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.”