The room was quiet and the air still. Outside, the rain had stopped pounding the glass, the wind had subsided to a low hum, and in its stead snow began to fall. The candle had burned more than halfway down and the moon was already descending somewhere on the other side of the ecliptic. My fascination with Daniel and the shock of his revelation overrode my weariness. The only thing that bothered me, if Daniel’s suspicions of his looming death were indeed accurate, was how much time we had lost and how little time we had left. Rena’s wristwatch indicated half past one in the morning. I wanted time to freeze, wishing for the watch’s hair-thin arm counting the seconds to stop ticking.
Daniel lay curled up on his side like a small child, his fists clenched, face expressing relief and regret. I sat cross-legged atop his tiny bed, where his feet would’ve normally been, my elbows digging into my knees, interlaced fists under my chin. We were both staring at the elongated flame reaching toward the ceiling like an inverted fountain pen. I was trying to make sense of things, but my ability to think was failing me. It was only the here and now. Only Daniel and Evelina. A brother and a sister. Reunited in secret under most trying circumstances. The past was a gaping hole wanting to be filled, sucking the fleeting moment into its hungry cavity.
“It’s all very paradoxical, isn’t it?” Daniel said shifting his gaze from the candle to me.
“Like having so much to say and yet not knowing where to begin?”
“I can only imagine the chaos this has caused you. I’m really sorry.”
“Just the opposite,” I said. “Finally things are starting
to make sense. But I’m curious. How did you find him? How did you get a trace of Grandpa?”
Daniel’s gaze returned to the flame. “When I went to the orphanage to find my roots, the nun who had given me the picture of Jan and his daughter had also told me of a trace she had found of the man in the picture. She knew his doctor and gave me the doctor’s name and the address of this clinic.
“When I arrived here and met the doctor in person I didn’t want to just inquire about his patient. It would’ve been too intrusive. Plus, I wanted to have a chance to observe him, get to know him from a distance. So I told the doctor about having dizzy spells, which I’d get on occasion, and he agreed to admit me to run tests. In the days that followed, I looked everywhere for his patient but I had no luck. I was starting to develop severe migraines then. The blood tests confirmed I was fine, but I didn’t want to be released just yet, so I asked for a brain scan. I wanted to find Jan, if he indeed was there, so I dramatized everything and he agreed to give me a brain scan. That’s when he discovered something in my brain and suspected a tumor and asked to retain me longer if I wanted to be treated.”
“I can’t imagine how it must have felt getting such news.”
“Sure, but it gave a change to stay and look for my family.”
“I am still getting used to your way of thinking. You get diagnosed with terminal illness and feel glad.”
“Eve, you muse understand. I didn’t have much to live for.”
“Did the doctor help you? Did he try at least?”
“Our relationship became an exchange of sorts once he realized I had the ability to see more than the average person. I would sometimes use my foresight to help him. But he would
ask so many questions it soon became exhausting. And the more he got, the more he wanted. First it was about his career, then about his family, even about his wife. I couldn’t help him sometimes. I didn’t want to at others. He would get angry in those moments and threaten me to stop the treatment. The doctor was a very ambitious man,” Daniel said. “He wanted to be become famous one day for his discoveries in neuroscience. But one day all this strive paid off because Jan returned and I finally got to see him.”
“That must have been April.”
Daniel smiled. “Indeed. I saw him while I was sitting on a bench in the garden. He was taking a walk with a nurse. I was certain right away that I had found the man from the photograph. I could also tell that we were related. There was this strange aura around him, something mystical trailing him. I became very curious. But before I even had a chance to talk to him, he was released to go home and I lost track again. I could’ve checked the records and found his address, but at that point, I had no energy to even walk across the hall. I became bound to my bed. The doctor said that the cancer was progressing rapidly and he needed to operate quickly if I wanted to live.” Daniel turned his head to show me the long scar on the back of his cranium.
“But he didn’t get it all out?”
“No. He said it had metastasized. We were too late.”
“So you stayed here waiting for death?”
Daniel nodded. “But the doctor didn’t give up right away. He thought that maybe if I went deeper into the part of my mind that produced the visions, it could help him find a cure. So I did that. For days I floated in darkness inside of a saltwater tank that was meant to put me in a meditative state and help me access deeper parts of my mind. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. I just floated, scanning pictures my brain produced like movies. At first it was a jumble of memories, then hours of silence. Then one day, my mind started to produce an entirely new set of images that seemed to be pointing toward the future. But even then I didn’t know how many of the visions were actual foresights, and how many were just wishful thinking. In one of them I saw Jan return.”
“Which he did. I remember. That’s when things got very serious.”
“Yes, and ironically with him came back my curiosity and zest for life. For awhile I thought I was actually getting better.”
“But the mind therapy didn’t work the way the doctor had hoped?”
“It didn’t and it did. The doctor said that he couldn’t cure me. But I did gain something through his therapy. Because of it I realized I had a real gift and I wanted to explore it further. Because of it, I saw you in my dream. I knew you were Jan’s granddaughter and I knew that you were searching for something but didn’t know what it was. Your soul ached for answers and you wanted adventure. I felt your sensitivity and knew you were able to see beyond the veils. You also had that mystical aura about you, which your grandfather possessed.”
“What do you think that is?”
Daniel shook his head. “Don’t really know. Still a mystery.”
A seed of terrible guilt spilled inside my soul. So much time we had wasted. . . . Some things just didn’t take sense. Why would Mom agree to leave a helpless baby? What if she hadn’t listened to Grandpa? Would Daniel still have gotten sick? Would the disease have spared Grandpa, too? Daniel saw my struggle and asked what was on my mind so I told him.
“There are still so many questions left unanswered. I hope Grandpa will be able to speak soon.”
“No.” Daniel said. “You promised you wouldn’t tell anyone.”
He was right. I did promise. How could I break that trust? Yet it wasn’t easy to live without being able to tell. My sense of alienation were already starting to sprout.
“How about your father? Did you find any traces of him?”
“Nothing.” Daniel said that despite his vexing efforts, he was unable to find even the smallest clue to the most elusive part of his origin. He tried hinting at the question in a most delicate way after showing the picture to Grandpa. Grandpa held it in his shaking hands and stared at it with a contrived face, but offered nothing but a shrug and headshake, accompanied by a terse I don’t know.
I shared with Daniel what I knew were facts. Mom had met Dad when she was seventeen and married him two years later, after getting pregnant with Rena. Their relationship was turbulent from the start. Grandma insisted it was the best she could do considering the paltry pool of local candidates. She must have had Daniel at eighteen. So something happened before she met Dad and had Rena. His date of birth confirmed it.
“Maybe giving me up was simply an act of parental protection?” Daniel said.
“Maybe. I know from Mom that it was Grandma who pushed for them to get married,” I said. “She thought that with his name and wealth, my father would provide security for their only daughter.”
Daniel looked at his open palm as if examining its value. “She was so young. What do you do when you have no one to turn to, and those who you go to offer no support?” he
asked, throwing my head into a tailspin. I couldn’t even imagine. But this complicated situation surely made me see my parents, and grandparents, in a new light.
Daniel wanted to know everything about Mom, from how she dressed to what she liked to eat. As I spoke, I felt the stories and vignettes, current and old, gain new dimension, with my father’s suspicions gaining weight. True, Dad could be tyrannical sometimes, but his reasons now had more credence. Still, Mom’s affair with a mysterious stranger had occurred before they were married. Further still, she kept denying the truth, never mentioning Daniel. Why? Was her desire to adopt that boy years ago a way to satisfy her sense of loss?
“It really doesn’t matter who my father is at this point. I’m out of time to look for him.”
“How are you so sure that you’re out of time, Daniel?”
“Look at me, Eve. I’m a wreck, a hollow doll.”
“But now… now things could finally get better. I mean—”
“There is nothing we can do. In fact, we’d better not. Your mother has suffered enough.”
“I’m sure she’d love to see you. Even if for a moment.”
“You don’t know that. Sometimes it’s better to leave things as they are. I’ve already made peace with it,” he said firmly. “Having you here is the ultimate gift.”
And so death was an uninvited guest that refused to go away. No matter how hard I tried to ignore its presence, it would continue to poke us with its scythe.
“Up until I had met the doctor, I thought I was going to live forever. Such a childish fantasy… And then, one night in a vision, and maybe as a reward for my acceptance of it, I was shown that death was not even real,” he lifted his head, and looked at me with a tired smile.
“I saw an arching doorway between worlds through which a soul passes from one life to another. I stood right in front of it. Suddenly, a beautiful woman appeared, wearing a cloak. I knew she was the soul essence of my mother. She pointed at an inscription carved into the doorway and the symbols lit up. And at once I knew their meaning. Not only mentally, but viscerally. I felt it, Eve, with every cell of my being.”
I was imagining it as Daniel spoke.
“What did it say?” I asked, leaning in closer.
“It said that nothing ever dies. Only the worlds change, forms change. We’re like rain drops, falling into a vast ocean, before we rise again as clouds. The cycle goes on and on like that forever. There is no end, Eve. And death is only a long sleep.”
I felt a strong urge to hug him, but each time my body readied itself to make a move, I’d withdraw. Caught in my own web of indecision, I told Daniel about the poem I had written in class, welcoming a reason to get off the bed and stretch my limbs. I unrolled the crumpled paper after recovering it from my coat’s pocket and brought it to the flame. I read it to him, reliving the events of that day and seeing that the poem contained clues to my understanding. The moon, the feathers, the mirror… it was all there, as if a deeper part of me already knew what was going to happen.
“I used to write, too. My poems were sometimes prescient,” Daniel said.
“Why did you stop?”
“Stanislaw, my adoptive father used to think that my words were blasphemous. He equated that to the worst evil. He’d say that only God could know the future. He’d call me the devil’s child and burn my notebooks whenever I left them out to punish me.”
“Punish you for what?”
“Sometimes reading his mind. I think I scared him. The day he died, we had a bad argument. He got drunk and went through my room destroying everything that had value to me. When I saw what he had done, I looked him in the eyes and told him I wished I hadn’t known him. He kept screaming at me but I shut the door and left the apartment. That day I met the person I told you about who had become my only friend. I came back later that night and found Stanislaw dead on the kitchen floor with a note in his hand. He was starting to write a letter to me but never finished it. The alcohol from the spilled bottle smudged the ink leaving only my name intact.”
“What did you do?”
“A day after his funeral, Stan’s sister came to claim the apartment. Things got ugly between us and I didn’t want to be there anymore. So I packed my things and left. But I resumed my writing after that summer. In addition to the picture, the nun at the orphanage had given me another thing that belonged to Jan—his notebook. The picture was inside of it. She said that my mother left both behind in secret from her father.”
“She probably hoped you’d find them one day. Do you still have it?”
Daniel shook his head. “I must have lost it. I’ve looked everywhere.”
“That’s too bad. I’d love to hear one of your poems.”
“I do remember some parts quite well.” Daniel sat up across from me and with a smile on his face began reciting: “I open the gates, gazing inside the lion’s den, unsure whether this fear is my foe or my friend. He speaks: the answer, my dear, is within your heart; so don’t let illusions tear you apart.
And as you gaze up into the light and look for traces of familiar faces, before you turn away, remember that most profound truths—”
“Hide in the darkest places.” I finished the last words with him. My face was burning.
“How did you know?” Daniel asked in astonishment.
“Yesterday, after school, I went to my town library. I thought I would never find anything good there, but I went anyway, like I was drawn there. Guess what I found hiding between two books?”
Daniel shook his head.
“A notebook. It had the same exact poem in it.”
“Maybe it was just similar?”
“The book had a black cover with an embossed circle on it. I remembered it had a drawing of soldiers on its first page. Now it made sense. It looked like on of Grandpa’s drawings! And it was filled to the brim with poetry.”
“Where is it? Do you have it with you?”
“Across the street. At the motel,” I pointed out the window. “I wanted to bring it here with me but I dropped it behind a bed. But… I don’t understand. How is it possible that we’re talking about the same thing? What are the chances
“You were meant to have it. Please keep it,” he said with certainty. “Write in it, please. It should still have few blank pages.”
Daniel’s facial expression oscillated between serenity and disturbance. Was he relieved the notebook was this close, or did its proximity bring him distress? Did it deliver more burden or respite? I didn’t get the chance to ask. We heard a thud and turned our heads toward the noise. A thick white blotch of snow was melting on the windowpane.
“What was that?” Daniel asked.
I got up to investigate who could have thrown a snowball at our window during the darkest hour of the night. The streetlights shone down onto the asphalt, framing the hospital’s territory within their beaded halos. Snowflakes followed spirals as they fell, and a thin layer of snow covered the ground. But I could see no one outside. Not even a trace of a footstep marked in the virgin blanket of snow.