I closed my eyes. I saw his younger face mingled with his voice, and my longing for him rose up in me angry and hungry like the beast I had kept locked away, in a dungeon of forgetting, in the cold, concrete cellar of my heart.
The words kept coming from his mouth. His hand reached up to brush my face and I backed away. “Can’t sleep for missing you, for wanting you,” I heard him say.
“Don’t,” I remember saying, putting my hands up in front of me. He held them gently, brought one to his mouth. “Stop,” I shouted, “what are you trying to do to me?”
He crossed the space between us so quickly it was almost unworldly. He took my face in his hands and then brought me to him. He wrapped his arms around me and held me. “would die if I didn’t hold you again,” I heard him say.
Part of me fell back into that spell, intoxicated by his scent and the feel of his warmth around me and the image in my head of his younger self. But now, an equal power in me forced me to see with truth that this was a man four times my age, wrinkled, sagging, married, perverse in his wanting me this way. I let that voice pervade my head and only then did I have the power to push myself away from him. Still, the other voice screamed inside of me “It’s him, you idiot! It’s him!”, and I hated how much I loved him, even as I looked with haunted eyes at the grotesqueness of his reality.
“I’m not doing this,” I said, and then I started to cry. My voice rose in exhausted frustration, at the realization that all progress was lost, and I was just as hopelessly lost in him as ever, but worse now, because I was lost in my heart. “You’re married! You’re old! I’m not blind. I see you for what you are. I’m not ruining myself for a few fortuitous years of God knows what just so I can watch you die.”
“It’s hopeless, hopeless,” I cried, wrapping my arms around my abdomen. “Please Cal, just leave. Just forget me and leave.”
Cal stood, covering his face with his hand. When he tried to come over and put his arms around me I pushed him away angrily.
“Don’t touch me again,” I said, louder than I’d intended, through my sobs. “Just leave me. Leave me.”
“Eileen,” he said calmly, “I want to tell you why I came, and then I’ll go. And I’ll leave you alone; I won’t try and contact you again, if that’s not what you want.”
I calmed myself and wiped my face with the backs of my hands.
“Why are you here?”
He motioned for us to sit down again, and so I did. He took a deep breath, paused. He looked at a loss for words, like he was searching for the right ones.
“If I were younger. If I weren’t married, and you knew everything about me that you know now, would you still want to be with me?”
I shook my head. “What does that matter? It’s not possible.”
“But if it were? Would you?”
A tear rolled down my cheek. “You know I would.”
“What if I told you that there was a way, for us to find out whether things would have been different for us? If I would have been different?”
“It’s not possible. It’s…” I stopped. My eyes widened as I studied his face, as I recalled the conversation in a smoky booth with string music and vodka tonic. “You’re talking about that new experiment aren’t you? The German scientist and the memories.”
Cal looked surprised. “You know about that?”
“A friend read about it in a science journal.”
He nodded. “They’re looking for volunteers. Strictly to study the effects of rehabilitation. There’s a lot of speculation about this, but the scientist is a good woman. I’ve spoken with her. She believes that one person, if they’re the right person, strategically placed in another’s life can change them for the better.”
“Funny, I thought only God could do that.”
Cal was silent for a moment. “And just how does God do that? Through people?”
I had to concede that this was often the case.
“If you agreed to do this, I promise you, we would go through all the strictest procedures. We would ask all the questions, address any concerns that you would have.”
“Have any of the volunteers died, or gone into a coma?”
“No, nothing like that. There have been some side effects, Dr. Schultz says. It depends on the effectiveness of the experiment and how long the subjects stay under.”
“You’re really serious about this?”
Cal paused. He looked at the floor and then back at me.
“When the patients wake up,” he said quietly, “the ones that have gone through the experiment and have spoken to journalists about it, they said that it was more vivid than any dream they’ve ever had. It was like living a second life. I want that chance with you.” He took my hand in his. “I want it more than I’ve ever wanted anything, to be with any person.”
“But your family, your children. Won’t this experiment make you forget them all, if you replace your real memories with new ones?”
“No, see that’s where the journalists have gotten it wrong. I’ve spoken with one of the men that’s been through it, as well as the doctor. They’re not destroying memories, they’re making a second set of them. The person whose memories are entered comes out of it with that same feeling, of having lived two lives.”
I was speechless. And scared. I knew the sensible thing would be to say that it was a crazy idea, that he was crazy for suggesting it. But it scared me more how un-crazy it truthfully sounded to me. How, on the contrary, it made perfect sense. Made the past and my irrational love for Cal make perfect sense. What if I was meant to come into his life now, for this?
“How long would we be under?”
“I don’t know. A few days maybe. Dr. Schultz says that would be your decision. You would control how long to stay. You can wake us up. She said time moves similar to a dream. What seems like hours in a dream may only be a few seconds or a few minutes in reality. She would be able to explain it to you more thoroughly, if you would be willing to speak with her.”
I nodded. “When?”
“I heard that you’re going to be performing in Austria. I thought that afterwards, you could take some time to ‘tour Bavaria’. Book a flight home later. No one would have to know; there would be no chance of a scandal this time.”
“And your wife?”
Cal took a deep breath. “She knows.”
“Knows what? About us? About this?!”
“She pushed me to come and talk to you. She said I need to know, one way or the other.”
“Wow,” I said trying to digest that. Sadly, it made me feel worse and not better that this Margaret loved him that much.
Cal glanced at his watch. “You need to go. Your friend’s luncheon.”
I checked the time. “Shoot. Yeah, I need to get going, or I’ll be late. Cal,” I said, all of the anger leeched out of me now, softening towards him. “I just don’t know.”
“It’s alright. I didn’t expect you to say yes right away. Although, I hoped that you would.”
We stood from the couch. I thought about that morning we had sat in the sunrise, before any darkness or harsh reality had settled in. I thought about how I had seen him as just him, how I had wanted to be with him.
I put my arms around him, and he held me tightly. I brushed his hair back from his face as I pulled away. “Just let me think about it?” I said.
He kissed my cheek. “Take as much time as you need. Thank you for letting me see you again.”
I didn’t hear the door brush against its frame as he closed it behind me. All I could hear was the roar of his absence in the space where he had been.