My Travels With a Dead Man
Jane Takako Wolfsheim learns she can alter time and space after meeting a charismatic stranger named Jorge Luis Borges.
Inextricably she falls for Borges. Soon, however Borges’ lies and emotional abuse, and nightmares about a demonic figure, “the man in black,” nearly drive Jane mad. After her parents are murdered, Jane flees with Borges. Both the ghost of haiku master, Basho, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a statue of Buddha that appears in her dreams, offer her cryptic advice. Unable to trust anyone, Jane must find the strength to save herself, her unborn child, and possibly the future of humanity.
Context: Following a nightmare in which a dark featureless figure assaulted Jane, she has fallen asleep again in the room she shares with Borges at the Tokyo Sheraton Hotel. In a second dream, Jane sees herself reaching out her hand to the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Kamakura. When Jane asks for his help finding Borges, the Daibutsu states cryptically that Borges has always been a dream, implying he isn’t real. Terrified, Jane awakens in great pain only to discover she’s not in Tokyo anymore.
* * *
The Daibutsu’s face retreated in a white fog. As it vanished, my arm exploded in agony. I awoke screaming in a room I did not recognize, on a damp bed under sheets soaked in sweat. Sore and battered, I forced myself over onto my side and used my left hand to massage away the spasms in my immobilized right arm.
When the pain receded to a dull ache, I looked around me. The bed was smaller than the one at the Tokyo Sheraton, its mattress thin and full of lumps. A great mesh net hung from posts at the four corners of the bed, surrounding me on all sides. Overhead, a ceiling fan whopped-whopped away, its blades chopping the warm air into discrete chunks. The breeze it created passed right through the wet camisole I wore, giving me chills. Thousands of unknown insects creaked, along with the chirping of birds, and other strange noises. Nothing was familiar, nothing spoke to me of home.
Where was I? Where was Borges? A large moth struck the net at that moment, and my mind shattered into a million shards of glass. In terror, I huddled under the sheets. Then I heard a scuffling noise, and my heartbeat soared. It was the sound of a chair leg being scraped across a well-polished wood floor. I arose, parted the mesh net, and slipped off the bed. The tile floor felt cool. Then the acrid odor of a lit cigar reached my nose. I crept to the open French doors and walked out onto a wooden deck. Stars peered at me from the sky’s vast dome, which ended at a horizon marked by silhouettes of trees, tall palms, but many others of varying heights, I could not identify by shape alone. Beneath the trees, darkness spread from a thick layer of undergrowth. I walked on.
Turning a corner, I found my Borges in an old wicker chair, one leg crossed over the other. With a delicate grace, he inhaled his cigar. Its red tip glowed as if it had a life all its own. Then he blew an enormous plume of smoke that dispersed as it drifted toward the forest.
“You are up early this morning, my dear, just in time to catch the dawn. Come, sit beside me.” He rubbed out the cigar in a copper ashtray atop a small oval side table. Across from him was a second wicker chair. As I sat down, a thin flame of coral highlighted the treetops. Amazed by the spectacle, I didn’t speak for several minutes. I shot glances Borges’ way, but not once in all that time did he look in my direction.
“Where have you taken me?” I said.” What is this place?”
“Ah, you’ve been dreaming of Japan again.” The calm tone of his voice disturbed me far more than what he said.
“Yes,” I answered. “I dreamed of the Daibutsu. But we were in Japan just yesterday in our room at the Tokyo Sheraton.” Then I stopped. It must have taken more than a day to travel from Japan to wherever we were. How much time had I lost?
“I know you believe that,” he said, “but we never went to Tokyo.” He sighed the sigh of a sad and weary man.
“You still haven’t answered me,” I said. “What is this place? Why are we here?” A sense of vertigo returned, but I held it at bay. The dawn’s colors, which back-lit the forest canopy, grew wider, revealing shades that spanned the spectrum from rose to the pinkish-orange of salmon.
“We are where you asked me to take you after–” He paused for a moment, but then resumed. “We are in Costa Rica, near the town of Samara, about five miles from the beach. You asked me to take you someplace far away where you could, though you never said it in so many words, forget your grief. We have been living in this villa,” he waved his arm in a grand sweeping gesture, “for the last six months.”
My mouth opened in disbelief.
“You grew tired of San Jose and all the wealthy tourists there,” he continued, “so we moved here. It provides solitude and a place to for you to read and work on your painting, or so you tell me when you’re in the mood to talk.”
This obvious falsehood outraged me. I stopped painting years ago after high school. I only took Art class to provide company for a shy and lonely friend, a true prodigy, talented far beyond my meager abilities.
“Stop lying! We visited Kamakura, saw the Daibutsu and then returned to our hotel. That was yesterday–well, a few days at most. And I don’t paint! Not anymore!” My voice must have carried farther than I realized, for the forest erupted in a raucous cacophony of sounds from birds of all kinds, parrots, cockatoos, and others, too. Their unfamiliar calls startled me.
“You don’t paint?” Borges replied. “What’s that then?” He pointed to the far end of the deck at an easel and canvas, along with several paintbrushes, a color palette and a variety of oil paints arranged on a small table. ” That must be my painting of the Buddha.” A bitter little laugh escaped his lips.
I scrambled out of my chair, stumbling in my haste, and hurried over to the canvas. I could not deny my eyes. It was a portrait of the Daibutsu, not clothed in green tones of tarnished bronze, but gleaming with rays that emanated from him like a pinwheel of many colors, just as in my dream. My signature was in the lower left-hand corner. But I couldn’t have painted it. It was too beautiful, too well composed to be my work.
Author Bio –
Steve Searls retired from the practice of law in 2002 due to a rare chronic autoimmune disorder (Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Cell Associated Periodic Syndrome). He began writing poetry in 2001 and, using the pseudonym, Tara Birch, was the featured poet of Tryst Poetry Journal’s Premiere Issue. He’s also published numerous poems as Tara Birch in print and online, including the poetry chapbook, Carrots and Bleu Cheese Dip, in 2004. Steve was also active as a blogger posting under the name, Steven D, at Daily Kos (2005-2017), Booman Tribune (2005-2017) and caucus99percent (2016–present). Steve’s published essays on Medium include “Clara’s Miracle,” about his wife’s cancer and resulting traumatic brain injury from chemotherapy, and “My Rape Story.” Raised in Colorado, he now lives with his adult son in Western NY. My Travels With a Dead Man is his first novel.
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