Roland Allnach

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Roland Allnach, 2009
Published in Lullwater Review, Fall 2009

Enjoy this short fiction and much more in Prism!

                                                                                                                                                                                           

“Dreaming again?”

            Lucas stirred, his eyes sliding open to reveal the white ceiling over his head.  For some reason he remembered having painted it not too long ago, but it seemed a dull gray.  The sound of rain came to his ears.  In the trace of its patter he realized his lips were moving, that his voice was mumbling an incoherent train of thoughts.  The moment he became aware of his mumbling, however, it stopped.

            His head rolled on the pillow to look to his side.

            A woman sat in the big, dark leather chair by his window, her face pale in the rainy morning.  “Dreaming again?” she repeated.

            He stared at her for several moments before he blinked and his memory returned, his subconscious stunning him with a simultaneous flash that filled the many blanks of his mind.  He blinked once more to sort it into something he could understand, into something that made sense of the world for him.  “Oh, ah, good morning, Eva,” he said, his voice rasping from his dry throat.  He struggled to sit up in bed.  He closed his eyes at the stiffness in his body as her question at last penetrated.

            He nodded.  “Yes, dreaming again, I guess,” he whispered.

            “Do you want to talk about it?”

            He opened his eyes and looked down.  Both his forearms were wrapped in bandages.  His left hand was covered in tape, and an intravenous line trailed away to the stand beside his bed.  Under the sheets he knew his left ankle was wrapped, and that drove him to lift his right hand to feel the bandages on his head.

            He dropped his hand and looked to Eva.  She was his home nurse.  She could’ve passed as his wife’s sister.

            His heart began to pound.  He remembered his dream; it came upon him in a sudden rush.  It was the same moment again, that same awful moment, relived and dissected in his mind—could it have been different?  Could he have done more?  I should’ve heard the car coming—why didn’t I hear it coming sooner?  Was it the second bottle of wine we had with dinner?  She asked me to stop, but it was good wine, and if I’d skipped it, I wouldn’t have insisted we walk after we ate, and if we hadn’t been walking—

            He closed his eyes.  He saw it all again.  Laughing with her as they walked, holding hands.  Then a crash, and they turn, too late, too late—the car is already over the curb and hurtling toward them.  He yanks on her hand but then he feels it, that terrible, irresistible weight pulling her hand from his—hold on, hold on, hold on!—and it feels as if the weight of the planet itself is pulling at her.  His grasp gives out, overwhelming him with the last feeling, that last awful feeling, of her fingertips sliding across his palm, down his fingers, and then nothing, emptiness, the titan ripping them apart in its destructive rush.

            It wasn’t a dream; it was a nightmare.  Worse, it wasn’t a nightmare; it was reality.

            His eyes popped open.  He stared down at his left hand, outstretched before him.

            Eva glanced at him.  “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

            “Yes,” he said and, cradling his hand to his chest, turned away in shame.  He fought for several moments to calm down.  “Where’s my brother?  I remember something, somebody, telling me I would see him.  Is that right?”

            “He’s off to work.”

            “Before you got here?”

            She hesitated.  “Yes.”

            “He couldn’t wait?”  He looked to her.  “Is there a problem between you two?”

            She shook her head.  “We get along,” she said with a shrug.  “How do you feel today?”

            His eyes slid shut.  “How could they send me home like this?”  He blew out his breath in frustration.  “I don’t belong here.”

            “You’re well enough.  This was your choice.  Do you remember?”

            He frowned.  He remembered the bright light of the exam room blinding him, blinding him with the white glare of the room.  It was the one clear memory he had before waking in his bed at home.  “It was too bright,” he thought aloud.  “I don’t want to be where it’s so bright.  I don’t want to be in the light at all.  I belong in the dark.”

“It’s a natural reaction,” she said with an even, soothing tone.  “You can talk about it when you’re ready.”

            He grunted.  His gaze rolled about his bedroom, taking in the details.  It was a spacious room.  On a clear day, it was full of light from the tall windows to either side of his bed.  To his side of the bed there was a dressing area, the leather chair, and the doorway to the bathroom.  Across from him, beyond the footboard of his bed, were two doors, his closet on the left, his wife’s on the right.  For a reason he couldn’t identify, he stared at those doors until a rumble of thunder startled him.

            Eva looked to the window.

“When can I see her—my wife?”

Eva turned to him.  “Are you ready to see her?”   She waited before looking to the clouds.  “I’m not so sure you are.”

He opened his mouth, but then closed it.

Eva looked to him.  “You’re wondering if she would want to see you,” she said, drawing a glare from him before his gaze sank away.  “Only you can answer that for yourself.”

He watched her as her gaze returned to her hands.  She was knitting something, something small and white.  He tipped his chin to her lap, where her hands were busy with their work.  “What is that?”

“A sweater.”  She paused, a small grin drawing across her lips.  “A baby’s sweater.”

“Yours?”

“No,” she said, her eyebrows rising in apparent wonder at that idea.  “Someone else I look after.  It’s going to be a gift.”

“I thought, for now, you were my guardian angel,” he said, but felt guilty at once for even that weak attempt at some humor.

She gave him a small smile, but kept her eyes on her knitting.  “Well, I have been assigned to you.  But that will change at some point, though, and I have to be ready.”  She took a breath before letting it go in a long sigh.  “Ah yes, yes indeed, always have to be ready for the change.”

He looked away.  Before he was aware of it, he found himself staring at the doors beyond his bed.  He hesitated at some imperceptible thought that nagged him, that urged him to get out of bed and open one of those doors, but trepidation from the pain in his ankle stilled him.

He sank back on his pillow with a wheeze and slipped off to sleep.

 

***

 

Some time later he rolled on his back and opened his eyes.  The ceiling still looked gray, like the amorphous clouds he imagined outside.  The patter of rain came to his ears.  He rubbed his face before laying his hands on his chest and looking to the big leather chair.  He was surprised by what he saw.

His brother sat there, one leg crossed over the other, a cup of tea in his hands as he stared out the window.  Sensing a gaze upon him, he looked toward the bed.  “Hello, Lucas.”

“Robbie?  Are you home early?”   He looked about, trying to get a fix on the time.

“Robert,” his brother said and tipped his head.  “I’m grown up now, you know.  And no, I didn’t get here early.  You slept late.”

“Eva went home?”

“Yes.  I saw her off.”

He looked to Robert.  “You don’t like her, do you?”

Robert set his tea down and stared at him.  Thunder rumbled outside.  “Eva and I have a certain history,” he said, but held up a hand to stop the obvious assumption.  “Acquaintance only.  She’s been very kind to me.  We didn’t meet under the best of circumstances.  Whenever I see her, I can’t forget those circumstances.  I admire her, though.  I guess that’s why I’m following in her footsteps—my job, that is.  I’m not the accountant like you are, but we both balance the books, so to speak.”  Robert took a sip of his tea and looked out the window.  “Do you feel comfortable with her?  I know the resemblance—”

“I’m fine,” Lucas said and looked away.  His gaze fell on the closet doors across from him.  In a matter of moments he began to fidget and looked back to his brother.  He was struck by the oddness of it, this calm conversation with his brother.  Surreal as it felt, it disarmed his reservations to let the burning question within him gain voice.  “Where were you all these years?  I never heard from you.”

Robert’s face fell.  “I’ve been busy.”

“Robbie-”

Robert held up a finger.  “I’m not little anymore.  That’s why it’s Robert, not Robbie.  I grew up, here,” he said, tipping his chin to the world outside the window.  

“And we never bumped into each other?”

“We were more distant than you think.”

“But you’d think sooner or later—I mean, we are twins.  I always wondered about that connection you hear about between twins, how somehow or other they’re always drawn back to each other, and why it never happened with us.  But even without that, you’d think somewhere along the line, somehow, it would’ve come up because someone would’ve confused us.”  He opened his hands in thought before laying them on his chest.  “Which reminds me, now that I think about it—how’d you find me?”

Robert’s eyebrows rose.  “I was found.  They called me.  The hospital, that is.  You know Mom and Dad, how they are.”

He looked with curiosity at Robert.  “They’re both dead.  You know that.”  He shook his head.  “They must have found you by our last name.”

Robert opened his hands.  “I suppose.  You know they have their ways, people like Eva.  They’re quite resourceful.”

“Eva found you?”  He blinked in confusion.  “I thought you found her.”

Robert shrugged.  “Different sides of the same coin.  Does it matter?  You’re here, I’m here, and you’re cared for.   What else is there?”

Lucas opened his hands at the obvious.  “I want my wife back.”

Robert frowned and looked out the window.

Lucas closed his hands.  “I want my life back.  I don’t want to lose another piece of it.”  He hesitated as he considered his thoughts, but then they started to spill from him and, as they did, he found himself powerless to stop his confession.  “You know, there’s this hole, this blank, from my childhood.  I remember us together, Robbie, when we were little, walking to school, holding hands as we walked on Main Street before taking that long hilly path to the school—I remember all that clearly.  And then there’s this skip, and I’m still little, but you’re gone.  Dad’s gone too, but when he comes by, good God, if it wasn’t the mortuary-like tension, it was the screaming.  .  .”  He fell silent, his forehead knotting as he perceived a glaring inconsistency in a new light.  “Where were you all those years?”

Robert’s face was blank.  “I told you.”

“You know what I mean.”

Robert took a deep breath before letting it out.  “I stayed on with Dad.  He couldn’t let go of the past.  That’s why he and Mom argued like they did.  Aimless blame and resentment.  But I lived on with him.”

“You know, I did a terrible thing,” Lucas whispered.

Robert stared at him.

“I, I forgot you,” he said, laying his hands on his face to hide from Robbie.  “I didn’t forget I had a twin, but the emptiness of you not being there—you know I asked Dad a few times if I could visit you, why we couldn’t see each other.  He just said it was complicated and then Mom would get into it with him, and they’d have a huge argument.  I stopped asking.”  He looked back to Robert.  “I never should’ve done that.”

Robert took a long breath before he spoke.  “I understand.”

“No.  I don’t want to repeat that mistake,” Lucas said with determination, perceiving the source of his confession.  “I loved her, I loved her so much, and I don’t think I want to be here without her.  I knew it from the first time I saw her.  It was like she filled in the blank of some question I didn’t even know I was asking, and now I’ve lost her.  All I had to do was hold on, Robbie, that was all I had to do.”

“I know.”  Robert shrugged.  “You did what you could.”

“It wasn’t enough!”   Lucas rubbed his forehead, his emotions knotting within him.  “I let go once with you, and now I did it again.  I wanted to hold on, that’s all I had to do, one simple thing.”  He dropped his hands in his lap and stared at his feet beneath the blanket.  Then his eyes rose to fix on the closet doors, holding on them until his heart pounded with the effort it took to look away.  What is the fascination there?  Is it more guilt, our lives stored so neatly in two little areas with all this mess outside?  What’s happening to me?  I’ve been condemned; condemned to a nightmare I can never wake from.

“Forgive me,” Robert said and shifted.

Lucas looked to his brother, surprised.  “What?”

Robert cleared his throat.  “I’m sorry.”  He shook his head as he rose from the chair.  “I shouldn’t have brought you here.  Eva was right.”

“What do you mean?”

Robert held up a hand as he left the room.  “Get your rest, brother.”

And with that, the door clicked shut.

 

***

 

Lucas woke some time later, somewhat disturbed by the fact that he didn’t remember falling asleep.  Nevertheless he found himself staring up at the gray cast of the ceiling, depression and frustration creeping through him like partners in a silent conspiracy.  He blinked, possessed with the bad feeling that he would never be his old self again.  It wasn’t for his wife, even though that pain seemed a distant oddity at the moment, but more a brooding suspicion that he had been displaced from the natural course of his life.

It made a certain sense, he decided.  He wasn’t a bad man, and he didn’t lead a bad life.  By all accounts of his friends, acquaintances, and coworkers he was an amicable fellow, respected and respectful, thoughtful, if perhaps not a little selfish in the degree of his introspection.  Considering the turbulence of his childhood, he carried no hidden grudge for his separation from his brother and had maintained a workable relationship between his parents and the animosity between them.  With all that being true, had he not earned, in his accountant’s sensibility, some cosmic right, some weight in the balance of greater existence, to have more than a brief moment of happiness?

He sat up and let his feet slide out from the blankets to settle on the padded carpet.  Thunder rumbled outside.  Go ahead, growl away.  He glared at the window.  His sorrow steamed within him.  This is exactly why I had so much trouble entertaining any notion of YouI put up with so much all those years that any idea of God just didn’t add up for me, but I’ll admit that when I met her, I was so thankful, and You—if You are what everyone claims You to be—You’ve seen that in my heart, how I loved her, and still I lost her.  Wasn’t I thankful enough?  Was I guilty of complacency?  I was thankful for her every day, every day, and still I lost her.

He balled his fists and pounded them on his knees.

“I wasn’t ready for this,” he said to himself and looked to the ceiling.  “I wasn’t ready.  I want my life back.  Somebody took it away, and I want it back.  This isn’t right.”

The door to the house closed with a thud.

He grabbed his IV pole and went to his bedroom door, opening it a crack to peer down the hallway toward the living room.  He saw Eva there, sitting in a chair, and then his brother, pacing across the mouth of the hallway.  Robert was shaking his head and waving his hands, but his voice was hushed.  Eva listened in silence as she opened her knitting box and went to work on her little white sweater.  When she spoke, she didn’t whisper.  Instead, her voice came even and forceful, as if to refute and rebuke some position Robert had argued.

“I told you this might happen,” she said, “and I told you he wasn’t ready.  This was wrong.”

Lucas closed the door.  His heart raced.  Suspicious paranoia seized him, reinforced the moment he realized he had walked to the door without an ache or limp.  His gaze fell to his ankle, his jaw clenching.  With a trembling hand he followed the IV tubing under its bandages to find that it ended in a sealed tube.  He closed his eyes to gather his wits, but, failing that, he rushed to his bathroom, knocking over the IV pole in his haste.  He sucked in a breath, turned on the bathroom light, and tore lose his bandages.

There wasn’t a scratch on him

He spun, but jerked back when he found Eva standing in the doorway of the bathroom.  His voice faltered with hysteria as words bubbled from his mouth.  “What is this?  I want to see my wife.”

“Easy now,” Eva said.  “Just look at me and relax.”  She reached toward him.  “Why don’t you lie down, and we’ll sort this out.”

“Don’t touch me!”

She held her hand up to calm him.  “Everything’s going to be okay.  Just look at me, look at my face, and let yourself remember.”

Despite her assurance, his anger won.  “I don’t care if you look like her.  I want to know what you people did to me, I, I want to see my wife—now!”   He grabbed the wrist of her outstretched hand.  “Now—”

His voice died in his throat.

He froze, his stare locked on her face.

She said nothing.  Only her unblinking stare met him.

He trembled, his lips quivering in confusion.  His mind sparked in a chaotic storm.  Images emerged within him, things long buried, long lost things he had suppressed; locked away so deep he forgot their very existence.

“You,” he hissed, “I, I know you.”

Her gaze softened as she smiled on him.

He continued to stare at her through the storm of his memories until he gasped, perceiving the sense of it that yet defied logical sense.  “You, you don’t look like her, she, she looks like you.”

“The answer to your unspoken question, isn’t that what you thought?”

“Wait, wait—I saw you once, long ago,” he said in disbelief, her words gaining little purchase on him.  “But that’s impossible, that was just a dream.  You look exactly the same, you haven’t aged at all, but I was a little boy.”

“Easy,” she said.  “Just remember.”

He continued to stare at her, but the confusing kaleidoscope of images in his head sorted and produced an image he never before deciphered.  He jerked his hand away from her to clutch the side of his head.  The nightmare returned to him with the intensity of a hammer blow to the back of his head.  He staggered from the bathroom, cradling his head in his hands as his heart pounded in his chest.

Walking hand in hand, laughing, but not with her—with Robbie, all those years ago, walking to school.  But it’s not all that different, is it?  A car hurtling over the curb towards us, and we turn, too late, too late!  But then, but then it all stops, time simply spasms, and it’s like a dream, a dream where we pull at each other’s hands, each trying to get the other out of the way.  All I can see is the grip of our hands, hands clutching in a milky white expanse of headlight glare, but there’s someone else, a woman, and she’s between us.  She’s beautiful, so kind and peaceful, and she smiles down on us.  She’s the bridge between us in that moment, holding our hands, and her lips move, but I can’t hear the question.

Robbie looks to her and smiles, and he clutches hard to her hand before looking to me with tears in his eyes—he’s happy, he’s so happy!—but I’ve let go, I let go of her, I let go of Eva and I never even realized it, and then they’re gone.  It’s all noise and chaos then, the ground slamming against me as I hit the ground.  Robbie whipped me across his body to fling me clear, but Robbie’s shattered, gone, lost in the wail of screeching tires and a single horrifying thump.

His eyes popped open.  The seismic pound of his heart shook him, leaving him hunched by his bed.  He looked between his fingers to see Eva standing by the bathroom door.  He tried to swallow over his dry throat.  “What, what is this?  Where am I?”

“Keeping the books,” she said.  “You know what it is.  You had the thoughts yourself—the cosmic right, the balance in a greater view of existence.”

He looked away from her to stare at the floor.  “Then, Robbie, he died that day?”

Eva lowered her head somewhat, but her eyes widened on him.  “Robert made his choice, and so did you.  It was already in his nature to understand what I was, and he wanted to be with me, to be as me, and so he came with me.  Your will was different.  So, your choice was different as well.”

His gaze rose, full of accusation.  “You took him away?”

“No,” she said.  “It is mine to give the choice, but not mine to make the choice.”

“I tried to make that choice for you now,” Robert said.  “I’m sorry.”

He spun to find Robert standing behind him.  “What?”

Robert frowned and lowered his gaze.  “I missed you, all those years.  I heard your will to visit me.  It rings in my ears like it was yesterday.  But you need to know everything’s in order now.  I see Mom and Dad all the time.  The fighting’s over between them.  It’s like we remembered, before.”

Lucas shook his head. 

“You were hiding from yourself, and, well, that just never works,” Eva said.  “Your past and your present have dovetailed in a most curious way, and whether that was to balance things or just blind circumstance isn’t ours to decide.  It simply is, but now you have a new choice.”

He glared at her.

Eva smiled.  “Love her for who she is, not because you see her as me.”

Thunder rumbled outside.  Robert nodded.  “Time to choose.”

Stunned, senseless, Lucas couldn’t frame a single thought in the muddled mess of his mind.  Memories skipped about.  He saw through the illusions and half-truths his denial had created to comfort him in a perilous disconnect from reality.  He never accepted Robbie’s death.  In his denial Robbie lived with his father.  His parents argued because his father refused to accept Robbie’s death and coddled the illusion that Robbie was living elsewhere, while his mother was frozen in the abyss of her grief.  All those years the image of Eva was a shadow in Lucas’ dreams, one that seized him when he first saw the woman that would be his wife, the woman that he came to love.  Of all things, it was the one thing of which he was still certain, the one thing that was free of the delusions he created to hide from his past.

The idea that it took his current dream to wake him from the dream he had been living was too dizzying to comprehend.  Reality is a shapeless thing one creates by the decisions one makes in the twists and turns of life, but one constant is that the past can’t be denied, the past will always return, and until the past is settled, it will corrupt and meddle with any choices yet to be made.  So his thought ran, and hearing it in Eva’s voice only served to further befuddle him.

All he knew was that he turned on his feet to look at the closet doors.  He staggered toward them and stared at the doorknobs.  He looked to one, but then looked to the other and rested his hand on the knob.

He closed his eyes, opened the door, and knew no more.

 

***

 

He woke to a disturbing series of beeps and pings, an immediate sense of confinement that stilled his sudden panic.  His gaze darted about.  He was a mess of bandages, tubes, and pain.  Every breath felt like ground glass going through his chest.  He heard a voice.  It was muffled through the pain and medication, and seemed far away.

He looked to his side and gasped.  Eva was there, with him.

His mind bucked and raced.  His memory returned.  It was almost too much to comprehend.  He saw the car, and he made his decision, made a decision that stirred and erupted in a heartbeat from his past.  He had whipped his wife across his body to fling her clear, only to be hit by the car himself.  He clung to her as long as he could until the titan ripped them apart.  In his last conscious moment he felt her fingertips as they slipped from him, trailing across his palm before he was gone.  He found it hard to believe he had the strength to clear her like that, but then he knew that he hadn’t been alone, that another had pulled with him.

He looked to his side again, studying the face of the woman beside him.  No, not Eva.

He let out a breath, and understood his choice.

            He clutched her hand as their fingers meshed.

               

(END)

 

 

 
     
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