For the first time in his life Walter was happy to see morning. Not even his less than three hours of sleep phased him.
The horizon of consciousness came at what would usually be the godawful hour of eight a.m. to the sound of light rain drumming on the skylight then the sight of her red hair resting upon the pillow beside him. Whether the color was natural or not, he didn’t care, it was the most beautiful red he’d ever seen 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 Walter could do was stare at 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? . . . Oh my God, I’ve become Billie.
“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, “or were you afraid you’d wake up and lose me?”
“No,” he said, “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 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 him confused. “Or did you forget I’m on a bus tour that leaves at two today?”
“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 smiling, “especially a dream that keeps you so busy dancing you forget about the time . . . What’s your next stop?”
“A small town in the Rhineland called St. Goar, then Munich, Austria, Venice, Switzerland, and Paris.”
“Sounds like an amazing trip. What do you have 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.
They were silent for a moment while their eyes played a brief game of tag and their smiles hide and seek.
“Well,” Shiva said, “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...” Her lips sealed to his and their torsos imitated, arms and legs knotting around one another as if trying to stem the flow of their time left together. But the harder they pressed, the more time had something to measure itself against inside their chests as their hearts hammered the bars of their ribcages.
“I’m sure he would much rather hear that from you,” Walter’s heart spoke out loud after their 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.”
She said nothing, but in her eyes a war of words could be seen.
“I’m sorry if that sounded crazy,” Walter apologized for his heart’s behavior.
“No...” she replied, now unable to look him in the eye. Her body also loosened its grip around him. “It sounds wonderful,” she said, “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,” Walter’s heart continued in its ways. “I’m sorry again if I sound crazy, but how am I supposed to just walk away from the person every sign in the universe is telling me to stay with? I mean, you’re the only reason why I’m suddenly seeing reason in signs now. I could rationalize everything before you, but suddenly my world makes no sense because of you, and nothing draws me in more than a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.”
She became even more uncomfortable, her body continuing to unfasten and separate from his.
Shut up Heart! Walter begged from the chair he was tied to inside his head. Shut up! You’re going to spoil love like you always do by speaking too soon.
“Well...” Shiva said, “seemingly unsolvable puzzles can also be traps in disguise . . . Walter, 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 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?” he asked doing his best to cover his wounds.
“Because I didn’t think I would have to when I first met you,” she 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 lately. But obviously you’re no ordinary stranger. 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 that song, along with the only tarot card I’ve ever given away from my mother’s deck, and I’m not exactly sure why I seem to be attaching so much meaning to you, someone I’ve known for less than eight hours, other than I’m under some strange spell. But my horoscope did say 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 happened to appear the night after. However, I never take horoscopes seriously, and while I’m not exactly in a happy relationship, Mags still has a lot of my heart and I’m not sure abandoning her 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 I suppose it’s now or never for you...”
“No,” Walter then said after a short silence. “My tour ends in Paris in a week. Meet me there if you decide me. 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 we’re still feeling our ‘alignment’ as strongly.”
“You’re right,” Shiva 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.”
“You got that right. 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. Why not just go back home?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to go back, I just only have a limited time left before I can never travel again and now is my only time. I know that doesn’t make sense probably, but that’s the best 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 there’s a good chance they will.”
“So what, you’re just going to stay in Europe until you get caught and deported?”
“I don’t understand. You’re twenty-two. What’s so limiting in your life? What else are you dancing around Shiva?”
She smirked and sighed weakly. “You’ve also gotten to know me better than our time together says you should,” she said. “Fine. But if you’re going to know my mother and I’s secret, you first need to meet my mother . . . The morning before my first day of first grade, I discovered her overdosed on painkillers in her bed when I went into her room to say goodbye. Although it was a suicide, she’d been suffering with Huntington’s disease my entire life, but she 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.”
Shiva’s eyes began to glisten and her breath began to deepen. “The thing is,” she said, “one day I will be in the same situation. Did you know that if you stretched your entire genome sequence 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 to their child?”
“You’re telling me…” Walter attempted to ask.
“Yes, I have Huntington’s also. 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, “...there’s something I ‘danced around’ last night also.”
A flash of the banshee came over Shiva’s face. “What do you mean there’s something you danced around?” she said.
“My friend, Dug . . . 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, not here. The only reason I moved to Amsterdam was this was where I was told I was selling the most records.”
“It was in Paris, but then 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 wouldn’t happen to be Parisian?”
“Yes. And she moved here from Paris two years ago. When did Dug move here?”
“Two years ago. This may sound offensive, but how’s Mags’s ass compared to other asses?”
“Best I’ve seen, hands down.”
“And does she enjoy having something shoved up it every once and a while in order to get off?”
“Not particularly,” Shiva laughed, “but her subs do. Fisting is kind of what she’s famous for.” Walter gave her a coy look. “I said her subs,” she replied to his eyes. “Nobody wants to be at work at home and that’s all you need to know. Why, did this Dug say something different about his girlfriend?”
“Yeah, but maybe he just wasn’t man enough to admit it was the opposite way around. He also said she was an abstract painter who had an affinity for mixing her own vomit into the paint along with other bodily fluids like blood and semen. Does Mags do any painting?”
Shiva’s brows furrowed. “Not that I’m aware of,” she said. “However, where’s your shirt?”
“Here,” Walter said scooping it up from the floor and handing it to her. They then sat up in the bed and spread the shirt out over it.
“Look closely,” Shiva 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 so obvious looking at it now. His girlfriend must’ve been the person who painted this.” Shiva then looked suddenly as if she’d just been slapped repeatedly in the face. “Oh my God. It all makes sense, but also doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“What does?” Walter said.
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, the tall guy in the blue shirt out there.”
“How do you know him?”
“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.”
Shiva waved through the porthole at her handsome-looking beau, who waved back awkwardly. His bald and mustached and much shorter father then turned and began yelling at Shiva’s beau, turned back to the door, kicked it a few times, yelled at her beau again a few more times, 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 not tell me after you knew what that bastard did—what he took from me? It 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 little white lie hurts a whole lot less than a fatass half-truth.”
Shiva 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 both charged forward, catching Shiva’s beau behind it off-guard and knocking him to the floor. They then jumped over his body to an applause. A crowd had gathered on the bank to watch the spectacle, clapping 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 as Walter leapt back onto the deck and circled in a standoff with him.
“I’m very sorry,” Walter 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 Shiva. After waiting a five second eternity, he ran back out into the street. She wasn’t there.
“Shiva!” he screamed. But the quiet street gave no response. “Shiva!”
Walter 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. He then ran to the window only to see the car pull away. Tears began waterfalling helplessly as he ran out of the flower shop and back onto the street in hyperventilation. He 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.