Written by Shelly Moore
“We are but egotistical, bipedal ants scuttling atop this planet’s ravaged surface destroying the land and the seas in our wake.”
“We are insignificant.”
“Something on your mind?” he asked.
“I’m dying,” she replied before he’d finished.
“Aren’t we all?”
“I don’t want to die so far removed from love.
I’ve seen hell; let me taste heaven.
I want to leave this body while love has me at its mercy.
I want my soul to be freed from its diseased, burdened prison by love’s universal key.
I want to become a blissful, ignorant, foolish woman who’s turned her nose to the norm and raised her glass to nonconformity.
Like Moses, I want to part the turbulent seas so that love can find its way to me from any distance, proving that love, in fact, knows no boundaries.
I want love to fill both my glass and my heart with deep, passionate crimson and effervescent enthusiasm.
I want to be so deeply and hopelessly found – take notice I did not say lost – in love that it crumbles the stone fortress that surrounds me with ease and leaves me wide open, vulnerable, and unable to discern the beauty of waking life from death.”
He picked a lint ball from his sweatshirt, and contemplated whether he’d be home in time for the game.
As she drove, she replayed the conversation in her mind repeatedly, reprimanding herself for speaking her mind. At forty-one, she had lived long enough to know that when people ask you to share, “what’s really on your mind,” they typically didn’t want to hear her answers. People want to hear something that will benefit themselves, either sexually or financially, and anything else was not only a bore, but also usually functioned as a severing point in the relationship whether it be personal or professional.
Bottom line was she knew better, dammit, but she shared openly anyway.
She shared because she hoped that one day, God-willing, she would meet someone who would drink her words like wine made from precious hand-picked grapes from within the Garden of Eden, and hunger for more of the delicious depth her mind had to offer. She shared because she hoped one day she’d meet someone who not only understood her thoughts, but appreciated them too.
With 7.8 billion humans on the planet, she didn’t think she was asking too much to just find one measly soul to truly connect with.
The snowflakes that fell were every bit as wide as the palm of a child’s hand, and were illuminated by her headlights as they flew past the windshield, making the dark highway feel as if she were in hyperspace traveling at the speed of light. All six lanes, three northbound and three southbound, were snow covered and slick, but she drove six miles over the speed limit anyway, putting far too much trust in her little car’s all wheel drive.
“Do you have a death wish?” she said out loud in a mocking tone. “Yeah, maybe I do, Jonathan. Maybe I do have a death wish because unlike most anything else in life, my soul is the only thing I truly own, so I can do whatever the hell I want with it.”
She rolled down all four windows and opened her sunroof, letting the crisp winter air rush in. Her hair flew wildly, smacking her in the cheeks and eyes and tickling her nose as she reached to turn on the radio and turn the volume button until Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In the Name,” played so loudly the entire state of Vermont might have heard.
Her phone rang right around the eighth “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” and she quickly rolled up her windows, closed the sunroof, and answered.
“I’m almost there,” she said instead of the tried and true, traditional hello.
“For the love of god, Maggie, you’re twenty minutes late. Everyone is waiting,” her sister replied.
“You interrupted the best part of the song,” Maggie said, “and I guarantee no one is waiting.”
“Are you close?”
“I didn’t even want to come to this stupid thing in the first place, you know.”
“Neither did I. Put on your big girl pants and suck it up, asshole,” Janey said.
“I did put on my big girl pants. My gray ones with the rainbow hearts on the ass,” Maggie said.
“Tell me you aren’t wearing sweatpants, Maggie…”
“I could, but I’d be lying.”
“I hate you. Get here before I eat all the appetizers. Mom made her famous cheese ball with the chopped nuts and far too much hot sauce. Billy and I already crushed half of it.”
“Step away from the cheese ball! Save some for me, for Christ’s sake. It’s the only reason I’m coming,” she said.
“Well you’d better hurry then.”
“Putting my Nissan into hyperspace overdrive,” Maggie said.
“You’re such a fucking nerd.”
“I love you too. Hanging up now. See you in five and there better be some cheese ball left or I’m turning these sweet ass sweatpants around and walking right back out that door.”
A snow plow approached in the opposing lane with its high beams on, temporarily blinding Maggie. She dropped her phone to the floorboards, and although she only slightly swerved to the right, it was enough for two of her tires to catch black ice and send her car spinning; crossing over two lanes of empty highway and crashing into a snow covered guard rail on the right shoulder.
Maggie let out a forceful exhale once the car had come to rest, realizing she had been holding her breath in panic-stricken terror. She counted her lucky stars and said a silent prayer thanking “whomever was listening” for zero traffic and what appeared to be minimal damage to her ride.
She turned the key in the ignition in an attempt to push-aside the near-death experience she just faced, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. She tried again, and then twice more with no luck. She turned on her hazard lights, then fumbled clumsily for her dropped cell phone.
It had apparently slid under her seat as the car spun out of control and subsequently become wedged between the center console and her seat in such a way that it was just out of her reach.
The snow continued to fall steadily, and the highway beside her had lost its defining features. Flashing yellow lights from an approaching snow plow lit up the surrounding trees and reflected off the freshly fallen snow as it passed.
She reached down in a second attempt to retrieve her phone with the same result. Her hands began to shake and without warning she was overcome by emotion. Shock, she explained to herself, and adrenaline were to blame. She closed her eyes to resist the overwhelming urge to cry and rested her forehead on her steering wheel.
“Hello, my sweet,” a man’s voice said from behind her.
Startled, she screamed a head-splitting scream as she fumbled recklessly in a feeble attempt to get away from the stranger sitting in the back seat of her vehicle.
“Margret, please relax. I’m not a murderer,” he explained nonchalantly.
Maggie hit the unlock button frantically, but the door wouldn’t open.
“Enough of this now, relax, dear friend,” the man said, and as he did an unexpected blanket of calm fell upon Maggie’s shoulders. Her breathing slowed significantly, and her rapid heartbeat followed its lead. She stared at this well-dressed man sitting in the backseat of her Nissan Juke, but no longer felt terror; only curiosity, curiously enough.
“Who are you?” she asked as if she had just met a friend of a friend at a cocktail party.
“Alexander, my darling, but you knew that already, didn’t you?” he said with a smile. “It’s possible you didn’t, I suppose, given the whole birth-mind-wipe-thing happened this time around, but it was only a handful of human years ago, wasn’t it?”
“I’m three months shy of forty-two,” she replied, the confusion apparent in her words.
“Yes, I know. Well then, forty-two-ish years ago we wiped that slate of yours clean, but you don’t remember that, do you? I can see that now. Not to worry, Margret. I’m an old friend. You and I go way back, but we don’t have time for formalities, so let’s get to it, shall we?” he said. His smile was so warm and lovely; his presence was so strangely comforting. She couldn’t explain it, but she felt it in the very marrow within her bones.
“Get to what?” she asked, finally turning in her seat to face him instead of watching him through the rear-view mirror.
“Oh, hello, darling. You really are quite beautiful this go-round, aren’t you?” As he spoke his dark eyes brightened. They sparkled as if he were a cartoon character as the words left his lips. “So here’s the deal: You’ve crashed your beloved little vehicle, my love. Unfortunately, you’ve actually been quite hurt in the ordeal, but not to worry. Everything will work out as it’s meant to.”
Maggie looked herself up and down. She felt fine, she looked fine, so she said, “I’m fine. I don’t have a scratch on me.”
“Well, that’s not truly the case, my dear, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Let’s discuss your life, shall we? This is what we call an exit ramp. No no, not out there on the roadway; I’m speaking directly to this situation we’re experiencing in this moment. You’ve come to a point in your life where you desperately desire more, correct?”
“I’m quite happy with my life,” she replied.
Alexander tilted his chin to his chest and pursed his lips. “We both know you’re lying, Margret. No need for that here. I can hear your mind just as easily as I hear your spoken words, so let’s not try to fool one another, deal?”
She nodded hesitantly.
“You are surrounded by the love of your nieces and nephews, your sister, your parents, and your friends, but you desire a deeper, more romantic connection, correct?” he asked.
“Correct,” she said, “but how did you–“
“Think of me as your subconscious, darling. I’m not; rest assured if I were you’d be having the time of your life and not working three jobs to afford a two bedroom house for yourself and four dogs.”
“I love my dogs,” she said defensively.
“I love them too, beautiful, but you’re capable of so much more and you don’t even know it,” he said, his wide smile spreading across his face once again creating charming dimples on each cheek.
“I work my ass off,” she said defensively.
“Yes, yes, I know, my love, but you’re giving your energy away to all the wrong people. Let’s go somewhere else, shall we?” Alexander put his hand on Maggie’s shoulder and suddenly they were walking in an empty park. It was still evening, and snow was still falling steadily providing a white blanket for the street lamps to reflect off of in order to slightly illuminate the blackened skies.
“Where… How…” she gasped.
Alexander linked arms with Maggie and they began their walk through the snowy park.
“Remember Jonah? Not the story of the guy with the whale, that’s all malarkey anyway, but rather Jonah with the nice car, nice body, and bad breath. Remember that fellow?” he asked.
“My ex, Jonah?” Maggie asked.
“Yes! That’s the one. Do you remember when Jonah brought you here for a picnic? Of course it was summer so there was far less snow, and it was definitely more populated, but I digress. Do you remember the picnic, darling?”
“Yes, but God… that had to have been at least ten years ago,” she said.
“Eleven years and two months, actually. Jonah had a beautiful, rather largely studded ring hidden in the carrot cake for you, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that.”
“I had no idea,” she said.
“No, I know, darling, because you took a phone call halfway through your turkey sandwich that changed the course of things,” he explained.
“It was my sister… she was calling to tell me Mom was in the hospital. She’d fallen down the basement stairs and broken her clavicle,” she remembered.
“Yes, exactly. Now, don’t get mad, but I’m the one that pushed her down the stairs,” Alexander said matter-of-factly. Maggie stopped walking and stared at Alexander with daggers shooting from her eyes into his.
“Relax, my friend. Let me explain,” he said, and the unexpected blanket of calm fell upon Maggie’s shoulders again and her anger dissipated as quickly as it had appeared. “I was only following orders. I had to cause a chain of events to transpire in order to facilitate the call that would interrupt your lunch engagement… or rather non-engagement, I suppose,” he said. “If it makes you feel any better, I not only pushed her down the stairs, but I also broke her fall. I didn’t want to hurt the poor dear.”
“The doctor’s all said she should have been much worse off, given the angle and height of her fall,” Maggie said.
“Precisely, and you’re welcome,” he smiled, “but getting back to the point, I saved you from a failed marriage with Captain Halitosis, and again you are welcome, but I did it on direct orders. It wasn’t part of your plan.”
“I don’t believe in fate. I believe in free-will,” Maggie said defiantly.
“That’s all well and good, my love, and you have the freedom to believe in whatever it is you choose to believe in because belief is just that; belief. It isn’t fact. Beliefs are able to mold and sway in one direction or another, whereas facts are set in stone, and the fact is… Well, I’m here to provide an opportunity for yet another course correction, my dear.”
Alexander stopped walking and put his hands atop Maggie’s shoulders, looking deeply into her eyes as if to say without words that what he was about to tell her was deeply, deeply important.
“Right now, northern Vermont is experiencing an incredible snowstorm. Over the next four hours, this area alone will receive forty-six inches of snowfall. Unfortunately, your beloved little car will go unseen, as most people are safely nestled within their warm homes right now and not out on the roadways. In this moment, as a matter of fact, the snow has already covered most of your car. The battery is dying, and your headlights are fading. By tomorrow morning, your car will be totally buried underneath snow and you, having been rendered unconscious due to slamming your head against your window during the wreck, will be barely hanging onto life by the teensiest, tiniest,” he motioned with his fingers, “frayed and desperately weakened thread. I’m so sorry, Margret.”
Maggie felt tears welling in the corners of her eyes.
“I’m fine. I don’t understand… I’m fine,” she looked herself up and down once again, and even spun around with her arms outstretched to display her seemingly unharmed body.
Alexander pulled her into a hug.
“No. Unfortunately, my love, you are not fine,” he said as he held her, “but that’s why I’m here.”
As if his body were an energy source, she felt waves of calm transfer from his body into her own. They resumed their walk, arm-in-arm.
“You have a choice, my love.”
“What sort of a choice?” she asked hesitantly. “Are you the devil? Do I have to sell my soul to live or something?”
He laughed a hearty, warm laugh.
“No, no. Do I seem like a devil to you?” He laughed again. “Not that there is such a thing, anyway. Silly humans and their damnation stories. No, no. I told you, I’m an old friend.”
“Seems like something a devil would say,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows and laughed again.
“Oh, how I’ve missed your wit, Margret. I’d really love if you chose to come back Home with me, but this isn’t about me. This is about you, my witty friend. Your choices are simple: You can choose to embrace death. This can be the point in which you check out of this human life and come back Home for a review and a reunion before getting back to work, or you can choose to stay. If you choose to stay, however, you will wake up with no memory of this conversation. In fact, you will wake up with no memory at all. Amnesia. That’s the price you are paying for this conversation. I am sorry, my darling, but that’s just how things are. For the next decade you will not only forget this conversation and the wreck that lead to it, but you’ll also forget your friend’s faces, your family’s names, and every bit of who you have been for the last four decades.”
The look on Maggie’s face was enough to tell Alexander he needed to pause and let her breathe before continuing.
“I’ll forget… everything?” she asked.
“Yes, my dear. Everything. You’ll remember how to walk, talk, eat, piss, and shit, but you’ll lose all memory of yourself and everyone you hold dear.”
“Well that doesn’t sound like much of a choice! I’ll gladly take death. Life isn’t exactly grand for me anyway,” she said.
“Well, now, not so fast. I’m not finished, darling.”
Maggie raised an eyebrow and stared at the handsome man’s lips, waiting for the rest to be presented to her.
“Captain Halitosis, by the way, or Jonah, rather, is currently in prison for the rape and murder of two young boys. You’re welcome.”
Maggie stopped walking and gasped audibly.
“Yes way. He was bad, bad news, my dear old friend. Alexander to the rescue, if you will.”
“Thank you,” Maggie said almost, but not quite, as a question.
“Again, you are most welcome, but that’s not where my loyalty to you ends, my dear. Let’s talk about Jarrod, my dear. Oh Jarrod, Jarrod, Jarrod.”
“Jarrod was a nice guy!” Maggie defended.
“Jarrod was a nice guy, Margret. You aren’t entirely incorrect there. Jarrod was a nice guy who had a certain affinity for shiny things, did he not?” he asked.
“Well, I suppose he did, but he was a lawyer. He made plenty of money to be able to afford a lavish lifestyle, so I always took the stance of, well good for him. He works hard so he can play hard.“
Alexander chuckled a bit, then patted Maggie’s hands with his own. “Oh, my love. He was a devious liar and scandalous womanizer. During the three years you two were an item, he had well over three dozen different lovers; mostly female, but dear Jarrod didn’t discriminate. Man, woman, or somewhere in-between, as long as they could satisfy him sexually he cared nothing about their substance or what they had to offer the world.”
Maggie wanted to cry due to sheer humiliation, but waves of comfort continued to emanate from Alexander as they walked arm-in-arm.
“I broke up with him because I had a feeling he wasn’t entirely faithful, but I had no idea…” she said.
“I whispered into your ear at night while you slept. I gave you those feelings, Margret. You deserved better,” Alexander said.
“Thank you, again, I suppose,” she said.
“Just the tip of the iceberg, my love, but we don’t have enough time to go over all the times I’ve saved your ass,” he winked playfully at her then took her hand. He led her to a wooden park bench, where he used his hands to wipe the snow from the seat for her. She took a seat, and he sat beside her, crossing one leg over the other.
“Getting back to the point,” he continued, “Amnesia, as I’ve said, is what doctors have labeled this memory loss we provide when desperate times call for desperate measures. You will lose it all, all memory, until eventually a man will come into your life who will help you pluck memories from their hidden lockboxes. This man is not a doctor, nor a family member, but I will have bestowed upon him the key to unlocking your memory, and along the journey he will unlock your heart.”
“Sounds like a Hallmark movie,” Maggie said.
“There’s that lovely wit again, my dear!” he laughed. “Oh, Margret, there is just no one on this earth like you. Not now, anyway. You are a gem.”
He looked away, and the smile faded from his face as he returned to the topic of conversation.
“Am I really dying?” Maggie asked, eyes wide.
“Yes. Yes, my dear, you are. Right now your body is slowly releasing its need to shiver in order to keep warm. That is one of the final stages of hypothermia. You are freezing to death, my love. Well, not you, really, your body is the one dying. You, of course, are here with me. I know, I know, it’s all a bit confusing right now, but it’ll all come flooding back to you if you come home with me.”
“I think I’m still failing to see the up side to the whole living or not choice thing,” Maggie said. “I’ll forget everything and everyone, including this conversation, but I’ll get to fall in love? Screw that. Take me home. Let’s go.”
Maggie stood and brushed the snow from her pants.
“Margret, if you only knew how deeply it would please me to take you home with me right this very moment…” he stared into her eyes as if there was something he wanted to tell her, but couldn’t.
“Then let’s go. I’m not putting up a fight. Screw this life, it’s dreadfully mundane and boring as hell,” she said.
Alexander patted the bench beside her, motioning for her to once again take a seat beside him. She did.
“When you were three and living in that small cabin by Lake Harvey with your mom while your parents were working through their separation, you had an imaginary friend named, Xander. Remember?” he asked with a softness in his voice.
The look on her face was answer enough.
“It… it was you,” she remembered.
“It was. Your mother took an entire bottle of sleep medication one night. She wanted out, too. I came down to bring her back, and I stayed… for you.”
“I really don’t understand, Alexander. Why can’t I remember you the way you seem to remember me?” she asked.
“That is my punishment,” a deep somberness fell upon him and he stared off into the night sky for a moment.
“Punishment for what?”
He sighed audibly, then brought his knee up onto the bench in order to face her.
“Well, I wasn’t going to tell you, but honestly I don’t see the harm in it considering you won’t remember this conversation if you choose to live, any how,” he said.
She turned to face him as well, and he took her hands in his.
“In 1763 a sea merchant and his wife, Serrah, shared a small cottage with their two children; a girl, four, and a boy, nine. The husband would be gone for months, sometimes years at a time in order to provide for his family, which meant the wife would be left alone to tend to the needs of her children and her home, alone. The woman would arise before the sun to start the day’s chores, and wouldn’t rest until hours after the sun had set for the night. She loved her husband deeply, however, and her love was reciprocated equally by him, although their time together was few and far between. Their son took on far too much responsibility for a boy of his age, but felt it was his duty to be the man of the house in his father’s absence. The girl, even at four, would help her mother cook and clean, but the boy was taking side jobs from locals in order to surprise his mother with loaves of bread and fresh herbs. He worked the docks, scrubbing and cleaning merchant’s ships for a coin here and there. It was dangerous work that a boy of nine shouldn’t be doing,” he stared off again into the dark skies, and Maggie swore she saw tears welling his his eyes.
“One cold, winter day a deckhand not from their own country tricked the boy into doing his work so that he could visit the local pub. Later that night, the boy’s naked, badly beaten body was found floating near the shoreline,” he paused to collect himself.
“The mother, Serrah, was devastated. Her body was frail from too much work and not nearly enough sustenance, and a few days later she died of a broken heart, but her body would go unfortunately undiscovered for weeks. The young daughter, my sweet, sweet Maischa, starved to death; her body was found curled up in her mother’s arms.”
A tear fell from Alexander’s face to his lap.
“Your Maischa, you said. You’re the father?” Maggie asked with tears in her own eyes.
Alexander wiped his eyes, then looked into hers.
“Yes. I was her father in that lifetime,” he replied, “and you, my dear, sweet, Margret, were my daughter.”
Maggie couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. They fell freely; hot and heavy down her cheeks and onto her clothing.
“I took my own life upon returning and discovering the bodies. It was far too much for me to bare, so I ran a dagger through my heart. The guilt for having been away was overwhelming. My punishment, if you want to call it that, is to watch over you in this lifetime, and I take my responsibility very, very seriously, my sweet Maischa.”
Maggie wept and embraced Alexander in a tight hug. She kissed his cheeks, and wiped his tears away with her hands.
“How on earth do you expect me to choose to live and forget all of this after you’ve told me? How could I do that to you? Take me home, Alexander. Let’s go, so that I can remember with you and we can be together again,” she pleaded.
“My love, my sweet, sweet love, don’t you see? You were cheated out of a life when I was your father. I want you to live! It is my greatest wish to see you live and to fall in love. I want you to experience all of the sweetness life has to offer because it was unfairly robbed from you in your previous lifetime. Yes, I want you to come with me right now so that we can be together again, but I have time. We have time. It would be selfish and absolutely unfair to you to rob you of the joy and fulfillment I’ve seen coming your way should you choose to live out the rest of your life. I will see you again soon, my daughter, either way, but unfortunately time’s a tickin’ as they say, and you need to make your choice now.”
He held her hands in his own again, and brought them to his lips to kiss them.
Margret did not take this decision lightly. She bit her bottom lip and she considered her options, and after a silent moment or two, she faced him again.
“You’ve chosen,” he said.
“I have,” she replied.
She brought his hands to her lips this time and kissed them gently, lovingly.
“So be it,” he smiled, then brought her head to his chest for a warm embrace.
She awoke to the sound of glass shattering as a woman in nurse’s scrubs used a crowbar to gain access to her car. The woman wore a lanyard with a hard, plastic hospital I.D. tag hanging from her neck that hit Maggie in the face as she attempted to lift her from the vehicle.
“Can you hear me? You’re going to be alright, sweetheart. I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be alright,” the woman said. “I’m a nurse. You’re in good hands. Everything is going to be okay.”
The woman held her hospital I.D. up to Maggie’s face. “I’m nurse Sarah, can you tell me your name, darlin’?”