by Jeffery Klaehn
(Swans - November 2, 2009) Z. felt herself falling, then for a brief whisper of an instant there was only darkness. All the pain suddenly vanished as if it had never really existed in the first place. A sense of weightlessness washed over her.
Then just as suddenly she was surrounded by light.
So it's this easy, she thinks to herself.
Z. lives alone. She's 94 years old. By any measure she's led a very full life.
So this is how it ends.
Falling to the floor, aware only of the colors (amethyst, Maya blue, alizarin) and of the very bright white light appearing in the distance?
She felt herself moving toward the light, quite apart from any conscious effort on her part to do so mind you.
It just felt right, really, going to the light.
Memories, faces, places, sensations, all came flooding back as she moved closer to the brilliant white light.
Then clouds quickly formed in the color sky. Big, puffy clouds, moving together, formed the shape of a heart.
Z. smiled inwardly. The glow of the white light felt welcoming. It seemed to be reaching out as if wanting to embrace her. She touched the clouds, could feel herself touching them.
Z. was vaguely aware of the sound. It seemed so far away though. Part of another reality she no longer existed within.
Knock, knock. Again, and sounding a touch more impatient now at that.
Z. was spiraling away from the light. Then she could feel herself coughing and raising herself up on her hand. She felt a numb sort of pain on the back of her head and knew that she hadn't died.
"You-who, Z.," said an extremely pleasant-sounding voice, an extremely pleasant-sounding female voice, from outside the front door.
Using her marble coffee table for leverage, Z. pushed herself up and struggled to make her way to the door.
It was the type of door that was very old and very sturdy. It had a big window at the top. Z. peeked around the polka-dotted drapes on the left-hand side of the window. Outside, standing there on the front porch, impatiently tapping her left foot, was the most beautiful woman Z. had ever seen.
The beautiful woman had lustrous long blonde hair and seemed to be glowing. While she appeared to be in her late twenties, her age seemed somehow difficult to define. She was dressed in a simple white blouse, shorts and flip-flops.
She turned, looked precisely at the sliver through which Z. was peeking out and waved at Z. animatedly, smiling brightly and looking somehow even more refulgent now that she was smiling. "Well, are you going to let me in?" she queried. "I've brought you some blue lotus flowers!" She held the flowers up so Z. could see them, and they too were extraordinarily beautiful.
Z. opened the door. "Do I know you?" she asked. In truth, she felt somewhat disoriented. She was consciously aware of the fact that just moments ago she had been dying. Or at least she thought she had been dying. It seemed rather strange to her that she was able to be standing here, now, at this moment, opening the door to her house like this. A flicker of a thought, literally from out of nowhere, came instantly to mind. So much of life is perception.
"Of course you do," the beautiful woman replied. "We should really put these in water," she added, as if to herself. "May I come in?"
"Please do," Z. found herself inviting. "Would you like some green tea?"
"Hmm, well, I have my water," the beautiful woman held up a sleek-looking refillable water container. "But yes, I think I rather would enjoy some tea, actually."
And suddenly they were sitting together on the two wooden chairs Z. kept under the ivy, very deep in her backyard garden.
On the table between them, in a clear glass vase, were the blue lotus flowers, along with two of her finest tea cups and a pot of tea on a teak wood tray.
And a very old and expensive-looking silver cigarette case with the letter "A" engraved in the lower left-hand corner.
Z. didn't smoke.
"You don't mind if I smoke, do you?" the beautiful woman asked. She didn't wait for a reply. She just lit up. "I tend to chain-smoke. Pressure of the job, really, or at least that's how I rationalize it. It's bad, I know, but we all have our vices. Hmm, and those who don't, I reckon, are free to cast the first series of stones."
And with this the most beautiful woman Z. had ever seen laughed softly.
What a beautiful laugh, Z. thought. It sounded just so light, so carefree.
Z. had no memory of the elapsed time from when she had opened the door until now.
Strangely though, she felt suddenly alert. The disorientation had vanished.
She actually felt more alive than she'd felt in decades.
"I want you to listen carefully to what I'm about to say, okay Z.?" The beautiful woman paused to take a sip of her tea and then took a long, hard drag on her cigarette. "The truth be told, as it should always be, you're 94 years old and you just almost died a very natural death, which would have perhaps been a nice enough way to move on into, hmm, what lay beyond, depending how you look upon such things. However, there is a slight complication, and that's really why I'm here."
Z. simply listened. She couldn't help staring in admiration at the blue lotus flowers. They were exquisite.
"Not a complication, really," the beautiful woman continued on. "But I'll explain, and I'll explain in very easy to understand terms and in brief detail, but please bear in mind that I'm quite aware in advance that there's a great likelihood that your perception of what I'm about to tell you will leave you doubting everything I'm about to say. As I'm saying it, I mean. Not after." And she laughed again with this. She seemed to be enjoying herself. "By the way, this garden of yours, it's really spectacular! I quite like it here. Very serenity-inducing, I think." She motioned, with a wave of her hand, to the ivy and roses, then back to Z., and she smiled.
Z. was about to say "thank you," but the beautiful woman began talking again before she could move from the thought to the words. "You're welcome," the beautiful woman said, and this too seemed strange to Z., but somehow natural. Again Z. noticed how it appeared as if the woman were glowing. A soft warm glow, subtle but undeniable, she was giving off her own light, somehow. "Who exactly am I? And what am I doing here? And, ultimately, why you? You know what, Z.? I'd probably be wondering these exact same things if I were in your place right now. Hold those questions for just a moment and let me tell you a story," said the beautiful woman. "Are you okay with this?"
For some unknown reason, which she didn't fully understand, Z. felt herself completely at ease with this woman. "We've known one another for quite some time, haven't we?"
"Yes we have," the beautiful woman replied quickly. "Your entire life, in fact."
"You look so . . . young," Z. said. "How old are you?"
"Very," the woman replied. "But we'll come back to this and I'll answer all your questions afterward," she promised. "If you still have any then . . ."
Z. took a sip of her tea. It tasted so good. "Tell me your story," she said. "I want to hear it."
The beautiful woman smiled. This was why she had come. "A very long time ago a rather handsome young man saw an amazingly beautiful young woman with whom he fell instantly in love. He was out at a social gathering and saw her across the proverbial crowded room, literally. But he could only see the beauty of her face because there were so many people moving about between him and her. That fleeting glance alone, however, was enough to capture him, and his heart, utterly and completely. He was madly in love with this mysterious and beautiful young woman, instantly, at a glance. He felt as if he'd been searching for her his entire life, and when he saw her, well, she took his breath away. He stared in wonder at her dark skin, her beautiful eyes and her long black hair. He was instantly in awe of her and he saw in her a thousand stars, the entire universe beautiful and alight. He fell, ever so deeply, in love with her. And he tried to find her all throughout that night, searching endlessly for her, but he couldn't. Several of his lady friends, in an effort to help him, tried to find her as well, but she appeared to have magically vanished. So the young man left that evening, wishing and hoping that he might someday be lucky enough to see this amazingly beautiful young woman again. He had a vivid dream about her that night, a vision really, and when he awoke the next morning he sensed that they would meet again one day. Over a year passed before, as if purely by chance, that day finally came. I say as if because it wasn't really by chance. They were really meant to meet again that day. The young man was walking his usual path to the hills when he noticed this same young woman walking along another path, nearby. It was just like his vision, his dream of meeting her again, and finally that moment was here. Summoning up all his courage, he approached her and introduced himself, although in truth he found her so beautiful that he was barely even aware of what he was saying as they talked together. Hearing her voice, at last, was like heaven for him. Standing so close to her was like heaven for him. Finally being able to look into her beautiful eyes was also very much like heaven for him. She was heaven for him, this beautiful woman who had captured his heart at a glance over a year before. At one point in the conversation she extended her hand and introduced herself to him, and as the young man took her hand in his he felt his heart beating very hard inside his chest. To touch her hand, for him, was synonymous with touching divinity. Seeing her there, standing so close to him, in that moment, he felt overwhelmed by her beauty. She was, impossibly, even more beautiful there in that moment than she had been in the image of her, which he had treasured in his memory. The sound of her voice, how she talked, made her ever more beautiful to him with each word she said. He felt elated simply to be talking with her. But he managed to tell her about how he had seen her that evening over a year before and he told her how he had never forgotten her. He admitted to her that he felt it must have been serendipity that they'd run into one other again. He didn't tell her about his vision though, because he didn't want her to think he was out of the ordinary in any way. The young woman just looked at his face as they talked, and she was smiling throughout the entire conversation, which made him think all was going wonderfully, even though he felt absolutely in awe of her and was almost too nervous to even talk. We'll see each other again. The young woman said this to him twice, in the middle of the conversation, which made his heart cry out for her, and again at the very end of their conversation, which filled his heart with hope. And, in truth, the young man so very badly wanted to ask her right then and there if she would walk with him up to the hills and down to the water. But he was also too afraid, afraid that she might say no to him, and he didn't want to pressure her in any way either, so he felt that perhaps it might be best if he simply said good-bye to her for now and allow fate to bring their paths together again, if she was his destiny. So, at the end of the conversation, he simply waved goodbye and smiled at her as he stepped back onto his path and she onto hers. He was feeling so happy that he had at last spoken to this beautiful young woman, the woman who had stepped straight out of his dreams like a vision of beauty and love. And he felt happy too because he felt in his heart that their conversation had gone so well. He also felt extraordinarily lucky to have run into her again, she who was all he dreamt of, as if by chance. But mostly he felt as if he were flying. After talking with her, he felt as if he were filled with light. He went to the first bench he could find and he quickly sat down, because after talking to this remarkable and beautiful young woman he also felt slightly faint, out of breath and light-headed. He still couldn't believe they'd actually met, couldn't believe they'd talked, at last. He felt happier than he'd ever felt before, and as he looked up at the sky he realized that it had never before looked so blue, as it did just then in that moment. The smile on his face would remain there for the rest of that evening and into the next day. He was literally quite unable to stop smiling as he thought about her and about the possibility of meeting her again, now that they had at last met each other. That feeling of awe, lightness, remained with him the next several days. She was a dream of beauty, and of love, a dream he felt he had been searching for his entire life. Do you remember that day, Z.?"
Z. did remember, but only vaguely. It was her, she knew. She was the beautiful young woman in the story. She'd been on her way to pray that day, when their paths had crossed.
"What happened to him?" Z. asked. She had never met him again after that day.
"He continued hoping and wishing and never truly forgot about you. After a time he moved away, to another country across the world. There he became a fisherman, mostly so he could live near the water. But at night, every night from that point in his life on, he wrote poetry and painted, and you were sometimes there in his poems and paintings even then, as the years and decades passed. Just as you were in his heart after only that briefest of glances the very first time he laid eyes on you."
A pair of Mourning Doves flew down to the right of where Z. and the beautiful woman were sitting.
Z. poured herself another cup of tea and pointed to the cigarette case. "There used to be a notion that knowing someone's name gave one some type of power, but I know that's silly. And while I feel I know you, I know I don't know your name and I want to. Will you please tell me? What's the 'A' stand for?"
The beautiful woman smiled. "Aphrodite," she said.
Shakti, Parvati, Hathor, Ishtar, Milda, Venus, Mami Wata, Rati, Oshun, Albina, Turan, Saule, Freyja, Astarte.
She was known by many different names across different places, different times.
And Z. knew instantly who she was. "The Goddess of Love," Z. whispered softly. "But I don't believe in you . . ."
Aphrodite laughed. "You don't need to believe in me for me to be. You believe in love. That's enough."
Z. almost felt as if she were having a surreal waking dream of some sort. This seemed too unreal, yet she somehow knew for certain that it was real.
"This isn't a manifestation of your consciousness," Aphrodite offered, somehow hearing her thoughts. "It's passionately real, as is his love for you . . ."
Is? "So he just left?" Z. asked. "Why would he have done that?"
Aphrodite was smiling at the mourning doves. "He'd hoped to meet you again. Then he wished. And he even prayed to meet you again. But he never did," was all she said. "All he had was the memory of those perfect moments, talking with you. He felt that was a perfect day, and he never forgot those moments, all his life. You were like a dream for him, a perfect dream."
"He'd been a scholar, though, a writer" said Z. She suddenly remembered fragments of their conversation that day. "How could he have given that up and transitioned into fishing?"
"It didn't really matter to him, by that point, I don't think, where he was doing what he did. That day when he approached you, I'm not entirely certain, even with my great powers, what your perceptions of him were, but I know that he'd recently come to a great realization within his own life. Up until that point in his life he had been, like many others, caught up in the whirlwind of life. Those around him, or at least many of those around him, were almost entirely concerned with money. He felt disconnected with that inessential world and grew weary of the scratching jealousies and often well-hidden but omnipresent politics that were unfortunately germane to it. Most of those around him were even more obsessed with status and power, and he'd become taxed and tired of that field of play. He'd always been a hopeless romantic but at that point he'd already decided that love is ultimately all that matters in life, is all that gives meaning and is all that one should ever truly wish to have and to hold."
"Did he continue to read and write?"
"Yes, but he just found that he needed a change of place," Aphrodite explained. "So after that day he met with you he waited for a long while, hoping for something divine to happen, hoping for his dreams to materialize. Perhaps, after meeting you, so truly extraordinary, he simply couldn't bear to continue living as he had been, immersed in that world, wrapped up in its familiarity, when it suddenly seemed very unremarkable in the shadows of his memory of you, and the promise of what life with your love might have been. I'm not entirely sure of all the facts, to be honest with you. As I say, even my great powers have their limitations. But that's my guess. Maybe he just gave up hope. I know he wanted to move near the water. So he could hear the sound of the waves at night, before he slept, and in the morning, when he awoke. I know he never forgot you and he always held the memory of you in his heart. He would always remember your words. We'll see each other again. And I also know that he tried to find you every night, in his dreams, for the whole rest of his life."
Was he dead now? Z. felt so sad for him. And, in truth, she also felt sad for herself now, knowing all of this, her perceptions crystallizing. But Aphrodite had said that his love for her is real. That was present-tense. She sensed that love didn't stop with death, it somehow continued on. She had so many questions. "Is that why you took notice of him, and of me?" Z. asked. "Was it because he loved me as, well, as you say he loved me?"
"Not entirely, at least not in the way you mean. Do you really want me to answer that question?"
Z. set her tea cup down on the saucer and looked up the stars coloring the evening sky. It felt so good to be alive. She sensed that Aphrodite could read her thoughts and wanted to savor this. "I'm 94 years old, in my garden, here, now, under the ivy, having tea with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love," she said, thinking aloud. He'd only spoken to her for an instant, really. How could this man have fallen in love with her? They'd only talked for a short while. How could he possibly have fallen so deeply in love with her? Had he been crazy? Or how had Aphrodite put it? Out of the ordinary? Or had he fallen in love with her? "Yes," Z. said at last. "I think I would."
Aphrodite took a deep breath. "You're not going to believe me. Or then again, maybe you will. You seem to be taking it all relatively well so far. So here goes, then. Z. You've lived this life and you've known what it is to dream and to love. But there's something more you don't know about the young man you talked to that day. He'd loved you before he even met you. He'd been so deeply in love with you, with the promise of you. For years before he was lucky enough to see you for the first time that night, he'd loved you. And when he saw you, he just knew, and he loved you so dearly, so innocently, sweetly and truly, that I cried when you two waved goodbye to each other that day on the path."
"Why didn't you intervene?" asked Z.
"Because I can't, or at least I'm not supposed to."
Z. didn't ask how it could be that bringing her back from her apparent death could possibly be construed as non-intervention. She remembered her own "vision," particularly the heart-shaped cloud. She'd begun returning as soon as she'd touched it.
"Sometimes doing what we're technically not supposed to is the right thing to do," Aphrodite added.
"Hmm," Z. said simply, by way of reply.
"But what you really need to know," continued Aphrodite, "is that there are other realities, other timelines, and that particular man has loved you in every reality, in every distinct timeline, from the beginning of time onward into infinity. You're thinking that this is a rather impossible concept to completely grasp and that it seems amazing and mind-boggling, I know."
"I am thinking this," Z. said. "But I'm also thinking that it sounds kind of wonderful too."
"I can show you if you like?" Phrasing it like a question, Aphrodite was smiling, positively beaming now. Her light was literally cascading from all around her now. Soft amethyst, Maya blue, warm shades of orange, alizarin crimson, yellows, playful raspberry, flirtatious and energetic pinks, sensuous shades of purple, in torrents of misty light, it was so beautiful.
Z. didn't know what to say or do. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Just touch my fingertips," Aphrodite offered, holding out her hand.
Z. hesitated, but only for a fraction of a moment. Then she touched Aphrodite's hand.
"I live for moments like this," Aphrodite said. But Z. was already gone.
The images came quickly, flashing, like a film in fast-forward, in full-color but without sound. She saw in an instant what life with him would have been like, would be like, not just in this reality, but in every possible alternate reality. Walking along the beach with him, she could feel the sand under her feet, moist and warm against the skin on the bottoms of her feet. She felt his hand, his fingers intertwined with her own. She could feel his love. There was so much love, everywhere, and it almost overpowered her senses, the sheer force of it. It filled her heart. She was flying, she was filled with light. She felt him touching her hand, saw him smiling and bringing her coffee, listened to him reading her love poems very late at night. Swimming with him, under the stars, she felt his body pressing against her own, felt his arms wrapped around her. Traveling with him across the world, she felt so happy and safe. A thousand million similar scenarios flashed through her mind's eye with each passing millisecond. She was often kissing him. There were so many kisses, and so many hugs. So many days and nights filled with shining love, affection, and amorous passion. And so many smiles, it seemed she was always smiling, always smiling and feeling so alive, completely alive, with him.
Then, discord, and Z. found herself back in her garden.
The Mourning Doves were still there and they appeared quite contented.
Aphrodite too looked happy.
"I've never known such passion, such romance," Z. said. She was barely able to speak. "So much love . . ."
"He's always loved you Z., and he will always love you. Everywhere, always, forever, his love for you is a universal constant."
"Can you?" Z. began.
"Take you back to that moment when you met on the path? Is that what you're going to ask me?"
Z. nodded, overwhelmed with emotion.
Aphrodite smiled as she lit another cigarette. "You'd keep your memories of this reality, but only vaguely. Have you ever had a sense of déjà vu? Ever experienced a strange but palpable sense of familiarity or remembrance? Recognition, whatever you might want to call it? It will be like that. Are you okay with this?"
"Oh yeah," Z. said. Her perception was now quite fully informed.
It's a miraculous thing, how perception works.
Our state of consciousness can frame and re-frame everything.
"You don't much sound like a 94-year-old, you realize?" Aphrodite blew a smoke ring, and Z. noticed it was shaped like a heart.
"Tell me something, honestly," Z. said. "Am I dreaming this? Did I die? Is this real? Am I crazy? This can't be real."
"It's about as real as it ever gets, Z.," said Aphrodite. "Love knows no limitations. Time doesn't exist within love's frame of reference. Trust me. I know what I'm talking about. Are you ready?"
Z. nodded. Oh yeah -
In the next instant she was standing on the path as she remembered it from so many decades before. She felt young again. She was young again.
She felt so alive.
Aphrodite was here too, although she was dressed very differently now. She was wearing a light pastel green summer suit. She appeared slightly older now, maybe 40 or so. She was still young, and still the most beautiful woman Z. had ever seen. Was she holding a refillable water container too? She looked beautiful, and so cool -
"Are you ready?" Aphrodite asked.
Hadn't she just heard this same exact phrase a moment ago?
"You look absolutely beautiful, by the way!" Aphrodite added. "Here he comes!"
Z. felt panic overtaking her. This was happening so fast. She turned toward Aphrodite. "What should I say to him? What should I do? What should I say?"
"Say hello, smile, say anything," Aphrodite laughed. "You'll be fine. It won't matter to him what you say. He loves you so sweetly. Just standing next to you will be like heaven for him. Trust me, I know. Remember that he's in absolute awe of you and that he desires you intensely." Then Aphrodite paused, as if thinking on something specific, an important detail. "No, actually," she began again, "I know! You should hug him as soon as you see him and tell him that you're so happy to see him again!" Then that same soft, gentle laugh again, the same sweet, beautiful laugh that Z. remembered from another place, somewhere, a lifetime ago. "That will make him happy and send him over the edge at the same time! He deserves that, really!" Aphrodite patted Z. on the back and nodded, as if agreeing with herself, which Z. even in her anxious, fidgety state found amusing and quite endearingly attractive. "And whatever you do, don't let him walk away without making some sort of definitive plans for coffee or something. This is hugely important. Don't let the moment slip away again."
Z. sighed heavily. "I'm not sure I'm ready to do this, a whole different life . . ."
Is this a parallel reality, she wondered.
"Oh and by the way, I've left the blue lotus flowers at your place for you, here. You won't remember me after a few moments and you might wonder how the flowers have simply appeared in a new glass vase on that table over by your window, but you won't ponder on it for more than a moment or two and you'll really love them. I really have to go now."
Aphrodite gave Z. a quick kiss on the cheek, and said this one final thing: "The love that awaits you is precious and very rare. Embrace it."
"Excuse me, I'm not sure if you'll remember me but I saw you over a year ago and never forgot you . . ."
The sound of his voice, Z. had longed to hear it again ever since the visions, longed with every cell of her perfect being, and suddenly here it was.
His love for you is a universal constant . . .
She turned about and suddenly there he was. She reached out and hugged him tightly. "Oh," she whispered, as she smiled and clutched him tightly, "it's so good to see you again!"
The sky hasn't ever looked so blue . . .
"Oh, WOW!" he thought. "This can't be happening!" His heart was beating so fast that he felt as if it would almost burst. He couldn't manage any words, so he simply wrapped his arms around her, finding everything that is beautiful.
Everywhere, always, forever . . .And when he opened his eyes he noticed the pair of Mourning Doves nearby, watching from just off the path.
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