The Silver Year: L’Epilogue est Sans Issue

L'Epilogue est Sans Issue

 

I watch​​ her. She​​ commands​​ the bar with the stoicism of a field surgeon and the grace of an ice dancer.

“Whadda​​ you​​ want?”​​ She​​ mentally notates each answer with a nod, sawing​​ down the front line of patrons as one bites​​ corn​​ off​​ a​​ cob, mercilessly bypassing​​ any​​ kernels​​ with drink orders​​ unready.​​ Her hands move with​​ deeply​​ satisfying rhythm and​​ automation. In one,​​ a​​ cocktail​​ shaker pumps, in the other, a bottle tips to a​​ wanting​​ line of shot​​ glasses.​​ She​​ chews off three more drink​​ orders​​ in the process, keeping tally of the beers filling under​​ the​​ taps​​ behind her, then with balletic bravado, she cracks​​ the shaker​​ over two​​ glasses,​​ pirouettes to stop​​ the​​ three running​​ taps,​​ and​​ returns with four totals for​​ eleven drinks.

“Sixteen . . . twenty-four-fifty . . . forty-two . . . twenty-one-seventy-five.”

As the​​ front​​ line of​​ patrons procure​​ payment, she​​ tops off the beers,​​ delivers them​​ to the bar, and​​ begins​​ the process​​ all over again with the line​​ behind them.​​ She never stops. The whole night is her ballet, battle,​​ and opera.​​ They say true multitasking is impossible, but Jade​​ has​​ made a perfection of faking it. It’s a shame no one​​ sees her brilliance​​ the way I do—not​​ even she,​​ so I’m documenting it here, hoping for perpetuity.​​ In fact, everyone​​ I’ve​​ documented​​ here is​​ a hope for perpetuity,​​ but​​ especially you.​​ 

I’m sorry. I still find myself talking to you.​​ I’m still adjusting to​​ a​​ reality​​ where I can’t do that.​​ It’s like​​ reading​​ a good book​​ and​​ never knowing the ending, or maybe it just feels that way because​​ I didn’t​​ see the end coming.​​ Our​​ brief​​ time together​​ seemed to​​ pass​​ so​​ quickly​​ while in it, yet​​ it​​ feels eternal​​ now from the​​ effect.

Time is funny like that;​​ always​​ misleading​​ and​​ never moving in the​​ way​​ we​​ remember​​ it. But​​ as Proust said, time is elastic, and​​ as an almost​​ outside observer​​ of my life​​ now,​​ I​​ can​​ see​​ he was correct.​​ Nothing​​ made time move faster than habit and nothing​​ held​​ it​​ down​​ like novelty. The reason being,​​ novelty always involves at​​ least some​​ discomfort, but discomfort is​​ key to waking up memory,​​ the​​ ultimate arbiter of time.​​ However,​​ the more novelty you seek, the less you notice this discomfort because overtime novelty builds up an immunity​​ to​​ unjustified fear, usually​​ the source of novelty’s discomfort, and acts as a vaccine so to speak. And​​ from the looks of things lately,​​ humanity​​ could use a vaccine.

Speaking of that,​​ the​​ newscasts have been apocalyptic​​ lately. It’s been raining in Southern California for three days and every television screen at the bar is filled with images of the deluge​​ now that the sports games are over.​​ Floods, mudslides, power outages,​​ idiots in cars being swept away at​​ water crossings;​​ I​​ pretend to watch, but my mind is elsewhere.

Fortunately these days I don’t get noticed here too often. Then again, I don’t look much like myself these days either. Over time I guess people have just gotten used to me sitting in this corner by the trivia machine, sipping wine—the last of the spirits I haven’t made enemies with,​​ documenting their sordid romances and tragedies into my notebook. I’ve sort of become one with the old trinkets adorning the walls. Every now and then somebody finds me novel, but for the most part I’m free to be the surveying ghost I always wanted to be.

I think this bar is what I’m going to miss the most​​ when I’m gone.​​ I know that sounds alcoholic, but Perqs has been my​​ only place of novelty​​ during​​ my years of​​ mostly​​ habit—not out of choice of course.​​ I​​ also​​ see​​ why​​ it​​ was so special to you: one of two buildings left on Main Street over a hundred years old, forty of which it served as a brothel; you always did like a place with history.​​ The real value,​​ however,​​ is​​ the​​ people and​​ stories on display every night​​ here, many of​​ whom and​​ which I’ve​​ borrowed for​​ our story.

I only say “our story” because so much of your story has become mine​​ now, and​​ I’m not sure if I’m ready​​ to be alone again​​ yet.​​ I always asked​​ you​​ if you thought I was going crazy, and you always reassured me, “only in the​​ most lucid way.”​​ But​​ now that​​ this last remnant of you​​ is​​ going to be​​ gone, who’s going to be around to substantiate that?​​ You’ve become​​ so​​ fixed​​ in​​ my imagination​​ I’m beginning​​ to question​​ if any of it​​ really​​ happened at all.​​ But I’ve got to move on.​​ I’ve got to​​ leave you in this locket of time,​​ because unlike you,​​ I’m still​​ in​​ its​​ current, and​​ ultimately​​ only death can cease it.​​ 

But so can a great story—at least for a little​​ while.​​ 

So as the love of your life—simply because you had no others,​​ I’ve now done my due diligence​​ in making​​ sure the world​​ remembers​​ Walter Huxley.​​ Because if there is any practical purpose for love, it’s having someone who can tell your story—or​​ in my case,​​ finish the ending, the ending I took away from you​​ that fateful​​ early​​ Christmas​​ morning.​​ I never did get to hear that second verse before you​​ fell backwards and broke your neck.

But if it’s any consolation,​​ the guilt of​​ accidently​​ taking your life​​ stopped me from taking my own. Little did you know​​ how close​​ to suicide​​ I​​ actually​​ was​​ when I met you.​​ But​​ learning about the​​ incredible​​ life I had taken​​ not only​​ helped me find the​​ worth in mine,​​ it​​ gave me the inspiration to​​ finally​​ do​​ something with it, and for that​​ you​​ will​​ always be the greatest love of my life Walter Huxley—but also simply because​​ I had​​ no others. I didn’t have enough time.

Although we​​ only​​ met​​ a mere few seconds in this​​ existence,​​ I hope​​ we​​ can​​ really​​ fall in love​​ in another.​​ I guess I’ll find out soon​​ mon coup de foudre.

Love,

Amber​​ ;-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 0

Chapter​​ 0

The Fool

 

Shiva tried to sleep, but​​ the​​ sound​​ of​​ whips and​​ paddles​​ working​​ Mags’s willing victim on the other side of the wall​​ made it impossible.​​ She​​ turned up​​ the rain track in​​ her headphones and curled into​​ a​​ tiny​​ ball on​​ a​​ tiny bed in her tiny room. Her room was​​ a poorly-converted​​ crawlspace in the back of a walk-in​​ closet.​​ Photos and other relics of her travels covered gaps in the drywall;​​ the​​ rafters​​ laid​​ bare, insulation, partially-exposed, but it was home when she needed it,​​ which​​ after being forced out of her beloved houseboat a month earlier, felt frequent.​​ Every part​​ of​​ her​​ new​​ home​​ besides this room​​ was​​ shared with​​ strangers.

La Lune Rouge​​ served as sort of a halfway house for trafficked​​ girls, providing a safehouse​​ for them​​ to​​ make money​​ on their own term’s​​ outside​​ their​​ loverboy’s eyes, either while still under their control or after being freed.​​ Below​​ Mags and Shiva’s top floor​​ “lair​​ suite”​​ were six floors of eighteen rent-free bedrooms, a piano bar, and an underground cabaret lounge where​​ the girls​​ could​​ also express themselves creatively in​​ La Lune Rouge’s​​ nightly, all-night​​ cabaret show,​​ Hell, made up mostly​​ of​​ formerly​​ trafficked persons. ​​ 

Being a Parisian-style cabaret show​​ in Amsterdam​​ below a speakeasy-style piano bar, the​​ Hell​​ show​​ had​​ become​​ wildly popular​​ with locals,​​ but also their​​ most​​ highly-guarded secret,​​ hence​​ the​​ zero online presence​​ and its unwelcoming locality.​​ And while the police​​ were​​ aware​​ of the​​ questionable activities in the rooms above, the police chief was one of Mags’s best clients​​ and​​ the​​ department​​ just​​ had one of its biggest trafficking​​ busts because of​​ their​​ help.​​ 

Shiva​​ turned on​​ a​​ dim light​​ overhead​​ and​​ switched to​​ music. Her​​ mother’s favorite,​​ Il dolce suono,​​ from​​ Lucia di Lammermoor​​ struck like electric equanimity.​​ Tragic operas​​ always​​ made​​ Shiva​​ happier.

Before the disease,​​ her​​ mother​​ had aspirations​​ to be an opera singer, but​​ like her fleeting interests in poetry, photography, and painting, she​​ never could commit.​​ She​​ wasn’t​​ really the commitment type. Neither of her parents​​ were​​ being​​ longtime​​ swingers​​ before they were parents. But still,​​ even when her mother’s sickness​​ was​​ at​​ its​​ worst​​ and​​ she was​​ not​​ at all​​ pleasant to be around,​​ Shiva had​​ never seen two people​​ who loved each other more, a love she​​ greatly starved for​​ but​​ simply didn’t have the​​ time​​ to find.​​ Love is not easy​​ when​​ your life is​​ so​​ limited and​​ it​​ means damning​​ someone else to​​ your​​ curse.​​ 

Although her parents never said it, Shiva​​ knew she never​​ would have​​ existed​​ had​​ they​​ known about the disease​​ before conceiving.​​ No parent wants to damn their offspring​​ no less than​​ they​​ want to damn their lover.​​ This​​ was​​ why​​ she​​ had​​ decided​​ long ago​​ art was​​ a​​ better place to put her heart​​ than love​​ and children.​​ There it wouldn’t be damning anyone.​​ That is until she met​​ Mags, or “Queen Kali” as she called herself at the time.​​ Mags​​ was already damned. She too was​​ living with a lurking killer she’d inherited from her mother, ALS.

“That’s why​​ it couldn’t have​​ seemed​​ more aligned,”​​ Shiva said to​​ her mother’s​​ tarot deck. “I had just​​ lost​​ luna hunny and my heart was empty, and right when I needed​​ it,​​ right​​ after​​ I​​ ‘passed​​ through the eye of insanity’,​​ the perfect​​ love found me.​​ But​​ love isn’t supposed to be perfect. I know​​ that​​ now because divine love visited me last night and its timing couldn’t have been worse, yet​​ exactly what I needed.​​ But​​ now I’ve lost it and I need your help finding it​​ again.​​ After all​​ Mom, I believe​​ it was you who brought me it in the first place. How else can​​ I​​ explain it?”

Shiva​​ always​​ spoke to her mom​​ as if she were praying and always had the Ace of Cups in her hands when she did. But today her Ace of Cups was missing, so it was the full tarot deck instead.

Her​​ mother had​​ bequeathed​​ her​​ the​​ Ace of Cups​​ along with the deck in her​​ suicide note,​​ left with her​​ will and​​ written long before she lost her mind,​​ body, and life​​ completely.​​ She wrote it​​ during​​ her​​ pregnancy after​​ discovering​​ her unborn daughter​​ had a fifty percent chance​​ of inheriting​​ her curse, and written in the event she did.​​ 

When I’m not there,​​ let this card be a reminder I still am, the note said​​ about the Ace of Cups.​​ It​​ represents​​ the love and curse​​ that connects us,​​ a​​ connection​​ that goes much further than​​ just mother and daughter,​​ and​​ one that​​ reaches far​​ beyond​​ Earth.​​ Let it also be a reminder​​ of the​​ chalice in you​​ that​​ deserves to be filled.​​ You may be cursed, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts​​ for​​ this world and don’t​​ deserve​​ to know​​ divine​​ love​​ before you leave it. And I promise you will​​ know​​ it​​ before we see each other again.​​ I’m​​ just​​ leaving you for now​​ before I​​ become something other than your mother. Thats​​ what’s​​ so horrible about our curse; it hollows you out while you’re still living and not only robs you of your​​ mind​​ and​​ body,​​ but​​ replaces​​ you​​ with a crippled demon.​​ I want to​​ be​​ remembered​​ as your mother, not a demon.

None of this will make sense to you right now​​ and you’re probably very confused and hurt, but​​ divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning.​​ Peace isn’t sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first.​​ However,​​ after you do,​​ divine love​​ will​​ find you,​​ and​​ that’s​​ also​​ when you’ll​​ know​​ the divine love I​​ always​​ had for you.​​ 

Shiva​​ took the deck out of the case and began shuffling, then placed two cards on top of each other in a cross formation, a simple problem-answer formation. First was her problem. She flipped it:​​ the Death card​​ again. She flipped the next one.​​ It was impossible.​​ The Ace of Cups.​​ Where had​​ it come from​​ if it wasn’t with Walter?

The closet door​​ then​​ opened and blue light from the bedroom​​ oozed​​ in.​​ Shiva​​ put the Ace of Cups card in her nightgown pocket, then put the rest of the cards away. She then crawled out​​ of​​ her crawlspace.

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 22

Chapter 22

Grateful For The Dead

 

“Is this the best of all​​ possible worlds?” Walter asked​​ the statue of​​ Voltaire from the crypt floor.

“God, I hope not,”​​ the statue​​ replied​​ back. “But​​ you​​ should​​ always​​ be grateful​​ for​​ a​​ garden​​ that needs cultivating. Boredom doesn’t come from an absence of happiness,​​ but​​ from an absence of suffering,​​ because without suffering,​​ eventually​​ philosophical speculating—aka​​ those voices in​​ your​​ head—will​​ drive​​ you​​ to suicide.”

But still,​​ what an​​ absurd​​ way of​​ looking​​ at life.​​ I need​​ suffering​​ to make​​ life​​ fulfilling?​​ And how​​ much​​ uncultivated garden can​​ one person​​ handle before it’s​​ better to​​ just​​ put down the plough and pick up the gun?”

“That’s a question only the person can answer because it is the only​​ question​​ everyone must answer,​​ whether or whether not​​ to​​ commit suicide​​ in the face of life’s absurdity.”

“Okay​​ Camus, no one asked your opinion.”

You’re the one who brought up absurdity. And you don’t think I’ve kept up with the progression of philosophy in the afterlife?​​ But regardless, the conclusion to​​ his​​ and​​ my​​ opinions are the same.​​ A mountainous journey​​ contains many more miles than​​ a​​ flat one​​ because it offers the perspective of a new dimension. And perspective​​ is​​ where​​ the​​ beauty of suffering can be​​ seen​​ and how one can appreciate the​​ absurdity​​ of the​​ journey—or their garden.

Or in other words,​​ enlightenment through suffering​​ . . .​​ You know​​ Voltaire,”​​ Walter said rubbing his chin, “everyone pins you as​​ optimism’s adversary,​​ but​​ I believe you’re​​ actually one of its biggest advocates.​​ You just believe​​ optimism shouldn’t be blind and idle, but instead​​ the​​ fertilizer for​​ our​​ gardens.​​ Only through the shit of life can we grow a new perspective on it.​​ And while I’m not​​ certain​​ of anything anymore, I am​​ certain​​ of this: insanity certainly​​ hasn’t been​​ boring.​​ So cheers to you​​ Monsieur Arouet,​​ or​​ shall​​ I say,​​ santé!​​ 

Sat upon the ground, leaning against a marbled wall,​​ Walter raised his​​ CamelBak backpack​​ to the statue​​ like a hobo​​ raising​​ a flask,​​ then stuck the straw in his mouth and sucked the last of his​​ whiskey-water​​ mixture down.

“Don’t tell Rousseau or the Curies I said it,” he​​ continued, “but in this ‘temple of every god’,​​ you’re mine.​​ If there was anyone I’d want to​​ sit down and have​​ a drink​​ or joint with—actually you know what, let’s go 18th​​ Century style and​​ get loaded on caffeine​​ and find a salon to theorize in.

“Yes sir, please​​ do,” the museum security guard​​ said. He then turned​​ to​​ the statue. “But I’m sorry Voltaire, you must stay here. However, I believe it will make no difference if you want​​ to​​ still carry on this conversation​​ elsewhere.”

“What?” Walter said. “I don’t understand.”​​ 

Monsieur,​​ vous devez partir, s’il vous plait.”

Quoi—I mean, what?​​ Je ne comprends pas français—I mean,​​ I don’t understand French.”

The guard exhaled politely.​​ “You must go.”

Cinq minutes plus s’il vous plait?—I mean,​​ can I have five​​ more—”

“Can you please stop that​​ sir?​​ Please, just French​​ or​​ English. And no,​​ I already give you five minutes. The other guests, they complain. You are not​​ alone​​ here.”

“Oh.”​​ The audience​​ of​​ tickled​​ and​​ uneasy​​ faces​​ suddenly appeared​​ before​​ Walter.​​ When he first entered Voltaire’s tomb, he’d been alone, but in the two hours since and​​ a​​ CamelBak’s​​ worth of whiskey-water​​ later, apparently it had filled without his notice.​​ 

“I’m​​ calling the​​ police,”​​ the​​ security guard said.​​ Walter jumped up quickly.

“No-no.​​ Not necessary,” he said.​​ It’s time for me to​​ go​​ anyway.​​ I have other people to see—or not see.” He​​ then​​ turned​​ to​​ Voltaire​​ one​​ last​​ time.​​ Merci​​ moi.​​ Merci.

 

Taking a taxi, Walter​​ told the driver to​​ take a lap of the city past the Eiffel Tower then​​ a few rounds​​ on​​ the world’s most famous roundabout​​ around the​​ Arc de Triomphe. As they drove,​​ he​​ had never seen anything like​​ Paris. Flat pastures of civilization​​ barnacled​​ with visible history for​​ as far as the eye​​ could see, then faded into a hazy horizon of​​ skyscraper​​ islands fenced in distinct districts​​ of modernity.

After a sleepless night in his Amsterdam hostel, he’d taken the first train​​ there, and as much as he tried​​ to​​ sleep then drink himself to sleep on the train,​​ his mind wouldn’t shut up.​​ So​​ he figured​​ might as well consult the dead​​ before seeing the living in Paris​​ since they​​ had been​​ of more help lately. But after spending​​ his morning with Descartes at​​ the Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey,​​ then​​ his afternoon​​ at the Panthéon​​ with the​​ Curies,​​ Rousseau,​​ and​​ his longest​​ visit,​​ Voltaire,​​ these​​ consultations​​ didn’t seem​​ as vivid as his previous one—or ones—had been.​​ And as hard as he tried to​​ take​​ himself​​ out of the conversation​​ with​​ whiskey​​ and believe he was hearing their​​ voices,​​ he​​ knew​​ in reality​​ he was only​​ consulting​​ himself​​ through them.

After breezing past​​ the​​ Eiffel Tower, his taxi​​ crossed​​ over​​ the​​ Seine, then​​ entered​​ the​​ Arc de Triomphe​​ roundabout​​ that was​​ ten unmarked lanes wide with twelve intersecting streets.​​ As they cut into this circling circus, it​​ seemed like everyone was in a game to get to the center​​ of the roundabout where its stone overlord stood​​ like the​​ Kaaba​​ to motor vehicles.​​ Tour buses took polite, lethargic turns around, while small cars and scooters stung and squirmed through​​ the​​ open​​ gaps. There was a constant cheeping of​​ horns, not so much in discord, but in communication like bats echolocating one another. Taxi cars​​ were the most common​​ worshiper​​ crammed​​ with​​ people​​ craning their necks and cameras up to capture the colossal creature in the center​​ standing​​ taller than any surrounding building and resembling​​ a gigantic, gaudy anchoring pin​​ dedicated to “winning”.​​ But as​​ Walter​​ orbited​​ this​​ triumphal​​ arc,​​ all he did was think about all the​​ defeats​​ it​​ played a role in.​​ But​​ a monument​​ erected​​ to the ego in the center of your city​​ is​​ just asking to be​​ made​​ a mockery of.

The​​ irony​​ of this​​ “triumphal” arc​​ and​​ its​​ circling circus​​ was making​​ for very comical surrealism in Walter’s​​ liquored​​ head. He began to gush with laughter​​ which​​ soon turned to hiccups. Then the lack of oxygen and spinning began making him feel​​ dizzy​​ and​​ suddenly his whiskey wanted out.​​ His taxi​​ driver​​ hearing his dry heaving as​​ it​​ climbed up​​ his​​ esophagus,​​ raced to the center just in time for Walter to​​ expel it out​​ onto​​ the​​ arc.

His taxi driver​​ then​​ skidded away, but​​ Walter​​ easily found another sucker​​ at​​ a​​ nearby taxi lane​​ and continued on his way​​ to​​ Père Lachaise Cemetery.

 

Dans ces​​ derniers jours!”​​ a​​ stoutly​​ woman​​ vagrant​​ was shouting​​ at the​​ gates of the main entrance of the​​ cemetery​​ like some​​ retail​​ department store greeter.​​ Although​​ he​​ was only able to decipher the aforementioned​​ phrase​​ which followed almost every sentence,​​ it was clear she​​ was trying to scare the uncaring​​ sightseers​​ walking past her​​ into repentance. Walter​​ couldn’t ignore her.

 ​​ “…dans ces derniers jours!” she yelled at him​​ after some muddled French.

 “Quoi?” he said, but got the same response. She then reached out and put something in his hand. It was a map of the cemetery.

 “Oh.​​ Merci,” he said​​ to her. “Où est Chopin?” he asked pointing to the map, but​​ got the same​​ “dans ces derniers jours!”​​ response.

 

Using​​ the​​ map instead,​​ Walter​​ easily​​ located​​ Chopin beneath his impressive​​ and gated​​ tombstone​​ which​​ not only​​ had​​ his​​ portrait​​ carved into it, but a life-size sculpture of the muse of music,​​ Euterpe, weeping​​ on top of​​ it.

Sitting at the steps of​​ the​​ grave,​​ looking at​​ Chopin’s​​ face,​​ little was said,​​ but​​ much was felt,​​ just like​​ his​​ music.​​ Then like Euterpe,​​ Walter​​ too​​ shed deep sobs over the short and somber life​​ which​​ was Frédéric Chopin’s.

Tormented by ill love and health all his life and estranged from his Polish homeland and heritage, the vulnerability, intimacy, and bravery​​ which​​ fed his compositions​​ listens like​​ a​​ diary,​​ as if​​ written​​ for his hands and ears only.​​ Unlike the many prominent​​ and​​ showboating Parisian pianists of his time, Chopin hated the spotlight and rarely performed publicly, preferring the privacy of salons. The ultimate and original romantic, he died young and broke at the age of thirty-nine, but​​ composing since the age of seven, his artistic output was that of a man who knew he had little time on​​ Earth.

Once finished with his weeping, Walter opened his​​ backpack​​ and​​ took out a small bouquet of violets he’d purchased​​ from a flower shop that morning and placed them on​​ the​​ grave,​​ then continued on.

 

Not far​​ from​​ Chopin’s​​ was​​ the much more modest​​ tomb​​ of​​ Marcel​​ Proust,​​ just​​ a​​ forlorn​​ black​​ platform​​ etched​​ with​​ his​​ name.​​ Sitting on it,​​ Walter​​ ran his​​ hand over the​​ letters cut into the polished​​ black​​ marble​​ and thought about Amber. Even though​​ he was there because she asked him, he’d grown a​​ great​​ appreciation for​​ the writer​​ because of her.

Inspired by his father who had been responsible for eradicating cholera in France,​​ Marcel​​ Proust​​ wanted​​ to​​ write a book that would do as much good for humanity as his father’s work.​​ The subsequent result was​​ a​​ massive​​ masterpiece called​​ In Search of Lost Time,​​ a​​ story about a​​ man’s journey​​ to​​ find the​​ meaning and purpose​​ of life​​ in​​ an​​ effort to learn how to best appreciate existence and​​ make the best use of​​ time. In it are explored three possible answers.

Fame?”​​ Walter said to the grave.​​ “If only I had read your book when I was younger maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much time seeking​​ it because​​ it’s​​ exactly as you said:​​ a​​ fraud.​​ Anyone who thinks​​ fame​​ will​​ gain you access to some extraordinary stratum of​​ happiness​​ will​​ be sorely disappointed.​​ No amount of money, celebrity, or titles can​​ ever​​ save you​​ from​​ misery,​​ loneliness, and stupidity.

“So what about love?​​ I mean,​​ that’s why I’m​​ here​​ in​​ Paris.​​ But however honorable​​ love​​ may​​ advertise​​ itself,​​ fulfilling​​ your life through​​ the love of​​ another has only a vacuum of meaning​​ once that love abandons you, a lesson Amber​​ unfortunately​​ taught me all too well, but so did Shiva.​​ We will​​ always be lonely​​ islands​​ within the sea of​​ ourselves,​​ and​​ until​​ you can get comfortable living there,​​ no one else will.

“So​​ what? Are​​ we just supposed to​​ be content in our​​ suffering​​ then, cultivating​​ our​​ gardens​​ on our​​ lonely​​ islands?​​ The​​ answer is yes. As children,​​ our gardens and islands​​ were all we needed. And it’s​​ not​​ so much we grew out of them,​​ we just forgot​​ how​​ big​​ and extraordinary​​ they​​ actually​​ are. But​​ what reminds​​ us​​ is art. It can make​​ even the most mundane​​ novel again.​​ And whether we​​ consider ourselves​​ ‘novel’-ists​​ or not,​​ we’re​​ all​​ writing​​ at least​​ one​​ story: our life, and doesn’t that story deserve​​ to be novel?​​ Should it not be​​ the medium for​​ our​​ greatest​​ masterpiece?​​ Yet so many of us​​ copy​​ in​​ fear of failure​​ and​​ surrender​​ our childhood powers of creativity and curiosity​​ to the stability and predictability of habit, then wonder​​ why the time seems to pass​​ us by​​ so​​ quickly or why life always feels so empty.​​ The purpose and meaning of life is finding​​ purpose in meaninglessness​​ and​​ meaning in purposelessness, and for everyone that​​ answer​​ is​​ different, but it can only come from​​ questioning yourself. However,​​ that’s​​ a​​ hard​​ thing​​ to do​​ if​​ you​​ don’t love yourself​​ or​​ are afraid to be​​ with​​ yourself.​​ Yourself shouldn’t be a stranger.”

Walter​​ sat up from the​​ tombstone​​ in astonishment. Although he knew the story,​​ he had never understood​​ it​​ so clearly until now. But often the arrow​​ of time​​ is what finally​​ zippers​​ together​​ the cogs of knowledge and experience into understanding.

He​​ took out a metal spoon from his backpack and found a small​​ patch of dirt next to the tomb​​ and began digging. Once he had a small hole, he took out Amber’s suicide note and placed it in​​ it.

“Thank you,” he said. “I hope you can forgive me. But even if you don’t think I deserve forgiveness, I will always love you for what you​​ always​​ gave​​ me:​​ love.​​ You didn’t deserve to die alone​​ feeling​​ unloved, and​​ I’m so sorry​​ for that​​ Amber. I love you.​​ I love you.”

He then took out his lighter and​​ lit​​ the note, and once it was ashes, he buried them​​ in the dirt​​ and​​ continued​​ to​​ his final grave.​​ 

 

The air seemed to suddenly chill as Walter​​ neared​​ his purposeful​​ final destination,​​ Jim​​ Morrison’s grave, hidden in a dense thicket of headstones.​​ He​​ knew he was​​ getting​​ closer​​ by​​ the growing number of young people​​ around, but​​ also​​ a faint​​ voice​​ prickling​​ his ears​​ telling him​​ he was.​​ Stopping to listen, he then heard what the​​ voice​​ was​​ saying, or more so​​ singing,​​ “Harvest​​ Moon”. His​​ hair stood​​ on end.​​ 

“No, it’s not,” Walter said, but it sure sounded like it.​​ He​​ had​​ never heard another voice like it.

Now tremoring,​​ he​​ moved​​ slowly​​ toward the grave,​​ the volume​​ of the voice​​ only​​ increasing.​​ After​​ cresting​​ a hill,​​ he​​ then​​ at last saw​​ the grave he’d​​ been seeking,​​ and in front of it,​​ a​​ brilliant​​ red​​ beacon​​ beaming​​ in​​ the sunlight, the same red he had seen​​ on the pillow​​ the morning after​​ his night in Amsterdam.​​ However, whoever was beneath this​​ red hair had her back to him and was​​ sitting with a guitar, playing toward the grave.​​ Around her was a small crowd listening under a gum-and-graffiti-infested tree that had been decorated by Jim’s admirers.

Continuing​​ toward​​ her, Walter​​ started singing along.​​ Hearing his​​ voice,​​ she​​ turned around and roused to her feet in surprise, dropping the guitar on the ground, but neither​​ stopped​​ singing.​​ Her eyes were​​ tinted​​ by​​ rose-colored glasses.​​ A​​ royal blue summer dress​​ hung​​ over​​ her​​ black canvas Doc Martens.​​ They​​ stepped toward him.

Once within reach,​​ Walter​​ touched​​ her​​ face, expecting​​ it​​ to change​​ like the others,​​ but​​ this one​​ stayed.​​ He​​ then​​ took off​​ the​​ glasses and​​ big gray​​ eyes​​ smiled​​ back​​ at his.

I want to see you dance again”​​ they sang as they​​ took each​​ other’s arms​​ and began​​ dramatically​​ dancing around the tree​​ like they did on the boat deck. At the end of the song, he then​​ dipped​​ her, then kissed her, and only after​​ the kiss​​ did he become entirely​​ convinced​​ of her existence.

“How dare you start our song without me,”​​ he​​ said.

“Who​​ said​​ I didn’t know you were coming?” she replied.​​ “How else were you​​ supposed​​ to find me?”​​ 

“Shiva?”​​ Walter​​ asked. “Are you​​ really​​ her? Are you​​ really​​ here?”​​ 

“Yes,” Shiva said​​ smiling. “I’m​​ really​​ me, and I’m​​ really​​ here. Been​​ here for quite some​​ time​​ actually. It’s the only place I knew you’d be in Paris.​​ Is​​ it​​ really​​ you​​ Walter? Are you​​ really​​ here?”

Yes, I am—well, I think I am.​​ Je pense,​​ donc je​​ suis.

They both then fell to the ground​​ crying and​​ laughing​​ madly,​​ kissing​​ ever inch of each other’s salty​​ cheeks.​​ 

“I love you Shiva,” Walter said. “Maybe it’s premature, but you​​ wouldn’t believe what​​ I had to go through to say it.

“I love you Walter,”​​ Shiva​​ replied. “And​​ believe me, I know. You​​ also​​ wouldn’t believe what I​​ had to go through to say it.​​ It’s​​ been a long strange trip​​ since​​ Red Rocks.”

“Red Rocks?”​​ Walter said sitting up.

Shiva​​ smirked​​ and also sat up.​​ “You still haven’t figured it out?” she said. “You really think you survived​​ being struck by​​ lightning?”

“Lightning? . . .​​ Wait,​​ I’m…​​ I’m​​ dead?”

“Surprise!” she said laughing.

“But… but what about all the people I’ve met​​ since​​ then?”​​ Walter asked.

Some​​ in your head, some​​ dead like you, some alive depending on the​​ time,” Shiva replied. “No​​ one​​ really knows in the afterlife. Here​​ there is no such thing as​​ time; no such thing as dead or alive.​​ We​​ souls​​ live in the world of Schrödinger's cat​​ you could say. Like massless particles,​​ we​​ are​​ unaffected by​​ spacetime and therefore can exist at all possible places at all possible times.​​ This shouldn’t surprise you. It all falls within the laws of physics.”

“I suppose it does…”​​ Walter said,​​ but his head​​ was​​ shaking no.​​ 

“You still don’t believe​​ me,”​​ Shiva noticed.

“I don’t know​​ what to believe.​​ All I know is​​ Death was much simpler being nothing​​ . . .​​ So​​ does this mean​​ there’s​​ a God?​​ Is​​ He​​ Kurt Vonnegut?​​ 

Shiva laughed again. “It’s not impossible,” she replied, “but to be honest,​​ I’m not sure who’s running the show, or if​​ anyone​​ is running the show. And also, if​​ there is a God,​​ He​​ would​​ most likely​​ be​​ an​​ It. No gender pronouns in the afterlife. Just like we are neither​​ dead​​ or​​ alive, we are neither male or female since every soul has​​ lived as​​ both​​ throughout existence.​​ Plus I’ve been told by other souls the​​ x chromosome goes on to out evolve the y​​ chromosome​​ in future generations of humans anyway, and​​ in the year​​ 4000​​ F.E.,​​ Homo cypiens​​ officially designated everyone an ‘it’.​​ But​​ don’t worry.​​ We​​ have​​ all the​​ time​​ in the world​​ to​​ get to​​ all​​ that later.​​ Right now we’ve got a​​ joint to smoke​​ and a bottle of wine to drink​​ with Jim,” she said pulling both out of​​ a bag.

“Like in-person?”​​ Walter​​ asked.

“Oh no. Just in-body.​​ Last I heard​​ Jim’s​​ soul​​ was​​ almost finished​​ redoing​​ its​​ life over as a writer.”

“You can do that?”

“Many times over, and​​ you​​ already have many times over. But guess what?​​ You​​ no longer have to.​​ Today we leave​​ purgatory​​ together, and that calls for a celebration!”

Walter began shaking his head again. “Purgatory is real?”​​ he said.

“Nothing is ‘real’,” Shiva said laughing,​​ “but yes.​​ We’re​​ in it. But not for much longer.”

“So​​ what’s next?” he asked.​​ “Paradise?”

“So I’ve been told.”

“What’s it like?”

“Hopefully like paradise, but I’ve​​ never been.​​ I’ve been waiting here for you.”

“How long have you been waiting?”​​ Walter asked.

Almost​​ a year in ‘living’ years, but that’s nothing in purgatory,” Shiva said. “I kind of got a hall pass on purgatory,​​ however, I wasn’t​​ going to leave without you, so that’s​​ why I gave you my hall pass, the​​ Ace of Cups.​​ It entangled our souls​​ together​​ and that’s why you were quantum-tracked through purgatory.

“Like quantum entanglement?”​​ 

Shiva smiled.​​ “Now you’re getting it,”​​ she​​ said.​​ It was my mother’s​​ hall pass​​ and she—it​​ was a she at the​​ time’—gave​​ me​​ the pass​​ just before she passed on from purgatory.​​ Her​​ purgatory, however, was served ‘in life’, so when she gave it to me I was still​​ living​​ and just a child.”

“So I was supposed to be​​ in​​ purgatory much longer?”​​ Walter asked.

From​​ a​​ four dimensional spacetime​​ perspective you were.​​ But you’ll eventually learn to see​​ things​​ outside your​​ lower-dimensional​​ bias.

Walter’s head began shaking in disbelief again.​​ “So​​ were​​ you​​ dead​​ or alive​​ when I met you?”​​ he asked.

“You’ve really got to let go of being​​ dead​​ or​​ alive,”​​ she​​ said.​​ “In​​ reality we’re​​ all​​ just being.​​ However,​​ yes.​​ I was​​ ‘dead’​​ just like you. I​​ just​​ didn’t know it at the​​ ‘time’, just like you.”

“What did you die from?​​ Huntington’s?”

“Again, dying is relative​​ just like​​ ‘time’, but at the​​ ‘time’ the disease never had​​ ‘time’​​ to get me.”

“What did​​ then?”​​ Walter asked.

“Well…” Shiva said looking off to the side,​​ “essentially I killed myself by entangling us together.​​ ‘Time’​​ had to be adjusted so that you and​​ I​​ died​​ at the same ‘time’ in the past, but still met​​ at​​ the same ‘time’ in the future. In order to do that,​​ the past and future​​ had to be​​ layered​​ on top of one another.​​ But this happens all the ‘time’​​ to ‘time’​​ because ‘time’​​ is nothing but a construct of our​​ lower-dimensional​​ four-dimensional​​ plane.​​ But again, none of​​ this should be a surprise to you. After all, it​​ is​​ what you theorized.”

“Yes…” Walter said,​​ but​​ his head​​ was​​ still​​ saying no. “But theorizing about the universe​​ is much easier​​ than accepting it.”

“Don’t worry,” Shiva​​ said​​ caressing his face, “you’ll adjust. Just imagine if our​​ universe—which is in truth just​​ a​​ fraction of the universe—was shrunk to the size of an atom and someone tried probing in. Do you think that being could even fathom our idea of​​ ‘time’​​ from their perspective?​​ No, they’d​​ see an entire timeline of the universe​​ playing out at all possible places and at all possible times​​ just like we do when we​​ probe​​ into the world of the atom.​​ However,​​ when​​ you’re unaffected by​​ the fabric of spacetime and​​ no longer​​ bound by the rules of light like​​ us souls​​ are, you realize our world and the world of the atom​​ are​​ one in the same.”

“Okay.​​ But​​ still, you​​ haven’t​​ explained​​ how you died.​​ You died on our four-dimensional plane in​​ some​​ way and at some ‘time’ to be here, right?”

Shiva​​ looked at Walter sideways and smiled.​​ “That’s​​ another story for another​​ ‘time’,” she replied. “But right now, let’s just enjoy this​​ weed and​​ wine.”

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 21

Chapter 21

Death Should Always Be Played Loudly​​ ​​ 

 

Late-afternoon light poured in from the tall windows of Amsterdam Centraal Station’s main hall, buzzing like a beehive in the busy rush hour traffic. Penetrating the din, however, was Chopin’s​​ Prelude Op. 28, No. 4. Walter only knew that prelude by name because he had borrowed from it to create his prelude for “Bowie’s Nocturne”, the last song he​​ ever​​ performed onstage.

 He followed the playing to a black grand piano tucked into a back corner of the hall with the words​​ BESPEEL MIJ - PLAY ME​​ stickered on it. Behind it was a short-haired brunette in a black formal dress, whacking into the keys. As she neared the end of the short piece, as if to spite the clatter of rolling suitcase wheels and indeterminate chatter droning past her, unlike any other interpretation he had heard, she insolently increased the intensity beyond even the volume of the climax, punching the final chord in so hard it brought her to her feet.

Her head stayed bowed after, while fine plumes of dust her performance disturbed spangled in the golden-hour sunlight as they fell back to Earth. She then brought her face up to Walter’s eyes as only he was applauding. It was a face he’d seen before, the foxlike face of the hostess​​ from​​ La Lune Rouge. As he drew closer to leave a tip on the hood of the piano, however, although similar and again of about the same age, the face changed into a stranger.

Dank u,” she said.

Mooi... uh,​​ bespeel mij,” Walter said reading the Dutch on the piano. He had learned the word for beautiful from Shiva after she had complimented his “mooi dansen”.

The girl laughed. “Mijn excuses meneer Chopin. Ik hou er niet van om de dood mooi te spelen.

“I’m sorry, what? That’s the only Dutch I know.”

She laughed again. “Yes...” she said in a strong accent,​​ but​​ not a Dutch accent,​​ something​​ more​​ Eastern European. “...that is very obvious. You say ‘play me beautifully’, so I say, ‘I don’t like to play you beautifully Mister Chopin.’”

“Oh, I see,” Walter said​​ smiling. “But actually,​​ I thought​​ your un-beautiful playing​​ was​​ the most​​ beautiful​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ heard. It’s like you opened up a new dimension of the song I didn’t know was there.”

“Dimension?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“Um… it’s like you found a new meaning to the song, a new world no one knew was there. And it’s beautiful. I almost can’t imagine the​​ song or the​​ world any other way now.​​ I guess you could say your performance was life changing.”

She smiled bashfully.​​ Dank u,” she said again. “You are very kind. Not many people like the way I play your death. But Im​​ glad you​​ like your death​​ played loudly.”

“My death?”

She laughed again. “This​​ was the​​ song​​ you chose to have​​ played at your funeral,​​ Mister Chopin.”

“Oh, that’s right.” He had forgotten that fact.​​ “And yes, death should always be played loudly.”​​ 

 

Outside the train station​​ in the brick-faced canyons of Amsterdam’s downtown area,​​ bike paths crisscrossed the city like tracks​​ on a circuit board, encircling Walter’s ears with​​ trickling bicycle​​ gears​​ and​​ bells.​​ Everyone from businessmen with briefcases to mothers with children rode about in a more tranquil demeanor when compared to car commuters​​ back home.​​ 

After​​ consuming a quick dinner from FEBO, a Dutch fast food chain made entirely of self-serve vending machines with the exception of the beverages ironically, he found a cheap hostel for the​​ night​​ that had two guest computers in the lobby. Using one of them, he looked up directions to the​​ nearest police station and Maloe Melo, but had no luck finding anything for “La Lune Rouge​​ Amsterdam”, “Dug DeMargo Amsterdam”, or “Kali and The Easy Wind Grateful Dead Tribute Amsterdam”.​​ He then tried​​ Lady Duc de Glace dominatrix Amsterdam”,​​ and at last found something,​​ a personal website advertising her services.

After checking over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking and clicking the agreement he was over eighteen, he was taken to a homepage with an image of the Golden Ass he’d heard so much about, and no doubt, it was the best ass he’d ever seen, forming a perfect heart in the center of​​ his​​ screen as its owner was fully bent over, bound in rich olive skin and black sheer lingerie, supported by two long, muscular legs on a base of double platform fuck-me pumps.​​ ENTER​​ was written across the heart.​​ 

Walter​​ clicked and was taken to another page with a black and white side profile of a naked man on his knees in a latex gimp mask and a spiked leather dog collar attached to a leash held by a woman who towered over him​​ with short, black, swooped-back hair in fishnet pantyhose wearing a white business shirt and a​​ black​​ fitted​​ vest. In her other hand​​ was​​ a metallic device that​​ made Walter’s rectum pulse​​ with​​ phantom pangs.​​ It​​ looked like a C-clamp with a surgical rib spreader attached to the opening end, the prongs dripping​​ in​​ a translucent viscous fluid.​​ Over the device was written​​ EET FUK.

Walter​​ clicked and was taken to a calendar which was booked solidly until the fall. Other than an inquiry form to make a reservation, which required a fifty-euro deposit, there was no other contact information, and nothing else to click except for a photo gallery. After looking over his shoulder again, he clicked.​​ 

Scrolling through, although her face was partially obscured in every photo either by angle or mask, his mind was able to cobble together a face of extraordinary splendor, and not a sweet splendor, but​​ a splendor that left him in throbbing knots because the fantasy of fucking her with the ferocity of mating baboons refused to leave his head. No wonder​​ there was a long waiting list​​ to be brutalized by her. Even​​ Walter​​ felt himself​​ tempted​​ as blood began boiling and swelling​​ into his​​ bellbottoms.

Reaching the end of the gallery, he was again treated to her rear-end, a gif this time that made the Golden Ass shake to and fro. It lulled him into a tonic state by its perfect applebottomness. All he wanted was to grasp at it and could think of nothing else.

Two teenage girls then entered the lobby and sat down at the computer beside him before he had time to hide the Golden Ass. They giggled as he quickly closed the page, then giggled even harder when he stood up. ​​ 

 

Going first to the police station, he found no one under the name Shiva (Walter never did get her last name or verify if Shiva was indeed her real first name) had been booked in the last week. He tried describing her, but the receptionist could offer no further help as she had a line of people behind him to deal with.

At Maloe Melo, Shiva’s amps and cabs she had stored there were gone, but the staff, who only spoke broken English, seemed to have no clue who he was talking about, and they said Patrick​​ retired a year earlier. However, since he was the former owner, he did come in on special occasions to work, so maybe Walter wasn’t completely crazy. But when​​ he​​ asked if they could tell him where Patrick lived, they then thought he was and politely asked him to leave.

Still too restless to call it a​​ day, he continued searching into evening, walking down streets at random, hoping to find something that could help him, and​​ eventually that something​​ came:​​ his urinal. From there, he found Dug’s apartment complex rather easily, and at the entrance was a callbox with a directory, and listed in apartment 622 sure enough was Dug DeMargo.

Walter jabbed the digits, but it only rang endlessly, then cut off after a minute. He tried again, and again, but nothing. After loitering around the​​ entrance for twenty minutes, finding no one who would let him in, he then began calling again, and on the third attempt, finally the call was picked up.​​ 

“Fuck off ya cunt!” the callbox shouted then clicked off. Walter dialed again. “Listen, if you don’t leave—”

“Dug it’s Walter. Don’t hang up.”

“What? Walty? What the fuck do you want?”

“It’s a long story, but I need your help.​​ Please.”

“Sorry mate, but can’t help ya. Got me own hands full right now.”

“Can I help​​ you​​ then?”

“Fuck off. I know​​ who​​ you are.”

“Quinn Quark?”

“Who’s that? Your other fake cop name?​​ By the way, Walter Huxley, terrible​​ fake name​​ mate.”

“You think I’m​​ a​​ cop?”

“That’s the only explanation.​​ Where​​ else would​​ you​​ have gotten​​ that shirt? No way you could’ve found it​​ in​​ that box because I burned them all. I destroyed everything luna hunny.​​ And if there was anything left, it would’ve only been from what was confiscated by the cops in Paris. What, was that your way of trying to intimidate me, to let me know you were onto me? Then...​​ then that whole act in front of Maloe Melo, what was that​​ about? That’s when I​​ realized​​ you must be some batshit crazy undercover motherfucker.”​​ 

“Dug, I’m not a cop.”

“You can stop bullshitting me​​ Walter. You got a fake-sounding name. You wouldn’t do coke with me. You can’t handle your weed.​​ You​​ also just​​ look like a cop. You’re a fucking cop!”

“Look up​​ Walter Huxley or​​ Quinn Quark on your phone and tell me​​ after​​ if you still think I’m a cop. If you’re going to pretend to own a music label, maybe you should pay attention more to what’s happening in music.​​ Also, maybe take it easy on the coke.​​ It’s making you paranoid​​ and​​ sloppy.

The callbox groaned, followed by a long pause. “No shit​​ mate,”​​ Dug then said after presumably taking out his phone.​​ “Why didn’t you tell me? But if you’re not a cop, then... then... No. You have to be​​ a​​ cop. The shirt, the bar.​​ There’s no way.”​​ 

“Dug, for the last time,​​ I​​ am​​ not a cop! How I ended up in that bar with that shirt​​ on​​ on​​ that​​ particular​​ night​​ is just as much a mysterious coincidence to me, and it was just the beginning​​ of a long strange trip since that I will explain once I’m up there. But right now I need your help and my trip is telling me you’re the only person who can help me, just like before when you found​​ me​​ in​​ the urinal. How could I be a cop conning you when you were the person who found me? Don’t you remember?”

You’re still tripping? And no, not until you​​ just​​ told me.​​ I was​​ facking​​ hammered when I found you, remember? I forgot that’s how we met . . .​​ Maybe I have been doing too much coke​​ lately.​​ Ugh,​​ just​​ did two big rippers before you rang, but​​ it​​ doesn’t seem to be stopping this heroin any. This is some nasty shit mate.”

“Heroin?”

“Yeah... Ugh.​​ Fack​​ mate.​​ I’m really tweaked. I’m really freaked too. I don’t want her to die. I hate her, but I​​ also​​ love her. I’ll never find another like her. She’s my kind of woman for a man who has no kind.​​ Don’t​​ let​​ her die...”

“Who?”

Dug made a series of garbles before answering.​​ Um… never mind.​​ But​​ fack. I do need your help—we need your help. But you gotta promise to keep it to yourself if you value your life, and I sincerely mean that. I’m not somebody to fuck with. And you better not be a coppa.”​​ 

“Dug, I swear if I have to tell you one more time—”

The callbox clicked off and the front door buzzed open.

 

“Come in. It’s​​ unlocked,” Dug said from the other side of his apartment door after Walter knocked. He pushed it open and found her, lying on the floor with her head propped on pillows propped on Dug’s lap.​​ Her eyes were closed and she was a pale shadow of her former self, looking at least fifteen pounds lighter. Her skin had lost all color except for isolated pools of sickly yellow and brown up and down her arms and legs. Walter had seen the same rotted banana peel stains on Squids’s corpse.

“Mags?”​​ Walter​​ gasped.

“You two know each other?” Dug said without looking in his direction. He was​​ running a wet rag up and down​​ Mags’s​​ naked body. He was​​ also​​ naked and had​​ stains on the undersides of his arms​​ too.​​ “Nobody calls her Mags unless they know her personally.”

“Not exactly,” Walter said.​​ “But I’ve gotten to know Shiva personally, and something tells me you know where I can find her.”

Dug sluggishly pushed aside one of the pillows and in his hand was​​ a​​ nine millimeter​​ handgun.​​ With much effort,​​ he​​ then​​ lifted it and pointed to where Walter had been standing, but at that point​​ Walter​​ had ducked behind Dug’s​​ kitchen​​ island counter.

“What the fuck Dug?!” Walter shouted.

“Fuggin coppa!” Dug shouted back. “I​​ fuggin​​ knew it.”

“I’m not​​ a fucking​​ cop! What else do I have to do to prove it?”

“Then... then... who are​​ you​​ working for​​ if you’re not a cop? How do you know Shiva? From back in the States?”

“I met her at Maloe Melo right after I left you.”

Dug gave a weak chuckle. “Sure you did. Well, got news for ya mate. She’s gone. Left Amsterdam long before you got here.”

“Where’d she go?”

“Fuck you.”

“Dug, I know about the cocaine operation. I know the label is just a front for it. I know you ripped off Shiva.​​ And​​ I know you and Mags were together before Shiva. But I don’t care. I only came back to Amsterdam from Switzerland today to find Shiva, because truthfully, I’m in love with her. But also, I think she might be in trouble. I’ve gone to Maloe Melo, the police, but I can’t find her.”

“You really are a nutcase, aren’t you? I told you, she’s gone.”

“What do you mean?”

“No, no. You want my help, you gotta help me first. Go get Mags’s Suboxone, then we’ll talk.”

“Her what?”

“Suboxone. She was clean​​ from heroin​​ for over two years before this and has a prescription at her place. It will reverse the effects. Maybe save her. I think she’s​​ OD-ing. She showed​​ up​​ high about a​​ week ago and sucked me right back in. Smack and sex were all we used to do back in Paris. But​​ faaaack. This smack is something else.”

Walter then heard a thud. He peaked from behind the island and noticed Dug had fallen over beside Mags. Stuck in his ass was “the device”. Walter gagged.

“Dug,” he said, “I’m going to stand up. Please don’t shoot me.”

“Ugh...” was Dug’s reply.

Walter stood cautiously, then went over to him. His eyes were glazed, pupils constricted and circling in his sunken sockets.

“Should I call the actual police?” Walter asked. “You both should probably go to a hospital.”

“Fuck the police if you ain’t them. Just go get the Suboxone at her place.”

“Where’s her place?”

Dug hesitated. “If you know Shiva…​​ you​​ should​​ know.”

La Lune Rouge?” Walter said.​​ 

Dug closed his eyes and shook his head​​ yes. “But us locals just call it Hell. It’s not far from here, but you’ll have to take the bike.​​ He​​ reached into his pocket,​​ pulled out a key fob, and tossed it to Walter.​​ “Here’s my fob to get the bike out of the garage. It will also get you in and out of the building.”​​ Dug​​ then crawled to a purse near Mags and began rummaging through it. “Here,” he said extracting another key fob and tossing it to Walter. “Tell them​​ EET FUK​​ at the door and when they ask for your name, tell them Vernon. They’ll take you to a special elevator that will take you to the top floor, and that fob​​ will​​ get​​ you the rest of the way. Not sure where she keeps​​ it, but the loo would​​ be​​ my guess. Do that for me​​ and…​​ and then we’ll talk about Shiva. But first I got​​ to​​ get me head straight​​ . . .​​ And​​ I swear to God, if you ain’t a cop,​​ then​​ you must be His reckoning.”

 

Dug only managed to slur out half the​​ directions​​ to “Hell”​​ before the coke wore off and the heroin took over, making him completely intelligible before eventually very sleepy.​​ Remembering how Amber first died, Walter rolled Dug and Mags on​​ their sides before leaving.

Although​​ nearby by bike, left to rely​​ on memory and clues from the locals,​​ all of​​ whom​​ were timid about giving​​ out​​ its exact location, finding Hell wasn’t easy.​​ “If you don’t know where ‘Hell’ is,” one local warned him, “you​​ probably don’t belong there.​​ But finally after passing down an alley he​​ thought he’d been down three times before, he​​ located​​ the​​ nondescript​​ red​​ door, and​​ rang​​ the bell fleshed into the doorframe.​​ Two minutes later the foxlike face of the piano player from earlier greeted him.

“Hello again,​​ Mister Chopin,” she said. “I was not​​ expecting you tonight.”

“Neither was I—well, not exactly . . . Do you have a sister that also works here?”

The hostess sighed. “I did.​​ Did you know her?”

“No. But I saw her here last week.”

The hostess laughed. “Well, I’m sorry to tell you,​​ but that’s impossible. I was the only person here last week. My sister died​​ almost​​ a year ago.”

“Oh,​​ I’m sorry.​​ I didn’t realize . . .​​ Do you remember me then? I came here with Shiva.”

“With who? And no. Hundreds of people come through these doors every week.”

“But you—or whoever was here last week—seemed to know her. Tall, redhead. Plays in a Grateful Dead tribute.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Am I at the right place?” Walter said checking his surroundings.

“I don’t know,” the hostess said, “but if you came here on that bicycle, you came at the right time. The Lady always gets her delivery at eleven.”

“Her delivery?”

“You must be new. Yes. The one inside your basket I hope. The Lady will be very hungry. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this bicycle.” Walter opened a compartment hidden in the basket stereo and found a paper bag filled with filled coke vials rubber-banded into bunches like packs of pre-rolled joints.

“Let’s not keep the Lady waiting,” the hostess said. “Password?”

EET FUK.”

“Name?”

“Vernon.”

“And here I was expecting you to say Frédéric,” the hostess said smiling. “Yes,​​ Mister Smith. Right on time. Follow me. The Lady will​​ EET​​ you now.”

 

She opened a door to her right​​ and​​ Walter​​ followed her into a small corridor with another door with a keypad and phone next to it. She picked up the phone​​ and​​ pressed in a passcode, then hung up. Soon after from above,​​ he​​ heard a loud clunk then the whirling of moving chains. About forty-five​​ seconds later he heard another clunk behind the door followed by a loud buzz. The hostess then opened the door and pulled apart manual, antique, elevator doors. Blood-red light came pouring out along with “Station to Station” by David Bowie from a coffin-box-sized lift.​​ 

“Your elevator to Hell,​​ Mister Smith,” the hostess said.

“Shouldn’t I be going the other direction?” Walter quipped as he loaded himself into the tiny cage which felt and looked more like an old carnival ride than an elevator.

“Like I haven’t heard that one before,” she said and shut him in.

She closed the door and soon the machinery whirled up again,​​ and after a jerky ride to the top, the elevator opened onto a red-flushed foyer where the music was playing louder. In the foyer were two plush leather armchairs and a couch with a table, and directly across from the elevator, two double doors with a fob sensor next to them.​​ Walter waved​​ the fob Dug had given him​​ over the sensor, and​​ hearing the lock unlatch, he pushed the doors open.

On the other side was​​ a​​ spacious and octagonal bedroom​​ cascaded​​ in gentle blue light with black​​ crush velvet walls.​​ Ringing​​ the room were a myriad of mirrors, each getting a different angle on the elevated stage dead center​​ of the room,​​ throning​​ an oversized bed, low to the ground and​​ wrapped in black satin.​​ In one corner​​ behind​​ the bed​​ stood​​ a half-open wardrobe closet, exhibiting presumably Mags’s tools of the trade: whips, paddles, leather masks, and an assortment of​​ other​​ stainless steel devices similar to the one​​ in​​ Dug’s ass, and in​​ the other​​ corner,​​ a liquor cabinet​​ with two backed barstool chairs.

Closing the doors behind him,​​ Walter​​ found they sealed tightly and the room became dead silent. “Hello?” he said just to affirm he was alone. The velvet walls sopped up his voice. “Hello!” he said louder, but​​ it made no difference.

He then went to the bedroom bathroom, combing every corner and drawer for Mags’s prescription, but he only found condoms and lubes along with what looked to be toiletry supplies for one female person. The only other door in the bedroom went into a large, walk-in closet. Turning on the light and walking inside, he picked up the faint scent of Shiva, and found the source to be a white nightgown. He took it off its hanger and clutched it to his face. A thousand excited memories lit up behind his eyes.

“Where are you?!” he screamed into it.

He then hung the gown back up, and as he did, something fell out of its pocket. He knelt down and found an Ace of Cups tarot card, and after checking his wallet, he realized it was the same tarot card Shiva had given​​ him, or it must’ve been because the Ace of Cups that was in his wallet was now missing.

Adding​​ it to the growing list of strange and unexplainable things,​​ he​​ put​​ the card​​ in​​ his wallet, then returned his attention​​ to a​​ minor separation he noticed at​​ the​​ back of the closet​​ when he was kneeling.​​ Upon further investigation, he discovered​​ the separation was actually part of​​ a crude door cut into the drywall. He pressed it open, but only​​ found an empty crawlspace, the walls of which were riddled with pinholes from décor that must’ve once been tacked to them.​​ Crawling into the crawlspace, the scent became stronger. Shiva must’ve been here at one time.

 

Continuing to search the bedroom, he at last found the prescription in​​ a drawer of the liquor cabinet​​ along with several empty coke vials. Seeing as he was there to deliver them anyway, he restocked the drawer, emptying the entire paper bag.

“Good,” a voice then said from across the room.​​ Walter looked up frightened, but it was just the hostess.

“Oh, it’s just you,” he said. “How’d you get in here?​​ I didn’t hear the elevator.”

You can’t hear anything outside this room, and nothing inside this room can be heard outside.​​ But also,​​ there is​​ a​​ secret stair behind​​ the​​ fetish cabinet​​ to​​ the​​ cabaret’s​​ backstage.​​ Not many people know​​ but​​ me.​​ It was​​ sealed​​ in the walls​​ when they put​​ a​​ garbage shoot in​​ . . .​​ I want you to follow me downstairs, then I want you to leave out​​ the​​ backstage exit.​​ Leave​​ the​​ bike here.”

“Dug would kill me. And I didn’t come here just to make a delivery. I also had a pickup.”

“They are already dead. The​​ Suboxone won’t help them now.”

“W-what? How did you know—how do you know?”

“Believe me, I know dead.”

The hostess stepped forward from her shadowy corner near the “fetish cabinet”. As she came closer, however, Walter began to see it wasn’t her. It was the hostess he saw last week, her supposedly dead sister.

“Okay, what​​ is​​ going on?” he said. “Is someone fucking with me? Seriously, what is this? This isn’t funny anymore.”

“Calm down. I’m not the first dead person you​​ have​​ seen, not by far. But don’t bother telling anyone. They won’t believe you. Now let’s go. You need to leave for Paris as soon as possible.”

“Paris?”

“Yes. That is where you told Shiva to meet you, isn’t it?”

“Yes of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because I needed you here first. But you must go​​ now. You don’t want​​ to​​ be tangled up in what will follow.”

“What will follow?”

“Right now, you. You will follow me downstairs and get the hell out of Hell. After that, it’s Fate’s decision.”

“You mean Beatrice?”

The ghost hostess smirked. “Who’s Beatrice?” she said still smiling.

“I don’t know. Who are you?​​ Really, who are you?​​ And don’t give me the ‘I am no one because I am not one’ spiel.”

“Fine. My name is Maria. But if you really want to know who I am, look behind you.”

Walter turned around and only​​ saw​​ his reflection in a​​ large mirror behind him.

 

He followed Maria behind the fetish cabinet into the secret door which then led to a​​ spiraled​​ stairwell​​ drilled through eight floors of darkness. Fortunately her voice and a handrail were​​ there to guide him, and the deeper they went,​​ the louder the stage music grew, a strange, organ-grinder-like tune​​ she began singing along to.

Welcome my friend to a place with no life

Where time flays itself out in such vibrant rhyme

The music you hear is your helping guide

Sundered seconds so hard to define

Not of birth or death but of some grand unfolding of time

Hold onto that tether, you don’t want to lose your mind

Scripture becomes​​ universal truth

Perverted and diluted as it flows through the mazes of you

Carving out canyons now crystallized in time

Hold on baby, hold onto that mind

 

The music then passed overhead​​ right before they hit bottom. It was then​​ Walter​​ realized​​ he wasn’t​​ backstage, but​​ below​​ stage, and Maria was no longer with him.

Feeling his way along the wall​​ for a light switch, he came across​​ a door​​ instead​​ leading to a​​ ramped​​ tunnel​​ at the end of which was the dim outline of a door. He opened it and found two dumpsters in a​​ back alley. Coming out from the alley, he​​ came upon the urinal again, and from​​ there​​ he headed to Dug’s, Suboxone still in his pocket just in case Maria was lying. But when​​ he​​ arrived at​​ the​​ apartment complex,​​ it was surrounded​​ by police​​ tape​​ and onlookers.

“What happened?” Walter asked one of them.

“They say a boyfriend and girlfriend who were running a drug operation were found dead. They think the boyfriend choked after a heroin overdose, and when the girlfriend woke up​​ and found him, she​​ shot herself. The gunshot was what made the neighbors call the police.​​ Crazy world.”

“Yes, crazy world.”

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 20

Chapter 20

Something in The Sinookas

 

Walter​​ awoke​​ to the scent of​​ freshly cut timber​​ and pine​​ needles.​​ The ticktock of the train’s wheels hypnotically​​ clapping​​ atop​​ the train​​ tracks​​ had lulled him and Kourtney to sleep,​​ her​​ shoulder serving as​​ his​​ pillow and his​​ head serving as​​ hers​​ during the ride down the mountain.​​ He​​ stayed still​​ not wanting to​​ disturb her.

Outside the​​ window,​​ dewed over​​ from the clouds they had just emerged from,​​ was​​ the rustic village of their Swiss chalet,​​ Lauterbrunnen,​​ a growing nest of pink roofs on an​​ endless​​ throughway of​​ vibrant​​ green. Guarding over the village​​ were​​ the​​ soaring​​ gray​​ limestone​​ cliffs​​ of Lauterbrunnen Valley, a​​ broad, U-shaped valley​​ ploughed​​ into the earth​​ as​​ if dug​​ by​​ a​​ gigantic​​ ice cream scooper,​​ topped​​ with​​ thick, dark​​ forests and​​ braided with​​ veins​​ of​​ whitewater​​ waterfalls​​ draining from the​​ bleach white​​ peaks of the Swiss Alps cutting jaggedly​​ along​​ the sky.

The​​ train​​ had just​​ come​​ from those peaks,​​ or more specifically a glacier saddle between them called Jungfraujoch.​​ At​​ over eleven-thousand​​ feet, the once desolate​​ mountain​​ saddle​​ had been transformed into a haven for tourists seeking a high-altitude adventure without the work​​ thanks to a​​ nine-kilometer railway partially built into the mountains,​​ complete​​ with​​ Europe's highest-altitude post office,​​ several shops​​ and​​ restaurants,​​ an​​ elaborate manmade​​ ice palace,​​ and​​ even ski slopes where​​ Curt,​​ an avid snowboarder,​​ still was.​​ 

The three of them had​​ taken​​ the train up​​ at​​ the agonizing hour of six​​ that morning.​​ Walter’s train​​ to Amsterdam​​ tomorrow, however, was​​ leaving even earlier, five-thirty.​​ He​​ still​​ hadn’t told Kourtney​​ yet​​ because​​ he​​ still​​ wasn’t​​ sure​​ if​​ he was going through with it.​​ Had he completely lost his mind? Was​​ he​​ really taking cues from​​ illusions now,​​ or​​ his encounter with​​ “Fate” as she liked to call herself?​​ However,​​ his encounter with Shiva​​ was just as strange and​​ just​​ as well​​ could’ve​​ been an illusion, but​​ at least​​ he had​​ some​​ real​​ proof of​​ that illusion: the Ace of Cups, still safely tucked away in his wallet.​​ But​​ then again,​​ maybe​​ everything​​ since Amsterdam​​ had​​ been imagined, an imagining​​ he was still​​ experiencing.​​ Maybe he​​ never actually made it to Amsterdam. Maybe he​​ lost​​ his mind​​ back in London and that’s where his​​ “real”​​ self was,​​ heavily​​ sedated and strapped to a hospital​​ bed​​ in​​ some​​ psych​​ unit.​​ Maybe Europe​​ had made him lose his mind.​​ That would be​​ the most​​ rational​​ explanation.

However,​​ whether​​ inside​​ his head or not, this was the reality he was​​ dealt​​ and Amsterdam​​ seemed to be​​ the​​ place​​ where he​​ would find out, or if​​ not, hopefully find his way out. At least that’s the impression Fate or Beatrice or whoever’s answer gave him.​​ He had to find​​ out​​ what happened to​​ Shiva,​​ and Dug​​ was​​ somehow​​ at the center of it. But​​ Fate/Beatrice​​ also​​ said divine love was sometimes in the strangest of places, but Walter​​ hoped to God Dug wasn’t​​ what it/she meant​​ by strange.

Speaking of God, of course maybe all this strangeness was him or her or it, but why would God be so concerned with Walter’s affairs when there were so many other affairs he or she or it should be concerned with​​ over his?​​ No, God​​ was​​ only further proof of insanity.

Kourtney awoke​​ and took her neck off​​ Walter’s​​ head. “So beautiful,” she said stretching her arms​​ and​​ looking​​ out​​ the window.​​ “Are you going​​ to​​ the P-Party tonight?” she asked. P was the theme of the night’s costume party, and​​ any​​ extrapolation​​ on what that meant was accepted,​​ but​​ pirate, pimp, and policeman​​ were​​ the most popular​​ picks.​​ 

“No,”​​ Walter​​ said. “There’s something I need to do early tomorrow morning. Are you​​ going?”

“What do you think?” she said smiling.

“Didn’t figure you were, but you asked. The​​ parties​​ aren’t​​ as bad​​ as​​ you think.”

“Yes they are. Especially tonight’s.​​ Remember I’ve been on one of these before. At the P-Party on my​​ last​​ tour about​​ a​​ dozen blokes showed up with nothing on, taking P-Party to mean ‘penis’ party. Yeah, not for me.​​ What’s​​ so important to get you up early​​ again​​ tomorrow?”

“Well,​​ I’m still not sure if I’m going​​ through with it.”

“You’re going back to Amsterdam aren’t you?”

“How’d you know?”

“I don’t know. Just​​ sensed​​ something​​ in the​​ sinookas​​ I suppose, like our karass​​ was​​ beginning to wane​​ into its other wampeter.​​ Back in Venice, when we were a part, I just began thinking about how maybe you should go back to Amsterdam. Maybe you should do everything you can while you’re still on the same continent as Shiva—or hopefully you still are. It’s actually why I asked you what you were doing tonight. I wanted to talk to you about it. I think I might’ve been a​​ wrang-wrang​​ in the wrong direction by convincing you to continue this tour.”

Walter laughed. “I see you’ve taken to​​ Cat’s Cradle,” he said.​​ He had given Kourtney the book​​ four days earlier​​ after he had finished reading it.​​ “And apparently​​ you’ve​​ experienced quite the vin-dit. But no Kourtney,​​ you were​​ definitely​​ a wrang-wrang​​ in the right direction.​​ I needed these last few days with you and Curt​​ on tour​​ more than you know.​​ Also,​​ I​​ haven’t told you​​ yet, but I​​ got my sign from​​ Fate, and​​ funny enough,​​ it happened​​ in Venice​​ too.”

“Really?​​ What was​​ it?”

Walter took a few​​ starts​​ before figuring out what to say.​​ “Well...” he said, “even though​​ it​​ really​​ wasn’t, I can​​ only​​ describe it​​ as​​ a sign from God only I would understand—or​​ it​​ could’ve been​​ a​​ psychotic episode.​​ Either way, I’m pretty sure it meant go back to Amsterdam—I think—I hope.”

“Well,​​ as Bokonon says,” Kourtney said, “'peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God’.​​ Maybe you should let​​ God​​ lead​​ the dance.”

“But​​ what is God?”

“God is Love.​​ That’s all God has to be.”

“But what is Love?”

“Love is you. And that’s all Love has to be.”

Walter thought about it. As simple as it was,​​ other than​​ music,​​ it​​ was​​ an argument for God he couldn’t refute.​​ Maybe God did have a place in life.

“Man, you’ve really gone deep​​ into​​ Bokononism,” he said.

“Apparently I have,” Kourtney said. “I’m just as surprised with how much has stuck with me after​​ finishing​​ the book. For a fake religion built on lies it sure speaks a hell of a lot​​ of​​ truth.​​ Maybe Kurt Vonnegut is God​​ or something. Or maybe just the god​​ assigned to you.”

“Would sure explain a hell of a lot​​ . . . Is this elevation making you feel as stoned as me?”​​ 

“Would sure explain a hell of a lot.”

They both fell into heavy chuckles,​​ then fell quiet,​​ watching the village​​ slowly​​ grow larger​​ outside the window.​​ “So​​ you’re​​ for sure​​ going back​​ then?”​​ Kourtney​​ asked.

“Well, at this point​​ you’ve​​ convinced​​ me Kurt Vonnegut will have it no other way,” Walter​​ said​​ with a smile that quickly fell away.​​ “However,​​ something in the sinookas​​ is telling​​ me​​ this next leg of my journey is one I have to face​​ alone​​ as much as I want my​​ trusty​​ wrang-wrang with me.”

“I​​ know,”​​ she​​ said.​​ “Something in the sinookas also told me this. Like I said,​​ our karass​​ is waning into its other​​ wampeter, and I believe that wampeter is concerned with finding you true love. Not that Curt and I don’t love you, truly we do, but you know, a duprass only has room for one more, and​​ you’re not going to find your ‘one’ with us two.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier leaving you,​​ and by you,​​ I mean​​ especially​​ you.​​ How​​ did​​ I ever get by without a friend like you?”

Kourtney wiped​​ a wayward tear from his face​​ doing her best to contain herself.​​ “Let’s not​​ begin​​ goodbyes​​ just yet,” she said.​​ “Let’s do it somewhere out of the public eye because I know I’ll be a mess.​​ What do you say to​​ another​​ romantic friendship date​​ after dinner​​ tonight? I​​ know​​ a great little lookout point​​ near the chalet​​ that​​ would be great for a smoke sesh​​ and​​ some​​ stargazing.”

 

At​​ dinner,​​ Walter said goodbye to Curt​​ and explained why​​ in terms only a Bokononist of the same karass would understand,​​ and​​ of course he​​ clearly​​ understood.​​ He​​ too had​​ already​​ sensed something in the sinookas. For everyone else, a little foma was​​ provided​​ about​​ a mix up​​ of​​ flight plans that had​​ Walter​​ leaving out of Amsterdam instead of Paris and it was too late and too expensive to try and change it.

After dinner,​​ while everyone​​ else dressed​​ (and yes in some cases undressed)​​ for the P-Party, Kourtney and Walter​​ found​​ a bottle of wine and​​ some​​ flashlights and headed​​ to an overgrown gravel trail not far from the​​ chalet running​​ alongside​​ one​​ of​​ the valley’s​​ cliffsides.​​ The sky was​​ clear and moonless,​​ encrusted over​​ with​​ stars. In​​ the air,​​ rumblings​​ and mutterings​​ of rushing water from​​ the​​ nearby​​ Lütschine​​ River​​ and the​​ many​​ waterfalls​​ beating the valley walls.​​ 

The trail​​ soon​​ began​​ ascending,​​ leading to a​​ rock​​ opening​​ in the cliffside. Inside was​​ a narrow and steep stairwell, and after a long and sharply zigzagging climb, they emerged onto​​ a platform stamped into the rockface​​ behind a gently​​ flowing waterfall. The view was somewhat​​ similar​​ to the one​​ from the train window earlier, except now​​ the valley was only a silhouetted cradle against the shimmering sky,​​ the​​ village looking​​ like​​ a​​ small globule​​ of​​ stars​​ that had​​ dripped down​​ from the Milky Way river crossing​​ overhead. Hanging over the​​ globule​​ was​​ what looked to be a low-flying comet, but in actuality​​ was​​ the​​ spot-lit​​ sprays​​ of​​ a​​ waterfall​​ near the center of town.​​ 

“Oh my God,” Walter said walking to the platform edge and feeling the underside of the waterfall.

“Right?” Kourtney said. “Lauterbrunnen​​ was the stop I was looking forward to most.​​ Did you know​​ Tolkien’s inspiration for Rivendell was this valley?”

 “The​​ place in​​ Lord of the Rings​​ with​​ all​​ the elves?”

She laughed.​​ “Yes, that place.”

“I can see it.​​ It’s certainly​​ an otherworldly​​ place, the​​ most beautiful place​​ I think​​ I’ve​​ been.​​ And those stars…”​​ he said fanning his hand over them.

“You’re always looking at those stars aren’t you?”​​ she said smiling.

“It’s the closest thing I​​ have​​ to prayer.​​ It gives me perspective on things.”

“So it’s where you​​ talk to​​ God?”

“You mean Kurt Vonnegut?”

They again burst into laughter, their chuckles​​ stretching and contracting​​ against the rock walls and​​ the lapping​​ laughter​​ of the waterfall.

“Well,​​ Vonnegut or not,” Walter said, “God is giving me some good fodder for​​ one hell of a​​ book.​​ Maybe that’s our karass’s other wampeter.​​ It is​​ really​​ why I came on this trip. I just didn’t know every karass has two wampeters. I didn’t know God​​ also​​ wanted me to find true love. I never thought I deserved it.”

“Oh,​​ so every wampeter revolves around you?” Kourtney smiled​​ teasingly.​​ “Your book better have a character based on me.”

“Of course, but​​ she’ll be no substitute for the real thing. However, I guess she’ll have to make due​​ for me​​ until our karass feels the need to wax us back together.”

“Well, something in the sinookas tells me it​​ certainly​​ will, possibly soon. Curt and I​​ are staying in Paris for a week after the tour ends. Promise you’ll come find us if you don’t find​​ a reason to stay in​​ Amsterdam?​​ You already said your plane home takes off from there anyway.​​ Or maybe​​ we can​​ have the best of both worlds and you and Shiva come find us​​ after you find her​​ in​​ Amsterdam?”​​ 

“Wouldn’t that be the happy ending?​​ Although it​​ could​​ be​​ just as possible I go all the way to Amsterdam only to discover she won’t leave Mags.”

“Something in the sinookas makes me doubt that, but maybe​​ we should​​ boko-maru​​ so we have​​ Vonnegut on our side​​ for a happy ending.​​ You know​​ how much​​ God loves flattery.”

“Yes, but you also know He ‘never wrote a good play in his life.’”

Again they were overcome with giggles, giggles which only grew from the strange sound of their giggles echoing back at them in their rocky​​ outcropping.

“Do we even need to get stoned​​ with this elevation?” Walter asked​​ still trying to control his laughter.

“No, this is perfect enough. This is as close to heaven as I think you​​ can​​ get. I love​​ you​​ Walter.”

“I love you Kourtney.”

They​​ then​​ shared​​ a​​ long and powerful hug and sob,​​ then laid down​​ on​​ the blanket they brought, took off their shoes and socks,​​ and​​ kissed their naked soles​​ together​​ for their boko-maru, laughing​​ so loudly​​ it turned into snorting that​​ sounded​​ like a​​ foghorn​​ farting​​ as​​ it shot off​​ into the dark​​ down​​ the valley.

Best friends are the​​ best because they​​ are the ones you can be your silliest with, your craziest with, your most pathetic with,​​ your best with, your true self with,​​ even if you can’t always be with them, for time and space has no effect on best friends. True best friends are forever even if those best friends only get the chance to meet once in life . . .​​ or after​​ life. ​​ 

 

 

 ​​ 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 19

Chapter​​ 19

The Mask Maker

 

Walking​​ past the polished and posh storefronts​​ along​​ Salizada San Moise,​​ just​​ outside St. Mark’s square,​​ Walter​​ saw​​ her​​ face​​ swimming toward him​​ in the crowded passageway.​​ As​​ it​​ drew closer,​​ however,​​ it​​ subtly shapeshifted, then​​ evaporated​​ like a mirage.​​ There were no cars in Venice.​​ The city’s​​ web​​ of alcoves and narrow​​ footways​​ could never accommodate them.​​ The buildings,​​ many unchanged for hundreds of years,​​ were​​ so close​​ and twisted together​​ the streets were in a constant murk,​​ and​​ shadows can​​ play tricks on the eyes​​ Walter​​ reasoned,​​ because​​ there was no reason​​ to be​​ seeing​​ Amber’s face​​ here.

Before​​ the​​ apparition,​​ his​​ thoughts​​ had been​​ wrapped up​​ again​​ in Amsterdam​​ and whether or not fate was​​ ever​​ going to give him a sign.​​ Although​​ his night​​ there​​ never escaped his mind,​​ it was the first time since St. Goar he’d been​​ truly​​ left​​ alone to reflect on it. Over​​ the​​ past few days​​ he’d​​ been​​ distracted​​ by his deepening friendship with​​ Curt and Kourtney,​​ but also the​​ siblings’​​ widening divide.​​ The further the trip progressed, the less they​​ wanted to do​​ together,​​ and increasingly​​ he​​ found himself​​ stretched between museums and intellectual ventures with Kourtney​​ during the day, and​​ pubs​​ and nocturnal escapades with​​ Curt​​ in​​ the night, leaving sleep the only time​​ he​​ got to​​ himself, but even that was mostly​​ done​​ with others​​ on the bus.

While​​ Walter​​ hadn’t​​ expected to partake so much in the​​ nighttime revelry,​​ Curt had an almost supernatural, easy-going charisma that made him not only the most popular person on the bus, but​​ at​​ every bar, beerhall, club,​​ or pub they went. Evenings with him always ended in unexpected places with unexpected people, and through him, Walter was again​​ finding his own​​ charisma and confidence he thought he’d​​ lost to​​ Quinn Quark.​​ Also,​​ with the exception of the serviceman,​​ he​​ was​​ discovering​​ no one in their tour group really cared who he’d been before the trip, and those who did felt mostly privileged to party​​ with​​ a former rock star.

But​​ as much as​​ Walter​​ enjoyed and​​ was​​ benefiting​​ from​​ his time with​​ Curt,​​ his time​​ with​​ Kourtney​​ held much more significance. Through her​​ he was discovering a whole new intimacy of friendship​​ and​​ learning to​​ be vulnerable with someone again​​ without worry of judgment or duplicity,​​ and​​ he​​ permitted​​ her the same.​​ Their​​ fucked up childhoods​​ and​​ constantly​​ nagging insecurities and anxieties​​ gave them a lot of common ground, and​​ it seemed​​ when one of them went out of whack, the other​​ always​​ knew​​ how​​ to bring the​​ other​​ back in place.​​ For two people who were loners at heart, it was​​ strange​​ to have a friendship that felt so effortless.​​ But loners aren’t​​ loners so much for the sake of being alone, but being alone with their thoughts, and usually that’s impossible with someone else, but not them. They​​ could spend hours together​​ only speaking​​ with​​ their eyes. If they came across a painting in a museum or​​ an​​ interesting​​ historical fact or artifact, it only took one look to know what the other thought.

Being​​ proud​​ loners​​ though,​​ there was​​ also​​ a sense of guilt about enjoying the company of someone​​ else​​ too​​ much, so after​​ their introductory walking tour​​ of Venice, they decided​​ a day​​ apart​​ was​​ needed,​​ a​​ decision Walter was now​​ greatly​​ regretting.​​ Venice was a living museum and he wanted his museum partner.​​ Thus,​​ after only fifteen minutes of separation, he had gone looking for Kourtney, but so far was only finding ghosts.

Continuing on in his search, he let his gut guide his feet​​ through​​ the​​ twisted streets.​​ Remaining relatively the same for hundreds of years, history bled​​ easily​​ through the​​ skin of the​​ city,​​ and it took no monumental leap of imagination to travel​​ into​​ its​​ past, especially​​ the farther he furthered himself​​ from the crowds,​​ which was​​ surprisingly easy to do in a maze like Venice.

​​ After​​ crossing the​​ Rio di San Moise​​ canal​​ footbridge,​​ he​​ went​​ past the cursed​​ La Fenice,​​ an​​ opera house famous for burning down three​​ times, weaved​​ through progressively tighter​​ streets until finally​​ reaching​​ a​​ deserted​​ dead​​ end.​​ On​​ the​​ wall​​ of a building​​ in front of him, someone had spray-painted​​ I JUST DESIRE TO TOUCH THE SKY. The words​​ captured​​ him, and he stood trapped, trying to translate​​ a​​ meaning, when out of the corner of his eye he saw a phantom flicker.​​ He then​​ turned​​ around, and there she was,​​ Kourtney,​​ contained in​​ a​​ tiny​​ shop​​ window​​ he hadn’t noticed being there before.

Going inside, however, he discovered like​​ Amber’s face,​​ Kourtney’s​​ too evaporated,​​ and in​​ her​​ place was​​ a woman​​ about the same age​​ with​​ bangs,​​ long,​​ dark brown hair,​​ and​​ large,​​ golden​​ eyes, made more striking by her​​ black​​ eyeliner.​​ She wore a bright red headwrap,​​ not unsimilar to a pirate or gypsy,​​ which was​​ the same color​​ as​​ the lipstick on​​ her full​​ and​​ pouty​​ lips. The body beneath was​​ gracefully drawn-out​​ like a dancer’s,​​ draped​​ in​​ a tight-fitting​​ black​​ tank​​ top​​ and​​ a​​ light​​ and flowing, tan​​ bohemian dress.

Buon pomeriggio signore,” she said smiling. “You look like a​​ man in search of himself. What identity would you like to try on today?”

“Huh?” Walter said.

“What kind of mask were you interested in?”

“Oh,” he said​​ noticing​​ the shop he walked into was​​ a​​ mask shop. All​​ around, on the walls, cluttering the shelves, and hanging​​ from the​​ ceiling,​​ were ornate carnival masks, some​​ with long noses,​​ others​​ adorned with​​ stunning arrays of​​ feathers, beads,​​ and​​ gems.​​ 

“Actually, I am in need of a mask,” he replied.​​ Contiki had a themed party almost every night​​ and for Venice it was a masquerade ball.​​ “However,” he said examining​​ a​​ price tag of a mask​​ near him, “these masks might be out of my price range.”

“That’s okay.​​ I​​ don’t charge to try​​ them​​ on, and I do have some more reasonable options in the back.​​ But​​ there is​​ a mask​​ I think would look​​ very handsome on you.​​ I made it with a face like yours in mind.”

“You made all these masks?”

“I am the mask maker.​​ Beatrice Mezzosesso. And you​​ are?”

“Walter Huxley.​​ Pleasure to meet you.”

“No, no. The pleasure is mine, that is if you don’t mind trying on the mask?

“Why not?”

Perfetto.​​ Come​​ signore, have a seat here,” she said pulling a chair in front​​ of​​ an antique-looking full body mirror.​​ As he sat, her long fingers felt over the contours of his​​ head,​​ face,​​ and​​ neck​​ like​​ a tailor​​ sizing someone for a​​ fitting. “Oh yes,” she said staring him straight in the eyes, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you.

She then​​ danced​​ more​​ than walked​​ across the small store in elegant,​​ metered​​ movements​​ to some waltz she was​​ lightly​​ humming. She went​​ to​​ a​​ shelf​​ holding​​ several​​ wood and glass display​​ boxes​​ and took one down made​​ of expensive-looking​​ mahogany with​​ a​​ red satin bedding. She opened it​​ and removed a​​ bone-colored​​ mask with a strong brow​​ and​​ aquiline nose​​ in a​​ stern facial expression.​​ The mouth had no opening but the chin protruded forward​​ far enough to fit a hand in for eating and drinking.​​ She then went​​ to​​ what looked to be her workbench, selected a spool of thick black ribbon and measured a strand from memory. With two quick snips, she then cut what she measured into two equal strips which she threaded through holes on the side of the mask.​​ She then​​ returned​​ to Walter​​ and​​ placed the mask on​​ him​​ from behind, tying the ribbon​​ snuggly. The mask​​ clung to his face as if it had been​​ custom​​ made. ​​ 

Yes,”​​ Beatrice​​ said​​ staring into the​​ mask’s​​ eye sockets. “I knew it. Just perfect . . . You came in here​​ searching​​ for something,​​ didn’t you​​ Signore​​ Huxley?”

“Someone actually,”​​ Walter​​ replied. “I thought​​ you were them, but I was mistaken.”

“Yes, looks can be deceiving, but often what you need is not what you were thinking.”

He looked at her funny. She gave him a puckish smile.

“You fell in love with someone you weren’t supposed to,” she said, “or more so they​​ weren’t supposed to​​ have​​ fallen​​ in love with you, and​​ now it’s cost them their life.”

“Do​​ you​​ know​​ me?” Walter asked.

She smiled again.​​ “That depends on your definition of​​ knowing,” she replied. “A face can tell me​​ a lot about​​ what I need to know about​​ someone, and yours​​ has death​​ and love​​ written all over it.​​ Thats why I​​ chose​​ the​​ death mask​​ of the world’s greatest lover​​ for you. Don’t​​ you know who you are?” she said pointing​​ to the mirror.​​ She then leaned into his ear​​ and said in a whispered scream, “Casanova!

Walter laughed​​ awkwardly. “You’re funny,” he said. “And​​ a good salesperson.​​ But seriously, you read the Rolling Stone article​​ about me​​ or something,​​ right? Yep, you​​ got​​ me.​​ Quinn Quark, the new Casanova I​​ guess.”

“No,​​ I don’t have you​​ yet…”​​ Beatrice​​ said picking up the spool of thick black ribbon​​ again​​ and cutting​​ another long piece. She then stood behind​​ him​​ and​​ gently​​ wrapped​​ it​​ around​​ his neck, then pulled it​​ down​​ his​​ chest, making his​​ hair and​​ nipples​​ stand on end.​​ He​​ gasped​​ and​​ his​​ breath deepened​​ while his eyes closed in arousal.​​ Then​​ in a flash of an instant​​ she​​ had​​ his wrists​​ cuffed​​ behind the chair with the ribbon.​​ “…but now I do,” she said.

Walter​​ bucked​​ up​​ in surprise, but​​ Beatrice​​ pushed him back into the chair​​ with the weight of her body. Straddling over him, her​​ hand​​ then​​ reached​​ under the​​ mask’s​​ protruding​​ chin and​​ softly​​ slapped​​ him.

No more games Giacomo,​​ Le Chevalier de Seingalt,” she said. “I​​ saw​​ you in there​​ peering at me through this man’s eyes. But who’s in there with you? So many voices. You must be a very troubled man​​ Signore​​ Huxley.”

“Huh?”​​ Walter said,​​ slightly afraid​​ and​​ still slightly​​ aroused.​​ “I know the article made me out to be a womanizer,​​ and maybe there was some truth to that, but​​ seriously,​​ I’m no Casanova.​​ Not even close.”

Beatrice chuckled. “You still don’t understand,” she said.​​ “Casanova! He is inside you. All he needed was a body and yours is an​​ open​​ gate​​ for​​ the spirit world​​ to communicate. You are living amongst the dead, and the dead​​ can whisper through you.​​ You must know this.​​ Haven’t​​ you ever felt​​ like the voices in your head aren’t your own?”

“Many times​​ actually. But I’ve got a rather eccentric imagination I don’t​​ always​​ trust.” ​​ 

“Well, what if I told you your body​​ is​​ nothing but a​​ fleshly capsule Casanova​​ is trying to​​ make love with?”

“To you?”

She chuckled again.​​ “Oh how little you’ve learned in almost three hundred years​​ Casanova,” she said.​​ “Don’t you ever want to find​​ divine​​ love? Don’t you ever want to free your name of​​ womanizer and instead​​ be recognized​​ for the great writer​​ and mind​​ you were? Or​​ will your soul always be caught in​​ the​​ powerful​​ tempest of your lust?”​​ 

“I’m​​ so​​ lost,” Walter said​​ shaking his head.

“Just let go and play along,” she whispered​​ into​​ his ear.

Certain she was crazy,​​ he​​ decided to play along,​​ partly​​ out of fear,​​ partly​​ because he was​​ still​​ turned on,​​ partly because​​ he​​ was​​ also​​ crazy. And the more he thought about it,​​ maybe​​ Casanova’s ghost​​ was​​ inside him.

“Okay,” he said. “Um…​​ what do you mean someone fell in love with me that wasn’t supposed to​​ and​​ now​​ it’s​​ cost them their life?”

“The answer is right in front of you,”​​ she said pointing​​ at herself in​​ the mirror.

“You?” he asked.

She smirked. “Not exactly, but you’re getting closer.”

“Then why do I feel more lost?”

“Just think about it.”

“Amber?”

Beatrice shrugged and smiled, but said nothing.

“Well​​ either way,”​​ Walter​​ said to the mirror,​​ “if Amber​​ is​​ listening,​​ she should know she did nothing wrong by falling in love with me.​​ It was​​ all​​ my fault.​​ I gave up on someone who really could’ve been my ‘one’. I just thought I was looking for perfect, but I was too blind, too selfish​​ to see I didn’t need perfect. I needed love. And​​ no doubt, with the exception of my grandmother, nobody loved and believed in me more​​ than​​ you, yet how little​​ belief and​​ true​​ love​​ I​​ gave​​ you.”

Tears began dropping from beneath the mask onto his lap. “Maybe this was why​​ you​​ gave me this trip,” he went on,​​ “to understand​​ your suffering; to find love, then​​ have it violently ripped away.​​ I used​​ your​​ love​​ and​​ offered hardly any​​ in return​​ because I was too​​ busy loving myself. I’m so sorry Amber. I’m so sorry.​​ I​​ don’t​​ deserve​​ to find love.​​ I had it and threw it away because​​ I didn’t know what I was​​ looking for.​​ I​​ was​​ too in love with myself.”​​ 

Beatrice put a hand​​ on​​ Walter’s​​ shoulder. She then​​ removed the mask​​ and unbound his wrists.​​ His​​ face was​​ a glazed doughnut of tears and sweat.​​ 

“No,” she said somberly, “you deserve to find love. Everyone​​ does. But​​ first,​​ you need to forgive yourself, but before you can, there’s​​ someone else​​ who needs forgiveness, someone​​ very much a part of​​ you​​ whether you want them to be or not​​ . . .​​ your father.”

“My father?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“Because​​ if he dies​​ unforgiven​​ you​​ will​​ never forgive yourself. Your guilt​​ will outlast your​​ hate.​​ Didn’t Squids​​ teach you that?​​ My father was an alcoholic too and the last thing I told him before he died was I hate you​​ and I want you to die. But I was just​​ an​​ angry​​ teenager, and his alcoholism​​ had​​ hurt me​​ a lot.​​ But now that time​​ has​​ dulled​​ some of that anger, I can see​​ he did love​​ me​​ in​​ many​​ moments​​ outside his drinking.​​ He​​ may not have been​​ the greatest father, but​​ at​​ least he was more of a father than the father he never​​ knew. At least he tried​​ to be a father, and so did your father.​​ He​​ fucked up​​ in​​ a​​ fuckup​​ nobody would know​​ exactly​​ how to fix,​​ a​​ fuckup​​ of his own doing, but nevertheless,​​ he​​ was younger than you​​ are now​​ when​​ it happened, and look how much you still fuck up.”

“Yes, but​​ fucking​​ up being a father​​ is much different,” Walter retorted. “A father doesn’t prioritize the needs of a monster over his own son. A father doesn’t allow his son to be treated like an unwanted pest for the first ten years of​​ his​​ life.​​ Yes, ultimately he did leave that monster for me, but he told me in the end how much I was really worth to him, about three rum bottles.​​ He deserves to die unforgiven.​​ Fuck him.”

“Forgive him,” Beatrice commanded. “Forgive​​ him and​​ your stepmother​​ if you ever want to be forgiven yourself; if you ever want to know​​ divine​​ love.”

“No.​​ Never.”

“Who​​ introduced you to​​ Metallica​​ then​​ took you​​ to your first concert​​ ever, a Metallica concert?”

It was his father but Walter stayed silent.

“Who taught​​ you​​ how to tie your shoes,” she continued, “and is the reason why you still bunny ear instead of loop and swoop?​​ Who taught you the habit of​​ ironing​​ your clothes,​​ how to​​ whistle, how to​​ blow a bubblegum bubble?”

He​​ suddenly​​ remembered it was his stepmother.​​ There had been​​ some​​ moments​​ when​​ she was more mother than monster in the beginning.​​ Agape,​​ Walter​​ turned​​ to Beatrice.

Who are you,​​ really?​​ he asked.

“Forgive them.”

“Okay, fine.​​ I suppose there were some moments​​ when​​ they​​ attempted to care,​​ especially in the beginning​​ before​​ the​​ drinking fully took​​ hold . . .​​ And​​ I suppose​​ you’re right.​​ There’s no way to​​ forgive myself without forgiving​​ them because​​ a part of me is them​​ . . .​​ I forgive you Dad. I forgive you L-L-Lilith.”

Walter shuttered.​​ He hadn’t uttered his stepmother’s name​​ in over​​ fifteen​​ years.​​ Once she stopped calling him by name, it gave him a reason to do the same, and his​​ names for her were just as bad if not worse​​ as hers for him:​​ bitch,​​ cunt,​​ the pretty witch,​​ mother monster. At times, he really did​​ everything​​ he​​ could to antagonize​​ not only her hatred for him, but​​ her alcoholism.​​ Now fault didn’t seem as easy to place. But blame is hardly ever​​ shared​​ alone and​​ sometimes just as much​​ in our control​​ as fate.​​ What we do have control over, however,​​ is forgiveness.

“I forgive you,” Walter continued. “I forgive you!”

“You are forgiven,” Beatrice said, and immediately​​ after a weight seemed to lift from his chest, a burden he’d grown so used to carrying he thought it was a part of him. Looking into her eyes with awe, he saw someone he knew he knew but he couldn’t explain why.

Now​​ will​​ you​​ tell me who you are,”​​ he​​ asked,​​ who you​​ really​​ are?”​​ 

“I am no one​​ because I am not one,”​​ she replied​​ still transfixed on the mirror. “However,​​ you can call me Fate​​ if you​​ would​​ like. But​​ truthfully, I’m just​​ someone who wants to help you find divine love.​​ However clever it’s been disguised,​​ it is waiting for you.”

“Where?”

“A​​ place​​ only you can reach​​ within your heart,​​ but​​ I’m here to​​ take​​ you​​ to​​ the​​ next part. But we must​​ go soon. Sunset is approaching.”​​ She​​ then​​ reattached​​ the mask to Walter’s face. “Casanova​​ must also come​​ along​​ though. And masks​​ must​​ stay on​​ until I tell​​ you​​ to take them off.​​ If​​ we’re not careful,​​ it​​ could​​ cost us​​ our lives​​ also.”

 

After masking herself​​ in​​ a​​ gold, long-beaked​​ “plague doctor” mask, Beatrice put on a black,​​ full-body,​​ hooded robe and had Walter​​ do​​ the same. She then took his hand and told him, “Don’t let go,” and​​ led him out of the shop to a nearby​​ private​​ dock on the Grand Canal. There, a gondolier​​ in a black toga she addressed as​​ Marcus was​​ waiting, standing​​ atop an all-black, dragon-looking gondola with an enclosed cabin, or​​ what Beatrice called a​​ “felze”.​​ Apparently almost​​ all gondolas used to have felzes before their primary purpose was toting around tourists.​​ Inside the​​ red​​ velvet-lined​​ felze, a bottle of​​ wine and a bucket of oysters were​​ waiting for them.

“Is​​ this​​ gondola always stocked with oysters and wine?” Walter asked​​ after they sat and​​ Beatrice poured him a glass.

“Oh​​ yes,” she said. “A gondola ride wouldn’t be complete without them.”

 “Well,​​ santé,” Walter said taking the glass, then began removing his mask.

“No, no,” Beatrice said stopping him. “The mask must stay on, even while you eat and drink. That is what the mask is designed for.”​​ 

“But you can’t​​ eat or​​ drink with your mask.”

“Because this​​ wine​​ and food​​ isn’t​​ for​​ me,​​ it’s for you, Casanova.”​​ 

“But what if you’re trying to poison me?”

“Well​​ I doubt it will make​​ a​​ difference.​​ You’ve been dead for​​ over two hundred years.”

 

After departing from the dock, Beatrice pulled open one​​ of​​ the curtained windows.​​ “Let​​ us​​ begin,”​​ she said.​​ “Do you recognize that palazzo out there?”​​ She pointed​​ to a three-story, cream-colored palace on the canal.​​ 

“Should I?” Walter​​ asked, still confused as to who he was supposed to be.

“That is the​​ Palazzo Malipiero, former home of Senator Alvise Malipiero, and site of your first seduction. The senator took you in as a fifteen-year-old protégé and taught you all the customs of high society until you were caught ‘exploring the differences between bodies’ with his seventeen-year-old love interest​​ and he expelled you out of the house…”

As they pushed down​​ the Grand Canal,​​ Beatrice​​ continued​​ filling​​ Walter​​ in on landmarks​​ and transgressions​​ of his possessor’s life​​ until​​ reaching​​ the Rialto Bridge​​ where they​​ turned around.

“More wine​​ signore?”​​ Beatrice​​ said, pouring without permission.

“I guess so,”​​ Walter​​ replied amused and red-lipped​​ beneath his mask. She’d already emptied half a bottle into him and mouth-fed him a dozen​​ or so​​ oysters. He’d never felt more lavished on in his life.

Coming out of the Grand Canal​​ and skirting along the Venetian coast, lined with​​ more​​ cream-colored palazzos​​ that were turning pink​​ in the twilight light, Beatrice​​ shouted out the window,​​ Marcus, prendere​​ noi sotto il Ponte dei Sospiri !

Si mama.​​ Summum virtutum.

“Sunset​​ is coming,” she said to Walter, aka Casanova. “Our date with fate is almost here.”

Turning​​ into the​​ Rio del Palazzo​​ canal, they sailed​​ under​​ the​​ people-packed​​ Ponte della Paglia​​ footbridge, then approached another much higher, ivory-white and ornately-decorated​​ footbridge​​ connecting two buildings.

The Bridge of Sighs...” Beatrice said​​ pointing to it as the boat coasted beneath it, joining a hoard of other gondolas,​​ ...our final destination and​​ one​​ of the most famous sights in all of Venice. It connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace to the​​ palace​​ prison. And according to legend, as prisoners would cross, they would look out onto beautiful Venice one last time and ‘sigh’ before being taken to their cells.​​ In 1755, arrested for blasphemy, freemasonry, magic, and of course fornication,​​ you yourself walked across this bridge​​ Casanova.​​ But​​ instead of being put in the​​ regular prison cells, you were​​ instead​​ held​​ in a collection of cells called ‘The Leads’ directly beneath the palace roof. Because the roof was lined with lead slabs, these cells were very hot in the summer and ice-cold in the winter, and​​ also thought to be inescapable. But on the night of the 31st​​ of October 1756,​​ you proved that to be untrue​​ by prying off one of the​​ slabs​​ and escaping through the roof​​ in a tale that would later become one of​​ your​​ bestsellers.  ​​​​ 

You​​ then fled to Paris where​​ you​​ would later make a fortune by inventing the first state lottery, a fortune which would be wasted away like all​​ your​​ fortunes, to gambling. But being a prolific polymath,​​ you​​ always managed to climb​​ your​​ way back into status and wealth through a variety of occupations and​​ sometimes questionable​​ ventures. In​​ your​​ seventy-three years alive,​​ you were​​ an abbot, lawyer, officer in the Venetian army, theater violinist, diplomat, mathematician, spy, alchemist, Freemason, cardsharp, magician, faith healer, actor, a​​ famous​​ playwright, duelist, physician, and​​ librarian.​​ You were​​ fluent in Italian, French, Latin, and Greek, and​​ proficient​​ in​​ German, English, and Russian.​​ You​​ discussed religion and philosophy with Voltaire, powered flight with Ben Franklin, taxation with Fredrick the Great, and bringing the Russian calendar in sync with the rest of Europe with Catherine the Great.​​ You were​​ also good friends with Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s favorite librettist, and may have served as the inspiration for​​ Don Giovanni, possibly even writing some of it​​ yourself. You wrote​​ forty-two books which included a history of Poland and the Venetian government, a modern Italian translation of Homer’s Iliad, a five-volume science-fiction novel,​​ Isocameron, which predicted the motorcar,​​ airplane,​​ and television, and of course​​ your​​ twelve-volume, thirty-five-hundred-page autobiography,​​ Histoire de ma vie, which​​ you are​​ most​​ famous and infamous for.

“Casanova, you​​ could have been an​​ Enlightenment​​ icon had​​ you not let lust get the best of you.​​ But​​ you always​​ blamed​​ your​​ insatiable sex drive​​ on​​ your​​ insatiable curiosity for human nature, reasoning​​ the bedroom offered no better view into it. Old, young, fat, skinny, royals, nobles, nuns, slaves, whores, virgins, even a few men and transvestites,​​ you​​ bed them all. But they weren’t all merely conquests.​​ You​​ actually fell in love​​ quite​​ easily and often.​​ You liked​​ to satisfy and be satisfied intellectually as well as sexually by​​ your​​ partners, and in a time when women were second-class citizens,​​ you​​ saw​​ them as equals.​​ You were​​ attentive and appreciative​​ in your lovemaking, and at times, supported​​ your​​ lovers financially and became a lifetime confidant.​​ 

However​​ Casanova,​​ your name​​ didn’t become synonymous with womanizer by accident.​​ Some of​​ your​​ most​​ notorious​​ exploits include: losing​​ your​​ virginity to two sisters at the same time; bedding and having a child with a castrato singer whom was thought to be a boy, but was in fact a girl using a fake penis; having a ménage​​ à trois with two nuns; sleeping with five sisters in exchange for saving their mother from financial ruin; and probably​​ your​​ most repulsive achievement, almost marrying​​ your​​ own daughter whom​​ you​​ unknowingly conceived with a former lover, only to later bed her and her mother at the same time, although​​ you​​ did say​​ you​​ left​​ your​​ virgin daughter ‘intact’ for whatever that’s worth.

“Casanova, you stand guilty of gluttonous lust, a lust whose winds have reigned over you for nearly three​​ centuries. But now​​ you​​ have​​ an opportunity​​ to​​ finally escape the slavery of your lust,​​ to find divine love, what you always sought but never found in life. If you accept this invitation, kiss me at sunset and your true love will be revealed . . . The time is now,” she said touching Walter.

“Time for what?”​​ he​​ said confused.

“To take off your mask and kiss me, that is if you’re​​ ready.​​ Love isn’t always​​ who​​ you think it​​ should be. Once in a while it’s in the​​ strangest of places.”

Walter’s head turned sideways pondering who was really speaking behind that golden bird beak.

“I’m not kissing you until you tell me who you​​ really​​ are and what’s really going on,” he said.​​ Plus,​​ I heard​​ being granted eternal love by​​ kissing​​ someone​​ at sunset under the Bridge of Sighs was just some bullshit legend told to​​ tourists.

“I told you​​ already, you can call me Fate.​​ As far as who I really am, you can only discover that by taking off my mask.​​ But yours has​​ to come off first.”

“Fine,” he said and​​ reached behind his head and removed the mask. Beatrice gasped behind her​​ beak.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s not for your knowing, just as what you see when you take off my mask is not for my knowing.”

Slightly trembling, his hands removed her mask only​​ to​​ discover​​ Beatrice​​ grinning. Although a part of him wished for Shiva, he was also relieved reality was behaving as it should.​​ Besides, Beatrice​​ really was​​ beautiful, a beauty he could stand for an eternity​​ if that’s what​​ it​​ meant. But truthfully,​​ he had no clue what​​ anything​​ meant​​ anymore.

He​​ then​​ noticed​​ a​​ large gap between​​ her​​ front teeth​​ he didn’t remember seeing before, but​​ she hadn’t​​ spent a lot of time​​ full-teeth grinning​​ before then​​ either.​​ Regardless,​​ he leaned forward and lips met, then​​ tongues​​ began dancing​​ until​​ something bristly​​ began tickling his​​ upper​​ lip.​​ He opened his eyes to find​​ Beatrice had​​ grown a​​ mustache. Then as his eyes adjusted,​​ he realized it wasn’t Beatrice​​ behind that mustache. It was​​ Dug.

“Ah!” Walter screamed and pushed Dug back into the seat​​ across from him, but by then he had already morphed back into Beatrice. “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Walter kept screaming.

“You didn’t like what you saw I see,” Beatrice said straightening​​ herself out after being thrown.

“I’m sorry.​​ No, not​​ at all what I was expecting.”

“Often​​ divine​​ love isn’t what you expect.”

“But you don’t understand. I saw—”​​ She​​ covered his mouth.

“I told you,” she said, “what you saw is not for my knowing,​​ or anyone else’s knowing. You must keep it to yourself and only to yourself, otherwise​​ neither of us will find divine love. And believe​​ me,​​ I’ve been waiting a long time. Centuries you could say.”

“Wait,​​ are you—”

She​​ covered​​ his​​ mouth again and smiled. She then brought her index finger to her lips and winked.

“Just keep our little adventure​​ today to yourself,” she said.​​ “It’s in your​​ best interest and mine.​​ Not like anyone​​ will believe you​​ anyway.”​​ 

 

Back​​ at​​ the​​ boat​​ dock,​​ Walter and Beatrice shared​​ one​​ last kiss, this time with no mustache,​​ before she stepped back onto the boat. She​​ said​​ there was somewhere she needed to​​ be​​ soon, and so did he. His​​ ferry back to​​ the Italian mainland​​ where he and his fellow Contikians were​​ camped​​ in a village of mobile home trailers was​​ departing​​ shortly.​​ 

As the​​ gondola​​ withdrew​​ into the Venetian Lagoon,​​ from the bow of the black dragon,​​ Casanova’s death mask in one hand, the other waving goodbye and blowing him kisses,​​ Beatrice​​ shrank​​ into the​​ darkening​​ horizon​​ until​​ at last she touched​​ the​​ sky​​ and disappeared into it.​​ 

 

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.”

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 17

Chapter​​ 17

Dancing Around​​ 

 

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. Youre​​ 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?”

“Basically.”

“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 hes 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.​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 16

Chapter​​ 16

The​​ Guinea Pig

 

Es-tu prêt?” Shiva said coming out of​​ Maloe Melo’s​​ restroom after changing into​​ her street clothes,​​ a​​ burnt orange​​ maxi​​ skirt​​ and​​ a​​ black​​ shirt​​ covered by a blue jean vest.​​ She’d put her hair in a messy bun and had a​​ wrap choker​​ cord​​ necklace​​ tied​​ around her​​ swan-like neck.​​ No longer the banshee,​​ what Walter​​ thought was​​ a​​ dream was becoming more real.

 “Prêt​​ comme je serai jamais,” he​​ replied.​​ 

In​​ the taxi,​​ he​​ learned​​ La Lune Rouge​​ was​​ a Parisian cabaret, but with an Amsterdam​​ twist. While not technically a brothel, there was a hotel above it, and if performers,​​ who were often times​​ either off-duty sex show workers or​​ prostitutes,​​ wanted to take someone​​ up there to exchange money for sex off-premises, they​​ could and did. Most, however,​​ came to the cabaret to practice​​ routines​​ they put together themselves​​ or with others.

The cabaret​​ is where I met Mags,” Shiva told​​ Walter. “She did​​ this​​ routine to Bowie’s​​ We Are The Dead​​ as Halloween Jack​​ and I w