Out and Back

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“Clear?” the hotel physician asks. Odd question. There’s plenty of room to get around me on the pool deck.  It’s a beautiful deck adorned with palm trees, flowering hibiscus, and colorful pansies and crotons. Except that it can get crowded when everyone rushes to one spot.

We have our annual sales convention in the nicest places. I always bring my wife, Annie, but most of the guys come alone – they complain about getting “all entangled” with their wives. 

Where’s Annie, anyway?

Guess I’m on the early morning beach excursion right now - must’ve zoned out for a minute. I don’t remember leaving the pool area. My company schedules outings in advance with the concierge. “Salesmen can’t sit still – the minute you find ‘em, they’re gone again,” Annie likes to say.

The gulf beach looks strange. Looks more like St. Augustine Beach when I was a kid – the sand more golden, the water darker.  And antique cars on the beach? Didn’t think the Ritz allowed those. Haven’t seen a ‘64 Thunderbird or Grand Prix in forever. These swimsuits are pretty retro, too – women’s psychedelic one piece, men’s Hawaiian shorts.  And I swear the couple holding hands over there looks exactly like Mom and Dad – except much younger, like in the yellowed Kodak family picture hanging in the hallway back home.

Whoa, now THAT’S weird! I may be just a fat, old road construction equipment salesman, but even I know that, in Florida, the sun rises over the Atlantic, not over the Gulf of Mexico. This could be a hangover. Annie said at our sales award ceremony last night that I was eating and drinking too much. “One more beef brisket sandwich with extra BBQ sauce, and you’re gonna have a coronary, Robert.”

Think I’ll close my eyes under this cabana…

Can’t sleep. Too full of energy. Surprised that at my weight – Annie doesn’t know I busted 300 pounds on the spa scale – I feel lighter than a feather, like I can fly off “to infinity and beyond,” as one grandkid says.  Uh oh, what just happened? The sky suddenly turned pinkish purple, there are two huge moons floating overhead.  Its pitch black, except for that crazy sky with a spiral cluster of super bright stars behind the two moons – actually, they’re beautiful. Wow!  Can’t see my hands or any part of me. What’d they mix with my Jack Daniels last night?  Annie! 

“It’s okay, sweetheart.”

That voice. I recognize it, but can’t quite place it.

“We’re all with you. Together.”

Hello? I speak without using my mouth. Where am I?

“It doesn’t matter. The question no longer applies.”

Of course it does! One second I’m on the beach – a weird beach, mind you – and the next second I’m … well, I can’t tell you where. Wait. I’m dreaming and sleep talking.

“You’re here, you’re there – all at the same time. But time isn’t relevant.”

That’s impossible – to be in more than one place at the same time.  This dream’s a nightmare – and a tough one to shake.

“It’s normal in our current state. Distance and time are mere perceptions.”

  Tell that to my cardiologist.  Or to the fat, bald guy in the mirror. My old high school football coach timed us in the 40-yard dash until we puked.  Seemed real enough for me.

“You didn’t puke, Bobby. Stop exaggerating. I wasn’t that harsh.”

Coach Cline? You died over twenty years ago.

“No, I didn’t die. Just converted.”

Converted? Like from Christian to Buddhist or something? The way you cursed, I didn’t figure you for a religious man, sir.  This nightmare reminds me that I gotta pray more often - an idle mind is the devil’s playground. O’ Lord, I promise to quit drinking and smoking and …

“Converted – like from matter to energy.”

So … you’re … energy that can talk? Sure. And I still put my teeth – correction: partials - under a pillow for the Tooth Fairy.  What’s going on here? 

There is only silence – great and soft and warm. Actually, this nightmare’s not so bad. Wouldn’t mind NOT waking up – what with my bad back, chest pains, hypertension, gout – except I’d miss Annie. She’s about all I got. Our kids live half way across the country. Company’s looking to retire me despite my excellent sales.

Where’s that old, bass-ackwards beach - where the sun rises in the west? And then I’m there again. Is water rushing around my legs? Are periwinkles crunching under my toes?  

“Bobby!  Lunch!”

I turn.  The man and woman – who’d been holding hands - wave at me. I walk toward them. Three children are there. I know this family.  The little girl gives me a wet, sandy hug. Her sand castle is washing away. She asks me to rescue her princess from the onrushing sea.

Mom smiles. She thrusts a baloney-and-cheese sandwich at me. She is young and beautiful and happy. Dad shouts something indiscernible and we all laugh. A light breeze offsets the sun’s glaring heat. A perfect day. Then I slowly rise, ascending as if by hot air balloon. I am also below – a young child – furiously digging with my tiny sister to deepen the sand castle’s moat. The sea is winning - as it always does.

“Clear!” The hotel physician says one last time. He applies the AED to my chest and waits for a response. He finally shakes his head and stands. It gets crowded on the pool deck when everyone rushes to one spot. But I am neither here nor there.

Annie sits quietly nearby on a chaise lounge. Several women gather around, rubbing her arms and back with soft loving strokes.

Everyone’s connected.

And then - I swear to you – she smiles.

About the Author: 
James Keeter is a practicing attorney, pilot, and writer. He enjoys reading, running, being on the water, and any kind of time with his family and friends.

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