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​​ putting​​ a​​ sympathetic​​ hand on his shoulder.​​ “You still haven’t figured it out​​ yet. You still think you survived.”

Survived what? . . .​​ Oh my God. The lightning strike​​ . . .​​ I’m…​​ I’m​​ dead?!

“Surprise!” she said smiling. “But​​ it’s not all bad.​​ Really, you could have had it much worse.”

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 being.​​ 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’​​ my love.​​ But right now, let’s just enjoy this.”