Going Fishing—a short story by B

Going Fishing—a short story by B

It was my last blow-out before I had to trade in my jeans and fishing vest and hiking boots for frillier stuff. Maybe. I was supposed to get married in a week, white lace and veil and flowers and all, in a humongous Episcopal church, and then we would have a whopping three days of honeymoon in the Berkshires before leaving on a three-month-long do-gooder trip to the highlands of Guatemala. Unless I chickened out.

Steve was the wildest, coolest, smartest, and most incautious man I had ever met. It didn’t hurt that he was a total hunk. But here it was a week before our wedding and I was numb. The closer it got, the less sure I was that I was ready to marry the guy. Live with him, sure. Screw his brains out, double sure—although he was one of those “Keep myself pure till I’m married” guys who I didn’t even know still existed until I met him, and I had had to switch gears pretty dramatically when we were dating. I really loved him. I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. But he was such a religious fanatic, even though he wasn’t at all dogmatic or holier-than-thou—he loved beer and playing pool and the occasional poker game at least as much as I did, although a couple of his friends were the over-holy types that registered very high on my yuck factor scale. I was starting to feel less than totally positive that I wanted to tie myself into that entire scene for good. He was a great kisser, but O my God, what if he was a boring lover? What if he was undersexed? And what sort of kook does it take to even suggest trading a honeymoon for missionary work in vermin-infested tropical jungles?! What was I thinking? On the other hand, he was the most beautiful person I had ever met. What to do?

Besides wondering if I was about to make the mistake of a lifetime, I had other things to take care of, for example getting other doctors to agree to see several hundred of my patients while I was gone. Assuming I went. I mean, even though it was going to be a huge wedding with nearly four hundred guests, I was ready to call it off on the last day if I decided it would be a disaster. Or maybe I would just kill myself. Although I’m not at all the suicidal type, and I’ve almost never been depressed, the thought of facing all those people if I backed out at the last minute was enough to make me seriously consider the idea. But I figured that, if my friend Annie could do it, I might be able to suffer through the humiliation too (she backed out the night before her wedding, and three years later married a super-cool guy and all was forgiven and no one held anything against her—well, almost no one). Or maybe not. Steve is such an incredible guy. Maybe it would be OK. Would I chicken out of the wedding, or chicken out of chickening out? I was confused.

I’m an internist—a rather new one at that time, with only two years of actual practice in the real world. But my clinic had agreed to give me this much time off, in part I think because it helped them fulfill obligations toward numbers of volunteer hours that would make the state smile on them. So, instead of that extended Italian honeymoon I had dreamed of, we would have three nights in a halfway decent hotel a couple hours’ drive from my home and then three months in mosquito-infested, sweltering jungles. I don’t do heat very well. That’s why I love living in New England.

It’s not that I wasn’t willing to help. I looked forward to being able to make a real difference in people’s lives instead of treating the trivial stuff most of my patients complained of. It would have been much easier to stomach, however, if the trip hadn’t been scheduled during my freakin’ honeymoon! The “missionary” part, however, I wasn’t too happy about. It went right along with my doubts about marrying Steve. I mean, I had grown up going to church, and I was a Christian, sort of, but I would have preferred it if we had planned to focus just on the medical stuff instead of combining that with efforts to round up the natives and bribe them into coming to “outreach” services by providing free medical care. Seemed sort of fascist to me. Steve and I argued about that for hours before I agreed to go. It helped that I already knew several of the fourteen people who were going on the trip because they went to our church, and a couple were even doctors in my clinic. I figured no one could be too holy while fighting killer bugs in the jungle.

My leave of absence was to begin the following Wednesday. That gave me Monday and Tuesday to wrap up loose ends at the clinic, and before that I had the weekend to calm my nerves. Steve was in town (he’s a cardiologist in Providence) helping to get everything ready for the wedding, which was a week from Saturday. My two sisters were in town to help with all the details. I thought, “That’s cool. I’m going fishing.”

When I’m nervous or stressed I always go fishing. It’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to do right before your wedding, but Mom didn’t even have a heart attack, which she would have had if she’d known I was thinking about calling the whole thing off. I just said, “You guys have everything under control, I feel a psychotic episode coming on if I can’t have a couple days to myself, so I’ll see you later.” Well, I said a lot more than that, but everyone was understanding (I have the coolest family!), so on Friday morning a week before my wedding (maybe) I packed my gear into my ’02 Wrangler and headed to the Upper Kennebec River valley to have some time to myself and to catch some monster trout.

I love to fish. A lot of people think it’s just a guy thing, but since I was eight my dad had taken me and my sisters fly fishing in the Adirondacks or the White Mountains or Maine every summer, and when I was in college at Berkeley I drove up into the Sierras whenever I could to play ranger girl. This was probably my last chance for ages. Or not, if I chickened out on the wedding. If that happened, in fact, I would probably disappear on a long fishing trip just to avoid the hatred and lectures and all the other crap that would be coming my way. I’m such a wuss!

Uncle Gene, my Dad’s oldest brother, has a small cabin a few miles east of Moxie Gore, Maine, and he makes it available to anyone in the family who wants to use it as long as we check to be sure it’s vacant. It was, and seven hours after I set out from Boston I was at the cabin, all my gear put away, beer chilling in the freezer, and nearly a pound of thick-sliced bacon sizzling under the broiler. I know, it turns your arteries into concrete, but I generally eat pretty healthfully, and Steve is as much of a fanatic for health and fitness as he is for Jesus, and I figured I should take advantage of a rare chance to soothe my nerves with plenty of saturated fat. Some people drown their sorrows in liquor. I lubricate mine with hydrocarbons. Preferably saturated. Lots of fried piggy, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and whole wheat bread later, as well as a couple of beers (one was my usual limit), and I was so soothed! I can usually eat three or four active men under the table, so my stomach wasn’t even upset. I was asleep well before eleven.

Next morning I woke around six, microwaved some coffee I had made and refrigerated the night before, ate a sandwich with warmed-over bacon, and was soon headed for my favorite stretch of river, a mile or so southwest of the origin of the Kennebec where it exits Moosehead Lake.

I had managed to concentrate on food and miscellaneous logistics the night before, and on the drive up from Boston had listened to a mix of Mozart piano concertos, Willie Nelson, and U-2, with the volume turned up loud enough to distract me from thinking about my future. But once on the river, my thoughts buzzed louder than the occasional biting flies that ventured out over the water to find a meal.

I never even had a strike. And I was getting more and more depressed. Why couldn’t we just live together for awhile and have mind-blowing sex and forget about going down there to treat and evangelize the natives? Actually, the medical part sounded like fun, but the more my mind dwelled on the religious stuff, the angrier I got. I didn’t want to glue myself to a group of people who were so deadly serious about their religion, and the part that killed me was that I couldn’t have Steve without having all his friends too. What about my friends?! They were sober and fun and smart and, while to be honest Steve’s friends actually were probably more fun to be with than my friends, who trended toward the snooty side, his friends were mostly fanatics like he was, except for the guys on his clinic’s softball team and the guys from the homeless shelter where Steve volunteered once a week—now those guys, if I wanted to be really honest, were a real blast. Not the volunteers, but the residents. Anyway, the more I soaked in the wildness of the river, the more my stomach felt like I had just ingested several bottles of Lysol. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted my entire life to flip to the Mr. Rogers side of the Force.

Disgusted with my bad luck fishing and with my inability to sort out whether I was about to jump into a great adventure or into a chasm of utter monotony, I got into my Jeep and drove to Greenville, Maine, on the shore of Moosehead Lake, for some lunch. And that’s where this adventure really began. I’m a doctor, not a writer, so I don’t know how to do a clever transition between all this introductory stuff and what happened next, so I’ll just jump right into it. I made it into Greenville, found a diner where I got a hamburger and fries and a chocolate malt, and was heading for my Jeep when my foot, wet from having stepped in a small puddle, slipped on the pavement. I did a sort of loop-the-loop as I went down, and smashed my head and arm on the rear bumper.

Music swells, audience holds its breath, focus blurs then slowly resolves, etc. That would be the movie version. The real-life version was a lot stinkier. I opened my eyes slowly, my head feeling like someone had slammed me with a stainless steel bedpan. I spent maybe five minutes dragging myself to a sitting position. OK, I was at the side of the lake. That was about right, I was at a diner next to Moosehead lake. . .

But this sure as hell didn’t look like Moosehead Lake! My Wrangler was gone. In fact, everything was gone!

I sat cross-legged on the ground and just stared for maybe as long as a half hour. Definitely concussion, I told myself, hopefully no long-term damage, but loopy for the moment. Yet loopy was too tame a word. Hallucinogenic? My clothes were even different—I was wearing little more than rags sort of shaped into a dress-like pattern. Blood, still trickling from the gash at the back of my head, had soaked into the material, and my left arm hurt like hell. Greenville, this was not. Where was Toto when I needed him?! I was still quite woozy, and completely confused, but figured that the sooner I could reach a state of unconsciousness again, the sooner I would wake up back in the real world. So I lay back down right where I was, closed my eyes, and within a minute was out again.

The sun was low over the woods to my back when I awoke. Unfortunately, my Jeep and the diner and Greenville, Maine and Moosehead Lake hadn’t come with me into the evening. I was still next to that other lake—a big one—and was still alone. Once again I sat cross-legged for a long time, trying to coax the fuzziness from my brain. Unfortunately, as my brain felt increasingly less fuzzy, my surroundings became increasingly tangible. And I began to get cold. And hungry. And scared enough to wet my pants if I had been wearing any instead of this damned dress or whatever it was. I even discovered I wasn’t wearing any underwear! The only thing I was wearing that was at all familiar was the emergency pouch I generally carry in the wild, containing my Buck folding knife, a waterproof container of a dozen wax-tipped strike-anywhere matches, and a few first-aid items. It hung under my right arm on a leather strap that went up over my left shoulder. I closed my eyes again, vainly hoping that all this would go away, trying to relax, breathe deeply, focus on midday at Moosehead Lake.

A couple of minutes later I heard a woman’s voice speaking in a language I had never heard before. Since I was sitting on a narrow sandy beach, I hadn’t heard her footsteps. The weird thing was that I understood her. It’s nothing I can clearly describe, and thinking back on it I can’t even recreate the sensations in my brain, so I won’t try any further explanation. Suffice it to say that I understood what she was saying, halfway by actually comprehending the meaning of her words and halfway by a sort of mental trick that instantly let me comprehend the gist of what she was saying without any translation into English. Whatever. Anyway, she said something on the order of, “Who are you? You look lost, and you are hurt. I will help you.”

My first inclination was to say, “Listen, lady, I don’t know what the hell is going on, and lost doesn’t even begin to describe it. . .” My thoughts were in English, of course, and momentarily I wondered what would happen if I were to speak them. Would they come out in English, as I expected, or in this whatever-language? It was a moot point. I opened my mouth, but it was as if a heavy, impermeable blanket was draped over my vocal chords as well as my brain as I tried to speak. I simply couldn’t muster the effort even to squeak out “Help!” I was mute. I just sat there like an idiot, looking into her eyes, and I think it didn’t require a great deal of empathy on her part to figure out that I was terrified.

She smiled and said in her strange language that I nevertheless understood, “I know you are not from this area, and you are injured, and you look frightened. It is not safe to be here after dark. Soldiers pass along the shore regularly. My name is Anna. Come with me, I am going to the home of some friends where you will be safe.” She held out her hand.

I’ve always prided myself that I’m a terrible judge of people. I’m a sucker for con men because I inevitably believe every sweet word they say. And as often as not, I have negative first impressions of people who turn out to have hearts of gold. Go figure. But I felt good about this woman. Besides, my list of choices wasn’t particularly long at this point. As I stood up, she firmly grasped my hand and began walking along the beach. Ordinarily I’m not a touchy-feely person, but right then I felt clingy. I held her hand in both of mine.

We walked mostly in silence. Occasionally she would ask a question, but inevitably I just stared dumbly at her, so eventually she just smiled, saying, “You do not have to talk,” and stopped trying to make conversation. For what it’s worth, I liked her and trusted her. Which probably meant, knowing my track record, that she was a bloodthirsty kidnapping vampire. But maybe my usual sensitivity to strangers would be more accurate here in The Twilight Zone or wherever I was. I could hope.

We were approaching a medium-sized town. It clearly wasn’t Maine anymore, Toto. The few people we saw were dressed in really old-timey clothes. I’m sorry, I’ve always been a science geek and know almost nothing about history, but that’s the best I could come up with. Except that a couple of times we passed guys in what had to be military duds, with some kind of armor on their torsos that was straight out of the Gladiator movie. Whenever that happened, the woman would lower her head, walk more quickly, and make a wide birth around the men. The houses were mostly one-story, made of large stone blocks. No glass in the windows. No electricity. The streets were covered with stones. The total effect was actually rather pleasant, with the lake (ocean?) coming right up to the path on occasion. Whatever the body of water, it definitely wasn’t Moosehead, unless there had been some kind of instantaneous uplift of a new range of hills where they didn’t used to be.

We turned into a medium-sized structure on the outskirts of the town, so I didn’t see much of the latter. By now it was almost completely dark except for a waning gibbous moon rising over some high hills to the east. Apparently we were at the very northern end of the body of water. We walked through a narrow passageway into a small open courtyard, maybe twenty-five feet square, that appeared to be surrounded by the rest of the house, which I guessed, judging by the placement of the doors, consisted of small rooms or cells. Small fires crackled in two of the courtyard’s corners. About a dozen people were there, half men and half women, although the sexes seemed to be keeping to themselves. All the men had beards except one, whose facial hair was at that awkward, skuzzy stage. Everyone was right out of a movie set. As we entered, the people greeted Anna and sort of stared at me. As with Anna, I could understand, in an inexplicable way, what people were saying. She briefly explained that I was some sort of stray, and that I didn’t appear to be into talking so they shouldn’t bother speaking to me, and took me to where the other women were mostly cleaning up from what seemed to have been a meal. They asked me if I was hungry. I nodded my head, knowing by now that trying to speak would be futile. Then I remembered reading that in some cultures nodding your head could mean No rather than Yes, and briefly panicked at the thought that I might have just turned down a much-needed meal. But apparently this wasn’t one of those cultures. They quickly brought me some bread and something I recognized as olive oil, and some figs and wine. The wine was pretty gross, and the bread heavy enough to use as a weapon, but the oil and figs were to die for. Overall the meal was satisfying enough, although it desperately needed a dish of grated Parmesan to go with the bread and oil. As I ate, Anna washed my head with water, cleaning off as much of the blood as possible. No ooh-ing and ah-ing over my rather serious wound, as would have happened at home—maybe these people just took wounds as a fact of life. Then, except for the occasional sometimes awkward smile, everyone basically ignored me since it was clear they couldn’t engage me in conversation.

The audible conversation was mostly among the men. The women tended to murmur quietly among themselves, accomplishing the considerable feat of having their own private chats but occasionally speaking loudly in response—usually in objection—to something one of the men had said, clearly demonstrating that the women were completely monitoring both their own and the men’s conversations.

I don’t remember many of the actual lines of dialog. I’m guessing it’s because after all it wasn’t in my language and, although I was somehow able to understand the gist of what people were saying, I didn’t have the “handles” in my brain to stick remembered conversations onto.

“He said he will meet us here, so we should stay here. That is the end of it,” one of the men said. Or something like that.

“But that was six days ago, and nothing has happened, so maybe we missed him,” another said.

“Besides, everything else happened around Yerushalayim. . .”

Oh my God! A couple of months ago I had had lunch with a colleague whose brother was visiting from Israel. That’s where I had first heard that word, the more genuine pronunciation of Jerusalem! I might have lost my balance and sunk to the floor had I not been just a few inches from a wall, against which I leaned while I took in this last data point. Jerusalem. As in Israel. But these guys weren’t Israelis in any sense I’d ever seen. Had this dream—if it was a dream—taken me back to another age? But it was so real! Yet it could only be a dream. On the other hand, since I was aware that it was a dream, did that mean it couldn’t be a dream? My psychiatry rotation hadn’t exactly been a wellspring of useful information; it was mostly endless introductions to scary drugs I would never want to put into my body or anybody else’s if I could avoid it.

I struggled to resume my eavesdropping when one of the women yelled sarcastically in response to something one of the men had said but that I hadn’t heard, “Yes, Yakov, why not ask your daddy to ask the Romans if maybe they have seen him, he is such a favorite with them!”

I had no idea what she was referring to, but everyone, even the men, laughed.

“It is useless to sit here wasting our time,” said the skuzzy-faced young man. “He is able to find us. I am sure of that. In the meantime, we have no money. I am for going back to the boats until something else happens. Besides. . .”

He was interrupted by a man who strode into the courtyard from one of the side rooms, a stone jar of wine in his hand, his arm around the shoulders of a rather pleasant-looking young woman, looking sheepish when he noticed that the other men cut off their conversation and stared at him with smiles on their faces.

“Do not say anything. I love you all. I have not seen a couple of you in several months. But I had not seen my beautiful wife for an even longer time.” He grinned broadly. “So, greetings! Welcome to my house! Hmmm, who is this?” he said, still grinning while looking at me.

“She is a wounded stray I found by the lake,” Anna said. “She does not talk, and I can tell she is afraid. So just leave her alone and let her sleep here till something else happens.”

“Peace to you, then” said the man. “I am Shmion (it sounded something like that), this is my house, and you are welcome for as long as you need to stay.” I tried to smile, but I’m not sure it was more than a grimace, since I certainly didn’t want to stay for more than five seconds if I could find any way at all to get out of this dream or space-time warp or whatever it was.

“I do not know who is sleeping in whose house tonight,” the man called Shmion continued, “but everyone who is staying here, go to sleep. Now! I am going fishing tomorrow.” Then he poured himself another serving of wine from a large jar resting in a corner of the courtyard, and, with his wife, headed back into the room from which he had emerged a minute before.

Soon most of the people, both men and women, left. Anna took my hand and led me into a tiny room that was barely illuminated by moonlight shining through a narrow window. There was a mat of some kind on the floor, covered in rags, and she explained that I should sleep here, that I had nothing to fear from any of the men in the house, that the water jar was next to the wine jar in the courtyard, that the chamber pot (that’s how it came into my consciousness, although I’m sure it’s probably not even a good translation of whatever words she said) was in the corner, and there was a small jar of water on the floor next to my mat for washing hands. Then she embraced me for half a minute, mumbling something I couldn’t hear (was she praying?), and went out.

Wow. OK, here was another chance for a graceful exit. Sleep. The wine was bad, but I had had a rather large jar of the stuff, and even tiny amounts of alcohol have always made me sleepy. Sleep. Great. I would go to sleep, and when I woke I would be in Maine. What had happened? Oh yes, the fall. My head still throbbed, and my left arm ached, although I was feeling remarkably better than I ought to feel after such blows. Clearly I was dreaming, in spite of the fact that everything seemed disgustingly real. But then again, when you dream, you always think it’s real, don’t you, even when scenes shift or you fly? But I didn’t think I had ever realized I was dreaming while I was dreaming. And this didn’t have any of the trappings of a dream—no instant scene shifts, just second-by-second really real experiences. Shit! I needed to stop analyzing. All would be well when I woke up. Just go to sleep, Kate, go to sleep, and you’ll wake up in the mud next to your Jeep, or maybe in Uncle Gene’s cabin. . .

Fortunately, I’ve always been able to fall asleep with about ninety seconds’ warning. At least since medical school. I remember reading in a Robert Ludlum thriller (another of my vices) that “Sleep is a weapon,” and I had made that doctrine part of my arsenal. Even when my sister was lost on Mt. Washington in a snow storm and there was a good chance she’d be found frozen the next day (she was fine), while everyone else stayed up all night worrying, I went to bed. I know that sounds heartless, but I figured I’d be of more use as a real human being than as a zombie. So here I was in The Twilight Zone, maybe in Israel (or whatever they called it back then?), maybe in another time, since they had been talking about Romans—but it probably didn’t matter since it was all a dream anyway, and the sooner I fell “asleep” in this dream (presumably I was already asleep, or in a coma, or whatever), the sooner I’d wake up to my usual pedestrian worries like whether I should call off my wedding in a few days. Damn! All of my choices at this point sucked!

Of course, it didn’t work that way. It was still dark when my eyes popped open, and I felt surprisingly alert and pain-free except for a mild headache. Unambiguously, this still wasn’t Maine. Damn.

I heard subdued commotion in the courtyard. Still dressed in my dreary outfit from the night before, I poked my head out the doorway just as Shmion and another man disappeared into the passageway toward the outside. Grabbing a few big gulps of water and tearing a big chunk off a stale loaf on a small table, I quietly set off after them. Shmion had said something about fishing, which meant they would be going to the lake or ocean or whatever it was. Sounded more interesting than sitting around the house. I followed at a distance. They were completely incautious, so it was easy to keep from being seen. Soon joined by several other men, they walked for about half an hour till they came to a group of huts and a few rickety looking wharves where maybe a couple of dozen boats were anchored. The boats were pretty much alike, maybe twenty-five feet long with a single mast. Shmion jumped into the water, swam to one of the boats, pulled up a large stone anchor, and with a long oar slowly maneuvered the boat to one of the wharves. The other six men, all of whom had been at the house last night, loaded a bunch of nets and other gear I didn’t recognize into the boat, climbed in, and soon they were heading south and east, away from the shore. I took this opportunity to stick my hand into the water and taste it—it was fresh water, not salt. So this was a lake, not an ocean.

Jerusalem. Lake. Costumes from a Charleton Heston movie. I knew just enough to suspect where/when I might be. But on the other hand since this couldn’t be happening, I wasn’t really there, so I was even feeling a bit proud of the creativity of my imagination—I mean, inventing a whole ‘nother language for inclusion in my dream, that was pretty good. And the bright side was that, as long as I was in The Twilight Zone (or a coma or. . .) I didn’t have to come to any decision about whether I should marry Steve or endure the incredible embarrassment of calling off my wedding. It was even sort of funny, since one of my biggest problems with Steve was his religious fanaticism, and here I was, if I was reading the signs correctly, in an imaginary world chock full of stuff that had monstrous religious overtones. If, if, if. . .

OK, I was feeling more lucid. I’m in a dream or a coma. This isn’t real anyway, so in a sense I’m pretty invulnerable, so screw any soldiers who might be wandering along the beach. No, bad choice of words. Whatever. I headed south along the west shore of the lake, roughly paralleling the direction of the men’s boat, but it was out of sight within half an hour or so. Yet I kept walking. Maybe, if I was in a coma, I would stimulate my nerves this way and help prevent disuse atrophy in my muscles.

I saw only a few people along the lake, and no one bothered me. The men I saw basically pretended I wasn’t there. The women generally would smile and say a greeting, but I think because I was walking quickly and in a determined fashion, no one tried to engage me in conversation. No soldiers this time.

It was pleasant. The sun wasn’t up yet, although it was getting pretty light. It was extraordinarily quiet. I’m used to sounds no matter where I go—even in the mountains you can often hear a jet overhead. But here there was just the gentle lapping of waves on the beach, and lots of birds, and an occasional human voice: Although settlement was relatively sparse, there were quite a few dwellings close to the lake.

After about an hour of walking, I saw the boat again, recognizing it by a dark patch at the top of the sail. It was maybe a quarter of a mile offshore. I was a bit tired by then, so I sat down cross-legged on the sand and watched them. There wasn’t a whole lot else to do.

I first saw him out of the corner of my right eye, just as the top edge of the sun slid above the eastern hills. He was about a hundred yards away, walking toward me along the shore, a large bag thrown over his shoulder. He was barefoot, and when he was close enough for me to see his face (for I started staring as soon as I saw him), I saw that he was smiling. And when he was a lot closer, I heard him humming.

I knew it was useless for me to say anything, since I had pretty much accepted my muteness as a given.

He stopped about five feet from me, set his cloth bag on the ground, put his hands on his hips, and grinned widely. “Hi,” he said.

“Oh, shit!” I said in return, completely without premeditation, and then covered my mouth with my hand as I realized first that this guy had spoken to me in English, and second that I had actually been able to speak, and third that the first thing I had said in this Oz time warp was rather impolite!

“I mean, hi. I mean, I can talk. I mean, I haven’t been able to talk, but now I can, and you understand English, I mean you speak English, and I have no idea what’s going on, and you have to be another one of my creative inventions, and I’ll shut up because I. . .”

He let out a belly laugh, put out his hands toward me, shaking them back and forth as if to say, Whoa, slow down.

“I do indeed speak English, and no, I’m not another one of your ‘creative inventions.’ Quite the reverse, Kate. And this isn’t a dream. Well, not exactly. It’s quite real. I could explain it, but you wouldn’t understand, so let’s not talk about space-time. In fact, let’s not talk at all for a few minutes. I need your help right now. Wander around back there and pick up as much dry wood as you can. You concentrate on kindling—everything from small twigs to sticks an inch or two in diameter. I’ll get the bigger stuff.”

He turned around and soon disappeared into the sparse woods that bordered this part of the shore. He knew my name! I stared, unmoving, and after a couple of minutes managed to close my mouth. But it never occurred to me not to do what he asked. I got up and started collecting sticks in the woods.

I heard him and even saw him at a distance a few times during my search, but didn’t really encounter him face-to-face again till I returned to the beach with my arms filled with what I hoped he wanted.

“Great,” he said, after I had deposited my bundle onto the sand. “Thanks. And now that you’re standing and a little more available, I need to do this.” And he took me in his arms and hugged me.

I had no fear—at least at first—that he was some kind of lecher. I had no fear at all. I started to cry. He held me even tighter, my head squeezed against his chest. He said nothing, just gently stroked my back, and occasionally my hair, and slowly rocked side to side as I wept. The strange thing was that I had no idea why I was crying! I just couldn’t stop. . . until a thought speared into my consciousness: Kate, you dolt, you’ve always been duped, you’re never good at this, you get it wrong! First impressions bad! Do you have any clue what you’re doing here, alone with a strange man, your bodies touching? Beware, beware, beware!

But then an even wilder thought leaped into my head. Surely not. . . My body stiffened, and I pushed myself away from him, although his hands remained on my shoulders. He was looking into my eyes, the slightest smile tipping his lips up through his rather full beard. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I just can’t. . . I don’t trust myself. . . I’m such an idiot. . . I just had the strangest thought. . . But it can’t be. . . But still. . . This is crazy. . . I’m sorry. . .”  I stared into his eyes for what seemed like an eternity, afraid to go on, afraid not to.

Finally, I found the boldness to blurt out, “Please, let me see your hands again!?” It was a hybrid between a cold demand and a desperate plea and a timid question. But he didn’t hesitate. He took his hands from my shoulders and held them motionless, palms toward me, just a foot or so from my eyes.

I dropped to my knees as though I had been K.O.’d by Muhammed Ali. “Oh my God!” I whispered as I glanced up at him through the tears that were once again flooding my face.

“At your service,” he said as he placed one scarred hand across his belly, the other across the small of his back, and bowed in as gentlemanly a fashion as any tux-clad twenty-first-century jet-setter.

“Oh my God,” I gulped out as I hid my face in my hands.

“You keep saying that!” I could tell he was smiling as he spoke.

“But, but. . .”

“Tell you what, I need to talk with you, and I think it would be good if we could hug some more, but I really do have a slight time crunch here. Can you keep helping me, and we can talk later?”

“Uh. . . Sure. But. . .”

“Later, Kate. Please. Two things. Those guys will be heading this direction in less than an hour. First, the fire. I know you know how to build one. Start with the smallest pieces first, then add larger sticks. I’m going to go find some rocks or some logs we can all sit on.”

He started scrounging along the shore, dragging a couple of logs and carrying several large, relatively flat rocks to set around the fire area. In a stupor, I kneeled on the sand and started building a fire, just as I had done scores of times in the past (in the past? in the future? Whatever. . .). Within about ten minutes, I had the structure of a pretty good fire prepared, including several large logs that probably would burn for hours.

Then he squatted next to me, looking about in a rather conspiratorial manner. “OK, Kate, here’s the fun part. I need to borrow a match from that emergency pouch you have around your shoulder.”

“What on earth!” I cried.

“I know, I know, it’s sort of cheating. It’s really just for you, love. If you. . .”

“But you. . . you’re. . . Can’t you just snap your fingers or something and. . .”

“Ahhh, it’s sort of complicated. Yes, that would be just as easy as it was to get your matches here. But it’s a question of what mode I’m in. More space-time stuff. If physicists of your time were involved, I might explain it in terms of elegance. Mainly it’s more fun this way.”

I pulled the pouch over my neck, opened the waterproof cylinder that always contained twelve waterproofed matches, and handed him one.

“Here,” he said, giving it back to me, “You start the fire.”

I managed to close my mouth again, and, largely because my hands were trembling as if I had the DTs, ended up fumbling three matches before I finally got the kindling going.

We stood in silence, staring at the flames till the smaller logs were starting to burn, at which point he said, “One more item I need your help with.”

He handed me the rather large bag. “Hold onto the bottom, while I pull this out.”

I did, and he did. It was a net.

“Sorry it’s not a fly rig, but that wouldn’t work well here, and besides, someone might see us. This all has to be kept ‘authentic,’ you know. You haven’t caught any fish on this trip, so I thought I’d give you another chance. Grab hold of this edge over here,” he said as he was spreading the net onto the beach and indicating an edge adjacent to another side that had rocks tied along the cords as weights. He stood opposite me. “Let’s go,” he said.

I paced him as we headed to the water’s edge and walked into the lake till the water was up to my waist. “Here is fine,” he said. “Now grab this weighted edge in your left hand. Good. Scrunch up the rest of that side, still in your left hand, just like I’m doing.” I tried to copy him, but had trouble because his hands were bigger than mine, but eventually had the net gathered into my hands and arms in a rough mirror image of the way he was holding it. “Now we’ll count three and throw on the next count. Be sure to hold tightly onto the back edge with your right hand, as well as that small rope attached to the front edge—right, that’s it. One. . . two. . . three. . . Now!”

We tossed the net toward the middle of the lake, and it actually spread itself out rather smoothly. “We need to wait only a few seconds. They’re schooling right there. . . Great. Now hold tight with your right hand, and use both hands to draw in the rope. Gently. . . Good. At the same time we need to slowly walk back toward shore. Slower! That’s it!”

Within a few minutes, we had dragged up onto the shore fifteen fish that I estimated to weigh maybe two to three pounds each.

“These look just like tila. . .”

Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus, to be exact,” he interrupted. “Pretty sharp observation. Been here over a thousand years, local time. Not as tasty as the trout you weren’t catching, but quite acceptable. One more task before we can relax, though. You, my love, get to help me clean them! I know you’re good at it. Let’s see if you can beat me.”

“Hey, no fair,” I cried, amazed at my boldness. “You can just. . .”

“No, no, no, Kate, I’m not in that mode now. You’ve already set a record because of the very first words you said to me when we met.” He grinned as I blushed. “Let’s see if you can outmatch me in a simple contest. Oh—and I’ll be a good sport: You can use your Buck knife. That will give you quite an edge, don’t you think? And all I’ve got is this horrendous thing that they call a knife these days. How rich a nice Jewish boy could get if he could import Buck knives to this place!”

I grinned and said, “You’re on!”

And I did beat him—beheading, cleaning, and scaling ten fish to his five.

“You beat me, although you did have a better knife! You may have all the bragging rights you wish, because, of course, no one is going to believe. . .”

“Look, I’m about to lose my mind here. Is this really happening?”

“What’s real and what’s not real are topics you couldn’t begin to get your mind around. Yes, this is real. Yes, it’s really happening. That is, it’s physically happening, and in real time. You’ve been here, using your way to measure time, since yesterday afternoon—sixteen hours and fourteen minutes, to be exact. Remember that. Sixteen hours and fourteen minutes. Oh, I should tell you that I cheated a bit so that, for purposes of this little adventure, there’s no time difference between Eastern Daylight Time and Galilee time, so don’t be put off by the time zone thing. And you’re really here. This is indeed Lake Galilee, as you call it, and in a few minutes Simon—I might as well use the name you’re familiar with—and my other friends will show up ravenously hungry. That’s why we need to get these fish onto the fire. So no more talking. Just a few more minutes, I promise you. I need to call the guys in exactly seventeen minutes.”

He reached into the bottom of his bag and removed a bunch of very large, folded leaves. He took them to the lake and immersed them for a minute till they were thoroughly wet, then brought them back. “First, we sprinkle the fish with these herbs,” he said as he removed a leather pouch from around his neck. “Then we wrap each one in these leaves and place them in the coals along the side. . . like this.”

I copied his actions till all fifteen fish were in the coals.

Then he sat down on the log and motioned for me to sit beside him.

“There’s not much time, because they’re already heading in this direction. So just listen to me, Kate. All these special effects, these space-time tricks as you might want to refer to them, are trivial. They’re not important. What I have to say to you is what’s important. Do you remember what you felt when I held you awhile ago?”

“Yes. I want to feel like that forever.”

“In good time, love, you shall. It will be far better than you can imagine even now. But that’s the relationship I invite everyone to share. If you had a chance to call up all your friends and invite them to your apartment so they could all stand in line in order to spend an hour with me, letting me hold them and love them. . . would you do that? Even your atheist and New Age and Muslim friends?”

“Of course, that would be. . .”

“That’s what evangelism is, Kate. I know, most people confuse it with religion, and that’s even more painful to me than it is to the people who are turned off by it. But in the midst of all the silly religiosity and self-importance, good things actually happen, Kate. Some people develop that kind of intimacy with me. What you experienced awhile ago is something millions of people have known in their own time, without ever seeing or touching me. It’s why I’m about to urge my friends on the boat out there to go tell everyone what they’ve seen and heard. It’s about Life. Yes, most evangelical types are more into religion than they are into Life. But the possibility is always there. Don’t despise it, Kate.”

“OK. . .” I didn’t know what else to say. If he had said I should eat nothing but turnips for the rest of my life, I would gladly have said OK.

“And another thing.” He turned me around, since we had been sitting side by side, and held my shoulders again (Oh, to feel those hands on me every second of every day!), looking almost sternly into my eyes as he said, “Kate, Steve is my gift to you. And you are my gift to him. Don’t despise my gift, Kate. You don’t have to play the religious games. You can love his friends and cooperate with them without buying into the parts that are more about religion than about Life. I know you’re embarrassed at the thought of being part of ‘those people,’ as you’re fond of calling them. If I cared in the least what people think, I would be embarrassed too. But I don’t and I’m not, any more than I’m embarrassed to be your friend. Steve is yours, Kate. Marry him. Have a wonderful life.”

“One more comment: You were unfaithful to Steve, Kate. No, I know,” he hurried, placing his finger on my lips as I started to reply, “You hadn’t even met him when you had those affairs. But I had. I knew him and I knew you, and I could see how incredibly beautiful this union will be, Kate, and you violated your pledge to Steve just as clearly as if you had already met him. The sequences of time are not nearly the barrier that you guys put them up to be. I tried to tell everyone, this sex stuff is immeasurably more powerful and more significant and more wonderful than you are willing to accept. . .”

Once again I tried to interrupt, even though I wasn’t at all sure what I would say, but he stopped me before I could say anything: “Hush! Listen to me! You were unfaithful, within time, to a pledge you are about to make for all time, and time is more fluid than you think. But for every time, for everyone, I have covered the choices and the consequences, Kate. Remember that—I have it all covered! Go free. You have no guilt. I do not and will never condemn you.” He once again spread his arms slightly so that I could see the palms of his hands. “But remember the price paid for that freedom. . .” He continued, “If you had waited for Steve as he waited for you, it would be so much better. But that’s in the past for you. I have it covered.”

His grin was sly and not at all subtle as he began to stand. “In case you’re interested: Although it will take a year or so before you have each other trained, you have no idea how great the sex will be. Don’t miss it!” He then told me something—a highly specific piece of advice—that made me blush like a five-year-old who has just wet her pants, but there’s no way I’m going to repeat that. Let me just say that, over the next few years, his suggestion proved to be incredibly right on!

He took my hand and lifted me to my feet. “One last thing,” he said. “In Guatemala, there’s a wonderful little girl named Maria—yes, I know you’ll meet a lot of Marias, and no, you’ll have no idea which one this is—but you’re also my gift to her. One little injection will save her life. And her grandson, when he’s a young man, will mean the difference between life and death for thousands of his people. And there are a multitude of other stories I won’t take time to mention. It’s a great opportunity, Kate. Don’t miss it!”

He glanced over his shoulder. “They’re getting closer. Let me hold you. Let me love you.” He once again put his arms around me and I was enveloped in a feeling of being adored; it seemed as though tiny, singing crystals of light were splashing into thousands of dark crannies and even darker closets that I had forgotten even existed in my mind. And once again I wept, from pure joy.

After little more than a minute, however, he removed his arms from me. “I must go, Kate. It won’t hurt for them to see you, since you’re a woman and they’re such chauvinists that they will barely notice you and definitely wouldn’t mention you—so don’t go rereading John’s story to see if it’s different now.” He grinned. “I assure you, you’re not in it. But I need to have some serious conversations with these guys, just me and them. Sit here for a second.”

I sat back onto the log, and he walked to the shore and cupped his hands to his mouth. In a strong, deep voice I heard him yell, but this time in the language I had heard everyone speaking the previous night, “Have you caught anything?!” I closed my eyes, savoring the joy that voice created within me. . .

And then it was over.

When I opened my eyes, I was living a cliché. I mean, in a story like this you expect that the hero (usually a guy) wakes up staring at fluorescent lights in a hospital room, a nurse smiling over him, everything is white, there’s an IV stuck in his arm, he asks where he is, someone he loves rushes over to the bedside and exclaims in tears that You’re awake!

I wish I could be more original here, but that’s pretty much what happened. Woke out of coma, check. Lots of white stuff and fluorescent lights, check. Hospital bed, check. IV, check. Smiling nurse—well, not really, but Steve was in the room, and he made the standard rush to my bedside and started crying. I felt remarkably well and energetic, although I was exceedingly drowsy. He was a little startled by my first whispered words, however: “What time is it?”

“It’s 6:47 a.m. Oh, Kate, I love you, I love you, I was SO worried!”

My throat was dry and I could barely speak, but I managed to whisper-croak, “What day is it?”

“What? It’s Monday. Why? Anyway, you can talk, you’re OK, thank God, you’re awake! Oh, I love you, I love you. . .”

“OK, Dr. Brain, one more question.” It required all my effort to speak, but I was driven. “I’m sorry, I’ve just had a slight bash on my head. Do you know when I fell? I remember falling. Hit my head on the bumper, I think? When did that happen? As close to the exact time as you can figure.”

“I know precisely when it happened, because at the same time as you hit your head, you hit your left arm. Thankfully, it isn’t broken, but your watch was a lost cause. It stopped at 2:11 p.m.”

“So I’ve been out of it exactly how long, Steve? Exactly!? I’m sorry, this is important, it’s really important. I’m tired, I’ve got to go back to sleep, but I have to know. My brain isn’t up to it. Please, now, do the arithmetic. . .”

“OK.” He thought a few seconds, and I could tell he was counting on his fingers. Mr. brilliant cardiologist! “So far as I can figure,” he said, “you’ve been out of it about sixteen hours and thirty-six minutes. The sheriff’s department traced your plates and called your family, and I was racing up here from Boston within ten minutes.”

I smiled.

“OK, quick, one other thing before I go back to sleep. Do you know where my emergency pouch is, the one that has my knife and. . .”

“Sure, it’s in the closet with the clothes you were wearing when. . .”

“Go get it. Hurry!,” I croaked. “I can’t stay awake much longer!”

He quickly walked to the tiny closet and retrieved my pouch from a shelf toward the top.

“Open the match container.”

“Kate, what in the world, why. . .”

“Just do it, damn it!” I practically yelled, and the effort made my head spin.

He opened it, whereupon I asked, “How many matches are there, Steve? You know there should be a dozen, that’s as many as it holds.”

“There are eight. Now can you tell me. . .”

I smiled again, grabbed his hand, closed my eyes, felt sleep washing over me. “Mmmm, never mind, gotta get some beauty sleep. . . prepare for th’wedding. . . only three days for. . . honeymoon. . . wanna be in good shape. . . G’night. . . I love you.”