The Silver Year: L’Epilogue est Sans Issue

L'Epilogue est Sans Issue

 

 

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry. I still find myself talking to you.​​ Even after all this time, an eternity in comparison to our​​ actual​​ time together, I still feel like I just lost you.​​ But as an​​ almost​​ outside observer of​​ my​​ life now, I​​ think I​​ can​​ see​​ why; nothing​​ made time move faster than habit and nothing​​ held​​ it​​ down​​ like novelty, and you,​​ for the best and worst,​​ were the most novel thing to come into my life.​​ You taught me​​ change is always paired with​​ pain, and to​​ fear​​ change because of pain​​ is​​ a​​ waste​​ of​​ time—of life—because​​ change is what makes​​ time​​ and life​​ in the mind’s eye, and​​ novelty,​​ its​​ vaccine​​ against an​​ unjustified fear​​ of it.​​ And from the looks of things lately, it sure seems like we could use a vaccine.​​ 

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

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

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

I only say “our story”​​ now​​ because so much of your story has become mine, and​​ I’m not sure if I’m ready​​ to be alone again​​ yet.​​ I always asked​​ you​​ if you thought I was going crazy, and you always reassured me, “only in the most lucid way.”​​ But​​ now that​​ this last remnant of you​​ is​​ going to be​​ gone, who’s going to be around to substantiate that?​​ You’ve become​​ so​​ fixed​​ in​​ my imagination​​ I’m beginning​​ to question​​ if any of it​​ really​​ happened at all.​​ But I’ve got to move on.​​ I’ve got to​​ leave you in this locket of time,​​ because​​ I no longer​​ have​​ time to hold onto​​ time. Only​​ death can​​ hold onto time forever.

But​​ so can a​​ great story—well, maybe not forever. But longer than I​​ surely​​ can in the limited time I have left.​​ 

So​​ as the love of your life,​​ simply because you had no others​​ and I had no others—we​​ didn’t have the​​ “time”,​​ I’ve now done my due diligence​​ in​​ trying my best to make​​ sure the world​​ remembers​​ Walter Huxley. Because​​ if you weren’t love, you were surely love’s muse.​​ And​​ if there is any practical purpose for love, it’s having someone who can tell your story​​ in case​​ you’re no longer around to—or​​ in my case,​​ finish the ending, the ending I​​ accidently​​ took away from you​​ that fateful early Christmas morning.​​ I never did get to hear that second verse.​​ 

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

 

Love,​​ 

Amber​​ ;-)

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 0

Chapter​​ 0

The Fool

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s why​​ it couldn’t have​​ seemed​​ more aligned,” Shiva said to​​ her mother’s​​ tarot deck. “I had just​​ lost​​ luna hunny and my heart was empty, and right when I needed​​ it,​​ right​​ after​​ I​​ ‘passed​​ through the eye of insanity’,​​ the perfect​​ love​​ somehow​​ found me​​ just like you said it would Mom.​​ But​​ now​​ I know divine doesn’t mean perfect, because divine love visited me last night and it was far from​​ it. But​​ I’ve lost it​​ now​​ and​​ I need your help finding​​ it again.​​ You are, after all, the one who brought me it, right?​​ How else can​​ I​​ explain it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Grateful For The Dead

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taking a taxi, Walter​​ told the driver to​​ take a lap of the city past the Eiffel Tower,​​ then​​ to do​​ a few rounds​​ on​​ the world’s most famous roundabout​​ around​​ the Arc de Triomphe.​​ Looking out the windows​​ as they drove,​​ he​​ had never seen anything like​​ Paris​​ before. Flat pastures of​​ neoclassical architecture​​ barnacled​​ the earth like​​ an endless palatial​​ garden, and in the distant,​​ hazy horizon, a small cluster of​​ skyscraper​​ islands,​​ fenced in distinct districts​​ of modernity.

After a sleepless night in his Amsterdam hostel, he’d taken the first train​​ to Paris. And as much as he tried​​ to​​ sleep then drink himself to sleep on the train,​​ his mind wouldn’t​​ give him peace, and especially​​ not after​​ he was in the city.​​ So​​ after dropping his bags off at a​​ hotel baggage check, he​​ immediately​​ began consulting the dead​​ he knew in Paris​​ before the living​​ since​​ the dead​​ had been of more help​​ lately.​​ But after​​ speaking​​ with Descartes​​ in​​ the Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey​​ that morning,​​ then​​ with the​​ Curies,​​ Rousseau,​​ and​​ his longest​​ visit,​​ Voltaire,​​ that afternoon in the​​ Panthéon,​​ he found the​​ consultations​​ lacking compared to​​ his one​​ the night before.​​ And as hard as he tried to​​ take​​ himself​​ out of the conversation​​ with​​ whiskey​​ and believe he was hearing their​​ voices,​​ he​​ really​​ knew​​ he was only​​ consulting​​ himself​​ through the​​ dead. But​​ really,​​ was there any difference?

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

The​​ irony​​ of this​​ “triumphal” arc​​ and​​ its​​ circling circus​​ was making​​ for very comical surrealism in Walter’s​​ liquored​​ head. He began to gush with laughter​​ which​​ soon turned to hiccups. Then the lack of oxygen and spinning began making him feel​​ dizzy​​ and​​ suddenly his whiskey wanted out.​​ His taxi driver​​ hearing his dry heaving as​​ it​​ climbed up​​ his​​ esophagus,​​ raced to the center just in time for Walter to​​ expel it out​​ onto​​ the​​ arc.​​ The taxi​​ then​​ skidded away, but​​ Walter​​ easily found another sucker​​ at​​ a​​ nearby taxi lane​​ and continued on his way​​ to​​ Père Lachaise Cemetery.

 

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

 ​​ “…dans ces derniers jours!” she​​ shouted in his face​​ after some muddled French.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Once within reach,​​ Walter​​ touched​​ her​​ face, expecting​​ it​​ to change​​ like the others,​​ but​​ it remained.​​ He​​ then​​ took off​​ the​​ glasses and​​ her​​ big gray​​ eyes​​ smiled​​ at his, brilliantly shining like they had during their moonlight dance.

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Shiva said, her smile turning into a grin. “I’m​​ really​​ me, and I’m​​ really​​ here.​​ I’ve been​​ here for quite some​​ time​​ actually. It’s the only place I knew you’d be in Paris.​​ Is​​ it​​ really​​ you​​ Walter? Are you​​ really​​ here?”

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

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

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

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

He​​ sat up​​ stiffly.​​ “What did you say?”​​ he asked.

“Red Rocks,”​​ she​​ said​​ sitting up also, then​​ put a​​ sympathetic​​ hand on his shoulder.​​ “You still haven’t figured it out​​ yet, have you?​​ You still think you survived.”

“Survived? Survived​​ what?”

It then ripped through his personage like​​ a​​ pristinely sharpened guillotine. “Oh my God,” he said​​ as​​ his body​​ went​​ numb.​​ The-the​​ lightning strike?​​ . . .​​ I’m…​​ I’m​​ dead?!

“Surprise!” she said smiling.

He scoffed and began violently shaking his head no.​​ 

“You don’t believe it?”​​ she​​ said.

“I don’t know what to believe. I mean, this could be a dream. This​​ is​​ a dream. Yes, this is a—"

She took his hand again and put it to her chest. “Does it feel like a dream?” she said. “Like I told you before, this is not a dream, at least not one you’re going to wake up from.”

“I don’t know,” he said still panicky. “Death was just so much simpler being nothing. So what? Does this mean there’s a God? Is​​ He​​ Kurt Vonnegut? And​​ where am I? What is this?​​ Is this really Paris?​​ And​​ what about all the people I’ve met​​ since​​ Red Rocks?​​ Were they dead or alive?​​ What about Squids?​​ What about Amber?​​ Does this mean... does this mean​​ she didn’t​​ really kill​​ herself?”

Shiva laughed. “I’m not sure who’s running the show,” she said, “or if anyone is running the show. Also, if there is a God,​​ He​​ would most likely be an​​ It. No gender pronouns in the afterlife since every soul has lived as both sexes throughout existence. Plus, the x chromosome goes on to out evolve the y chromosome in future generations of humans anyway. And everything else, well, that all​​ depends on your perspective​​ of​​ time.​​ Here,​​ there is no such thing as​​ time, and​​ no such thing as dead or alive.​​ We​​ souls​​ live in the world of Schrödinger's cat​​ you could say, and like massless particles,​​ we​​ are​​ unaffected by​​ time​​ and space,​​ and therefore,​​ can exist at all possible​​ times​​ at all possible​​ places.​​ But this shouldn’t surprise you. It all falls within the laws of physics.​​ And Amber...​​ well,​​ you’ll find out soon.​​ But for​​ now,​​ we’ve got a​​ joint to smoke​​ and a bottle of wine to drink​​ with Jim,” she said pulling both out of​​ a bag.​​ Then​​ I guarantee​​ all​​ of this will be​​ easier​​ to​​ comprehend.”​​ 

“Like​​ with his—I mean its soul?”​​ Walter asked.​​ 

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

“You can do that?”​​ 

“Yes, many times over. And​​ you​​ already have. But guess what?​​ You​​ no longer have to.​​ You made it.​​ Today we leave​​ purgatory​​ together.”

He​​ began shaking his head​​ no​​ again. “So purgatory is real?”​​ he​​ asked.

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

“So what’s next?​​ Paradise?”

“So I’ve been told.”

“What’s it like?”

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

“You’ve been waiting for me? For how long?”

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

“Like quantum entanglement?”​​ he​​ asked.

She​​ smiled.​​ “Now you’re getting it,”​​ she said.

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

From​​ a​​ four dimensional spacetime​​ perspective you were.​​ But you’ll eventually learn to see things outside your lower-dimensional bias.​​ Here...” she said lighting the joint then passing it to him,​​ “...this should help.”​​ 

Walter​​ brought​​ the joint​​ to his lips, but​​ then thought to​​ ask:​​ “So​​ were​​ you​​ dead​​ or alive​​ when I met you?”​​ 

Shiva sighed.​​ You’ve really got to let go of being​​ dead​​ or​​ alive,”​​ she​​ said.​​ In​​ reality,​​ we’re​​ all​​ just​​ becoming.​​ However,​​ yes.​​ I was​​ dead​​ just like you. I​​ just​​ didn’t know it at the​​ time’, just like you.​​ I also didn’t know the Ace of Cups was​​ a​​ hall pass,​​ but somehow, I still​​ knew I had to give it to you.

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

“No​​ the disease never had​​ ‘time’​​ to get me.”

“What did​​ then?”​​ 

“Well,​​ essentially I killed myself by entangling us together.​​ ‘Time’​​ had to be adjusted so that you and​​ I​​ died​​ at the same ‘time’ in the past, but still met​​ at​​ the same ‘time’ in the future. In order to do that,​​ the past and future​​ had to be​​ layered​​ on top of one another.​​ But this happens all the ‘time’​​ to ‘time’​​ because ‘time’​​ is nothing but a construct of our​​ lower-dimensional​​ four-dimensional perspective.​​ But again,​​ this shouldn’t​​ be a surprise to you. After all, it​​ is​​ what you theorized.”

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

“Don’t worry,” Shiva​​ said​​ caressing his face, “you’ll adjust.​​ And again...” she took the joint from his hand and put it to his lips, “...this will help.”

He inhaled deeply and blew a smoke ring out.​​ She then took the joint and did the same.​​ 

“Now,” she said, “just imagine if our​​ universe—which is in truth just​​ a​​ fraction of the universe—was shrunk​​ down​​ to the size of an atom and someone tried probing in. Do you think that being could even fathom our idea of ‘time’ from their perspective? No, they’d see an entire timeline of the universe playing out at all possible places and at all possible times just like we do when we​​ probe​​ into the world of the atom.​​ However,​​ when​​ you’re unaffected by​​ the fabric of spacetime and​​ no longer bound by the rules of light​​ and ‘time’​​ like​​ we​​ souls​​ are, you realize our world and the world of the atom​​ are​​ one in​​ the same.”

“Okay,” he said more​​ at rest, but still not fully​​ in​​ peace.​​ “But​​ you​​ still​​ haven’t​​ explained​​ how you died.​​ You died on our four-dimensional plane in​​ some​​ way and at some ‘time’ to be here, right?​​ And again, what about Amber? Can I see her? Where is she?”

She​​ looked at​​ him​​ sideways and smirked. “That’s​​ another story for another​​ ‘time’.​​ Right now, let’s just enjoy the moment.”

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 22

Chapter 22

Death Should Always Be Played Loudly​​ ​​ 

 

 

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

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

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

Dank u,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Dimension?​​ What​​ is that?”

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

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

“My death?”

She laughed again. “This​​ song​​ played at your funeral,​​ Mister Chopin.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Dug it’s Walter. Don’t hang up.”

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

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

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

“Can I help​​ you​​ then?”

“Fuck off. I know​​ who​​ you are.”

“Quinn Quark?”

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

“You think I’m​​ a​​ cop?”

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

“Dug, I’m not a cop.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Heroin?”

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

“Who?”

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

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

The callbox clicked off and the front door buzzed open.

 

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

“Mags?”​​ Walter​​ gasped.

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

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

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

“What the fuck Dug?!” Walter shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’d she go?”

“Fuck you.”

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“Her what?”

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

Walter then heard a thud. He peaked from behind the island and noticed Dug had fallen over beside Mags. Stuck in his ass was the device​​ he’d seen earlier online. Walter gagged.

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

“Ugh...” was Dug’s reply.

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

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

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

“Where’s her place?”

Dug hesitated. “If you know Shiva,” he said,​​ “you​​ should​​ know.”

La Lune Rouge?” Walter said.​​ 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“No. But I saw her here last week.”

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you,​​ but that​​ is not​​ possible. I was only person​​ here last week. My sister died​​ almost​​ one​​ year ago.”

“Oh,” he said. “I’m sorry, I must’ve been confused.​​ Do you remember me​​ then? I came here with Shiva.”

“With who? And no.​​ I see hundreds of people every week.”

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

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

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

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

“Her delivery?”

“You must be new. Yes. The one inside​​ the​​ basket. The Lady will be very hungry. It’s been​​ long time​​ since I​​ have​​ seen​​ this bicycle.”

Walter​​ went to the bicycle and​​ opened a compartment hidden in the basket stereo and found a paper bag filled with filled coke vials rubber-banded into bunches like packs of pre-rolled joints.

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

EET FUK.”

“Name?”

“Vernon.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello?” he said just to affirm he was alone. The velvet walls sopped up his voice. “Hello!” he said louder, but​​ it made no difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing can be heard from​​ outside this room,” she said,​​ and nothing inside this room can be heard​​ from​​ outside.​​ But also,​​ there​​ is​​ secret stair​​ behind fetish cabinet​​ to cabaret backstage.​​ Not many people know, but I do.​​ It was​​ sealed​​ in walls​​ when they put​​ garbage shoot in​​ . . .​​ I want you to follow me downstairs, then I want you to​​ go​​ out backstage exit.​​ Leave bike here.”

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

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

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

“Believe me, I know dead.”

The hostess stepped forward from her shadowy corner, but as​​ she came closer,​​ he​​ began to see it wasn’t her. It was the hostess he saw last week, her supposedly dead sister.

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

“Calm down,” she said. “I​​ am​​ not first dead person you​​ have​​ seen, not by far. But that doesn’t matter right now.​​ You need to leave for Paris as soon as possible.”

“Paris?”

“Yes. That is where you told Shiva to meet you.”

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

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

“What will follow?”

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

“You mean Beatrice?”​​ he said.

The ghost hostess smirked. “Who​​ is​​ Beatrice?” she said still smiling.

“I don’t know.​​ Are you?”

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

He​​ turned around, but​​ only​​ found​​ himself reflected​​ in a​​ large mirror.

 

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

Welcome my friend to a place with no life

Where time flays itself out in such vibrant rhyme

The music you hear is your helping guide

Sundered seconds so hard to define

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

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

Scripture becomes​​ universal truth

Perverted and diluted as it flows through the mazes of you

Carving out canyons now crystallized in time

Hold on baby, hold onto that mind

 

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

Feeling his way along the wall​​ for a light switch, he​​ came​​ across​​ a​​ set​​ of​​ double​​ doors instead.​​ Opening one, he found a ramp which lead into an alley with​​ two dumpsters.​​ Looking inside the dumpsters, he found them empty.​​ Coming​​ out of​​ the alley​​ and into the street,​​ he found his​​ urinal.

From his urinal Walter then​​ headed to Dug’s, Suboxone still in his pocket just in case Maria was lying. But when​​ he​​ arrived at​​ the​​ apartment complex,​​ it was surrounded​​ by police​​ tape​​ and onlookers.

“What happened?” Walter asked one of them.

“A couple​​ running a drug operation were found dead. The​​ man​​ choked after a heroin overdose, and the​​ woman​​ shot herself. The gunshot was what made the neighbors call the police.​​ Crazy world, huh?”

“Yes, crazy world.”

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 21

Chapter 21

Something in The Sinookas

 

 

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

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

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

The three of them had​​ taken​​ the train up​​ at​​ the agonizing hour of six​​ that morning, however,​​ Walter’s train​​ to Amsterdam​​ tomorrow​​ would be​​ leaving even earlier.​​ He​​ still​​ hadn’t told Kourtney​​ yet​​ because​​ he​​ still​​ wasn’t​​ sure​​ if​​ he was going through with it.​​ Had he completely lost his mind? Was​​ he​​ really taking cues from​​ illusions now,​​ or​​ his encounter with​​ “Fate” as she liked to call herself?

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

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

“What do you think?” she said smiling.

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

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

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

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

“How’d you know?”

Kourtney tilted her head and sighed.​​ “I don’t know​​ exactly,” she said.​​ “Just​​ sensed​​ something​​ in the sinookas​​ I suppose.”

Walter laughed. “I see you’ve taken to​​ Cat’s Cradle,” he said. He had given​​ her​​ his copy four days earlier. “And apparently you’ve experienced quite the vin-dit.”

“Yes,” she said​​ laughing back. “For a fake religion built on lies,​​ Bokononism​​ sure speaks a hell of a lot of truth. Because of it—or because I read​​ about​​ it, I realized I might’ve been a wrang-wrang in the wrong direction by convincing you to​​ stay on​​ this tour.​​ Maybe you should do everything you can​​ to find Shiva​​ while you’re still on the same continent as​​ her—or hopefully you still are. It’s actually why I asked you what you were doing tonight. I wanted to talk to you about it.​​ Since Venice, I feel like our karass has been waning into its other wampeter, and now I believe that other wampeter is​​ concerned with finding you love. Not that Curt and I don’t love you, truly we do, but you know, a duprass only has room for one more, and you’re not going to find your ‘one’ with us two.”

“Man, you’ve really gone deep into Bokononism,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “And no Kourtney,​​ you were​​ definitely​​ a wrang-wrang​​ in the right direction.​​ I needed these last few days with you and Curt​​ on tour​​ more than you know.​​ But​​ strangely, also​​ in Venice, I​​ felt a pretty strong sensation in the sinookas​​ too.”​​ 

“What was​​ it?”

“Um...” he said​​ drumming his fingers on the wooden train seat.​​ “I’m not sure. I can only describe it as a sign from Fate, or maybe God, or maybe a psychotic episode.​​ Either way, I’m pretty sure it meant go back to Amsterdam—I think—I hope.”

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

“But​​ who​​ is God?”​​ Walter asked.

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

“But what is Love?”

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

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

“Or maybe God is Kurt Vonnegut,” Kourtney said. “Or just the god​​ assigned to you.”

“It would sure explain a hell of a lot,” Walter said. “Is this elevation making you feel as stoned as me?”​​ 

“Would sure explain a hell of a lot.”

They both fell into heavy chuckles,​​ then fell quiet,​​ watching the village​​ slowly​​ grow larger​​ outside the window.

“So​​ you’re​​ for sure​​ going back​​ then?”​​ Kourtney​​ then​​ asked.

“Well, at this point​​ you’ve​​ convinced​​ me Kurt Vonnegut will have it no other way,” Walter​​ said.

“Yes,” she wiped a wayward tear from her face, “but​​ that doesn’t make it any easier​​ letting you leave.​​ What do you say to​​ another​​ romantic friendship date​​ after dinner​​ tonight?​​ There’s a​​ little lookout point​​ in the valley​​ that​​ would be great for a smoke sesh​​ and​​ some​​ stargazing.”

He smiled. “Somehow you always know the way to my heart Kourtney.”​​ 

 

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

The trail​​ began​​ ascending,​​ leading to a​​ rock​​ opening​​ in the cliffside. Inside was​​ a narrow and steep stairwell, and after a long and sharply zigzagging climb, they emerged onto​​ a platform stamped into the rockface​​ behind a gently​​ flowing waterfall. The​​ village​​ now​​ looked​​ like​​ a​​ tiny​​ globule​​ of​​ stars​​ dripped down​​ into the valley​​ from the Milky Way river crossing​​ overhead. Hanging over the​​ globule​​ was​​ what looked to be a low-flying comet, but in actuality​​ was​​ the​​ spot-lit​​ sprays​​ of​​ a​​ waterfall​​ near the center of town.​​ 

“Oh my God,” Walter said​​ leaning over a guardrail​​ and feeling the underside of the waterfall.

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

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

She laughed.​​ “Yes, that place.”

“I can see it.​​ It’s certainly​​ otherworldly, the​​ most beautiful place​​ I think​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ been.​​ And those stars…”​​ He​​ fanned​​ his hand over them.​​ “I’ve never seen so many.”

“You’re always looking at those stars aren’t you?”​​ she said snuggling closer to him on the guardrail.

“It’s the closest thing I​​ have​​ to prayer,” he said snuggling back. “It gives me perspective on things.”

“So it’s where you​​ talk to​​ God​​ you could say?”

“You mean Kurt Vonnegut?”

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

“Curt and I​​ are staying in Paris for a week after the tour ends,” Kourtney said​​ once​​ the laughter died. “Promise you’ll come find us if you don’t find​​ a reason to stay in​​ Amsterdam?​​ You said your plane home takes off from there anyhow.​​ Or maybe​​ we can​​ have the best of both worlds and you and Shiva come find us​​ after you find her​​ in​​ Amsterdam?”​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you Kourtney.”

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

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 20

Chapter​​ 20

The Mask Maker

 

 

Just outside St. Mark’s square,​​ Walter walked​​ along​​ the polished and posh storefronts​​ of​​ Salizada San Moise.​​ A​​ river​​ of​​ faces​​ flooded past him in the jammed corridor, but he was only looking for one:​​ Kourtney’s.​​ After their tour group’s introductory walking tour,​​ they​​ had decided a day​​ alone​​ was needed after spending so much time together recently, but now Walter was greatly regretting that decision.​​ Venice was a living museum and he wanted his museum partner.

The​​ further​​ the​​ trip​​ had​​ progressed, the less the​​ siblings​​ wanted to do​​ together,​​ and​​ the more​​ he​​ found​​ himself​​ split between​​ museums and intellectual​​ ventures​​ with Kourtney in the day and​​ pubs and​​ nocturnal adventures with Curt in the night. And even though​​ Walter​​ enjoyed both​​ with both, his​​ time with​​ Curt was much more limited and usually shared with everyone else since Curt was becoming the most popular person on the tour, whereas with Kourtney,​​ he​​ was discovering a whole​​ new​​ intimacy of friendship. Their​​ fucked up childhoods​​ and​​ constantly​​ nagging anxieties​​ gave them a lot of common ground, and​​ it seemed​​ when one of them went​​ out of whack, the other​​ always​​ knew​​ how​​ to bring the​​ other​​ back in place.​​ But for​​ two people who were​​ proud​​ loners,​​ it was​​ threating​​ to have a friendship that felt so effortless​​ and​​ there was​​ a​​ natural urge to resist it.​​ But after only fifteen minutes​​ without her,​​ now​​ Walter​​ could resist no more.​​ 

Continuing on in his search, he let his gut guide his feet​​ through Venice’s maze of passageways.​​ Unchanged for hundreds of years, the streets had no cars and were so narrow and knotted together, they were in a constant murk​​ from​​ crowded shadows. The past bled​​ easily​​ through​​ the skin of the city,​​ and it took no monumental leap of imagination to travel into it​​ the farther he furthered himself from​​ the​​ crowds.

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

Going closer to the window, however,​​ her face subtly shapeshifted like an evaporating mirage, and by the time he was inside, she was somebody else completely.

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

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

“Huh?” Walter​​ replied.

“What kind of mask were you interested in?”​​ She gestured around the shop.​​ 

“Oh,” he said​​ noticing​​ he was in​​ a​​ mask shop.​​ On the walls, cluttering the shelves, and hanging​​ from the​​ ceiling,​​ were ornate carnival masks​​ adorned with​​ stunning arrays of​​ feathers, beads,​​ and​​ gems.​​ “I​​ do​​ need​​ a mask​​ actually,” he​​ said.​​ Contiki had a themed party almost every night​​ and​​ for Venice it was a masquerade ball.​​ “However,” he said examining​​ a​​ price tag of a​​ nearby​​ mask, “these might be out of my price range.”

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

“You made all these masks?”​​ he​​ asked.

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

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

“No, no, the pleasure is​​ all​​ mine​​ Signore​​ Huxley—that is if you don’t mind trying on the mask?

He shrugged.​​ “Sure. Why not?”​​ 

Perfetto.​​ Come, have a seat here,” she said pulling a chair in front​​ of​​ an antique-looking full body mirror.

After​​ Walter​​ sat,​​ Beatrice’s​​ long fingers felt over the contours of his​​ head,​​ face,​​ and​​ neck​​ like​​ a tailor​​ doing a​​ sizing. “Oh yes,” she said staring straight into​​ his​​ eyes, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”

She then​​ danced​​ more​​ than walked​​ across the small store in elegant,​​ metered​​ movements​​ to some waltz she was​​ lightly​​ humming. She went​​ to​​ a shelf​​ holding​​ several​​ wood and glass display​​ boxes​​ and took one down made​​ of expensive-looking​​ mahogany with​​ a​​ red satin bedding. She opened it​​ and removed a​​ polished,​​ bone-colored​​ mask with a strong brow​​ and​​ aquiline nose​​ in a​​ stern facial expression.​​ The mouth had no opening but the chin protruded forward​​ far enough to fit a hand in for eating and drinking.

She​​ then went​​ to​​ a​​ workbench,​​ selected a spool of thick black ribbon​​ from​​ it,​​ and measured a strand from memory.​​ Then with two quick snips, she cut what she measured into two equal strips, then​​ threaded​​ them​​ through holes on​​ the mask.​​ Returning​​ to Walter, she then​​ placed the mask on​​ him​​ from behind, tying the ribbon​​ snuggly​​ around his head. The mask​​ clung to his face as if it had been​​ custom​​ made. ​​ 

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

“Someone actually,”​​ Walter​​ replied, his brows contracting beneath the mask. “I thought​​ you were them, but I was mistaken.”

“Yes, looks can​​ often​​ be deceiving,​​ and​​ what you​​ see​​ is not what you were thinking.”

His brows crinkled more deeply.

“You fell in love with someone​​ you shouldn’t have fallen in love with,” she said,​​ “and​​ it cost them their life.”

“Do​​ you​​ know​​ me?”​​ he​​ asked.

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

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

Beatrice laughed.​​ “No,​​ I don’t have you​​ yet…”​​ she​​ said picking up the spool of thick black ribbon​​ again​​ and cutting​​ another long piece, “…but now I do.” She​​ then​​ swiftly​​ grabbed his wrists and​​ cuffed​​ them​​ behind the chair​​ with​​ the​​ ribbon.

He​​ bucked​​ up​​ in surprise, but​​ she​​ swung around to the front of him​​ and​​ pushed him back into the chair​​ with the weight of her body. Straddling him,​​ she​​ then​​ reached​​ under the​​ mask’s​​ protruding​​ chin and​​ softly​​ slapped​​ him.

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

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

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

“Actually...​​ all the time lately.​​ But I’ve got a rather eccentric imagination I don’t trust.” ​​ 

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

“To you?”​​ 

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” he said. “Um…​​ what do you mean​​ I​​ fell in love with​​ someone I wasn’t​​ supposed to?”

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

“You?” he asked.

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

He​​ sighed.​​ “Then why do I feel more lost?”

“Just think about it.”

“Amber?”​​ 

Beatrice shrugged and smiled, but said nothing.

“Well,​​ if Amber​​ is​​ listening,” he said​​ looking directly into the mirror, “she should know... she should know​​ I gave up on someone who really could’ve been my ‘one’. I just thought I was looking for perfect, but I was too blind​​ and​​ selfish​​ to see I didn’t need perfect. I needed love. And​​ no doubt, with the exception of my grandmother, nobody loved and believed in me more​​ than​​ you.​​ Tears​​ slowly​​ began dropping from beneath​​ his​​ mask onto his lap. “But​​ I​​ just​​ used​​ your​​ love​​ because I was too​​ in love with myself.​​ I​​ was​​ too in love with myself. And​​ for that,​​ I​​ don’t​​ deserve​​ to find love.​​ I deserve to suffer​​ forever​​ without it.​​ But for you, I will just so you know how sorry I am. Im​​ so​​ sorry Amber. With all my heart and soul, I am sorry.”​​ 

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

“No,” she said​​ looking​​ somberly​​ into the mirror, “you deserve to find love. Everyone​​ does. But​​ first,​​ you need to forgive yourself.​​ Blame is hardly ever​​ shared​​ alone and​​ sometimes just as much​​ in our control​​ as fate.​​ But what we do have control over​​ is forgiveness.​​ Forgive yourself . . . Go on, say it.”

“I forgive you​​ Walter,”​​ he said to the mirror. “I forgive you!”

“You are forgiven,” Beatrice said, and immediately after a weight seemed to lift from his chest, a burden​​ Walter had​​ grown so used to carrying he thought it was a part of him.

He turned around in the chair and looked back​​ at​​ Beatrice with awe.​​ Looking into​​ her eyes, he saw someone he knew he knew but he couldn’t explain why.

Who​​ are​​ you?​​ he​​ asked.​​ Really, who are you?”​​ 

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

“Where?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter sighed. “So I’m Casanova again?”​​ he asked.

“When you wear the mask you are.”

 

Soon after departing from the dock, Beatrice pulled open one​​ of​​ the curtained windows.​​ “Do you recognize that palazzo out there?”​​ she asked pointing​​ to a three-story, cream-colored palace on the canal.​​ 

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

“That is the Palazzo Malipiero, former home of Senator Alvise Malipiero, and site of your first seduction. The senator took you in as a fifteen-year-old protégé and taught you all the customs of high society until you were caught ‘exploring the differences between bodies’ with his seventeen-year-old love interest​​ and he expelled you out of the house.​​ From there, you then went on to lose your virginity to two sisters at the same time, and after that, your seductions are too numerous to name, but some of your most notorious exploits include:​​ having a ménage​​ à trois with two nuns;​​ sleeping with five sisters in exchange for saving their mother from financial ruin; and probably your most repulsive achievement, almost marrying your own daughter whom you unknowingly conceived with a former lover, only to later bed her and her mother at the same time, although you did say you left your virgin daughter ‘intact’ for whatever that’s worth.

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

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

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

“But you always blamed your insatiable sex drive on your insatiable curiosity for human nature,” she went on after she finished pouring, “reasoning​​ the bedroom offered no better view into it. Old, young, fat, skinny, royals, nobles, nuns, slaves, whores, virgins, even a few men and transvestites, you bed them all. But all weren’t merely conquests to you. You actually fell in love quite easily and often. You liked to satisfy and be satisfied intellectually as well as sexually by your partners, and in a time when women were second-class citizens, you saw them as relative equals. You also​​ supported​​ many of​​ your lovers financially and became a lifetime confidant​​ after they were no longer your lovers.​​ Ultimately, however, it is your explorations in the bedroom and not human nature that you are remembered​​ for, and for that​​ Casanova, you​​ have no one to blame but yourself.​​ But​​ now you have the opportunity to finally be forgiven . . .​​ Marcus,” she shouted out the window,​​ prendere​​ noi sotto il Ponte dei Sospiri !

Si mama.​​ Summum virtutum.

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

 

Coming out of the Grand Canal, they​​ skirted​​ along the Venetian coast lined with more cream-colored palazzos,​​ turning pink​​ from the setting sun,​​ until​​ reaching​​ the​​ Rio del Palazzo​​ canal, where they turned in​​ and​​ sailed​​ under​​ the​​ people-packed​​ Ponte della Paglia​​ footbridge, then approached another much higher, ivory-white and ornately-decorated​​ footbridge​​ connecting​​ the Doge's Palace to the palace prison.​​ 

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

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

“Casanova, you​​ could have been an​​ Enlightenment​​ icon had​​ you not let​​ your​​ lust get the best of you, a lust whose winds have reigned over you for nearly three​​ centuries. But now​​ you​​ can​​ finally escape the slavery of your lust​​ and​​ find​​ the​​ divine love​​ you always sought,​​ but never found in life. If you accept this invitation, kiss me at sunset and your​​ divine​​ love will be revealed...” She cleared her throat. “The time is now,” she said touching Walter.

“Time for what?”​​ he​​ said.

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

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

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

“I told you​​ already,” she said.​​ “You can call me Fate.​​ As far as who I​​ really​​ am, that​​ you can only discover​​ by taking my mask​​ off.​​ However,​​ yours​​ comes off​​ first.

“Fine,” he said and​​ reached behind his head and​​ untied​​ the mask. Beatrice​​ let out a short shriek​​ behind her​​ beak.

“What?” he asked.

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

Slightly trembling,​​ Walter’s​​ hands​​ then began untying her mask, but​​ after removing it,​​ he only saw​​ Beatrice​​ grinning. There was, however,​​ a​​ large gap between​​ her​​ front teeth​​ he didn’t remember seeing​​ before. But then again,​​ she hadn’t​​ spent a lot of time​​ full-teeth grinning​​ before then​​ either.​​ He​​ leaned forward​​ regardless​​ and lips met,​​ then​​ tongues​​ began dancing​​ until​​ something bristly​​ began tickling his​​ upper​​ lip.​​ He opened his eyes to find​​ Beatrice had​​ grown a​​ mustache. Then as his eyes adjusted​​ more,​​ he realized it wasn’t Beatrice​​ behind that mustache. It was​​ Dug.

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

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

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

“Often​​ divine​​ love isn’t.”

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

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

“Wait,​​ are you—”

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 19

 

Chapter​​ 19

I Heard My Soul Singing Behind a​​ Leaf

 

 

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

Zum wohl,” everyone repeated.

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

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

So why​​ then​​ had he not turned himself into the police? Why​​ was​​ he​​ here​​ instead of with her? No​​ one​​ cared about him here, not even Curt and Kourtney. But who could blame them for not wanting to be around someone they were constantly having to talk off ledges?​​ Maybe it was time​​ he​​ just​​ jumped.​​ The universe had given him his​​ opportunity​​ for love​​ and he walked away because he was afraid. He was a coward.​​ He was pathetic.​​ The world was tired of Walter Huxley and his whining. He should​​ just​​ go down​​ to​​ the river, walk in and drown.

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

 

From the​​ darkness of the​​ cellar,​​ Walter​​ emerged​​ into twilight​​ light​​ atop one of the many​​ steep and​​ narrow​​ brick​​ roads​​ of​​ the small German town of​​ St. Goar.​​ The streets were silent and the shops were closed as much of the citizenry were out of town for the upcoming Corpus Christi holiday.​​ Located​​ in the lush and historic Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the​​ surrounding slopes​​ were dotted​​ in​​ medieval​​ castles and​​ vineyards,​​ and​​ the town itself kept​​ a​​ comparable​​ medieval, gothic​​ character.

Down by the​​ river,​​ he​​ hiked​​ up​​ his pants and waded into the water. In front of him,​​ passing​​ cargo ships plunged in and out of​​ the setting sun​​ wedging​​ itself​​ into the​​ wide river​​ gulch,​​ spilling​​ its​​ blood-orange​​ innards​​ over​​ the​​ storied and fertile​​ hills​​ that had been battled over since the time of the Romans.

Momentarily​​ forgetting​​ his​​ present-day​​ woes​​ in​​ imaginations of the past,​​ he​​ stayed standing in the river​​ until​​ it​​ swallowed the sun whole.​​ Then​​ when​​ the stars began opening their eyes,​​ he​​ returned​​ to the river​​ shore​​ to ruminate in them as​​ it​​ had​​ been a long time since he could see and communicate with​​ so many.​​ But as his eyes adjusted to the light of the dark diamond sea, he noticed he was not alone in his stargazing. Up on a grassy​​ knoll​​ just adjacent to him​​ was Kourtney.

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

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

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

He​​ laughed. “How’d you know?”​​ 

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

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

“And the​​ soak​​ didn’t​​ help?”​​ Kourtney​​ asked.

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

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

“Where’s everyone else?”

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

“Curt too?”​​ Walter asked.

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

He smiled.​​ “How do you always know the way to my heart Kourtney?”​​ he​​ said​​ taking​​ it. “And​​ I suppose talking to someone is probably a better way of going about​​ it.”

“Good,” she said as she began uncorking the wine. “I didn’t bring glasses, so hopefully​​ you’re​​ okay​​ with drinking a sixty-euro bottle of wine​​ from the spout.”

Wine’s more about who than what you drink it with​​ anyway,​​ Walter said lighting the joint, then taking​​ a hit before passing it to​​ Kourtney​​ in exchange for the bottle.

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

“Boat captain?”​​ he said.​​ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You got kicked out?​​ For what?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

Kourtney snickered.

“What?”​​ Walter​​ asked.

It’s just obvious you’ve never​​ really​​ been in love​​ then,” she said.​​ “Because ‘the one’ is bullshit.​​ No one is meant for each other.​​ Only in poetry is love undyingly perfect. In the real world,​​ it’s​​ extremely​​ complicated,​​ full of​​ sacrifices,​​ and most of the time romanceless, but that’s​​ how​​ it​​ makes us better​​ people.​​ When you first fall in love with someone,​​ all you see is a​​ romanticized version of who they really are; you see their​​ best​​ qualities first.​​ It takes time to​​ chip away at this façade and​​ see​​ the​​ real,​​ imperfect person beneath, but that’s​​ when love’s magic​​ really​​ starts to work.​​ You’re​​ going to​​ have to​​ figure out​​ how to deal​​ with​​ someone​​ who’s not​​ completely compatible​​ with you​​ sexually,​​ emotionally,​​ and/or​​ philosophically, and they’ll have to do the same of you. But this friction​​ is what​​ strengthens​​ and transforms​​ you both​​ into​​ something closer to​​ those idealized versions of yourselves you both initially fell in love with,​​ because ideally,​​ you​​ both​​ don’t want to let the other person down.​​ Granted, there will be certain flaws you’ll​​ have to accept,​​ and you’ll need to figure out what and how many flaws are worth the price of love, but as weird as it sounds, balanced friction​​ really​​ is true love​​ in the end.

“But I fell in love with Shiva because she was imperfect,” Walter said, “as imperfect as me.​​ She​​ was perfectly imperfect.”

Kourtney​​ halfway rolled her eyes and​​ gave him​​ a​​ smile. “Yes,” she said, “but you are still using the word​​ perfect to describe her, so I still don’t think you understand yet.​​ Also,​​ and​​ I’m​​ not​​ sure if you remember telling me on the canal cruise or not,​​ but​​ didn’t​​ you​​ fall​​ in love​​ with Amber​​ over sharing your depression together?​​ I’m sure you thought​​ she was ‘perfectly imperfect’ at first​​ also.”

“I told you​​ about​​ that?”​​ he said astonished.

“Yes, you told me a lot about Amber. In fact, she was almost all you talked about​​ last night​​ before​​ we lost you.”

Really?

Really​​ . . .​​ Anyway,​​ what​​ I’m trying to say​​ is,​​ love at first sight might exist, but true love always takes time​​ to find.​​ Also, life is filled with many shots at love. What’s more important is knowing where to aim. So even if Shiva doesn’t turn out to be your ‘one’, I guarantee another ‘one’ will​​ eventually​​ come along.”

“Yes,” Walter said,​​ still looking​​ slightly conflicted.​​ “But right now​​ all I can think about is her. I just want more time, that’s all; more​​ time​​ than just one night.”

“Well,” Kourtney​​ replied, “if​​ fate​​ or the universe​​ is​​ really​​ guiding​​ you​​ to Shiva,​​ then​​ it​​ will​​ find a way​​ of giving it to you.​​ But until then, maybe you should get a good night’s worth of sleep. Also, maybe​​ try​​ to​​ enjoy this trip​​ a little.​​ We’re only on the second stop​​ after all.”

“Yeah, you’re right,”​​ he​​ said putting his hands​​ over his​​ face. “I’m in​​ no​​ state of mind​​ to be making​​ decisions​​ right now.”​​ 

“Yes,”​​ Kourtney​​ said, “but also,​​ maybe I​​ am​​ being​​ a little​​ selfish​​ too.​​ I​​ know I’d​​ miss you terribly if you left.​​ You’re the only real friend​​ I​​ have other​​ than my brother on this tour. And I’m not like my brother, I can’t make friends with just anyone.”

“Really?​​ You’d miss me?​​ Someone you’re​​ always​​ having to​​ talk off ledges?”

“It’s​​ better than having a boring friend,” she​​ said​​ smiling.​​ “And talking to you has​​ put​​ my problems with my brother​​ in perspective. So in some way, without even trying, you​​ also talked me off a ledge—or​​ maybe​​ just a small mound. And​​ you can’t​​ force that​​ kind​​ of​​ chemistry.”

“Well,​​ I think the wine deserves some credit too.” Walter​​ shook​​ the nearly empty bottle. “But regardless Kourtney,” he said putting an arm around her, “I’m​​ the luckiest person in the world to have found you.​​ And​​ uh...” his​​ arm retreated​​ back, “I​​ mean​​ that in​​ the most​​ strictly platonic​​ way.”

She​​ laughed.​​ “I know that Walter,” she said​​ pulling his arm​​ back​​ around her.​​ She​​ then​​ pushed back and they both​​ fell​​ onto​​ the grass, resting​​ their heads upon​​ one another.​​ “But it​​ is really romantic​​ though, isn’t it?”​​ she​​ said.

“What is?”​​ he asked.

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

“Yes,​​ I guess​​ it is,” he said looking around.​​ “Too​​ bad it’s being wasted on us​​ though.”

“Why’s​​ that?” she said.​​ Romance can be just as equally appreciated between friends. At​​ least there’s someone to share it with. That’s the most depressing part of being alone. Lifes no different than a memory,​​ and you can’t share a memory with anyone but yourself.​​ So​​ at least​​ tonight​​ will never be​​ just​​ a memory.”​​ She​​ then​​ kissed him on the cheek. “I love you Walter.”

He kissed her on the cheek back. “I love you too Kourtney. What I did to deserve your​​ love​​ I’ll never know.​​ I guess somebody up there still likes me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 18

Chapter​​ 18

Dancing Around​​ 

 

 

After less than three hours of sleep, the​​ horizon of consciousness​​ came at​​ the​​ sound of​​ light rain​​ drumming​​ on the​​ left​​ open​​ skylight, then the sight of​​ her​​ red hair​​ on the pillow​​ beside​​ him.​​ Whether​​ the color​​ was natural or not, he cared not. It was the most beautiful​​ red​​ in the world​​ because​​ he’d only seen it​​ in a​​ dream. But​​ his​​ raw​​ lips​​ and​​ aching​​ muscles​​ were a testament this red was in fact a real color of life and​​ the​​ dancing they made until​​ the​​ moon​​ met the first rays​​ of​​ sunlight. But​​ then​​ real​​ also​​ were​​ his​​ feelings​​ and the evening which defeated his supposedly superior powers of reasoning.

But no,​​ Walter​​ reminded himself,​​ your powers of reasoning are​​ under slept​​ and​​ heavily​​ intoxicated​​ by​​ dopamine​​ from all that dancing last night.​​ This feeling of a​​ jigsaw puzzle​​ falling into place will pass.

But then​​ the red hair​​ turned​​ around​​ and her still sleeping face made all the pieces fall right back.

For the next few minutes​​ all​​ he​​ could do​​ was​​ stare​​ this​​ puzzle​​ in the face, this puzzle he’d known for​​ less than​​ one evening, an evening he still couldn’t remember beginning only being dropped into​​ as​​ an entangled​​ electron coming into​​ being. He saw so much of himself mirrored in her,​​ like​​ two unknown hemispheres of the same earth that could​​ now​​ never be independent​​ of each other.​​ But​​ the reflection wasn’t​​ at all​​ what​​ he​​ was expecting.​​ He never thought love would be a tarot-card-reading hippie.​​ But somehow too, it made perfect sense.

Perfect sense?​​ None of this makes any sense.

“Whatta ya​​ looking at creep?”​​ Shiva​​ said with her eyes​​ still​​ seemingly​​ closed. She​​ then​​ opened them​​ and​​ began laughing, the​​ same​​ musical laugh that​​ had​​ sound-tracked his dream.​​ “Did you even sleep,” she asked​​ moving her head over to his pillow,​​ “or​​ were you afraid you’d wake up and lose me?”

“No,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ wrapping his arms around her,​​ “I slept and woke up​​ and you’re still here. So​​ I guess​​ last night wasn’t​​ a dream.​​ Unless dreams leave​​ love bites.” He showed her​​ the inside of his​​ bruised​​ lower lip.​​ She then peeled her lip and he saw hers looked the same. They both laughed.

“No​​ sir,” she said,​​ “only flesh and blood. But I guess I was​​ appraising​​ the​​ validity​​ of​​ yours​​ also.​​ It would’ve been lonely​​ this morning​​ with​​ only​​ a figment of my​​ subconscious​​ to warm me.”​​ She snuggled her​​ flesh and blood​​ even​​ closer to his​​ beneath the blankets.​​ “Bodies are much​​ warmer in the morning​​ than dreams.”​​ ​​ 

“But​​ whose​​ body’s going to keep you warm​​ after this dream ends?”

Shiva looked at​​ Walter confused.​​ “What do you mean by that?” she asked.

“Did​​ you forget I’m on a bus tour that leaves at​​ two​​ today?”​​ he said.

“Oh, no,” she said, but​​ looking as if she did.​​ “It... it​​ just felt so far away last night.​​ The​​ night​​ always seems like it can stretch forever​​ and it always catches you off guard when it doesn’t.”

“Almost​​ like a dream.”

“Yes,” she said​​ with a anxious smile, “especially​​ a dream​​ that​​ keeps you so busy dancing​​ you​​ forget about the time​​ . . . Uh, so what’s your next stop?”

“A small​​ German​​ town in the Rhineland called St. Goar,​​ then​​ Munich,​​ Tyrol​​ Austria, Venice, Switzerland,​​ and​​ Paris.”

“Sounds​​ like an amazing trip.​​ Anything planned?”

“Other than​​ visiting​​ some​​ famous headstones in Paris,​​ not much.​​ Contiki plans​​ everything​​ for you.”

“Let me guess...​​ Descartes​​ obviously.​​ Voltaire,​​ Jim Morrison​​ possibly?”

Walter smiled and shook his head.​​ “How well you’ve gotten to know me in our little time together,” he said.​​ “Also Proust, but that’s for someone else.”

“Well,​​ tell Jim I said hi.​​ His grave was the first place I​​ went​​ when​​ I went​​ to Paris for the first time.​​ I was madly in love with​​ him​​ as​​ a​​ teenager.​​ He​​ was my gateway to poetry.”

“Are you sure ‘hi’​​ is​​ all you want​​ to say​​ then?”

“No,​​ also​​ tell him this...”​​ Shiva​​ then​​ sealed​​ her lips​​ onto​​ Walter’s​​ and​​ their​​ torsos​​ imitated, arms and legs​​ knotting​​ around​​ one​​ another​​ as​​ if​​ trying to stem the​​ flow of​​ time​​ left together.​​ But the harder they pressed, the more time​​ had something to measure itself against​​ inside​​ their chests. Their hearts were ringing like​​ fire alarms.

“I’m sure​​ he​​ would​​ much rather hear​​ that​​ from you,” Walter’s heart​​ spoke​​ out loud​​ after the​​ kiss withdrew. “Let’s go to​​ Paris and tell​​ Jim​​ hi together.​​ Fuck my​​ bus​​ tour. With the exception of two people, I wasn’t a big fan anyway.”

Shiva​​ said nothing,​​ but​​ in​​ her eyes​​ was​​ a war of words.

“I’m sorry if that sounded crazy,”​​ he said.

“No...” she​​ replied, now unable to look him in the eye. Her body​​ also​​ loosened​​ its grip around​​ him.​​ “It sounds​​ wonderful,​​ but I’d hate for you to do that for me.”

“Well,​​ I​​ hate​​ the thought I’m going to have to say goodbye to you in less than six hours,”​​ his​​ heart​​ pressed on.​​ “I’m sorry again if I sound crazy,​​ but​​ how am I supposed to walk away from the person every sign in the universe is telling me​​ to​​ be​​ with, the only​​ person who’s managed to convince​​ me​​ the universe even​​ gives​​ signs?”

She​​ became even more uncomfortable, her body continuing to​​ unfasten​​ and separate.

Shut up Heart!​​ Walter’s rational mind​​ begged from the chair​​ it​​ was tied to inside​​ his head.​​ Shut up! You’re going to​​ spoil​​ love like​​ you always do by speaking too soon.

“I... I—”​​ he began

“Please don’t finish that,”​​ Shiva​​ said​​ cupping his mouth.​​ “But please don’t feel ashamed for wanting to say it.​​ Let’s just say,​​ signs​​ can​​ also​​ be traps in disguise . . .​​ Um...” she began breathing heavily,​​ “...there’s something I’ve been dancing around that I need to tell you.​​ Mags isn’t just my best friend and roommate, she’s... she’s​​ my girlfriend.”

He​​ shuttered and sharply turned​​ his head​​ away with his eyes closed​​ as if a​​ landmine had exploded.​​ He​​ should’ve known better than to​​ follow​​ his heart​​ into​​ no​​ man’s​​ land.​​ ​​ 

“W-Why... why​​ didn’t you tell me?”​​ Walter​​ asked​​ doing his best to cover his wounds.

 “Because I didn’t think I​​ would have to​​ when​​ I first met you,”​​ Shiva​​ said, her body​​ clinging​​ back to​​ his to calm​​ his​​ shaking.​​ “Mags and I have​​ always had an open relationship. But as of recent,​​ it’s been increasingly​​ open,​​ and​​ you’re not the first​​ stranger​​ I’ve taken to​​ La Lune Rouge​​ and spent the night ‘dancing’ with​​ after.​​ However,​​ it’s becoming increasingly obvious to me you’re​​ no ordinary stranger, and not just because of the signs.​​ 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​​ it, along with the only tarot card I’ve ever given​​ away​​ from my mother’s deck, and I’m not exactly sure​​ why I’m​​ attaching​​ so much meaning to​​ you,​​ someone I’ve known for less than eight hours,​​ other than I’m under some strange spell​​ . . .​​ Or maybe it’s the signs convincing me.​​ Now that I think of it,​​ my horoscope​​ said​​ my love life was​​ going to be fucked this month​​ because my ruling planet Jupiter​​ is​​ moving into Gemini and the full moon lunar eclipse in​​ my sign​​ Sagittarius​​ would be the beginning of it,​​ the full moon you appeared on.​​ But​​ I never take horoscopes seriously, however,​​ the moon,​​ we’ve always shared a​​ special​​ connection. I just wish... I wish there was more time to think about it. While​​ I’m not exactly in a happy relationship,​​ Mags​​ still​​ has a lot of my heart and​​ I’m​​ not sure​​ abandoning her​​ right now​​ for​​ someone I’ve known less than eight hours—because if I leave with you​​ we both know that’s what​​ I’d be doing—is​​ the right answer either. But​​ then again,​​ it​​ is​​ now or never for you.

“No​​ it’s not,” Walter said.​​ “My tour ends in​​ Paris​​ in a week. Meet me there if​​ you decide​​ to follow the signs.​​ We are under some strange spell and it’s called​​ sleep deprivation​​ mixed with​​ toxic levels of dopamine.​​ Also, I did do a lot of drugs last night.​​ Let’s​​ wait until then to​​ see if​​ the signs​​ are speaking​​ as strongly.”

Shiva sighed.​​ “You’re right,”​​ she​​ said.​​ “Obviously we’re​​ not thinking straight, and maybe some of this is in our heads. However,​​ my heart feels differently.”

“Mine too, but hearts​​ are​​ idiots​​ we shouldn’t always trust.”

She let out a laugh.​​ “Yes, following my heart​​ to Europe​​ is what​​ got me into this mess to begin with.”

“But​​ it’s not a mess you have to stay with, and Paris isn’t you’re only option.​​ Why not​​ go​​ back home​​ to​​ San Francisco?”

“It’s...” she swallowed nervously. “It’s hard to explain.​​ Not​​ that I don’t want to go back, I just only have​​ so much​​ time left before I can never travel again, so it’s​​ now​​ or never.​​ Going back home means... it means the​​ beginning of the end​​ in a way​​ for me.​​ I know that doesn’t make sense​​ probably, but that’s the​​ best​​ way​​ I can put it. Also because I overstayed my​​ visa, I most likely won’t be able to return to Europe for a long time, possibly never if the authorities discover the illegal activities I was engaged in, and​​ it’s​​ a good chance they​​ will.”

“So what, you’re just going to stay in Europe until you get​​ caught​​ and deported?”​​ Walter asked.

“Basically.”

He​​ scoffed.​​ “Come on Shiva.​​ You’re twenty-two. What’s​​ so limiting in your life? What​​ else​​ are you dancing around?”

She smirked​​ and​​ sighed​​ weakly. “How well you’ve​​ also​​ gotten to know me in our little time together . . .​​ My mother and I’s secret,” she​​ said​​ at last.​​ “I don’t want to tell it, but from what the signs have been telling​​ me, I don’t​​ think​​ she’ll mind.​​ However, that doesn’t make it easy.” She​​ fanned​​ her eyes to dry them.

 “The​​ morning before my first day of first grade,” she​​ began after a deep breath,​​ I​​ went into her room to say goodbye and was the first to​​ discover her​​ after her​​ overdose.​​ Although it​​ was a suicide,​​ she’d been suffering with​​ Huntington’s disease​​ my entire life, but hadn’t been​​ diagnosed until​​ after​​ she was pregnant with me.​​ It​​ started​​ slowly,​​ but by the time I was four, she was basically a prisoner of her body. She couldn’t complete a sentence without stuttering or walk without falling. Then she started to sporadically forget who​​ I was, and eventually my father too, and it only got worse as time went on. There’s no cure, so we just had to watch helplessly as the disease robbed her of everything she loved about life: dancing, singing, her family, her freewill. So I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same in the same situation.”

Her​​ eyes began​​ glistening​​ again, but this time she couldn’t dry off the tears.​​ “Here’s something​​ you might find interesting,” she said.​​ “Did you know if your entire genome sequence​​ was stretched​​ around the world, the genetic mistake that caused my mother’s disease would only make up less than an inch? Just a few extra repeating lines of DNA makes the difference.​​ But did you also know an affected parent has a fifty percent chance of passing the disease​​ onto their child?”

“You’re​​ telling me…”​​ Walter​​ attempted to ask.

“Yes, she passed it onto me. I still have​​ an​​ estimated​​ seven years or so before my decline​​ should​​ begin,​​ but it can happen any time. Ultimately, however, whether by suicide or a slow regression from my body and mind, I’m not going to see anything close to a full life. But then I guess I should be asking myself if my life is already so compromised, then why should my heart be also? And​​ as the Ace of Cups says, ‘divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning’ . . .​​ Fuck, it’s so much easier​​ looking​​ for guidance​​ from the universe than accepting it.​​ But how more direct can it be than someone with your​​ fucking​​ name on his​​ t-shirt?”

Speaking of​​ my​​ shirt...” Walter​​ cleared his throat nervously,​​ ...come to think of it,​​ there’s​​ also​​ something​​ I​​ danced around’​​ last night.”

A flash​​ of the banshee came over Shiva’s face.​​ “What?” she asked.

“My​​ friend, Dug.​​ I’m... I’m​​ 99.9 percent certain 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,”​​ Shiva​​ said. “Not​​ here​​ in Amsterdam. That’s what doesn’t make sense.​​ The only reason I moved​​ to​​ Amsterdam was this was where I was told I was selling the most records.”

“Dug’s label​​ was in Paris, but​​ he​​ moved​​ it​​ to Amsterdam​​ because his girlfriend wanted to move here, however, she left him for someone else three months after arriving. Now that I think about​​ it,​​ he said his girlfriend was​​ a cabaret dancer . . . Mags​​ isn’t​​ Parisian, is she?”

“Yes.​​ When did Dug move​​ the label​​ here?”

“Two years ago.”

“And I met Mags two years ago.”

“This may sound offensive,” Walter said,​​ “but how​​ is​​ Mags’s ass compared to other asses?”​​ 

“Best​​ I’ve seen,​​ hands down.”

“Dug said the same. He also said​​ he fell in love with her because​​ she​​ was into things in bed no other girl was into.”

Shiva​​ began laughing.​​ “As a dominatrix,​​ Mags is​​ famous for her fisting​​ services.”​​ Walter gave​​ her​​ a coy look.​​ “I​​ said​​ as​​ a​​ dominatrix,” she replied to his eyes.​​ “Nobody wants to​​ be at​​ work​​ at​​ home​​ and that’s all​​ you need to know.”

“Does Mags​​ do any​​ painting?”​​ he asked.

“Not​​ that I’m aware of. Why?”

“Dug also said his girlfriend was an abstract painter who liked to mix vomit into the paint along with other bodily fluids​​ like blood and semen.”

“Where’s your shirt?”​​ Shiva​​ said​​ as if suddenly realizing something.

“Here.”​​ Walter​​ scooped​​ it up from the floor​​ and handed​​ it to her.​​ She​​ then spread​​ it​​ out over​​ the bed.

“Look closely,”​​ she​​ said, “I always knew there was​​ something about​​ this image​​ that made it seem of flesh and blood, because it is—or at least​​ some of it is. It’s​​ so obvious​​ looking at it​​ now.​​ His girlfriend​​ must’ve been the person who painted this​​ . . . Oh my God,”​​ she​​ put her hand to her face. “It​​ all​​ makes sense. But also, no​​ sense at all.”

“What does?”​​ he​​ asked.

They were then abruptly interrupted by a thunderous​​ pounding​​ at​​ the cabin door. From the door’s porthole on the other side of the boat they saw​​ a small​​ image of a​​ bald and​​ mustached man​​ poking an eye in on them.

“The deadbolt!” Shiva yelled​​ and​​ darted to the​​ door on the​​ other side of the boat​​ to​​ engage​​ it. The​​ man​​ in the porthole​​ then​​ exploded in presumably Dutch expletives.​​ Apparently he didn’t have a key.​​ 

Having followed her to the door, Walter saw​​ the​​ man​​ had​​ what​​ appeared​​ to be his family​​ behind him, a wife,​​ an adult son, and a young daughter.

“What’s going​​ on?”​​ Walter​​ asked. “I thought you said you knew the owner?”

“The​​ owner’s son​​ technically,” Shiva said.​​ “The tall guy in the blue shirt​​ out there.”

“He doesn’t look like a Deadhead.”

“He’s not. I made that up​​ last night, sorry.”

“How​​ do you know him​​ then?”

She sighed.​​ “Mostly biblically,​​ every couple of weeks​​ or so​​ in here.​​ But last week he​​ said​​ he​​ was going out of town for a week starting yesterday, or maybe it could’ve been today. I wasn’t the most sober. I also didn’t consider ‘going out of town’ meant on his boat.”

She​​ waved through the porthole at her handsome-looking beau, who​​ just stared back awkwardly.​​ The​​ father then​​ kicked the door a few times, turned to her beau, then sent him away.

“Well,​​ that bought us some time,” Shiva said. “If I translated correctly,​​ I think he has to go get​​ the key​​ for the deadbolt.​​ Let’s get​​ out of here​​ before he​​ does.”

“So...” Walter asked as they​​ clothed, “...anything else you’ve been ‘dancing around’ I should know?”

“Oh because hey Walter,​​ let me take you back to my occasional fuckboy’s boat would’ve been better? Yes, you met me at sort of​​ a shameful period in my life​​ and I’m sorry​​ if​​ I’m not so​​ ready to​​ share it​​ all​​ with​​ you right away.​​ But​​ regardless,​​ what you ‘danced around’​​ was​​ way​​ worse.​​ How could you​​ have​​ not told​​ me after you​​ learned​​ what that bastard did—what he took from me?​​ However, now I’m realizing he might have​​ not​​ been alone, but still.​​ It​​ just​​ makes me wonder if there’s anything else you’re protecting for him.”

“I wasn’t protecting him.​​ And no there’s not.​​ I didn’t tell you for the same reason you didn’t tell me about your girlfriend​​ right away;​​ I didn’t know last night would come to this. But I never planned on not telling you.​​ However,​​ now​​ I’m​​ wondering​​ what else you might be​​ ‘dancing around’​​ because you find it too​​ ‘shameful’ to tell me.​​ At least​​ I​​ actually​​ danced​​ around​​ the truth, you​​ just​​ flat out​​ lied.”

“Yeah,​​ but​​ a​​ white​​ lie hurts a​​ whole​​ lot less than​​ a​​ fatass​​ half-truth.”

“Yes, but you’ve also done your fair share of fatass half-truthing too.”​​ 

Shiva​​ scowled at him, then​​ looked​​ out the porthole. “Shit,” she said, “he’s already back​​ with the key.​​ We’re just going to have to make a run for it.”​​ They primed themselves​​ by​​ the door.​​ “Ready?”​​ she​​ asked.

Walter​​ shook his​​ head emphatically.​​ 

She​​ then​​ swung​​ the door​​ open​​ and​​ they charged forward, catching​​ her​​ beau​​ behind it​​ off-guard​​ and​​ knocking him​​ to the​​ ground. They​​ then​​ jumped​​ over his body to an applause​​ from​​ a​​ crowd​​ that​​ had gathered​​ on the bank​​ to watch​​ the spectacle. They​​ clapped​​ again​​ as​​ Walter outmaneuvered the​​ short but burly​​ father​​ on the slippery and wet boat deck​​ while​​ the​​ daughter and​​ wife watched in​​ horror.​​ 

Just as Walter’s feet made it to​​ the canal sidewalk,​​ the crowd​​ lit up​​ again​​ as the father​​ seized​​ Shiva by the arm​​ just as she was about to leap off​​ the boat deck.​​ She​​ began shaking​​ like a rodeo bull,​​ but​​ couldn’t free​​ herself.​​ She then slipped and​​ the father managed to grab the other arm and pinned them both behind her back.

Walter​​ leapt​​ back onto the deck and​​ circled in a standoff​​ with​​ him.​​ “I’m very sorry,”​​ he​​ said. “Please let her go and we’ll leave. I don’t want any trouble.”

Politie!​​ Politie!”​​ the father​​ shouted​​ back.

“What’s he saying?”​​ 

“Police!” Shiva​​ cried,​​ scowling​​ in agony and embarrassment.​​ “Walter,​​ do something!​​ I can’t get arrested.”​​ However,​​ just as she said that,​​ she​​ wrestled​​ an​​ arm away,​​ then​​ kicked​​ the father​​ squarely in the crotch.​​ “Run!” she screamed.

Adrenaline took the lead. Sprinting faster than he thought capable, Walter began​​ winding​​ through the streets, keeping Shiva’s flashing red mane in his peripheral​​ behind him.

“Run up that alleyway to the right!” he heard her shout.

He ducked into it and came upon a​​ small​​ and shady​​ garden​​ hub​​ in which​​ three smaller​​ alleyways​​ convened.​​ He went​​ into the left​​ one​​ and turned to wait for​​ her. After waiting a five second​​ eternity, he ran back out into the street. She wasn’t there.

“Shiva!” he​​ cried. But the quiet street gave no response. “Shiva!”​​ he cried again, but the same thing.

He then​​ tried​​ to backtrack his steps, but​​ two streets in,​​ he began to be unsure of his path. Two minutes​​ later his mind was in​​ a​​ terror.

“Shiv—” he cut himself off​​ just​​ as he​​ came upon the chirp​​ of a siren from around a corner.​​ 

He dipped into​​ a nearby​​ flower shop and​​ from behind its​​ window​​ saw​​ her​​ being​​ loaded​​ into a Volkswagen​​ police car. As he went​​ to the window, the car then pulled away.

Tears​​ began waterfalling helplessly as he ran​​ out​​ of​​ the flower shop and back​​ onto the street​​ in hyperventilation.​​ He​​ then​​ staggered back to the​​ garden​​ hub​​ and​​ crumpled onto​​ a​​ bench.

He’d lost her, and​​ neither​​ of them​​ had any contact information for each other.​​ Maybe love would forever be a no man’s land​​ for Walter.​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 17