The Silver Year: Chapter 17

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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 was floored. I don’t like everything Bowie, but that​​ song​​ and​​ Diamond​​ Dogs​​ are​​ all-time favorites.​​ We spoke after​​ about doing a​​ show​​ around​​ the album, and​​ it didn’t take long before we​​ became​​ best friends.”

“Where’s Mags tonight?”​​ Walter asked.

“Working​​ as always.​​ She enjoys​​ work​​ more than anything else​​ because it’s not​​ prostitution​​ to her, it’s​​ theater,​​ a​​ world​​ she’s in control of​​ away from the​​ one she’s not​​ . . .​​ She’s a dominatrix. Although when I first met her, the only money she​​ made for sex​​ was​​ just for fun​​ at​​ La Lune Rouge,​​ but then she found a​​ character,​​ Lady​​ Duc de Glace, and​​ a niche​​ crowd there​​ where she could​​ express herself in ways she couldn’t on a cabaret stage. Now​​ La Duc’​​ not only​​ dominates​​ most of​​ her life, but​​ the​​ Amsterdam​​ BDSM​​ audience. She​​ has a waiting list over a month long.”​​ 

“Quite an interesting best friend​​ you​​ have.”​​ 

“Yes, but best friend doesn’t always​​ mean good friend, just whoever happens to​​ best​​ reflect​​ you​​ at​​ a moment​​ in​​ your life, and​​ I have to say​​ my moment​​ in reflection​​ with Mags has come and gone.​​ But​​ I have no​​ one​​ else in Europe,​​ so​​ she​​ still holds my best friend​​ card.​​ It’s rare we see each other more than once or twice a week​​ though. She’s​​ effectively​​ moved into​​ the ‘lair’ she rents for ‘theater’​​ now.”

“How long ago​​ did​​ you meet?”

“Right after luna hunny went to shit. I was barely twenty​​ and​​ a lot​​ more nihilistic since​​ everything​​ I had to live for had​​ just​​ been​​ taken​​ away, and​​ Mags,​​ being ten years older​​ than me,​​ had​​ long before​​ climbed into bed with​​ nihilism​​ and​​ brought me​​ right​​ in​​ with her​​ for a time.​​ I​​ dropped out of the art school I was attending,​​ became a borderline alcoholic, cocaine was my morning coffee, although morning was usually about sunset. But I rationalized it all because we were ‘saving’ lives, so​​ why​​ care about mine?

But after Maria​​ and meeting death in-person,​​ I​​ began questioning whether​​ living in nihilism was​​ a life worth living, while for Mags it​​ was​​ only more justification. Since then she’s only​​ fallen deeper into drugs and​​ ‘La Duc’, and although we still say we’re best friends,​​ we’ve​​ been​​ drifting in​​ opposite​​ directions​​ for​​ a while.​​ However, since​​ I’m​​ an illegal alien​​ now​​ because​​ I​​ overstayed my​​ student​​ visa​​ and​​ she’s​​ an EU citizen,​​ I’m anchored to her​​ for​​ almost anything I can’t acquire legally, including​​ a place to live and​​ most of my​​ money. The money I lived on​​ before came​​ from​​ a college trust fund set up in my mom’s name after she died, but once you overstay a visa, immigration authorities​​ are alerted and​​ monitor​​ your bank accounts.”

“Why not​​ just go back home?” Walter asked.

“It’s more complicated​​ than that​​ . . .​​ Anyway,​​ ” she continued on,​​ “the cabaret was​​ originally​​ built as​​ an underground​​ nuclear fallout center.”

Eventually​​ Shiva directed​​ the taxi​​ driver​​ to​​ an​​ alley​​ that​​ seemed to go nowhere. The surrounding streets were​​ soulless and​​ veiled in​​ darkness.

“Are you​​ planning to murder me?” Walter​​ asked​​ looking out the window​​ as they stopped.

“Yes,” Shiva said opening the taxi van’s sliding door. “But​​ only​​ because I want to show you the fun side of hell​​ after, which is down that alley.​​ Besides,​​ if you still think this is a dream,​​ nothing can actually kill you. So what do you have to lose​​ other than​​ waking up?”

“You, that is if this is a dream.”

“True. But​​ wouldn’t​​ I be also killing myself by killing you?”

“Well, how else are we supposed to​​ get to​​ hell together?”​​ 

She laughed.​​ “You are clever,”​​ she said​​ then​​ stepped​​ out of the taxi. “But truthfully, all we need to do is walk down that alley.”​​ 

 

They walked to the end​​ of the alley​​ where​​ a red, nondescript door​​ was.​​ Above it​​ were​​ seven​​ stories of small, barred windows, three to each​​ floor, all softly glowing like candles behind sooted​​ glass. From the other side of the door, Walter could hear a​​ muffled​​ ruckus of​​ shouting, stomping, pianoing, and fiddling.​​ Shiva​​ pressed​​ a​​ hidden​​ bell​​ fleshed​​ into the door frame. Two minutes later it opened and a​​ female​​ hostess with​​ short brunette hair and​​ a​​ foxlike​​ face greeted them.

Bonsoir monsieur,​​ la dame,”​​ she​​ said, giving Shiva a knowing​​ glance. “Le mot de passe?

Audaces fortuna iuvat,” Shiva replied.

“Welcome to​​ La​​ Lune Rouge,​​ the hostess​​ said​​ smiling.

She​​ opened a door behind her​​ to​​ a sleepy​​ piano bar with a few patrons scattered about​​ as​​ some lazy​​ piano​​ jazz chords​​ settled over some still​​ enigmatic​​ ruckus wallowing the walls.​​ Shiva then took him to​​ a​​ corner of the bar​​ where he found the source​​ emitting more loudly from a​​ tightly​​ descending​​ corkscrew staircase​​ drilled into the floor.​​ “The real fun is down there,” she said.​​ 

They​​ entered and spiraled​​ thrice, then​​ went​​ through​​ a​​ dimly-lit​​ tunnel into a​​ small​​ foyer with a​​ drink stand​​ from which they​​ got two beers before entering​​ the​​ small,​​ but​​ filled and​​ riotous​​ cabaret​​ room.

The room​​ looked like a cave made from the​​ belly​​ of a whale​​ with​​ candlelight​​ dancing​​ along​​ its​​ bleached and​​ uneven​​ rocky​​ walls.​​ The​​ whale’s​​ brick​​ backbone and​​ ribs supporting the ceiling were​​ greased​​ by​​ many hands over many years​​ being​​ easily within​​ reach​​ when​​ standing on the long​​ and​​ wide​​ wooden​​ table that divided the room in two, which​​ many people were.​​ That’s why upon first impression it was hard to distinguish​​ audience​​ from performer, for the table in the center also doubled as the stage, but many of the patrons were also partaking in the​​ bedlam of the​​ performance.​​ One plain-looking woman with glasses had even taken her shirt off—but left​​ a​​ bra​​ on—and was wheeling it over her head like a flag of insurgency, while another couple was laid out at the end of the table-stage, dry humping each other as if no one​​ was around.

At the other end of the table-stage was a small platform carved into the wall just big enough to support a saloon-style piano with player, a furious fiddler, and a small and stripped-down drum set with drummer.​​ Two singers, a dandelion-haired drag queen about six-two and a tuxedoed woman with a fake mustache​​ almost​​ the same height​​ were charging​​ and chirping​​ up and down the table-stage​​ knocking over drinks singing​​ an​​ anthemic​​ number in Dutch​​ while bumping and grinding on the audience members who were also dancing on it.​​ Shiva​​ said the song​​ was​​ a local​​ soccer​​ favorite,​​ “Blood, Sweat and Tears”.​​ 

While not perfectly fluent​​ in either,​​ Shiva​​ spoke​​ as much Dutch as she did French and switched between them and English as she greeted staff, performers, and other apparent regulars​​ she knew​​ while​​ moving​​ throughout​​ the room​​ with​​ Walter​​ at her side like an accessory not many people seemed to notice.

Once the song ended​​ and the mood calmed,​​ the dry humping couple​​ at the end of the table-stage​​ rolled off​​ and​​ staggered out​​ to assumedly​​ continue in the hotel above, leaving open the two​​ best​​ seats​​ in the house.

“Shall we?” Walter asked Shiva, pointing to the seats.

“Sure, why not?” she said​​ grinning enthusiastically.​​ 

“This next song…” the drag queen said​​ in​​ a​​ French​​ accent​​ from the​​ other end of the table-stage​​ as they​​ sat,​​ “…is a song I wrote​​ in English​​ about the man who tore out my heart only to steal it away.​​ I love you​​ chéri,” she​​ blew a kiss to the mustached​​ woman who had taken a seat amongst some​​ of the​​ other apparent performers in the audience.

The drag queen​​ then settled sideways into a chair​​ she’d​​ placed on​​ the​​ table-stage​​ and her red silt dress opened revealing a long and elegant leg.​​ She gave a passing glance to the piano player, then​​ brought the microphone to her lips​​ as a​​ bleary, burlesque jazz number​​ began playing. At first her lispy voice lumbered low, then soared into a tiny, tinny timbre, like that of a child on the verge of crying, enchanting the air with every sorrowful color of life:

 

Blood-drawn rain on​​ a​​ desert’s skin​​ 

That’s when I kissed your lips and found no end

But what is love without your design?​​ 

Does it feel? Does it laugh? Does it even know how to cry inside?

 

What did​​ it​​ mean to you?

For you to throw away my love like you always do?

So now instead​​ my love​​ hovers just above your heart

Like birds of prey waiting over a dying art

 

Oh Mother Myth and Father Fear

Throwing arrows through my ears

When do you​​ think you've had enough

Of trying​​ to press diamonds from the ashes of love?​​ 

 

At this point, the​​ drag queen​​ had walked from one end of the table-stage to the other and was now cloaked over Walter like a backwards coat as fleshly mechanisms began working at him through her thin underwear.

Love is like a tiger cub,” she sang,​​ a good idea until it grows up. Crush to being crushed,​​ crush to being crushed.​​ So let me​​ put​​ on a show fer you​​ tiger​​ cub, let me show you​​ my​​ love...”​​ she sang until the song’s end.​​ 

“Forgot to tell you,”​​ Shiva​​ said laughing​​ after the drag queen relinquished him. “These two seats​​ see​​ the most action all night.”

As the show wore on, they were honored with​​ a program​​ in several languages from the whole of the​​ world and​​ sexual spectrum,​​ a gathering of​​ fetishists,​​ misfit toys,​​ artists, and exhibitionists​​ featuring​​ cabaret and sex show routines,​​ poetry readings,​​ and​​ mime and comedic pieces.​​ There were​​ more lap dances and more​​ stage-table​​ dances​​ in which​​ Walter and Shiva’s​​ singing voices​​ and bodies​​ got to familiarize themselves​​ for the first time​​ while grabbing​​ ahold​​ of​​ the ceiling​​ with one hand​​ so they weren’t knocked over by​​ all the​​ other singing and​​ familiarizing bodies​​ they​​ shared the​​ cloister​​ with.

After a​​ rousing​​ hour or so in the never-ending cabaret show that went into the daylight hours, they​​ went upstairs to​​ decompress in the piano bar.​​ Upon​​ ascending,​​ the piano was playing a tune Walter knew well.

Oh you pretty things...” he couldn’t stop himself from singing along to the melody only the piano was singing.

The piano player, looking a little like a latter-years Serge​​ Gainsbourg, smiled back at him with a​​ tobacco-stained grin and waved​​ Walter​​ over as he began singing along in a low,​​ gravelly​​ growl as Shiva​​ teased​​ the upper register, untangling something in Walter every​​ time​​ their eyes met​​ while singing.​​ The​​ sleepy​​ bar​​ then​​ woke up and​​ nearly everyone was​​ singing the choruses​​ toward the end, which the piano player repeated over and over​​ to stretch out the song.

“Do you know any more Bowie?” Walter asked​​ when​​ the piano player​​ finished.

“Some,” he said in some Eastern European accent Walter couldn’t distinguish, “but I haven’t had cigarette for hour. I’m dying for air. You play?”

“Yes he does,” Shiva answered for​​ him.

“Then you play.​​ My voice is shit​​ anyway. You two sound like angels.” He​​ then​​ grabbed his​​ suit​​ coat​​ and vacated the piano​​ to smoke outside.

“More Bowie?” Walter asked Shiva as they sat​​ together​​ on the​​ piano bench.

“No. I want​​ to be serenaded with​​ the cheesiest love song you know, Bowie’s cheesy love songs​​ excluded.”

Luckily​​ he​​ knew such a song, the first song he ever learned on piano actually,​​ “November Rain”.​​ So​​ he​​ began​​ bellowing and playing​​ the​​ nearly nine minute​​ ballad—guitar solos and all—but only in the style of Axl Rose at impromptu moments just​​ to​​ make Shiva laugh and snap her out​​ of​​ the trance​​ he kept catching her fall into when he sang​​ in​​ his natural voice.​​ Because the piano faced away from the crowd and their eyes​​ were​​ so distracted​​ with​​ each other, they were surprised by the loud applause when the song ended. They turned around and the bar​​ was twice as​​ full​​ as before.​​ 

“Not bad job,”​​ the piano player said returning, soaked in​​ the stench of​​ cigarette smoke. “You’re really good. You want to play more?”

Walter looked to Shiva​​ who was trying to subdue a stubborn smile.​​ “I think I’ve had my fill of cheesy love songs for the night,”​​ she​​ said​​ to him. “Unless of course you want to.”

“No,” Walter said standing, “I think I’ve taken up enough spotlight for​​ the​​ evening.​​ All​​ yours again my friend.”

They left the piano and sat​​ at​​ a table,​​ however,​​ once the energy and patrons drained​​ back downstairs Walter and Shiva found themselves restless.

“Do you want to dance some​​ more?” she asked him.

“Down below?”

“No, alone. On a houseboat.”

“Your houseboat?”

“Don’t​​ ask questions. Yes or no?”

Walter smirked.​​ As long as it’s​​ only​​ dancing​​ we’ll be doing,​​ he​​ said.

“Of course,” she​​ replied. “However, when​​ is life not dancing? If you’re not dancing you’re dead.”

 

“See that boat up there?” Shiva​​ pointed to a​​ small​​ houseboat about a hundred yards up​​ on a lonely canal.​​ “The​​ owner​​ is my friend and he’s out of town right now.”

“And he’s okay with you using his houseboat?”​​ Walter asked.

“Yeah, fellow Deadhead. We’re very generous people.”

Taking her word, Walter followed her aboard, even though to open the cabin door she had to pick the lock with​​ his​​ credit card. “He​​ always​​ locks​​ the easy​​ one,” she​​ said​​ sliding the card into the doorjamb, “but​​ leaves the deadbolt unlocked​​ for friends.” Seconds later the door was open.​​ “Welcome aboard Mister Huxley.”

Inside was a​​ miniaturized​​ kitchen and living room​​ with​​ a​​ miniaturized couch and chair and​​ even a​​ miniaturized​​ acoustic​​ guitar hanging on the wall. Shiva went for the guitar and took it​​ with Walter in tow​​ and​​ a bottle of wine from the kitchen​​ to the​​ only​​ bedroom​​ in the back of the boat​​ with a skylight above​​ the bed​​ and​​ a sliding glass door leading to a deck.

Keeping the lights off,​​ Shiva​​ cranked​​ the​​ skylight​​ cover​​ open​​ and a ghostly moonbeam​​ streamed in​​ making the white​​ bedding​​ sparkle​​ like​​ marble. She​​ lit a few candles around the bed before​​ drawing​​ the​​ curtains​​ and sliding open the deck door,​​ letting​​ the​​ almost​​ full moon​​ peek​​ in.

Come hither Mister Huxley,” she said,​​ our dancefloor awaits​​ outside. And​​ I lied​​ a little,​​ I​​ didn’t bring you here​​ just​​ to dance with you.​​ I want​​ to serenade you​​ with​​ a​​ cheesy love song​​ also, but​​ I wanted to do it​​ in the moonlight. You’ll see why.”

The​​ wooden​​ deck​​ outside was​​ the length of the boat​​ with wooden​​ trellises banking​​ its​​ edges​​ for partial privacy. There were​​ two​​ canvas​​ deck​​ chairs​​ and​​ a hammock​​ spread across one of its ends, which they opted​​ to​​ share bottoms in.​​ 

“I never actually want to be married,”​​ Shiva​​ said strumming the nylon strings of​​ the​​ small​​ guitar as she tuned them,​​ “but​​ I always said this would be my​​ first dance song if I ever have a wedding. It’s a Neil Young song.​​ I hope​​ you don’t mind.”

“Wow, you really are cheesy,” Walter said​​ grinning.​​ “‘Harvest Moon’ in the moonlight? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to seduce me.”

“Not cheesy and not seducing,” she said smiling back,​​ “I’m just a romantic opportunist and you just happen to be​​ the right​​ guinea pig​​ on​​ the right night—actually, last night during the full​​ moon would’ve been​​ a little more fitting, but​​ I’ll take​​ a slightly waning gibbous.”​​ 

“Well, your guinea pig is waiting.”

Suddenly she​​ turned​​ bashful and had to restart twice before slipping into the song. But once she did Walter​​ became completely​​ unraveled​​ in​​ her​​ voice’s​​ soft crystalline timbre​​ and the silky​​ patter of the guitar’s nylon strings​​ up against​​ the​​ rippling​​ water.​​ In the​​ luminous dew​​ of the moon​​ Shiva appeared powdered in starlight and her​​ silvery​​ eyes flickered like​​ brightly polished coins​​ every time she flashed​​ them his way.

Too perfect for a dream,​​ but​​ too real to believe,​​ Walter​​ thought.

“Well​​ guinea pig,”​​ she​​ said after,​​ setting​​ the guitar​​ by her side, “what did you think?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Shouldn’t a first dance song be danced to?”

“I can only do​​ so​​ much holding​​ a guitar.”

“I don’t see you holding one now.”​​ Walter stood,​​ then offered his hand to her.

“And what? I’m​​ supposed to re-sing the song​​ while we dance?” she​​ asked.

“No,​​ that​​ would spoil​​ the song for​​ your first dance​​ because it’d only remind you of your guinea pig.​​ And​​ what would your future husband think​​ if​​ he​​ discovered your first time was not actually your first?​​ No, I only need you and your feet. The sound of life​​ will provide the music.”

Charmed, she accepted his hand and he brought​​ her​​ to​​ the water’s edge.​​ They laughed as they began to​​ dramatically​​ pirouette​​ over​​ the deck, mocking their absurdity, but every time their eyes met, they seemed to speak​​ more seriously.​​ At last​​ their eyes​​ clasped and wouldn’t let go, bringing​​ their​​ dancing​​ silhouettes​​ into​​ communion​​ in front of the falling moon.

Warm​​ cheek​​ to​​ warm cheek, their​​ quickening​​ breaths​​ stroked each other’s​​ ears​​ and neck,​​ sending an​​ exciting tension​​ they could feel in each other’s​​ firming​​ bodies.​​ Walter’s​​ hand​​ then​​ slid​​ to the small of​​ Shiva’s​​ back​​ while the other swept aside a stray ringlet of​​ red​​ hair from her face. She then​​ reached behind her head and​​ undid her hair, sending it​​ cascading​​ down like a coppery lava flow​​ over​​ his fingers​​ which​​ proceeded to weave and run themselves through it.​​ His hand on her back then pulled her closer as her hands​​ around​​ his back did the same.​​ Now with​​ foreheads​​ pressed,​​ their breaths​​ tickled their lips and​​ trickled​​ down across​​ their jaws,​​ eyes​​ locked and​​ wide​​ on each other.​​ Then with one last​​ caress​​ their​​ eyes​​ shut​​ and​​ the space between their lips​​ closed, immediately​​ releasing the​​ restless​​ tension​​ like a bungee​​ cord​​ recoiling, leaving them to​​ reel​​ and float in​​ a careless​​ air of​​ mad​​ peace​​ as​​ their​​ mouths​​ began​​ dancing​​ wildly​​ to​​ the​​ music of the freefall.​​ Losing feeling of the​​ ground​​ beneath them,​​ they​​ fell to their knees​​ with lips still smacking.

“We’re fucked aren’t we?” Shiva asked​​ through their​​ kissing.

“Yes,”​​ Walter​​ replied, “but​​ we can worry about that in the morning.​​ Tonight, we’re only dancing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 15

Chapter 15

The Happy Banshee

 

As​​ Walter​​ approached the​​ captivating​​ music, it fell into a​​ meandering​​ instrumental. The bar​​ from which it was emanating was just one​​ small​​ door​​ among many​​ that lined the bottom of a four-story,​​ dilapidated and​​ faded,​​ redbrick​​ building. There was a sign above the​​ entrance, dimly lit​​ by a yellowed light and​​ spotted with graffiti. Its edges were wrapped in​​ years of​​ rust.​​ The weathered words​​ on it​​ read:​​ Maloe Melo- Home of The Blues.

Looking​​ inside the open door,​​ Walter​​ saw nothing but a sea of​​ dancing​​ tie-dye.​​ Outside, as expected, were​​ some​​ old men, also dressed in tie-dye, smoking and conversing.​​ A​​ playbill​​ was posted to​​ the​​ left​​ of​​ the​​ door​​ under​​ a sign saying: TONIGHT LIVE!/ OPTREDEN VANAVOND!​​ On​​ the​​ playbill​​ was​​ a​​ portrait​​ of a​​ young woman​​ with​​ bright​​ gray eyes and​​ flowers weaved into her​​ wavy​​ vermillion​​ hair. A​​ wry​​ smirk played across her​​ pink cheeks​​ as​​ she mimed​​ playing an invisible guitar.​​ 

Kali​​ &​​ The Easy Wind: A Tribute to The Grateful Dead, Walter read above her image.​​ So​​ that’s​​ what this mysterious sound​​ was.​​ He​​ knew of the Grateful Dead from much of the music he listened to, but​​ remarkably​​ he​​ had​​ never​​ actually​​ listened​​ to them​​ himself.​​ ​​ 

The old men​​ smiled as he walked toward the entrance. One of them gave him a peace sign. “Have a grateful time!” he said.

 

On the other side,​​ the place was perhaps slightly larger than a​​ one-bedroom​​ apartment with a bar running​​ nearly​​ the entire left-hand side​​ length.​​ The​​ narrow corridors were wallpapered with American and European blues festival flyers and an assortment of collected oddities typical of​​ any​​ dive bar. Wall to wall, beneath colorfully backlit​​ mists​​ of​​ swirling​​ marijuana smoke, men and women of all ages​​ danced, many of them in tie-dyed,​​ bohemian attire.​​ There were​​ no subdivisions​​ in the crowd, just a giant mass of varied personalities and energies stitched​​ together by the hand​​ of​​ communal​​ soundwaves.​​ It was as if​​ Walter had​​ stepped through a time portal into the Summer of Love.

On​​ a​​ corner​​ stage,​​ a​​ young and​​ statuesque​​ female​​ drummer​​ tapped along with an​​ energetic​​ female bassist in baggy overalls​​ and pigtails.​​ To their left,​​ a lizard-looking guitarist​​ was​​ whipping​​ his long hair and tongue about​​ manically,​​ while a middle-aged and balding,​​ mad-scientist of a man​​ fingered​​ a​​ stack of keyboards.​​ However where or whom​​ the singer was, was​​ still​​ a mystery.

But as​​ Walter’s​​ eyes adjusted,​​ he saw her​​ at last, the​​ redhead from the playbill,​​ in the crowd, dancing​​ in the whirlpools of tie-dye.​​ She was​​ dressed in​​ a​​ white​​ summer dress and​​ white​​ fringed and fingerless gloves​​ that went to her bicep.​​ Her long and balletic​​ body​​ was​​ spinning​​ wildly while people poured around her like​​ prairie​​ grass.​​ 

Turning​​ his​​ way, her spinning stopped. Smiling,​​ she​​ then​​ pulled back her wet hair and​​ splayed her elbows like the​​ cape​​ of a cobra​​ as an upsurge of music filled the room.​​ She then threw her​​ arms​​ down in a​​ dramatic​​ arc​​ timed with a disco-tinged synth chord​​ struck by​​ the mad-scientist.​​ The crowd went into a frenzy of​​ ahs​​ as everyone seemed to be anticipating something only unknown to Walter.

The redhead then​​ hopped​​ on stage and picked up a well-used, black​​ Gibson S-1​​ and began playing​​ it, bopping along to the music with a shit-eating grin.​​ You tell me this town ain't got no heart…” she sang​​ like a happy​​ banshee.

​​ Well, well, well, you can never tell…” the crowd​​ chanted​​ back,​​ dancing​​ as​​ if​​ they were​​ alone​​ at home​​ in their​​ underwear.

The sudden jostling of feet pushed Walter to the center of the room​​ and his​​ arms and legs​​ began​​ wagging​​ unconsciously​​ like the others around him.​​ WOO!​​ everyone​​ then​​ yelled​​ as they​​ jumped​​ into the air and landed on a springy chorus​​ about a place called “Shakedown Street”.​​ 

Like the first, this song too eventually went into another​​ long​​ and​​ meandering​​ jam, during which Walter was passed​​ several​​ joints​​ and handshakes​​ from the people around​​ him.​​ The​​ jam​​ then​​ tumbled into another bouncy tune,​​ but​​ this one more reggae-rooted, but not exactly reggae.​​ The change inspired another flurry of excitement​​ from the crowd.

“Shakedown to Scarlet—that’s unheard of!”​​ someone yelled nearby, while everyone shook their heads and bodies in agreement that they were indeed sharing in on something special.​​ 

As the song played and the​​ happy​​ banshee sang, phrases of verse caught​​ Walter’s​​ ear, each one​​ more relatable, until it seemed again his thoughts were being sung into​​ lyrics,​​ lyrics​​ he had​​ just​​ heard​​ earlier that night.​​ “Once in a while you get shown the light​​ in the strangest of places if you look at it right...” ​​​​ The​​ phrase​​ stunned​​ him​​ into stasis.​​ Apparently the therapist in his head was a Deadhead.

To his surprise, the banshee also appeared to have been shot​​ by​​ the same​​ sensation.​​ Fingers frozen​​ over​​ her​​ fretboard,​​ she was now​​ dumbstruck​​ by​​ Walter,​​ glaring him down with​​ bewildered​​ ferocity, making her miss the cue for the next verse.​​ She shook her head, then signaled​​ to her confused bandmates​​ to play another​​ measure, after which she finished the song flawlessly, but​​ without​​ the typical​​ extended jam.

“Thank you.​​ Dank je,” she​​ told the applauding​​ audience​​ in what Walter​​ assessed​​ to be an American accent. “We’re going to take a​​ very​​ short intermission now, but we’ll be back soon.” Unlike her singing, her speaking voice had the​​ tranquil​​ nature of a folk song,​​ the banshee all but​​ dispelled—that is until she​​ advanced on​​ him.

 “Where did you get that shirt?” she​​ demanded. Walter, in disbelief she was actually speaking to him,​​ could say​​ nothing. “Spreekt u Engels?”

“What?”​​ he said.

“English.​​ Do you speak English?​​ Where​​ did you get that shirt?”

“Oh…” he looked​​ down at​​ his shirt.​​ “I-I​​ borrowed​​ it from a friend.”

“Who’s​​ your friend?”

“Um,​​ I’m not​​ so​​ sure I​​ should tell you by the way you’re looking at me​​ . . .​​ Why? What​​ is this​​ shirt to you?”

She pulled​​ back​​ her emotions​​ a bit​​ before answering.​​ “It’s​​ a lot of things to me,” she said,​​ “but​​ luna hunny​​ is​​ me.”

Walter​​ shook his head,​​ thinking​​ his brain was​​ playing​​ tricks on him again.​​ “Did you just say you’re​​ luna hunny?” he asked.​​ “You’re the​​ artist​​ on my shirt?”

“I was,” she replied,​​ “but I haven’t been​​ for​​ over two years now.”

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

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

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

“California? Where in California?”

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

“Hm…​​ I’m from San Fran myself.​​ I​​ moved to​​ Amsterdam​​ on​​ a​​ student visa​​ thinking​​ luna hunny​​ had a larger fanbase here​​ than in the States.​​ Come to find out​​ later​​ though,​​ after I was out ten thousand dollars for​​ a​​ new inventory​​ buy​​ and design costs,​​ the European label I​​ thought​​ was selling so much merchandise and records for me was nothing but a laundering front for a cocaine operation. In reality, I had no fans​​ in Europe​​ at all.​​ That’s why I want to know where you got that shirt,​​ because​​ I assumed no one had​​ them except​​ the​​ asshole​​ who ripped me off.​​ Sound​​ anything​​ like your friend?”

Inside, Walter began freaking out.​​ If​​ she was to be believed,​​ clearly​​ Dug was this asshole. No wonder he was so​​ against​​ this​​ bar. He must’ve known she​​ would be​​ here.​​ But​​ having just met this girl,​​ Walter was unsure where his allegiance stood.​​ 

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

“Why’s that?”

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

“Where is he now?”​​ 

“I’m not sure, and I have no way of contacting him.”​​ Walter​​ showed her his obliterated cellphone.

“What happened​​ to your phone?”​​ she asked.

“I was having a bad trip on some edibles​​ and​​ thought monsters were coming out of it​​ so I threw it. Like I said, I was pretty fucked up earlier.”

She let out a guffaw. “Making the most of your stay in Amsterdam I see…” she said,​​ scanning him over, searching​​ for any hint of fabrication, which none of​​ it​​ was, he just​​ omitted​​ the most​​ damning details.

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

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

“Doug?”

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

“Where did he live?”​​ she asked.

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

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

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

“What?”

“What’s​​ the​​ phrase on my shirt mean?”

I think​​ the meaning is​​ pretty straightforward,​​ to say life has no meaning is not to say it has no value.​​ They’re lyrics from one of my songs.​​ The inspiration​​ was​​ a​​ birthday​​ I​​ spent alone in​​ a place called​​ Pacific Grove​​ in​​ northern​​ California to​​ see the​​ monarch​​ butterflies​​ that​​ gather​​ in the trees there during their​​ annual migration. And as I watched​​ them take flight to continue​​ their​​ journey over thousands of miles, a journey they wouldn’t live long enough to complete, I thought​​ how meaningless their lives were to themselves, but everything to the species.​​ But our lives are no different; just pieces of a journey we’ll never see complete unless we somehow find ourselves at its end, which for us and butterflies could be soon if we don’t start caring more about the journey and less about ourselves​​ . . . Are you​​ tearing up?”

“Sorry,” Walter said wiping​​ his eyes. “That was​​ just​​ beautiful.​​ I also just cry easily​​ nowadays.​​ For the longest time I never let myself cry, but I’ve sure made up for it in the last year.”

She smiled and took his hands​​ away from his cheeks.​​ “Don’t apologize,” she said. “There’s never a reason to hide your tears.​​ Crying is​​ the most beautiful thing a man can do. I cry easily too. I used to​​ also​​ not be that way, but​​ now I find myself needing​​ to​​ just to feel balanced​​ sometimes.”

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

“No, the label provided it. I had my own​​ artwork, but when they sent me that, I couldn’t refuse.​​ It was perfect.​​ I never did find out who made it though.”

“Is there anywhere I can hear this song?”

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

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

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

“Hey Shiva, you okay to go back up​​ yet?” he asked​​ in​​ an​​ Australian accent.​​ “The crowd’s getting antsy since we cut the first set so short. But also,​​ I​​ was hoping we’d have time to​​ play ‘Cobrasnake’ again​​ tonight.”

Shiva, Walter thought.​​ Her name is Shiva.

“No Lou,” Shiva said. “If I let you play your song​​ again, then Cage will want to play his stupid song about his​​ cat​​ again.​​ I only let you guys do them​​ that one time​​ because I was drunk.​​ This is a​​ Grateful Dead​​ tribute, not your own band.​​ Ashlyn and Jayleen never ask me to play their​​ own​​ songs.​​ I’ll go up when I’m ready.” She signaled him away.

Men,” Shiva​​ said​​ to Walter​​ after​​ her guitarist left.​​ “Why do they​​ always​​ have​​ to stick their ego in everything? But he’s right. I should​​ get back up.​​ You​​ a fan of the​​ Dead?”

“I think I will be after tonight,” he said.​​ “This is my first time hearing the Dead—or I​​ think​​ it​​ is. I keep having this feeling like I’ve been here before.”

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

“What do you mean?”

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

Shiva​​ then​​ eyed his​​ bright orange​​ fedora, the only article of clothing​​ to survive the urinal. “I like your hat,” she said.​​ “Mind if I wear it​​ for second set? I promise to give it back​​ after.”

“Okay,” Walter​​ said with no objection.

She leaned in​​ as if going for a kiss, but at the last moment maneuvered​​ up​​ and​​ lifted​​ the hat​​ away. She​​ put it on and​​ tilted​​ it​​ back​​ so that the brim formed a​​ bright orange halo behind​​ her head.

“How do I look?”​​ she asked.​​ 

“Like a psychedelic Virgin Mary,”​​ he​​ said. She seemed very content with that.

 

In her​​ long and​​ breezy dress, she​​ appeared​​ to fly back onstage. She​​ then​​ picked up her guitar and romanced from it an icy blues riff, and like well-drilled soldiers,​​ her band fell in​​ step​​ as​​ the house lights​​ drenched the room in a​​ bottomless​​ blue​​ while​​ a tune​​ crooned​​ like​​ cancer​​ slowly squeezing the life from its victim like toothpaste from a tube.

Y'know death don't have no mercy in this land” Shiva cut the​​ air​​ like a preacher​​ from a​​ pulpit.​​ In contrast to their earlier playful manner, the crowd fell silent,​​ drifting away behind their eyelids​​ as they rocked to the​​ funeral​​ march rhythm.​​ A​​ Dead show wasn’t​​ just​​ flowers and sunshine​​ Walter​​ was seeing,​​ but​​ more​​ so​​ a journey which mirrored the​​ perverted​​ path and beat​​ of life.​​ 

After the song burned itself out,​​ from​​ it​​ arose a new one, fluttering​​ like the first flaps of freshly-budded butterfly wings​​ off​​ Shiva’s fingertips.​​ The house lights began casting warm​​ rays of​​ red​​ and​​ orange​​ as​​ her​​ lips​​ neared​​ the mic,​​ her gray eyes​​ glowing in Walter’s​​ direction.​​ My favorite, she mouthed​​ to him, then​​ told the epic of​​ “Terrapin Station”,​​ a story​​ which​​ again seemed​​ to​​ strum upon​​ every​​ part of him.

The​​ rest of​​ the​​ second set was​​ as​​ tumultuous​​ as promised. At one moment exultant and​​ droll,​​ the next forlorn and frightening; at​​ one moment psychedelic, the next country,​​ jazz, then who knows what to call it.​​ For​​ fifteen​​ minutes, the music​​ just hung​​ in an ambient space of hallucinogenic​​ soundscapes​​ and drums, while everyone including​​ the​​ band took turns​​ going to the bathroom. Then​​ like​​ a​​ tiny​​ crack,​​ a​​ spidery​​ preamble​​ crawled into​​ the suspended air​​ and shattered it with the tale of someone named “St. Stephen”. After that,​​ someone named​​ “Bertha”,​​ then someone named “Althea”,​​ then a song about women being smarter, and then​​ an​​ acoustic​​ and palliative​​ encore about a place called​​ “Brokedown Palace” just to send everyone​​ off equalized.​​ 

Shiva took a​​ humble​​ bow in front of​​ the small​​ sea of​​ roaring adulation​​ after,​​ of​​ which Walter was ardently a​​ part of, clapping his hands until they hurt.​​ After​​ some​​ schmoozing​​ and tidying away​​ of​​ her things onstage,​​ she​​ soon​​ floated​​ back​​ to​​ him.

“Here,” she said lifting his hat​​ from​​ her head. “See,​​ I promised I’d​​ return​​ it.”​​ She​​ came in​​ close​​ to​​ crown​​ him​​ with it.​​ He could feel the heat of the performance​​ still​​ radiating from her​​ body.​​ She​​ fussed​​ with his hat​​ for longer than seemed necessary​​ until it was​​ seated​​ just​​ to her liking.

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

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

 

Taking a seat at the now​​ mostly empty bar,​​ Shiva​​ hailed an older gentlemen behind it with a mustache,​​ smoking a cigar.​​ “Patrick,​​ can you get me​​ an Amstel​​ with​​ a shot​​ of​​ Jack​​ and my​​ friend here a...” she​​ eyed​​ Walter to finish the order.​​ 

“Make it two of that.”

“You got it my​​ dear,”​​ Patrick​​ replied​​ in a Dutch accent​​ and got their drinks.

Sante,” Shiva said holding up her shot​​ to Walter.

Sante,” he replied. “Et merci pour les boissons.”

Tu parles français?​​ 

Oui, mais juste un peu.​​ J'aime beaucoup de philosophes français.​​ ‘Je pense, donc je suis.’”

She laughed.​​ D’accord​​ Monsieur Descartes,” she said. “Et j'aime beaucoup de poètes français.​​ ‘Il pleure dans mon cœur comme il pleut sur la ville.’”

“You lost me​​ on that one.​​ I also don’t know a lot of French poetry.”

“Verlaine,​​ but that’s okay.​​ Also you’re​​ welcome​​ for the drinks, but​​ thank him,”​​ Shiva​​ nodded to Patrick.​​ “They’re​​ on the house, but​​ that doesn’t mean you can’t tip the man…” Her eyes and smile insinuated​​ Walter​​ should.​​ He​​ took a few Euro coins from his pocket and splashed them on the bar.

“No,” Patrick said pushing them back, “but thank you.​​ This young lady​​ brings me so much business I feel guilty she doesn’t ask for more.”

“You​​ perform​​ just for drinks?” Walter asked​​ Shiva.

“Of course not.”

“Yes she does,” Patrick​​ insisted. “All she asks for is free drinks​​ and joints.​​ The rest goes to her charity, half the cost of every drink and joint sold here tonight.”

“You​​ run​​ a charity?” Walter​​ asked.

Shiva​​ looked at​​ Patrick​​ annoyed.​​ “Yes,” she said. “Technically it’s​​ run​​ under​​ my​​ roommate’s​​ name​​ though​​ since I’m not living here legally. She’s​​ actually​​ the ‘Kali’ in Kali & The Easy Wind, the name of the band and​​ the​​ charity. But​​ Kali’s​​ just her legal name. She’s​​ ‘Mags’​​ to everyone who knows her.​​ We started​​ the charity​​ together,​​ but​​ it’s really just​​ been​​ me for​​ a while​​ now.”

“What’s the charity for?”​​ Walter​​ asked.​​ 

Helping​​ human trafficking victims​​ in Amsterdam.​​ Although prostitution’s legal,​​ a​​ lot of girls are still trafficked​​ here​​ when they’re young and​​ brainwashed​​ by pimps who pretend to be their boyfriends,​​ or what’s​​ called a​​ ‘loverboy’.​​ Mags,​​ whos an independent​​ prostitute,​​ introduced me to this uglier side of the sex trade.​​ Originally we planned a charity cabaret show based on David Bowie’s​​ Diamond Dogs, but​​ then​​ Mags’s ‘career’ started taking off,​​ so​​ it​​ really became my love child after that, and since I grew up listening and playing the Dead all my life,​​ I came up with​​ the idea of a​​ tribute​​ with some musicians I knew in town.​​ ​​ 

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

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

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

“How so?”

“It’s a lot to explain and unload.”

“We’ve got time.”

“It’s not a fun conversation.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

“All the alignment between us?”

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

“You’re songwriter also?”

“Currently​​ on hiatus, but yes. Funny enough, I was also in a tribute​​ band, Guns N’ Roses though. But​​ regardless,​​ I don’t really​​ believe in​​ ‘alignment’, otherwise I might have to start believing in astrology and every other pseudoscientific​​ or religious​​ system of divination.”

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

“Reason, and reason says​​ alignment is nothing more than​​ our exceptional​​ human​​ pattern recognition​​ skills​​ stringing together​​ anomalous coincidences​​ into meaning something more;​​ our own evolution​​ playing tricks on us​​ essentially.”

Shiva​​ burst into laughter.​​ “So you’re basically saying​​ alignment​​ is​​ only​​ acceptable when it can undoubtably be proven not to be​​ alignment?​​ That’s the paradox about you​​ ‘reason’​​ types: on one hand you’re trying to disprove God, yet on the other you want to prove the universe has some predictable course so long as it’s under your control.​​ If it’s not ‘anomalous coincidences’ guiding our lives, then​​ what is?​​ Do​​ you think the monarch butterfly​​ knows why it flies to​​ places it’s never been​​ yet somehow knows how to find?”

“So​​ what?​​ You’re saying​​ some​​ greater power​​ brought​​ us​​ together?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care, but I won’t ignore​​ the signs.​​ And it’s not everyday the universe sends me someone wearing my past​​ on​​ their shirt.”

She​​ reached into her handbag and​​ pulled​​ out​​ a well-worn hemp case containing a deck of cards.

“What are those?” Walter asked.

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

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

Shiva​​ shuffled​​ the​​ deck, then dealt out four cards in​​ a​​ cross formation​​ on the bar. “We’ll keep this simple,” she said. “The card on the left will represent you, the card on the right will represent me, the card on the bottom will represent what brings us together,​​ and​​ the card on top will represent our future.​​ You first.”

Walter​​ flipped his card.​​ “The Fool,” Shiva​​ said.​​ “The Fool is number​​ zero​​ in the​​ Major Arcana​​ deck​​ so he can be placed at the beginning or end of it.​​ Because of this, the Major Arcana is often considered the Fool’s journey.​​ As you can see​​ on the card, he’s​​ setting​​ out on a journey with nothing but a knapsack,​​ gazing​​ up​​ into​​ the​​ sky unaware he’s about to walk off a​​ cliff​​ into the unknown.​​ But​​ by​​ his​​ side​​ is​​ a small​​ white dog,​​ there to protect, guide, and motivate him through the​​ lessons he​​ came on this journey​​ to learn​​ . . .​​ The​​ Fool​​ kind of​​ reminds me of someone.”

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

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

“What’s the Tower mean?”

“Upheaval, destruction, chaos.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Yes,​​ but​​ in the end, it’s​​ for the highest good.​​ As seen on the card, a tower has​​ been​​ built upon​​ a​​ shaky foundation. A lightning​​ bolt​​ from the universe​​ of​​ sudden​​ clarity and insight​​ then strikes it down along with​​ a crown​​ which once stood​​ atop​​ the​​ tower. From the tower’s windows,​​ two people​​ are​​ leaping​​ into​​ the unknown,​​ however around them are twenty-two flames, representing​​ the twelve signs of the zodiac and the ten points of the Tree of Life, reminding them divine intervention is always there.”

“So are you like the Tower?”​​ Walter asked.

“I did​​ come to Europe on a​​ ‘tower’​​ of false premises,​​ and I’m still living in​​ its​​ ruins​​ you could say.​​ I just can’t decide whether to start all​​ over or rebuild from the rubble, and it’s been that way for a while now . . .​​ Maybe​​ my answer​​ has to do with​​ whatever’s brought us together.”

Shiva​​ turned the card,​​ a skeleton in black armor, riding a white horse: Death.​​ They stared at​​ it​​ for several seconds, then nearly simultaneously asked:

“How’d​​ your mother die?”

“How’d​​ your girlfriend die?”

“Um, you first,” Walter said.

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

“Okay . . . One, two, three…”

“Suicide,” they both​​ said.

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

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

“Overdosed on pain pills. Your girlfriend?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter​​ then watched fretfully as​​ Shiva​​ began filling up on all of his most intimate secrets​​ over the next several minutes. Every so often she’d stop and look up at him as if to reassure herself he was indeed the same hideous creature on the screen, then at last she set the phone​​ down​​ and sighed.

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

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

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

Walter explained​​ everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t understand,” he said.

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

“What about your gear?”

“I keep it here.”

“All right. Where to?”

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

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Madcap Laughs

 

“Stand up . . . stand up​​ . . . stand up mate! You’re sitting​​ in a fucking​​ pile o’ piss!” Two tattooed arms forklifted Walter to his feet.​​ He​​ staggered to​​ a​​ nearby canal​​ where he​​ again collapsed to the ground. He crawled on his belly to the​​ canal’s edge,​​ then​​ evacuated his​​ demons​​ into the water—about​​ four​​ still-semi-solid​​ pot​​ brownies. ​​ ​​ 

“God​​ damn it. Now you’re really fucked,” the Aussie stranger​​ said. “The locals​​ don’t take lightly to tourists chundering​​ in their​​ canals. That’s what these dunnies​​ and rubbish bins are here for. You’ve really got​​ your head on backwards don’t cha​​ mate?”​​ He​​ went over to​​ Walter.​​ “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before the police find you.”​​ 

He helped​​ Walter​​ to his feet​​ again.​​ Walter stood​​ like a​​ wobbly​​ fawn.​​ The unknown Aussie put an arm under him for support.​​ “Holy shit​​ you reek,” he said. “Can​​ you​​ make it​​ a​​ few blocks? I’ve got a flat up the road;​​ let you​​ clean up and​​ get your head on​​ straight​​ if you’d like.”

Walter’s head​​ was​​ still spinning from his nosedive​​ back​​ into reality​​ from inner space.​​ As his vision stilled, his rescuer​​ came into​​ focus. He was a mustached man,​​ about the same age as Walter.​​ His mouth rested in a​​ permanent​​ smile​​ with​​ a severe gap​​ in the middle,​​ which was periodically interrupted by the cigarette he was smoking.​​ His medium build was dressed in black from his ragged Cleveland Indians cap to his dirty and frayed Vans shoes. His unkempt hair stretched out wildly under his hat​​ and his jeans only reached his ankles. His pulled-back​​ black​​ flannel sleeves revealed an extensive collage of horror​​ movie​​ figures,​​ obscure metal bands, and​​ bizarrely, more​​ Ohio​​ sports teams.​​ He was part clown,​​ truckdriver, and​​ bum.​​ There was something​​ frightening​​ about him, yet also​​ congenially welcoming as if he was​​ a​​ chimera stuck between two​​ orders​​ of character.

“Do I know you?”​​ Walter asked.

No you don’t, but now you do.​​ I’m Dug,​​ Dug DeMargo. And that’s spelt​​ D-U-G. You can thank my illiterate mum for that.”

“Okay…” Walter said still confused. “Then why are you…”

“Saving​​ you? Don’t know exactly myself. I’m a​​ wee​​ drunk, but it seems the right thing to do.​​ I’ve never laid down in the bottom of​​ one of these​​ dunnies, but​​ sure​​ felt like it​​ many times.​​ It was so dark I​​ almost​​ pissed​​ on ya​​ until you suddenly started talking​​ to yourself—or​​ somebody. Whoever it was, ya had me in stitches mate.​​ The least I can do​​ is help you out for the entertainment.​​ So how ‘bout it?”

Walter stared at​​ him​​ questioningly.​​ 

“What?” Dug said. “You afraid I’m going​​ to take you home and pull some Buffalo Bill shit on you?​​ Ha!​​ No, I just​​ wanna take that​​ purty​​ face of yours​​ to​​ bed.”​​ Walter’s eyes widened. “Sorry, just kidding. Never mind me. I’ve just got a sick sense of humor I​​ suppose. But really, nothing​​ nefarious, just one mate trying​​ to help another​​ mate. Just adding​​ to my collective of karma​​ you could say. Never know when you’ll need a withdrawal.​​ Plus, I don’t think you’re in any shape to be on your own. You can barely stand and you’ve​​ got​​ puke and piss​​ all​​ up and down ya.”

Walter looked down and realized​​ he​​ was​​ right.

“But your choice,” Dug said.​​ “Just thought I’d offer. I’m just as fine leaving​​ you here and letting​​ you be someone else’s problem—most likely the police.”

With​​ a broken​​ cellphone,​​ no clue where he was, and no recollection of the hotel he was staying in, Walter was desperately in need of a savior, and indeed Dug was a savior for the desperate. All points of logic advised against going to some stranger’s home in an​​ unknown​​ foreign land. However,​​ cluelessly​​ combing​​ the streets​​ covered​​ in excrement​​ didn’t​​ seem much better. And​​ a shower did sound​​ so​​ nice.

“I guess you’re right,” Walter​​ said. “Uh, thank you.​​ Thanks a lot.​​ My name is Walter.”

Walter?​​ What are​​ you​​ a seventy-year-old man?​​ I’m gonna call you Walty. And don’t mention it.​​ It’s been a​​ shit​​ night​​ anyway, so​​ I’m willing​​ to throw the dice​​ on​​ a dose of different. C’mon, this way,” Dug​​ said and​​ skipped away.

“So you like the Indians?” Walter asked, seeking to learn more about his​​ new friend. “You don’t sound like you’re from Ohio.”

That obvious, huh?​​ Nope, from a little place in Queensland, Australia​​ called Edmonton—nothing​​ like its Canadian counterpart. I had a roomie back in uni from Cleveland​​ who​​ turned me onto them and all American sports.”​​ Dug​​ tore​​ out his​​ right​​ arm from his flannel and pulled up his shirt​​ sleeve​​ to reveal a huge Cleveland Browns​​ helmet​​ tattooed on his upper arm and​​ a​​ Cavs logo on the inside of it. “Naturally, all​​ of​​ Cleveland’s teams became my favorite​​ . . . So​​ lemme guess, you’re from​​ Cali-for-nee-ya?”

“Is it that obvious?”​​ Walter said.

Yes, all you​​ Cali-for-nee-yans​​ look and sound like people in the​​ movies.”​​ Dug​​ paused​​ in front of an upscale Victorian apartment complex.​​ 

“Is this your place?” Walter asked.​​ 

“Yep. Not a bad little shag pad,​​ huh?”​​ Dug​​ said, then​​ waved an electronic fob over a sensor on the entrance to the foyer. He then ran his fob over another sensor​​ to​​ the elevator, and they​​ took​​ it​​ to the top floor, then went​​ to a door at the​​ very end of a​​ long​​ hallway, where Dug waved his sensor again to​​ unlock​​ it.​​ 

When the door opened, the polarity​​ of Dug continued to perplex Walter. In contrast to his​​ black attire and​​ disheveled appearance, the immense apartment was​​ colorfully​​ and​​ immaculately​​ styled​​ in loud tones of red, orange,​​ and dark​​ blue.​​ ​​ From a windowed​​ balcony​​ door, the Herengracht Canal was visible,​​ and the lighting of an overpass below cast the room in a charm​​ that one could​​ only compare to Christmas—even if you weren’t a fan of it. ​​ 

“Shoes off,” Dug said. “And don’t even think about sitting​​ on anything​​ with those​​ stinking​​ fucking​​ clothes​​ . . .​​ Here,​​ you can put​​ ‘em​​ in this.” He handed Walter a trash bag from the kitchen. “Shower’s down the hallway,​​ and I’ll get​​ you some new clothes​​ and put ‘em in the​​ guestroom for you.​​ We look about the same size…” He​​ then​​ looked Walter over puzzlingly. “Shit, now that we’re in the light, you​​ actually​​ look like you could be my brother​​ or something.​​ But what’s up​​ with​​ those hideous flares mate?​​ You​​ go to​​ a throwback party​​ before this​​ or something?”

“I’ve​​ always worn​​ bellbottoms—or​​ ‘flares’,” Walter said. “Many have tried to get me out of them​​ Dug, but​​ bellbottoms​​ are just a part of who I am.”​​ 

“Ha, right! Probably because they’re so​​ goddamn tight.”

 

The​​ shower was a​​ renewing​​ lift,​​ just enough of home to help​​ Walter​​ find the rest​​ of​​ his mind. After, Dug​​ showed him the guest​​ room—or as he called it, the “Box​​ Room”. Dug​​ ran a small indie record label and it was chocked full of boxes of records, shirts, and other paraphernalia.​​ Boxes were stacked neatly three to four high along every wall of the room. Other than a queen-sized bed and a small nightstand, the boxes were the room’s only inhabitants.

“It’s nothing​​ big,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ of his operation. “Just​​ a grassroots type of thing. You probably never even heard​​ of​​ the bands,​​ real off-the-wall​​ metal stuff, jazz,​​ hard house—stuff no one listens to.”​​ 

“Seems more than a grassroots type of thing​​ to me…” Walter said gesturing to the elaborate abode​​ around them.

“Well,” Dug said​​ aloofly, “let’s just​​ say I​​ come from some money, and​​ that’s what pays for the digs.​​ This…” he gestured to the boxes, “this is just my rich kid pet project​​ you could say​​ . . .​​ But anyhow, here’s some pants, socks,​​ and​​ some unworn​​ undies I had,” he said throwing them on the bed. “Feel free to take whatever​​ shirt​​ you​​ want​​ out of these boxes here, but only these​​ ones,” he said​​ pointing​​ emphatically​​ to​​ four boxes​​ of band shirts​​ on​​ the right-side​​ wall.​​ “Anyway,​​ I’ll leave ya be​​ now.”

The pants Dug gave Walter were highwaters​​ like his. While​​ he​​ wasn’t fond of​​ them since they showcased his cankles instead of hiding them, his bellbottoms were​​ irredeemably soiled.

For his shirt,​​ he found​​ one​​ in the box of mediums​​ with a​​ woman​​ and words​​ painted on it​​ which​​ stirred​​ his​​ imagination​​ as to the band behind it.​​ The woman​​ was​​ feral-looking​​ and​​ blue-skinned,​​ with​​ wild​​ red hair​​ and​​ four arms​​ centered between two​​ encircling,​​ orange butterfly wings.​​ She​​ was formed​​ from a chaos of splashed paint and organic matter which​​ looked to be​​ swirled into ten-thousand​​ more, tinier worlds of chaos and organic matter.​​ Her​​ eyes seemed​​ to follow​​ his​​ as​​ his head​​ moved​​ back and forth​​ over the shirt.​​ He​​ then​​ faintly heard music in his head and a​​ voice​​ he imagined was her. She then began singing his thoughts into lyrics​​ as if​​ she was reading​​ his mind.

He put​​ down​​ the shirt.​​ 

He​​ took a few deep breaths and​​ shook his head.​​ Perhaps it wasn’t completely cleansed of bad chemicals yet. He then​​ picked​​ up the shirt​​ again and​​ read the​​ all-lowercase​​ Sanskrit-like print​​ ringing​​ the image:

 

to​​ say​​ life has no meaning is not to​​ say​​ it has no value​​ ​​ luna hunny

 

Why did that sound like an answer to a question he didn’t know he was asking? He then remembered. Amber’s suicide note.​​ 

 

“Who is​​ Luna​​ Hunny?” Walter asked Dug as he came out​​ of​​ the room. Dug was in​​ his​​ kitchen, behind an island counter,​​ pouring​​ himself a beer from a tap​​ built​​ into​​ it.​​ Dug’s​​ eyes shot up quickly, and for a moment Walter thought he saw a flicker of panic in them.​​ 

“Uh, sorry, what’d​​ you say?”​​ Dug asked.

“Luna​​ Hunny.”

Dug​​ squinted at the shirt. “Bloody hell​​ if​​ I can remember,” he said.​​ I’ve had​​ so many bands​​ over the years, I​​ can’t remember​​ em all. I’m mostly​​ just​​ a​​ European​​ distributor for​​ vinyl reissues and​​ bands​​ outside Europe.​​ I hardly​​ ever meet bands​​ face-to-face, and they’re always coming​​ and going.​​ It’s a cool shirt though . . . Care for a pint?”​​ 

“I’m good​​ for now,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “Just enjoying being sober again for the moment.”

“Figured, but thought I’d ask.”

Dug then​​ viciously​​ clamped​​ onto​​ his beer and guzzled it like a crocodile swallowing​​ a small fowl.​​ It was followed by​​ two​​ less rapid​​ shots​​ of​​ Jägermeister,​​ Dug​​ seeming​​ to enjoy​​ them more.

Hm-hm-hm…”​​ he​​ said. “Don’t care what people say about it, but Jäger is the shiz tits.​​ Stuff tastes like Dr. Pepper​​ and always makes me feel better. However, it’s usually​​ also​​ what made me feel​​ bad​​ in the first place. But you know, the hair of the dog that bit you or some shit. But in that case…” a​​ large, Jack-Nicholson-like grin overcame his face—however​​ not​​ quite as sinister since he had that gap, “…there’s something​​ else I need to make amends​​ with.”​​ He​​ then​​ ducked beneath​​ the counter​​ and reappeared​​ with a​​ large​​ bag of​​ what looked to be​​ cocaine.

“Want some?” he offered​​ to​​ Walter.

“Never really been my thing, but don’t let that stop you,” Walter replied.​​ 

“Wasn’t planning to.” Dug​​ poured a pile onto​​ the countertop,​​ chopped​​ it into two fat lines, then​​ dove into them like a seabird. After, he​​ arose more relaxed than he’d been the entire night.

“I have a feeling​​ you’ll want my next treat​​ though,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ and​​ dipped​​ again beneath​​ the​​ counter, coming up this time with​​ a large glass bong blown into the shape of a​​ nude and​​ upside​​ down Marilyn Monroe. Her legs were wrapped around​​ the​​ mouthpiece protruding​​ from her crotch, and inserted into her mouth was​​ the​​ bowl. While the American icon looked absurdly degraded, it was hard to deny the awesome artistry of the piece.

“Wanna take a hit outta Marilyn’s pink bits?” Dug​​ asked.​​ “The finest​​ Pineapple Express​​ you’ll ever find. If you need up, it brings you up; if you need down, it brings you down. It’s never treated​​ me wrong; hangovers, spins, binges, depression, anxiety—it cures it all.​​ I​​ swear it’s fucking​​ magic!​​ I got​​ it​​ from this​​ Sinatra-looking​​ motherfucker up the​​ road. He grows it​​ for​​ himself and only shares it with​​ his friends—never sells it, but​​ I​​ managed to get a​​ couple of​​ ounces​​ by trading​​ him​​ some rare records.”

“Well, if​​ I need to pick a poison, that’s​​ the​​ one,” Walter conceded. “And after all, I am in Amsterdam.”

“Hey, I’m not forcing​​ you, but I guarantee you won’t regret it.​​ Let’s go enjoy​​ it​​ on the​​ balcony​​ though.​​ View’s​​ much better.”

 

Dug’s​​ weed was good—almost too good. But Walter had a better grip on the steering wheel this time​​ and a companion in the passenger seat​​ as​​ he​​ cruised​​ through the celestial orbits​​ of his​​ thoughts.​​ They both sat in silence, saturating the​​ sounds around them​​ while passing​​ Marilyn back and forth. The top-story​​ balcony​​ overlooked a bend in the canal, allowing their eyes and ears to venture​​ far into the city. Bicycle bells chimed,​​ water​​ lapped,​​ a classical guitar played​​ distantly,​​ a group of girls​​ giggled from below; the city was alive and​​ murmuring with a​​ cadenced​​ clarity.​​ A​​ freeform jam of life, Walter​​ thought.

​​ “Ya know…” Dug turned to Walter with his index finger pointed to the air​​ as if readying a conductor’s baton. “There’s music​​ in​​ the sound of life,​​ you just have​​ to shut up once in a while to hear it.”

“Did you just read my mind?”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “I​​ was​​ just thinking sort of the same thing.”​​ ​​ 

“Na mate, it’s this weed. It creates connections between people,​​ puts​​ ‘em on​​ the same​​ plane​​ of perspective​​ if you know what I mean.

“Yeah, maybe so​​ . . .​​ Either way,​​ this is​​ great​​ fucking​​ weed.”

“Walty, I don’t do anything​​ but great—or I​​ at​​ least​​ always​​ try. God knows I’m far from perfect​​ though.”​​ 

“At least you’ve never managed to end up in the bottom of​​ a​​ urinal​​ talking to yourself covered in piss and puke.”

Dug laughed.​​ “Well, while I’ve​​ never managed that​​ in a literal sense,​​ I sure have​​ plenty of times​​ in a metaphorical sense. I’ve really gotten myself deep in my own shit.”

Dug momentarily lost his loose posturing and fell into straight sternality​​ as he lit a cigarette.​​ “My life’s full of fuckups,” he said​​ after​​ exhaling his first puff, “great,​​ giant, donkey-dick​​ ones. But​​ it comes with the territory of​​ trying​​ to​​ live​​ in the moment; of trying​​ to live the​​ most exciting​​ life I can.​​ And​​ I’ve learned​​ over​​ the years,​​ that​​ my​​ troughs,​​ detours, and setbacks​​ are just​​ as​​ important as the​​ termini​​ in life,​​ because​​ there’s no peaks without valleys​​ if you know what I’m saying?”

Walter somewhat did, but conversing with Dug was like a game of​​ philosophical​​ charades.​​ 

“I’ve​​ learned to​​ treasure​​ my mistakes,” he continued,​​ “because otherwise they’ll lead your life​​ astray from the moment. I see it all the time, and it usually has one or a mixture of three​​ flavors: people who don’t​​ want to face their​​ mistakes, so they​​ lead their lives in the future—real anxious types;​​ ones who​​ can’t​​ forgive​​ their​​ mistakes,​​ so they dwell in​​ the​​ past—real depressed types, and ones who​​ try to​​ mask​​ their​​ mistakes with​​ someone​​ or something​​ else—real pathetic types.​​ But it’s​​ only natural. Living​​ for yourself and with yourself​​ goes against the very success of our evolution. We are afraid to be alone​​ with ourselves.​​ However, if​​ you​​ can​​ find​​ comfort​​ in​​ that fear,​​ the world​​ gradually​​ becomes a much easier​​ place​​ to​​ navigate.”​​ Dug​​ then​​ relaxed back into​​ his​​ careless​​ manner.​​ “But again, I’m far from perfect, so what the fuck do I know?”

So what ‘navigated’ you to​​ Amsterdam?” Walter asked​​ genuinely wondering what kind of life​​ created Dug.​​ He​​ couldn’t pinpoint it, but he​​ felt​​ an odd​​ sense​​ of chirality​​ to​​ him.​​ ​​ 

“As​​ trite​​ as it sounds, a girl,” Dug replied. “But she was just the ending of​​ a​​ long​​ journey and the beginning of​​ a​​ much shorter​​ one.​​ I originally​​ came​​ to​​ Europe to study mathematics at Cambridge.”

“You studied​​ mathematics​​ at Cambridge?”​​ Walter said surprised.​​ ​​ 

“Yeah, but in​​ my​​ second​​ year I realized it just wasn’t my scene or thing, so I decided to move to Paris​​ since it always seems to be the​​ place​​ where​​ people​​ go to​​ figure​​ shit​​ out.​​ I got tangled up in the late-night jazz scene, and about​​ three​​ months​​ later​​ I​​ was putting​​ together​​ my first​​ operation, reissuing​​ old American jazz records that had long gone out of print. I then took on some local acts, and before you know it,​​ I was off and running.

Soon after​​ that,​​ I​​ met this​​ beautiful​​ Parisian​​ girl—and when I say beautiful, I mean​​ damn near​​ perfect.​​ She​​ also​​ had the best ass I still have ever seen.​​ Anyway, she was​​ a​​ cabaret​​ dancer, but her​​ true​​ passion was paintingreal abstract shit. She’d​​ mix​​ her​​ vomit into the paint, along with some other things at times:​​ semen, blood, pissit seemed the​​ weirder the better, and that​​ was also her philosophy in bed​​ too.​​ I mean,​​ sometimes she’d have me​​ put​​ four fingers​​ right​​ up her​​ bumhole​​ just​​ to make her cum properly.​​ Dug​​ held up his right four​​ fingers and spread them. “I’d​​ have to​​ spread​​ ‘em​​ nice and wide too!”​​ He​​ lit​​ off​​ a firecracker-like laugh.

“Anyway,” he continued,​​ “she was the freak​​ of​​ freaks.​​ And I’m not gonna lie,​​ daddy liked—actually, I loved.​​ I loved​​ her​​ so much I let her convince me to move my label to Amsterdam​​ after​​ only a little more than​​ six months​​ together. She had lived in Paris her whole life,​​ and as​​ an​​ artist she said she needed a ‘change of scenery’ for​​ new​​ inspiration,​​ and I was happy to appease. However,​​ three​​ months​​ after I moved here, she​​ told me one day she’d fallen in love with someone else and that was it.​​ I never found out who or​​ how,​​ but after a while I didn’t care. I realized it was my​​ prick​​ that was in love, not me, and​​ I​​ haven’t seen her for almost two years now.​​ Not sure if she even still lives​​ in the city, but despite everything, I ended​​ up really liking​​ Amsterdam,​​ a lot more than Paris,​​ so I stayed.”

Dug took a long toke of his cigarette, then blew out a perfect smoke​​ ring​​ before snubbing it out in an ashtray.​​ “Anyhow,”​​ he​​ said,​​ “been passing​​ out enough pieces of me.​​ What’s your story​​ Walty?​​ What​​ was​​ your​​ journey to the bottom of an Amsterdam dunny?”

“I’m still trying to piece that together,​​ but before that I was on a Contiki tour. Have you heard of Contiki?”

Dug began laughing. “Ah, you came on​​ Contiki,” he said. “Explains a lot. There’s hordes of you idiots running​​ around Amsterdam, but I don’t mind. Can’t tell you how many one-night stands I’ve returned to Hotel Nieuw Slotania.”

“Is that the Contiki hostel? I kind of forgot where I’m staying.”

“Jesus, and to think if I never found you?​​ Yes, and it’s not​​ that​​ far.​​ You​​ begin walking now and you’ll be there in twenty minutes. Hopefully you stick around​​ a little​​ longer​​ though.​​ I’m really enjoying​​ our time together. Haven’t laughed this much in a while.”

“Me too. I’m glad you found me​​ Dug. It’s weird, but I feel like​​ I know you​​ from a past​​ life or something.​​ I was​​ actually​​ a physics major at UCLA.”​​ 

​​  “Physics mate!​​ That’s what my uni roomie from Cleveland was studying—actually still is. Sometimes he still sends me stuff to get my take on it, but mathematics is obviously a much more leisure activity for me nowadays.”

“Physics is for me too.​​ Mind if I throw some stuff at you though?”

“Of course not!​​ I hardly ever get to​​ talk shop​​ anymore.”

“Me too!”

And so for the next​​ half​​ hour they​​ did.

“Not that I’m any authority,” Dug said,​​ “but I think you​​ might’ve​​ undersold yourself on​​ theoretical physics.”

“Thanks,” Walter said. “I do miss it a lot​​ sometimes.”

“Hey,” Dug​​ thumped​​ him on the chest. “It’s​​ always still​​ in​​ there.​​ You can go back any time. You don’t need school. Fuck, they’ve​​ got MIT​​ courses online for free now. If someone wants to become a theoretical physicist​​ without school, it’s never been​​ a better time.”

Dug​​ looked​​ at his​​ wristwatch. “Well,​​ surprisingly​​ it’s​​ only a little after​​ midnight,” he said. “If you’re up for it, we​​ can blab​​ more​​ someplace​​ else—preferably an establishment with alcoholic drinks and​​ some​​ women.​​ Plus, it​​ is​​ your only night in Amsterdam.​​ But don’t worry. I won’t let​​ you end up back in​​ a​​ dunny.

“I am feeling​​ much​​ better now,” Walter said. “And you’re right. I do​​ only​​ have​​ tonight in Amsterdam.​​ Okay.”​​ 

“That’s the spirit mate. We’ll keep away from the Red Light District for now;​​ go to a locals’ sector. There’s a great lounge I like. But first, shall we partake​​ of another bong rip before we get on the bike?”​​ 

“The bike? What do you mean​​ the bike?”

“I’ve got a custom tandem bicycle—a beach cruiser from your part of the world.”​​ 

Walter let out a belly laugh. Nothing​​ could’ve​​ sounded better to​​ his​​ stoned mind​​ than​​ a​​ tandem bicycle ride through Amsterdam.

 

After pulling it out of his garage, Dug threw his leg over the beastly tandem. It was the gaudiest thing Walter had ever seen. It was more motorcycle than bike, painted candy gloss white with red pinstripes running down each​​ of its​​ oversized​​ fenders. Attached to the front handlebars was a chrome headlamp, large enough for a motorcycle, and a basket with a built-in stereo. Dug flicked a switch in the center of the handlebars and the bike became accented with more red and amber lights than a semi-truck. “Safety first,” he​​ said. “You ever ridden a tandem?”

“No, can’t say I have,” Walter​​ said.

“Well, you’re in for an adventure.​​ But first, some rules. First, the bike​​ paths can be hairy, so​​ leave the​​ piloting to me​​ up front. As you can see, you​​ also have​​ handlebars, but they are connected​​ to my​​ seat,​​ so if you try to steer them,​​ the only thing you’ll​​ be​​ steering​​ is my arse, and you’ll knock me off balance if you do. Rule two is synchronicity. Peddle with me and not against me.​​ And​​ lastly, don’t ring your fucking​​ bell unless I say so.​​ Now get on.”​​ 

Walter threw his leg over​​ the beast​​ and sat on the over-cushioned seat. “All right,​​ position yourself…” Dug said,​​ “…and on the count of three, we’ll take off​​ . . .​​ One, two, three!”​​ The bike had a wobbly launch, nearly tipping over.​​ By instinct,​​ Walter​​ tried to correct by steering. “Whoa! What’d I say about steering?” Dug shouted back.​​ “Never fails,​​ I swear.”

 

The streets of Amsterdam welcomed​​ them​​ back​​ warmly. A slight breeze carried the sounds of a city still very much awake at twelve-thirty in the morning as the enormous bicycle floated down the paths like an old, cushy Cadillac.​​ Cool wind tickled every follicle of Walter’s scalp and stretched his cheeks into a broad​​ smile. The sky had cleared, leaving a dark backdrop for the evening’s show of stars, while Dug blasted​​ Queen’s​​ “Bicycle Race” on repeat and barked incoherently at the moon. People’s reactions to the bike were mixed; they either shook their heads at its ridiculousness, or chimed their bells with approval as they passed by. In the latter case, Dug would​​ shout, “Ring the bell!” and took a swig of Jäger from his bottle riding shotgun in the basket. ​​ 

They crossed over three major canals, then went through a network of back alley residential streets that ended at a line of local​​ dives and restaurants along an intersection of two smaller canals. As they drew closer to one dive, Walter was hit by music and a voice unlike any his ears had​​ ever heard. A funky rhythm line loped like a three-wheeled​​ jalopy,​​ while a​​ wild​​ vibrato snarled with sensational​​ emotion. The music and voice then​​ lifted​​ like​​ a​​ geyser.​​ California!” The word waterfalled over the air. “California!” it spouted again.

“What bar is that?” Walter asked Dug.

“Which one?”

“The one with the music.”

“Some old man’s blues joint. You don’t wanna go there. It’s horrible. No girls, only grimy old men.”

“But that sounds like a girl singing . . . God, that voice, it’s-it’s . . . I don’t know, but it’s doing​​ strange things to me. It’s so​​ moving, yet strange and sexual all at the same time. I’ve never heard anything like it. We have to stop.”

“Believe me,” Dug said noticeably frustrated. “You do​​ not​​ want to go there. It’s not a place for tourists, just a lot of old men and seedy scumbags who will probably pickpocket you the moment you step in. Where we’re going​​ is much, much nicer; a lounge full of fine women​​ who get drenched at the sound of an American accent.​​ Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

“But I’m more of a dive bar type of guy anyway.​​ Can’t we just check it out?”​​ Dug ignored him and kept pedaling. “Dug!” Walter shouted. Dug turned up the music and remained unresponsive. “Fucker!” Walter said then pushed back on his pedals and gave his handlebars a sharp jerk to the right.

“What da fack!” Dug yelled as the bike went squirrely. Unable to regain control, it eventually ejected them off, and came crashing down on its side, its bells shrilling painfully as it skidded down the pavement.

“What the fuck did you do that for?!” Dug​​ screamed.

“I’m sorry,” Walter said. “I don’t know what came over me. I just wanted you to stop.”

“Well, we’re stopped! You happy?! Jesus Christ, I save you,​​ bathe​​ you,​​ and​​ clothe you, and you repay me by wrecking​​ me bike? You’re a real fucking​​ wanker, you know that? . . . My baby!” Dug cried as he lifted the bike and inspected it over for damage. “Great.​​ I’m gonna have to get it repainted now. Look at all these scratches.”

“I’m sorry Dug. I’m really sorry.​​ I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll give you everything I have left for repairs. I’m so sorry.”

Walter’s beggarly face seemed to soften Dug a little.​​ “Oh fuck, it’s fine,” he said. “It’s not that bad I suppose. I can probably paint ‘em over myself. But just why Walty? Why would you do that when I’ve been nothing​​ but a mate to you?”

“I don’t know,” Walter said just as confused. “I just wanted you to stop so badly. It was like this sudden urge. Then when you ignored me something came over me…”

Walter’s attention trailed back to the music which had continued to chug along unchanged. Dug noticed and shook his head​​ cynically.

“Please Dug?” Walter begged again. “Just a song or two?​​ It’s my only night in Amsterdam. Shouldn’t we be spending it how I want to?”

“No.​​ You lost that privilege when you decided to crash my bike.”

“It seems I never had that privilege to begin with.”

“Well, if it was any other bar, I’d be fine, but not that one. Really, I’m looking​​ out for you. Remember, I’m supposed to keep you out of trouble,​​ and that bar is not a tourist-friendly place. C’mon, the other place is just five minutes​​ more​​ up the road.”​​ Dug​​ then​​ put his leg back over the beast.​​ 

Inside, Walter was being torn apart.​​ The music—and especially that voice—had gaffed his heart​​ and wouldn’t let go.

“Fine,” Walter said​​ after a while. “If it’s five minutes up the road, I’ll meet you there. I’m sure​​ the​​ big bike out front will​​ make it​​ easy​​ to spot. I just need to see who that band and especially that girl is. I’m sorry.”

Dug shook his head.​​ “Of all the bars in Amsterdam,” he said,​​ then pressed​​ the​​ pedal forward,​​ soon disappearing​​ into the night. And like that, Walter was alone again . . . alone again. ​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 13

SIDE​​ B

 

 

Chapter 13

A​​ Love Most Supreme

 

Each palpitation of​​ bass​​ pushed Walter​​ farther​​ away from himself.​​ But really,​​ who is myself?​​ the quivering voice inside​​ his head asked.​​ I’m thousands of miles away from any type of familiarity. I don’t know these people,​​ their language,​​ this country,​​ this​​ city, or even what type​​ or how many drugs I’m on.​​ I don’t even know how I got here​​ . . .​​ Am I at​​ a​​ rave?​​ 

Electronic dance music chomped with the precision of pneumatic machinery, slicing the air around​​ him​​ into rhythmical bouillon cubes of music and noise. Blacklit glowsticks and the smell of​​ Vicks​​ VapoRub pulverized​​ the dark​​ as glistening skin pumped and humped around him in an​​ orgy of​​ neon​​ movement.

What beautiful oddity allured me to this strange plane of existence and time?​​ He​​ soon​​ found his answer​​ in the half-naked​​ woman​​ bouncing​​ her buttocks upon​​ his hips.​​ His​​ females are friends only policy had​​ apparently​​ gone out the window.​​ 

Walter’s body​​ had a tendency to “go exploring” when​​ he​​ was blacked out—which wasn’t often, but it was​​ a fatal flaw in a city​​ as​​ bipolar as Amsterdam. In the sobriety of day,​​ she was​​ a​​ serene​​ Dutch beauty, but in the inebriation of night, a shape-shifting she-devil, and not the​​ place you wanted to​​ come to​​ in not​​ knowing​​ where​​ you​​ were, how you got there,​​ or​​ where your friends went.​​ 

Hello​​ Planet Amsterdam!​​ You are strange and so am I, so please accept me as one​​ of​​ your own​​ . . .​​ Please?​​ Walter begged​​ as the​​ inside​​ of​​ his head​​ began running wild.

Tracers of light​​ started​​ to sputter and freeze,​​ faces within his vicinity​​ started​​ to​​ change and​​ unhinge.​​ He​​ felt himself​​ suddenly​​ falling,​​ cannonballing​​ down​​ a​​ mineshaft​​ inside his​​ mind.​​ How far above reality was and what​​ waited​​ below was unclear,​​ but if he could somehow find a tether,​​ perhaps​​ he could​​ still​​ save​​ himself.​​ He​​ just​​ needed to find​​ out​​ when and where reality​​ began falling away.

I am​​ Walter​​ Huxley—for the most part,​​ I am Walter Huxley,​​ he started with what he​​ could last remember​​ to be true.​​ I​​ am in​​ Amsterdam.​​ I came here on a Contiki trip…​​ And that was all memory​​ gave him.​​ Thunderclouds of​​ fright​​ began​​ gathering.

Well, this is a new high.​​ I’m not even sure if I’m really alive.​​ This feels like a dream . . .​​ Well, you did it Walter.​​ Your greatest fear about this trip came true.​​ Whatever​​ drug​​ or drugs​​ you’ve taken has made you lose your mind in a foreign country,​​ or possibly​​ killed you​​ or put you in a coma or​​ somewhere in between,​​ because​​ whatever this is,​​ this​​ isn’t real life . . .​​ But then what is it?

No this is real. This is real. It has to be real. I just​​ need to find a restroom because​​ not only​​ do​​ I​​ suddenly really need to pee, but this​​ orchestration of strobing​​ lights​​ and​​ merciless​​ EDM​​ is​​ fucking​​ my​​ psyche with the​​ grace​​ of a jackhammer.​​ Once​​ I’m​​ there,​​ I’ll​​ get​​ a​​ good​​ look over​​ in the​​ mirror to reaffirm​​ my​​ existence,​​ and that will​​ fix everything​​ . . . I hope.​​ ​​ 

Fog​​ machines​​ then​​ began​​ dusting​​ the dancefloor​​ with​​ a pulsating cloud of​​ color​​ and​​ confusion​​ as the music crescendoed. Panicked, ​​ any grip he had on​​ reality​​ suddenly​​ left​​ as​​ he was sure​​ the​​ ground​​ was​​ lifting​​ with​​ the​​ music.​​ 

Doooo​​ you know where the bathroom​​ izzzzz?”​​ he​​ yelled to the​​ behind he’d been​​ humping.​​ Inside his head, his voice​​ sounded like​​ it​​ was being run through a pitch-shifter.​​ The music was so deafening it was not only affecting​​ his​​ hearing, but blurring his vision from the reverberations of his skull. Certainty’s outlines kept going in and out of focus.

The owner of the behind​​ looked back quickly and​​ shrugged, then​​ continued​​ rubbing​​ her behind on him.​​ He turned her back around.​​ “Is there a proper place to urinate, or shall​​ I just go on this dancefloooooor?!​​ he cried.​​ Punch​​ drunk​​ and​​ now​​ sure​​ he was in a​​ lucid​​ dream,​​ he​​ unzipped his pants and exposed himself to the girl​​ in a challenge to reality. “Wheeere​​ do I take this​​ guyyyy?

The girl screamed, but before Walter could start​​ discharging​​ himself, two hefty​​ and very real​​ security guards​​ hauled him​​ out​​ of the cloud and onto the cobbled streets of the Red Light District. “Thank​​ yooooou!” he yelled​​ as​​ they​​ tossed​​ him​​ onto​​ the ground.​​ 

 

The industrial stomp​​ of the​​ nightclub​​ soon receded​​ into​​ sounds of urban nightlife​​ as​​ Walter’s​​ mind calmed​​ for the time being.​​ Okay, so I’m still in reality,​​ he thought​​ as he petted the​​ hard​​ ground.​​ Im​​ still​​ in Amsterdam​​ . . .​​ God, I need to take a piss.​​ He​​ then​​ remembered​​ a​​ green,​​ spiral-shaped public urinal​​ he’d​​ pissed in​​ earlier​​ on his way to…​​ 

The sex show!​​ the memory climbed out of the abyss.​​ I went​​ to​​ a sex show​​ and​​ . . .​​ and​​ I ate​​ a​​ banana?​​ . . . I ate​​ a​​ banana out of​​ a​​ girl’s vagina​​ . . .​​ I was pulled onstage and ate a banana out of one of the performer’s​​ vagina . . . Okay, nope.​​ I excitedly volunteered myself.

The​​ memory flow​​ ceased.​​ Walter’s​​ thoughts​​ went back to his bladder.

Setting out in search of a urinal, the air was cool as it hit​​ his​​ lungs. The​​ roads​​ were​​ polished​​ by​​ a​​ recent​​ rainstorm​​ and were​​ gleaming​​ and​​ menacing​​ as the District’s​​ red​​ lights echoed off them​​ as if the city was bathed in blood, battling Walter’s bearings as to what was real or imagination. Soon, an​​ animated​​ symphony of demonic voices​​ arose from the blood, and​​ began​​ cooing​​ and​​ cackling​​ at him​​ from​​ every​​ corridor​​ and​​ every​​ passerby,​​ faces contorting​​ and​​ warping​​ around his mind’s eye,​​ enfolding​​ him in​​ paranoia​​ like a​​ boa constrictor,​​ squeezing​​ him to​​ surrender, but he slipped out and ran.​​ 

Setting a frenetic​​ pace,​​ he​​ bounced​​ down​​ alleys​​ and​​ roads​​ like a pinball off​​ bumpers. The faster he​​ ran​​ and the more he changed direction,​​ the less time his​​ psychosis​​ had to play tricks​​ with​​ his environment, and fortuitously​​ by this method,​​ he​​ almost ran straight into a city urinal.

Shelter!​​ Walter​​ thought as he​​ clambered into​​ its​​ piss-soaked​​ walls.​​ Surrounded by​​ only​​ green-painted​​ steel and darkness,​​ the​​ malicious animations​​ of his mind​​ had little to work with.​​ The urinal was​​ just​​ a spiraled shade around a hole in the ground.

He​​ waited​​ until his heartrate and breathing regulated​​ before​​ finally​​ relieving​​ himself.​​ The​​ piss​​ felt as good as an escaping possession, but​​ stirred up​​ a​​ foul odor of stale​​ urine, vomit, and spoiled milk.​​ 

After finishing, he​​ fished​​ into his pocket for his cellphone. He couldn’t make a call, but it did have a front-facing camera​​ and he needed to see his own face just to assure himself he’d​​ found​​ the​​ way out of​​ his mind.​​ But​​ when he turned it on,​​ he​​ was only greeted by a black screen.​​ He pressed the​​ screen​​ and his face​​ against​​ the steel walls, hoping to catch some​​ reflecting rays,​​ but​​ the darkness ate them all up.​​ He​​ then​​ resolved​​ to​​ using​​ his​​ phone’s​​ primary camera​​ which​​ had a flash, but​​ his eyes and mind were in a tenuous state,​​ barely beginning to reclaim​​ normal function.​​ So with eyes closed, he pointed the camera​​ at​​ himself​​ as if it were a loaded gun. The flash​​ ignited​​ and​​ an imaginary force of voltaic monsters​​ came rushing​​ in under​​ his eyelids.

Reactionarily, he threw the phone,​​ and after several seconds of blindness, a​​ sad image​​ waxed​​ into view.​​ There,​​ in a pool of public​​ excrement,​​ it​​ lay like his spirit:​​ shattered.​​ He squatted down and picked up the splintered device and its assorted pieces. He pressed the power button with both thumbs as if​​ choking​​ it, but​​ to​​ no avail.​​ Unable to confirm himself,​​ he gradually​​ waned back​​ into the ether, left to swim again with his​​ chemical demons.​​ 

Inner​​ catcalls​​ began​​ oozing​​ in​​ from​​ grates above​​ as​​ Walter​​ cowered fetally​​ onto the floor and​​ over the urinal’s hole, covering himself and his hands with a mucus-like filth coating the ground.​​ Unthinkingly, he then​​ held his​​ hands​​ to his face​​ to cry,​​ putting the​​ filth​​ in his eyes,​​ soon making​​ him​​ blind.​​ But sight wasn’t the last of​​ Walter’s​​ senses to​​ forsake​​ him.

Slowly, he​​ retreated from any​​ bodily​​ sensation until there was nothing left but​​ thought,​​ then​​ only​​ one thought:​​ This​​ must be what death feels like.​​ It​​ bounded down​​ the halls of​​ his empty consciousness until it was​​ nothing​​ but a whisper, then​​ impenetrable​​ silence.​​ 

Undisturbed​​ by​​ the outside world,​​ he​​ was left to​​ wander​​ within himself in search of any trace​​ of himself;​​ any proof he​​ had​​ ever existed. An ember of life​​ then​​ flickered. It was the oldest memory he could​​ conjure​​ from the database of​​ his​​ existence.​​ A young woman​​ was​​ humming, the light hush of her breathing and the rhythmic pulse of her heart pressed against his ear.​​ There was no sight, only sound.​​ He​​ was in his mother’s womb.

Walter​​ always felt​​ unwelcomed​​ by the world he’d been born into, but​​ now​​ in​​ her womb,​​ he​​ realized​​ that was never​​ quite​​ true. There was​​ and​​ always would​​ be​​ one person​​ who​​ saw​​ worth in​​ his existence—she gave her life for it.​​ And although he never knew his mother, he’d always known her love; it was his life.

Soon her​​ heartbeat​​ became​​ all​​ he​​ could hear. It​​ beat​​ like​​ a war drum until​​ his outside tormentors​​ withdrew.​​ Gradually,​​ corporeality​​ returned​​ to his soggy corduroy bellbottoms,​​ rinsing​​ in a marinade of​​ urine,​​ rain water and​​ whatever​​ else​​ he was​​ sharing​​ the floor with.

Pretending it was still operable, he​​ then​​ put his cellphone to his ear. ​​ “Hi​​ Mommy,” he said.​​ Mommy,​​ he wasn’t​​ sure if​​ he’d​​ ever said the word​​ before.​​ “Even though​​ I’ve only met you in​​ pictures​​ and Grandma’s stories,​​ I​​ realize​​ now​​ I’ve been meeting you all my life​​ through your love.​​ Your love is my life,​​ my​​ love​​ most supreme. And​​ I don’t know the last time or if I’ve​​ ever told you this​​ directly, but I love​​ you. I love you with all​​ the​​ heart and life you gave me,​​ and​​ I’m sorry I​​ forget that sometimes.​​ I love you Mommy. I love you.”

Walter sat up​​ from the floor​​ with a​​ more​​ peaceful mind.​​ He was still high as shit, but at least the monster was manageable​​ now.​​ 

“I thought you came here​​ to be inspired and to honor Amber?”​​ the​​ therapist inside​​ his head​​ now​​ spoke.​​ “I don’t think the bottom​​ of this​​ urinal​​ is doing much for either.​​ But I suppose,​​ once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right,​​ including a goddamn urinal.​​ But still,​​ you shouldn’t be​​ wasting​​ time​​ in a​​ goddamn​​ urinal​​ reflecting​​ on​​ your​​ past. You should be outside​​ of this goddamn urinal​​ creating​​ a past worth reflecting​​ on;​​ inspiring​​ a story​​ to​​ keep you entertained for​​ an eternity,​​ because​​ in the end​​ your life may be​​ the only story​​ you have​​ left​​ to read.​​ 

Now as​​ you know,​​ Im an advocate of​​ moderate​​ drug​​ use, but you’re​​ doing it​​ all wrong.​​ Traveling the world is​​ already a​​ mind-altering​​ experience​​ and​​ additional intoxicants should be​​ taken with extreme​​ care—especially when you’re in a place you’ve never been​​ before.​​ And​​ while​​ drugs​​ may open the path to enlightenment, they’ll never​​ get you​​ to the​​ destination.​​ But there’s hope​​ for you Walter.​​ I’m glad I found you when I did. You still have a chance to salvage​​ your​​ one night in one of​​ the greatest cities in the world. Don’t blow it on account of​​ a bad trip. We all have them. But that’s why it’s called a trip, you can always​​ stand up