by Rene Barry
part 1 of 2
Anna sat brooding over a lukewarm latté and not-so-fresh donuts in the Chaford Avenue coffee shop. She reached for her cell-phone.
“Hi, Beth, it’s Anna,” she said at the sound of the beep. “Listen, I’m sorry but I’m canceling our plans. I’ve got a ton of work to take home with me. But uh, you and Guy have a good time, okay. Call you later.”
“Not the ideal way to spend your evening, is it?” a voice cut into her thoughts.
Anna looked up. “Ishmael! God, I didn’t see you there. Come to get your afternoon grub too, huh?” she laughed.
“Yep. I’m gonna need it. I’m heading back to the office. With both our departments merging, I’m afraid Vince has got me working overtime... and you?” He gestured to her briefcase.
“Oh, yeah, Cecil’s the slave driver, alright,” Anna smiled. She got up from her table struggling with her briefcase and the donuts she would be taking home for dinner, and possibly breakfast the next morning.
“Let me help you with that,” Ishmael offered.
“Oh no, it’s fine, I’m fine, Mel,” she said still struggling with the load.
“Well let me at least see you to a cab,” he insisted, and walked her out.
Five minutes later, she was gone, and he was still standing outside the coffee shop. “Do I tell her?,” he whispered to himself. “Oh god, Anna! How do I tell you?” He wiped his hand over his sweat-drenched face and shut his eyes. “I found you. And that was supposed to be the hardest part, right? So how do I tell you?”
“Hey, buddy? Buddy? You all right?” a stranger inquired.
Ishmael cleared his throat. “Uh... yeah... yeah, I’m fine.” He walked off.
* * *
Anna shut her front door behind her. The rattling of the locks echoed into the endless emptiness of the house. She looked around trying to choke back the sadness of her thoughts. God! I feel so lonely sometimes! You’re just pathetic, Anna! You’re just pathetic...
The donuts she threw on the counter seemed to stare back at her like some cruel reminder of the busy monotony of her life.
Yeah right! You’re gonna start having fun. When!
She walked over to the couch and emptied her briefcase on the centerpiece in front of her. The files stared back at her too, cold and unfeeling.
Her phone rang suddenly.
“Yeah, this is Anna,” she murmured.
“Hey, Anna, I’m sorry to bother you. It’s Ishmael.”
“Listen I feel terrible for having to ask you this, but, uh, I think I’m going to need your help with some of this paperwork. Can I come over there and we can work out the details together? Again I feel bad about this — but uh, listen if it’s a bad idea...”
“No! No!” Anna blurted out, secretly happy for the company. “Please do. I’ll uh, I’ll see you in a bit.” She hung up.
* * *
Headlight after headlight slowly whooshed past through the windows and Anna gazed out at them dreamily. The soft music in the background and the smell of Chinese foods rocked gently through her.
“So tell me, how did we end up here again?” she laughed. Ishmael sat across from her dabbing his lips with a napkin.
“Well, let me see. Ran into you in the coffee shop this afternoon. Couldn’t get you out of my mind. Phoned you. Lied about being swamped. And then uh, oh yes, then I pulled you out of the house and swept you off to dinner...” Anna’s heart melted as he smiled.
“Always wanted to ask you something, though,” Anna said. “Ishmael Kerr?” she teased. “How’d you get that name — Ishmael?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh no, don’t take it the wrong way; it just seems a little ancient and romantic, especially for a western guy. But heck! I like it. It’s nice... it’s nice...”
* * *
The next morning Anna awoke feeling more refreshed than she had in ages. For a woman whose life had lacked any hint of spontaneity, last night has been an adventure.
She remembered that they had left the restaurant at around ten. She remembered Ishmael had walked her out to get a cab and that they had ended up walking three blocks up the city since the sky was clear and the stars were out and the wind was not too chilly. She remembered that they had stopped on the bridge and were staring out at the harbor. And that was when they had kissed.
She jumped up at the sound of the phone ringing.
“Good morning, it’s Anna,” she chirped.
“Anna, it’s Cecil!” the voice on the other end cried.
“Cecil, what’s wrong?”
“Anna, it’s Kerr. He’s dead... an accident... last night... he’s dead.”
The ground gave way beneath Anna.
“Anna, are you there?” Cecil’s voice echoed into the silence on the other end. “Anna, are you there..?”
Anna slumped down on the bed. The phone fell from her hands, and Cecil’s voice faded into the distance.
* * *
“Anna, could you come to my office please,” Cecil’s voice sang over the machine on Anna’s desk. “Anna?” he asked again when Anna did not reply.
“Yeah, I’ll be there in a sec,” Anna murmured. She was peering over a strange object on her desk; it was a necklace, but like none she had ever seen. She picked it up, smoothing her fingers over the lacquered stones it was made of.
Who could have left this here? she wondered. She inquired of Cecil and the company staff, but no one seemed to have a clue where it came from.
Three days later Anna walked in to find a small box resting on the chair behind her desk. She took it up and opened it. One of the largest sapphires she had ever seen in her life glinted in the velvet-padded box. Her fingers trembled on the object. This was probably stolen, she thought. Who could be leaving me these things?
Two days later an unusual-looking silver bracelet lay in her desk drawer. This time there was a note lying under it that read:
Meet me in the church at noon. This is for you. It is precious as you are precious.
* * *
The darkness of the church frightened Anna. She heard her footsteps echo through the vast emptiness as she veered unsteadily up the isle.
“Hello!” she called out. Her voice bounced of the eaves. The statues of Christ and the Virgin stood still in the silence.
“Hello!” She called again, trembling. “Please, is anyone here?”
“Anna!” a voice whispered. “Please don’t be afraid. Please...”
Anna spun round. “Who... who’s there?”
“Anna,” Ishmael emerged from the darkness. “It’s me...”
Anna’s frame shook so violently she felt she might shatter. She screamed and ran towards the archway.
“No, Anna, please!” Ishmael begged, grabbing her towards him. “Please, it’s me. It is me. Not a ghost, not a ghost!” he whispered frantically as she fought against him.
“Touch me and see...” He forced her to feel his arms and face.
Anna trembled, crying. She thought she might faint. “H-How?” she stammered. “How? It’s not possible! They buried you. We buried you!”
“Anna, I know this is hard to understand. But you see the truth is I’m not dead because... I can’t die.”
“What?” Anna quivered.
“Anna... I can’t die. Those gifts that I sent you... I’ve had them since forever. And my name, do you remember what you said about my name,” he asked anxiously, “that it was ancient? Well that’s because I am ancient, Anna. I am!”
“What are you talking about?” Anna screamed. “You’re dead! You’re dead!”
Before he could stop her, she ran out of the church.
* * *
Three nights later Anna sat at the edge of her bed. The sight of the trees shaking in the wind outside rattled her. For the past three days everything had rattled her. She tried to sleep, but she could not, and reached for the book that lay at her bedside table.
Half an hour later her eyes grew heavy and the lamplight on the pages dimmed until she saw nothing. Moments later an eerie chorus of the neighborhood dogs howling traveled into her sleep, and a sudden, harsh creaking shook her awake. She flew up out of her bed. The noise was coming from downstairs.
She crept down the stairs, her heart pounding. She could see light filtering into the kitchen, and the living room curtains ballooning in the breeze. The double glass doors of the side porch stood open. At this, she reached for the fire poker at the side of the mantel.
“Please,” she heard Ishmael’s voice, “I don’t want to hurt you. I want to see you, Anna. Please, don’t be afraid.”
She took a deep breath, advancing to the open doors, the poker still in her hand. She clutched it tighter and walked out to stand face to face with Ishmael. He smiled at her, but her face was blank.
“You’re real, aren’t you?” she said.
“Yes,” he replied. “I want to tell you... I want to tell you everything if you’ll let me.”
Anna swallowed hard. “Then tell me,” she whispered.
“There are immortals in this world, Anna,” Ishmael said. “We’re everywhere, thousands of years old. We’ve seen it all, and yet everyday is more beautiful than the one before. I’ve been everything. I’ve done everything. And yet, there is one thing that has eluded me, and that is you — a woman to love. And for that reason I’ve broken the code.”
“Code?” Anna asked.
“Yes, that we never reveal ourselves to mortals. I can be hurt, yes. And for a short time, you could say, I was dead. But my body healed, and David took me out of my grave...”
“My friend, closer than anyone else has been to me.”
“An immortal like myself, yes.”
Anna shuddered and turned away. “I can’t believe this!” she cried.
“Anna,” Ishmael reached out for her, “come with me.”
“What? No!” she screamed. “I don’t even know you!”
Ishmael looked at her. “Anna, when you first saw me, what did you think of me?” he asked.
“Ishmael, I don’t know, I thought you were just like any other guy,” she replied, flustered.
“You know what I thought of you?” he said. “I can’t explain it, but I felt like I’d known you before — in another lifetime.”
He sighed. “Anna I’ve fallen in love before, but I’ve loved from a distance, and I’ve watched as they all died. But Anna, I know that the soul is eternal, and your soul is the woman I’ve loved since the beginning of time, the one who keeps coming back to me... and I won’t lose you again.”
Anna stared in disbelief. “Wait a minute,” she said, “you think I’m the reincarnation of... God, I can’t even say it! I can’t believe I’m out here with some dead guy having this conversation!”
“Anna?” Ishmael pleaded.
“Go away, please! Just go! Leave me alone!” Anna shouted. “Go! Dammit, go!”
Ishmael disappeared into the darkness.
* * *
The dusk gave the city that sleepy-eyed feel and look, like the ride home would last fifteen minutes longer than usual. Anna dragged her heels along the pavement feeling isolated in the evening crowd. Car horns blared around her and bells hanging on ice-cream carts jingled in her ear. A hand grabbed her suddenly out of the crowd to the side of a small diner.
“Will you come with me?” a familiar voice said.
Anna turned around.
“Ishmael!” she started. She had not seen him in weeks. Frankly she had hoped that she would never see him again.
She shuffled and fidgeted nervously, trying to detect some quick route of escape through the crowd. But Ishmael clutched her wrist.
“Please don’t,” he pleaded. “Please, I just want to talk to you.”
“What do you want?” Anna said, agitated.
“For you to know me, for you to understand...”
“Understand what!” she said tersely. “Please just let me go...”
“No!” he refused. But he relented suddenly, sighing in frustration. “Anna please, you know I won’t hurt you...”
“I don’t know that!” she shrieked. “All I know is that you’re a nightmare haunting me, and I want you to go away!” She tugged her hand away from him and ran into the crowd.
But he ran after her, cornering her at an alley flanking a downtown all-night bar, and held both her arms from behind so that she could not move.
“What will it take?” he breathed into her ear. “What will it take for you to trust me? Tell me! Just tell me the answer to that and I’ll do it. You know I’m real. You can see I’m real. Why can’t anything I’ve told you — the way I feel about you — why can’t any of that be real too?” His voice was breaking now. He did not want to scare her, but still he held on tight for fear of losing her.
She turned around slowly, for first time really looking at him and measuring the reality of his presence. The crowd buzzing around her granted her some semblance of safety, she imagined, but the tears in Ishmael’s eyes were slowly shaping her fear into something else, though she was not sure what it was. And she was breaking too.
“I can’t do this,” she cried, “I can’t... This is more than I can... This is too much! I’m sorry.”
She was about to run into the crowd, but he grabbed her, whispering defiantly, “No! I won’t let you get away. Not this time Anna. Not this time!”
“What? Ishmael no!” she struggled against him, but he forced her through the crowd into the nearby parking lot and shuffled her into the front of a black Sedan. Before she knew it, the ignition fired and the car was speeding down the freeway to the seaport.
Anna sat frigid, glancing across at Ishmael at intervals. Her breaths came hard and fast but she did not protest. The truth was that despite all her verbal objections she truly wanted to know the story of this being. At present, only her fascination with him was winning out.
The car pulled up to the harbor and within minutes she felt the low rumble of the engine and its abrupt death. They both sat speechless, letting the air ripen with every sickening feeling of utter violation and every apology that could be made.
Finally Ishmael spoke, “If I let you leave, if I said right here and right now to go and never come back...” Ishmael turned to her, his eyes pregnant with beseeching, “would you go? Turn your back on everything I want to offer you?”
Anna sat motionless, and finally she let the tears, all welling from confusion, slip silently down her face. She would not face or answer him. But he already knew the answer.
“Then come with me,” he said softly. He reached out for her. “I would never hurt you... come with me...”
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Rene Barry