The Silver Year: Chapter 15

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 from much of the music he listened to, but​​ remarkably​​ he​​ had​​ never​​ actually​​ 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​​ 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 again 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​​ him​​ 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,​​ 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 flawlessly, but​​ without​​ 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.”

“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.”

“No way​​ . . .​​ I​​ have so many questions​​ for you—”

“And so do​​ I, like who’s your friend and where did he get that shirt?”

“My friend…”​​ Walter​​ hesitated, not sure what he should reveal.​​ “My friend, well, I only met him tonight. I’m visiting from California and this is my only night​​ in Amsterdam.”

“California? Where in California?”

“Orange County and L.A. Right now I’m kind of​​ in between.”

“Hm…​​ I’m from San Fran myself.​​ I​​ moved to​​ Amsterdam​​ on​​ a​​ student visa​​ thinking​​ luna hunny​​ had a larger fanbase here​​ than in the States.​​ Come to find out​​ later​​ though,​​ 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.​​ That’s why I want to know where you got that shirt,​​ because​​ I assumed no one had​​ them except​​ the​​ asshole​​ who ripped me off.​​ Sound​​ anything​​ like your friend?”

Inside, Walter began freaking out.​​ If​​ she was to be believed,​​ clearly​​ Dug was this asshole. No wonder he 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.​​ 

“I’m not sure,”​​ he​​ said.​​ “It’s possible.​​ Like I said, I only met him tonight, so I really don’t know him that well. But​​ he didn’t seem like that bad of a guy.​​ I was​​ pretty​​ fucked up​​ earlier​​ and​​ had made a​​ real​​ mess of myself,​​ but​​ he went​​ well out of his way to help me​​ even though I was​​ a​​ stranger.​​ He​​ even​​ let me clean up​​ at​​ his​​ house​​ then gave me some new clothes to wear,​​ and that’s how I got this​​ shirt.​​ We​​ didn’t part on the greatest terms​​ though.”

“Why’s that?”

“I wrecked his​​ tandem​​ bicycle​​ we were riding so he​​ got angry and​​ left​​ me here—or more so I chose to stay.”​​ 

“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 some edibles​​ and​​ thought 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 stay in Amsterdam I see…” she said,​​ scanning him over, searching​​ for any hint of fabrication, which none of​​ it​​ was, he just​​ omitted​​ the most​​ damning details.

“What’s your friend’s name?”​​ she asked.​​ 

Walter​​ swallowed nervously. He wanted to lie, but somehow felt she would know. “Dug,” he​​ answered.

“Doug?”

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

“Where did he live?”​​ she asked.

“God if I know.​​ Some​​ apartment on some canal.​​ We​​ went​​ a​​ secret​​ route​​ only he knew​​ here,​​ and​​ I was on the back of the bicycle so I was​​ just​​ along for the ride.”

Her​​ brows​​ furrowed​​ and she became silent.

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

“What?”

“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.​​ They’re lyrics from one of my songs.​​ The inspiration​​ was​​ a​​ birthday​​ I​​ spent alone in​​ a place called​​ Pacific Grove​​ in​​ northern​​ California to​​ see the​​ monarch​​ butterflies​​ that​​ gather​​ in the trees there during their​​ annual migration. And as I watched​​ them take flight to continue​​ their​​ journey over thousands of miles, a journey they wouldn’t live long enough to complete, 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 complete 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. “That was​​ just​​ beautiful.​​ I also just cry easily​​ nowadays.​​ For the longest time I never let myself cry, 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.​​ Crying is​​ the most beautiful thing a man can do. I cry easily too. I used to​​ also​​ not be that way, but​​ now I find myself needing​​ to​​ just to feel balanced​​ sometimes.”

“God, me too,” Walter said.​​ “Is the image​​ on the shirt​​ yours​​ also?”

“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?”

“Nope. I​​ wiped​​ luna hunny’s​​ recorded music​​ from the earth​​ and the internet​​ because it​​ became nothing but a​​ painful humiliation for me. And no,​​ I’m not going to play the song​​ myself​​ for you. I know​​ it​​ sounds melodramatic, but​​ the whole experience​​ gave me a breakdown I almost didn’t recover​​ from.”

“No, I​​ actually​​ completely understand.​​ So there’s nothing​​ left of​​ luna hunny?”

“All that’s left of​​ luna hunny​​ that I know​​ of​​ is your​​ shirt. I did my best to destroy everything. In​​ retrospect,​​ maybe​​ it​​ was an overreaction, but​​ I​​ was an​​ artist​​ going through an identity crisis, and artists​​ can be​​ overly​​ emotional​​ sometimes.”​​ They both began laughing,​​ then​​ were​​ interrupted by her lizard-looking guitarist.

“Hey Shiva, you okay to go back up​​ yet?” he asked​​ in​​ an​​ Australian accent.​​ “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​​ to Walter​​ 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,” he said.​​ “This is my first time hearing the Dead—or I​​ think​​ it​​ is. I keep having this feeling like I’ve been here before.”

She​​ smiled.​​ “The Dead’s music can have that effect on you,” she said. “That just means the magic’s working.​​ You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into.​​ Second set hasn’t even begun.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, let’s just say​​ anything can happen during​​ a​​ second set of​​ the​​ Dead—even if it’s​​ just a tribute​​ show.”

Shiva​​ then​​ eyed his​​ bright orange​​ fedora, the only article of clothing​​ to survive the urinal. “I like your hat,” she said.​​ “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​​ said. She seemed very content with that.

 

In her​​ long and​​ breezy dress, she​​ 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 the 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​​ like the first flaps of freshly-budded butterfly wings​​ off​​ Shiva’s fingertips.​​ The house lights began casting warm​​ rays of​​ red​​ and​​ orange​​ as​​ her​​ lips​​ neared​​ 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”. After that,​​ someone named​​ “Bertha”,​​ then someone named “Althea”,​​ then a song about women being smarter, and then​​ an​​ acoustic​​ and palliative​​ encore about a place called​​ “Brokedown Palace” just to send everyone​​ off equalized.​​ 

Shiva took a​​ humble​​ bow in front of​​ the small​​ sea of​​ roaring adulation​​ after,​​ 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 his hat​​ for longer than seemed necessary​​ until it was​​ seated​​ just​​ to her liking.

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

“Thank you, but you hardly know me . . . Perfect,” she said taking her hands from his head. “But let’s change​​ that. Come with me to the bar.” ​​ ​​ 

 

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.​​ I also 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​​ Walter​​ should.​​ He​​ 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.”

“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 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,​​ whos 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​​ Mags’s ‘career’ started taking off,​​ so​​ it​​ really became my love child after that, and since I grew up listening and playing the Dead all my life,​​ I came up with​​ the idea of a​​ tribute​​ with some musicians I knew in town.​​ ​​ 

That​​ Diamond Dogs​​ cabaret show​​ would’ve​​ been​​ awesome though.​​ David Bowie is my favorite​​ artist.​​ We’re your parents​​ Deadheads?”​​ 

“Bowie is​​ Mags’s​​ favorite​​ too.​​ Yes, but more so my dad. My mother always liked Neil Young more. I cant fault her; Neil Young is second​​ only to the Dead for me. Neil and the Dead were all I heard growing up.”

“Really?​​ Neil Young has some significance for me too.”

“How so?”

“It’s a lot to explain and unload.”

“We’ve got time.”

“It’s not a fun conversation.”

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

Walter shook his head in disbelief. “‘See The Sky About to Rain’ was my girlfriend’s favorite song,” he said.​​ “She​​ passed​​ away last year, but it’s because of her I’m even here.​​ I’m on a European trip she bought for my birthday that we were supposed to take together.”

Shiva​​ nervously nipped​​ her beer. “I’m sorry I pressured you,” she said.

“It’s fine,”​​ Walter said and began nipping too. For a brief moment they were silent.

“It’s also strange​​ though,​​ don’t you think?”​​ Shiva said.​​ 

“What?”

“All the alignment between us?”

“If you mean coincidences, yes, I’ve taken notice of that​​ too,​​ more than you know. My mother also died when I was young. She died giving birth to me. I also have a​​ ‘musical identity’ you could say​​ back home I’m trying to run away from.”

“You’re songwriter also?”

“Currently​​ on hiatus, but yes. Funny enough, I was also in a tribute​​ band, Guns N’ Roses though. But​​ regardless,​​ 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.”

“What​​ system​​ do you believe in then?”

“Reason, and reason says​​ alignment is nothing more than​​ our exceptional​​ human​​ 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?​​ 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.​​ 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?​​ 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.​​ And it’s not everyday the universe sends me someone wearing my past​​ on​​ their shirt.”

She​​ 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 don’t mind if I do a reading for us?​​ I’m sure​​ ‘reason’​​ says​​ you have nothing to be afraid of.”

“No,​​ I suppose this should be fun​​ if anything.”

Shiva​​ shuffled​​ 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.​​ “The Fool,” Shiva​​ said.​​ “The Fool is number​​ zero​​ in the​​ Major Arcana​​ deck​​ so he can be placed at the beginning or end of it.​​ Because of this, the Major Arcana is often considered the Fool’s journey.​​ As you can see​​ on the card, he’s​​ 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​​ . . .​​ The​​ Fool​​ kind of​​ reminds me of someone.”

​​ “I’ll admit,” Walter said staring​​ uncomfortably​​ at the card,​​ “the Fool and I have some​​ uncanny​​ similarities. Okay, you​​ now.”

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

“What’s the Tower mean?”

“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 like the Tower?”​​ Walter asked.

“I did​​ come to Europe on a​​ ‘tower’​​ of false premises,​​ 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​​ for several seconds, then nearly simultaneously asked:

“How’d​​ your mother die?”

“How’d​​ your girlfriend die?”

“Um, you first,” Walter said.

“How about we just answer at the same time​​ again?”

“Okay . . . One, two, three…”

“Suicide,” they both​​ said.

“God, I just got chills,” Shiva said. “Suicide is only half the story​​ in my case​​ though.”

“The same can be said in my case, or really any case involving suicide . . . How?”

“Overdosed on pain pills. Your girlfriend?”

“She hung—I ​​ mean,​​ hanged herself.​​ Please don’t ask why.”

“I​​ won’t. My mother’s why is​​ also difficult to discuss​​ because it​​ may make you see me completely different.”

“Well, that’s the same reason I don’t want to tell you . . . Maybe that means we should.”

“Oh, so you’re finding meaning in this​​ suddenly?”

“I don’t know what to believe right now.​​ There’s just something… something I need to show you, but I can’t unless you learn first.​​ Do you have a phone with internet access?”

She handed him her phone and he brought up the Rolling Stone interview and handed​​ it​​ back. “There,” he said.​​ “That’s who I really am, and that’s​​ where you’ll find​​ why​​ my​​ girlfriend killed herself, although at the time of the interview​​ I didn’t know. I thought she had passed away​​ from a​​ seizure.”

Walter​​ then watched fretfully as​​ Shiva​​ began filling up on all of his most intimate secrets​​ over the next several minutes. 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, then at last she set the phone​​ down​​ and sighed.

“Your name is Walter Huxley?”​​ she​​ asked.

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

“Your name sounds​​ like a bad penname​​ you know, and your stage name isn’t much better. Quinn Quark?” She​​ smiled​​ unexpectedly. “Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said you had a musical identity back home you were running away from, and I was totally oblivious that anything in rock was still going on back in The States​​ . . .​​ But​​ um,​​ Amber...​​ I’m still not understanding.”

Walter explained​​ everything.

“Oh,” Shiva said after. “I see​​ now​​ why you didn’t want to tell me.”

“So does​​ it​​ change your mind about me?”

“I don’t know. I’ve hardly known you long enough to form an opinion. But​​ everyone has that one secret they don’t want anyone to know, yours unfortunately just became frontpage news.​​ And if you think accidently killing someone makes you a bad person, then I’m​​ just as guilty.​​ Before my​​ charity​​ was a charity​​ for human trafficking victims,​​ it was​​ really​​ just​​ robbery​​ for human trafficking victims. Mags,​​ myself,​​ and some other friends—some formerly trafficked girls​​ 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​​ personally​​ to her, but not before taking double​​ the money she​​ would’ve cost otherwise. We’d then give​​ it​​ to the girl to pay​​ her loverboy and pay herself just as much, that is until one night when a loverboy became wise to​​ the​​ scheme because I got too drunk and was sloppy​​ about​​ the hand off of the money.​​ He took it out on the girl and put​​ her​​ in​​ a coma in​​ the hospital, where​​ she​​ died two weeks later.​​ Her name was Maria, and only one person outside of you knows about​​ her.”

“I guess​​ Death connects us​​ in more ways than one,” Walter said​​ agape.​​ “Outside of Karen, I didn’t think I could​​ share that​​ kind of​​ guilt with anyone. There’s​​ also​​ something else​​ though. A connection I’ve been trying to rationalize all night,​​ even before I met you,​​ but alignment keeps working against me.”

Walter​​ then​​ reached into his wallet and removed​​ a​​ small​​ plastic bag with​​ a​​ note​​ inside.​​ “Amber’s suicide note,” he said giving it to her. “You only need to read as far as the first sentence of the second paragraph to​​ understand​​ what I mean.”

Shiva​​ read​​ then​​ gasped, unable to continue or speak. She then read it again, and again, unable to take her eyes from it.

“‘What value does a life have without meaning?’”​​ Walter said. “‘To​​ say​​ life has no value is not to say it has no meaning.’​​ Sounds like​​ something from the​​ Tao Te Ching, right?​​ So,​​ what’s your take?​​ I’m still new to all this occultist stuff and​​ this​​ is​​ just way​​ too much alignment for me. Honestly,​​ I’m​​ expecting to wake up any moment now.​​ Something about this whole night doesn’t feel quite​​ real.

Shiva handed him back the note, then took his palm and pressed​​ it​​ near her sternum. “Does that feel real to​​ you?” she said. “Do​​ you feel how fast it’s beating? Yeah, I definitely think the universe is trying to say something. Maybe instead of trying to fight reality with reason, you should​​ just​​ listen to reason​​ even if you can’t reason it.”

“Well, until I wake up, it’s not like I have any other option anyhow. So, since you know about my girlfriend now, are​​ you​​ going to tell me about your mother?”

“She was just very sick and in a lot of pain and had been for a long time before she killed herself,” Shiva said. “And honestly,​​ in the same situation I might’ve done the same. But that’s all I’m going to say. Sorry, but everyone​​ gets​​ one secret to themselves,​​ right? And​​ that secret’s between my mom​​ and​​ me.​​ Besides, it has no relevance to us.”​​ 

“However,​​ our​​ future​​ card might,” Walter said.

“That’s right, I almost forgot.​​ Do you want to do the honors?”

Walter​​ flipped​​ it.​​ “The Ace of Cups,”​​ Shiva​​ said.​​ “A​​ chalice​​ is​​ overflowing with five streams of water,​​ representing the​​ subconscious​​ and the five​​ senses, indicating you are a​​ deep​​ vessel for love​​ from the universe​​ as it pours​​ into you and​​ out into the​​ rest of the​​ world.​​ Below the overflowing chalice​​ is a sea covered in lotus blossoms,​​ representing​​ an awakening of the human spirit​​ from​​ this love, but only if you​​ accept the​​ universe’s​​ invitation​​ for love​​ first,​​ an invitation few actually ever​​ do,​​ for​​ divine​​ love always​​ looks like​​ certain madness​​ in the beginning.​​ However,​​ peace isn’t​​ sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first.”

Shiva brought her hands to her face and sighed.​​ “Now this is starting to become too much alignment for me,”​​ she said, then​​ put the cards away​​ except for the Ace of Cups. “Here,”​​ she said handing it to​​ Walter. “I want you to keep this as a reminder of​​ us because I don’t know what’s going to happen to us after tonight. I would never think to give away any card in this deck because​​ it​​ was my mother’s, but if I’m not there, I don’t want you to forget there’s still a chalice in you.”

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“Neither do I completely, but​​ that’s what​​ alignment​​ is​​ telling​​ me​​ . . .​​ How about​​ a change of atmosphere?​​ Patrick’s closing up soon anyway.”

“What about your gear?”

“I keep it here.”

“All right. Where to?”

The only place I know to go this late at night, a​​ place unlike no other in Amsterdam​​ where​​ we can practice our French,​​ dance to​​ music, and see some titties:​​ La Lune Rouge.”

 

 

 

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