Daniel Forrester was twenty one years old and madly in love with the beautiful Sophie Donaldson. They had fallen in love when they were freshman in college. Sophie was soft and fragile with the largest, saddest eyes Daniel had ever seen. Daniel was smart and clever and could make Sophie laugh, taking much of the sadness out of her eyes.
It was love at first sight.
Three years and twenty one days later, on a clear, warm, September night, with a quarter moon, Daniel was driving his rusty, gray Honda Accord, with Sophie sitting beside him. They were on their way to Daniel’s parents house, to tell them they were getting married. Daniel had one hand on the steering wheel, his other hand was wrapped firmly in Sophie’s.
Ten minutes from the house, on a quiet, residential street, a sixteen year old boy was out driving his father’s Porsche much too fast. His parents were at a restaurant, celebrating their sixteenth wedding anniversary. Billy, the sixteen year old boy, had taken the car out despite knowing it wasn’t allowed. Just a quick spin, he told myself. No one will ever know.
Smoking a cigarette Billy had found in the glove compartment, singing loudly to The Beatles song “Pennylane” on the radio, Billy didn’t see the stop sign and rammed the Porsche going sixty five miles an hour into the side of Daniel and Sophie’s Honda. Sophie died instantly, Billy ten minutes later, while Daniel, miraculously, escaped without a scratch.
He never forgave himself for living.
Living after Sophie had died was hard for Daniel. Many times he thought of killing himself, and joining her, wherever she was. He tried to kill himself not once, but twice, and failed miserably each time. The first time was with pills, the second with a knife. His heart wasn’t in it, and he was rescued in time. No matter how much he wanted to believe there was life after death, a part of him refused to accept it. When he imagined the afterlife, rather than seeing a golden world with a happy, laughing Sophie, he saw only an unfathomable chilly darkness that stretched to forever.
So Daniel plodded on.
He graduated from college with a degree in computer science, moved to Seattle, and got a job with Amazon making more money than he ever thought possible. He rented an apartment close to work in the Lake Union district in one of the new glass high rises there. After work he spent hours sitting on his fifteenth floor balcony drinking beer, listening to classical music, smoking cigarettes, and watching the cars rush by far down below on Boren Avenue. On the weekends he also sat on his balcony, but drank whiskey instead, straight, with only one ice cube to water it down. On those darker nights, he listened to jazz, with Miles Davis usually on his stereo.
This was his life, until his twenty-fifth birthday.
On his twenty-fifth birthday, everything changed.
Daniel turned twenty-five at 9:09 on a Saturday morning. After waking up at ten am with a massive hangover, he drank a coffee and smoked a cigarette. After the coffee, he made a bloody mary and drank that down quickly, hoping his headache would disappear.
So he kept drinking.
After the third or maybe it was the fourth drink, he felt normal again.
At five fifteen, so bored he found himself counting the number of red cars that drove by, Daniel decided to get out and do something. It was his birthday, and didn’t that deserve some sort of celebration? Of course it did, he told himself. A birthday is a one time a year thing. Out of the womb and into the world. Hurray hurrah hurray. Ahem.
Since Daniel was already drunk, he microwaved a philly steak and cheese hot pocket and ate it while downing a cup of coffee. They both tasted so terrible that he had to force it down despite his complaining stomach.
Finally, feeling only mildly drunk, he set off to his neighborhood bar, Paddy Coyne’s, an upscale Irish bar that catered mostly to the yuppy crowd like him. On most nights, it was full of people from Amazon, who came there after work and often closed the place.
Daniel hadn’t been to a bar since before the car accident, but when he sat down at the counter and looked at all the shiny bottles staring back at him, he felt right at home. Each bottle seemed to carry the entire sun inside it.
He ordered an Orange Stolichnaya with 7-Up. He drank it slowly, in a soothing silence, only interrupted occasionally by the small talk of people around him.
“Hi,” Daniel occasionally said to smiling faces and bloodshot eyes. It was all benign, friendly, and totally unthreatening. Daniel felt calm, relaxed, even celebratory, and only thought about Sophie and the car accident twice, but both times the memories were thankfully so far away they barely touched him. There was a warm cocoon wrapped around Daniel, composed of alcohol and his birthday armor. Tonight, nothing could hurt him.
At precisely 9:09, a young woman sat down on the empty bar stool next to Daniel. Daniel thought she was pretty, and when she smiled back at him he felt a strong urge to talk to her, and tell her it was his birthday tonight.
He said to the pretty woman, “It’s my birthday. I turned twenty five this morning. Exactly twelve hours ago. I’m twelve hours new. What do you think of that?”
The pretty woman, whose name was Mary, surprised Daniel by standing up and putting her arms around him in a warm embrace. Feeling her body touching his felt good, but it was also awkward and scary and Daniel wanted to run far away. Sophie was still the last woman he had ever touched.
But instead of running away, Daniel ordered another drink and talked with her until closing time.
When they talked, their heads were pressed so close together Daniel could whisper and she heard every word.
When they got back to Daniel’s apartment, he put on Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, made two drinks of whiskey with a splash of Coke, lit a green candle, and sat down with Mary on the couch.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, only interrupted by the puffing of cigarettes and the sipping of the drinks, Daniel conquered his fears enough to rest his hand on her thigh, feeling the warmth of her skin under her jeans. Her warmth astounded him. Daniel closed his eyes and kissed her on the lips. Her lips were wet, and her mouth was closed. When her mouth opened slightly, they kissed deeper, and Daniel felt himself finally relaxing. He fell into her as they kissed, deeper and deeper he fell, until he imagined he was kissing Sophie. Yes, he told himself, it’s Sophie I’m kissing and holding and loving.
When the kiss ended, they pulled away, their hands still resting on each other. Daniel finally opened his eyes, and to his amazement Sophie was sitting there smiling at him. It was Mary’s body, but Mary was gone, and Sophie was in her place, looking at Daniel out of Mary’s eyes. Sophie alive and well. Sophie beautiful and real and breathing again.
“My God,” Daniel whispered, “is it really you?”
“Hello Daniel,” Sophie said, leaning into him. “It’s me. It’s really me.”
After Sophie and Daniel made love, he laid down on his back and fell asleep with Sophie’s head resting on his chest. When he opened his eyes a few hours later, Mary was lying beside him, snoring softly, naked under the covers.
Later that morning, sipping coffee on the balcony, Mary looked at Daniel suspiciously.
“What happened last night? Everything was fine until we kissed. And then…. And then….”
“What?” Daniel said, his heart racing. Did Mary feel it too? If she did, it meant he didn’t merely imagine it.
Mary looked out over the balcony railing, squinting her eyes. Her fingers twisted the coffee cup in circles on her hand.
“I’m not sure,” she said. Her gaze never left the horizon, her voice far, far away. “It felt like I wasn’t there anymore. As if I was watching everything from a distance. I was there but I wasn’t. It’s hard to describe.”
She glared at Daniel again. Although he guessed what was coming, his mind was racing gloriously with the insane but magnificent thought that Sophie was somehow really there inside Mary. Possessing her. Maybe he really did make love to Sophie that night. Mary was merely the conduit.
“You didn’t give me anything, did you? In my drink?”
Daniel protested vehemently. “We were just drunk. These things happen. Even alcohol can get psychedelic sometimes.”
He thought of telling her about Sophie, but it didn’t feel right. Keeping her silently inside him had power. If he talked about it, she would diminish, and he might lose her.
He already lost her once.
He wasn’t going to lose her again.
A repeat of the experience was necessary. With someone new this time. He would repeat the variables of the situation with Mary as precisely as he was able, and see what happened. It would be a scientific experiment.
That Saturday he met Jeannie in a little bar downtown near the Pike Street Market called The White Horse. It was his fifth bar in five hours. He had decided before he started the hunt that he would give each bar an hour. If he hadn’t made a connection with a woman in that time, he would leave.
In The White Horse, he joined a group of people at one of their large tables. There was a woman at the table who reminded Daniel of Sophie. The resemblance wasn’t striking, but it was enough to make Daniel try harder than usual with her. When Jeannie’s friends were leaving, he offered to buy her a drink and asked her to say and talk longer. She surprised Daniel by saying yes.
Everything was the same: the candle, the drinks, even the Miles Davis album.
When Daniel handed Jeannie the drink, he sat down next to her and studied her intently. In the dim, dancing light of the candle, he couldn’t make out her details.
Jeannie squirmed in her seat and looked around the apartment as if she wasn’t sure she wanted to be there.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” she asked. “You’re making me nervous.”
“I’m sorry. You’re just so lovely. I can’t help myself.”
She was still Jeannie. There was no doubt about that. Perhaps it was the kiss that did the trick.
Daniel put down his drink, stretched out his hand until it was resting behind Jeannie’s head. He leaned into her as he pushed her head slowly towards him. They kissed, slowly and gently at first, but quickly built up intensity.
After thirty seconds of kissing, Daniel felt something change in the room. It was as if it got colder, or perhaps the air in the room had suddenly shifted. Jeannie felt different somehow. It was as if Daniel was suddenly holding someone else in his arms.
When their lips parted and Daniel looked at her, Jeannie was gone, and Sophie was in her place.
This went on for many years.
Daniel felt lost.
He felt like a child of the dead. Not quite living, but not quite dead either. The most important part of himself wasn’t his own anymore.
Every weekend he roved the bars, searching for a woman who would bring back Sophie, even if it was only for a few minutes. Every second of every day his dominating thought was to be with Sophie again. This obsession over the quickly passing years had gotten worse. He felt totally empty inside except for those moments when he was making love to Sophie.
Four times over the years he tried making love to the same woman. But it didn’t work. His heart wasn’t in it, and his body wouldn’t function. He could make love to a woman only once.
So he searched for new bodies relentlessly.
The last was Elizabeth.
Daniel was thirty six years old, still working for Amazon, still in the same Lake Union apartment. Seattle and the rest of the world had changed a great deal, but there were still bars and booze and people searching for things they didn’t have.
He met Elizabeth at the same Irish bar where his obsession had started. He was sitting on a bar stool at the counter, his glass of cognac almost gone. He was holding the nearly empty glass up to the light, watching the images fracture into many tiny ones, when a woman sat down next to him.
When they talked, Daniel felt a connection with her he hadn’t felt in a long time. She went past his head and deep inside him, near his heart, if not into it. He had no idea why, but when he looked at her he felt good inside.
Like with Mary, they talked until closing time, then walked to Daniel’s apartment.
They sat on his raggedy couch with the candle lit, fresh drinks in their hand. The only thing different was that Elizabeth insisted upon picking out the music herself. Daniel practically begged her to listen to Miles Davis, but she laughingly refused. Instead, she put on a CD of Beethoven’s sonatas.
After smoking a cigarette on the balcony, they sat on the couch and kissed. He quickly felt the slight change in temperature, and the air in the room subtly realign. He felt a presence inside him that seemed to be pushing him out of the way. Daniel fought against it, but couldn’t summon up enough strength to resist. Just as he was about to give up, Elizabeth gasped and the candle fell down to the floor. The room was in darkness, except for three slivers of light that shone in between the curtains from the street lamp outside.
With the candle light extinguished, the presence disappeared, and Daniel felt normal again. Elizabeth was bowed at the waist, holding her head in her hands. She breathed heavily. Daniel could tell she was struggling for breath.
“Are you alright?” he asked. “What the hell happened? I felt weird all of a sudden.”
He wanted to tell Elizabeth that he felt for a few seconds as if he was being possessed, but he was afraid how she would react.
She recovered quickly and surprised him by saying what he was thinking. “There was someone else inside me. For a second I was gone.”
That was just Sophie, he wanted to tell her. She would never hurt you. She needed your body for awhile. That’s all.
But he said nothing, thinking that perhaps Elizabeth had someone she was close to that was trying to get inside him. There was no reason to think he was the only person in the world haunted in quite this way.
“Have you ever loved anyone madly?” Daniel asked. “Who isn’t here anymore? Who is dead?”
Elizabeth was silent for a long time, probing him with her eyes, while he fidgeted uncomfortably. It was as if she saw everything, knew everything, saw right through him into his deepest, darkest self. This was scary, but also beautiful.
“There was John,” she whispered. “My husband John. He killed himself years ago.”
The lights on, smoking cigarettes, Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata on the stereo, Daniel told Elizabeth his Sophie story from beginning to end. Elizabeth stared at him intently the entire time, with fascinated eyes. Every so often she would squeeze his arm, giving reassurance and support.
When Daniel was done, his eyes were red and wet and he felt as if he might crumple up into a tiny ball and drop dead right there on the couch.
Then it was Elizabeth’s turn to talk.
She told him about her husband John, who she married when she was twenty two, right after they both graduated from college.
“John suffered from depression and was in one of his bad patches. Staying home with him every night became unbearable. I had to get out of the house. So I called up three of my closest friends from college. I hadn’t seen them in a long time, but I explained the situation and they came and rescued me. We went out drinking. It’s what we liked to do when we were in school, so it was natural. I told John I was going to be back by eleven, but I was having so much fun I didn’t get home until midnight. All the lights were on in the house, but I couldn’t find John anywhere. Until I stepped into the bathroom. There he was in the tub, lying in a pool of red water. He had slit both his wrists.”
Daniel pulled her towards him, so close their legs were touching.
“Later, I asked the coroner if I had come home by eleven like I said I would, would I have been in time to save him. He looked at me sadly, patted me on the back like a grandmother, and nodded his head. Ever since, I’ve blamed myself for his death.”
She look a large gulp out of her drink and lit another cigarette. Daniel followed suit, echoing all of her movements unconsciously. He was afraid to say anything, because what was there to say? All he could think of were platitudes, and she had surely heard them a million times before. So he remained silent.
“I was alone for a long time after that. But finally, a year or two after John’s suicide, I met a man while on vacation in Hawaii. We made love. That was when everything changed.”
She gave Daniel a look that told him this was the part he was waiting for, this was the reason she was telling him this sordid story.
“It was crazy. It was like you and Sophie. I didn’t make love to the man I had met. It was John there inside him. It’s something you just know. And I knew! It was John. I had him back for those moments. They became precious to me. I finally had a way I could make it up to him for not being there when he needed me. Since then, that’s all I lived for.”
Daniel nodded his head, understanding perfectly. “I was supposed to turn into John?”
“Of course. Like you wanted me to be Sophie.”
They stared at each other for a long time like wild animals, not sure whether to hug or scratch each others eyes out.
“What do you want to do?” Daniel asked.
They were on the balcony smoking, leaning over the railing, watching the rare car go by. It was late, close to four am, and the world was practically deserted. But neither of them were tired. The adrenaline of the confessions were rushing through them like cocaine.
“Now that we know who we are?”
“Yes. Now that we know we’re both children of the dead. What do we do now?”
Elizabeth laughed. “That’s funny. Children of the dead. I guess we are, aren’t we?”
“I’m so very sick of it. Maybe we found each other for a reason. We shouldn’t do this anymore. Maybe we don’t need to.”
“Yeah. Join forces. Why not? Maybe our two curses will cancel each other out.” Daniel laughed bitterly and spat over the railing. “Aren’t you tired? I’m so damn tired….”
“You mean go to sleep?”
“Not that. I mean tired. Bone tired. Soul tired. Tired of the whole Sophie thing. I’ve tried to stop many times. I never could stick it for long. After a few weeks of abstinence, I imagined I would hear her whispering into my ear. What about you? Aren’t you tired of living this madness?”
There was a three second pause and then “Yes.” It came out as a whisper, so she said it again. “Yes! I’m tired. As tired as you.”
“Come on.” He took her arm. “Let’s go lie down. We’ll see what happens, okay?”
“And then what?”
Daniel shrugged. “Then we’ll see what happens again.” He laughed. “Come on, let’s go for a walk. It’s not far.”
They went to Daniel’s bedroom, laid down together tentatively, and touched each other as if they had never touched anyone before.
Sophie and John stood next to each other, holding hands. They watched Daniel and Elizabeth on the bed making love. They were in a place far, far away, but also simultaneously so close they could reach out and touch them if they wanted to.
“Thank god,” Sophie said.
“Hey,” John quipped. “No blasphemes allowed. You want to get us in trouble?”
Sophie tapped him playfully on the shoulder and smiled warmly at him.
“You think they’ll stick together?” she asked. “I sure hope so. I’m getting really sick of this possession bit. If he would only let me go….”
“Yeah,” John said. “Ditto. Elizabeth has to stop blaming herself for my death. Then I’ll be free.”
“We’ll be free! Then we can finally be together without these… damn interruptions.”
“Amen to that.”
They kissed passionately, then laid together on the floor, imitating Daniel and Katherine so perfectly they were like shadows.