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Once In A Lifetime

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
In the silent water
Under the rocks and stones
There is water underground.
David Byrne

Click to enlarge"We've got to pretend we're lovers!"
(Haven't we all had this dream?)

Same as it ever was

She collapsed into the soft cushions of the sofa, and looked with relief around her small apartment, grateful to be in her own space after another numbing day of facing an either unsympathetic or oblivious world. It was a small space, but it was a palace compared to her cramped workstation at the office. In contrast to the blank, synthetic-fabric-covered walls she faced over her computer monitor there, in her own space the walls were lively with crowded bookshelves, hanging flowering plants, framed posters and self-worked works of needlepoint and counted cross-stitch.

The bookshelves were filled with many treasures - ad hoc collections of small pottery vases, tiny boxes, antique tea cups, crystals, seashells, alabaster animals, framed photographs, and, of course, row upon row of books. The sight of all of these familiar things usually gave her a sense of comfort; they were welcoming, if silent, company. But tonight, she was too tired to be aware of much more than the realization that she was finally, simply, home.

Not that it had been a particularly more difficult day than usual - they were all difficult. She still wasn't used to the heavier workload since the most recent layoff, and found herself dreading the boss' appearance at the entrance of her cubicle. At least that hadn't happened today - but she had had to work through lunch to finish that one account, there'd been that acrimonious staff meeting, and then the weather had turned nasty - a driving rainstorm just as her workday ended would have to make an appearance when she'd left her umbrella at home. Traffic had automatically quadrupled in response - and she'd had to stand on the long bus ride home, dripping wet. The incessant beat escaping from the earphones of the passenger seated on the aisle was still, irritatingly, repeating in her brain.

"Once in a lifetime…there is water underground…same as it ever was…same as it ever was…"

How appropriate. Same as it ever was. At times like these, once she had safely reached it, she swore she would never leave her apartment, her nest, her cocoon, again. "But I have to go to work to earn money to feed you, don't I, Popcorn?" she said softly to the sweet-faced white cat who had just leapt into her lap. She was just so tired…tired enough to ignore the insistent purr and kneading paws of the hungry cat, and simply allow exhaustion to seep through her body as her eyes closed despite themselves. The last conscious thought she had as the irresistible sensation of sleepiness claimed her was, I wonder if it was a Patrick day? But the remote wasn't within reach, and she was drifting off.

"Darlin' - there you are," a man's low voice spoke next to her ear.

And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?

"Wha - ?" She struggled to open her eyes - what was going on? Was she dreaming? The next thing she realized, her arms were being grasped, she was being pulled forward from her reclining position, and a warm, insistent mouth was being pressed against her own. The immediate flood of sensations it evoked in her nearly made her jump out of her seat and her eyes flew open in shock. She had only a glimpse of a man's face, too close to her own to distinguish its features. But everything seemed to be a little hazy... not just his face... 

"Please, miss, we've got to pretend we're lovers! It's a matter of life or death!" A brief pause in the kiss permitted those urgent words, spoken in an unusual accent - was it British? Irish? - to reach her ears, but before she could gasp either a question or protest, the mouth descended on hers again. As she felt the strange lips on hers once more, a stray thought entered her bemused mind. Where have I heard those words before?

Pretend we're lovers….Perhaps just for just a second, she did not have to pretend. This man, whoever he was, had an aura that wove an enchantment around her as if she had no will of her own… almost as if she were a heroine in a legend, about to be put to some profound test by the gods. But just for a second. Whatever reality she was in, she had no experience or understanding of it at that moment, but the bones in her body and the blood in her veins and the nerve-endings in her skin were also real. They throbbed and tingled.

But the brain cells that controlled her reflex actions , the same cells that caused her to start when the boss snuck upon her, finally activated and overrode her drowning senses. She jerked her head back at last in an effort to break the spell….it didn't work. When she saw the face of the man before her, she felt as dizzy as though she had just spun herself around the room. The room - what room? It wasn't her room… "This is not my beautiful house…."

Then, in the next second, she knew the meaning of the word inevitable.

She was no longer on the cozy sofa in her safe retreat of an apartment, sheltered from the rain splattering against the windows. Somehow, all of her belongings, her books, her plants, her knick knacks, hopefully her job - apparently all remained in either another dimension, or another lifetime. For the moment, and maybe for the rest of her life, she was ensconced in a strange kind of wing-backed wooden bench, and as everything became clear a man's face handsome face swam before her tired eyes as it descended for another kiss.

"Oh, my god," she whispered. "It is you. Patrick Thornhart!"

...A white cat purred at her feet.

Then the white cat faded...

She shook her head in disbelief. No, no, it couldn’t be... she was dreaming - she had to be. But... it all seemed to be so real. The physical and emotional reactions flooding her body - could any sleep be so deep that she could have slept through those?

"Why did you call me that?" He asked without warning, roughly grabbing her arms as though he expected her to flee and he had no intentions of allowing that. His earth-colored eyes bore into hers accusingly, but fear lurked in them too.

"You - I - I recognized you," she replied weakly, thinking if this is not a dream, what is it then? A hallucination? "I mean, I’ve seen you before."

A puzzled expression fleetingly replaced the accusation in his eyes, then he gripped her arms all the tighter. "You’re an American. How could you have?" He demanded. "What do you know about me?"

At that question, her resolve to discover the meaning of what she was experiencing. stiffened. Whatever was happening to her, she was frightened, but the absurdity of the situation suddenly struck her. "I know you’re a good kisser," she answered softly.

He dropped her arms as if they were tarantulas. "Do you think this is funny? Who are you?" He asked, now his turn to sound uncertain. "And you still haven’t answered my first question, darlin’. How could you have seen me before?" The tough-guy mien was once again replaced with a baffled attitude. The look on his face said help me.

It's amazing... his face is so expressive . . .it's just like... 

"I can’t explain," she said, looking down, unable to meet his gaze. How could she explain to him what she, herself, couldn’t even begin to understand? That one moment she had been dozing off in what she had never had any reason to question was her safe refuge , her inviolate home. The next moment, she’d awakened in this man’s, Patrick Thornhart’s, arms, a man who simply didn’t exist in reality, her familiar surroundings had disappeared, and she was afraid to look much beyond his face for fear of what else she would see. There was nothing in the history of her life that provided her with any answers for either of them, or that could possibly account for this.

Finally, he laughed a short, bitter laugh. "Can’t - or won’t? We’ll see about that, won’t we, luvvy?"

"You’re supposed to be Michael O’Neill, I mean you’re supposed to make me try to think you are," She said, thinking back to what she did know, and trying to be helpful. The look on his face... the look of despair. It struck her to the heart. Oh, if only she could help him! There had to be a reason she was here, in this time and place. If only she could figure out what it was.

"WHAT?!" He exploded. "You're - you're daft! I don't know what you're bloody talkin' about! Of all the girls in the world, Jesus Joseph and Mary, why did you have to be the first one I saw when I came in here?" Patrick stared at her in defeat, tense with frustration and anger. "Look, all I ask is, please, you won't tell anybody you saw me here."

Of all the girls in the world...

"I see it now!" She gasped. And suddenly, she did - or believed she did... as unbelievable as it seemed, if she were right. And she had to make him see. She reached over and lightly touched his forearm.

And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?

"I do know who you are, and I can't explain how - it really doesn't matter," she told him earnestly. "What matters is, something has gone wrong from the way it was meant to be. I’m not the girl who was supposed to be sitting here when you came in - who you were supposed to be kissing. Don’t get me wrong - I’m glad you did [she felt sure that she blushed] - I'm glad I could help you - but it wasn’t supposed to be me. You said of all the girls in the world - well, I’m the wrong girl!"

"Acchh, you're full of it!" He cried in frustration, shaking her hand from his arm and running his fingers through his longish, curly hair. "Why are you doin' this to me? Because I kissed you? You don't know how bloody sorry I am! Now I suppose if I go outside, your mates will just be waitin' to get their bloody hands on me, won't they?" But there was a pleading note in his voice that begged her to convince him that that wasn’t so.

The pleading note and the look of despair on his face tore at her heart, and somehow it gave her courage. This time she grabbed his arm, firmly, so he couldn't shake it away. "Please understand, Patrick," she said, "You can't understand this. I don't either. Just believe me - I'm your friend. I haven't given you away to anyone, have I? Even though I know your real name"

Real name... Like he was real? Like this was real?

He hesitated, and a glimmer of hope shone in his eyes. "No, you haven't. But . . .I still don't trust you. How the bloody hell do you know so much? Things no one could know? That I haven't told another soul?"

"Well, I'm - I'm psychic," she improvised. "Yes, psychic, that's all. And that's how I know who you are, and - and everything." She put as much sincerity as she could into the words - she had to convince him that there was a logical, harmless way she knew his identity, and she could think of no other rationalization. Her voice trembled as she added, "I don't know exactly how or why, but I want to help you if I can. Do you believe me?"

"You expect me to believe that?!" was the incredulous response. His glance fell on her hand, still on his arm, but he didn't attempt to remove it.

"Is there any other explanation?" She persisted. This man, who she knew so familiarly, yet to whom she was a total stranger, suddenly seemed like the most important person in the world, and his fate was in her hands. He had to trust her, he just had to - and once she had his trust, the rest might not prove to be so difficult.

"Holy Mother of God," he shook his head. "If there is, I can't think of it." And it was if the wind had gone out of his sails with the admission. "Does it matter? You know who I am. I can't deny that. What else d'you know then?"

"I know you're in trouble and that you must listen to me," she urged, hearing voices in the distance and remembering that they were not alone in this place. "You must leave and come back - in a little while. You got here too early. I’ve been trying to tell you, somebody else was supposed to be sitting here, where I am now - and she should be here then."

"Leave? Ah, your friends are waitin' for me then! You were havin' me on!" He said, almost sadly. "And here you had me almost believin' ya."

"Please don’t say that!" She said, a touch of impatience showing up in her voice. "I'm just trying to help you! Do you think I'm enjoying any of this - having you be so suspicious of me when I'm just as puzzled about this whole thing as you are?"

"You couldn't possibly be," he shot back. "Well, I may not be psychic, but I know you're not bloody tellin' me the whole truth. Besides, I thought you enjoyed the kiss," he added, slyly.

Oh god. She looked away. He could certainly throw one for a loop. "Do you believe in love at first sight?" She asked in desperation.

Patrick started. "Who, me? You don't think - just because I kissed you -?" He had the grace to blush before the skeptical expression returned to his mobile face.

"I mean, do you think it's possible?" Would she ever get a straight answer out of him? She herself knew the answer to that question at least, didn't she? To both questions, actually... 

"Well... maybe... I can't say; it's never happened to me, love." He looked at her almost apologetically, and she felt a moment's pang - even though she knew he wasn't for her, still, what if this were to be a different telling of the tale? His answer told her that it wasn't, so she gathered her resolve together and persevered.

Click to enlargeFor all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, "It might have been."

John Greenleaf Whittier

"Patrick, I do know what is going to happen, and my being here is a - a mystery that doesn't have anything to do with - with your - your story. But I do know, somehow, that you must leave, and come back in. And when you do, you should see a girl sitting here where I'm sitting. Then, if you do and say to her everything that you did to me [she blushed again] everything will be the way it should be." She leaned forward, propelled by the urgency of her belief that he must do this. His lips... they were so close... but now she knew, they were not for her. At least she didn't think so.

"Don't call me that name," he said, nervously looking around.

"I'm sorry," she said contritely. He was right. Anyone could have been listening and she couldn't afford to muddle things up more than they already were.

This is so unfair... it could have been me... 

"I still don’t get this, but - so where the bloody hell am I supposed to go now?" He asked quietly, finally willing to listen to her because there was no other option.

"Shhh . . ." she shushed him, catching the sound of a woman’s voice across the room, over a jumble of other voices... oh, it sounded familiar, achingly familiar, and the sound of it was bittersweet as it blended with another familiar voice, that of the Irish innkeeper’s. The woman’s voice sounded bitter to her, but it would sound sweet to Patrick. It confirmed to her that her guess about this time-and-place slip - or whatever it was - that had landed her here with him so unexpectedly, was as accurate as any other theory.

"Here’s what you need to do," she said quickly. "No," she amended, "Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll leave together - you keep your face turned towards me - just in case. Then, you’ll go back in alone - my part in this will be over - and go to the bar and order a drink - and after that, everything will be as it should."

"And you know that for certain sure?" He asked doubtfully.

"I didn’t say everything would be all right - but it will be as it should," she replied carefully. "And you’ll know why I asked you if you believed in love at first sight."

He snorted. "Right. Whatever you bloody say."

She stood up, and for the first time, more than just the sight of Patrick filled her field of vision. She swayed, momentarily dizzy, as the impact of her surroundings hit her... the unmistakable surroundings of an old, oft-frequented scene... there was the piano - she’d heard it played - there was the bar - she’d heard people order at that bar - there was the entryway, where a half-drowned woman had, or would be, back to life. Yet there was a peculiar quality about everything she looked at, as though it was only scenery or props, not things that real people used everyday. She took a deep breath. "Come on, Patrick," she prompted, "Please have faith in me, and come with me."

Patrick rose slowly to his feet and she put her arm around his waist. "Pretend that we’re together," she whispered, "Just look at me, and follow my lead." His arm went tentatively around her shoulders, and she felt a tear catch in her throat at this sign of his trust.

With him clutching at her, almost as if for dear life, and keeping his head down and turned toward hers, they skirted the public room, avoiding the large square bar in the center of it, following around the edges, until they came to the entrance of the inn. Scarce daring to breathe, she pulled open the door and spirited him outside.

There was a full moon rising... 

"Bloody hell, I can’t believe this," Patrick whispered. "You got me out of there."

"Yes, but remember, you have to go back in. Let me go check on something first," she told him, trying to sound reassuring. First, though, she had to take a moment to regain some footing on solid ground, although the ground certainly didn’t feel very solid. It had taken every ounce of her will to do what she had just done. And to let go of him. The hardest thing she had ever done.

There was tall shrubbery beside the front door of the inn, and she motioned to Patrick to position himself behind it, while she peeked through the nearest window. And she saw, as if it had happened right on cue, that a lovely, slender young woman was now settled in possession of the bench that they had vacated. This was it then... She shivered.

She crept over to where Patrick was huddled. "It’s all right - you can go back in now. It’s time," she told him, trying to hide the reluctance in her voice, knowing that she didn’t want him to go back in, but knowing that he must all the same.

He made one last protest. "This doesn’t make any sense! I still don’t bloody see . . ."

"You will!" She interrupted. "I promise you! Now, just go! Please! Before it’s too late!" Somehow, the urgency in her voice must have been louder than her words were. Impelled by it, Patrick went towards the front door. He paused at the threshold. "You are for real, aren’t you?" he asked wonderingly.

"Real"... what was that? "Even more ‘for real’ than you are," she answered slowly. "Good-bye."

"Before I go - what’s your name?" He asked quickly, his hand on the doorknob. "Since you know mine?"

"No time for that!" she told him.

"All right then, good-bye, mysterious lady, whoever you are," he shrugged. "Maybe I’ll see you later." And he opened the door. With one last look behind him, one last mystified look at her, he entered. The door closed.

No, you won’t, she responded silently. 

And you may tell yourself, MY GOD!...WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Unable to bear seeing what would happen next, what she knew would happen next, and that she knew with an ache in her heart didn’t concern her any longer, she slumped beside the shrubbery where Patrick had hidden, her back against the outside wall. Now what? She wondered. Maybe she could figure that out later, but for now, she was so tired... exhausted. She could feel her eyes closing; she couldn’t seem to keep them open any longer.

A white cat purred at her feet. Then jumped into her lap again. The sound of rain splattering against the windows of her apartment came to her ears. As her hand reached down instinctively to pet the cat, it inadvertently brushed some leaves from her skirt....