He’s standing outside a suburban home. He has stood here before, on grass bright green and recently cut. He doesn’t know why he’s here and why he’s alone in a stranger’s yard. Cars do not drive on the road. The house across the street is motionless and unlit. No one is home. The same can be said for the other houses, with their polished mailboxes full of mail and blue recycling bins empty of recyclables. Everything is perfectly still, the world a painting not intended to be altered.
“How do you feel about religion?” a voice asks, and he turns to see a gray haired man emerge from the garage. The man shuts the garage door and strides across the driveway, into the yard. He’s holding a Bible. Five stacks of Bibles lay on the lawn, each stack six books tall; they are all the same exact book, the same black leather cover and gold lettering spelling out Bible. Thick books, as Bibles tend to be. “I asked you a question.”
“I…don’t know. It’s not for me. I don’t know what I believe, if I believe anything, in anything.”
“And yet you’re here. What am I supposed to think of you? Am I supposed to like you?”
“I just…I believe different things. I’m very confused.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t be confused if you trusted in God. If you read the Bible.” His fierce blue eyes cast a glare. “Do you want to be confused forever?”
The answer comes immediately. “Only until I’m absolutely certain that my confusion will be cured.”
“And alone forever? Is that what you want?”
“No one wants to be alone. But who I’m with matters greatly.”
The man swings the Bible into his own chest, hard enough to hurt. And again. “I couldn’t stop you even if I tried.” He sighs. “Inevitabilities, right? Meant to be?”
He doesn’t know what to say to this Bible man. “Inevitabilities, yes. We can’t control everything.”
“Indeed. And silence, it makes the most beautiful noise.”
“And the most excruciating. I hurt, so deeply.”He doesn’t know why he’s sharing this with a stranger, or why silence seems so loud. It has seemed that way for far too long. “I don’t want to hurt anymore.”
“You won’t forever. I promise. We’re not meant to hurt forever. But pain is part of life, and when you stop hurting, when everything is finally right, the pain you experienced will make life that much richer. If not for pain we wouldn’t know pleasure. Just wait. Patience.”
“I’ve always been patient. So patient.”
“But does she know that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what she knows.”
He wakes on the boat to the lapping of water. Night is black. He cannot see his hand in front of his face.
What was her name? Why does it feel so close?
His chest hurts where the Bible hit him, after the man harmed himself. A constant ache. To breathe deeply is to breathe pain.
“You can go inside. Everything is good and well.”
He is too aware that everything is far from good and well, and that he has returned to the suburban yard and the house with its white curtained windows and white paint and white door trimmed red.
“I can go inside?” he asks. This will be his first time inside; he doesn’t even know where he is, only that he’s been here before, many times, but never quite like this.
His chest hurts where the Bible hit him.
His heart beats impossibly quick.
He isn’t wearing his duster coat, but a plain black shirt and jeans. He’s barefoot, the grass between his toes. Autumn leaves tumble down the street but never cross into the summer yard. A threshold between the two; he can feel it. Leaving the yard will be leaving the dream, and that’s the last thing he wants.
He opens the front door and is immediately in the center of the kitchen, blue and white tiled linoleum beneath him, the walls white, marble countertops shining as sunlight floods through the windows. The doorway is far behind him now, leading into the foyer he has never seen.
“I’m upstairs.” A woman’s voice, excited and melodic. His heart jumps, races. He does not know why. “Come up.”
“Okay,” he says.
She sounds so happy, just as he feels. Part of him hates this happiness because he knows it is not real. Just a dream, and part of him hates dreams for what they’re doing to him, what they’re making him feel and experience and desire. Yet he would be entirely lost, even more so than he already is, without these dreams, so he accepts this simulation world and tries, but fails, to master his exhilaration. That, at least, is real.
“This isn’t real,” he tells himself. But of course it is, or was, once. He has taken these steps before, and although this world is slightly altered, skewed, perverted by Bibles and who knows what else, despite all that, this reality fringes on the real reality. He has no control here, is subject to his subconscious and whatever it chooses to submerge him within.
He takes one step and is suddenly atop a flight of carpeted stairs. The narrow hallway smells clean, of lemons and cinnamon, recently vacuumed and shampooed. A cross hangs on the wall. He wonders if he should make a religious gesture and realizes he doesn’t know how. It isn’t for him. He doesn’t see the Bible man. His chest hurts.
“In here. My room.”
His heart thumps too hard. He pushes his palm against his chest, directly above his heart, and feels blood pumping wildly, rushing and surging. Leaves crackling. The jukebox plays in its corner, bathed in crimson. So sanguine. Walking back to Daisy. Walking to her room. He can’t remember her name but is sure that this is her, and that this moment in time, however distorted from the reality he lived, is more important than anything he has thus far seen or heard.
This is everything, or at least part of everything. The beginning of everything. Or the end.
He doesn’t knock; the door is open. He shuts it behind him when she tells him to.
“Hi,” she says. She’s blushing, her cheeks aflame, her dark eyes pouring into his eyes, then looking away, back to him, and away again, back and away one last time, as if she fears looking at him for too long, as if she knows she will eventually be unable to look away. Such a conquering, unnameable terror.
“My God,” he finds himself saying despite not believing in God, and maybe that makes the words permissible. Or maybe he’s beginning to believe. What would the Bible man think? She’s more beautiful than he could have ever imagined, and by her smile, the slight widening of her eyes and somewhat confident stance, one hand tightly gripping the throw-pillow on the back of the black leather loveseat, by her aura, he knows she can read his mind, that she accepts the beauty he sees in her. Not why he sees it, but that he sees it, and that is enough, or should be enough.
She’s read his mind from the very beginning, often without realizing it, as if words were written on his face. They sometimes know each other too well, lead each other with words alone.
“This is my room,” she says.
He nods, oblivious to everything but her. She’s almost tall for a woman. His chest hurts. The ache returns, a Bible bruise. Dark brown hair almost black, a sea of gentle waves, falls past her shoulders, frames her face perfectly, a few wild bangs dangling before her eyes. Her eyes are brown like so many other eyes, but these are not normal eyes. Eyes that haunt, like seeing a painting that steals his breath and touches his soul, seeing it for the first time and weeping unabashed. There’s something deep and puzzling and wounded about these eyes. He wonders if he has brought her pain and is entirely certain that he has, but for good reason. Agony, but without choice, because all great things are born through turmoil and pain and nothing attained easily lasts forever.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he says, wondering if he said this the first time, in the real reality. Or if this is a new memory.
“We’re both sorry for many things, but that’s over now.”
But pain lingers in her dark eyes—pain from before him, pain that may last after him, if there ever is an after. More than pain, however. Eagerness, joy, waiting that has finally coalesced into this moment. She’s terrified, he realizes, but rapturous just the same. The convergence of emotions confuses and excites him further. There’s meaning here, and purpose. Boundless meaning. He has waited for this moment in all realities. Not just this one. Pieces of his existence fit together because of now, and here, and her, and yet all he knows of her is this moment and those he dreamed of prior, and in those dreams she lacked a face and true identity. She still lacks identity, but at least he can recall her face.
“Are you alright?” she asks.
He’s not anywhere near alright but nods just the same. He can’t breathe, can’t even look at her without tears welling in his eyes. He has missed her without even knowing her, has missed her so greatly.
“My family’s on vacation.” They both know that he already knows this.
No Bibles. No thumps on the chest. Realities blend. Converge. Leaves blow through her room. She doesn’t seem to notice them. The radio on her desk plays the blues, bathing them both in crimson.
“Are there dolphins here?” The question does not sound foolish leaving his mouth. The dead old man would have asked the same, if the dead could speak. They can, he thinks, but we can’t hear them.
“Of course,” she says, and smiles, and takes his hand. “But they’re for later. Much, much later, when we need them, when we become part of them and each other. That’s not for a very long time. We’re too young for dolphins.”
He’s in love with her, he realizes. It terrifies him, his mouth dry and hands shaking. He has never felt anything so surreal, not even waking to a dead world with a lost memory. He’s drawn in and can’t look away, imagines himself in a small room with her and having to force himself to look away, to look at anything else, to ignore her completely, and her doing the same, and the torture of it all, how he must steel himself and his emotions and feel nothing, just feel nothing, or pretend to feel nothing, and choke back everything, choke back the anger and frustration and desire and love, and how he would hate himself and her for doing such a foolish thing, to betray and ignore their emotions and desires, the very things that make them whole. The thought alone turns him cold inside, his muscles tingling and tightening and suddenly tired. He must be steel. He wants to weep but can’t. Steel. The tears are as stubborn as she is. And him as well. Both too stubborn for their own good. And steel does not bend. It is not strong. It merely breaks and cannot be mended.
“I want you to…”
He wakes in the boat and his face is wet. He touches his cheeks and feels the warmth. Tears. He’s been crying in sleep, and awake now, he wants to cry again.
But he can’t.
“Let me dream!” he screams.
His voice dies in the fog.
“…kiss me. I’m sure of it now. I want you to kiss me. I’ve decided.”
“And I’ve wanted to for so long. So long. You don’t understand. You couldn’t.” Realities blend.
“I do. I promise.”
“Promises are so easily broken.”
“Not this one.” She smiles.
He approaches, cautiously, watching her watch him, both fearful yet eager, both entirely lost within each other even before they touch. But they knew this would happen. Her eyes are hypnotizing; they carry him to another world, somewhere only she can bring him. There’s something about her that he can’t quite place, will never truly understand but will forever count himself lucky for feeling, no matter what happens.
No matter what happens.
No matter what.
He wakes, tossing and turning in the boat, nearly knocking the oars into the water. Just a dream, yet he has never felt anything so real. He cannot get her out of his head, her words and her face, her everything. Yet despite it all, she’s already fading. So quickly, as if she’s not meant to stay. As if she isn’t real. No longer real. Her face fades. Vanishes.
The dreams sicken him, his stomach a knot, his chest burning as if filled with fire. Why couldn’t he sleep just a little longer? Her lips so near yet so far, his mind wreaked by havoc for what he hasn’t and has experienced.
He forces the images out of his mind despite how fervently he wants them to stay. He now understands his own haunted gaze, as he just saw it in another, in her, a woman whose name he still does not know, who’s part of the past more than the present, whose harrowed eyes float through his mind, probing.
If he forgets everything else, at least he will remember her eyes, for better or worse. He will find that stare nowhere else.
Pushing out thoughts, he rows. Grips the oars tightly and rows. Rows until blisters form and burst and blood runs down his hands and through the cracks between his fingers.
All this time he wanted to remember. Now he wants to forget. Glimpses are not enough. Just slivers of agony, a painting only outlined and lacking color and dimension, music without harmony and lyrics without words.
Somewhere in the fog, a piano plays.