Lion

a short story by

R.K. Gandhi

 

Leon was sitting at the rooftop bar late one night.  Not just any old bar, The Bar.  The one that he always goes to on Friday night.  The bar has seen many changes over the years, but one thing remains constant. 11pm Friday night, like clockwork, you will see Leon there. Leon is now in his 30’s, although his head and heart remain in his roaring 20’s.  Safe to say, when the saying came out that ’30 was the new 20’, he was ecstatic.  Now, he justified, he had until 40 to grow up and change. He assured himself of this thought nightly when he couldn’t sleep, and again in the morning when he laid in his bed and stared at the ceiling in sadness; this had become as routine as the bar.  Ask what Leon does, and he will tell you pointedly Jack of all trades, and master of none. Which is a fancy way of saying, he hasn’t figured it out quite yet.  He has a job that pays, and for now, that’s all that matters. Luckily, in his head, he has about a decade to figure it out. Unless of course a new saying comes out that states that ’40 is the new 30’. If this happens, he will be a booming 40 year old reverting back to his days of when he was a boastful 30 year old acting like a bright eyed 20 year old. Age is after all, just a number. 

 

Leon was wearing a carefully picked out shirt and blazer, with a nice pair of pants and a confident pair of shoes. It screamed enthusiasm, even though he wasn’t particularly enthused.  It was oh so Leon.  He was a fairly good looking man, blessed with a youthful face, and while he has dated a few girls, none have lasted long enough to be even remotely called a relationship.  The weather is nice this evening on the rooftop patio. Summer night, busy, lots of chatting and laughter and music to set the mood. But Leon is tired. Tired of the routine, tired of being in the same old place every Friday night, tired of being a jack, and not a master of his own life.  The thing is, Leon is a scared soul.  He has many fears. He doesn’t like change very much.  His beer, that he just finished ordering, is the same one they’ve had on tap for years.  He was born and raised in this dreary city he calls home.  And even though he loves home, parts of him wants to leave. Yet he simply lacks the courage, not the know how, to just up and go. Not yet anyway. He takes a sip of his cold familiar tasting beer. The bristles of his light scruff above his lips soaks in the foam of the beer.  He makes sure to clear the foam using his lower lip. He looks around the bar, scanning the rooftop to see if any female senses his cry for help.  A silent murmur of a plea that he wouldn’t admit to needing anyway. He turns back and watches the sports highlights on the television in front of him, and snacks on the peanuts along the bar ledge.

 

As the peanut shells pile up, much like his tab, Leon has grown weary of tonight and sighs as he takes one more glimpse behind him.  Again, he sees nothing but the same old set of women that he’s seen before time and time again.  His life has become repetitive and monotonous as the lines he uses to pick up women.  Which, by the way, painfully work.  Why doesn’t he just have the strength to make change in his life he wonders.  He turns back around just as the bill arrives by his empty beer glass. “He’ll have another.” A voice shoots out to his left.  Leon turns, and to his astonishment, sees a breathtaking woman wearing a black and purple summer dress addressing the bartender but looking straight at him.  “The usual right?” she asks Leon. “Yes thank you …ummm” reaching his hand out to greet her, pausing just enough in his words, inviting her to introduce herself. “D” she says with a smile. “D? Just D?” he confusingly asks. “Yup! Just call me D”. “Alright. I’m Leon. Thank you for the drink” Leon responds as he raises his glass in cheers motion even though there is no glass on the other end because D doesn’t have a drink.  “Aren’t you having anything?” Leon asks her. “No, I’m fine, I’m actually just on my way out” as D reaches into her purse and drops something in, looked like lip gloss or liptsick. Leon pretends to not watch what she’s doing, but in the corner of his eye, he stares.  “That’s a great shirt by the way” D says to Leon.  Leon, feeling high and mighty thanks her for the compliment and responds by saying “well that’s a great face”.  She smiles and Leon manages to get her to sit down with more sweet talk.  The two engage in small talk for a few minutes, discussing topics like food and their love of animals, even though Leon doesn’t have a pet but she does. She finds out he’s a Jack of all trades. He only manages to find out she’s a mystery. Leon makes her laugh more than a few times.  She’s worldly, and has super sexy legs that she crosses, uncrosses, and crosses time and time again.  Yes, Leon was a leg guy, and isn’t about to hide it.  She has flowing long hair and a fresh complexion.  He couldn’t quite make out her background. She wore feathers as earrings that made her look like quite the free spirit. It was her big, beautiful eyes that captivated him most. Stunning by any standard of any imagination. Leon is both intoxicated by her beauty and the alcohol, and on any other night, this sounds like a correlation, but not tonight.  There is something about this woman.  She’s mysterious.

 

“Listen Leon, it’s getting late, and I have to go.  But before I do, I have something I would have to ask you”.  “Ok, what’s that?” Leon awaits.  “What are you afraid of?” She asks. “What?” Leon replies. “I think there’s fear in you. More than one fear in you actually. I’m pretty good at reading people. So what are you scared of Leon? More importantly, what are you going to do about them?” D asks in a pointed way. Leon looks at her with a puzzled face. “What do you mean? I’m not scared of anything.”  “Well that’s a lie.  Listen this is a test, and so far you’re failing.” D says with a now more serious face. “It’s not a lie!” he exclaims. “Everyone has fears, it’s nothing to be ashamed of” she says. “So just tell me.” “I can’t really think of anything to be honest” he regretfully informs her.  She gets up from her chair abruptly, and says “Well, it was nice meeting you Leon, good luck with everything!” D walks towards the elevator, enters it and pushes the button to the ground floor. She gives Leon a curious look while shaking her head before the elevator doors close, leaving Leon bewildered as to what just happened.  Leon is left thinking what could have been.  He ponders what to do.  He bolts up and runs to the elevator. He runs out of the bar, down the street after her. “D wait!” huffing and puffing finally catching up to her. “How did you know?” Leon asks. “Oh I know everything Leon” she says as she smiles. “No seriously, tell me. How do you think you know me; know all my fears?” Leon, still breathing heavily from sprinting to her. “Listen, you have burn marks on your hands that are no accident.  You sip your drinks carefully. Too carefully. . And you didn’t once go near the rooftop ledge to see the amazing view of the city” D tells him.  “So?” Leon asks her.  “So…you need to conquer those fears Leon.  You won’t find happiness and what you’re looking for until you do.” She says.  “But you haven’t told me what my fears are!” Leon exclaims.  D pauses for a moment, smiles, and says “I don’t have to Leon. You already know what they are, and you already know what you’re looking for.” “Ok ok wait a second, why is this about me? What about you? What are your fears D? I mean if everyone has some like you say, what’s yours?” Leon asks in a smart ass manner.  A cab arrives next to them. License plate C060790. “I’m sorry Leon, I have to go. I’d love to continue you but I can’t take you with me. Maybe one day you’ll find me, after you find yourself” D says as she walks into the cab. “Wait!” Leon shouts. He pulls out a bent up business card. It’s just a card with his name, address,  and number. He hands it to her as she gets in the cab.”Call me!” he yells, as  the backseat window rolls up and the cab drives off into the night. Leon is left standing on the road wondering if he will ever see D again. What a strange and mysterious encounter he thinks to himself walking down the road, than onto a path in the other direction, which guides him down another street. Lights barely doing their job of lighting up the road.  Leon walks down the middle of the street with his head down and hands in his empty pockets, trying to figure out what on earth this odd night meant, if anything.  The encounter seemed unworldly.  Of course D was live and in the flesh, but she seemed more than that. It was very powerful to him. The connection was more than he ever felt, yet he barely knew anything about her.  D had made him feel more connected to himself, to the world, even if just for a moment.  Leon lied in his bed, tossing and turning.  He couldn’t get any rest.  He tried using a sleeping Drug, but that didn’t help either. That night, Leon didn’t sleep a wink.

 

Months had passed since that strange encounter, and it was now late fall.  The season and weather had changed, but Leon, he remained the same. He was unchanged in his life approach. Walking on the streets after work, with a light fall jacket and red scarf, he scurried home.  The bitterness of a truly cold fall day showed it’s ugly head today.  He quickly gets out his keys to try and unlock the door, but drops them in the process.  He picks them up and unlocks the door, scampering into his apartment.  Leon, steadfast in his routine, has put off taking in the mail for weeks until the latest possible date; the latest date being when the mail box in his apartment is overflowing, and he can’t stand the sight of it any longer. He sets his keys on the table and starts sifting through his rather large collection.  Throwing away junk mail, and post cards of friends travelling the world that only made him more upset.  Friends in Hawaii, family touring Asia, these sorts of things emotionally affected Leon if he stared at them for longer than a few seconds. Jealous of the people that could do what he couldn’t: take on the world. He tosses them in the garbage.  As he continues going through his mail, he picks up an envelope with no sender information. Not even a stamp.  Just his name and address on the front of a sealed white envelope.  Probably a chain mail, or some scam.  Nevertheless, he did enjoy surprises, no matter how deflating if they didn’t live up to the anticipation.  He opened it up, and lifted a white card out of it.  It had all but one word on the front of it:

 

FIRE

 

 

 

When Leon was a young teenager, he started hanging out with the wrong kind of friends. His grades slipped, he skipped class, and even got suspended for forging his parents signature on report cards.  Only his mom’s though, his dad’s was much too difficult to master.  It was a tough adjustment for him, high school that is.  In some ways he was rebelling against his parents for being strict on him with school.  There was one particular night, Leon and his friend Adam were out causing mischief in the streets.  Adam was really popular, an athlete, and for all intents and purposes, a real stud with the ladies even at such a young age.  On this particular night, Leon and Adam met up with a few other friends to play around in the local cornfields.  They were just kids being kids.  Goofing around. “Check it out Leon, I’m a scarecrow!” Adam yelled, as he propped himself up against a corn stalk. All was innocent, until one of his friends decided to bring fireworks, gas, and other flammable items to start horsing around with.  They started shooting fireworks at birds, targets, and even at each other.  One of his friends doused an area with gasoline. They all stood from a distance and tried hitting this small area with flying bottle rockets to try and ignite it.  Leon tried his luck, but the firework went off early, burning him a little on one hand.  Not enough to cry of course, not right now that is, but enough for him to stop participating.  He would just stay and watch.  Well, as you can imagine, Adam, an elite track athlete, baseball and hockey player, managed to hit the target and ignite the small circumference of gas soaked corn on his first attempt. How olympiad of him. You can see the problem with this right? The fire grew larger and larger, as did their fear.  They couldn’t call the police or fire department, or their parents.  So they just…ran.  Leon has grown accustomed to running from his fears so this is nothing new. 

Leon, at home now, hyperventilating but secretive so as not to tip off his parents of what they just did, stayed in his room caring for his small wound.  Later that night, the fire department showed up at Leon’s house.  His dad answered the door and their questions.  Within minutes “Leon!!” was shouted by his father, and down came Leon from his room.  “Did you know there was a small fire in the cornfield tonight?” Leon’s dad asked.  Leon responded “No?! Why?” The fireman at the door cut in “Son, are you sure you weren’t horsing around over there? There was a lot of damage and it’s better to be honest”. “No I wasn’t, I was playing baseball with my friends” Leon proclaimed.  Leon was holding his hands behind his body so that neither the fireman nor his parents could see the wound.  Unfortunately, Leon forgot his mom had eyes in the back of her head.  As his father turned away any other questions from the fire department and closed the door, his mom grabbed his hand and asked him what happened? He of course said it was nothing.  His father, was not so nice.  He grabbed Leon by the hand and marched him in the kitchen.  His father turned on the range stove and grabbed Leon’s hand that wasn’t burned. “You lied to me boy, and this is going to teach you a lesson you will never forget!” he yelled.  Leon, crying his eyes out and begging for forgiveness was no match for his dad’s strength.  He took Leon’s hand and moved it closer to the burner.  His mom pleading with her husband to forgive and let him go, even trying to wrestle her son away from him, but to no avail.  The flame pierced Leon’s left hand for just a second, before his father let him go.  Leon would never forget that terrible night, he couldn’t.  He has the scars to remind him everyday.  Leon still gets antsy starting BBQ’s and being around open flames.  Although he did eventually forgive his father, whom later told the fire department it was indeed his son and friends. Leon received a small criminal record, and fully understood his mistake.  The burning memory that was etched on his hands and in his mind gave him anxiety that he has yet to overcome.

 

Leon looked up a bit with a confused face.  He looked back down at the card. FIRE. What is this? Some new club or restaurant opening up? It must be that.  He flipped the card over, and on it was a hand written address and time. Everything on the card was written in marker.  A personalized advertisement? Or a really low end promotional company just starting out.  The address was 12 Weichel Street.  Certainly didn’t sound like a business area, more residential.  Leon punched the address into his computer to investigate, and found out he was right.  It was a residential area, apartment building, about thirty minutes from his place.  The time on the card said 7pm.  This must be some sort of scam he thought, but always a curious cat, Leon decided that he would investigate.  He swung his red scarf around his neck, and decided to check it out, just a bit early to be safe. 

 

Slowly driving up to the address, he sees nothing that would impress the eye on the outside. And he hears nothing but the sound of crickets in the night.  It’s quite dark already, and frigid outside. It’s a fairly old apartment building that seems so empty it feels abandoned.  There are no cars in the parking lot. Leon gets out of the car, and walks towards the apartment door.  He doesn’t hear or see much going on at all.  Looking behind him to check if others had followed in his similar venture, but there was nobody.  Suddenly, just as he was about to halt this excursion and leave, an explosion burst a window out from the left side! This sent Leon falling to backwards and to the ground to try dodge debris.  He looked up at the window to see that a small fire had started in this bottom level apartment.  He reached for his phone to dial 911, but just before he hit the dial key, he realized something.  He was the only one around, with no reason at all to be there, and that the authorities may still have record of him starting that cornfield fire when he was a teenager.  He put the phone back into his pocket, and was just about to get into his car when he heard small cries.  Whimpers.  A baby? He moved closer to the window.  Flames were roaring in the apartment, and it was hard to see with the smoke pouring out.  He realized the cries for help were from a tiny black cat inside the apartment.  He looked around and still no one in sight.  Leon looked directly into the fiery apartment.  He stood there staring at it, feeling helpless as the cat continued meowing for help.  He couldn’t just stand there. He had to help, no matter how difficult or scared he might be.  He took off his fall jacket, and approached the window with caution.  Using his coat, he brushed off the remaining glass to avoid getting pierced in any way.  He lept up onto the window ledge, taking one last breath of fresh air before climbing into the apartment.  Unable to secure sure footing, he fell to the apartment floor.  He was in Hell.  Huge fiery waves everywhere, he could barely see.  The heroic version of himself he saw just seconds before seems more of a Delusion now.  Hovering in a corner was Leon, taking cover from the Demon like flames grasping for him.  And on the opposite end, he faintly saw the cat, hovering in much the same manner.  Cowering from the flames, fear in both their eyes.  He was running out of time, and had to make a move.  Leon’s eyes opened up, and saw a path to the cat that was not as buried in flames as the rest of the apartment.  Even though Hell’s fury and Damnation was all around him, he knew he had to push through the fear.  He rose up to his feet, and darted towards the cat, picked it up, and ran back in the same way.  He pushed the cat up and through the window.  Leon looked around to see if anyone else was in the apartment, but the firestorm was getting too strong.  He leapt through the window, and jumped to the ground outside, tumbling right beside the black cat.  Still no one around, Leon decided it would be best if he took the cat home and not stick around for fear people would accuse him of any wrongdoing.  The cat kept meowing, understandably, as Leon wrapped it in his red scarf.  He placed the cat in the passenger seat of the car before driving home. During the car ride, Leon checked the name tag of the cat: Picasso.  No other information was on the tag or collar.  He was an all black cat with just the tip of his tail white.  It looked like his tail was dabbed in white paint like a paintbrush. “Picasso huh?” Leon asked the cat.  Picasso responds with a “Prrrrrow”.

 

They arrived at Leon’s home, and Picasso makes himself comfortable.  But not for long as Picasso keeps scampering away as Leon tries to grab hold of him.  “Hey, get back here. Stay” he commands.  But Picasso keeps running around.  Finally he manages to pick him up, and give him a thorough bath to wash off all the soot, smoke, and ash.  Picasso shakes his body to dry off, giving Leon an unimpressed look.  The noise of sirens can be heard in the background and fills the night.  Leon wonders what just happened to his dull and predictable life.  He held up the card he received in the mail.  Who sent him the card? Was he being set up by someone? He tried to remember any incidences in his life in which he may have ticked off the wrong person.  None came to mind.  When you live a mundane life like Leon, those incidences are far and few between.  So who sent it? Why? In any right, even though it was a Friday evening, Leon did not want to go to The Bar, or any bar for that matter. He had enough excitement for one night. Deciding not to let the night to go to waste, he wanted to try cooking a dinner that he never tried before, and hang out with his new feline friend Picasso.  He went to the store and bought a brand new BBQ, and cooked outside in the cold.   Yes, he even lit it himself.  Picasso looked at him curiously from the window.  Leon made steak and ribs, and for Picasso…chicken! It was a delicious meal, and well deserved for both Leon and his new friend.  Before stepping inside his apartment, he finds a round shaped rock on the ground.  It was almost perfectly circular in shape.  He aims at a ‘no parking fire zone’ sign across the street, and hits it dead on.  That night, in bed with Picasso lying next to him, Leon had a Dream he was a fireman saving a woman from a burning house and being a hero.

 

It was Winter now, and Leon had begun to make some changes in his life.  He joined the gym in the new year, he was reading more, especially about travelling, and even tried yoga.  He had not been to The Bar in a long time, too far to remember in fact.  He was certainly happier, but there was more in store for Leon.  He came home from one of his sales jobs, and checked his mailbox.  These days, he didn’t leave it until it was overflowing, but checked it regularly, as most people do.  He placed a new postcard he received onto his refrigerator with a magnet.  It was from a friend who had just got married, and thanked Leon for attending back in the summer.  It was a honeymoon postcard from Australia.  As he read through the mail, he found to his astonishment, another envelope with no stamp or postage markings at all.  He held it up, and a sinking feeling came over him.  He took a few deep breaths, and opened it.  This time, the card said something different. It said:

 

WATER

 

 

 

When Leon was a little boy, 9, he was happy and bustling with excitement.  Like any 9 year old boy would be .  His parents would have to fight him to try and come back in the house.  He loved being outside, playing games, running around, adventuring out into the wild, and yes, playing in water.  He was also quite funny and charming. Rumour has it he charmed the nurse while in the hospital as his sister was born. His dad, adamant that a person should be a strong and able swimmer because he himself didn’t have the opportunity to learn, enlisted Leon into swimming lessons.  There, Leon would learn the tools necessary to become a good swimmer.  Unfortunately, Leon ended up failing his lessons after his multiple attempts at the ‘dead man’s float’ went awry.  His dad, with a motto of failure is not an option, tried to get Leon to join again.  But Leon had grown tired of swimming lessons, and wanted to try karate or hockey instead.   Those didn’t happen either.  Nonetheless, Leon’s love of water didn’t deter him from having recreational fun in the pool, and when his entire family decided to go on a picnic at a local water park on summer’s day, he was thrilled. On that day, his uncle decided to take him into the wave pool.  He had been before, but perhaps not as far out.  His uncle held him, and they waited as the rather large pool was still calm.  Gradually, the waves came on, and they kept coming.  Big waves.  Leon panicked, as wave after wave pounded his skinny little frame until he lost his uncles hand.  A final wave took him under.  Leon’s arms and legs were frantic, as his uncle desperately tried to grab him, which he finally did.  He held Leon in his arms as he brought him back to shore.  With an on looking crowd, Leon gasped for air and finally came to.  Leon, in his own eyes, was lucky to be alive.  His uncle, Jim, injured his back in his desperation to not let Leon drown.  Jim, was a gym buff, and in great shape, but later confessed his back would never be the same after that day.  Leon’s violent movement during his near drowning experience, and Jim’s effort to control, hold, and save him, forced Jim to retire from the gym entirely.  While Leon, distraught and frightened, retired from the water entirely.

 

Leon looked up a bit, even more confused than before, and looked back down at the card. WATER.  What is this now he wonders.  He flips the card over. On the back is an address. 101 Father David Bauer Drive and a time of 7pm. He thinks to himself, but can’t pinpoint where that is.  He grabs his laptop and types in the address.  His heart sinks a bit, and he takes a distressed gulp.  The address is a swimming complex.  Who keeps sending these cards? The Devil? God? What was this all about? Maybe it was just a promotion from the swim complex to sign people up for lessons. That’s it. It has to be that. But as he looked at the card closer, the word WATER, just like FIRE before, was written using a marker. The address and time was hand written as well. Is this some sort of cruel joke? This can’t be coincidence.

 

Leon took the card, grabbed his keys once more, said bye to Picasso, and ran out the door.  The curiosity got the better of him in this case, and he wanted to find out more.  Driving intently through the streets he arrives at the address.  Parks the car at the furthest parking spot because he doesn’t risk the possibility someone hitting it due to their negligence.  He swings open the door to the recreation centre and asks the front desk the location of the pool area, showing the card and asking questions.  The girl points to the left while continuing to chew her gum and type away on her computer.  He slowly approaches the clear glass windows surrounding the pool area.  His face pressed against the glass, looking at the many swimmers.  All of whom seem to be cheery and having fun.  A feeling of sadness comes over him; a sadness that stems from fear.  His hand grazes the glass as though he wants to feel the water.  Just as he does, a face appears right up against the glass, startling Leon.  A smiling man in his 50’s, wearing a blue rubber swimmer’s cap and a silver grey beard, waves and points in the direction of the door which is just to the right.  The man looks like an aquatic priest.  Leon looks behind him thinking this man has clearly waved at someone else.  But the old man reiterates that it is indeed Leon he is talking to by pointing to him, and again in the direction to the right.  Confused, Leon walks to the door where he meets the man. “Ahhh you must be Leon” reaching out his right hand.  Leon reluctantly shakes his hand, and says “Who are you? How did you know my name? Wait…did you send me this card?” Leon reaches for the card in his pocket “Tim Woodman. Pleasure. But we have lots of work to do Leon” brushing off his attempt to be shown the card.  “But wait…what’s…I don’t understand” Leon cries out.  “You always fear what you don’t understand Leon.  It’s my job to help you understand. Come!” Tim shouts and waves his hand in a motion to follow him, as he starts walking down the corridor.

 

Tim throws a pair of swimming trunks at Leon. “Tim listen, I know you mean well, but umm, I don’t swim, and I’m not about to start. You see when I was 9…”  “Get changed, change rooms on the side there” Tim responds.  Leon looks at Tim, and Tim looks right back. Tim can see the fear in him.  He walks towards Leon and puts his hand on his shoulder. “Listen, Leon I’m not going to force you to jump in the pool with me. That goes against what this exercise is about.  What I will tell you is right now, you have an opportunity to make a change here.  Isn’t that what you want? See those happy kids out there? That was you one time wasn’t it? Well, sometime between then and now, you’ve lost that. Now you’re no fun Leon am I right? Don’t you want at least some of it back? You’ve come this far down the path, don’t you have the Desire to see what you’re capable of?” Tim’s longwinded talk has awestruck Leon.  Leon, looks down at his feet, and looks back up at Tim, and responds “yes”.  “Good, now put those trunks on” Tim says as he scoots into his office.  Leon holds up a skinny pair of swimming trunks, lime green. “Hey Tim, you wouldn’t happen to have a bigger size do you?” he asks.  Leon goes into the change room.

 

Leon walks out slowly, almost a crawl, from the change room and into the pool area. Tim greets him and asks, “OK here we go. Wait a second, where did you get that nose plug?” pointing to Leon’s nose. “I asked the girl at the front desk if they had extra. Why not right? You can never be too safe” “It’s ridiculous!” Tim shouts, and pulls the nose plug right off Leon’s nose. “Ow! What did you do that for? You didn’t have to do that? Is my nose bleeding?” Leon cries, as he holds his nose in some discomfort. “My goodness what a fuss you’re making” Tim says as he shakes his head.  “Come on, let’s begin at the shallow end. We gotta start from below the ground up it looks like” Tim mockingly says.  You can do this Leon, and I promise if you don’t want to do it again, you don’t have to.  But if you want to continue past today, you will arrive here on the first rainfall” proclaimed Tim.  Leon grudgingly agrees.  Tim guides Leon out into the water, slowly, and submersing him into the water. It looks like a religious ceremony, a passage if you will, the way Tim was carefully treating Leon.

 

On a mild spring morning in April, Leon peeked out his window and saw rain coming down for the first time this year.  He knew exactly what this meant.  He arrived at the swimming facility that night, and with that, embarked on swimming lessons with Tim once a week, for 18 consecutive weeks.  Not once did Tim talk about reimbursement, or, anything to do with that mysterious card.  They went through basics like breathing and the doggy paddle, safety to the backstroke, and yes, even the deadman’s float. “Why do we even need to learn the dead man’s float?” asked Leon.  “It’s one of the most important skills as a swimmer.  It could help you survive long durations in the water if need be. You never know Leon, you just never know” Tim responded.  Alas, after the 18 weeks, Leon was equipped to handle all types of swimming.  Each lesson acting as a cleansing for his fear of water.  He was quite content at conquering this feat.  Yes, it involved going through a  number of embarrassing moments, that included being scared to venture in the deep end, while kids were doing backflips off diving boards into it. Wearing the fluorescent ‘floaties’ for the first while too wasn’t exactly discrete, but Leon managed to work through this, and he was happy. “How can I ever thank you Tim? This has been incredible” Leon pleaded with Tim.  Tim simply said to just keep going, and don’t ask him about the card.  That the card was a miracle, it was Divine intervention, and to treat the message as such.  Leon nodded, shook his hand, and then hugged him.  Leon knelt down as Tim pulled out a beginners medal, and placed it around Leon’s neck. A tear came down Leon’s face, but he quickly brushed it away. 

 

Elated on his ride home on that warm, rainy April evening, Leon smiled the entire way.  He took out his umbrella as he stepped out of the car, and danced in the rain.  Picasso looked on from the window.  One could only imagine what he was thinking while watching Leon serenade his umbrella.  Leon cooked another wonderful meal for dinner: a French dish called Tapenade on baguette, and Moules a la creme. For Picasso…Sardines! That night, he felt like he was an Olympic swimmer who had just won Gold.

 

It was now the heart of summer, late June to be exact, and Leon had become a totally different person.  He was healthy and in shape like never before, he got a tattoo and meditated daily, he went on weekly adventures hiking or rafting, and was even looking into joining a marathon.  Even Leon’s daily life had changed significantly.  He was trying and learning something new everyday.  Things like learning how to change the oil in his car, keep track of his finances better, stay in touch with relatives who he had previously lost contact with, and so on.  Leon was a new man.  A giant of a man than he was just a year ago.

 

He had just come home from an afternoon jog, and grabbed all his mail.  You can probably guess where this was going.  Another envelope had arrived with no postage markings.  This time, Leon wasn’t confused, or scared at all.  Picasso, or Pica as his cat was now referred to, head-butted Leon as if to tell him hurry up and open it.  He ripped open the envelope with eagerness, to see a card with only the word:

 

 

 

AIR

 

 

 

Walking home one evening from from a party, Leon decides to take a different path, one less populated.  He was intoxicated from drinking at a local college party.  A road less travelled was probably a good idea tonight, so to not be noticed by any sort of police or night watch.  He was headed back to the dorm room on campus.  Leon, 22, almost kicked out of school the year before, was in even more danger of being kicked out this year.  He was walking down a country side road, and up ahead was a bridge overpassing a small river.  Stumbling but still coherent, he approaches the bridge and notices someone standing on the ledge.  Leon stopped immediately, and focused his eyes.  It was a man, probably in his 40’s, looking as though he was about to make his final jump in this world.  Leon could hear the small cries, and mumbling voice of this man.  “Wait! Wait! Don’t do it!” Leon shouts.  The man turns his head quickly. “Stay back!” he says, with his hand out in a stopping motion. “Ok, Ok. I’m not moving. I’m Leon. What’s your name?” he asks.  “I don’t care, don’t make me care.  I’ve made up my mind” the man proclaims.  Leon takes a gulp, and looks down at the bottom of the river.  It’s a big drop.  Leon has never been good with heights to begin with.  He wouldn’t dare do anything like bungee jumping or skydiving.  He’s never even flown on a plane.  Leon has never been outside his local area, never once taken a trip anywhere, an all inclusive trip or any of that. No Leon was a bit of a hermit that way. 

 

The height alone from the bridge causes Leon to step back from the ledge and close his eyes.  He tries to put his fear aside. “Why are you doing this?” Leon asks the man.  “Because I don’t deserve to live. I’ve wasted my life” the man responds. “You still have time to make a difference though! You can make up for that lost time.  This, this just takes that opportunity away!” Leon pleads.  “No. The opportunity doesn’t belong to me anymore, I’ve had my chance it belongs to someone else now. To you Leon. I can’t save my own, I’m beyond saving. But you, don’t let this go to waste” the man exclaims.  The man turns back and looks down to the river, rises, and proceeds to jump. “No!!” Leon shouts as his diving attempt to grasps fails to hold onto anything but air.  Leon can’t watch, in fact as soon as he got close to the ledge where the man was, Leon closed his eyes and fell back.  Leon sobs uncontrollably.  He wishes so much he could have saved him.  Why is this happening? As the tears stopped, Leon finally gathered himself to be able to see his surroundings again.  And what he saw was a piece of paper on the ground, folded up.  He crawled towards it, and opened it up.  He could barely make out the words with the tears still blocking his vision.  He wiped them with his shirt sleeve, and looked at the words.

 

“If you stare at the possibility of Death right in the eyes, and not be afraid, you may just fall in love.”

 

Leon stares at the card. AIR.  He gets up and walks toward his dresser, opens a drawer, and finds a piece of paper.  He unfolds it slowly. It’s the same paper, the suicide note he found that awful night on the bridge.  He carefully folds it again, and slide it back it in the drawer.  Flipping over the card, he notices this time, there is no address.  However, there is something else in the envelope.  He wrestles the other papers from the unmarked envelope and to his astonishment realizes there are plane tickets to Normandy France.  Now a normal Leon response, judging from his prior experiences, would be fear, anxiety, confusion, and an inclination to say no.  This time, was different.  The flight was for July 14th, and it was already late June.  Picasso head-butted Leon as to say ‘Go for it Leon, and take me with you.’  Leon looks at Pica and smiles.  Before, Leon would be hesitant, but as we know now, this is a new Leon.  He immediately picked up the phone, called his boss and puts in his two weeks notice.  He was done with this life.  Realizing his passport was non-existent, he went to the government office to get one.  France would be his first stamp of destinations.  Hopefully, one of many in years to come.  He also visited the post office, to drop off a letter.  Unmarked except for the address it was going to be delivered to.

 

It took him nearly the entire two weeks to get rid of all the stuff he wasn’t coming back to.  He sold his grey, drab looking car, got out of the lease on his apartment, quit his job, and told his friends and family he was going away.  He packed minimally, and found a little carrier for Picasso that looked like a picnic basket, so he could come along on cargo. “Don’t worry Pica” said Leon. “I’m not having you for lunch” Leon smiled.  Pica not impressed, looked the other way.  “It’s all I could find!” Leon pleaded. 

 

The day was finally here, and both Leon and Pica were smiling on the trip to the airport. He arrived at the check in counter of the flight.  A charter directly to the airport in Rouen Normandy.  The slogan of the flight was “The journey, is your Destiny”.  A mild mannered woman with a big nose helped Leon and Picasso check in.  “Well you chose a wonderful day to travel to France Leon” she said.  “Why’s that?” Leon asked. “Oh it’s Bastille Day in France” she responded.  “What’s Bastille Day?” Leon asked her curiously.  “It’s France’s Independence Day!” she answers delightedly.  “Hmmm, will there be fireworks?” Leon asked with enthusiasm.  “Hahahaha…Leon, you have no idea…hahaha.” She snickered like a witch.  Leon looked at her a bit confused but proceeded to check in and board the plane anyway.  Pica, stuck in cargo, was less than impressed with the travel arrangements, especially lying in a picnic basket.  Leon takes his seat, it’s seat 7.

 

Leon, only a bit nervous about going on a plane for the first time, seemed more at ease than he normally was.  Is it because the previous letters have all seemed to just work out perfectly, and he has confidence he will be ok? The only movie they will be showing is the Wizard of Oz later on in the trip.  Leon shuts his eyes as the plane takes off and with a sigh of relief, they are in the air.  Reluctant to look out the window at first, Leon finally looks.  Breathtaking.  His smile is from ear to ear.  The blue skies and fluffy white clouds seem heavenly to him.  He sits back in his seat, and slowly, falls asleep.

 

Leon, who has slept through majority of the flight, slowly awakens from his slumber just as the flight attendant passes some altar wine.  He accepts of course, although confused as to why it’s altar. He is a bit groggy, but manages to get a glimpse of the television screen showing a movie.  It’s the Wizard of Oz, right at the scene where the Wicked Witch of the West is flying on her broom in the sky, spelling out the words “Surrender Dorothy”.  He suddenly hears this chilling laughter, but not of any passenger.  He looks out the window and thinks he sees something fly by the plane but can’t be certain.  Just as soon as he witnessed this, an explosion rocks the side of the plane!  It is chaos and passengers are in a panic as the plane slowly starts to descend.  The oxygen masks fall from the top compartment, and Leon, careful to pay attention to the safety instructions at the beginning of the flight, puts it on.  He is calm, calmer than most on this possible fatal impending crash.  A fire breaks out in the middle cabin, and Leon lowers his head.  The plane is dropping at a frantic pace.  People are screaming, and guided to sit down and lower their heads.  Is this it for Leon? Is this what his whole life has led to? He fights these thoughts in his head.  All of these life changes and alterations, all of the conquering of fears, was it all for nothing? This can’t be. Is this how the story ends?  The pilots do their best to try and flatten out before impact. Leon can see it’s water they are flying over.  Flames and smoke engulfing the cabin.  Then, just blackness as the plane smacks the water at a tremendous speed.

 

The wreckage of the plane is scattered everywhere.  Bodies, luggage, seats, everything broken up and placed in different parts of the English Channel, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Time stops for what seems like hours.  He conquered all individually, but can he conquer all of it together.  Fire, Water, Air. Waves push against parts of the plane, and start to carry luggage and carnage away.  But Leon, he has life still.  He pushes through the water gasping for air and screaming.  He is alive.  The lone one.  He looks to see if anyone else is there, swimming across different areas.  There is no life.  Bodies float by him like icebergs.  “Help!!” he yells. Twice. Three times. Until he quickly understands that this screaming is all for not.  “Pica!” he shouts.  Leon is crying now, uncontrollably.  The boring life he left behind has turned into a disaster of epic proportions.  How long until help arrives? The coldness of the water sends chills down his spine, enough to last his next life.  He realizes he has to conserve energy and tries to hold and cling onto parts of the plane to stay afloat.  He climbs on top a section of the wing and scavenges the water to find something to row with.  He sees something lying partially on the water and on the wreckage and picks it up.  It’s a broomstick with the bristles still on fire, burning away just as he grasps it.  He looks at it with look of absolute shock, mystery, and confusion.  He throw it back in the water. Where is his Deliverer now?

 

A woman walks into the kitchen in her apartment.  She opens the fridge to grab a drink. On her calendar posted on the fridge, it lists the time of when Leon’s flight is supposed to come in, and the Gate.  Music from her CD player fills the room. When she turns to flick on the television, we see that it is D.  The television comes on, and the language is completely in French.  She doesn’t realize, but news headlines of the crash are on the screen.  She bobs her head to the music as she checks through her mail.  She finds an envelope labelled D, but no postage marks or where it’s from.  She slowly picks it up, astounded. She open it up, and the card inside has one word:

 

 

 

LOVE

 

 

 

The story of D’s relationships is rather complicated, yet all end the same way.  A broken heart.  She always seems to get hurt.  One was a man who hit her.  Another was a man who cheated on her.  Another, also cheated on her.  The only stable male in her life, was Picasso her pet cat.  She told him repeatedly that they would get married.  She’s had a painful childhood, much more painful than the average person. Yet she was strong.  Stronger than the very same average person.  So strong, that when D cried, she actually looked like she was smiling.  So one day, while on her extended trip to America, she decided that she would leave her love in the hands of another.  She went to The Bar, on the rooftop patio one night, and sat in the corner just waiting. While at her table, she took out her lip balm shaped as lip stick.  She placed the lip balm on the table, closed her eyes, and spun it as hard as she could without flying it off the table.  Slowly the lip balm came to a stop, and it was pointing at a gentleman sitting at the bar.

 

As her smiling face looked at the card’s word LOVE, she slowly turned her head to the television.  Her face turned from joy to horror.  “No!!!” she screamed.  Helicopters flying overhead showing the crash site, and bulletins quickly showing tag lines of no survivors.  She ran out the door, jumped into her car and sped to the coast line nearest to the crash.  Tears pouring down her face and impeding her vision to drive, she almost crashes into multiple cars and pedestrians.  She finally reaches a harbour nearest to the crash.  She can see it from a far. She looks up in the sky to see the words written in smoke “surrender D”.  Baffled, but determined, she gets out of the car. D runs for the coast line, and with people trying to impede her, jumps into the channel and starts swimming.  She swims with intent, speed and power.  She doesn’t believe the headlines.  She swims what seems for hours until she finally reaches the crash site. It is evening now, darker, and she screams out “Leon!! Leon!”.  She frantically looks for any sign of life.  There isn’t anything that would be evidence of that.  She dips underwater to see if anything is underneath, perhaps caught onto pieces of the plane.  To no avail as she rises up for air.  “Leon!!” she shouts once more.  Splashing the water in frustration and anger, along with sadness.  She begins to sob.  The pain is too much.  Her sadness, this time, shows in her face.

 

Her tears eventually pull back, and D finds herself alone in her thoughts, floating in a sea of nothingness.  A sea of once was.  However, out of the corner of her eye she sees a floating body.  It’s a man lying on his back.  It is Leon! She swims towards him and yells for him.  She swims right to him, shakes his body, and says “Leon, please be alive…Leon…I love you.”  Leon’s eyes slowly open up and he smiles. “I just wanted to hear you say it” he responds.  Leon had been doing the dead man’s float for the entire time to conserve energy.  Even when she was yelling for him, he had to maintain concentration, and try to see if she truly loved him.  “Did I pass the test?” Leon asks D. “Yes! Yes you did” D responds with a smile and hugging him.  “Pica?” she asked.  Leon shook his head in sadness.  “You just haven’t figured out how to call for him” she responds.  D puts her lips together and make kissing sounds.  Low and behold, Picasso’s head pops out of the picnic basket just a short distance from them. They both smile at each other.  Leon looks at her, stares into her eyes and says”I know who you are now.” She smiles, laughs, fighting back tear of joy. “Ya? Who am I?” she asks him.  Leon starts to tell her “You are my….” Before D suddenly cuts him off with a “shhhh” and kisses him like no other man she has kissed before.  Picasso pushes the picnic basket towards them using his paintbrush tail, and is greeted with kisses and head-butts.  Leon, D, and Picasso began to swim back towards the coast.  Fireworks would light the skyline for Bastille Day.

 

Together with Picasso, Leon and D cooked the most delicious meal they’ve ever had on the rooftop of her apartment.  Salmon Crepes, and Creme brulee for dessert.  For much of the rest of their lives, they would fight through their fears together, they would grow together, and most importantly, they would live out their dreams together. On this night however, they both wouldn’t sleep a wink ;

  

THE END