a​​ tiny​​ crack,​​ a​​ spidery​​ preamble​​ crawled into​​ the suspended air​​ and shattered it with the tale of someone named “St. Stephen”. Then​​ someone named​​ “Bertha”,​​ someone named “Althea”,​​ then a song about women being smarter, then​​ an​​ acoustic​​ and palliative​​ encore about a place called​​ “Brokedown Palace” just to send everyone​​ off equalized.​​ 

After,​​ Shiva took a​​ humble​​ bow in front of​​ the small​​ sea of​​ roaring adulation,​​ of​​ which Walter was ardently a​​ part of, clapping his hands until they hurt.​​ After​​ some​​ schmoozing​​ and tidying away​​ of​​ her things onstage,​​ she​​ soon​​ floated​​ back​​ to​​ him.

“Here,”​​ she​​ said lifting​​ his​​ hat​​ from​​ her head. “See,​​ I promised I’d​​ return​​ it.”

She​​ came in​​ close​​ to​​ crown​​ him​​ with it. He​​ could feel the heat of the performance​​ still​​ radiating from her​​ body.​​ She​​ fussed​​ with​​ the hat​​ for longer than seemed necessary​​ until it was​​ seated​​ just​​ to her liking.

“There, perfect,” she said taking her hands away.

“You’re unlike any performer—or really any person​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ met before,” Walter said.

“Thank you, but you hardly know me.​​ But let’s change​​ that.​​ Come with me​​ to the bar.”



Chapter 16

The​​ Tower


Taking a seat at the now mostly empty bar,​​ Shiva​​ hailed an older gentlemen behind it with a mustache,​​ smoking a cigar.​​ “Patrick, can you get me an Amstel with a shot of Jack and my friend here a...” she​​ eyed​​ Walter to finish the order.​​ 

“Make it two of that.”

“You got it my dear,” Patrick replied in a Dutch accent and got their drinks.

Sante,” Shiva said holding up her shot to Walter.

Sante,” he replied. “Et merci pour les boissons.”

Tu parles français?”​​ 

Oui, mais juste un peu.​​ J'aime beaucoup de philosophes français. ‘Je pense, donc je suis.’”

She laughed.​​ D’accord​​ Monsieur Descartes,” she said. “Et j'aime beaucoup de poètes français. ‘Il pleure dans mon cœur comme il pleut sur la ville.’”

“You lost me on that one,” he said. “Also, I​​ don’t know a lot of French poetry.”

“Verlaine,​​ but that’s okay. Also you’re​​ welcome for the drinks, but thank him.” Shiva nodded to Patrick. “They’re on the house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tip the man…” Her eyes and smile insinuated​​ he​​ should.​​ Walter​​ took a few Euro coins from his pocket and splashed them on the bar.

“No,” Patrick said pushing them back, “but thank you. This young lady​​ brings me so much business I feel guilty she doesn’t ask for more.”

“You perform just for drinks?” Walter asked Shiva.

“Of course not,”​​ she said.

“Yes she does,” Patrick insisted. “All she asks for is free drinks and joints. The rest goes to her charity, half the cost of every drink and joint sold here tonight.”

“You run a charity?” Walter asked.

Shiva looked at Patrick annoyed.​​ “Yes,” she said. “Technically it’s run under​​ my roommate’s​​ name though since I’m not living here legally. She’s actually the ‘Kali’ in Kali & The Easy Wind, the name of the band and the charity. But​​ Kali’s just her legal name. She’s ‘Mags’​​ to me and everyone who knows her.​​ We started the charity together, but it’s really just​​ been​​ me for a while now.”

“What’s the charity for?” Walter asked.​​ 

Helping​​ human trafficking victims​​ in Amsterdam.​​ Although prostitution’s legal, a lot of girls are still trafficked​​ here​​ when they’re young and brainwashed by pimps who pretend to be their boyfriends,​​ or what’s called a ‘loverboy’. Mags,​​ who’s an independent prostitute,​​ introduced me to this uglier side of the sex trade. Originally we planned a charity cabaret show based on David Bowie’s​​ Diamond Dogs, but then her ‘career’ started taking off. So, since I grew up listening and playing them all my life, I started a Grateful Dead tribute​​ with some musicians I knew in town instead.”​​ ​​ 

“Yeah, but that​​ Diamond Dogs​​ cabaret show would’ve still been awesome to see,” Walter said. “David Bowie is my favorite artist.”

“Funny. Bowie is Mags’s favorite too,” Shiva said.

“So were your parents Deadheads?” he asked.

“Yes, but more so my dad than my mom. She always liked Neil Young more, which I can’t fault her. I love Neil just as much as the Dead.”

“Funny. Neil Young was a favorite of a friend of mine who recently passed away.”

“I’m sorry to hear. How’d they pass?”

He cleared his throat, then took a drink. “You don’t want to hear it,” he said. “It’s not a fun conversation.”

“My mother died when I was six. Does that bring the mood down enough for you?”

He stared at her in awe. “Um,” he began blinking rapidly, “she... she killed herself. And she wasn’t just my friend, she was my ex—I mean, she was my girlfriend.”​​ 

Shiva’s jaw dropped. “I’m sorry I pressured you,” she said, followed by a brief silence. “My mother also killed herself,” she then said quietly. “Is it me, or is there a lot of alignment between us?”

“If you mean coincidences,” Walter said, “yes, I’ve taken notice of that too—even more than you know. My mother also died when I was young. She died giving birth to me. I also have a ‘musical identity’ back home you could say I’m trying to run away from. And funny​​ enough, I also used to be in a tribute band, but Guns N’ Roses though. However, I don’t really believe in ‘alignment’, otherwise I might have to start believing in astrology and every other pseudoscientific​​ or religious​​ system of divination.”

“So what system do you believe in then?” she asked.

“Reason. And reason says​​ alignment is nothing more than​​ our exceptional pattern recognition​​ skills stringing together​​ anomalous coincidences into meaning something more;​​ our own evolution​​ playing tricks on us essentially.”

Shiva burst into laughter.​​ “So you’re basically saying alignment is​​ only acceptable when it can undoubtably be proven not to be​​ alignment?” she said.​​ “See, that’s the paradox about you​​ ‘reason’​​ types. On one hand you’re trying to disprove God, yet on the other you want to prove the universe has some predictable course so long as it’s under your control.​​ But if​​ it’s not ‘anomalous coincidences’ guiding our lives, then​​ what is?​​ Do you think the monarch butterfly​​ knows why it flies to​​ places it’s never been yet somehow knows how to find?”

“So what?” Walter said. “You’re saying​​ some greater power brought us together?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care, but I won’t ignore​​ the signs.​​ It’s not every day the universe sends me someone wearing my past on their shirt.”

Shiva then reached into her handbag and pulled out a well-worn hemp case containing a deck of cards.

“What are those?” Walter asked.

“Tarot cards. You mind if I do a reading for us? I’m sure ‘reason’ says you have nothing to be afraid of.”

He looked at the cards nervously.​​ “No,” he said. “I suppose​​ it​​ should be fun if anything.”

Shiva​​ began​​ shuffling​​ the​​ deck, then dealt out four cards in a cross formation on the bar.

“We’ll keep this simple,” she said. “The card on the left will represent you, the card on the right will represent me, the card on the bottom will represent what brings us together, and the card on top will represent our future. You first.”

Walter flipped his card over.

“The Fool,” Shiva​​ said.​​ “The Fool is number zero in the​​ Major Arcana deck and therefore can be placed at the beginning or end of it.​​ Because of this, the Major Arcana is often considered the Fool’s​​ journey. And as you can see​​ on the card,​​ the Fool is setting out on a journey with nothing but a knapsack,​​ gazing​​ up​​ into​​ the sky unaware he’s about to walk off a​​ cliff​​ into the unknown. But by his side​​ is​​ a small​​ white dog,​​ there to protect, guide, and motivate him through the​​ lessons he came on this journey to learn​​ . . .​​ Sound like someone you know?”

​​ “I’ll admit,” Walter said,​​ “the Fool and I have some​​ uncanny​​ similarities. But I’m sure I’d find similarities with any card you could have pulled. Anyway, you now.”

Shiva turned over her card.​​ “The Tower,” she said.

“What’s the Tower mean?”​​ he asked.

“Upheaval, destruction, chaos.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Yes, but in the end, it’s for the highest good. As seen on the card, a tower has been built upon a shaky foundation. A lightning bolt from the universe of sudden clarity and insight​​ then strikes it down along with​​ a crown​​ which once stood atop​​ the tower. From the tower’s windows, two people​​ are​​ leaping​​ into the unknown. However,​​ around them are twenty-two flames, representing the twelve signs of the​​ zodiac and the ten points of the Tree of Life, reminding them divine intervention is always there.”

“So, are you the Tower?” Walter asked.

“I did come to Europe on a ‘tower’ of false premises,” Shiva said. “And I’m still living in its ruins you could say. I just can’t decide whether to start all over or rebuild from the rubble, and it’s been that way for a while now . . . Maybe my answer has to do with whatever’s brought us together.”

Shiva turned the card,​​ a skeleton in black armor riding a white horse: Death.​​ They stared at it in silence for several seconds.

“I guess that card needs no explaining,” Walter said.

“Yes, but Death’s not always a bad thing. It’s also symbolic of letting go of something that’s no longer serving you. However, in our case, I think Death might be more literal than symbolic.”

“Yes,” Walter said taking a deep breath, “but I’m finding it highly symbolic too . . . Do you have a phone with internet access? I need you to read something, then there’s something I want to show you after. If anyone can make sense of it, it’s going to be you.”

“Okay...” she said looking slightly afraid, then handed him her phone. He brought up the Rolling Stone interview, then handed it back.

“There,” he said. “Read.”

He then​​ watched​​ fretfully​​ as​​ she learned his most intimate secrets. Every so often she’d stop and look up at him as if to reassure herself he was indeed the same hideous creature on the screen. At last, she then set down the phone.

“Your name is​​ Walter Huxley?” Shiva asked furrowing her eyebrows.

“Yes,” he said. “I guess we forgot to exchange names. Yours is Shiva—or at least that’s what everyone calls you around here.”

“You know,” she smiled unexpectedly, “your name sounds like a bad penname. And your stage name isn’t much better. No wonder you said you had a musical identity back home you were running away from. I would too if my name was Quinn Quark. However, I was totally oblivious anything was still happening in rock back in The States. But uh...​​ Amber, your girlfriend. I thought you said she killed herself?”

Walter then explained every gruesome detail.

“Wow,” Shiva said after. “That’s... that’s really heavy. I’m so sorry.”

“So does it change your opinion about me?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve hardly known you long enough to form an opinion, and I’m not going to let a magazine article make it. Everyone has at least one secret they don’t want anyone to know. Yours, unfortunately, was just put in Rolling Stone. However, if you want to hear my secret, it might definitely change your opinion on me.”

“All right,” Walter said. “Let’s hear it.”

Shiva took a deep breath, then began. “Before my​​ charity​​ was a charity for human trafficking victims,” she said,​​ “it was really just​​ robbery​​ for human trafficking victims so they could buy themselves out of it. Mags,​​ myself,​​ and some other friends—some formerly trafficked themselves—would​​ prowl the swankier places in town to find rich,​​ gullible tourists who were too drunk or​​ too​​ high to know what they​​ were​​ spending​​ and sell them on a girl we knew​​ was under the control of a loverboy.​​ We’d then​​ deliver the sucker​​ to her​​ personally, but not before taking​​ a finder’s fee, which usually doubled the price, but always went to the girl, that way she made​​ just as much​​ as her loverboy. However, after someone complained about me to a loverboy because I got a bit testy with him after he grabbed my ass, the loverboy became wise to our scheme. But instead of taking it out on me, he took it out on the girl. She was in a coma for two weeks before she died of brain injuries.​​ Her name was Maria, and only one person outside of you knows about her.”

“Wow,” Walter said agape. “I guess we’re connected by Death in many ways on many dimensions. Outside of, well, Amber’s mother, I didn’t think I could share that kind of guilt with anyone. It was just too heavy.”

“So does it change your opinion about me?” she asked.

“Yes,” he smiled​​ timidly, “but only in a good way. It’s nice to know you’re not perfect.”

“I’m glad you think that,” she said smiling back. “Because after reading that article I felt the same way about you . . . So, what was it you wanted to show me now?”

“Right, I almost forgot,” Walter said then reached into his wallet and removed a small plastic bag with Amber’s suicide note inside. “It’s actually a connection I’ve been trying to rationalize all night before I even met you, but alignment keeps working against me. Honestly, I’m expecting to wake up anytime now. Something about this night doesn’t seem real. I think I’m dreaming.”

Shiva took his hand and pressed it near her sternum. “You feel that beating?” she said. “I can assure you, you are not in a dream.”

“We’ll see how you feel after this,” he said taking the note out of the bag and unfolding it. “You only need to read as far as the first sentence of the second paragraph to understand what I mean,” he said giving it to her.

She read then gasped, unable to take her eyes from it. “What value does a life have without meaning?”​​ she said. “To say life has no​​ meaning​​ is not to say it has no​​ value.”

“Sounds like something from the​​ Tao Te Ching, right?” Walter said. “So do you think there’s a connection? Maybe it has something to do with your mother’s suicide.”

“No,” Shiva said defensively. “I assure you my mother’s suicide has no relevance.”

“Why? How did she...”

“Did she do it? She overdosed on pain pills. Why she did it, that’s a secret only my mom and I share. I’m sorry. And honestly, I don’t know if there’s a connection. I think we might be stringing together coincidences now.”

“Listen to you,” Walter said.

“Listen to you,” she replied.

“Maybe our future card might have an answer then,” he said and turned it.

“Oh my God,” Shiva said under her breath. She then brought her hands to her face and sighed.

“What?” Walter asked.​​ 

“The Ace of Cups. Okay, maybe my mother might be involved. But never mind that for now. Um, as you can see a​​ chalice, symbolic of the universe’s invitation for divine love,​​ is​​ overflowing​​ onto​​ a sea​​ of​​ lotus blossoms,​​ representing​​ a​​ coming​​ awakening of the human spirit, but only if one is willing to accept the universe’s invitation for divine love first. However, few ever do. Divine love always looks like​​ certain madness​​ in the beginning, but peace isn’t​​ sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first.”

She then picked up the card and handed it to him. “I never thought I’d ever give this card away,” she said, “but it’s what alignment is telling me to do.”

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“Neither do I completely. But just keep it as a reminder of the chalice waiting to be filled in you. That’s all I can say . . . How about a​​ change of atmosphere?” Shiva said standing up and putting away the cards. “Patrick’s closing soon anyway.”

“What about your gear?” Walter asked.

“I keep it here.”

“All right. Where to then?”

“The only place I know to go this late at night; a place where we can practice our French, dance to some music, and see some titties:​​ La Lune Rouge. I guarantee you won’t find any other place like it in Amsterdam.”




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