After less than three hours of sleep, the horizon of consciousness came at the sound of light rain drumming on the left open skylight, then the sight of her red hair on the pillow beside him. Whether the color was natural or not, he cared not. It was the most beautiful red in the world because he’d only seen it in a dream. But his raw lips and aching muscles were a testament this red was in fact a real color of life and the dancing they made until the moon met the first rays of sunlight. But then real also were his feelings and the evening which defeated his supposedly superior powers of reasoning.
But no, Walter reminded himself, your powers of reasoning are under slept and heavily intoxicated by dopamine from all that dancing last night. This feeling of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place will pass.
But then the red hair turned around and her still sleeping face made all the pieces fall right back.
For the next few minutes all he could do was stare this puzzle in the face, this puzzle he’d known for less than one evening, an evening he still couldn’t remember beginning only being dropped into as an entangled electron coming into being. He saw so much of himself mirrored in her, like two unknown hemispheres of the same earth that could now never be independent of each other. But the reflection wasn’t at all what he was expecting. He never thought love would be a tarot-card-reading hippie. But somehow too, it made perfect sense.
Perfect sense? None of this makes any sense.
“Whatta ya looking at creep?” Shiva said with her eyes still seemingly closed. She then opened them and began laughing, the same musical laugh that had sound-tracked his dream. “Did you even sleep,” she asked moving her head over to his pillow, “or were you afraid you’d wake up and lose me?”
“No,” Walter said wrapping his arms around her, “I slept and woke up and you’re still here. So I guess last night wasn’t a dream. Unless dreams leave love bites.” He showed her the inside of his bruised lower lip. She then peeled her lip and he saw hers looked the same. They both laughed.
“No sir,” she said, “only flesh and blood. But I guess I was appraising the validity of yours also. It would’ve been lonely this morning with only a figment of my subconscious to warm me.” She snuggled her flesh and blood even closer to his beneath the blankets. “Bodies are much warmer in the morning than dreams.”
“But whose body’s going to keep you warm after this dream ends?”
Shiva looked at Walter confused. “What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“Did you forget I’m on a bus tour that leaves at two today?” he said.
“Oh, no,” she said, but looking as if she did. “It... it just felt so far away last night. The night always seems like it can stretch forever and it always catches you off guard when it doesn’t.”
“Almost like a dream.”
“Yes,” she said with a anxious smile, “especially a dream that keeps you so busy dancing you forget about the time . . . Uh, so what’s your next stop?”
“A small German town in the Rhineland called St. Goar, then Munich, Tyrol Austria, Venice, Switzerland, and Paris.”
“Sounds like an amazing trip. Anything planned?”
“Other than visiting some famous headstones in Paris, not much. Contiki plans everything for you.”
“Let me guess... Descartes obviously. Voltaire, Jim Morrison possibly?”
Walter smiled and shook his head. “How well you’ve gotten to know me in our little time together,” he said. “Also Proust, but that’s for someone else.”
“Well, tell Jim I said hi. His grave was the first place I went when I went to Paris for the first time. I was madly in love with him as a teenager. He was my gateway to poetry.”
“Are you sure ‘hi’ is all you want to say then?”
“No, also tell him this...” Shiva then sealed her lips onto Walter’s and their torsos imitated, arms and legs knotting around one another as if trying to stem the flow of time left together. But the harder they pressed, the more time had something to measure itself against inside their chests. Their hearts were ringing like fire alarms.
“I’m sure he would much rather hear that from you,” Walter’s heart spoke out loud after the kiss withdrew. “Let’s go to Paris and tell Jim hi together. Fuck my bus tour. With the exception of two people, I wasn’t a big fan anyway.”
Shiva said nothing, but in her eyes was a war of words.
“I’m sorry if that sounded crazy,” he said.
“No...” she replied, now unable to look him in the eye. Her body also loosened its grip around him. “It sounds wonderful, but I’d hate for you to do that for me.”
“Well, I hate the thought I’m going to have to say goodbye to you in less than six hours,” his heart pressed on. “I’m sorry again if I sound crazy, but how am I supposed to walk away from the person every sign in the universe is telling me to be with, the only person who’s managed to convince me the universe even gives signs?”
She became even more uncomfortable, her body continuing to unfasten and separate.
Shut up Heart! Walter’s rational mind begged from the chair it was tied to inside his head. Shut up! You’re going to spoil love like you always do by speaking too soon.
“I... I—” he began
“Please don’t finish that,” Shiva said cupping his mouth. “But please don’t feel ashamed for wanting to say it. Let’s just say, signs can also be traps in disguise . . . Um...” she began breathing heavily, “...there’s something I’ve been dancing around that I need to tell you. Mags isn’t just my best friend and roommate, she’s... she’s my girlfriend.”
He shuttered and sharply turned his head away with his eyes closed as if a landmine had exploded. He should’ve known better than to follow his heart into no man’s land.
“W-Why... why didn’t you tell me?” Walter asked doing his best to cover his wounds.
“Because I didn’t think I would have to when I first met you,” Shiva said, her body clinging back to his to calm his shaking. “Mags and I have always had an open relationship. But as of recent, it’s been increasingly open, and you’re not the first stranger I’ve taken to La Lune Rouge and spent the night ‘dancing’ with after. However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me you’re no ordinary stranger, and not just because of the signs. You’re the first and only person I’ve ever sung ‘Harvest Moon’ to because I was actually saving it for my future husband or wife. But now my guinea pig will forever have it, along with the only tarot card I’ve ever given away from my mother’s deck, and I’m not exactly sure why I’m attaching so much meaning to you, someone I’ve known for less than eight hours, other than I’m under some strange spell . . . Or maybe it’s the signs convincing me. Now that I think of it, my horoscope said my love life was going to be fucked this month because my ruling planet Jupiter is moving into Gemini and the full moon lunar eclipse in my sign Sagittarius would be the beginning of it, the full moon you appeared on. But I never take horoscopes seriously, however, the moon, we’ve always shared a special connection. I just wish... I wish there was more time to think about it. While I’m not exactly in a happy relationship, Mags still has a lot of my heart and I’m not sure abandoning her right now for someone I’ve known less than eight hours—because if I leave with you we both know that’s what I’d be doing—is the right answer either. But then again, it is now or never for you.”
“No it’s not,” Walter said. “My tour ends in Paris in a week. Meet me there if you decide to follow the signs. We are under some strange spell and it’s called sleep deprivation mixed with toxic levels of dopamine. Also, I did do a lot of drugs last night. Let’s wait until then to see if the signs are speaking as strongly.”
Shiva sighed. “You’re right,” she said. “Obviously we’re not thinking straight, and maybe some of this is in our heads. However, my heart feels differently.”
“Mine too, but hearts are idiots we shouldn’t always trust.”
She let out a laugh. “Yes, following my heart to Europe is what got me into this mess to begin with.”
“But it’s not a mess you have to stay with, and Paris isn’t you’re only option. Why not go back home to San Francisco?”
“It’s...” she swallowed nervously. “It’s hard to explain. Not that I don’t want to go back, I just only have so much time left before I can never travel again, so it’s now or never. Going back home means... it means the beginning of the end in a way for me. I know that doesn’t make sense probably, but that’s the best way I can put it. Also because I overstayed my visa, I most likely won’t be able to return to Europe for a long time, possibly never if the authorities discover the illegal activities I was engaged in, and it’s a good chance they will.”
“So what, you’re just going to stay in Europe until you get caught and deported?” Walter asked.
He scoffed. “Come on Shiva. You’re twenty-two. What’s so limiting in your life? What else are you dancing around?”
She smirked and sighed weakly. “How well you’ve also gotten to know me in our little time together . . . My mother and I’s secret,” she said at last. “I don’t want to tell it, but from what the signs have been telling me, I don’t think she’ll mind. However, that doesn’t make it easy.” She fanned her eyes to dry them.
“The morning before my first day of first grade,” she began after a deep breath, “I went into her room to say goodbye and was the first to discover her after her overdose. Although it was a suicide, she’d been suffering with Huntington’s disease my entire life, but hadn’t been diagnosed until after she was pregnant with me. It started slowly, but by the time I was four, she was basically a prisoner of her body. She couldn’t complete a sentence without stuttering or walk without falling. Then she started to sporadically forget who I was, and eventually my father too, and it only got worse as time went on. There’s no cure, so we just had to watch helplessly as the disease robbed her of everything she loved about life: dancing, singing, her family, her freewill. So I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same in the same situation.”
Her eyes began glistening again, but this time she couldn’t dry off the tears. “Here’s something you might find interesting,” she said. “Did you know if your entire genome sequence was stretched around the world, the genetic mistake that caused my mother’s disease would only make up less than an inch? Just a few extra repeating lines of DNA makes the difference. But did you also know an affected parent has a fifty percent chance of passing the disease onto their child?”
“You’re telling me…” Walter attempted to ask.
“Yes, she passed it onto me. I still have an estimated seven years or so before my decline should begin, but it can happen any time. Ultimately, however, whether by suicide or a slow regression from my body and mind, I’m not going to see anything close to a full life. But then I guess I should be asking myself if my life is already so compromised, then why should my heart be also? And as the Ace of Cups says, ‘divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning’ . . . Fuck, it’s so much easier looking for guidance from the universe than accepting it. But how more direct can it be than someone with your fucking name on his t-shirt?”
“Speaking of my shirt...” Walter cleared his throat nervously, “...come to think of it, there’s also something I ‘danced around’ last night.”
A flash of the banshee came over Shiva’s face. “What?” she asked.
“My friend, Dug. I’m... I’m 99.9 percent certain he’s the owner of the label that ripped you off, because indeed he was running a record label—or what on the surface appeared to be a record label, and my shirt came out of a box of band shirts he had. While I can’t say I saw irrefutable evidence of a cocaine operation, he did have a lot of other boxes in the room with the box of band shirts he was very adamant about me not looking into. Also, I did see him do a suspicious amount of coke for the brief time I was with him.”
“But the label was in Paris,” Shiva said. “Not here in Amsterdam. That’s what doesn’t make sense. The only reason I moved to Amsterdam was this was where I was told I was selling the most records.”
“Dug’s label was in Paris, but he moved it to Amsterdam because his girlfriend wanted to move here, however, she left him for someone else three months after arriving. Now that I think about it, he said his girlfriend was a cabaret dancer . . . Mags isn’t Parisian, is she?”
“Yes. When did Dug move the label here?”
“Two years ago.”
“And I met Mags two years ago.”
“This may sound offensive,” Walter said, “but how is Mags’s ass compared to other asses?”
“Best I’ve seen, hands down.”
“Dug said the same. He also said he fell in love with her because she was into things in bed no other girl was into.”
Shiva began laughing. “As a dominatrix, Mags is famous for her fisting services.” Walter gave her a coy look. “I said as a dominatrix,” she replied to his eyes. “Nobody wants to be at work at home and that’s all you need to know.”
“Does Mags do any painting?” he asked.
“Not that I’m aware of. Why?”
“Dug also said his girlfriend was an abstract painter who liked to mix vomit into the paint along with other bodily fluids like blood and semen.”
“Where’s your shirt?” Shiva said as if suddenly realizing something.
“Here.” Walter scooped it up from the floor and handed it to her. She then spread it out over the bed.
“Look closely,” she said, “I always knew there was something about this image that made it seem of flesh and blood, because it is—or at least some of it is. It’s so obvious looking at it now. His girlfriend must’ve been the person who painted this . . . Oh my God,” she put her hand to her face. “It all makes sense. But also, no sense at all.”
“What does?” he asked.
They were then abruptly interrupted by a thunderous pounding at the cabin door. From the door’s porthole on the other side of the boat they saw a small image of a bald and mustached man poking an eye in on them.
“The deadbolt!” Shiva yelled and darted to the door on the other side of the boat to engage it. The man in the porthole then exploded in presumably Dutch expletives. Apparently he didn’t have a key.
Having followed her to the door, Walter saw the man had what appeared to be his family behind him, a wife, an adult son, and a young daughter.
“What’s going on?” Walter asked. “I thought you said you knew the owner?”
“The owner’s son technically,” Shiva said. “The tall guy in the blue shirt out there.”
“He doesn’t look like a Deadhead.”
“He’s not. I made that up last night, sorry.”
“How do you know him then?”
She sighed. “Mostly biblically, every couple of weeks or so in here. But last week he said he was going out of town for a week starting yesterday, or maybe it could’ve been today. I wasn’t the most sober. I also didn’t consider ‘going out of town’ meant on his boat.”
She waved through the porthole at her handsome-looking beau, who just stared back awkwardly. The father then kicked the door a few times, turned to her beau, then sent him away.
“Well, that bought us some time,” Shiva said. “If I translated correctly, I think he has to go get the key for the deadbolt. Let’s get out of here before he does.”
“So...” Walter asked as they clothed, “...anything else you’ve been ‘dancing around’ I should know?”
“Oh because hey Walter, let me take you back to my occasional fuckboy’s boat would’ve been better? Yes, you met me at sort of a shameful period in my life and I’m sorry if I’m not so ready to share it all with you right away. But regardless, what you ‘danced around’ was way worse. How could you have not told me after you learned what that bastard did—what he took from me? However, now I’m realizing he might have not been alone, but still. It just makes me wonder if there’s anything else you’re protecting for him.”
“I wasn’t protecting him. And no there’s not. I didn’t tell you for the same reason you didn’t tell me about your girlfriend right away; I didn’t know last night would come to this. But I never planned on not telling you. However, now I’m wondering what else you might be ‘dancing around’ because you find it too ‘shameful’ to tell me. At least I actually danced around the truth, you just flat out lied.”
“Yeah, but a white lie hurts a whole lot less than a fatass half-truth.”
“Yes, but you’ve also done your fair share of fatass half-truthing too.”
Shiva scowled at him, then looked out the porthole. “Shit,” she said, “he’s already back with the key. We’re just going to have to make a run for it.” They primed themselves by the door. “Ready?” she asked.
Walter shook his head emphatically.
She then swung the door open and they charged forward, catching her beau behind it off-guard and knocking him to the ground. They then jumped over his body to an applause from a crowd that had gathered on the bank to watch the spectacle. They clapped again as Walter outmaneuvered the short but burly father on the slippery and wet boat deck while the daughter and wife watched in horror.
Just as Walter’s feet made it to the canal sidewalk, the crowd lit up again as the father seized Shiva by the arm just as she was about to leap off the boat deck. She began shaking like a rodeo bull, but couldn’t free herself. She then slipped and the father managed to grab the other arm and pinned them both behind her back.
Walter leapt back onto the deck and circled in a standoff with him. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “Please let her go and we’ll leave. I don’t want any trouble.”
“Politie! Politie!” the father shouted back.
“What’s he saying?”
“Police!” Shiva cried, scowling in agony and embarrassment. “Walter, do something! I can’t get arrested.” However, just as she said that, she wrestled an arm away, then kicked the father squarely in the crotch. “Run!” she screamed.
Adrenaline took the lead. Sprinting faster than he thought capable, Walter began winding through the streets, keeping Shiva’s flashing red mane in his peripheral behind him.
“Run up that alleyway to the right!” he heard her shout.
He ducked into it and came upon a small and shady garden hub in which three smaller alleyways convened. He went into the left one and turned to wait for her. After waiting a five second eternity, he ran back out into the street. She wasn’t there.
“Shiva!” he cried. But the quiet street gave no response. “Shiva!” he cried again, but the same thing.
He then tried to backtrack his steps, but two streets in, he began to be unsure of his path. Two minutes later his mind was in a terror.
“Shiv—” he cut himself off just as he came upon the chirp of a siren from around a corner.
He dipped into a nearby flower shop and from behind its window saw her being loaded into a Volkswagen police car. As he went to the window, the car then pulled away.
Tears began waterfalling helplessly as he ran out of the flower shop and back onto the street in hyperventilation. He then staggered back to the garden hub and crumpled onto a bench.
He’d lost her, and neither of them had any contact information for each other. Maybe love would forever be a no man’s land for Walter.