*Author’s Note: Part of my childhood I lived in the Seattle area. I will never forget the rain, pouring down, hour after hour during the winter months. Every character in this work is fiction, except the rain.
The rain fell down the cold panes of the lofty Seattle skyscraper’s uppermost suite. Thirty-one stories below the glistening city shimmered beneath black clouds shot through with the colorful array of nightlife. The harbor frothed and heavy tankers rocked beside freighters from the ports throughout the world. Lights bobbed among the yachts of the wealthy elite anchored near the trusty green and white of the Puget Sound’s ferries. Far beyond the lights of the harbor, the thin lines of the other side of the Sound could be seen under the lightning strikes, if one knew what one was looking for. The woman standing at the window, looking out, did not.
“Nigel,” she whispered to the shadow lurking in the back of the room.
The woman caressed the full length panes of glass that walled the western facing apartment. She wore a long Persian blue sweater. It molded around her strong lean figure. Her hair was down, curling below her shoulders. In her left hand she held a glass of red wine. Her eyes stared out at the windswept city, tracing now and again the path of a rain drop rappelling down the glass pane between her and the torrents outside.
“Siddhartha,” answered the shadow.
“You know I hated that name once,” the woman said.
“I know,” said the shadow. “It’s the only name I know.”
“I knew you would come tonight,” the woman said, “I smelled you in the rain.”
There was silence.
“Seven years, Nigel. Seven,” the woman murmured into her glass. She swirled the wine. “Seven years of silence.”
Rain slipped and slid. Wind shook the long planes of glass. Siddhartha sipped her wine. Her hand trembled.
“You and the rain. I always think of you when it rains,” the woman said. “We would die but for the weeping of the world.”
“It always rains here,” said the shadow.
“I’m not always here.”
The woman sipped at her glass.
“I want to pretend you’re a figment of my imagination, no more real than the ghosts and reflections of the city, less, maybe.”
“I was never any ghost but yours,” the man said.
“I know.” A broken laugh. “And what was I to you?”
“Does it matter?”
“You left me. I searched for you, but you were wraith, dream, memory faded to vision. I forget you and you return. You are my ghost, my penance, for being what I was.”
“No one’s ghost but yours, Siddhartha” whispered the shadow. “I would have stayed.”
“I accepted, Nigel. I let you go. You couldn’t have stayed. I would have destroyed us both. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t yet born.”
“I know,” whispered the man behind the shadow. His voice was broken with tears.
The woman laughed the short sound of an old tired wound. “No one’s ghost but mine. Yes…you breathed for everyone but me. For everyone else, you were the very breathe of life.”
“I breathed for you, but you could not hear me.”
“I couldn’t hear myself,” Siddhartha said. She sipped at her wine again.
Silence descended over the darkened room for the space of a heartbeat, a soul’s eternity.
“I smelled you in the rain. I dreamed of you. Where have you been, Nigel?”
“Egypt, Somalia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Myanmar, Xinjiang, Ecuador, Chicago. I forget all the names. Anywhere I could do some good. Anywhere they called me.”
“I heard you singing, you know. Saudi Arabia, Tibet, South Africa, Morocco, Central America, Mexico, it didn’t matter the place; you haunted me. Every rain tasted like your tears. In every death I saw, they bled your blood.”
“What did I sing, Siddhartha?”
“All the songs you once sang and all the songs I wanted you to sing.”
“Which did I sing most often?”
“Seven years is a long time, Nigel. My memory changed, you changed, your songs changed.”
“The first year?”
“The first year…The first I only heard your tears. Like the first time I saw you, like the last time, when you let go of my hand and told me to find my soul.”
“When did I begin to sing?” Nigel whispered from the darkness.
Siddhartha choked and bowed her head. “The second year. You sang of tears and rain, of now or never. Of lover’s goodbyes.”
“And the third.”
“The third year, the third year I was in a bar, I heard a song and I saw your face the way it was when I left you. It was I that left you, wasn’t it? Or was it I that was never truly there, after all, you were the one to say goodbye.”
“What was the name of the song?”
“Would you believe me if I said I forgot?”
“You never forget. You were trained to never forget, Siddhartha.”
“The song was called ‘I Wish I was Dead’. I thought it was a streak of truth. I imagined you sang of me; how I tortured you, hurt you. You were one of the many, the dead that haunted me.”
“You looked for me, then.”
“What did you hear the fourth year?”
“You sang of dancing with the devil. I chased dreams and shadows and at night I dreamed of letters I’d written, never meaning to send.”
“I saw you once, in Cairo.”
“I think I knew. I realized you were running from me, but you wouldn’t call it running, would you?”
“No, Siddhartha, not running.”
“It wasn’t time,” the man whispered. “You weren’t fully born. You wanted that which you were missing, craved understanding that you hadn’t reached.”
“The fifth year I couldn’t search for you. The world was full of blood and death. I couldn’t hear your voice. It was lost, in the storms, in the burn of ash. Somewhere in hell, my gods all died. I forget the bar, the city. I drank to the cry of woman singing for the angels who fall first. I heard the screams of the unforgiven. My fate was clear as blood on snow by the time the voices on the speakers were screaming about passion and greed.
“Did I sing again?” Nigel whispered.
“In time,” Siddhartha answered. She drank from her glass. “I was in Germany, standing in a shop when a man began to chant the Lord’s Prayer against a counterpoint of hypocrisy. Your voice whispered with his until it was all I heard. I heard the faith and the irony, the cries of the world against the faith of the man’s voice, against your voice. I bought the CD, just so I could break it. I threw the dusty pieces in the river but I couldn’t lose your voice in my head.”
“I know of this one,” Nigel said.
“I hated it but I had to hear it again and again.”
“What did I sing the seventh year?”
“The first month you sang old songs, about footsteps in the sand and how many times would there be war before there was peace evermore. You sang of the circle of life. You made me smile even as I forgot to search for you. Seven years seemed long enough. Then I felt you one night while I was fighting in a refugee camp gone mad, with fire sprouting from the earth and dead falling like rain. I felt you break and crumble.”
“Was I silent then?”
“You know the answer,” Siddhartha said, turning away from the window, looking towards the corner of the room where Nigel stood in the shadows. “The dead don’t sing, Nigel. I let you go. You died, love.”
There was silence in the room.
“Only your ghost, Siddhartha,” the man finally whispered. Lightning flashed beyond the window,
“Do you haunt anyone else; torture them by flitting through their dreams?” Siddhartha said.
Outside, the thunder rolled over waves that thrashed between ship and shore. Siddhartha stared out the window, as if it held security from the uncertainty of the room, from living ghosts and half- living selves.
“They do not call it haunting, if the person is still breathing,” Nigel answered, motionless in the shadow.
Siddhartha rubbed her thumb against the rim of the wine glass.
“I never understood how it was that you knew me, that first time, why you trusted me, why you said what you said. You were like a mad man, dirty, scratched and starved. I remember your shoes, nothing but rags. You fell at my knees because you couldn’t stand. You called me and my men angels. We were undercover. We were going to kill someone. How you knew us, you never said. You said you had a dream, that we would save the children.”
“It was true,” Nigel answered. “You saved them.”
“You said more than that Nigel. You said I was your fate, that we were tied, the two of us, together. How can that be true, if we spend seven years in silence? We deny the others existence.”
“I never denied yours. And you heard me sing, all those years. Was I really gone?”
“No, not gone,” Siddhartha sighed, “only present in the most painful way. No warmth, no touch.”
“Did you never rest with another?”
“Then you know the answer to your question.” Siddhartha rested her forehead against the glass. “I’m a soldier, Nigel, elite among warriors. I kill on command. I save and I destroy. How can my fate be tied to yours? How can I even believe in fate?”
“I’m not a prophet,” Nigel said. He moved back, farther into the shadows. Siddhartha shook her head.
“But you prophesied. That first time I saw you, on your knees, with your tattered clothes, weeping at my feet, you spoke of dreams. You knew my face. You cried my name. I was a realist till I met you. I had no need to question the meaning of life, no desire to understand fates, gods or God. Mankind was another kind of animal, it fought for survival. Killing was just an act of natural struggle, no morality, no conscious. We had no souls. There was no heaven. There was no hell. I’d convinced myself there was no need for regret. I felt no remorse. I fought like a wolf, protecting my own, loyal to my pack, my leader. Nothing else was necessary, until I met your tears. You are always weeping in my memory, Nigel.”
Nigel said nothing.
Siddhartha placed the wine on the glass table, beside a white leather couch.
“I want this to be over, Nigel. No more uncertainty, no more ghosts, no more haunting. I don’t need to understand; I don’t need an explanation. These past seven years, I’ve seen things, heard things, enough to know this world cannot be explained away into simple rules. When I drank to your death all those questions slipped away, into the horizon. The sun is supposed to burn away the shadows, but that morning, I think it burned away something else. I can live with shadows and visions, Nigel, but not your ghost.”
“I’m not the man I once was,” Nigel said. “Not a prophet or a weeping saint. Never was.”
Siddhartha turned away from the window, staring full into the shadows.
“Let me see you, if you’re not a figment of my imagination.”
The shadows twisted and turned as lightening struck to the north of the city. The man moved out of the dark recesses of the room towards the light thrown up against the glass panes by the city below. He wore a heavy coat against the winter cold. Brown hair was still ruffled from the wind outside. It curled down around his face, hiding his cheeks.
Siddhartha closed the space between them and lifted her hand to his cheek. He flinched and turned away as her fingers threaded through his hair and pulled it away to show his face. A long purple scar blazed down the side of his jaw. She touched it gently, tracing its path from his temple to chin.
“When?” she said.
“When I died,” he answered.
Siddhartha placed her hands on his chest and slid the coat off his shoulders. She threw it on a chair across from the couch. Her fingers found the buttons on his shirt. She fingered them gently.
“Do you belong to me, now? No more waiting for me to be born? No prophecies?”
“Yes,” the man said. He kept eyes on the floor, refusing to meet Siddhartha’s gaze.
“Are you still dead?”
“I don’t know.”
“You need me,” Siddhartha whispered.
“Yes,” Nigel said.
“Why me, Nigel?” whispered Siddhartha. “All your strength, all your compassion, why? What became of you?”
“Broken, poured out, nothing left,” Nigel breathed the words into the fingers with which Siddhartha caressed his desecrated face.
“No one heals the healer, do they?” Siddhartha said. She drew the man into her arms, his head on her shoulder. “I had dreamed that you were my redemption, my other half that gave life while I took it. I dreamed that in the end you would justify all that I was, that the act of saving your innocents would wash away the blood that flowed over my hands. But that’s wrong, isn’t it?”
Nigel leaned into her hand on his face. “Can’t redeem anyone,” he whispered, “Guilty.”
“Couldn’t believe anymore.”
“Couldn’t believe what, Nigel?”
“Couldn’t find the light, couldn’t save the little ones, couldn’t save…anyone. There was no meaning, no ideals, no religion, no survival, nothing…nothing sacred. I couldn’t fight them, couldn’t resist. Gave them everything, begged for their touch, for their warmth, gave them my pleas, my mind, my body, my broken soul.”
“You said you were mine,” Siddhartha said.
“Claim me,” Nigel whispered. “Deny them what is left of me.”
Siddhartha turned away, pacing by the window. Lightning flashed. Nigel trembled as the thundered rolled.
Siddhartha turned abruptly and wrapped her hand around the back of Nigel’s neck, pulling him close. Her lips descended on his, demanding, mercilessly. He shuddered and cried as he opened to her assault.
“Mine,” she said, stepping back, her grip still buried in his hair. She touched his face with her other hand, ran her fingers across his collar bone. “No claim but mine. No more haunting, no more death.”
“Teach me what I once believed,” Nigel whispered.
“Remember what you told me, when we parted?”
“I said that you had to accept your soul, to be born. I told you I would hold all your love and life until you came to claim it. That I would wait until death for you to find me. God, Siddhartha, I waited.”
“All you said of fate is true. You kept your promise until death, and now I’ll bring you back to life.”
Pingback: Show, Don’t Tell: Advice Not Just for Storytelling | Ciara Darren