The Silver Year: Chapter 18


Chapter​​ 18

I Heard My Soul Singing Behind a​​ Leaf


“Now repeat after me,​​ zum wohl,” their​​ tour group’s​​ German​​ sommelier said​​ as he raised up a shot glass of wine​​ at the other end of the long, candle-laden table.​​ 

Zum wohl,” everyone repeated.

“Zis is zee proper way to toast zee wine. It means to good health and zee way it has been done for​​ over four hundred years in zis wine​​ cellar,” he said gesturing to​​ the​​ underground​​ cylindrical chamber​​ lined with oversized wine barrels and soft lighting.

From​​ the low​​ chatter​​ patting​​ the​​ cellar​​ walls it seemed Amsterdam had made friends of everyone​​ in​​ Walter’s​​ absence.​​ Even Curt and Kourtney had new friends​​ they were conversing with​​ instead of​​ him​​ since he​​ had​​ gone out of his way to sequester himself​​ from them​​ since boarding the bus earlier​​ that day. Although they tried to talked to him, he told them he was too tired, then pretended to sleep or actually slept with his earbuds​​ in​​ for the entirety of the trip​​ from Amsterdam​​ to St. Goar.​​ He just needed time to find words again.​​ Everything felt different about himself. Not so much he’d been changed, but exposed,​​ and someone forgot to stitch the skin back on.​​ Now it was “real life”​​ that felt like a dream, while his night with Shiva​​ felt like the first time he’d actually been living.​​ There seemed no point to the trip now. It wasn’t about writing a book, paying tribute to Amber,​​ or any of the reasons he thought he came on this trip for. The reason was her.

So​​ why​​ didn’t he go on living​​ then​​ instead of choosing to remain dead​​ by continuing this bus tour?​​ Why​​ didn’t​​ he​​ turn himself into the police to be with her​​ instead of here where it seemed no one cared any differently​​ if​​ he​​ was there or not?​​ Even Curt and Kourtney had​​ moved on from him. But who could blame them for not wanting to be around someone they were constantly having to talk off ledges?​​ Maybe it was time​​ Walter​​ did the world a favor and just jumped.​​ The universe had given him his​​ one opportunity​​ for love​​ and he walked away because he was afraid. He was a coward. He was a sad and pathetic coward no one wanted to be around. The world was tired of Walter Huxley and his whining. He should​​ just​​ go down​​ to​​ the river, walk in and drown.

Silently boiling over​​ inside, Walter​​ excused himself to​​ go​​ to​​ the restroom, but instead went upstairs and out the​​ cellar door, toward​​ the​​ river.​​ 


From the​​ darkness of the​​ cellar, Walter emerged​​ into twilight​​ light​​ atop one of the many​​ steep and​​ narrow​​ brick​​ roads​​ of​​ the small German town of​​ St.​​ Goar.​​ Located in the lush and historic Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the​​ surrounding​​ slopes were dotted with​​ medieval​​ castles and​​ vineyards, and the town itself kept a​​ comparable​​ medieval, gothic​​ character. The streets​​ were​​ silent and vacated being​​ almost nine in​​ the evening before the Corpus Christi holiday.​​ All the shops were closed, and even most of the houses he passed on his way to the river were shuttered and abandoned​​ as much of the citizenry had left town.​​ 

Upon reaching the river bank,​​ Walter​​ hiked his pants​​ up​​ and waded into the water. In front of him,​​ passing​​ cargo ships plunged in and out of​​ the setting sun​​ wedging​​ itself​​ into the​​ wide river​​ gulch,​​ spilling​​ its​​ blood-orange​​ innards​​ over​​ the​​ storied and fertile​​ hills​​ that had been battled over since the time of the Romans.​​ Momentarily​​ forgetting​​ his​​ present-day​​ woes​​ in​​ imaginations of the past,​​ Walter​​ stayed standing in the river​​ until​​ it​​ swallowed the sun whole.​​ Then​​ when​​ the stars began opening their eyes,​​ he​​ returned​​ to the river​​ shore​​ to ruminate in them as​​ it’d been a long time since he could see and communicate with​​ so many.​​ But as his eyes adjusted to the light of the dark diamond sea, he noticed he was not alone in his stargazing. Up on a grassy​​ knoll​​ just adjacent to him​​ was Kourtney.

“I was wondering when you were going to notice me,” she said​​ as Walter walked over​​ and sat​​ beside​​ her.​​ 

“How long have you been here?” he asked.​​ 

“Oh about as​​ long as you. I​​ followed you​​ to​​ make sure you​​ weren’t​​ going​​ to drown yourself.”

He​​ laughed. “How’d you know?”

“Happy people don’t​​ isolate themselves from their​​ friends all day,​​ suicidal people do.​​ But​​ furthermore, last​​ night​​ you told me you were going to the ‘restroom’​​ then​​ disappeared for the entire night only to reappear on the bus today a completely different person.​​ So​​ either​​ the real Walter​​ got abducted by aliens last night and you were coming down here to go back to your spaceship, or, by the look on your face when you left,​​ you were​​ coming down here to drown yourself.​​ Either way, I’m not letting​​ you out of my sight​​ again​​ until I find​​ out​​ what happened last night, because​​ obviously something happened last night.”

​​ Walter took a few moments before responding.​​ “Yes,” he said,​​ “a lot happened last night, so much so I’m still trying to tally it all up​​ and that’s why I haven’t said anything. And​​ I'm not​​ really​​ suicidal,​​ I​​ just​​ sometimes​​ need to​​ idle insignificantly in​​ suicide’s​​ waters to​​ soothe​​ the desire. That’s​​ why I came down​​ to the river,​​ to​​ soak in​​ a little​​ perception​​ and find an explanation for what happened last night, because to be honest, it all​​ still​​ feels​​ unexplainable.”

“And the​​ soak​​ didn’t​​ help?”

“I no longer feel like killing myself, however,​​ as far as finding an​​ explanation,​​ no.​​ I was too distracted by​​ that​​ sunset​​ to think about last night, which is probably good​​ because I’ve been thinking​​ and worrying​​ about last night all day.​​ That​​ might’ve been the most beautiful​​ sunset​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ seen.”

“And to think we had it all to ourselves.”

“Where’s everyone else?”

“At​​ the hostel’s​​ pub.​​ It’s the​​ only​​ place open in town.​​ Don’t know how they could​​ be​​ though with this on our doorstep. Plus, this is a lot better​​ view to​​ drink​​ to,” she said holding up a bottle of the​​ town’s exclusive ice wine their​​ sommelier​​ had been​​ pushing​​ during​​ their​​ tasting.​​ 

“Curt too?”​​ Walter asked.

“Yeah.​​ And to be honest, I needed​​ a little break from him​​ anyhow.​​ Not that we’re​​ not​​ getting along, I’m just used to being alone​​ more, where he likes to​​ always​​ be in on the action. While​​ we​​ might​​ be brother and sister,​​ I’m​​ discovering we’re​​ also​​ very​​ different people. Anyway...” she held out the bottle to him,​​ “...if​​ a​​ soak in the river didn’t​​ help​​ find an explanation, maybe​​ a soak​​ in​​ this​​ wine​​ bottle can.​​ Care​​ to split it and​​ talk​​ last night​​ over​​ with me?​​ Two heads are better than one you know.​​ Also I restocked on joints in Amsterdam.”​​ She then reached into her jacket pocket and handed him one.​​ 

“You always know the way to my heart Kourtney,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ smiling​​ as he took it. “And​​ I suppose talking to someone is probably a better way of going about​​ it.”

“Good,” she said as she began uncorking the wine. “Hopefully​​ you’re​​ okay​​ with drinking a sixty-euro bottle of wine​​ straight from the spout though. I didn’t bring glasses.​​ Wine’s more about who than what you drink it with anyway.”

Zum wohl​​ to that,​​ Walter said lighting the joint, then taking​​ a hit before passing it to​​ Kourtney​​ in exchange for the bottle.

“So...” she said inhaling a toke then exhaling it out, “...what the hell happened last night?​​ Curt and I were really worried​​ this morning​​ when no one had heard from you, especially since we ate​​ all​​ those​​ hash​​ brownies we didn’t know were hash brownies. But after that Flugel stuff the boat captain gave us,​​ we​​ all​​ kind of blacked out.”

“Boat captain?”​​ 

“Yeah from the canal cruise. You really don’t remember? Wow, you were as fucked up as you looked. We just thought you were joking.”

“I kind of remember the canal cruise now​​ that you mention it.​​ We went to a sex show after, right?”

“Yeah, where you​​ ate that​​ banana.”

“Yes, I definitely remember the banana. But everything after is a blank​​ until I came to at some rave.”

“Walter!​​ We were just a floor above​​ the rave.​​ Remember we went to that​​ three-story club​​ with​​ a rave on the first floor, a rock​​ club​​ on the second, and​​ a​​ hip-hop​​ club​​ on the third? That’s where you​​ said you had to use the ‘restroom’ then just disappeared. But you were​​ just downstairs​​ from us.”

“I don’t remember any rock club, but​​ I was looking for a​​ restroom​​ when I came to,​​ however,​​ security​​ kicked me out before I could​​ find one.”

“You got kicked out?​​ For what?”

Walter​​ chuckled.​​ “Um, pulling​​ my dick out​​ on the dancefloor,” he said,​​ “but there’s much more​​ to it than that...”


“Holy shit,”​​ Kourtney​​ said​​ after​​ Walter​​ spilled all the beans of the evening, every event, feeling, and fear.​​ “That’s one hell of a story and night.​​ And you have no way of getting ahold of​​ Shiva?​​ Not even​​ Facebook?”

“She’s not on any social media,”​​ he said.​​ “She​​ has to keep a low profile since she’s an illegal alien. All she had was a burner phone which I stupidly never got the number to​​ . . . I have to go back to Amsterdam. I’m​​ going to ask Anna tomorrow if there’s any​​ way​​ I can hitch a ride on another bus or​​ take a train back.​​ I’m not supposed to be here. There’s no reason for me to continue this trip.”​​ 

“Well, hold on. Don’t​​ throw​​ away​​ the trip just yet. I mean, she could be getting deported​​ as we speak. Then instead of being across an ocean from you, she’ll only be across a state​​ once you’re back home. Maybe just wait until​​ then​​ to find her. The internet’s a lot better place to find people than IRL anyway.​​ It’s​​ where I found my brother.​​ Do​​ you really think​​ going back to Amsterdam and​​ turning yourself into the police is a good idea?​​ What if you don’t find her, or even worse you get jailed and miss your flight home?”

“I know,​​ I know,​​ but​​ something’s​​ just​​ telling​​ me to go back. And as much as I never trusted gut feelings before,​​ as​​ I said,​​ with her​​ everything is​​ different.​​ I don’t know how to explain it.​​ As much​​ as​​ I thought people just brainwash themselves into thinking someone’s ‘the one’, I​​ totally​​ believe it now.”

Kourtney snickered.

“What?”​​ Walter​​ asked.

It’s just obvious you’ve never​​ really​​ been in love​​ then, otherwise you’d know​​ the one’ really is bullshit.​​ No one is meant for each other.​​ Only in poetry is love undyingly perfect. In the real world​​ it’s​​ extremely​​ complicated,​​ full of​​ sacrifices,​​ and most of the time romanceless,​​ but that’s​​ how​​ it​​ makes us better​​ people.

“How so?”

“Well, when you first fall in love with someone,​​ all you see is a​​ romanticized version of who they really are; you see their​​ best​​ qualities first.​​ It takes time to​​ chip away at this façade and​​ see​​ the​​ real,​​ imperfect person beneath, but that’s​​ when love’s magic​​ really​​ starts to work.​​ You’re​​ going to​​ have to​​ figure out​​ how to deal​​ with​​ someone​​ who’s not​​ completely compatible​​ with you​​ sexually,​​ emotionally,​​ and/or​​ philosophically, and they’ll have to do the same of you. But this friction​​ is what​​ strengthens​​ and transforms​​ you both​​ into​​ something closer to​​ those idealized versions of yourselves you both initially fell in love with,​​ because ideally,​​ you​​ both​​ don’t want to let the other person down.​​ Granted, there will be certain flaws you’ll​​ have to accept,​​ and you’ll need to figure out what and how many flaws are worth the price of love, but as weird as it sounds, balanced friction​​ really​​ is true love.”

“Sounds like you speak​​ from experience,”​​ Walter said.

“Not exactly, but​​ I​​ might’ve​​ let a few good ones get away because I thought I was looking for​​ ‘the one’.​​ Strangely, it’s​​ actually​​ been getting to know my brother that’s been the biggest reminder​​ love is about compromise. Although I’m​​ annoyed with him right now,​​ he has been​​ helping​​ me come out​​ of my shell more during this trip.​​ But​​ I guess​​ what​​ I’m trying to say is​​ love is not a one shot thing.​​ Life is filled with many shots at love. What’s more important​​ is​​ knowing​​ where to aim.​​ Not​​ to say​​ Shiva won’t​​ be your ‘one’​​ and​​ isn’t​​ worth fighting​​ for, but​​ I guarantee​​ you​​ another Shiva will​​ eventually​​ come along​​ if it’s not her.​​ Besides, if​​ she really is ‘the one’ and​​ it’s really fate​​ that’s​​ guiding your destiny,​​ it will let you know if you should go back.​​ Until then, I think you should​​ just​​ get some good sleep tonight and enjoy this trip​​ a little. After all, we’re only on the second stop of the tour.”

“You’re right​​ . . . I guess to fate then,” Walter said and took a​​ swig of the bottle before handing it to​​ Kourtney.

“To fate,”​​ she​​ said​​ taking a drink then putting an arm around him.​​ “But maybe I’m being​​ a little​​ selfish​​ too​​ because I​​ know I’d​​ miss you terribly if you left.”

“Really?​​ Someone you’re​​ constantly​​ having to​​ talk off ledges?”

“Well, it’s better than having a boring friend.​​ And talking to you has made me forget about my problems with my brother. So in some way, without even trying, you​​ also talked me off a ledge—or maybe just a small mound. But regardless,​​ friends like that are​​ hard to come by​​ because you can’t force that type of​​ chemistry.”

“Well,​​ I think the wine deserves some credit too...” Walter said shaking the nearly empty bottle,​​ “...but​​ I must be the luckiest person in the world​​ then​​ to have found you​​ Kourtney.” He​​ started to​​ put​​ his arm around her, but​​ hesitated.​​ “And​​ uh... I​​ meant​​ that in​​ the most​​ strictly platonic​​ way.”

She​​ laughed.​​ “I know that Walter,” she said​​ pulling his arm​​ around her.​​ They then​​ fell​​ back into​​ the grass and rested their heads upon each​​ other.​​ “But it​​ is really romantic​​ though, isn’t it?”​​ she​​ said.

“What is?”

“This:​​ the wine, the stars, the castles glowing like candles around us.”

“Yes, I suppose it is. Too​​ bad it’s being wasted on us​​ though.”

“Why? Romance can be just as equally appreciated between friends.​​ At least there’s someone to share it with. That’s the most depressing part of being alone. Life’s no different than a memory​​ and you can’t share a memory with anyone but yourself, just like you can’t share last night with anyone but Shiva.​​ That’s probably why you feel so crazy.​​ The only person who can confirm last night wasn’t just in your head is now gone. But at least you​​ know tonight​​ will never be​​ just a memory.”​​ She kissed him on the cheek. “I love you Walter.”

He kissed her on the cheek back. “I love you too Kourtney. What I did to deserve your​​ love​​ I’ll never know, but I guess someone is still looking out for me.”




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