On the way home from delivering the letter to Beckett, I thought about her, and what I’d just put her through. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. But what had I put her through? It was the position that Noah had put me in, I really had no other choice, did I? I guess I could have forgotten all about the letter, forgotten my promise to Noah to deliver the letter to his daughter, Beckett. But I’d made a promise. And now it was done. But what was the real reason my mind was so preoccupied with Beckett?

But I also thought about Noah. Who was he? In my mind, he was real; I’d sat next to him a year ago at the Dead Goat Pub; we’d talked, and he’d handed me the letter to give to Beckett. This was real. But how could I have talked to him, if what Beckett had told me was also real? She’d told me that it was impossible for me to have talked to her father, that he’d been dead for four years when I’d supposedly had my conversation with him. None of this made any sense to me. But yet my mind was more preoccupied with Beckett herself than the fact that I’d had a conversation with a dead man.

As I drove through the gray, wet countryside, I looked out the window into the gloom of the early afternoon, thinking back on that night a year ago at the Dead Goat Pub. It was a cold, foreboding night, filled with gloom. And Noah had been there, haggard and worn from too many nights out in the cold gloom of night, he’d told me. But was I crazy? Had he existed only in my imagination? But the picture Beckett had shown me of her father was definitely the man I’d talked to a year ago, so it couldn’t have been my imagination. No, Noah had been real. And what about the letter? It had instructed Beckett to trust me. What did that mean?

In my life, I’ve encountered things that I couldn’t fully or rationally explain, and most generally I’d just pass them off as random, inexplicable occurrences, nothing to get too worked up about. Like the night several years ago, driving at 90 miles per hour through the pitch black Arizona desert, when out of nowhere three horses, head to tail, appeared in the light from my headlamps; I didn’t have time to react; I remember clenching the steering wheel, closing my eyes, and screaming; I thought it was all over for me, that the sports car I was driving wouldn’t sustain the collision, that, in fact, these were my final thoughts, and just like that, one minute I was alive, and the next I was dead. These thoughts raced through my head. But nothing happened. And just as Noah, these horses had been real, not a phantasm, but yet I’d passed right through them as if they had been. I’d considered every conceivable explanation for how I could have avoided a collision with these three horses, but nothing made any sense. It wasn’t possible for them to have been there, right in front of me, and yet for me to have passed through them as if they were nothing more than an illusion. I don’t think about this a lot anymore; it does cross my mind from time to time, and I still don’t have a reasonable explanation for it; I don’t dwell on it because it is just one of those unexplained mysteries, and trying to explain it in any rational way is futile.

Right now, however, I was trying to wrap my head around the mystery of Noah. And trying, not too successfully, to push my feelings for Beckett aside. It didn’t make sense to have fallen so quickly and easily in love with Beckett, a woman I’d met under such strange circumstances, and a woman I knew so little about. Even when Noah had asked me a year ago to deliver the letter to his daughter, he’d told me little about Beckett. But I was overwhelmed by her aura. And yet I couldn’t very well say that I’d fallen in love with her. I wanted very much to see her again, but I thought it unlikely because of the circumstances surrounding our meeting in the first place. Besides, she lived a couple of hours away. It just didn’t seem too likely that we’d ever meet again. But still, the desire pressed in on me. And I needed to try to answer some of the questions surrounding her father. I needed to find him. I needed to convince myself that he had been real, that I had talked to him a year ago, that all of this was real and not just a product of my wild imagination. My sanity depended on it. At that moment, staring out into the gloom, I felt like turning around and driving back to Beckett’s house. That would be the first step in proving to myself that I wasn’t crazy, but would my actions seem crazy to Beckett? I didn’t want to unsettle her any more than I already had. It had to have been a shock to get a letter from her father, who she believed had been dead for five years, and read its cryptic message: Beckett, trust the man who delivers this letter to you. That was it, nothing more, not even Love, Father, or any explanation of how I came to possess the letter, or any mention of Noah’s well-being, or of his plans for the future, nothing about where he’s been or where he plans to go. But according to Beckett, he’s been dead for five years, so it becomes an enigma wrapped in an enigma. She’d told me that he had always been a man of enigmas, that he’d always been wrapped in this cloak of mystery. But this still can’t explain how he was able to hand me a letter to deliver to his daughter in one year’s time, if he hadn’t retrieved it from me before the end of the year. I hadn’t expected him to show up before the end of the year. On the contrary, I believed that no one would ever see or hear from him again. I’d just figured the letter would hold an explanation for his mysterious disappearance. But then to find out from Beckett that he’d died four years before I’d talked to him only shrouded his unusual request and cryptic message in further mystery; it compelled me to uncover some explanation for all of this; I wouldn’t be able to rest until I did.

As I drove on through the gray, wet afternoon, I thought more and more about Beckett. I enjoyed thinking about her. But why? Why did I think about her, and why did it make me feel so good inside? Thoughts of her comforted me even as my befuddled thoughts plagued me: How was I able to hold a conversation with a dead man; and, moreover, how was he able to hand me a letter to deliver to his daughter? My rational mind just couldn’t get its arms around this enigma. This whole occurrence defied reason.
It was still early afternoon when I arrived home; the rain fell harder, and through the windows of my small apartment I stared out at the gray rain; I stepped out onto the balcony and looked up into the low, gray sky; I was too restless to think, so I laid down, but I couldn’t sleep. I picked up the Collected Fictions of Borges, but I couldn’t concentrate on the stories; besides, I didn’t need any more bewilderment in my life right now. I walked about the small apartment, distractedly picking up things from my desktop and setting them back down; I walked into the kitchen and opened the door to the refrigerator, looking inside unthinkingly. Because of my restlessness, it had become obvious to me that I needed to get outside; I grabbed a raincoat from the hall closet and walked through the long hallway to the stairs that led downstairs and out through the lobby into the street outside. I hadn’t even bothered to grab an umbrella, but the rain and the low, gray clouds seemed to comfort me; even though my mind was in a state of extreme perturbation, I felt relaxed and confident. I walked aimlessly through the gray rain, eventually ending up in front of the Dead Goat Pub. I wasn’t aware of how I’d arrived here, but it seemed to be right where I needed to be. I went inside.

Somehow I wasn’t surprised to see Noah sitting at the bar. It made no sense, but none of what I’d experienced this day had made any sense. I sat down next to him; he looked at me and smiled. “I’d thought you’d show up here,” he said.
“I delivered the letter to Beckett, just as you’d asked me to,” I told him. He nodded.

“I thought you would,” he said.

“But I have a few questions,” I told him. I ordered a beer, looking over at Noah. “Do you need anything?” I asked him.

“No, thank you,” he said, smiling.

“I don’t understand any of this,” I told him.

“I figured you’d have some questions,” he said to me. “That’s why I figured you’d end up here.”

“Beckett told me you’ve been dead for five years,” I said to him. He nodded, not looking up. I waited. Finally, he said, “Yes, she’s right.”

He nodded, not looking up. I waited. Finally, he said, “Yes, she’s right.”

“But how can that be?” I asked him. He looked at me, “Well, it’s just the way it is.”

He looked at me, “Well, it’s just the way it is.”

“What does that mean, it’s just the way it is?” I asked him. “If you’re dead, how is it that you’re here now?”

“Why not?” he said.

“Why not?” I exclaimed. “Because it isn’t possible.” I waited. The bartender brought my beer, but I continued staring over at Noah. “You can’t be dead and here at the same time, it’s physically impossible. Dead is dead.”

“Of course dead is dead,” he replied. “But your premise that I can’t be dead and here at the same time is wrong.”

“But it defies all logic and reason,” I told him. I was beginning to get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to question my own sanity, but I just couldn’t come to grips with what I was experiencing. “It just isn’t possible,” I told him, looking down at my beer, hoping that when I looked up again he’d be gone. I’d begun to hope that it all had been a bad dream, that at any moment I’d wake up, relieved to discover that I’d just been dreaming. But it just didn’t feel like a dream.

“It might stretch your notion of reality, but I can assure you it isn’t impossible,” he told me.

“Can other people see you?” I asked him. “Can the bartender see you?”

“Of course he can,” he said, smiling. “I ordered a beer, didn’t I?”

“But you’re not real,” I told him. “You have to be a figment of my imagination, this is the only reasonable explanation.”

“I might be a figment of your imagination, but I can assure you that I’m real,” he told me.

“But how can that be?” I asked. “If you’re a figment of my imagination, you can’t be real.”

“Quite to the contrary,” he said. “I’m very real. You have to understand that your only reality exists in your imagination.”

“And did I just imagine Beckett, too?” I asked him. I wanted her to be real, I wanted to know that what I felt for her was real, and that, if I chose to, I could act on my feelings. My whole understanding of the real world was beginning to unravel.

“You are confusing the imaginary world with the illusory world,” he said. “You have not been deprived of your senses; quite the opposite is true because you’ve now become acutely aware of the real world, the world of your imagination, and believe me, my friend, this is where all reality resides.” He talked slowly, making sure that what he said had time to take root in my consciousness. “Always before you tried to make sense of a world that seemed false and flat and three-dimensional. There is no substance in this world. The three-dimensional world lacks time, and time is the sparkle of life, it is what gives life meaning, it is what gives life depth, and it is what makes life precious. Without time, life is without substance.”

I thought carefully about what he said, trying to fully understand the meaning of his words. Was he speaking of things that I wasn’t equipped to fully understand? I wanted to understand; it seemed extremely important to me. But I just couldn’t get past the fact that he was dead and yet sitting here holding a conversation with me. This fact alone defied my sense of reality and created doubt in my mind. As much as the questions of my sanity at that moment plagued me, I wanted to believe that Noah was, in fact, sitting there next to me and he was explaining these things to me for a reason. I had to quell my doubts in order to grasp what he was saying. But how could I? It was unimaginable.

I looked over at Noah; he hadn’t changed during the year since I last saw him. I wondered if I had. His eyes were gentle and sincere. There were so many questions racing through my head, but I struggled to put them into recognizable sentences. Nothing made sense. I thought about Beckett: what was she doing at this moment? And what was she thinking about? How could any of this make sense to her?
When I had first met Noah a year ago, he’d spoke of a spiritual vortex where he’d go to find his balance. In light of what I knew now, I wondered about the nature of this spiritual vortex. Was it the afterlife? I’d never believed in a life after death, at least nothing that we as humans could understand. There was so much darkness in life, what did death hold for us? I wanted to ask Noah about the spiritual vortex, but I was solicitous about delving into something that would only add more confusion to my befuddled brain. But yet I couldn’t resist the urge to ask him about the spiritual vortex.

I looked at him for a long time before he met my stare.

“You want to know about the spiritual vortex, don’t you?” he asked me. I nodded. I took a drink of my beer and waited. He looked at me quietly. “You won’t understand,” he told me. I nodded. “But I can try,” I said. He smiled. “Yes, you can try,” he said. “It’s all any of us can do.”

Before beginning, he took a long drink of beer. He set the glass on the bar and turned to me. “All our lives, most of us wonder about death, what takes place after life, if anything at all? We are generally divided into two camps, those who believe in an afterlife and those who don’t. It never occurs to us that life is an extension of death, that it’s life that’s on the periphery, not the other way around. Death is everywhere. Life, on the other hand, is a small slice of time. The spiritual vortex was never an entrance to an afterlife, or even to death itself; quite the opposite, the spiritual vortex was an entrance to life. It allowed me to move from death back into life. Not too many people use this because they are too comfortable inside death. Besides, they worry about what it might do to the people they encounter. I too worried about this, and that is why I’d decided to use you to deliver a message to my daughter. You see, I hadn’t been a very good father. I never stayed put, I never gave Beckett the stability she deserved. I was always searching; maybe I’d already encountered death somehow, I’m not sure. But I was restless and uneasy. I was driven by my desire to find death. It was a natural thing for me.”

He paused to allow what he’d said to sink into my consciousness. I thought about what he’d told me. What he’d said hadn’t come as a surprise at all. In fact, it seemed to make perfect sense. And I thought about the concept of time. Time is life. This is what suddenly became clear to me. I’d never thought of time in this way before. I’d always believed that the progression of time was the unwinding from the spool of life, and when we’d unspooled all of time, our lives would be over. It had never occurred to me that time was life itself, that time defined life, and that they couldn’t be separated. Death didn’t need time; in fact, death was the cessation of time. It was everywhere, all the time. Time limits us because life itself is limited. Once time ceases to exist, life ceases to exist, and death begins.

When he’d originally told me about the spiritual vortex, he spoke of his guides through the spiritual world. And he’d told me it was only the guide who took the shape of a man he couldn’t trust. I asked him, “Who was the man that you’d encountered in the spiritual vortex?” He looked at me and smiled. “You remember that?” he asked. “Of course,” I told him. “I remember most of our conversation.”

He looked at me and smiled. “You remember that?” he asked.

“Of course,” I told him. “I remember most of our conversation.”

“Even though I’ve been dead for five years, I’m still learning,” he said. “Death goes on for infinity, so there isn’t any need to rush. Death is the great paradox. Death is everything that isn’t life, and life is over in the blink of an eye. But while we are alive, we view death as an extension of life. Death has created life for its own pleasure; it enjoys the show, so it has to give life the impression that it has meaning, like the meaning in a play or a painting or a story. We recognize something, but we’re not sure what it is, but it’s the recognition that we hold on to, not any deep meaning. Life unfolds in this way, consisting of things that are recalled from earlier times in our lives. None of them hold any true meaning for us, but since they are recognizable, we assign meaning to them. In this way, life and time pass with some finality, whereas death goes on forever.”

“I’m not sure I like the thought of death lasting forever,” I told Noah.

“You’ll get used to it,” he said. “Without time, it doesn’t matter.” I didn’t know what to make of any of what he’d told me. To ease my mind, I thought about Beckett. In such a short time, I had experienced deep feelings for her. But what did these feelings consist of? I wasn’t sure anymore. I couldn’t be sure of anything now. I wanted to believe that what I felt for Beckett had substance, that my feelings for her were not only real but that they were meaningful on some deeper level. It is what I’d always clung to in life: things that had some meaning to me. But if we only assigned meaning to the things that we recognized, what was love? What was that feeling that swelled up inside of us? I just couldn’t so easily dismiss this feeling, this thing that felt so good.

I asked Noah about this. “Love?” he said. “Love is the recognition that death awaits us. And we assign the deepest meaning of all to it, simply because it is the final recognition. After love, we can easily embrace death, and let go of our silly lives.”

I looked hard at Noah, and it suddenly occurred to me that he was really dead. I was talking to a dead man, and it didn’t bother me. But my thoughts kept coming back to Beckett. And I knew that I was in love with her, whatever that meant. I didn’t care. It felt good, and I wanted to see her again, I wanted to be with her, I wanted to slip into her life, be a part of her consciousness, and become a part of her recognition. And I told Noah this. He only smiled, as if he already knew. And why shouldn’t he know? His consciousness encompassed all things. Or nothing, I wasn’t sure. Either way, it had the same meaning for me.

“Noah,” I began, “I plan to see Beckett again.” He took a drink from his glass; his beer was almost gone. I looked down at my glass; I’d hardly touched it. I picked it up and took a long, slow drink. The beer went down easily, and I enjoyed its taste. Before I set the glass back on the bar, I looked over at Noah. He sat staring at me with that quiet smile of his. I tipped my glass to him, and he tipped his glass in turn with a quiet nod of his head. And just as I’d felt I’d never see Beckett again after I’d delivered the letter, I now felt that I’d never see Noah again. I’d learned that it is never safe to trust my emotions, or get too caught up in preconceived notions of the world. Everything I previously thought was true, I now realized was not. What could anyone truly count on? Nothing, I supposed. But it also occurred to me that it didn’t matter. Death would come for us in its own time. And only then would we begin to understand this tiny slice of life that we’d believed occupied so much of our time. Time? It’s funny, I thought. We’d looked at time from every angle, always with the intention of outsmarting it. We lived in the moment, we thought, thereby denying its existence. How laughable. Time surrounded us. We had no way out.

Noah stood up, dropped a couple of dollar bills on the bar, and turned to me. “Well, it’s been a pleasure, my friend,” he said. “Tell Beckett I love her.” He smiled and I watched him walk out into the gray rain.

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