The Journey Back
By Roda Werland
It was the day before Samhainn, the last day of summer of the old year. Tomorrow would be the first day of winter of the new year. Tonight was the in-between time, a very magical night, when the dead would walk among the living and the veils between past, present and future would be lifted. Claire was agitated as she looked at the dark moon, for the time had come when no moon would be seen in the sky. Tonight, the veil between this world and the World of the Departed would be drawn aside, and for those who were prepared, journeys would be made to the other side. But this was possible only on the soul's first Samhainn. She would not get another chance. But was she prepared to return to the world she had so abruptly left behind?
She had heard it said that on this night order and law were abolished, and chaos reigned. Time and sensibility were supressed for the course of the dark moon and people did crazy things that they would regret later. It was beings like her who had to be sources of guidance and inspiration in these troubled times. She asked herself, "Am I ready?" as she stared down past the blackness into the heart of the city where her own heart lay. Funnily enough she was to provide guidance to the moon-crazy out there, but there was no guidance for her. Who should she visit in the time it took for the darkness to fade? People she had spent her last day with? Jack? Rey? Lennie? And then she thought of the others who drew her to them. Anita, Mike, Ben. And what possible guidance could she give them? But go she must or she would be like the ones who remained unsettled, flitting about with unsatisfied longings in the half-world. Think, Claire, think. What would you have done if you had a list of witnesses to visit but very little time to do so? Priorotize. Jack first. Her heart leaped. No that was not the answer. Alphabetize. Anita then. Her heart sank. No answer there. "Take a deep breath and jump," Mac had said when he taught her to swim. "Only way to go." Claire took a deep breath and jumped.
It was a strange room and as she looked around she saw papers scattered on the bed, a pair of suspenders flung over the back of the chair. She smiled. Ben, dear Ben. So neat and fussy at office and so untidy at home. She looked around for him and found him standing by the window staring at the lights across the river. He was holding an airline ticket in his hand and Claire knew without being told that the destination was Rome. It was always been his heart's desire to travel through Europe. But why was he debating whether to go or not? She looked at the papers scattered on the bed. The documents had the logo of a legal aid organization called Robinette and Green. Looking closely she saw that the case was about black shopkeeper who during an attempted robbery had shot a teenager who he claimed had been reaching inside his jacket for a gun. The complication was that the dead teenager was white while his two black accomplices had fled the scene, but had been arrested later. It was a volatile case with racial connotations. "Europe will always be there," Claire told him. "And don't worry about it being a defense case. It doesn't matter which side you fight on as long as you are trying to determine the truth and seek justice." She knew she had helped him make up his mind as he threw the ticket aside and picked up the phone to call Paul Robinette.
Time to jump again. Claire frowned at the shadows in the apartment. Even for her eyes it was too dark. Which was funny because she could see that the lights were on. Maybe it was the guilt that was suspended in the air. She saw a small delicate woman getting into bed. She walked slowly as if her joints hurt. Rey came into the room. "Debra, the girls are asleep," he said. "I got their clothes ready for school tomorrow."
"Thanks Rey," said Debra. "I don't know what I would do without you. "It must be hard being stuck with a half-woman like me."
Rey said angrily, "Don't talk like that. You know I would give my life for you and the girls."
Debra sighed. "It seems like you already have."
Rey came close and put his arm around her. "Baby, I love you."
She looked up at him wistfully. "Do you really Rey?'
He looked upset. "What are you saying? How can you not know how much I love you?"
She looked away. "You know how long it's been since you have held me like a woman and not an invalid?" She bravely faced him. "Ever since that Assistant DA was killed in an accident. Just tell me the truth Rey...were you in love with her?"
Claire stared flabbergasted at what she heard. It had never occurred to her that she would be at the root of a misconception like that.
"Claire Kincaid?" Rey's voice was almost as amazed as how Claire felt. "She was just someone I worked with."
"Then what is the matter? I need to know."
Rey moved away from Debra, haunted by the memory of the college student he had met in the park. He debated whether to unburden himself about that one mistake.
"Don't do it, Rey," muttered Claire urgently. "She is not your priest. You know it was just an aberration so don't break her confidence in herself. She needs your strength now, not your weakness."
Rey seemed to hesitate as if he had heard her. Seeing his hesitation, Debra asked, "Don't you find me attractive anymore because of the MS?"
Rey said sincerely, "I don't ever want you to believe that. Sick or healthy, there has never been another woman for me, only you. If I have seemed remote it is because I am worried about losing you." He put her palm over his racing heart. "See what your nearness does to me."
Debra smiled. "Good because that is what you do to me."
Rey put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her to him tightly.
Where next? The place was as if she had never left. The interrogation room at the 27th Precinct was maybe a duller shade of olive green but the smell of strong muddy coffee and unwashed criminals were as pungent as she remembered it. Anita and Lennie were standing outside looking at a young woman who was wearing a leather jacket with steel chains through the one- way window. She was puffing away at a cigarette and other butts lay all around her. "Not my poison," Lennie said. "But each to his own."
"I know what your poison is these days," said Anita. "People are saying you are a has been, it's time for retirement. I know you've been having family problems but if you don't pull this case together Lennie I won't be able to cover for you any longer."
"Hey, Lieutenant, you have nothing to worry about."
They entered the room. The girls said nastily, "Look, I already told this fleabag I don't know nothing about where Frankie is."
Lennie quipped, "And to think I spend a fortune on the dry cleaners."
The woman turned to Anita and said, "Hey you can put up with him as long as you like but I know my rights. You ain't got no right to hold me here and if you make the mistake of losing my papers I am going to screw you, Captain Van Bitch."
Anita pushed her face close to the woman. "Calling me names isn't going to make me ask the DA to take it easy on you, Darleen. Accessory to murder is as much a crime as pulling the trigger."
Anita rose from the chair. "I am going out to get some coffee. See if you want to confide in Detective Briscoe here." She left.
Claire looked hard at the woman. She could sense her fear but it was not at Anita's words. She knew somehow that Lennie and Anita were going about it the wrong way. Claire pulled the zipper of the woman's jacket.
"Don't touch me," yelled the woman angrily pulling her jacket together.
Lennie threw up his hands. "Hey, I'm not even close to you."
Claire sighed in frustration and pulled the zipper again. This time Lennie noticed the purple and blue bruise around her neck. His voice became gentle. "Did Frankie do that to you, Darleen? Is that why you are not telling us where he is hiding?"
The girl began to cry. Lennie said, "Look at it this way. Once he's in prison he won't be able to hurt you any more. You'll be doing yourself a favor."
As the girl began to talk, Lennie sighed with relief. He was on top of the case once more.
Time to move on and see someone else. Claire's mouth dropped open as she saw the man and woman entwined in an ardent embrace amidst unruly sheets. Surely she must be here by mistake. Then she realized she had wished to see Mike Logan so she should have expected this. She stared in voyeuristic absorption as Mike's dark head slid down to his companion's breast. As he suckled her nipple in his mouth, the woman threw her head back and moaned. Claire's jaw dropped as she recognized Liz Olivet. Mike and Liz? Realizing suddenly that what she was witnessing was a personal moment, Claire decided to go somewhere else and then come back to see Mike -- and Liz. Somewhere she had been delaying to go.
She looked around. The surroundings were familiar but the woman was not. The man with her was dearly so. Older, grayer though. Or was that just the way she saw the world without a moon? Claire heard the woman say, "She said you were passionate." Claire's heart clenched with anger. Had she meant so little that while she mourned even on the other side, he found other women.
Jack looked up. "Passionate?" he asked surprised.
"About your work," said the dark haired woman. Claire sighed with relief. He ears perked up at the next words. "She also said that you talked about Claire."
Jack immediately defended himself. "I was not obsessing. She mentioned her brother was in an accident caused by a drunk driver."
So she was not yet forgotten. After the woman left, Jack opened the drawer and took out a bottle and glass. In an instant Claire realized that this was how he remembered her. From the bottom of a whiskey filled glass. No, Jack, no, her heart cried. This is not the memorial I want. She willed Jack to feel her presence. Maybe he did because he looked up suddenly. "Claire?" he whispered.
"Yes, Jack," she said. "I'm here for you. Please don't drink. Remember me with love not sorrow."
He must have heard, because he put away the bottle untouched, and with a sigh got up to change into his jeans.
Claire felt the wind whip back her hair as the motorbike picked up a dangerous speed. He was recklessly flying the machine. She clung to Jack wondering if he could feel her as she could feel him. She recalled the passionate couple in bed that she had seen earlier and her own memories flooded back. She felt tears roll down her cheeks as she let out a primal scream. What was the purpose of this journey if she could not even communicate with the man she loved even in death? Suddenly, she felt a sensation of preemptive doom. Fear shivered through her as a speeding car rounded the corner in the motorcycle's path. Calling upon her unearthly strength, Claire heaved Jack out of the seat as the car smashed into the Yamaha sending it spinning across the road. Jack lay still on the sidewalk as a crowd gathered around him. "Call an ambulance," Claire shouted into the crowds. One man took out his cell phone and dialed 911. Soon there were sirens as paramedics looked at the unconscious Jack. To Claire it seemed as if history was repeating itself. But then she heard one of the uniformed medicos say, "Seems fine, just a concussion. His statistics are stable."
The other replied, "That's nothing short of a miracle. His guardian angel must have been looking after him."
Claire sighed with relief as she felt her knees buckle. He was going to be okay. She had saved him. Then it occurred to her that if she hadn't, perhaps they could have met once again in her world. The thought was tempting but she felt good that she had done the right thing instinctively. She pondered whether to go with him to the hospital, but then she saw the impending dawn and knew she had too little time and still some unfinished business. It was time to leave Jack once again.
Claire entered the room in time to hear Liz say, "You can strike foolish psychiatrist off your list now. Who else is left for you in New York? Fat lady at the circus?" She jerkily picked up her clothes off the floor and started putting them on.
Mike said, "It takes two to tango, babe. You wanted it too."
"Sure," said Liz. "I've always wanted a meaningless drunken one night stand."
Claire felt Mike's heart clench at her harsh words, but he said lightly, "Hell! Why didn't you say so years ago."
Claire grit her teeth. Men were so obtusely blind sometimes. She felt like shaking him. Claire told him, "For Heaven's sake Mike don't screw this up. Tell her how you feel."
Mike caught Liz hand as she walked by the bed. She tried break free but he used his strength to pull her to him. He said, "Neither of us were so drunk that we didn't know what we were doing."
Liz stopped struggling. "You're right," she said finally. "I have to take some responsibility too." She shrugged. "We had a good meal and we had great sex. Others do it all the time, we did too. No big deal."
"Tell her, Mike. Tell her," Claire implored Mike urgently. "Don't let her go like this or you will regret it."
Mike looked down at the hands he was holding. "It was a big deal for me."
"What?" Liz asked in astonishment.
"You heard me," said Mike. "I've wanted you since the time I came to see you about Max but it never seemed to work out."
Liz sat down abruptly next to him. Her heart was beating fast but she said calmly, "I can understand what you're saying, Mike. It's a natural phenomenon. It's called transference when a patient is attracted to his psychiatrist. It doesn't mean anything."
"I've had two partners since Max died. You don't think I would have gotten over that by now?" he asked.
Liz looked dazed. "I don't understand, Mike. What are you saying?"
Mike hesitated. Claire held her breath. "Don't back off now Mike," she egged him on.
Mike said, "I'm saying that I'm in love with you, Liz. You were always so intent on just being friends that I didn't want to loose you so I never said anything before."
Liz said in amazement. "I can't believe it. Why are you telling me this now."
"I don't know. I didn't plan anything of what has happened tonight. It just sort of happened. But I knew one thing that I didn't want you to leave thinking it was meaningless or that it was just some gratuitous sex. It was more than that for me."
Liz sighed and rested her head against his shoulder. "It was wonderful for me too. I have to confess that I have dreamed of this night for years as well."
Mike leaned over kissing her hungrily and at the same time started taking off her dress. "The night isn't over yet and the days will only get better now."
Claire closed her eyes in relief. She was glad that her last stop of her journey had ended on a note of hope. Her journey tonight had been about losses and gains, but ultimately that was what life was all about. She missed it, but it was no longer her world. She looked out of the window at the first stirrings of a new day. Her work here was over. It was time to return.