Where am I? She thought as she woke up to a dim blue and orange sky. Immediately, she noted her sickening circumstances–lying in a grimy dumpster. She jerked herself up and out and fell to the ground. She landed hard on the pavement and her legs buckled. The hard crack from her knees sent a sharp wave of pain up her thighs. She moaned and laid up against the side of the heavy graffiti-ridden container, and looked out on her surroundings. It appeared that she was in some sort of small construction site, possibly for a costume home. The smell was rank, and she scrunched her nose, but nothing could stave off the smell of feces and rotten bananas. So she covered her face in her shirt and hobbled out of the dusty nail-filled site to a nearby curb and sat down. She locked eyes with a group of cats lingering on the other side of the street. They stared at her as if she was their new neighbor. By the smell coming off of her, she had no room to argue. Her whole body was disgusting. Her clothing consisted of nothing more than a tattered white night-gown. The look made her feel pitiful.
She eyed the beautiful shiny cars parked on the curbs and the small decorative villas along the street. Palm trees and heavily manicured gardens lined the front yards. Directly in front of her stood a solid oak-lined façade that rose upward to a wonderfully serene rooftop patio. As her eyes traveled from home to home along the street, she noted the uniqueness in each of the houses–oddly angled sides, rare shrubbery, vastly windowed houses. This was definitely a rich neighborhood, but where exactly it was remained a mystery. She scratched her head and tried to recollect any string of thoughts which could connect her current situation with the previous night. In the end, it was useless. She had no idea how on God’s green earth she had ended up in a dumpster in the middle of suburbia.
She walked towards what looked like a busy intersection. A small, foe-family owned burger stand named Kaylin’s Seaside Subs sat at the corner, so she deduced that she must in fact be by the beach. She crossed the street, and immediately smelled the salt in the air and felt the sandy breeze. A beige glow peeked out through the small side-street alleys in front of her. The dawn was coming quickly and the sun-kissed orange color dominated the horizon. As she strode closer and closer, it brightened her weakened gaze. She smiled lightly as she caught sight of the golden sand at the end of the cul-de-sac. She took a step out onto it, and her mouth fell open. She sighed as her feet sank deep into the sand. It felt cold and grainy. As she walked down to the beach, the heels of her feet dug deeply again and again. The pain in her calves felt unbearable. But the breeze was light and welcoming, so she continued on towards the little waves. The beach was quiet except for the constant tide and the occasional gull.
Then the sound of crashing waves on rock jolted her senses. She stared at the jagged rocks that protruded out of the water. The noise made her stomach curl. She averted her eyes from the violent torrents that crashed and sprayed into the air. A strange fearful awareness and anxiety crept into her mind suddenly. The last wave in the set pounded the rock, and her heart jumped in her chest. But as soon as the set ended, the water leveled out and the sea became tranquil. She uncovered her ears and stood up straight. In the distance, she could faintly hear the sound of a child laughing. It diverted her attention like a ray of light in a flurry of stormy clouds. She tracked the sound to a small boy who stood by the shore kicking the little waves as they came in. She smiled and started to walk over.
She sat on the end of the white sand and faced the young frolicking boy. The gregarious smile on his face had completely dissolved her anxiety. He seemed to embellish a happiness reminiscent in all hapless youth. They have nothing to fear, she reflected. If only creation stayed so innocent and untarnished. The boy ceased battling the half-heartedly furious waves, and moved on to the local wildlife. His eyes set on a wandering seagull unfortunate enough to be making his journey against the wind. As it flapped with all its might to reach discarded trash buried half-way in the sand, it hung suspended, only able to maintain its present altitude. It could not inch further against the tormenting wind. The boy chose such a glorious sight of natural struggle to try and capture the beast. He jumped again and again up and down to grasp the talons of the bird. He laughed wholeheartedly and sprang with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. The woman’s attention was set on the entwined hopes and dreams of the two. As she watched, her toes played instinctively in the sand.
She began to recall a time when she tried to catch birds at the beach. She remembered a funny moment very long ago when she sat just the same watching a similar attempt, though far more inventive. A man had figured out a way to lure a bird in with a tub of peanut butter. At the time, his friends laughed harmoniously as he buried himself halfway in the sand and covered himself with a blanket. When only his head and shoulders were visible, the peanut butter jar was placed on the sand in front of him on the towel. Then he waited for a bird to come flying in to get a snack. It worked. An unsuspecting seagull landed on the towel, and he sprang up out of the sand and trapped it inside. The rest was indecent. The entangled bird clawed and rattled as they toyed with it for a time. Fortunately, after a while they released it, for raving winged beasts instill fear in the hearts of men. It was funny nonetheless. She laughed to herself and returned to the little boy’s regrettably failed attempts to master the animal. He quickly gave up and wandered away, back to the street where his parents waited to take him away. They looked happy, no doubt taken themselves by the sight of his foiled attack.
Her eyes wandered back to the now-lonely beach. She drifted back to the situation at hand. The fact that she couldn’t remember puzzled her almost as much as it frustrated her. She was afraid, for not only was there no memory of the previous night, but she couldn’t recall anything at all. The where was gone. The how was impossible to figure. Worst of all, she didn’t know who she was. Her life was presently and perhaps perpetually erased from her mind.
“Hi,” a voice said suddenly from behind.
Her body jolted suddenly in surprise at the sound. She turned and looked at the gawking hazel eyes in front of her. It was a young man in his early twenties. His golden skin shined brightly in the rising light. He was insistent. His gaze was wide and revealing and his smile looked sincere and inviting.
But she was startled. “You scared me,” her voice reproached. The man’s former good-natured grin faded and his shoulders sunk.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” he apologized. He now seemed scared himself, no doubt taken aback by what she had said. He had not anticipated such bewilderment in anyone on such a fine day at the beach.
She consoled him. “No it’s ok,” she replied, trying to force an encouraging smile.
To her surprise, he gleamed back at her, and proceeded to plop down right next to her. Then he let out a long sigh of relief and knocked her on the elbow as if he had toppled some sort of invisible barrier and was already a close friend.
“So what’s your name?” he said with renewed vigor and a flailing of the hand that shot up in coercion. She moved over a bit, surprised at his casual bravado. He was odd, but such an explosive manner struck her as quite charming nonetheless. Wait… she thought reeling back. What am I doing? She shook her head. I’m suffering from amnesia. Her head dropped away from the man, and she stared off towards the sea. The clouds were rolling in early and already dimming the orange morning glow.
The man had only begun though. “They’re pretty, aren’t they?” he beckoned, pointing out towards the forming grey in the sky. She seemed taken by the sight of the horizon and he wasn’t going to lose her attention just yet. Besides, the sight of the rising sun on the water looked like a painting. The glare formed a kind of citrus-colored river in the sea.
“It’s going to be a stormy day,” she said sullenly. Her tone echoed quietly among the constant small rushing sounds from the white ruffling waves.
“Ya, you’re right,” he agreed. “My name’s Abraham,” he hearkened. The words fell out of his mouth and lingered in the air for a moment as if waiting to be taken by the wind. The conversation was turning into a solemn one-sided observation.
Then she gave up. “I don’t know my name,” she said plainly. The focus in her eyes had nearly dissipated entirely. All she thought about now was her heart as it moved back and forth, her chest as it rose and fell. She felt existent only in the sense of taking up space, without a name or an identity to cling to. She was a discarded machine with working parts and no reason to function.
He laughed outright and broke her concentration. “Jesus, what a line lady!” She glared at him in utter surprise. “It’s alright though. I can take it. Come on, what’s your name. I want to know.” He smiled and nudged her gently on the shoulder.
But still she said nothing and watched the water. The man’s smile faded.
“Wait…” he said. His head cocked to the side as if a light was flickering on. “What? Really?”
“I don’t know my name,” she repeated quietly.
“How is that possible?”
She looked into his eyes, and concluded that the truth was utterly unbelievable anyways. “I woke up in a dumpster,” she said maniacally with a laugh that caught him off guard. “…and I don’t know how I got here or anything else either.”
The man sat stiff looking at her for a while in disbelief. His eyebrows furled together and his eyes peered intently. He stared for a while thinking, working on something in his head. She watched intently.
“What do you remember?” he finally asked, a pensive reserve manifested on his face in anticipation.
She thought for a moment. “A little while ago, I remembered sitting on the beach watching some men catch seagulls.”
He thought silently for a while. “Alright, when was that?”
“When I was a child I think.”
Silence for a moment again. She started to fidget impatiently for a response. Perhaps a conversation was exactly what was needed to jog her memory.
“Do you remember anything else?”
She thought and thought and thought. It was no use. “I can’t remember anything,” she said, looking down with glazed-over eyes.
“Do you know where you live?” the man continued.
“No.” Tears formed in her eyes.
“It’s alright,” he said consolingly. He instinctively caressed her shoulder patted her gently.
“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted.
“How can I not worry?” she asked. “Have you ever lost your memory before?”
“No,” he confessed, “. . . But I’m sure you’ll remember soon.” He sat in a stooper, wondering what to do.
“That settles it,” he resolved. “You can’t just lie out here on the beach. Here.” He held out his hand. “Come with me. My dad lives really close to here. Maybe he can help. He’s a psychiatrist. He might have seen a case of memory loss like yours before.”
Her eyes traveled up to his face. It was worth a shot. She smiled lightly and wiped her eyes.
“Okay,” she replied.
They started to walk off the beach and he clasped her hand.
“Thank you,” she said. Her fingers closed tightly.
“No problem,” he said with a gentle smile.
Today couldn’t be any worse, the man thought. It’s over. I’ve got to accept it.
He slouched on the balcony’s dark wooden railing and watched the sunrise. The day was already shaping up morosely for him. He sipped his coffee liqueur. The creamy taste reminded him of eggnog, and he recalled the cold mornings he used to spend outside on the porch as a boy gulping down dairy and eating donuts. The sunrise was brighter in those days, peeking out through the beige desert mountains of the Mojave. Everything then had that same radiance. He drank the last bit and set the drink down on the railing. He sat down and picked up the paper. He quickly skimmed the local pages. A long sigh of relief fell from his breathe, for there lay no mention of the night’s appalling woes. Such a lack no doubt signified his brother-in-law’s present safety. He let the paper drop to the floor and sauntered into the bedroom to lie on the bed.
For a time he could only sit staring at the painting on the wall. It pictured a long white river that passed gently through a black sea of pine trees. Beyond the forest, jagged mountain ranges peeked high into the sky and cast a long billowy shadow over the woods. Heavy lines and long harsh grey and black brush strokes dominated the canvas. It was dreary, as was everything else in the house picked by his late wife. He couldn’t handle it anymore. His heart rang like thunder inside his chest. He stood up slowly and walked over to the painting. With his eyes closed, he slowly grasped the frame and picked it up off its rigging. Then he walked back to the bed and buried it underneath. But as he pulled his head up, his eyes caught the picture on the nightstand and he shuddered in discontent. She had to be extricated for good, he concluded staring at the picture. He had to rid the place of her. No more would she dominate his thinking. He walked over and picked up the picture frame. “I’m sorry, honey,” he said aloud. His brother-in-law’s words popped up in his mind. It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. “It’s all my fault,” he said. His eyes stared intently at the smiling angelic beauty. It’s over, he thought. I’ve got to accept that Maria’s gone.
He strode from room to room, and meticulously deposited memories into a cardboard box. Heirlooms, trinkets, anything that reminded him of her went sailing in. He knew that he would never truly be rid of her, but it was unhealthy, he judged, to have her image quietly hang over him. It had beaten him down for so long. After all that had happened, he had to let her go. Of everything that he that went into the box, their black-and-white portrait photos lining the stairwell were the hardest to remove. He paused before removing each one from the wall and mused over the funny day in the department store. They made faces and acted foolish while the photographer grew more and more frustrated. All the while, they yelled and giggled and joked with one another. Eventually, she gave up trying to model them into a reserved couple and just took the pictures. It worked out splendidly, and everyone got a kick out of the results in the end. They were cute and it was natural. The photographer called them a modern couple. Maria complained that they could have just gone to a photo booth and saved money, but he calmed her down. They would do perfectly above the stairs, he told her. At the time though, they had neither stairs nor a house to call home, but he knew that eventually they would.
I was so full of dreams then, he thought. I was going to make everything perfect for her–the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect life. I wanted to be perfect in her eyes. That was the problem for her though, in the end. She thought that she was hurting me. I know that was the cause. It was too much for her. But I just didn’t understand. I got her everything I thought she ever wanted, including those damned stairs to hang those damned pictures on. He ripped down the last one. I can’t have them there anymore.
The kitchen proved to be a monumental, if not impossible task. That was always her sphere of influence. Every knife, every knob, every single thing in it reminded him of her. It was no use. She cut with the knives, washed in the sink, scrubbed the floors spotless. He would have to turn his back on her reflection and move away to get any peace from her. He sat down on the bar stool and poured himself a drink. She had been gone for so long already. Why didn’t I leave before?-he wondered. But he knew that he had always wanted to hang on. The past hung in his mind. Did not want to?-he speculated. Do not? Do I want to leave her now? He put his head in his hands. It was starting to ache at the thought of it. Was that what she was now, a burden to be removed? He thought for a while. The good times were so great. They lingered like a sword in his side. And the bad times . . . They echoed in his mind like a nightmare. There was nothing left to do but block her out, he told himself. He had to block her out, her hazel eyes, her long flowing hair that always got in his mouth as he slept, that smelled like cloth sheets and water lilies. He pulled out his wallet from his pocket and opened it up. In the back he carried a small crumpled photo, badly crinkled and worn. It was a picture of his wife and son. They looked so alike–the eyes, the hair, the innocent expressions. That was the reason he couldn’t let go. She had become a picture in a place he could neither go to, nor get away from. His hands shakily put his wallet back in his pocket.
He downed a glass of Jack and walked upstairs to the library to sit in the black leather lounge chair perched near the window. The light fell hotly upon his brow as he leaned his head against the window. The warm rays soothed his headache, so he closed his eyes. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and caressed the stubbles on his chin. The room smelled of sweet cinnamon and paperback books. All around the room sat piles and piles of books, everything from memoirs to novels to comic books from when his son was little, all of which were supremely dirty and disheveled. He hadn’t eyed, dusted, or even touched them for a long time. The dust floating in the light’s rays was appallingly noticeable. He sneezed hard into his sleeve and decided to walk back to his room.
He turned on the television and flipped to the news. For the past week, most of the news stations had been covering a large group of picketers that were gathering outside a medical facility. Standing on the cliff overlooking the compound, the news caster gave some background on the situation. In the past, the center had pioneered a lot of technological breakthroughs. Of most note was a project known as Adam and Eve, apparently the source of the fuss. The project involved creating human beings that were inherently drawn to an individual. The news-caster noted, “The Supreme Court has not yet reached a ruling over the right to create human beings for personal use, but many remain skeptical whether a positive ruling can take place against such fierce opposition from both conservative and religious groups. Death threats have occurred that illustrate, rather, foreshadow a looming cloud of violent retaliation if scientific ventures such as the Adam and Eve Project are allowed to occur. By the looks of crowds gathered today in Westfield, the Tammel Research Center could be the forefront for such violence in the future.”
As he watched the proceedings, his brother’s words again echoed in his mind–it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. He turned off the television and lay down on the bed. His headache had receded, for the moment at least, and the liqueur made him feel drowsy. He closed his eyes. He figured the first step in moving would be to call a real estate agent to put the house on the market. That was the only way to get rid of the shadow on the house. His jaw clenched. First, he proposed to himself, I’ll call the Center and tell them to pick up their equipment in the basement. At least that way, Abraham won’t see anything. God knows what he would do if he found out now. He would never speak to me. Oh, God. Rid me of this, all of it!
“Dad, I’m home!” A shout came from downstairs, followed by a slam from the front door.
Damn, he thought. Why is he back so early? Now I’ll have to lock the basement until I have enough time to get rid of everything. He got up quickly and marched to the stairs.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to slam the d …” His voice screeched to a halt as he peered at the visitor that lingered behind Abraham.
“Dad. She needs your help,” he said.
Asher’s face was pale and he had a wild look in his eyes. His hand clamped tightly on the stair railing.
- - -
“Dad… what’s up?”
The man looks sick, the woman thought as she peeked over Abraham’s head.
“This is my dad, Asher,” Abraham said.
Asher stepped forward with a wary look in his eye.
“My name is …,” she said from behind Abraham’s shoulder.
Abraham spoke up quickly, “Dad, she’s forgotten who she is. I figured, well thought, that maybe you could help.”
Asher stood in front of them silent as the grave. His head craned to the side. His eyes stared straight at the woman.
“I’m sorry,” he said and his head violently shook off the blank stare. “Yes, well . . . Let’s see. You don’t know who you are?” The words dropped out of his mouth in an unnaturally high pitched tone.
She came out from behind Abraham and spoke softly, “I don’t know.” The words were so honest that they frightened her. She continued on, “It’s strange. I’m aware. Nothing seems to be wrong. Nothing hurts. It’s just that I don’t remember anything.” Her puzzled eyes elicited a quick response.
“Okay, well … um … Are you hungy?” he asked smiling. Abraham moved out of the way awkwardly.
“I was just about to make myself something to eat. If you’d like, I could make you something to eat first. Then after, maybe we could try to dissect the problem of you not knowing who you are.” A small peaceful grin perched on his face. She smiled back and blushed.
“Great. You two can get acquainted while I run off and do a couple of errands I’ve been putting off.”
“Yes. That would be great. I’m so hungry,” she said and laughed.
He motioned gently for her to follow him to the kitchen and sat her down on a high leather barstool facing the kitchen. He started to rip open all the cabinets in a vigorous search for food. The bangs made her jump and gripped her attention. She smiled as he scrambled for some way to feed her. From time to time, he stole glances at her and grinned. His excitement delighted her, though the air of his confidence beaming from him perplexed her. It made her feel rather self-conscious, and she looked away and pulled the long amber strands of hair from her eye line back behind her ears.
After a long arduous journey through the bowels of his kitchen, Asher finally emerged less-than-victorious with an old box of pancake mix that he scrounged from the back of the highest shelf, some eggs and milk from the fridge, and an overused and under-cleaned mixing bowl. But the sight of him whisking all of the ingredients furiously put to bed any discomfort she might have had before. She snickered as she watched his body shake and splash the goopy mix all over his clean white linen button-up. He laughed congenially and put the bowl down on the countertop. He seemed like such an odd man to her, but in some strange way, his off-the-cuff attitude made her feel quickly at ease and drew her in.
“Here, I can help,” she said and got up.
“No wait,” he said suddenly, “Don’t worry. I can manage.”
The confident tone of his voice persuaded her more than the words, and she swayed conveniently back into her seat as he poured the pancake mix into the frying pan. She looked the room over. It seemed strange to her as well, for the decorum not only bespoke to her sense of comfort, but struck her as nothing short of coming from her own natural fancy. Other than the chair she sat on, which to her seemed overly masculine and unbecoming, the colors were adorable. A light blue powder covered the walls like a cloudless desert sky. On the floor lay bricks painted white and spackled here and there with dabs of blue color. But the dining table was by far her favorite, for it was simple and modern. The top was a large plate of glass sitting upon a metal frame and posts. It stood out in the room like a cappuccino machine in a Victorian painting. She loved it. Oh and on the top!-she exclaimed and snapped her fingers lightly. A batch of bright yellow, near ripe bananas rested in a bowl on the table. As Asher turned his back, she quietly got up, grabbed the batch of bananas, and walked into the kitchen. “Do you have a cutting board?” she said sweetly.
He looked back at her, sighed, and smiled. “Over there,” he said and pointed reluctantly towards the sink with the spatula. She pulled a knife out of the rack and chopped up the bananas.
“Here,” she said as she stepped beside him. “Have you ever tried banana pancakes? They’re delicious.” She poured the banana pieces all over the floury globs and breathed in the fresh aroma. “This is going to be good,” she said with a giddy tone and a smile. The tiredness in her eyes had washed away. She cut up some more and started to sing. “Make you banana pancakes, pretend like it’s the weekend now…” She tapped the knife lightly on the countertop as if it were a symbol, “we can pretend it all the time …”
“ya-a-a-a” he cut in smoothly and chuckled, “can’t you see that it’s just ray-ya-ay-na-hen . . . Ain’t no need to go out-side.”
“Hey!” she yelled and smacked him on the shoulder. He smiled back at her out of the corner of his eye. “Good song,” he said softly.
They set the pancakes down in the middle of the dining table and sat opposite each other. The shear sight of a large stack of banana pancakes topped off with melting butter and dripping syrup made her mouth and eyes water. As the rich smell of banana and pancake batter filled the room, she could hardly be bothered by manners, and proceeded to devour the cakes whole without the aid of knife or fork. She was so hungry. Asher felt a sense of pride in his cooking. He only slightly owned up to her culinary addition. He ate silently for a while as he watched her shove her large bites in. He noted that she was only coming up for a breath every third bite-stroke or so like a diver. The only words she said throughout the meal were short praises and affirmations between mouthfuls.
As she wiped her mouth clean with a napkin, he spoke up.
“If you’d like, I have a couch in the den. You could take a rest.” The care in his voice permeated from his tone. “Or we can sing some more.” They both laughed.
“I’m not really tired. How are you feeling?” she asked in seriousness. “If you don’t want to talk now, I understand.”
“No, no, no,” he apologized. “Now is a great time. We can speak whenever you feel ready.”
“That would be great. I really want to talk now.”
He led her to the den and she plopped down on a long polyester couch in the corner. He pulled a wooden desk chair right up to her, so closely that she could have touched his face.
“Is this okay?”
“Yes this is fine.”
“Great. Okay, so I think the best course of action is to start out finding what you do remember.”
“Alright . . . Well the first thing I remember might not be very helpful. Kind of ridiculous actually.”
“Don’t worry,” he coaxed her to continue.
“Well after I woke up, I went to the beach. But it didn’t feel like it was solely because it was there. I felt it, like I was being drawn to it or something.”
“Good. That’s good. Tell me what feelings you think made you drawn to the beach?” His voice was soft. It sounded like a hearkening used to comfort a scared puppy. It beckoned her on. She spoke excitedly.
“The sand, the sunrise… I felt drawn. I just felt drawn to it, like the tide was pulling me in–the smells, the sounds. They felt so familiar.”
“OK.” His posture straightened. “When you arrived at the beach, how did you feel?”
She stopped and pondered for a moment. “I felt… um… at first peaceful, but soon I felt scared, like I was paralyzed.” Frozen, she thought, circling the drain, about to fall in and lose myself forever. Her gaze became unfocused.
“Paralyzed.” She came back slowly. “Hmm … I don’t know. The cliffs, they made me feel anxious and frightened.”
He stumbled for words and took a deep breath. She felt awkward at his reserve. She wondered whether she had said something odd. He continued.
“What exactly about the cliffs made you feel anxious?”
“The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks… The height.” She stopped. The cliffs must mean something, if he keeps trying to draw me out like this. What is it though? She stared into his eyes once more. He averted hers and stared awkwardly at the knuckles of her hands.
Suddenly she caught her breadth. “But it ended when I saw the boy,” her voice rose confidently and she began to smile.
“Tell me about the boy.” His smile renewed and gave her the assurance to continue
“Okay. The boy . . . He was chasing a seagull. He was trying to catch it. I couldn’t stop watching him. He reminded me of someone … close … perhaps. I don’t remember that well. But I think someone I knew when I was young used to catch seagulls on the beach using peanut butter.”
Asher remained silent, nodding and watching her eyes intently as she continued.
“The peanut butter trick,” she said and chuckled a little at the thought. “This guy always used to pull this same trick with the peanut butter. He would hide half-way under the sand covered by a towel and wait for a poor seagull to come wandering in, hungry and unaware. Then he’d grab the thing and shake it in the towel. His friends would laugh and laugh. I couldn’t do anything about it, though. I remember being young and nervous around them . . . How old was I? I must have been . . . I must have been.” Her chest rose in a deep breath of anticipation. “How old was I?” she wondered. Her smile faded. “What else do I remember?” Her eyes darted back and forth quickly. “God . . . What else?” She looked dejected with herself. “God, why can’t I recall anything else?” She sulked in the rapid regression that had come like a wave and now covered her mind like a veil. Asher inched in closely and placed the tips of his fingers on her hands.
“It’s ok. It’ll take time, but it’ll come back.” He gripped her long slender fingers. “Don’t you worry, it will come back.” He smiled insistently at her.
She couldn’t explain it, but she felt a closeness to him. His hands felt soft and warm on top of hers. Yet his eyes looked so full of grief. His sad blue eyes look so out of place above the bags in his eyes. They stood out like a sore thumb, and coupled with the wrinkles that had accumulated around the outside of his eye sockets, he looked like she felt at the moment. He looked lost. Yet, she thought, he stares at me with such sincerity, as if he were trying to see into my soul.
She held his hand tightly and lay back. She closed her eyes. Suddenly, the image of a white cloud danced in her mind for a second, fading and returning like a wisp in a breeze.
“Wait. I remember something else.” She opened her eyes in anticipation. She searched in her mind and tried to hold onto the inkling of a memory that was fading so quickly. It materialized gently, like a song playing in the distance. She felt it, playing louder and louder, a light hymn in her head. It felt familiar and gentle, like a lullaby almost, spoken matter-of-factly in a soft whisper. The sound was obscure, breaking at points, muffled in panting and sorrow.
“It’s almost there.”
“What is it?”
“I can almost make it out.” She closed her eyes and tried to lock down the image. “A dream? . . . Am I remembering a dream?” she wondered. “I can feel it. I’m lying on something soft. Bright white light is coming up from under my body. I’m being held down by something though. I’m trying to wiggle around, but I can’t move, like my body isn’t responding to my mind. I can hear whispering in the background. It feels like there are lots of people around me. I can hear them breathing. They’re tall and gray, and they have wires coming from their hands. They’re connected with me. They’re quiet. My chest isn’t moving. It’s like they’re breathing for me. I can feel them pouring air into me, filling me up. Glorious blue light is shining down upon me.”
She grew silent and closed her eyes tighter. The image poured into her head like a burst of water rushing from a hole in a damn, gaining strength, breaking free…
“Now there is someone standing before me. He is sitting on an elephant-throne, bearing a scepter in his hand. All around him emanates brilliant white light. It’s startling. I can hear him speaking. His voice sounds proverbial. It’s gaining strength. He sounds afflicted. It almost sounds like a sermon from a pulpit . . .”
“What is he saying?”
Her voice grew faint as she began to recite:
“Stunned I was, not by a capricious tone, but one of sorrow as he answered my honest question when bewildered I asked how in fatal despair, my place wasn’t down below. Such a place of sorrow he said would neither augment nor answer this your woeful eternal bearing, when now, looking down upon life, you must watch and compare, I woefully must add, the gift that transience gives compared to airy discontent, for as the heart moves, under sweat and toil, pain and strife, so the clock ticks, and brings purpose into the light.”
She opened her eyes and looked at Asher. He was as white as a ghost. His mouth hanged half-open in wonder. The scared look on his face held her in terror. Did I say something?-she thought as she stared back at him. They were silent.
His trembled hands clamped down on hers. She withdrew and sat back on the couch. She averted looking at him. He started to shuffle nervously in his seat, not able to gain the composure he had before. She looked around the room nervously. Then knock came from the door and Abraham came in abruptly.
“Hey Dad. Sorry for interrupting you two, but I was just wondering when we would have a chance to talk.”
“Later,” Asher said lucidly. He mind felt jarred by the strange revelation.
“When later?” he asked impatiently, “I’m going to go. Honestly, I’ve got a lot of things to do still and haven’t got all day long to wait. I’ll just come back tomorrow.” He motioned to shut the door and stopped. “Oh, and are you planning on moving or something? All of the pictures on the walls are gone.”
“I boxed them up,” Asher retorted.
“Why?” Abraham responded quickly. “Are you moving or something? Is that the big news that you couldn’t wait to tell me?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” he said hoarsely and motioned to shut the door.
“Wait a second,” he said frustratedly. “Where did you put the pictures? I want to find one of mom to take with me, before you hoard them all away.”
“God-damnit, I’m leaving and want a picture. I’ll go and get them. Just tell me where they are so I can get out of here.”
“Maria’s pictures are upstairs.” He spouted and slammed the door.
He turned around in a slow arch and stared back at the woman. She sat like a frightened doll on a mantelpiece, struck with the same befuddled look that he wore moments earlier.
“Maria?” she asked.
Maria?-she wondered. The name played over and over in her head. Her lips quivered as she mouthed the strangely familiar syllables. Her hands lifted off the armrests, as if fondling for information in eager anticipation of the moment. She took in a sudden gasp of air and stood up. The nodes in her brain fired suddenly, like the backfire of an automobile. Suddenly, the realization raced into her mind. My name is Maria. Her hands clasped tightly around her mouth and nose to catch the scream that rang in her mind. “My name is Maria”, she said so softly that the words sounded like a dying breadth.
- - - -
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! What have I done?” the man rioted.
His hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel. His knuckles had turned white and gone numb. Sweat poured down his face and stung his eyes. He pressed hard on the gas pedal. The car rocketed through a dim four-way stop. A hump in the road sent the car sailing into the air. Sparks erupted out of its bottom as it hit the pavement, swerved, and nearly crashed.
Still he thought of what he had done. How can the Lord forgive me for such insolent action? I have taken his words and twisted them to fit my terrible crime. Oh dear God, what have I done? I have forsaken myself. The only retribution is a cursed and tattered existence. I am Cain. “And now art thou cursed from the earth…a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth,” he sermonized himself. “Thou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not murder. It’s plain as day.” He roared loudly and started to pound the steering wheel with his forehead.
“God,” he hearkened up to the car headliner, “Was it murder? Did I murder? God, please tell me. Give me a sign or something.”
“She . . . it . . .” He groped for words. “It was an abomination. That can’t be murder, can it?” His mind swirled around the murder scene. He recalled the curve of the chest as it moved slowly up and down before his eyes, the whirling of the respirator as it pumped air into her chest, the harsh strained breathing sounds. She was breathing, he thought as he shook his head. She was breathing and I stopped it. I might as well have covered her mouth with a pillow and suffocated her.
“No,” he said softly in defiance. You didn’t do that. She was hooked in. It’s not like you stabbed her in the chest with an ice pick. You just got in the way of the devil’s work, of that sacrilegious project. His eyes cringed and jaw tightened. That is the evil, the true evil. That is what is responsible for all of this. I was just doing my duty. More than that, he thought. I was acting in accordance with the almighty. He breathed heavily. He spoke out to calm himself. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he hath set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.” He let out a long, slow breadth.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.”
Oh God, he thought. No matter how twisted and wrong the laws of man are, the way of God, my way, shouldn’t become so twisted, but oh God, what is twisted? Am I twisted? The panic began to mount again. Was it murder? Jesus, was it? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have acted so brashly. I felt such turmoil inside when I saw her again, and like that. Oh God! I have forsaken myself.
He looked down at his hands and waist. He was covered in dirt and filth. He looked at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. Dirt and mud was caked into his eyelashes. Jesus, he thought, I even look the part of a reviler.
Then he saw a gleaming light on his right hand side. It was a way-station. He pulled in. The site was a brightly lit twenty-four hour rest stop. Cars were parked out front. Sleeping faces peeked out from behind the windows. A few children were running around in the grass, firing make-believe guns at each other and play-dying all over the lawn. He brought his car slowly to a halt around the corner of the building and got out. He pulled open the bathroom door and walked in on the balls of his feet, cringing at the awful scent that pervaded the dilapidated room. The floor drain was clogged. The shower head was broken and leaking water everywhere. He tried to flush the toilet to no avail. The lever wasn’t working. He ripped off the porcelain top and manually yanked on the metal cord. The water went down along with its horrible contents.
He looked terrible in the bathroom mirror. I’ve got to get all of this shit off me, he thought. It made him feel sick. He splashed some cold water in his face and used up the last of the hand soap on his arms and legs. He scrubbed his hands so furiously that the skin on his palms and forearms started to burn. He managed to get his feet into the sink and scrubbed the blackness that had mounted on the balls of his feet. I’ll never wear sandals again, he thought as he got out of the bathroom and hopped back in his car. Never again.
He got back onto the highway and sped off into the darkness. All was black on the road except for the light coming from his head lights. He felt alone and scared. Nothing was out there but him and God now. He felt as if he were driving into Hell. Hell will swallow me up for my crimes, he thought. God will leave me for my hatred and my imperfection, for my unrighteousness. His head felt heavy and his chest ached. His stomach started to act up and he felt as if his whole body was rebelling against his mind’s baleful state. He was no longer in control of himself anymore. He felt like he had fallen into darkness and nothing, not man, not even his unfailing faith in the almighty would save him now. All had forsaken him in the blackness.
He turned onto a dimly lit canyon road. The shear site of it made him shudder. It was the road less taken, he thought to himself. It seemed pale and horrid, like something out of a Grimm Fairy Tale. The tall oak trees that lined the sides, along with the deserted pavement that bordered the asphalt, placed his mind in a twilit state. He was wandering in a menagerie of terror. He pictured demons on the road that waited to catch him and take him away for his crimes. They would kill him, drag him to hell, and place him in shackles of barbed wire and bloody muscle fibers. Then the goblins and creatures of the underworld would laugh and poke and prod him as he cried, and all that he would hear would be the gnashing of the teeth of the unrighteous and the seething silence of the damned and the fallen.
The eerie silence of the drive and the soft sound of the motor as it pulled him slowly up the steep hill set him on such an edge that he was beside himself with grief. His hands shook violently. He flipped on the radio to try and calm his nerves. The volume burst out and startled his wits, so he jumped in his seat and his mind shouted a thousand obscenities. Then he turned down the volume and tried to relax. The station played nothing but classic rock. A southern drawl and pick-up guitar filled the car from front to back, and he laid his head back slowly on the seat.
Once he had gotten past the long winding canyon and entered a better lit road, he decided to pull off and rest. He turned off the engine and rested his head on the steering wheel. Sounds as smooth as cream rang out from the car stereo. He started to wail again and tear drops poured into his lap.
“Oh God!” he cried out, “I’m not your messenger! And I’m sorry.” He sobbed loudly as his chest convulsed lightly in the pain of his great sorrow.
“I thought she was an abomination. I loathed the sight of her, for she frightened me. She made me question you, oh my god, so I plunged the knife in her. I pulled the trigger and closed her breast forever to the sweet summer’s air and your glorified life-stream. Though she did what she did, she deserved not what I cast upon her in my impertinent, imperfect state.”
“Damn you Jon! She did not deserve it! You are Nebuchadnezzar. You destroyed the purest of God’s angels … Your own flesh and blood!”
He had murdered his own blood before her love even had the chance to see her. After all, he thought, they could have worked it out. Sure they weren’t perfect, not by any means, but they had a chance to be, didn’t they? After all, they were bonded together, for better or worse.
But wait, he thought. She broke that bond when she ran away. She doesn’t have any rights anymore. He sat up straight. And another thing, she was getting worse and worse. Nothing was helping her. And Asher was only making it worse. He had her so drugged up that she was only a shell. That’s why she did it. That’s why she’s gone now.
He scoffed and turned the car back on.
“I did it,” he told himself. “It’s done. There’s no going back Jon. You did the right thing. She made her choice a long time ago.”
His vehicle hastened out onto the asphalt once more. But wait, he thought. You can’t blame Asher for what he did. After all, he was just trying to help her. And with all the fighting, the yelling, the drinking, the shame! I would have done the same. He stopped himself. Well maybe not that far. Drugs are never the answer, whether prescription or otherwise. They just dull the mind. Still, though. I can let him slide. He smiled contently. I wonder how he is faring now? He must be in such a state! I can’t turn a blind eye to him in his hour of need. That’s not Christian at all. I should go see how he’s doing. He made a quick U-turn and headed back down the road towards Asher’s house. He felt like he was finally realizing why he felt so guilty. He was meant to comfort the grieved and wounded in spirit. His path had been leading there all along, as if his conscious or God’s will summoned him to fill the man with light. Perhaps this would finally be the day that Asher would receive God and be saved. And to think, he thought. I drove all the way out here like a man on the run, like I was a criminal or something. Ha! I guess it goes to show that you can’t trust the heart. He laughed out loud. That’s it. It’s all in the bible. Jeremiah 17: 9–The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it? Absolutely. Who can? Not I, but with the Lord’s help, by golly I think I’m starting to understand.
He was set, and as he drove back through the night, he smelled the fresh ocean breeze, he watched the beach ebb and flow in the distance, and he thought of all of God’s creation. Everything around him was a testament to God’s power over man. And that was what he would tell Asher. Creation was the answer and the Promised Land. Only God has the right to create, and when necessary, to destroy. Man is not his own. God owns everyone. If they fail to understand that, they are at fault and punished for it. They’re certainly not brought back to life. Hell, she knew that. She would know why he did it.
My name is Maria? What is happening? Her body rallied quickly for the nearest door and she threw herself in, bolting the lock behind her. She was in the bathroom. Her hands shook violently. She gripped the sink and looked at herself in the mirror. This is Maria. She felt even more lost than before. Her shoulders felt heavy and her face felt raw as if she were wearing a mask. She pulled at the dried out cheeks and the wrinkles under her big amber eyes. The walls around her closed in tightly and she began to breathe heavily. What does this all mean? Them and me, we can’t possibly be related? What is going on? Am I that Maria? The news, which she had thought all the while would make her feel better, invigorated, had done the opposite. Now she felt bewildered and frightened even more. The puzzle’s corner pieces were being positioned and everything was in motion, but the middle, the epiphany, the content that would give everything some balance was completely veiled. Was it beyond the door, lying in Asher’s mind, who only a moment ago seemed so comforting and easy to talk to?
She was divided. She wanted to go out of the room, walk up to the man, and shake him until he talked. He knew something, he had to. It couldn’t be a coincidence. But the other part of her wanted to lie on the cold linoleum tile and never come out. After all, the man outside was a liar, perhaps not outright, but in some way. For that, he disgusted her. His hands, his manner, his features that only a second before were warm and comforting were now warped. Her skin crawled as she thought of him. For evil?-she wondered. What were his motives? Her mind raced through terrifying scenarios. He had kidnapped her and beaten her so badly that she lost her memory and ran away. He had driven her mad and was now seeking to paint himself as the shimmering knight. How could he? Who is he? She gripped tighter on the porcelain. Remember, remember, she beckoned herself. She slapped herself. The bright red mark her hand had left shone brightly on her cheek. Remember.
Asher stood outside of the door.
“Hello. Are you ok?” he said softly. She banged on the door.
That man . . . he had better cough up something. He will. Her shoulders relaxed and the shaking subsided under the sink’s cool running water. His eyes were guarded, she thought, yet not to deceive, no, not to lie. He looked anxious. I judged him too harshly. I know he has something to tell me though. I saw the flicker in his eyes when I was trying to remember.
Asher put his hand on the door, but did not speak. She knows, he thought to himself. But how much does she know. Was she still conscious? This has been such a disaster, ever since the beginning. Perhaps Jon was right in saying that this wasn’t meant to be. What will I do? There’s no going back now.
His mind started to drift back to before, when the day when the whole thing started.
A New Beginning
He spoke to her in the restaurant as freely as a man talking to himself. He looked in the mirror that was her eyes and talked, revealing to both of them the good, the bad, the ugly, everything under the lighting. As he looked outside, he thought about the beauty in the moment, the serenity in the ambiance. He was on vacation from becoming. He was being, doing, acting, living. In the moment, he knew himself.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” she said.
Yet in this moment of supreme revelation, his heart still shook slightly with worry. At some point, her hands would leave his. Unfortunately . . . ultimately, the vacation in that beautiful seaside city would come to an end, most likely abruptly, and he might never hold her smooth hands and long delicate fingers again. She must play the piano well with those hands, he thought as he sat.
He stared at the rain drops on the window and out toward the darkness of the ocean. It looked like a great abyss or no-man’s land. Everything had a feel of solipsism, as if he were locked in that city, in that place, and beyond it there laid nothing and no one. The world was here by the sand and the water and the cliffs. And still he knew he would never see the scene again. I could always reminisce about places such as these and moments looking out on particulars and specific worlds; the time when I sat on the bench at the top of the Isle of Capri looking out on the blanket of white villas that seemed to cover the entire south side of the island. The rain poured down on my face and hair and my brown leather jacket lay down heavy on his shoulders soaking wet with water. There was no fog that day in Capri. There was only rain and the horizon. I could see as far as the thunder gods would allow; the dark blue and green ocean that trailed off into the distance seemed to call to me, ‘You are here. This place is now for you. And you will leave it and be somewhere else soon. It will inhabit you instantaneously for moments at a time, but it will always be memory. Except now… and now is gone.’
“I’m back.” She smiled and sat down. Her eyes looked back at him as he smiled and stared back out the window at the cliffs, the hotels, and the dimly lit beach.
“Why are you sad?”
“I’m not sad. Do I look sad?” he asked.
“Nothing.” He held out his hand and she grabbed it.
“God! I could do this forever,” he said.
“Oh Asher.” She blushed. “It feels like we’re an old married couple on our honeymoon. This is so weird. This is only our second day together. It feels like we’ve known each other for so long. Why am I so comfortable with you?”
“I wonder. . .” he said his eyes looked watched her hand make circles on his palm, “if we are like this now, what we would be like in a year. . . you know? How much more comfortable we would be with each other. . .”
He stared at her and she looked down at the table and laughed nervously. Her long amber brown hair covered her tan face. Her hand tensed, but held onto his. His hand lay solidly under hers, undeterred and focused.
“This is funny,” he giggled.
“I love your laugh. It is so cute.”
He stopped smiling. “This is weird,” he confessed.
“Ya it is,” she replied.
“What’s up with that?”
They laughed again. He felt so comfortable looking at her. As he looked into her eyes, his heart neither raced nor beat more rapidly. He could laugh and joke, tell her that she had beautiful and voluptuous lips that he wanted to kiss, because it made sense. To kiss her and hold her hand and stare into her eyes made sense to him.
“Why do you keep staring at me like that?” Her tone was neither critical nor scared.
“It makes sense to stare at you…and to try and kiss you. I don’t know how you walk down the street without men jumping all over you trying to kiss you. A man would have to be gay not to want to touch you.”
She laughed nervously.
“I’m sorry,” he said and stopped. “Actually I’m not. It’s true. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”
He looked back out the window. His response was resolute. What else was there to say? It was true, wasn’t it? Was she perfect, and would she continue to be gorgeous and amazing and magnificent like an unadulterated goddess from some undiscovered land off in the ocean forever and beyond? Would her song continue to ring in his ears, forcing him to turn his sails and find the author to her beauty, and when he finally arrived, would she be take his breath away? Would the song match the person? Or would he crash on the rocks trying to match her existence with the sound he heard as she cried out to him, “Find me! Find me oh traveling man of the unabridged sea! I am ready and dainty and perfect and I want you to capture me and show me to the world. Show them my song. It is for you.” When the sailor hears the ringing voice, is his intention to unravel her mysteries and discover who the magnificence really belongs to, or if he found the author to the song and she was a mermaid, what would he do? Would he ravage her and leave her, display her as a trophy? Would he take her from her home? Or would he stay with her and listen to her sing for the rest of his days? Would he retire the seas, and if he did, would they call back to him as he sat ashore pondering and pacing the beaches?
Such a woman is a siren because she sings the songs you want to hear, the songs that attract you. Her magnificence sends you crashing into shallows and caverns and hidden rocks that lie just below the salty seawater.
“Ooof. I’m so full,” she harkened him out of the abyss.
“Me too,” he lied. It didn’t matter. He wanted to walk down to the lighted beach, sit on the sand, hold her hand, and listen to the sound of the waves and her voice as she sighed and laid her head on his shoulder.
An alarm went off in his head.
He woke up. The sound of alarm was deafening. Asher closed his eyes tightly. She was there. Now she is gone again. He moaned and rolled over to look at the clock. It’s nine thirty. I’ll always remember it, looking at this clock on this day. All of the details of this day will echo in my mind. I still want to close my eyes and remember her then and the times before that we shared. God, why are dreams so real? Makes you want dreams to be your whole life. God must be a sick bastard to make dreams so painful to recall, so damned vivid, so utterly wonderful, and still painful all the same. He began to pull the covers off his legs. They felt so soft and breezy. Cotton is wonderful, he thought. He pulled them up to his nose and breathed in the heavenly fresh smell. The bed was plush to be sure. He forced himself upright and took a deep breath. Today is the day, he thought, and I still want to stay in bed. That has to be bad joo-joo or something. Maybe someone’s trying to tell me something.
No, he told himself to shrug off the bad energy. That’s a bad road to take. Keep it high energy today. He planted his feet on the ground with a loud thump. What was that thing Jon said, it’s not in man to direct his own step? Well I’m changing that today. He laughed. I am going through with this, whether or not it might be in my best interest.
He hopped in the shower and covered every crack of his body with body wash. The day felt exactly like an interview. It was in a way, though the job was for another life, a life he had thought was lost forever. He was addicted to the feeling of loss, the dreams from before, the what if’s that darted around in his head. Now he had the chance to see beyond the cloud, or so his friend Jacob told him in so many words. His message was as cryptic as it was hopeful, and by god was it the latter. You can have her back were Jacob’s words. You can get Maria back. He felt such expectation since then that if it turned out to be anything less, he would die.
He put on his single-breasted pin-stripe suit and his magenta paisley tie and ran out to the car. The pedals felt funny. He looked down at his feet and realized he didn’t have shoes on, so he ran inside, grabbed some, and headed off to the Tammel Research Center.
It took him three stops in total to get to the institute. The first stop was on the side of the road to slow his heart rate and make sure that he wasn’t dreaming. The second was in a park restroom to vomit. Today’s the day, his mind played over and over. The words were an alarm clock.
He arrived at the center thirty minutes early. He realized that his hands were shaking, so he took some muscle relaxants and kicked his seat back. He studied the fabric headliner of his car. He wondered what kind of material it was. A Polyester-Nylon blend perhaps, or something finer. This car is ridiculous, he thought. I wonder how much time has been put into the making of it. He felt the handcrafted mahogany stick shift. The texture was smooth to the touch. He could almost feel the shine in his hand. My first car was a piece, he thought. I bet my old ’85 Ford Tempo had a Polyester-Nylon blend headliner. He wiped the sweat from his head. Christ, I need the radio. The silence in the parking lot is awful. That low silent hum is crying in his ear. He turned on the AM radio and tuned the frequency to Fox Sports. Football. The Raiders were playing the Broncos. The score was 13-16 with lots of penalties no doubt. What was it Dad always said, he wondered, they’re shooting themselves in the foot? … “Roughing the passer.” He laughed. Jesus. Good ol’ Raiders. He turned off the radio. Five minutes left. Guess I better head inside.
Oh!-his heart harkened, for time, like a wisp of wind, passes so quickly. Only God can grasp it in his hand. He opened the glass double doors of the clinic with a strong confident pull. No longer!-he blasted. I shall conquer the wind and the sea, and God shall know my name! He laughed loudly and startled the woman at the front desk.
“Hi. I’m Dr. McNamara. I have an appointment with Dr. Salvador,” he said loudly. She moved slowly. The reddened lines in her eyes dominated the other features of her face. She looked like a person who spent long nights out to weather the daytime’s dreary deskwork. She found his name among the papers.
“He is ready for you in his office. Dr. Heimler and Dr. Teófilo are already inside.” Her head dropped back to the pile of papers.
He strode up to Dr. Salvador’s office and knocked on the door. A gregarious invitation answered his rapping, so he entered.
“Asher,” Jacob Heimler said, “It’s so great to see you today.” He planted Asher with a firm handshake.
A voice came from behind him, “Today is a very exciting day.”
“You must be Dr. Salvador,” Asher said and shook the wrinkled old Spaniard’s hand.
“I’m so happy to meet you again,” he replied. “This is a colleague I hold in great esteem,” he said motioning towards a small sun-tanned man standing in the corner. “His name is Dr. Teófilo.”
He bent down and gripped the little man’s hand. He looked like he could have been an open-water fisherman off the Gulf of Cuba. His head was completely bald and covered with sunspots, and his eyes looked battered and full of stories. But when he smiled at Asher, all the wrinkles around his eyes disappeared, and the light reflected in his eyes.
“Please, sit down,” Dr. Salvador said. “I want to get started as soon as possible. Today is a remarkable step for both all of us … For man, rather. Jacob has given you some details about the proceedings, yes?” He shuffled over to his desk and sat down carefully in his chair.
“I think he wants to keep me in suspense,” Asher confessed, eyeing Jacob as he leaned against the bookcase.
“He told you what will happen though, yes?” the old man said craning over the desk. He looked more like a sorcerer than a doctor. His eyes were taught like a bird of prey, noting Asher’s hesitations as if to react within instant.
“He told me that there was a way to bring Maria back,” Asher let out in a low sobering voice.
“Precisely,” he replied and sat up straight in his chair. He raised his hands. “First of all, I just want to say how amazing Maria was. She was a treasure in the community and a joy to be around. It was a terrible tragedy when she left. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling, but I admire the courage that you are taking today to be here.”
Asher shuffled nervously in his seat. His heart felt like dead weight in his chest. Dr. Salvador continued.
“Through extensive discussion, research, and background information made by myself and my colleague, we feel that your late wife Maria would be the perfect candidate for a break-though procedure we are affectionately calling the Lazarus Project.”
“Resurrection, Asher,” Jacob chimed in from across the room.
“The Lazarus Project is a combination of the Tammel Institute’s recombinant DNA technology and Dr. Teófilo’s recent work in postmortem physiological changes. I’ll start by explaining Dr. Teófilo’s work. Alright, so have you heard of the eerie legend of how a man’s hair and nails continue to grow after death.”
“Yes,” Asher replied. “The body dehydrates, causing the skin to pull back from the hair and nails.”
“Yes,” Dr. Salvador said taken aback.
“I read it in a science article.”
“Well, anyways,” he continued. “The brain is equipped with natural defenses that counteract neural and cognitive impairments. What Dr. Teófilo has discovered is that our brain also has a defense against fatal impairment.”
“Sahasrdra padma,” the dark-haired man croaked. Asher noticed him staring intently at him.
“Dr. Teófilo would do a better job explaining this than I, but because of language limitations, I will continue. Where was I? Awe yes, well, each lobe of the brain is a storehouse of new and old information, ready on command to receive, retain, and return whatever we want for the most part–consciousness at our fingertips.” The man smiled, caught in semantic showmanship. “However,” he let on, “as the body deteriorates, the brain seemingly begins to lose its effectiveness to store and house new information. Actually, cognitive and neural functions are not losing effectiveness during this time, but are merely burying information deeper and deeper as a natural defense against the aging of the body. In fact, the brain not only buries information, but consciousness along with it. As the body decays, the brain creates a separate informational storehouse–a back-up warehouse so to speak–for your mind and its consciousness.”
He stopped and took and breathe, then continued.
“Dr. Teofilo’s discoveries are heavily founded on old and recurrent ideas of the soul, mainly Hindu. In particular, the Pretakhanda of the Hindu book Garuda Purana, an important guidebook to life after death and reincarnation, was the primary foundation for his work. The Bhagavad-gita‘s scientific theory of the soul was impressive. The Vedic text explains that the material universe is made up of three types of energy: gross material energy, subtle material energy, and spiritual energy. It defines subtle material energy as the mind, intelligence, and the false-ego–the mind’s false identity of the soul as a part of the physical body. The book separates this with spiritual energy, or the soul, of which the psyche is a symptom.”
“With this theory in mind, Dr. Teofilo has unearthed the cave-man, so to speak. Firstly, he has determined that the subtle material energy and spiritual energy identified in the Vedic texts are not separate, but are in fact a single energy. More importantly, we now know that this energy is housed in the brain’s post-mortem cerebral storehouse. This energy, let’s call it essential energy, is made up of the mind’s consciousness, intelligence, and the false-ego. The mind’s consciousness is the soul. Any material body that is inhabited by the soul or consciousness, whether human or otherwise, is created, undergoes changes, produces by-products, dwindles, and dies.”
“Okay,” Asher said, trying to wrap his head around everything, “Is this informational storehouse in one specific part of the brain?”
“I’m glad that you asked that. Yes, it is. It is located in the cerebrum, which Dr. Teofilo has told me, concurs with the Hindu belief that the seat of consciousness where the soul is most manifest lies in the Yoga centre of the cerebrum.”
“Sahasrara Padma,” Dr. Teofilo chimed once more.
“Precisely, the Lotus of the Thousand Petals,” Dr.Salvador said smiling. “Anyways, when the body finally becomes inhospitable for active neural function, i.e. death, the post-mortem cerebral storehouse releases essential energy through the fissure on the top of the cranium called the anterior fontanelle above the cerebrum and then through the follicles of your hair. After that, it transfers over a long period of time into a new mental storehouse, or space for the mind. The false-ego is important at the end of the transferring process as a means to acclimate the body with the mind. The mind is essentially tricked into re-identifying itself as a part of the body and not as rightfully separate.
“How long is a long period of time?”
“Oh, for the amount of information contained in the scope of consciousness, such a transfer is incalculable.”
“Because of the long amount of time that the body takes to deteriorate after death, remnants of cognitive information or consciousness–the essential energy or essence–remains and now because of Dr. Teófilo, is available.
“Remnants . . . Does that mean that only parts of the mind survive?”
“No. As in our DNA, our cognitive makeup is housed in every block of essence. By remnants, I am referring to essential pieces of the psyche in their departure from the body.”
“So the mind is intact.”
“Everything … behavior, memories, the whole shabang.”
Everything, Asher thought, everything is intact.
“Wait. Memories? How is that possible? Wouldn’t that mean that every transferred soul, every reincarnated person, would be aware of their former life and have memories of it?
“No. Because of the long period of time that is usually undergone in the essential energy’s transference into a new body, memories slowly but surely decay and are lost forever. After a while, only the psyche or soul is intact. In our case, fortunately, because we are acquiring the essential energy after a relatively short period of time, we can salvage nearly all of subject’s memories.”
“That’s where the Tammel Institute’s recombinant DNA research comes into the fore,” Dr. Salvador said with a smile on his face. “At least to a degree, this project builds off of the widely used Tammel surrogate pod-births. We use similar methods. We have developed a way to create an accurate physical and biological replica of a specific human body. We won’t clone the body, mind you, but we will grow the subject from the phetal stage and alter its genome to fit your wife’s genetic structure. In such an early stage, we can more importantly splice the essential essence’s genetic material into the phetus’s DNA. Just as the essential essence transfers from body to body, the same natural process will occur in this case. The developing brain will immediately incorporate the consciousness housed in the essential essence.”
He stopped talking. Asher sat quietly digesting the information. For a while, everyone was quiet. They all waited for Asher to respond. He looked up.
“Does such a mental and physical replica include the quantitative reproduction of mood-related chemicals in the brain?” he asked in Jacob’s direction, “because that would mean that the same thing that happened the last time is going to happen again.”
Jacob came over and touched his shoulder. “No, Asher. There is a cure now.” He looked at Dr. Salvador and said, “I’ll take it from here, if you don’t mind.”
“You know how you told me that Maria’s death. . .”
“Her suicide you mean,” Asher interrupted.
“Yes,” he replied cautiously. “Remember how you said that her suicide was due to her depression, and that you isolated it to a mood-related chemical imbalance in her brain.”
“Yes, I did say it was a likely cause,” he replied as his sweaty hands tightened around his thighs.
“Well, an old colleague of mine who works for Addler Laborites, a large pharmaceutical company up in Silicon Valley has a new drug in the test stages, single-application, with minor side effects, that can eradicate large chemical fluctuations in the brain.”
“You mean they have found a permanent cure to endogenous depression?”
“Yes. It is highly experimental. She would be among the first human trials.”
“Yes. And also, such a drug would be ineffective if her depressive state was exogenous.”
Makes sense . . . Life as the killer. Does he wonder if life was too much for her?
“I looked over your notes. I know that you are confident that her depression was most likely the product of a chemical imbalance and not entirely a circumstantial downward spin.”
He hesitated. The palms of his hands were sweatier than ever now and his head was getting foggy.
“Yes. I am confident.”
“Ok then,” Dr. Salvador said. “It’s seems like we’re all satisfied. Let’s cut all the talk for one day. I’m sure you must be getting awfully anxious. Why don’t we go take a look at the pods?”
They entered a bright white room filled to the brim with large plastic pods. The varying makes and designs struck Asher as oddly biological-looking in nature. Some sat vertically and housed some sort of liquid, while others were horizontal and looked more like the old tanning beds that people used to lie in for hours on end to burn their skin.
“There are so many,” Asher said as his head swiveled about the room.
“Yes. And she will grow in many of them.” Dr. Salvador moved slowly over to the vertical-standing circular tank containing the fluid.
“Your wife will start her journey in this tank,” he said wiping off condensation on the glass. “The liquid is called Placenteral. It will provide nourishment for her as a fetus, like placenta in the uterus. An artificial umbilical cord will act as a gateway, as it does in a normal womb, between the fetus and the placenta. The liquid is enhanced with hormones that speed up the process of growth. The hormone is rather remarkable, and plays a pivotal role in the growth process.”
Asher had a look of worry on his face.
“The hormone is perfectly safe. There are no adverse effects. As I was saying…”
Asher’s eyes strayed from the fish tank towards the tanning beds. Those look like the pods on the Endeavor 7, he thought, though they’re different for sure. The pods on the Endeavor cryogenically freeze the astronauts as they travel. He imagined Abraham’s silent closed eyes as he lay in the pods. Abraham will be gone soon. He’s going as far away as possible, as far from me as possible. Their last conversation darted into his mind.
“Why are you going?” Asher said unsteadily as he sat in his darkened leather chair in the study.
“Why can’t you just be happy for me?” Abraham’s harsh tone shot back at him.
“I am … It’s just. It’s a long journey to the Lunar Colonies. You won’t be coming back.” He glanced at the comic books on the coffee table to his side. His hand brushed the dust off of the top.
“You’ll never be happy, will you?” he replied. “You don’t talk to me when I’m here, and now you act like you care. You never did.”
Asher looked at the comic. It was an issue of Green Lantern. That was Abraham’s favorite as a child. He dressed up like him all the time back then.
“I do,” he said weakly.
“No, you don’t. Why don’t you just start a new family and leave me alone.”
Asher looked up at him. Abraham’s eyes were closed and his fists were balled up. Asher stood up and reached to touch his hand.
“No,” Asher said and jerked his hand away. “It’s too late.”
The sound of Dr. Salvador’s voice brought him back.
“And these pods are for the second stage of growth,” he said as he moved towards the tanning booths.
They look like something out of the twilight zone, Asher thought. Large pea colored veils covered the horizontal beds and encased them. They had the look of velvet. Dark veins ran within their skin, perhaps to feed whatever brewed inside. The thought of something growing inside the bio-vessel made Asher’s blood curl. He slowly reached his hand out and touched the strange surface with the tips of his fingers. It felt like an autumn leaf, brittle and dry as if all of the moisture had been sucked right out. There was a hinge on the top. He grabbed it. It’s strong, he thought as he pulled on it. She couldn’t get out if she tried. He pictured her half-formed hands flailing within, trying vainly to pry open the upper hatch of the pod.
“The pods, as you can see, are covered by what looks like a cocoon. This is important for environmental acclimation and ultimate re-acquisition of memories. Just as the fetus of a baby becomes acclimated to the voice of its mother, so also does the subject as it grows to its optimum physical stage. For this reason, it is of utmost importance that the growth process takes place in its original environment.”
“Where, my house?” Asher was taken aback.
“Yes. The subject will be able to re-acquire information more quickly in its original habitat. A different habitat would be like a surrogate womb; the information gained while in utero and the second out-of-utero stage would create a prolonged false mental impression and thereby at the very least delay the acquisition of past-life information and memories.”
“Does that mean that speaking to her will have some affect on her memory acquisition?”
“Yes. I am confident that any contact that you have with her as she grows will speed up the process.”
Is this what Dr. Monreau thought when he created the beasts on his island? Asher wondered. Did he coddle them in the womb in an effort to become closer to them? They still lashed out at their creator all the same. Perhaps in the end, I shall share his fate. What will Abraham think when his mother comes back from the dead? Will he even recognize her face? He was so young when she took her own life. He took it in such an odd way. He didn’t even cry at the funeral. He just stood next to me in his little black suit and clip-on tie silent as the grave. Maybe he didn’t comprehend . . . or even mind too much. He had always spoken to me more. And how I treated him after that, God knows he deserved better. Now it’s too late. He’s going to go off and join the rest of the young bright population, while us old men decay here on this god-forsaken planet. He will build a future I was never meant to see, and still I look to the past.
He watched the pod. She will understand though, he thought.
“She will be the same? It was such a long time ago.” What if she doesn’t want me anymore? I have become a different man in her absence. She will wake up from her sleep and be greeted by a haggard old man.
“It is up to you in the end,” said Dr. Salvador, “but for the sake of your mutual happiness, it might be best if her body were aged according to the amount of time that she has been gone. Granted, the physical changes in such an age addition, if you could call it that, would be approximated, and built off of an approximated model. We will do our best to age features on her face as naturally as possible, but the process of re-creating a body is a complicated business and not without limitations, as all scientific breakthroughs are. If we age features that were approximated to begin with, there is a slight possibility that some, acquaintances, friends, perhaps even relatives, might not recognize her at the outset.”
Rip Van Winkle, he thought. She had fallen into a coma-like sleep and would now wake up. What would be worse, to enter into a changed world in a changed body, or with the same body as you remember, as if you had stepped into a time-machine.
“I must think about that,” he said in a low tone. His eyes stared hard at the head of the pod and he thought. If she felt left behind, wouldn’t it be harder for her to edge out of that drain? I could help her to cope better if she were like me. She and I could connect and I could help her to reconcile with the past, present, and future. It would be impossible if she felt alone and isolated. That would certainly occur if she awoke in a world twenty years ahead in everything but her own appearance.
Jesus. But how would she feel looking in a mirror and seeing a woman twenty years older, with Grey hair and wrinkles all over. That might kill her too. There is so much to consider. Bringing her back is nothing short of insurmountable. Yet here I am.
He let out a long breath, clasped his hands together tightly, and straightened up. I know what to do, he thought. I will bring her back, not as a cryogenically frozen time-jumper, but as an escapee from the prison she fell into. She will bear scars, as all who are freed do. Only then can she accept and move forward. The strange kindred stare as she notes her matured eyes will tell her where she has been. My words and comforting smile will guide her out to the destined place we will travel together.
“Dr. Teófilo feels it necessary for him to oversee the growth process in your home. I highly recommend that he be allowed to remain in your home throughout the duration of your wife’s incubation. In addition, when you choose the age of your wife, Dr. Teófilo will make all of the arrangements and adjustments.”
His eyes caught sight of Teófilo sitting in a swivel chair. He sat hunched over with a hard blank look in his eyes. His demeanor stood out to Asher as a man in purgatory. His sight seemed to pierce a plane beyond. Perhaps his spirit searched for some answer as well, or maybe he had already found one.
“Sounds good,” Asher said and let out a deep breath. That takes the weight off a bit, he thought. To be alone in a shaded room of my house with that pod scares me. I’d feel like Dr. Frankenstein. At least with Dr. Teófilo at my side, I have someone around to ease my aching mind, even with a language barrier to get around.
Dr. Teófilo settled into Asher’s guest room so easily that he wondered for a time whether the old man had signed on solely for free room-and-board. Upon bringing him up a brew of tea to welcome him to the home, Asher was startled by its already cluttered state. It had become a hive of informational knowledge, all of which was stapled and/or taped to the walls. “What is all this?” he asked with an outstretched index finger.
“Yes,” he said. He recognized by the direction of Asher’s finger that he had interest in the uniquely wallpapered monstrosity. Asher waited, but Teofilo said nothing. He simply stared back in silence. Asher realized that with the language barrier, there was no way to explain the wall or the reason. But slowly, Teófilo held out his finger and pointed to a colorful Hindu picture on the wall. “Samsāra,” he said and beckoned Asher closer.
The image looked like a bright illustration that gave an example of the soul’s journey through a number of different bodies. At the top was a woman on her knees praying. Out of her chest came a thin white line that connected her to a man with a wiry mustache and a beautiful blue robe. He held out his hand to her. Clasped in it was a pink heart. Asher considered the relation between the man and the woman. Perhaps it illustrated that souls could be linked and shared at the same moment, connected by love. The white line continued through the man’s back into another. This time it was a warrior clad in gold armor. He stood in a fighting position with his hand upraised clasping a curved blade. He looked intent on dying in battle rather than quietly deteriorate. The line continued on and jumped from here to there through different castes and generations of people–a scrivener, a midwife, a princess–and finally ended with a man seated in a yoga sukhasana-style pose. He sat in a thin bright red robe, adorned in fine golden jewelry and a thick white headband that had a red dot in the middle. He was in a peaceful meditative state. He had reached nirvana. Asher wondered what the painting was actually illustrating. Was it explaining the path of the soul as time passes, or was it illustrating that there is a kind of collective strand that binds all living human beings together? All of their faces stood out to Asher as so very alive. It seemed odd to him that they could be only one essence wrapped in different coverings.
“So this is an example of what we are in store for in the future,” he muttered. I wonder what sort of person I will become, he thought, or for that matter, if I will transfer into a human body at all.
Teófilo pointed to a piece of paper next to the painting on the wall, then pressed his hand to his heart, then pointed again.
“Sūtra,” he said with a raised eyebrow. Asher shook his head.
He moved on down the graffiti wall. Asher walked slowly, bent on finding something familiar or at the very least legible. Suddenly, he caught a black-and-white photo of Bob Marley standing with a huge smile on a stage. Teofilo stopped and walked over. They smiled at each other. “Bob Marley,” Asher said as if to spark some sort of banter. Teófilo nodded his head.
“Rastafarian,” Teofilo replied and continued to move down the wall.
There must be a connection, Asher thought. Doesn’t the Rastafarian religion put some sort of a stock into the existence of a transmutable soul as well? Is that what all of this is, a chronicling of reincarnation theories and beliefs? He looked over at the old man. He was fingering through the documents on the wall with a slight grin on his face.
The days went by slowly in the beginning. The pods seemed so out of place in the den Asher had converted. The large white vessels sat in a room lined in ebony wood wall paneling. The comfortable chairs and foreign ornaments that had sat before–the set of Zulu cowhide shield, the black leather-upholstered sofa and loveseat, the antique chess set and Parisian saloon chairs–had been moved out and were replaced with machinery that would bring the dead back to life. In the corner sat two dining table chairs, one for Asher, and one for Teófilo. Teofilo sat solemnly most of the time staring at the primary fetal pod that held Maria’s phetal state. His small brown eyes watched the tiny embryo as it slowly took in nutrients and hormones that sped up its growth. Sometimes he would look through papers at his lap and jot down notes. Asher hardly ever sat in the other chair. It felt odd to him being in the room with Teófilo. Asher felt preoccupied. When he sat inside the dark wooden lair, his breadth would harden as if his lungs were filling up with water. His chest would hurt. His heart would speed rapidly like a hummingbird. He could neither jot down notes, nor read like the strange caretaker before him. He just sat and stared off as his mind raced over the strain of decisions that would in the end lead him to the moment, the point that would be the pinnacle of all of the points preceding. He could no longer smell the room’s rich wooden lacquer, nor bathe in its silence. It felt foreboding. The room hummed. The machines made a racket.
Teófilo watched him fall into the sound of the room and coughed loudly to hearken his attention. Then he pointed at him and lifted his chest high in the air. His right hand moved in circles as he let out a long breadth. Breathe, he said with his motions. He focused on his body. Breathe and stop preoccupying your mind with things out of your control. Remember that the clock continues always, and moves slowest when the eye watches its hands.
After a week in the room, the sound of the machines died down and the hum slowly turned into a lullaby. The room started to feel less confining. Asher sat in the chair and read to himself. He remembered Dr. Salvador’s advice to talk to Maria as she grew, so he read out loud. The words on the page soothed him and gave him a sense of confidence. Teófilo didn’t mind the reading. He was busy all the time jotting down notes and watching the machines as they worked. From time to time, he would get up and check the readings on the pods. Then he would sit back down in his chair again. He would only leave the room to go to the bathroom, to eat, and to sleep from time to time. He was a caretaker for the dead and the living.
Early one morning, Dr Salvador called the house to check and see how everything was progressing. The conversation began with questions regarding Dr. Teófilo–How is everything with you and Dr. Teófilo? Is the language barrier too much of a burden? Then he cut to the chase.
“Dr. Teófilo will leave before the end of the final phase of the project. After the birth-time has been set in the system, the machines will act automatically and no longer need supervision.”
“What if something happens?” Asher said nervously.
“Don’t worry. Dr. Teófilo will leave well after the growth process has completed. At the time of his departure, the only machine that will be necessary is the stasis unit. It runs not only as the primary breathing apparatus as the organs develop, but also functions as backup system after she begins to breathe on her own in case her lungs need more time to acclimate. The system is tied to the main power grid and a secondary generator in case the power fails. The only way to stop it from functioning is to manually override its automated functions yourself and shut it down.”
Asher felt wary.
“So there is absolutely nothing that Dr. Teófilo and I have to do in the final phase of the project?” he asked.
“Absolutely nothing! When the process is complete, the pod will open and the machines will shut off. All you have to do is be there for her when she wakes up. Dr. Teófilo and I feel that you will be more than capable at explaining things to her when she opens her eyes. I will visit as well to make sure everything has gone smoothly. Incidentally, have you made a decision concerning the incubation period. Dr. Teofilo will input the exact length of growth before he leaves. The last stage of growth–physical aging and cell decomposition–will take the least amount of time, so there will not be much of a difference either way in terms of wait-time.”
“Yes. I’ve decided that I want her age to be adjusted to the times.”
“Perfect. I think that’s a very wise decision. Well, alright. That’s all that I wanted to discuss over the phone. It’s been a pleasure talking to you again, Asher. I hope all is well. Goodbye.”
On one bright afternoon, Jacob made his first visit to the house since the project began. He entered the house reluctantly, but was surprised immediately by the aura in the air. He reckoned that the ultraviolet rays penetrating the windowpanes must have radioactively affected the household because Asher’s manner illustrated nothing less than radiance. His countenance beamed back confidence that Jacob had not seen in him for a long time.
Asher welcomed him with a hug. It felt worse than ridiculous. It felt warm and inviting, words that hadn’t been used to describe Asher in over a decade. Jacob laughed with all his heart. “It’s good to see to you today,” he said. “You look chipper.”
“As do you, my friend,” he responded. Then his hand gently caressed Jacob’s shoulder and he told him what he expected was the reason. “It’s getting close. Come and see. It’s fascinating.” He pointed him in the direction of the den and immediately urged him to follow. He glided like a wraith through the house, so swiftly and lightly on the soft wooden floor that the only sound other than the den’s busy hum was Jacob’s loud footsteps as he followed. A warm sheen glistened and reflected off of the walls and surfaces, so that he felt the change in the house like a breeze. It wasn’t stale, but beat like a heavy drum, busy and jovial.
They walked into the den. It had transformed the most, and felt entirely different than before. Dusty cob-webbed corners were now immaculate. Everywhere, life bloomed and soaked up the day’s seeming happiness. Innumerable hanging pots sprung vines that hung down from the ceiling. A mister showered the entranceway with cool moisture. At the far side of the room, a large Laurentii houseplant shot out of a large white pot. On the table, fresh gardenias sprouted from a sky blue vase. Jacob was stunned by the jungle that had apparently taken over the room. It felt like Jumanji had sprung up in the heart of ordinary life. And at the center sat the shine, the source, the sacred Wat, guarded by the vigilant Teofilo, from which everything emanated–the horizontal pod and Asher’s lifeblood.
Jacob stood in the doorway for a moment and took in the room’s rich aroma. This is the perfect birthing room, he thought as he drifted in towards the center. He stopped at a pile of books lying in an empty chair next to Teofilo and picked up a wrinkled paperback on the top. “Wow. Atlas Shrugged,” he said. “This is some heavy reading.” He started to thumb through its pages. “Are you reading this?”
“Yes. It was Maria’s favorite book. I never could figure out why,” he admitted. “She wasn’t a Libertarian. Still, I’ve been reading out loud to you. Who knows?-you know.”
Jacob grinned. This must be the reason you look the way you do, he thought. “That’s good,” he replied. I’m sure that by the time she comes out, she’s going to remember every word on every page of that book.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“If she doesn’t, I’m sure you’ll fill in all the details. That is, if you get a chance when everyone else gets to talk to her. They must be thrilled! I certainly am!” He smiled at Asher.
“Yes. They will be . . .” he replied hesitantly. Jacob glared at him.
“You haven’t told anyone yet? What about Abraham?”
“I want to tell him soon. I was going to wait until he comes home.”
“Is he coming home soon? He should be here when she wakes up.”
“He is so busy,” Asher said. “What with the upcoming launch and everything, he hasn’t had the time to come home at all this year.”
“You better tell him quickly. You don’t want him to find out the wrong way.”
“He has a right to be here for her just as much as I . . . if that is his decision. It was such a long time ago. Nearly twenty years have passed. He was such a small boy when she passed. He probably doesn’t recall a single memory with her. ”
“Still. She is his mother.”
“I’m worried,” he admitted.
“You’ve got to tell him in the end. It wouldn’t be right if he didn’t know that she was alive and left Earth for good without meeting her. Besides, if he finds out the wrong way, he may never forgive you.”
“Ya,” he replied and stared at the plum tree out the window. The sun shined down on the purple velvety leaves, and he thought of Maria. She had some disastrous arts and crafts projects. She never could master the woolen cloth, he remembered. The hats she made out of them always looked melted.
“So,” Jacob cut in. “What are you thinking?”
“I’ll call him,” Asher resolved. “He’ll come before she wakes up.”
“Sounds like a good idea.” They stared blankly at each other for a moment.
“So have you told anyone yet?” he asked curiously.
“Jon is coming over today. I think I’m going to tell him first. You know, tackle the hardest body first.” Asher’s exuberance had faded and he looked tired. “I don’t know how he’s going to react. Her suicide really changed him. I saw some of the things he wrote about her death. It really got to him. I can’t say he will forgive her anytime soon.”
“Well I can’t say I know for sure, but speaking from experience, a family’s love can forgive and forget the worst.”
“God, I hope you’re right,” he said and looked at Teofilo. He hadn’t moved. He sat like a watchdog with one eye on the pod and the other on his notes.
Abraham felt taller than he had ever felt before as he walked down the crowded road leading to the university’s park. His mind was presently fickle. He hardly even noticed the brilliant colors that made the school shine in the warm springtime sun. He caught the faint cries of a bunch of students playing Ultimate Frisbee. He shrugged it off without effort. He daydreamed beyond the day and the brightness. Here he was a graduate student at the best university in the state, having just come from his last and best seminar. He laid down such a speech, such a life-altering final lecture to his students that his heart leapt from his bosom. The seats were empty at the end, for all had risen to pay homage to his words. They were as babes that held onto sounds within the womb. His seminar did more than lift undergrad spirit and start up the dim undecided/undeclared mind. It incited. No doubt from his words, many would leap into the field of psychology, his field. He saw it in their eyes. It was elating.
Still he looked beyond to more important things, for he would soon be journeying to the NGC 1300-17 colony, the main outpost in the NGC 1300 galaxy. There he would join the visionaries and pioneers that marked the stars and detailed the reaches of the universe. There he, the “epitome of fluidity” as his mentor and thesis instructor had deemed him, would finally satisfy his lust, the insatiable need to know more. He walked and mused, and nothing, not even the semen-like smell of the white Juniper Trees that lined the road, daunted his reflection. He was the center of the universe, as hot and radiant as the core of the earth itself.
He made an impression on everyone within eyesight that day–undergraduates smiled embarrassedly, older women smiled suggestively, and even the eyes of professors wandered his way as he strode. He shook hands like a dignitary, with familiar and unfamiliar faces as if all had gathered to watch him exit.
The party that night would be glorious. All would celebrate and wish him well on the upcoming journey. He knew that be some emulated him, but most despised him because of his rise to academic fame. He heard the jealous pitch in their voice as they called his thesis a ‘hat trick,’ since it awarded him such immediate praise. They were ignorant. He practically did not kill himself in the process — long nights, research, drives and calls and consults and analysis– but he didn’t care what they thought. On the contrary, he stepped in front of their lax ideas and spat on their now-obsolete findings. He broke real ground into the causes of acute psychological stress in prolonged cryogenic unconsciousness, and using nothing more than second-hand experience to do it. It did more than hold up. It grabbed the colonizing selection committee. Their words resonated deep into the bowels of his mind.
You will have the opportunity to work directly in front of the problem, a first-hand look. You will be on the front lines of discovery.
He turned the corner into Molly’s café for his morning fix. Jazz played softly as he while he stood smiling in line. Suddenly, his pocket vibrated. The tone was soft and he barely heard it over the soft melody in the background. Finally, he noticed, pulled it out, and looked at the caller I.D. His smile faded slightly. It was his father. The thought didn’t cut his mood like it usually did though. Today, not even his father’s drab tone could touch him. He was above it, moving higher and higher. He was the new Icarus, for his father was wrong. “Hello Dad,” he affirmed.
“Hey Asher! How are you doing?” The tone spouted off cheerfully.
“Hey, Dad? You sound happy?” The thought caught him off-guard.
“It’s good to talk to you.”
Asher’s eyebrow lifted. “So what’s up Dad? Just calling me to see how I’m doing?”
“Yes, but I also have some news.”
“What is it?”
“It’s something very special. But I can’t tell you over the phone. Come home and see.”
“Oh, honestly?” He said with a sigh. “Alright. When do you want me to come? I haven’t got much time, you know, with the launch and the dinner party and everything. Can’t it wait until then?”
“Alright, great! Come over on Friday.”
“I can’t do Friday. I’m having dinner with Sara for the last time.”
“Well, uh… How about early next week?”
“You have to come before Thursday.”
“Can’t you just tell me now?”
“No, I can’t. Is Tuesday alright?”
“Alright, I’ve got to run. I have another seminar and I have to prepare.”
Oh damn it, he thought as he hanged up the phone. He’s probably trying to wheel me in again. Can’t that man get over the fact that I’m leaving and let me go. The thought of him attempting to be anything more than aloof both bewildered and angered him. He wanted solidarity before he left, which meant nothing, just the old handshake and lack of emotion that he had known so well from his father, the way he had acted in every graduation and birthday party he could remember since his mother died. His father’s aloofness wasn’t normal either, which made it all worse. It felt as if his father wanted to be there, but couldn’t, like something was pulling him in and out. And this new emotion, whatever it was, felt insincere and awkward. He had a good hypothesis to explain it, considering the timing and all. Abraham is leaving forever, so now I’ll give a damn.
I’m leaving. It’s happening. The bastard better accept it. I’m getting the hell out of here. I’m finally leaving everything . . . ‘Everything’ made him reel for a moment. Stop, he told himself. You have to. You have a great opportunity. He smiled thinking about it. I’m going to a new solar system, where I will research an entirely new problem from the best vantage point possible. The 17th colony is ground zero. It has the most cases of spatial schizophrenia anywhere due to the length of time in cryogenic sleep state. It is my place.
He got out of line and walked outside. The wind was cold, so he folded his arms and sat down on the cafe’s concrete partition. He pulled out a cigarette and took a deep, exultant puff. He felt the serenity that only a nicotine addiction could presently provide. Still the questions replayed, questions that he assured himself he had already put to bed. It was unexpected, and all he wanted was to avoid them, especially since in a mere couple of weeks he would be leaving for good.
The party started around nine o’clock at the Anthill Pub. The manager, Saul, a tall and gaunt man with slender shoulders, a potbelly, and a ghostly pale face was so delighted to be throwing a party for ‘the galaxy man’ as he liked to call him. Abe always talked about space to everyone as if he knew more than anyone. In fact, he knew more than most, except Abraham. He hated him in secret, but loved him in person. Ever since the first colonizing voyagers trekked through the galaxies, he watched in earnest and waited for his turn. It came and went. When he got close, the age limit was halved and he wasn’t prepared for it. Younger men won the seats, and he drank himself down the drain. He got the shaft, he said, and that was the worst thing that could happen to a man. Anyone that really knew him could guess that wasn’t the real case. He was a second-rater, at best a one-timer without the academic endurance necessary to make a difference. He would never set foot on colony soil. Only real prospects were chosen to make the journey. The council would not be wasting any space on unnecessary men.
Everybody said that only brave and honorable men would stand on the galactic colonies, and that every man, woman, and child would nonetheless kill to taste foreign soil and breathe in artificial air. The truth was that most were scared now. The admittance numbers were so high in the beginning and so many failed or dropped out so quickly that the no-fly rumors terrified most up-and-comings into other fields. It didn’t stop Abraham because he knew he would make it. He had nothing on Earth to inhibit him. Abraham wore that on his sleeve as he walked into the bar, knowing that he jumped in the shark tank when so many shuddered at the thought of cold water. Abraham knew that only men of a certain caliber would be going to the colonies, men like him. He thought of himself as a man apart from the rest of ordinary society, a regular Colonel George Taylor.
He felt a lot like the Charlton Heston’s character in the Planet of the Apes. He memorized the opening lines as a boy when the good Colonel sat at the bridge of the star vessel and soliloquized. In that moment, Abraham wanted that boundless space that “squashes a man’s ego.” He wanted his ego to be squashed by endlessness. That’s what makes a man understand what really matters. No man is the center. He wanted to finally understand how small everything was: pain, suffering, love, everything besides truth. Then he would let go of the fog, the abyss that scared the entire world out of their wits–hopelessness. When he stood among the stars, looking out into shear abyss, he would see reality and shrug off that hopeless desire that holds great men down. For all this he smiled that day.
He stepped up to the bar and handed Saul a twenty. “I’ll get a Flat Tire, thanks,” he said quickly. He took a seat below a giant best wishes sign. A woman he knew walked in and caught his attention. He had spoken with her a lot lately during the semester, both in and out of class. She always seemed interested. She was the only person he cared to see at the party. She was captivating, more elegant than any woman he had ever fancied. The way that her hips swayed from side to side reminded him of a cat sauntering on the carpet. It was like she noted everything but gave attention to nothing. She looked at him and he knew by her smile that she wasn’t on the same plane as everyone else in the room. Her mind was elsewhere. But it didn’t stop her from laughing at such brazen attempts at flattery. The place was a debacle. He knew it, but he liked it all the same, precisely because he was beyond it now. The bond that held it together no longer held him. He was already strapped into the horizontal seats, listening to the low vibration of the engine, with nothing but pre-flight alcohol and the open sky at his fingertips. Not even the long, smooth legs and prowling purr of an earthbound lioness would alter his mind’s final trajectory.
However, even a man with no future on earth could have one last good time before blast-off, so he waved her over to join him. She sat down obligingly. The spell-bound bartender ran over. He smiled so widely that you could see his depleting gingivitis-ridden gums.
“What would you like, Eunice?” he said.
“I’ll take an Appletini please,” she said smoothly. The barman salivated. He walked off slowly, nearly bumping into the table next to them. “So, how did you like Professor Sandoval’s last discussion? He is so interesting isn’t he? I think I’m really going to miss him.”
“Ya, I will too.”
“You can’t fool me. I know you hated the old man.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” he said taken aback.
“Well, for one thing, you too fought over every subject imaginable during lecture.”
“I do that with everybody. Someone’s got to play the other side, rather than into their hands all the time.”
“Well, you could have fooled me with the amount of feedback you poured out during lectures.”
“Aww,” he sighed and laughed. “Just trying to keep everybody honest is all.”
“As if you’re honest,” she offered.
“I am,” he retorted sharply. She smiled. “Whatever made you doubt me in that respect?” he said with a gleam in his eye. She winked back at him and took a sip of his drink.
The sound in the room dropped out as her lips touched the glass mug. He could hear her kiss the brim. It left dark red residue on the edge of the cup. He thought of a smoky bar room filled with seedy looking suits, card tables, and a turn-of-the-century piano player with a drink in one hand and dreary drawling jazzy fingers in the other. He smiled.
Her manner always seemed oddly old-fashioned, and the look in her eye stumped him so that for the life of him he couldn’t figure her out. He felt as if she were trying to escape something. Her method in every situation was swagger. She had it in buckets, and charisma where when needed as well. Their conversations felt like a play–not quite sincere, but never boring. He always felt like he couldn’t reach under the surface of that sly shell of hers. In that way, he felt like they were the same.
“You’re funny,” he sputtered out sardonically.
“What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know,” he said matter-of-factly. It caught her off guard. He thought of an answer why. “The way that you talk, maybe. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know you at all. Then again, when I look at you right now, I feel the opposite; like you’re the only one in here I could get along with.”
“Get along with huh.” She scoffed. “You’re weird.” They both laughed loudly, like two people sitting on top of the bed sheets naked.
“Ya. I am, aren’t I?”
“I like it though. It’s refreshing to talk to someone so shameless. I’m going to miss that. Well not that, there are plenty of shameless men, but I like the way you do it. I’m going to miss you.”
“Oh ya,” he said, realizing where he was, “It’s weird that I’m leaving. To think, I’m going to be living in a box for god knows how long. I’m moving from open air to a cold metallic sleeping pod.”
“That’s creepy. I wonder what that sleep must feel like, you know? For instance, when you sleep for a normal period of time, your dreams span over a longer period of time. Does that mean that you live a whole other life when you sleep for a decade, or however long you stay frozen for?”
“What you’re thinking of is called Time Compression. Actually, your dreams take place in real time. Usually, the phenomenon can be chalked up to time lapses throughout the dream. It’s like a movie. The boring parts are cut out and only the scenes that matter are played out. Well, unless it’s a crappy movie.” He laughed.
“And about cryogenics during spaceflight, it’s like being put in a coma, actually, even more morbid than that. You don’t dream because you don’t go through sleep cycles. You aren’t sleeping at all. The low temperatures cause all bodily functions to cease, including mental activity. You are then put on life-support systems to keep you from dying. There have been cases though of people saying that they did experience a temporary dream-state, but such claims are insubstantial folly at best. Your mind simply closes up shop.”
“You never know. These people are so close to death. Maybe it’s the ‘fundamental clear light’ that they’re seeing’ at the moment of death.”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to make a case out of it after I go through cryo myself. Maybe then I’ll understand the words of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.”
“Let’s hope so,” she said. “I’m so happy for you. I always figured you’d be a somebody.”
“How? We haven’t known each other all that long. And what might I ask constitutes a ‘somebody?’”
“Somebody I have to meet,” she said avoiding his gaze. “And I knew, before I even talked to you in class, I could tell by your gait.”
“My gait, huh.”
She looked at him and smiled. “Yep. Your gait. Did you get that from your father?”
“The arrogance, you mean. He’s certainly got that.”
“Proud and arrogant, I bet now.”
“Why? Because I’m leaving and becoming a ‘somebody?’ I doubt it.”
“Really? How is he taking all of this?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s never congratulated me about it.”
“He’s probably just scared.”
“He’s never scared. To be scared, you have to feel something, first. That man has erased anything comparable to the emotion.”
“Still, I bet the fact that his only son is leaving on a one-way mission to some far off colony planet has stirred something in him.”
“Well,” he said musingly, “Now that you mention it, he did mention something. He’s got something he wants to show me.”
“I have no idea what it could be. I don’t know have any idea what that old man could be up to lately, not that I care anymore.”
She sat back for a moment and deliberated. “That reminds me of something my roommate was reading. She was reading a book called The Black Book, have you ever heard of it?”
He laughed and clapped his hands. “She’s reading that garbage? Why on God’s green earth would she pick that crap up? Only men who can’t look at the opposite sex read that shit.”
“Alright, well don’t look at her too harshly. Some Frat-boy she is dating recommended it to her. He told her it was a good piece of fiction actually.”
“Alright, that works,” he said derisively.
“Anyways, she was telling me about some of the tactics men use on women.” She eyed him as he sat with a guilty smile on his face. “Apparently, in the book, it says that it is important to isolate the girl and take her off on her own, away from everyone else.”
“Yes. It does,” she said slowly, plucking through each word, “And an easy way that it said to do it was to invite the person on an adventure to investigate something. Like, I don’t know, ‘I hear there’s an ice cream machine out back. We should go check it out.’
“An ice-cream machine huh.” He laughed.
“Hey shut up!” she yelled playfully, “It doesn’t matter. It’s about getting the person alone. If she likes you, she won’t care what the reason is.”
“So my father is the ice-cream machine?”
“No!” she yelled.
“I’m just kidding.” They laughed. “So you think that’s what my father’s doing?”
“It could very well be the reason. Maybe he just wants to spend more time with you, and doesn’t know how else to get you home early.”
“Well, he got me. I’m going. Who knows, maybe he built a time machine to take us back to when we were a big happy family.”
“Maybe,” she said, staring at him. He smiled lethargically and looked the ceiling. All of a sudden, he felt like having a cigarette. “I’m going to go for a walk. I haven’t really looked out at Aldrich Park at nighttime in a while.”
“Shall I join you?”
“No, it’s ok. I’ll only be gone for a bit. Don’t run away.”
“Okay,” she said disappointedly. “You either. I hear there is an ice-cream machine in the back we can take a look at.” She winked and smiled.
The night air was unusually chilly for Orange County in the fall. Abraham’s Camel Lights came in handy. He lit one and took a drag. It warmed his insides immediately. Then he bundled up in his old brown leather jacket. Its smell always reminded him of his father’s old jean jacket that he used to try on as a child. It was ragged and worn all over. He tried a few times to make use of it, to no avail. The seams tore no matter how much how well he stitched it. Besides, it was too wide and not long enough for his thin, long torso. It looked so appealing too, completely covered with biker emblems and USA pins. He had always wondered how his father looked in it. The thought of a dorky bearded version of his father riding a trike wearing that small jacket made him laugh. He saw the pictures. Most of them made a mockery of his father’s ‘cool younger days’ that he always bragged about. There was one picture though that Abraham always admired. It was his dad riding his old sunset colored three-wheeled motorcycle on the Golden Gate Bridge. He had fabricated and welded the cruiser together himself. Then he and a friend took it all the way from Baja to San Francisco and then up through Oregon, Washington, and finally ended in Canada. His father’s face in the picture was priceless, a look of pure tranquility, as if he had just achieved ultimate Buddhahood and was ascending into the ethereal realm. Abraham always recalled the look whenever the shit hit the fan. He thought back to his dad’s look and tried to live in it for a moment. It never worked though because he hadn’t caught a glimpse of that happy-go-lucky face since.
The cigarette burned out quickly and made his head feel heavy, so he stopped for a moment under the tall shadowy woods of the botanical garden. Under the dim dent of trees lay a large marble statue surrounded by some orange shrubbery. A couple of rabbits sat on their haunches eyeing him. Goddamned rabbits, he thought. He had seen them sprawling all over the university, pooping, eating, digging things up. You know what, he thought, I have never tried to catch one. He grinned at them and decided to give it a go. He took off his jacket very slowly. Then he emptied his pockets so that he wouldn’t chaff if he had to sprint for a while. Then he took off his nicely polished dress shoes. The thought of chasing a living animal excited him. He hadn’t a good run for quite a while. He prepared himself. Why not?-he thought. If I were a caveman, I’d be running after shit like this all the time for food. Why can’t I do it now for fun? He walked up lightly on the balls of his feet, but soon they sopped in the wet grass. The rabbits halted like deer in a headlight and watched him move closer and closer. They didn’t stir. Perhaps they had grown accustomed to humanity. Most likely they were born within a few feet of human traffic. Suddenly, they moved slightly, so he leapt at them full-superman and landed in the mucky turf. His hand narrowly missed one. It made a squeal and scurried away into the bushes. “Oh no you don’t, fucker!” he said loudly and darted after it. It ran into the bushes and he reached in to grab it, but it was no use, for there was a hole buried deep in the bush.
He trotted off the grass and threw his socks in the trash. Then he sat down on a bench and laughed at himself. Damn, he thought. Almost had that one! His shirt was wet and stained by the grass. He felt like he must have looked dumber than a cokehead, but he didn’t regret his decision at all. I should’ve snuck in on them from behind. Man that was fun! He panted. I should collapse into such childish behavior more often. He fell back and looked up into the dark starless night sky. When did living get to be so conveniently ordinary for the everyday man? Did the normal man ever encounter anything that really forced him to exert himself and test his medal? Aww, he scoffed warily, Man has no need for medal anymore, nor any relish to attain it either. But at what cost did man lose instinct and gain enlightenment? He thought of the rabbit. I did it because I could. It was stupid, but it wasn’t. It was good. I defied that damned ethical code that’s buried deep within that forces people to grow up, to settle. I did it out of pure unadulterated desire. I wasn’t being criticized and I wasn’t being looked down upon for doing something for myself. I wasn’t worried at all. I want that all the time, he told himself. I want an environment untainted by prying eyes, where I can be free to test my limits. The colonies, he thought. There I can do just that–test just how courageous I really am. It’s so easy to leave with an idea like that. He thought of his father. What does he want? He shrugged it off and focused on the journey. Is it easy, he speculated, or rather, is it logical to leave everything to the wind based on desire? Will it shape up as I hope it will? What would father do? He frowned. Forget it Abraham, he told himself, though he knew it was no use. He hated the fact that his father still held such a prominent space in his mind. Why do I still care so much? Because I’m still here on Earth, he concluded and peered harder up at the sky. Deep space is the only answer. It’s my only chance to reach nirvana. I will not spend my days dawdling around like the rest of the cattle nor will I follow the teachings of the traveling ‘wise man.’ I will experience life for myself and find the enlightened path. And if nothingness is the plane that exhibits the deity of the self, then space is the ultimate venue for transmission.
He felt fulfilled. So he got up and walked back to the party to find Eunice.
Asher became more and more anxious as the time of his wife’s awakening approached. The date came closer like a train wheeling into the station. The slow pull had arrived and he could make the physical details that defined its character–the lines, the slowly aging skin, the face–and all that he had dreamt about for so long was finally forming before his eyes. The waiting was hard. The brakes had locked, the harsh screech sounded in his ear, and he knew that now there was no middle ground between decision and fruition. He was on the platform and would soon be seated on his journey. He could picture his wife’s sigh as she opened her eyes. He replayed the situation over and over again as he stared at her slowly forming face. She would open her eyes and gasp the breadth of the room, note the strange brown wooden walls, and see him smiling as he welcomed her back. He wondered how she would react, with a smile, perhaps a frown. He hated thinking that she might be scared.
Had he taken her from the heavenly light that greets those wondering spirits that have met fate? Perhaps she had already made peace and accepted the lights of the Bardon Thodol. That scared him the most, thinking that he made the wrong decision. After all, she had killed herself. Everything surrounding her death, the process, the aftermath, haunted his mind as he sat looking at her day after day. He tried to occupy his thoughts with other things. He started reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Teofilo handed it to him one day and gestured sweetly for him to browse its pages. It was a nice gesture, Asher thought as he accepted the book. It was an English translation of the Tibetan writings on the afterlife. It was interesting. Asher became enveloped in its description of the Bardo and the seven days. We wondered how far her spirit had traveled before she was ripped back into the Sangsara Had she seen the deities? Were there even deities or an afterlife? Obviously, there was something, or else her life force would have already died. Or did her essential essence maintain some sort of consciousness as it transported itself in another vessel? There was no use musing over such things, Asher told himself, for there was no way of knowing, though at times, he wondered if Teofilo would soon discover the other hidden mysteries of the soul.
He was excited at times thinking about what they would discuss when she woke up. He couldn’t wait to ask her what she saw, if she remembered anything at all from her mortal departure and ethereal existence. To be able to talk to her at all made him happy. He didn’t care what they would talk about, as long as he got to hear her voice again. Her voice, her mind, in another vessel; the thought made him stir. Was it her anymore? Was this body sitting on the white lighted bed, wrapped in paper mache acclimation leaves, really his wife? His mind had jumped onto an emotional rollercoaster, and there was no way of getting off.
He prepared himself for his son’s arrival, thinking hard about how to explain the situation. He would be sincere and gentle of course, but in his mind, he dreaded it. If there was one reaction he could not foresee, it was his son’s reaction upon hearing that his dead mother was sleeping in one of the rooms of the house.
And to top it all off, his brother-in-law, Mr. Fire-and-Brimstone, was coming over as well to hear the special news. Asher was terrified, trembling like a man in a drunken rage as he ruminated over the way that conversation would play out. Perhaps something like ‘Hey Jon, I just resurrected your dead sister. I guess you’ll just have to rewrite your stupid condemnations after all.’ He craved the conversation so deeply. Jon had mused for long enough on the state of his sister’s soul in the other life. He had gone so far as to post his morbid poetry online for everyone to see. He even told Asher to browse around and tell him what he had to think. What he thought was that he wanted to wring the man’s reproving little neck and spit all over his written work. He was shocked to the core by the man’s open hellish spouting against the soul of his own sister. Overall, with everything that would transpire in the next few days, reactions were the one thing that Asher wanted to rip off like a band-aid and move past as quickly as possible.
He decided to dawn his pumpkin orange fall sweater the day that he broke the news to Jon. Maria had always told him that happy colors and a smile made any awkward situation easier to traverse. He answered the door with an unnaturally hearty hello and shook the man’s hand quickly. Jon walked in the house and immediately sized it up. The foreboding manner with which Jon always scrutinized Asher’s house reminded him of a priest in a horror film, like Father Merril’s reaction when he confronted the demon-possessed child in the Exorcist.
Jon walked to the middle of the room and turned toward Asher. He did not look into Asher’s eyes, but walked around the room as a man alone. His long fingers slid across the top of the black freestanding wood-burning stove. He smiled as he noted the dusty film on the tips of the fingers and brought it up to his nose to smell.
“How have you been Jon?” Asher said to the back of his neck. He turned abruptly.
“I’ve been great,” he said grinning. His chin dropped to his neck and the light fell from his eye line, turning his face into an unlit jack-o-lantern with two cavernous holes dug in.
“I see that all of the pictures of my sister are gone? You finally decided to move on.”
Asher did not answer, but stared intently at the glare that reflected off of the man in front of him. Jon continued to look over the room, sniffing at times like a bloodhound on the track of a hair. He chuckled quietly and abrasively shook his head. “You know Asher,” he said as his gurgle rose into laughter, “You have let this place fall into ruin, haven’t you? It looks filthy in here. It never looked this bad. Then again, I haven’t been here in a while. I guess you just got too busy for all of us.”
“Now you know it’s not that,” Asher said brusquely. He had been staring at Jon the entire time he perused the space, never taking his eye off the clean-shaven neck that lay barren of unwanted follicles. He had the look of a man running for office. His un-gelled hair fell perfectly combed on his head like a P.O.W. in the dirt under the unsteady barrel of a camo-ridden automatic rifle. He was wearing an over-starched white button-up long-sleeve. In the center, his wide black tie sat pinned down by a long metal tiepin he had engraved with his initials. On the end of his sleeves, his cuffs bore his initials. Asher wondered whether all of his suits at home sat on their hangers with embroidered handkerchiefs as well–a man’s name never stood for less–he thought so quickly and surely that it threw him for a loop like an epiphany suddenly awakening his mind. He gritted his teeth. I don’t like this guy, he snapped. He wondered how long the hated burned in his chest. Hate; the feeling lingered with such strong finality that he winced like a man reacting to the smell of rotten milk.
He told himself why the man in his house was present. It was not because he wanted him in his house. That was for certain. His gaunt shriveling little body covered in white-and-black sack-cloth reminded him of the evangelical locusts that rode their bikes up and down his street on Saturday. This visit wasn’t to shoot the breeze. It had a purpose. He would tell him that Maria was back. The conversation would not be commonly celebratory for such an occasion befitting men in their position–brothers of a sort. The thought revolted him. He stood rigid like a man watching a rabid beast, waiting for it to pounce. At that moment of knowing fearful vigilance, they were adversaries in his eyes. It had been so since the beginning of the end. He knew that they would neither hug nor embrace upon the doorstep of this newfound revelation. They would stand at odds, no doubt. His hand would finally close the mouth of the dog. He would tell him that his wife was not gone forever–not in heaven to ponder her wasted life, nor in hell to be judged forever as a fallen soul–but was lying in wait, a harbinger for the rise of man above the seat of godly fear. He would finally be able to answer that silly worthless man standing in front of him, whose writings slandered not only the lady Maria, but the house of Asher, locking them in a downward spiral of guilt. He would answer for his hatefully spewed convictions that defamed her being. He might have asked himself before committing such perjury why a loving creator would condemn someone who commits suicide in an effort to escape a mental imbalance he could have screened at birth or in utero? And that was what it was. He saw the signs–intense manic episodes, the creative spirit that exploded so inexplicably and then faded so suddenly, the melancholic drinking binges–all of which could have been held under control by a decent anti-depressant drug. Those disgustingly unstable drugs so unpredictable to drive some even farther into the bleak winter. That was the problem, like always, proper medication.
It was his own fault, he knew. In the pit of his stomach, he knew that he had committed the ultimate error: dispensing drugs without proper treatment. If anyone was to be condemned, it was he for forcing the swindle upon her. He went too far. He thought it would be the answer, but it only drove her further. The symptoms caught her and she couldn’t handle them. But this time, the solution would rest where it belonged, not upon jackpot drugs, nor upon the good tidings of God, but upon treatment and a miracle remedy. Dear Jacob finally had the answer. (at some point, he should start questioning whether she had clinical depression or not)
“So Asher,” Jon said, “What was so important?”
“Have a seat Jon,” Asher said motioning to a chair.
Jon sat slowly with a questioning look in his eye and folded his arms. He scratched his brow with his long oily fingers. Asher waited for a moment, and then pulled up a chair next to him. The closeness made Jon feel uneasy.
“Do you want some water first?”
“It depends. Am I going to need water after this?”
“Jon, I’ve got some news to tell you. It’s pretty heavy.” The sentence felt like a weight had just dropped on the shoulders of both men. Asher took a deep breadth. “It’s about Maria.”
Jon’s head craned to the left like a puppy watching a ball. “What? What the hell could Maria have to do with anything?”
“You’re not going to believe this, but Maria is coming back.”
“Coming back? What in God’s name do you mean coming back? She’s dead!” Jon jumped out of his chair. He walked back slowly. He looked as if he had just walked in on a homicide. Asher held up his hand in earnest to calm him.
“Alright. Calm down. It’s going to be okay. I know how it sounds.”
“It sounds like you are going crazy!”
“Sit down and I’ll explain.”
“I think I’ll stand.”
“Okay. I’ll continue. Do you know anything about the Tammel Research Center?”
“You mean that horrid place on the news that everyone’s been up in arms about? Of course I know! It’s all over the news lately. They’re cloning people.”
“Yes, but that’s not the only thing they’re doing there. They’ve come up with a way to bring people back… from the dead.”
Jon’s hands dropped limply to his sides and his head straightened out as the shock of the sentence settled in. He moved slowly towards his seat and fell backwards into it. “I can’t believe it,” he said softly.
They sat in silence for a moment. Asher made the first move. “You look like you could use a cup of water,” he said with a smile on his face. Jon stared off like a man in a straightjacket. “I’ll go get you one.”
“I… I gotta go,” Jon said out of the corner of his mouth.
“What do you mean? You can’t leave yet. Don’t you want to see her?”
“She’s in the study.”
“What is she doing in the study?”
“She isn’t ready yet. She hasn’t woken up. The stasis units are still monitoring her, just in case.”
“You mean to tell me she is going to be resurrected in your home? My god!”
“Yes. I guess you could say that. She has been growing here since the beginning. Once she is…”
“Growing? What is this? You’re growing her?”
“Yes. This isn’t a biblical resurrection. It’s a process. And the process is nearly complete.”
“So she’s still plugged in? How much longer does she have?”
“It’s hard to say. Her lungs haven’t fully developed yet. They still need time. The stasis units breathe for her from time to time. Soon, she will be able to breathe on her own.”
“So machines are keeping Maria alive.”
“Yes … but not for long. She’s going to wake up soon.” Asher could not hold in the smile that seemed to exude from his very core. To speak of his wife in the present, to use her name in the future tense of a sentence made him so happy that he couldn’t stop blushing. He felt such elation that the very ends of his legs beat like a drum as he sat on the edge of his chair.
“I won’t push you, but you should see her … oh, if only for a moment,” he said, barely able to contain himself, “the means for creating an angel is upon us–science–my god, the shear scientific achievement. It is truly amazing! You would be so astrounded by the method. I’ll fill you in on all the details, but you have to see. The pod that’s holding her … ,” he stood up and motioned quickly for Jon to follow, “it’s like a work of art.”
As Asher spoke, Jon followed attentively behind. He nodded and listened to Asher as he explained the intricacies of the machine like a boy describing the zoo or a man describing his love. His feet felt heavier as he walked down the long dark hall. It seemed to grow dimmer and dimmer around him as he went further inside. He could hear the low hum of the machines that sounded slightly at the end of the hallway, through the tall dark brown door with the golden metallic doorknob. The thought of the door opening to reveal his sister frightened him. In the pitt of his stomach, the weight of what he was about to see hit him suddenly, and he knew that he could not now run from it. He was being led to it by the man in front of him. He wished that Asher would stop walking, that by some miracle something would impede them from getting to the large brown door–a fire, an indoor avalanche, anything. Walk slower, he said to the large back in front of him, walk slower, but the body continued to saunter on down the hall that seemed so short now that it had ended. The large hairy hands reached for the door and gripped it. Time seemed to stop as the large fingers gripped tightly on the knob. He turned it and opened the door slowly like a father peaking in on his sleeping children. Bright white light escaped through the cracks of the opening and seeped into the dim hall. The glow hit Jon in the face like sunlight outside of a movie theatre and he recoiled. All at once, Asher pushed open the door and the room’s noisy confusion blaired out into the hallway. His eyes made contact instantly with the pod. That is her, he told himself. His mind felt heavy. It felt as if the essense within the pod resounded out. The activity that came from the area of the pod gave off the impression to him of an automated machine on the side of a conveyor belt in a factory–attentive, tireless, maliciously purposeful; it was as if she were a Model T on the last leg of the production stage. Will she judge me by my words, he wondered as he looked bewilderedly. Will she understand me? The fear binded his feet to the door’s threshold.
“Come on in Jon. Don’t be scared,” Asher said and smiled.
Jon looked at Asher with a harsh gaze, nearly betraying himself, then smiled. I am scared, he thought, and stepped in. He moved closely to the pod, drawn in by its light hum. He moved his head in close to the edge of the lid and placed his ear gently on the filmy outer covering. It felt like listening to the sound of a baby in a woman’s stomach. A small thumping sound faintly appeared out of the continuous purr of the machine. Jon gasped. Again he recited the facts laid out before him: Your sister is not dead. She is now alive. Your brother-in-law has brought your sister back from the grave. It was at that moment that he felt the presense of Asher on him, watching his every move. He twitched, but did not turn around. He did not look back at Asher, but pulled his head off the pod quickly, abruptly, and stood up straight. He took a deep breath, and turned around.
“Well. It seems you have done the impossible. Congratulations,” he said in an abrupt, formal tone.
Asher responded with a smile that raised his cheeks. Jon stood staring into his eyes, blindingly aware of the comfort perched upon their recesses. Such comfort does not belong in this situation, he thought. Suddenly, he became aware of his hatred for the smile and the perception behind which such a smile would be pertinent for such an occasion. Now is not the occasion, he told himself. The sound around him died down as he burrowed deeply within himself. This is not right. I cannot have this. She is not here. She is gone. He shall not bring her back. He has no right to bring her back. The smile offended him now. The stature of the man before him–the laziness, the blinding hope–could not be allowed to pass by unchecked. It had to be stopped, like a plague or bacteria. It could not be allowed to fester. God would put a stop to such an overstep. The amount of ethical barriers overstepped … to hell with ethical … moral, no honorable, theological principles shat upon. She, he thought glancing at the pod, not even she would be alright with this. His jaw clenched slightly as he looked back defiantly at Asher. Did you even think of her? Did you even wonder whether she wanted to come back or not? Did her suicide letter mean nothing to you? Let’s not go there, he shook himself back again. Suicidal justifications are groundless and ridiculous, not to mention morally adulterous. He stumbled for some way to extricate himself. He stuttered.
“I’ve got to be going. This is a lot to take in.”
“Jon, wait. Just take a breath.”
“I’ve taken in enough air in this room for one day.”
“I’ll, I’ll come back tomorrow,” he said and turned to exit the door. I’ve got to do something. I’ll be back, he said grinning.
Unknown to Asher, nor to anyone conscious or otherwise during the night after his conversation with his brother-in-law, the news hit Jon in a very different way than intended. As he stood hunching at the edge of the street, breathing heavily and staring straight at the house of blasphemy with such intensity in his eyes as to scorch the sun and raise the gates of hell to the very doorsteps of the orange county area, he had a mission. It was a mission enacted by God, or so he told himself. The meeting had struck him like a hammer. It caused such an epiphany to arise in his brain. This is my mission, and it is thus–destroy the evil living in that house, and bring down vengeance upon the man that caused such evil to spring forth.
He charged down the street, sprinting low to the ground. He treaded quietly up to the mailbox and ducked down. The action reminded him oddly enough of his childhood games of Hide-and-Seek and he pushed the thought quickly out of his head. “Check the gear,” he mumbled and shoved his hand into the bag. What are you doing? The voice inside his rationale shouted, you look like a burglar and you are ducking behind a mailbox in the middle of the night. Get off of your knees and hide someplace better before the neighbors call a squad car. He pushed himself up and ran for the hedge to his right. He leaped into it and panted for a moment or two as he spied the house. He went over his options: find an open window, or pry one open with a crowbar, break a window–out of the question you idiot. Too loud… credit card in the front door? He wondered. Could it be that easy? Honestly, how many people on the beach in Orange County have to lock their doors these days? It’s worth a try, he concluded and treaded softly up the patio to the large brown double doors. Good, no deadbolt, he thought. He fiddled with the knob, but it was locked. He opened his wallet and fumbled through his credit cards. After a moment of deliberation, he decided to go with his old visa credit card close to expiration. He jammed it into the crack above the doorknob. It slid awkwardly down with force and he felt the door’s lock surrender to the plastic. He opened the door and grinned.
There was no sound in the house minus the low hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. He creeped up to edge of the stairs and listened for signs of life. There was none. The wood creaked under his boot and he cringed and shook his head, knowing that shoeless would have been a better decision under his current situation. He shrugged and continued on cautiously into the black hallway he had tread earlier in the day. It was pitch black, but felt the same–sickening, intense, foreboding. He stopped. What if Asher’s in the room? He cursed quietly and wondered what to do. Oh God, he whined, why didn’t I think of this before? Asher would be sleeping in the room next to his wife… He thought quickly for any kind of solution. Oh God, he said to himself, please help me. He clasped his hands together and began to pray. God, help me. Please, oh Lord, make him be asleep in his own bed and leave that room free for the smiting of justice–your justice. Help me! I need this. He made a move and stopped. Amen, he said and smiled. Such humbleness always calmed his nerves and gave him the resolve he needed. He grabbed the door tightly and the thought of the hand that so grubbily held it hours before slipped into his mind. Words flowed through his brain like a neon sign in obscured darkness. She is not your sister. Your sister is dead. She wanted to die. She is not here. This is something else. He held his breath and turned the knob slowly. He felt the glossy wood of the door under his fingertips as he pushed it open. The creak made him stop. He growled, inhaled in resolution, gripped the side of the door with his hand, and shoved it open. Only the darkness and the pod inhabited the space before him. He exhaled and shut the door softly behind him.
The act of intrusion came to him all at once, as he became aware of his unlawful presence in the house of another. He shuddered and gave the room another once over. The sight of anything would have scared him well enough, but the stillness terrified him. The ease with which he found his way into the belly of the beast was not expected. A beast perhaps like a dog or dragon would have made his moment of triumph rightfully ceremonious, but no, nothing stood in his way. He wondered whether God did have a hand in his work. The road before him lay oddly enough to him paved and pothole-less. He stepped up slowly to the cradle that purred in the blackness and gripped the lid. He grated his teeth. The lines of his face grew taut as he swallowed. He moved his hand to the upper latches of the pod’s outer skin and undid them with one swift precise flick-of-the-wrist. The leaf-like wings of the shell fell open to the side and the lid showed brightly before him. The glare from the moon’s light shined brilliantly over the top. His legs started to shake. He moved to the side and positioned his fingers under the white lid. The feeling that at any moment, a hand might jump out and grasp his wrist, bound his fingers to the edge. He bit his lip in reply to the upward movement of his resolved hands, as his head leaned down to peer inside. The creamy translucence within held him spellbound, and rendered him oblivious to the sound of the lid flinging open.
As if angels could sleep, he thought as he looked at the sleeping body. His eyes could not deny the beauty so precisely created by man–the soft lines of the face, the long black lashes of the eyes, the untainted purity of the skin. He shook his head in disbelief, on the verge of tears. Why? – he asked himself. Why would man go to such lengths to mimic the natural? “This is wretched,” he said and pushed the lid down in defiance of all inside. Wretched, wretched, Wretched – was all he could use to describe such a sight. Beauty created for the purpose of the defamed–the golden calf–to be hailed as the savior, when the natural delights of the almighty are casted down as if unworthy, as if man could touch the heavens and live to tell about it, as if Icarus could pierce the sky and preserve his ego in the process. I shall not allow it. I’ll show them where blasphemy belongs, he decided and slammed his fist on the lid. A hand flopped out of the space between the pod’s door. Jon jumped back and let out a small yelp. He looked at the hand in utter fear. He tried to calm his now-trembling body, inched forward slowly, and tossed the limb back inside. He felt rightly bewildered and wondered whether someone was trying to reach him. He questioned his place, not only in the house, but also in the perspective he held, the power he felt, whether he would be considered morally secure in an objective jury of righteous peers. He thought of the hand and wondered what his sister would say. She was dead after all, so her opinion would be moot, but was she really thinking when she did it? – he wondered. She made a choice, death being that choice, the choice to kill oneself. Why is everyone trying to bring her back? Did they stop and ask themselves whether she even wanted to come back, let alone wonder whether they had the right to bring her back? Fuck it. She forfeited her decisions when she threw herself off a cliff. I’m making it now. I am acting as her living arbiter.
He looked at the controls blankly like a pigeon looking at the highway. Scenarios popped in his head: smash it, unplug it, destroy it, ‘it’ being the machine, but the body could be ‘it’ as well, he thought with a sinister grin. Then he saw it–the destroyer, the answer to his question–a obnoxiously big red knob with the words “shut off switch” written under it. He didn’t let a moment of unwanted uncertainty pop into his head. He pushed it down hard and held it for a moment. He told himself it was easy as the mechanical hum slowed down to a pop and died. The once palpable activity in the room was gone, replaced by the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves of the oak that leaned its branches against the window pane. Shadows of the foliage danced sonorously on the hard wooden floor. Jon watched and thought of the nights of his youth spent fearfully eyeing the shadowy trees outside his window, afraid that at any moment, something demonic might occur in the darkness. Now, in the room with the body and the silent machines and the shimmering movement on the floor, he felt comforted by the dark wooden spectre outside the window. The frightening obscurities of the unknown could no longer touch him. He felt he had finally gained some spiritual headway over the diabolical, the attackers that could claim him like a thief in the night. His smile bore the countenance of a paster on a pulpit. He reached in his pocket and withdrew a single piece of paper, folded neatly with no wrinkles around the edges. He felt assured that it was a good time, as if she were alive and facing him. He unfolded the page and silently read over the words he had written in answer to everything–her death, his doubt, his thought-process. “I wrote this after you died, Maria. I think that in the end, you would agree. This is the end for you and so it is fitting that you hear it.” He looked up and held out the paper. Then he said solemnly, “I hope this gets to you just fine.” He cleared his throat and read the words on the page.
“Perspective … Stunned you were … or must be … not by a capricious tone, but one of sorrow as he answered your honest question when bewildered you asked how in fatal despair, your place wasn’t down below.” Such a place of sorrow,” he said, “would neither augment nor answer this, your woeful eternal bearing, when now, looking down upon life, you must watch … and compare, I woefully must add, the gift that transience gives compared to airy discontent, for as the heart moves, under sweat and toil, pain and strife, so the clock ticks, and brings purpose into the light.”
The following day, Asher woke and greeted the alarm as it sounded. The ring did not bother him. He threw the sheets off in haste. The haste felt purposeful, though not for any specific reason, but merely in haste to move, to continue, to be in the moment that was not the sunlight as it hit his white cotton sheets. He sprang out of bed and walked to the shower, brushing his teeth and soaping his hair in the same purposeful stride, in earnest, as a mother toasts bread, fries sausages, and flips pancakes, in expectation of the youthful savages that will appreciate her craft. The days had begun to ring to the sound of a different alarm, not to the torture rack of routine–day in, day out, knowing that nothing would alter the sound of his footsteps trudging mournfully through the house–but to the feeling that at any moment, life could burst forth from his loins. He felt like a pregnant woman, painfully expecting and expecting, musing over things that would change, things that would come about whether he was ready or not, and not minding, but exulting in the change, waiting in earnest for the day, the moment that would bring about such movement. The momentous movement was his wife, and he sprang to the thought of her.
He got out of the shower sopping wet and dragged the mat under his feet to the place of towels, the towel area that never materialized itself inside the bathroom, but always stood outside. He laughed and remembered how much Maria hated that–his absentmindedness–whenever he forgot to get a towel, or put the toilet seat down, or leave the window blinds open when standing naked on top of the bed, or the strange inclination that caused him to stand on the bed naked in the first place. He just liked standing naked on top of the bed for the whole world to see, but that was beside the point, hearsay. Her hatred always carried a hint of gregariousness, as if she were talking to the cat that clawed the cushions–over-the-top, but momentary and easily looked passed. His look changed as he dried his face and looked in the mirror. He thought of her rebuking tone once more, her eyes as she looked at him. She never looked at him. She laughed, not always, but more and more towards the end. She looked away as she spoke. She mocked the situation, the routine circumstance that always happened upon them. Other times, she passively waved it off, as if it didn’t matter at all. She would just sit down and look at the spill, the mess, the chore that called out. Sometimes, she would look out the window and then just walk outside. At one point, this moment he never forgot, one morning when he sat at the table reading the newspaper, she dropped a whole carton of milk on the floor, two liters of milk that gushed quickly out all over the floor, and she sat down on the kitchen bar stool and watched it all spill out. Then she blinked her eyes deliberately, got up, and walked out the back door. She walked all the way out to the curb and sat down. He got up and cleaned the mess up, but never walked out to talk to her. Afterwards, he watched her out the window and noted how her head turned and stared at the cars as they passed by.
He was now dry. He put on some boxers and walked downstairs, noting the blankness on the walls. They looked so empty. He felt the pictures of he and her should return. The memories would help to jog her back to life. He turned and started walking up the stairs when he noticed the hum of the refrigerator, the purr of the desktop computer under the staircase’s rails, the sound of a passing car outside the adjacent front door. He noted their presence like a field mouse under the moon’s light, like the silence before a gun. Something was missing in the air. He turned once more and walked briskly down the stairs, past the living room, into the hallway. Something had happened while he was away, something had changed. The purr behind the door at the end of the hall was gone. As he moved to the end of the hall, his mind sat idle, resolutely aware of the present, the moment that defined his unremitting spring, the day that he would great his wife. He opened the door. All was quiet. The machines were off. He walked to the pod as slowly as man in a white tux walks down an aisle. He unclipped the latch of the outer shell and pulled it open. Then he gripped the lid. He felt the upward motion of his hands emanate from every recess of his body, every expectation of his mind, all the will of his heart, as he pulled the lid up and off.
He looked at the black bags under her face and his mind began to wonder. He gently grasped her soft silky hand and his eyes began to bulge. He felt terror. Something must be wrong, he thought as he gripped her wrist and felt for a pulse. There was no pulse. He frantically pressed his fingers to the veins of her neck. There was no pulse. He panicked. He clasped his hands to her breast and pumped spasmodically for a moment, then ran to the machine. His eyes searched frantically. The screen was off. The machine was off. Was it a power-outage? -he thought as he searched for the problem, until his eyes locked onto the power button, unlit. He pressed it and watched in disbelief as it fired up slowly. The cardiac electrocardiogram tracing lines appeared on the screen and suddenly, a continuous, ear-shattering sign wave broke the silence. He watched the constant line in disbelief as the sound washed over him like an icy wind. It pierced his insides. He plugged his ears and let out a cry loud enough to halt sound itself, but the sound played on, falling off into the distance of his mind’s eye. He sat on the chair and looked at lifeless body within the pod.
It was damned, he thought as his eyes peered at the blue veins on the soft delicate hand before him. It was damned from the beginning.
After an indistinct period of time, his legs pushed him up and soldiered over to the machine. He turned it off and the screen flickered and died. The sound though continued to ring in his ear. He watched the hummingbirds playing outside the window, darting here and there sipping the nectar from the hanging sugar pot and flying off into the clear afternoon sky. The sound of the wave morphed into the flutter of their wings, into the sound of the wind on the branches, into the cries and laughter outside. He looked back at the door and then at the pod. Then he left the room.
In the kitchen, he decided to use the phone to make the call. First, he would let his brother-in-law know, then Dr. Teofilo, then the hospital. Then he would perhaps go to bed, to escape once more into the white cotton sheets. Perhaps, he would go back to the room and get in the pod with her, acting out the dream he had wanted for so long, to be beside her for a moment again, to feel her skin. He thought of Romeo and Juliet and the last kiss. How he wanted such a final kiss of life before the monotonous deadly climb. How he wanted to touch her red, hot lips once more. He thought of it and laughed weakly. Such a crime, he thought maniacally, to want to love once more that which is gone but not. What a crime! Thoughts be damned, for such is life, and such is scornful! To feel is to feel pain. Better to not feel at all.
He pressed the dial-pad on the telephone in hard long stabs with his thumb and lifted the receiver to his head. The phone rang twice and was answered in a high-pitched tone.
“Jon. Is it you?” he asked.
“Ya, who is this? Asher?”
“Yes … it’s me … ,” he stopped and held his breadth.
“Is something wrong?”
“She’s dead?” Asher heard the question and it did not strike him as he sat in silence. He pondered for a moment and felt suddenly that such an outcome was inevitable. He felt his insides rock and his heart melt again. This is the fog, he concluded. This was what she was always talking about. His voice quivered as he tried to reply, “She’s … She’s …”
Jon cut in calmly, “It’s ok.”
Asher’s heart finally burst, like a boy at the side of his father at a funeral.
“You knew. It was just, it was just … she was just gone. Like … like …”
“It’s ok, Asher. Don’t worry. It’s over.”
“I have to call …”
“Don’t call anyone just yet. I’m coming over. We’ll take care of it the way it should have been. Don’t you worry.”
Asher put the phone back on the receiver and walked into the living room. As he sat watching the front door, his body felt heavier and heavier. He felt so wary that he wondered whether he would pass out at any moment. He sat up with his eyes opened wide. This is the fog, it’s dark and its grey and it rolls in quickly. Before you know it your choking. You were right, Maria. It’s an impossible hopelessness. I finally understand why.
Jon knocked once and walked in slowly. He noticed Asher’s dead stare right away and walked over to him. He put his hand on his shoulder and lightly patted it. Asher continued to stare. For a moment, Jon stumbled for words, but nothing materialized, so he sat down next to him. All the while, his hand lay on Asher’s shoulder. Asher eyes finally awoke and he looked into Jon’s eyes, then drifted down to the starched shirt collar and then finally the couch cushion.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said plainly out of the side of his mouth. His eyes began to blank out once more.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Dr. Teofilo. I should call him.”
“It doesn’t matter …”
“… and I should notify the institute, or the hospital?”
“If the hospital gets any wind of this, it might be jail time.”
Asher said nothing.
“… since the body wasn’t fully developed. You will go to jail for this.”
Asher mouth didn’t move. His eyes squinted and trailed from side to side.
Jon’s volume rose as he spoke, enquiring Asher whether he understood what was going on, what could happen to him, what people would say, whether he had any inkling on the gravity of the situation at hand. Asher’s attention faded off, and after a while, he didn’t even notice Jon’s presence. He got up and walked into the dark hall. The door to the den was ajar and the light poured out from the window. As he stared once more at the body before him, he smiled serenely, thinking how beautifully she looked. Even in death, he thought, she had the countenance of an angel. He walked over slowly to touch her, to kiss her one last time.
Jon entered the room and his voice broke the trance. “Asher, you have to do something with the body.”
Asher’s body halted and his face hardened. “What?”
Jon’s voice cracked as he answered, “You can’t just leave it here to rot. You’ve got to get rid of it.”
“Be quiet Jon,” he said closing his eyes.
“What I mean is …”
“Be quiet,” he mumbled and looked out the window once more.
Jon gripped his shoulder and spoke softly, “I know it’s the wrong time. I know how hard this must be. But it’s done. You’ve got to move on. This is the only way.”
Asher’s eyes moved to the body. “I will bury her.”
“That’s an idea…”
“I’m going to bury her on top of Maria’s original body.”
“What do you mean? No one will allow that. It won’t fly. You’ve got to bury her…”
“I’ll figure it out,” he said resolutely.
“Now Asher, let’s think this over.”
“I have. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Jon sat bewildered behind Asher as he stared firmly at the body.
“I’ll get my station wagon.”
Asher looked back at Jon and nodded.
Jon pulled up his Subaru wagon as close as possible to the front door. The thought of having to carry a dead halfway down the driveway on a regularly patrolled col-de-sac didn’t sit right with him in the least. But he was resolved as well to close this, the occasion, his triumphant chapter, the way he wanted and see it to fruition.
Asher was not forthcoming in the moving of the body, but sat forlornly staring at her as Jon prepared the body in a large Persian rug he brought from home. As he tried time and again to hold the lifeless head up and move it into position, Asher’s hands would shake and tighten uncontrollably making his very limbs seem out of sorts. Jon took it upon himself to roll her up. His demeanor was meticulous and professional. He prepared the body in the rug like a mortuary attendant. Asher could hardly watch. Jon grabbed the head of the rug and Asher held the feet as best he could with unsure hands and they walked out of the room. As they walked down the hall, Asher’s eyes moved from frame to frame on the wall. It felt like a service for the dead. He sauntered through the house to the door, while Jon waddled backwards.
Asher spoke only when the station wagon’s back door opened, advising Jon to take care and place her gently inside. Jon frowned slightly and did as told, depositing the body in the back-hatch compartment of the car.
“I’ll drive,” Asher insisted.
“I know where we’re going,” Jon said, half-pleading. “Besides, I know the car. We don’t want to get pulled over now, do we.” Asher acquiesced and they got out on the road.
The newly paved asphalt roads sailed by under the hood of the wagon like waves under an aircraft carrier. The dusky night’s sky hailed a pale blue and purple hue. Asher watched the sidewalk fall down and rise as the driveways of the suburban homes cut into the road. He looked into the brightly lit windows of the houses and thought of the lives inside, lives he never before cared for nor wanted to interact with. He day-dreamed of tv gatherings amongst the family, of camping trips and joy around the campfire, of sailing trips to uninhabited islands of possibility. He felt sorrow over their mutual joy, their mutual adventure and their communal journey. As the fog clouded the recesses of his beaten aura, he wondered how many others passed unnoticed day-in and day-out, rising into the stratosphere to touch the ethereal pillars that now housed the essence of his wife. Or perhaps she was travelling again in the winds, to find another vessel and be born into another blankly slated life. He felt the fog as it touched him, reminding him that he would never intersect with her, his beloved, that such was not serendipitous. He concluded his course was too simple to work, too good to ever be enacted.
They rolled out onto the 101 freeway and Asher rolled down his window to feel the cool ocean breeze on his face. As the trimmed vertical beach houses and subway restaurants passed by, the smell of tacos and carne asada struck his nose. The thought of food made him chortle mockingly.
Jon drove nervously as squad car after squad car streamed by. He fanned the break, and the car dropped to a snail’s pace. He looked at the speedometer. If he went to slow, he would be noticed, and if he went too fast, he would be stopped. He scolded himself for using the pacific coast highway at all. It wasn’t a good idea. Patrol cars were numerous, and had nothing better to do than to stop motorists. He himself had gotten a ticket on this road for speeding. And he forget to check the lights! He started to panic as bad as a stoned catholic in a confession box with blood on his hands. His grip tightened on the wheel and his head swiveled nervously back and forth to make sure no one was tailing. In his rear-view mirror, he spotted a highway patrol car a few-hundred meters behind. He tried to calm himself. He felt a bead of sweat drip down his forehead and looked at Asher.
Asher’s eyes were glazing over slowly and he was looking hard at the dashboard.
“There’s a cop back there,” he said and motioned behind. Asher came back to reality and straightened up.
“Well, it makes sense. You’re moving like an old lady with her pants down,” and laughed maniacally.
“For krissakes man, put your head on. If we get pulled over, it’s both our heads.”
Asher didn’t register anything Jon said, but turned and stared back out the window. Jon let out a nervous squeal and veered quickly over the double yellow lines in the middle of the highway into the gas station on his left side. He stopped at the edge of the station by the air compressor and watched the patrol car. As it continued on, Jon let out a long sigh, but as soon as his breadth left, he held his chest in. The car made a fast U-turn and was heading toward the gas station.
“Get out,” Jon said.
Asher looked over blankly. “What?” he replied.
“Go buy something and look casual. I think that cop car’s coming over. Hurry up. Get out!”
“Oh Christ,” Asher said and shoved the door open. As he started walking towards the door, the police car pulled up next to him. The officer on the passenger side got out and waved at him.
“Why look who it is?” he said smiling. “Asher! I haven’t seen you since our kids graduated from high school. How have you been doing?”
Asher walked over nervously and they started to chat. Jon looked on from a distance and grew more and more anxious. He leaned his head in closely to overhear.
“We damn … hit you two as you … swerved in …,” he heard over the music playing under the station’s awning.
“ … bust you … your friend … license,” he struggled to hear the words amidst the strange broken laughter of the police officer, “ … driving …”
Jon’s eyes betrayed his divided demeanor as he glared at the cop, noting his features–the large darkened arms, the deep blue starched uniform, the Orange County Police Department patch on his shoulder. His heart beat faster and his eyes buggered out as he watched in horror as the police officer’s finger waved in his direction.
He felt his heart as it beat harshly in his chest. His breathing tightened. The officer started to walk over. Asher waved nervously to persuade him to come back, but the officer persevered with an arrogant grin on his face. Jon turned on the ignition. He watched Asher’s hands rise slowly in the air like a flare to ward off any sudden moves. The officer’s smile declined as he noticed the frightened look on Jon’s face and the low hum of the engine. Jon put the car in drive and skidded out of the lot. As he looked back, he made out Asher trying to talk down the officer he had been speaking. The other cop stood by the driver’s side and had a black C.B. radio in his hand.
Jon beat the wheel with his fist and yelled out of the window. He sped onward into the darkening road, fading in and out of the darkness between the streetlights and the moon’s ominous glare. He was struck, wondering how in the world, of all days, could he be in such a situation as the present. How when he had planned everything so well: the break-in, the murder, the feigned innocence and attentiveness to Asher, the assistance. Why did he have to insist on assisting him? He slapped himself and yelled defiantly to break the hopelessness. He would not give up. He told himself that it was like this for a reason. He looked back at the body and smiled. Yes, it was his time. Look at the glass, he told himself. He pondered over his situation. Most likely the police would be on him in a moment. He had the body. That was a problem. He thought of where to drop it. Where? -wondered. Then it hit him like the sun–It doesn’t matter where she lands, so long as I’m not caught at the scene. He picked at the idea for problems. What would happen if, not if, when the body were found? Who would be identified? He thought and thought. First, he would unwrap her, and take back his carpet, then he would dump her. No identification, no marks, no problem. He would be clear. If anything, Asher would be charged in the end and sentenced, whether they found anything or not. He grinned and shrugged, not caring in the least. Asher would be penalized, finally put away for his crimes. He would pay. Asher grinned and smiled at the thought. He rifled around the front of the car’s cab with his right hand for something of Asher’s. He had to have left something incriminating. He gave up reluctantly after nearly veering off of a Laguna cliff side and sat dejectedly driving along in the darkness. He decided to throw off the idea for now and focus on where to leave the carcass. And quickly! In no time, a cruiser would certainly see his beat-up wagon barreling down the highway. He watched vigilantly for a drop site. The car went around a bend and entered the outskirts of the downtown area of Laguna Canyon. He dropped the car down to a reasonable speed and headed in reluctantly. The car pulled up to a red light and stopped. He tapped on the wheel and swiveled violently in his seat. An old couple walked by slowly on his left side and peered at him cautiously. He smiled awkwardly and cursed as they walked away. This was not a good scene, stopped at a red light, about to pull into the main beach drag. This would not do. The light finally turned and he turned left into a sparsely populated beachside suburban area that looked dark enough to drop her off.
The cruiser meandered slowly up the inclining side streets of the canyon, and Jon worked for a decisive spot. Up on the left bank of the hill plateaued a section of unfinished cliff-side housing along the road. He drove up slowly and scanned the area. Here was the spot. His eyes identified a large brown dumpster under a plastic awning at the back of the site, so he backed the car up slowly into the dusty silent back lot and shut off the engine.
He got out and opened the back hatch of the trunk. The carpeted corpse lie slightly propped on the left wheel well. He watched it for a moment and took a deep breath, then pulled the end of it up to his waist. As his hands started to unwrap the body, he started to tremble. He felt eyes upon him, perhaps heavenly or neighborly. A chill ran down his spine as his sister’s white foot revealed itself. He finished the unwrapping and glared at the creamy white body of his sister, wrapped serenely in a thin white linen nightgown.
His hand clenched the end of her foot and he started to pull. Suddenly, a slight twitch answered his effort, and he jumped back in fright and let out a yelp. He watched the body, and the sound of the wind and the rustling of brush played with his senses. Such an eerie setting toyed with him, and as the moment lengthened, his heart beat louder and louder. He began to sweat. Was his imagination working against him?-he wondered as he looked at the small toes that seemed to have just reacted to his presence. He clenched his teeth and wiped his hands on his thighs, hastening to finish what was already in motion. He jerked the body off the car violently in one hard pull and let it fall to the ground. He walked around and grabbed under the arms. He pulled her along the ground swiftly and looked back at the rising dumpster. He gripped tightly around her side, and the white leg betrayed his senses once again. It twitched!-he exclaimed and began to wine like a child. He heaved her up as high as he could muster and leaned it against the side of the dumpster. It sat like a puppet on his knee, head fallen forward and legs sprawled out.
In the moment that his arms made a last-ditch heave upward to pitch her in and off of him, he felt a light tap on his back. Her head hit the propped dumpster lid and it crashed after her in a loud bang. He let out a gasp and fell to his knees.
He had finally finished it. He pounded his fists to the ground and tear drops bled onto his pants. She was finally gone, and he could let out a sigh of relief. He pressed his hands together in silent appraisal of the situation and brought them to his face. Off in the distance, the sound of sakatas grew like the end of a rattlesnake, and he felt on edge. He got up quickly and raced to the car. As he got into the driver’s seat, he recalled the night before. It felt like a dream had been pulled over his reality. Never had he thought himself capable. His actions enlivened him so. The rush propelled his senses. Yet now, sitting in the car, he heard the silence around him rise like the wall of Jerusalem. The rush was now gone, and replaced by a strange knowledge of what had happened. The events flipped through his mind as quickly as a synopsis. All of a sudden, he felt the need to purge himself. He started to heave violently in his seat. He felt an awful sickness in the pit of his stomach. I am an intruder, he told himself, not a triumphant crusader. I am like a thief in the night, and I am mournful.
It was late when Maria finally decided to open the bathroom. The dim dusk poured in weakly through the den’s small rectangular windows. All of the lights were off. In the corner sat Asher nearly bolt-upright. His head drooped forward and his eyes were closed. The room was closed off in the silent night’s beginning. All that could be heard was the stereo’s feint melodious drawl. The sound of a brook and a bird’s call played alongside the pluck of a classical guitar. She leaned against the doorway and watched Asher for a time. He breathed heavily and twitched from time to time, as if a fly were buzzing nearby. She smiled weakly and walked over to him.
She touched his cheek lightly and swept back the hair that fell from the top of his forehead. Then she eased herself in carefully beside him and lay her head down on his shoulder. She brushed her cheek lightly against the cloth of his shirt. It felt so comfortable. She pulled her legs up onto the couch and tucked in tightly beside him. His head drew back and positioned itself against hers.
She closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep, but it was to no avail, for she lay awake in thought. She could not understand why foreign things felt right and not foreign in the least–to lay next to this man, and feel his heart beat, and long for his comfort as if it were homely and natural. She grew more and more anxious. The mechanism had begun to move, to unlock, yet notches in the key were still missing. The man next to her was a part of her life, and she felt close to him, but in what sense? The altercation prior between father and son . . . She was the catalyst. I am his wife, she thought. I am. But what happened to break everything apart? And how can I be the man’s wife if his son doesn’t recognize me? My own son doesn’t know me. But Asher did. He recognized me. That would account for his strange manner around me. Why didn’t he just come right out and tell me? Yet he was overjoyed to see me. I saw it. What is happening here?
She felt divided. Her body began to stir under Asher’s arm and he opened his eyes and spoke. “Hi, honey,” he whispered and turned his head slightly. She watched his long lashes as he stared down at her waist. “Don’t worry. It’s alright now. Don’t worry,” he said, and caressed her cheek lightly with the knuckle of his hand. She nuzzled in deeper and lay her hand on his. The tops of his fingers felt cold. She drew her hand back and buried it under her thigh. Something felt strange to her as they fell back to sleep. She was an actress in a play, moving and dancing and speaking words, not her own, but of the director, the wishes of another. She fit the role naturally, sitting beside him, listening to him, gaining comfort from him . . . living for him. It felt like déjà vu.
When she awoke, it was dark outside. Asher was gone. The den was dark and silent. The music had stopped, and for a moment, all that she could here was the sound of her heart beating in her chest. It pumped loudly. The sound resonated in her head and rang in her ear. A sharp pain inside her ribs made her wheeze. I’m falling apart, she thought as she staggered to get up.
The room was pitch black. As her eyes struggled to adjust to the terrifying dark, she started to walk slowly towards what looked like a door with her hands out in front of her like a blind man. A light streamed slowly across the room. It startled her and she stammered and fell back into the hard wood mantle above the fireplace on the wall. Glass fell to the floor and she heard a small crash. She jumped and ran to the wall to flick on the light. The room lit up and she saw that a frame had hit the ground and made the noise. She walked over and picked it up. It was a picture of a man in his mid-thirties, no doubt Asher’s father. The resemblance was slight, but apparent nonetheless. He was sitting on a countertop yelling with his head down. He looked drunk and happy as a clam. His hands were held out to his sides like he was trying to argue some point. He had a massive beard and greasy hair. He was wearing a Coors Light shirt and cut off jean shorts. The picture looked old. She put it back on the mantle and started to eye other photos. Asher and a young Abraham astride one another pervaded the wall–standing by some railing with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, posing next to some massive sequoia, sitting on top of the hood of a baja truck. In all of the photos, Asher stood unflinchingly with an implacable face, and a very young, slightly blonde little Abraham stood beside him with an arrogant grin.
Then it jumped out at her at the end of the mantle, a tiny gold-flecked frame about the size of her palm, picturing a young woman in an orange summer dress. She picked it up slowly. The tips of her fingers read the image like brail, scanning the small smiling face, the thin soft jaw, the long gleaming brown hair, the eyes. Tear drops stained the bosom of her shirt. The woman looked like a doll, a perfect young vibrant beautiful doll. The woman looked like a much younger version of herself. That’s why he didn’t recognize me, she thought gasping, because I’m not me anymore. I’m a skeleton, a lifeless vessel, a shadow of the former me. How?-she wondered. Was it a plane crash, a coma . . . bouts of insanity? She glared at the face in the photo once more and wondered where it had gone, and how it was all such a blur. She turned off the lights and sat down on the couch again. Then she closed her eyes. All she could think was that she wanted was to fall back to sleep and never wake up again.
After a while, she heard the sound of a car halting outside. The gleam of the headlights emerged in the windowpanes and then died out quickly. She got up. Maybe it was Abraham, or Asher, or anyone. She needed comfort. She wanted answers. Perhaps she just needed sleep, for her head felt heavy and her heart ached, but she walked out of the room nonetheless. The den smelt clammy and felt like death, and she wanted to get away from the picture, that picture that haunted. The hallway was dark. She wondered whether light would ever greet her eyes as she maneuvered out to the front room. How long had it been since she had seen the light, the sun’s beautiful rays, the golden shine that made everything alright? Gloom seemed to fill her up like gas in an oven.
An apparition appeared through the glass in the front door. The knob jiggled. A soft knock sounded, and a voice whispered, “Hello? It’s me Jon. Is anyone there? Alright. I’m going to ring the bell. . .”
Jon? She registered the squeaky voice, the familiar tone, the name. “Wait,” she said faintly. “I’ll open it.” She unlatched the door and pulled the door open. A tall gaunt man stood motionless on the patio, right on top of the welcome mat.
Jon drew in slowly. His incredulous eyes leered down at her. She stepped back, unable to break the gaze that seemed to sting her eyesight. As he walked in, his feet planted firmly on the carpet, step by step, like a bronco. His hands rose in the air suddenly, and his head shook violently as if he were on the verge of speaking in tongues. He shrieked feverishly, “Is this what you want?” He began to sob. “Why?” He yelled.
She said nothing, but watched from afar. She felt such fear and bewilderment that she neither moved nor flinched. He was a being in a dream, an irrational, raging beast with no off switch. She waited. He turned to her, and she shrank back. He sauntered closer and closer.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
She fell back into the love seat. He stopped sobbing. After a moment, she whispered in the silence, “Jon . . . Is it you?”
He glared at her. His body swayed to a silent beat. He started to nod, and then cleared his throat loudly. “What are you doing here?” he yelled.
“Why are you here?” he cut in with a vengeance.
“I . . . I . . .”
“You should be dead!”
He scoffed. “Don’t you remember anything? No, I suppose you wouldn’t recall your own suicide, now would you?”
“What are you talking about?” she said weakly, as the wheels in her head shot off wildly.
“You’re dead. You died. You shouldn’t be here!”
“But how. . .”
“You killed yourself, you fool! And we thought you died again! Hell, we were glad, I was, that you did!
Her mind raced to understand, to pick out something that made sense.
“Goddamn. First you die. Then you come back. Then you die. Now you’re here . . . again,” he said mockingly. He looked at her. “What a sick joke to play on the ones you love.”
She looked down at her palms. Suddenly, she recalled cliffs. Cliffs and wind on her face. Feeling a sickness in the pit of her stomach. Closing her eyes and stepping off into nothing. Falling. A crack . . . He was right.
She stumbled to get up, holding her hand on her mouth in an effort to muffle the screams. Jon watched her as she edged to the door, nodding with pity. She stepped out and walked off into the darkness. Jon turned and walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water.
A few minutes passed and a voice shouted from the stairs. Jon sat with his head in the glass. Asher entered. “Oh, Jon!” he exclaimed, “What are you doing here? Were you shouting?” Jon didn’t look up. He just played with a small puddle of water on the countertop. Asher looked around the kitchen for a moment. Then his eyes turned to Jon. His jaw slacked as if he had just been struck. He ran out of the room, to the den . . . to the bathroom . . . to the study . . . to the rest of the house. He ran back to the kitchen. “What have you done?” he blared. “Where is Maria?”
Jon did not look up. Asher blew through his nose like a bull. His hands tightened like a vice. “Where is she?” he yelled again and sprinted up to him. He grabbed his collar and shook him. Jon pushed him off.
“Where do you think? She’s gone Asher! She left!”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing she wouldn’t have figured out on her own.”
“You!” he yelled and belted him. He flew off the stool and crashed to the ground.
He looked up at Jon with bewildered eyes. “I just told her,” he said with a blank stare. “I just told her how much pain she’s caused us. She can’t be here. It’s not right. She doesn’t deserve to be here. She’s killing us. She’s awful. She’s awful.”
“It’s fate. She’s got to go. She was always heading there, from the start.” His voice pleaded. “She was never going to make it. She was bound . . . by vices–the drinking . . . the drugs. She wasn’t even herself anymore. She did herself a favor!” he cried out.
Asher turned away.
“She’s gone, Asher. She’s probably going to finish the job.”
“I never want to see you again,” he said and walked out of the kitchen towards the garage door.
“Let her go Asher!” he shouted, “Before she brings you with her!”
Abraham ran down the stairs. “What’s happening dad?”
“She’s gone. We’ve got to find her.”
“The beach. She’ll be there.”
They got in the car and drove off.
The sweet grass and woolly white stems thrashed in the strong winds that hammered the cliff side. The cold crashed against Maria’s face. She hugged herself as she looked out over the dark foreboding water. This was the place, she thought. This was the place where it all ended. That day was still not clear, but fragmented like a dream. She felt the sickness though. It pervaded her senses. I was drunk, she remembered with abysmal pity. I was such a fool then. I didn’t understand anything. I thought that I could just erase myself from everyone’s life without any repercussions. My God, I caused so much pain. She sat down next to the edge. It has to end.
A few minutes later, Asher’s car jumped the curb and halted a few meters away. She turned her head and looked at him. Then she got up, closed her eyes, and let out a deep breath.
Asher got out and walked up slowly. Something had changed in her, and he saw it in her face. He could tell that she remembered everything now.
She began to walk towards the car.
“I’m sorry Asher,” she said as he came up to her. “I’m so sorry for what happened.”
“It’s not your fault,” he began as he reached out to touch her shoulder. “It was . . .”
“It was my fault, Asher,” she cut in. “I was bringing you both down, and I made the most cowardly decision imaginable. I hurt you both so much.”
“It’s okay,” he said as his hand touched her arm.
“Asher, it’s not,” she said and stopped him. “I battered and dragged you down. I nearly drowned you with me in suffering, and then I made you hate yourself by ending it all like I did. I left you without even saying goodbye.”
He stood silent in front of her, unable to retort, unable to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing, unable to understand what the right thing to say or think was. “Why didn’t you write something? You killed yourself without even so much as a note. There was no reason.”
“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine . . .” She stopped and held her hand to her mouth. She felt weak to the point of vomiting. I was drunk . . . I stepped off a cliff . . . and I didn’t even write a suicide note. She groaned in agony and looked up at the sky. I was such an awful person. Yet, I stand here with a second chance, when so many better people had only one. She looked over at Abraham. He stood by the car. I left them both. I exited myself out of their lives.
“I made my choice a long time ago. I have to live with it. You don’t. I don’t want you to suffer because of me anymore.”
“But that’s life, isn’t it? Every life is plagued with some kind of suffering. The good times make up for it.”
“We had good times in the beginning, but by the end, the pain had overwhelmed the both of us.”
“It’s okay now. It’ll work. I’ll make it work.” he replied.
“I can’t let you push away your happiness for me. You’ll never be free as long as you hold onto me. You can’t live for my sake. You’ve got to move on.”
“Look at him.” She spoke of Abraham. “He’s so beautiful, and you made him what he is all by yourself. You did it. You loved him the way that I couldn’t. All along, I always knew I couldn’t love either of you enough, not to the degree you needed me to. I felt trapped.” She gripped his hand and they locked eyes. “I made my choice to leave a long time ago. Now you have to make a choice . . . Choose to move on. Choose to let me go.”
Teardrops fell by his feet. His face contorted in pain as if to let out a cry, and he let her hands go slowly. She wiped the tears from his cheek. They embraced and he laid his head on top of hers. Then they let go.
She turned and glided to the car, her white dress blowing in the rising wind. “Abraham,” she said. “You are such a wonderful young man.” She clutched his hand tightly. “I am so happy that I got to see you. I will always be proud of you. You’re going to do great things.”
“I’ll always remember you,” he said and gave her a hug.
“So will I,” she whispered.
Then they let go. She turned back to Asher. Their eyes met and understood what had to happen. She walked around to the driver’s side of the car and Asher opened the door for her. He touched her wrist for the final time, and placed the car keys in her soft delicate hands. Then she got in and he shut the door. She started the engine. He reached in and caressed her shoulder for a moment, then stepped back. She wiped her eye with her sleeve, and waved at the both of them. Then they watched in silence as the car pulled onto the highway and drove off, slowly fading away like a reminiscent dream.