The rain comes down hard, making visibility feel like a revelation. Leonard has been walking for six blocks; long, fast strides not affected by the cold and wet that seep into his skin. He stops to look behind him at the red neon clock on the side of the city hall tower. Before he can discern the time, he sees a blur of headlights coming. The car swerves towards him and he loses his balance and nearly falls. Horns, brakes, metal fusing metal, a scream. His scream. He hears someone running then closes his eyes. Ahead, the streetlight turns red.
“Did you hear me?” He rolls over on his back, expecting pain, but sensing none. A caucasian woman is speaking to him. He looks at her face, tries to focus. She is beautiful, like a doll. Long light blonde hair, blue eyes. Her lips are very red.
“Where am I?”
“Look.” the woman says, turning to nod behind her. He leans up on one elbow. White, like snow, is spread flat and dull as far as he can see. The air is pure and odourless, neither hot nor cool. He lays back down trying to recall the last few hours, but his mind feels scrambled.
“Are you a doctor?”
“No.” She smiles, but there is pity in her eyes. She folds her arms in front of her. “You don’t remember, do you?” He feels around him and with a shock he realizes that he’s laying on the ground.
“Leonard,” she says, “I was there.”
He is confused, but nods although this seems to make her anxious. She puts her hand on his shoulder. It feels light and alive, like a little bird. “I need to tell you something.” She is interrupted as the room darkens slightly, but perceptively, with an air of closing in on them.
“Do you think he’s coming?” she asks, looking behind her cautiously, sitting up straight.
He gets up and walks for a few steps, blinded by the brightness of the room, squinting and feeling his way. As he reaches what seems like a wall, it expands forward, blowing off white clouds that skirt around his legs. He looks back to where he came from and realizes that he can no longer see the woman. A fine mist curls around his face then and the ground seems to lift him up and he grows unsteady, surprised to sense that he is about to dream.
The first thing he sees is himself, but there is something odd. His face looks older, drawn. He is hunched over like an old man, his head bent down, rain trickling off of his black hair in thin streams. He can see his jaw rippling and he grinds his teeth in memory of it, putting his hand to his mouth in surprise, then dread. He is beginning to understand.
He sees himself step off the curb, his shoe disappearing under ripples of dark water. Then the moon, no a headlight, then two. As he watches, he feels the urge to yawn, to stretch. But then he sees himself, he isn’t yawning, he is reaching. Then he sees her face through the windshield. The woman.
Before he continues, he hears a man’s voice. “That’s Audrey.”
Leonard says the name in his head slowly, trying to memorize the sound it makes. Then he feels her, rather feels what she is feeling. He thinks, “This is what love is like.” But the voice corrects him, “No.” Then, “Wait.”
He feels warm suddenly, smaller. She is smoking and he can feel it hit his lungs. He wipes at his face and feels overwhelmed by something, but trying to keep focused on the road. He grips the wheel and looks down at his hands, her hands. There’s makeup smeared all over them. He feels himself leaning over to the passenger seat for a cell phone, taking his eyes for the moment off the road. Then he knows that the dream is over.
When he wakes up, he is back where he was, but things have changed. For the first time since he’d arrived, he felt air as if the room were beginning to breathe. He looks around, looking for Audrey, but she is gone. Then from behind him, the man’s voice speaks slowly. “Imagine being from nowhere.”
“Who are you? What do you mean?”
The man doesn’t answer him and eventually Leonard turns around to see if he is even there. Leonard’s shock is audible as when he sees him he lets out a meaningless sound, his mind and voice unable to agree. The man standing before him is a mixture of traits, no feature resting long on his face. He is white, black, brown, now asian, angry, happy, sad, old, young. He ripples, like something seen on the surface of the water.
“You are here now, yes. If you are asking me if you will go back? No.” Leonard feels both hate and comfort as the man shifts and changes. “But this is not the only place you will go.”
“What about my family?”
“You will be alone, but you will not have a concept of alone. Eventually.” Leonard begins to ache like a child might, which annoys him. He never imagined being here, in a place like this and feeing weak.
“You are afraid?”
“I am. No, I don’t know.” Then Leonard remembers that when he was a child, when he was frightened, his father used to tease him. He always thought of his father as being a cruel man, remembering how lonely he felt growing up, how stupid. But now he remembers laughing. He sees, in his mind, his father teasing him now until he laughs. Teaching him to stand back and see a thing for what it is. That it is many things. That things evolve. He expects to feel sadness then, but he doesn’t. He tries to recall other moments with his father, he’s hungry to, but his mind only flits over images now, not indulging in emotion.
“You think, in life, that you are able to keep and hold everything.” The man tells him. “You all do.”
Leonard surprises himself by saying, “I’m sorry.” But the man doesn’t reply.The room darkens again and a wind lifts his hair. The man changes form faster now.
“Are we going to go now?” The man nods.
“Can I ask a question before we go?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I wondered,” Leonard asks, feeling rushed, awkward. “What happened to that woman?”
“Audrey?” The man asks, surprise in his voice.
“Yes.” Leonard remembers the sound of her name. “Audrey.”
The man abruptly stops changing then represents himself in the form of a small boy. He fidgets for a bit then looks up at him and smiles. “What do you want to know?” the boy’s voice is young and demanding, challenging him but in a playful way.
Leonard tries to think of why. Why would he care? But he does. His thoughts, like his memories are becoming more simple now.
“Want to know if she’s in hell?” The boy asks, curious. “You think she should be?”
Leonard cannot seem to make a word, yes or no, though this should be simple enough. Then he remembers his family back in Hong Kong. He thinks about what their story will be now. It is for them that he answers.“Yes.”
The boy shoves his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, pulling one hand out to reveal a small, black stone. He laughs, holding it out to him. Leonard leans down and picks it up. It’s quite beautiful to him, these things - laughter and small objects that a child keeps. As he feels the stone between his fingers, he remembers himself, who he was, like a pattern. The way he loved, his disappointments, other irrevocable moments. But isn’t every moment irrevocable? He imagines Audrey’s face in the windshield, her terror as she realizes that she will hit him, that she cannot control what will happen next.
The boy drags his arm across his face. When he pulls it away, he is smiling. Then he quickly leans up on his toes and snatches the stone out of Leonard’s hand. “I need to go now.” There is regret in his voice, as heard at the end of a long great day of adventures and play. “Let’s count together?”
“Three!” the boys says loudly, almost singing it.
The counting down was meant to lull him, he knew.