A little music for the passage, the first one here…
Dina pushed him through the restaurant and out into the blue winter light, Clyde still walking along by his side. Shopkeepers were shoveling snow from cobbled walkways, windows were aglow with all sorts of enticements for last minute Christmas shoppers, and even a horse drawn carriage was out and about, an old man and his son offering rides around the old port.
Henry felt the sunset calling him, but then he closed his eyes to the phantasmagoria that beckoned. Images of his mother and father walking hand in hand just ahead, but then the eternal echo of Claire walking by his side down this same cobbled way. But now Dina was here with Tracy and somehow that seemed just about right. And there was Edith ahead of them all, leading their procession to Saint-Catherine’s – like a parade of lost souls.
He’d kept in touch with Father Martin over the years, if only because the old priest was his last remaining point of contact with Claire and her last wishes…her real wishes, not the laundered list of tattered ideas Edith had summoned once upon a time…and the old priest had agreed to talk to Rolf and Dina and Anton about the things that had gone on after Claire’s service. Edith and Tracy had, of course, wanted to bask in the reflected light of those faraway proceedings once again; that evening was a part of their family’s mythology now, wasn’t it, so why not?
In fact, he had been counting on that.
And now, gathered at the entrance to Saint-Catherine’s, the priest opened his arms and welcomed all of them to his sheltered domain – but Henry locked his chair’s wheels as he looked up at Dina.
“Please,” Henry said, “go ahead. There are a few things I need to do now.”
“What?” Dina cried. “Certainly not! I’ll not leave you to stand out here in this dampness…”
“Dina, please go. I’ve a few last minute things to pick up for tomorrow morning…”
“Henry! There are already too many presents under that little tree…”
Henry smiled and nodded smartly. “Yup. It’s not a bad little tree after all, is it? Charlie Brown would be proud of us, I think.”
Dina shook her head. “You never grew up, did you, Henry?”
He looked her in the eye and nodded. “It’s been a struggle, but somehow I managed.”
“Managed, to…what?” she sighed, clearly exasperated with him…as she always seemed to be.
“Yes. Precisely. Now go! You might learn something tonight, so listen – with your heart if you can.”
He watched them go, this totally unexpected family he’d somehow acquired over the past few months, then he looked down at Clyde. “You want to stay with me?”
Oh, those eyes. Deep brown windows to the infinite. How he loved those eyes.
“Well, okay then. Let’s be off – just like a herd of turtles!” He turned his chair and started off along the Quai des Passagers, right beside the canal that led to the Seine. Right where Time Bandits had been tied-off a few weeks ago, he told himself once again.
“That was in another life, wasn’t it, Old Boy…?”
He saw the girl from the restaurant again, only now she was standing almost exactly where his boat had been. And she was staring down into the water as he rolled up to her and stopped. And he watched her for a while, looked at her incongruous white ski parka and her preposterously purple socks.
Then she turned and knelt down – beside Clyde.
“Hello, Old Friend,” she said – and Clyde wagged his tail gently while he licked her outstretched fingers. “It’s good to see you again,” she added – unnecessarily.
“So…you know Clyde too?”
“In a way, yes,” the girl said. “May I walk with you?”
She smiled, and looking hard now he couldn’t quite get a feel for the girl’s true age. Maybe twenty…or perhaps forty years old…he just couldn’t tell…
“My name is Henry,” he said, holding out his hand.
And she took it. “And my name is Elizabeth.”
He skin was soft and warm, invitingly so despite the penetrating damp air here by the Seine. “Elizabeth, would you mind too much pushing this contraption. My shoulders don’t feel up to the challenge this evening.”
“Be happy to, Henry.”
“So, pardon my asking, but are you from San Francisco, or Berkeley?”
She chuckled. “What gave me away?”
“Purple socks and Birkies. Dead giveaway…sorry.”
“I see,” she said as they began walking along the quay towards the point.
“So,” Henry continued, “I have to assume our meeting now is not a coincidence?”
She kept pushing his chair, but she’d missed a beat and he knew he had her now. Still, she said not a word…
And he let her. It was only, perhaps, a quarter mile to the point, and he was content to let her take her time, to come to her own point, he thought with a smile.
Clyde walked just ahead of his chair now, and he looked down at the trail of paw prints the pup was leaving in the slush and water. Then, without quite realizing what he was doing he leaned back and began to drift…
And then he was with Pinky.
“Why have you been avoiding me?” she said as she made contact with him.
“There isn’t all that much more to say, is there?”
“Goodbye might have been nice,” she said, and he could tell she had been genuinely hurt by his silence.
“Goodbye Pinky, my love.”
“Henry, you are in extreme danger. You must be very careful now.”
“Danger? Me? Are you serious?”
She looked at him and sighed. “There are worse things than death, Henry, and I fear you are about to discover one of those things.”
“I see. Care to give me any hints, or would you rather remain obscure and pedantic.”
“We can’t interfere now, Henry. We can only observe.”
“Ah, so obscure and pedantic it is. Thank you so very, very, very much,” he added – giving her his best John Cleese impersonation just for good measure.
“What was that all about?” Elizabeth said, jolting him back to the present.
“What was that? Oh, I think I was dropping off there for a second.”
“And you drop into a Monty Python accent when you fall asleep?”
“What was I saying?”
“You were thanking someone. Like ‘thank you so very very very much.’ It was kind of weird, really.”
“That was indeed Mr. Cleese, and doing his Robin Hood in Time Bandits.”
“I see. So, are you giving to the poor this Christmas, Mr. Taggart?”
“Doubtful, but sing a few bars and I’ll try to hum along.”
“Well then, maybe you’d like to give me a few million dollars…”
“No thanks, I’m trying to quit,” he said, but right now all he could think about was Pinky’s warning – and the fact that he’d not told this girl his last name was Taggart. “So, why have you come to me this night, of all nights?”
But she didn’t speak again, at least not until she’d pushed him all the way out to the point, and once there she pushed his wheelchair up to a park bench and she took a seat and caught her breath.
“What an interesting place,” she sighed. “You’ve been here before, I take it?”
“Yes,” he said.
“So, a special place? Full of special meaning?”
“You could say that, yes.”
She reached into a coat pocket and pulled out a clear plastic device, exactly like the one the Old Man had used to show him pictures on. “Have you seen one of these before?” she said as she passed it over to him.
“Yes. A few days ago and Old Man used one just like it – to show me some photographs on.”
“And he asked you to hold the device? In a special way, perhaps?”
“That he did.”
“Show me,” she said, “exactly how you held it.”
“Why? What is this thing? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That’s because it hasn’t been invented…yet.”
He looked at her, tried to measure the strength of her character – and her words. “Okay. So what is it?”
“Think of it as something like a portable computer drive.”
He looked at the device again…about the size of a deck of cards…clear, transparent, with titanium on all the edges…and one resting place for his thumb. “He asked me to rest my thumb here,” he said, pointing to the thin metal pad.
“And when you did,” she said, “you felt something like an electric shock?”
“That’s right. What is this thing?”
“Mr. Taggart…I hate to tell you this, but you’ve been downloaded.”
“This is a quantum drive, Mr. Taggart, and if you held onto the one the Old Man handed you for at least thirty seconds he now possesses every memory you’ve ever had, and everything you know he now knows, too.”
“No kidding. Well gee, ain’t that the bee’s knees?”
“And if you don’t mind, I need you to download onto this drive now,” she said, looking directly into his eyes.
“And why the hell would I do that?”
She smiled at him just then, and her eyes were twinkling with unexpected emotion. “Let’s just say you will because you want to save the universe – one more time.”
“One more time? You mean…I have before?”
She nodded as she positioned the drive in his hand. Then she pressed his thumb down on the corner plate and he winced at the shock – again – and he sat there in the silence as snow started to fall again, the light turning from blue to almost purple, the Seine a ribbon of blood tying past to whatever waited in the night. He closed his eyes and Pinky was there again.
“They have you now, Harry. Both of them have you, and there’s nothing I can do about it…” she said as she faded away into a purple haze of his making.
“Nothing you can do,” he repeated, his voice a fading whisper.
When he opened his eyes the girl was gone. Only Clyde remained now, and Henry looked at his friend one last time. “I can’t ask you to do this, Old Boy. If you come with me, it’s got to be your choice, because this is a one way trip.”
He pushed the blankets from his legs and stood, holding onto the armrests until his legs grew steady, then he walked down to the rocks and looked out into the night. He reached up to the stars and closed his eyes for a moment, then he walked down to the water, Clyde still by his side.
He walked out into the water, wondering for just a moment what it was going to feel like, then he realized he was crying. He started to swim, to swim for the lights on the far side of the sky, with his friend by his side.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.
And the second here, because the music matters.
‘Beware of greedy leaders’