Just One Year jod-2, Page 1Gayle Forman
Just One Year
( Just One Day - 2 )
Just One Day. Just One Year. Just One Read.
Before you find out how their story ends, remember how it began....
When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .
The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.
Just one year
Just One Day 2
G A Y L E F O R M A N
FOR MARJORIE, TAMARA, AND LIBBA
Double, double, toil and trouble . . .
WHEN I WAS AT HOME, I WAS IN A BETTER PLACE:
BUT TRAVELLERS MUST BE CONTENT.
From William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
It’s the dream I always have: I’m on a plane, high above the clouds. The plane starts to descend, and I have this sudden panic because I just know that I’m on the wrong plane, am traveling to the wrong place. It’s never clear where I’m landing—in a war zone, in the midst of an epidemic, in the wrong century—only that it’s somewhere I shouldn’t be. Sometimes I try to ask the person next to me where we are going, but I can never quite see a face, can never quite hear an answer. I wake in a disoriented sweat to the sound of the landing gear dropping, to the echo of my heart beating. It usually takes me a few moments to find my bearings, to locate where it is I am—an apartment in Prague, a hostel in Cairo—but even once that’s been established, the sense of being lost lingers.
I think I’m having the dream now. Just as always, I lift the shade to peer at the clouds. I feel the hydraulic lurch of the engines, the thrust downward, the pressure in my ears, the ignition of panic. I turn to the faceless person next to me—only this time I get the feeling it’s not a stranger. It’s someone I know. Someone I’m traveling with. And that fills me with such intense relief. We can’t both have gotten on the wrong plane.
“Do you know where we’re going?” I ask. I lean closer. I’m just about there, just about to see a face, just about to get an answer, just about to find out where it is I’m going—
And then I hear sirens.
• • •
I first noticed the sirens in Dubrovnik. I was traveling with a guy I’d met in Albania, when we heard a siren go by. It sounded like the kind they have in American action movies, and the guy I was traveling with commented on how each country had its own siren sound. “It’s helpful because if you forget where you are, you can always close your eyes, let the sirens tell you,” he told me. I’d been gone a year by then, and it had taken me a few minutes to summon the sound of the sirens at home. They were musical almost, a down-up-down-up la, la, la, la, like someone absentmindedly, but cheerfully, humming.
That’s not what this siren is. It is monotonous, a nyeah-nyeah, nyeah-nyeah, like the bleating of electric sheep. It doesn’t become louder or fainter as it comes closer or gets farther away; it’s just a wall of wailing. Much as I try, I cannot locate this siren, have no idea where I am.
I only know that I am not home.
• • •
I open my eyes. There is bright light everywhere, from overhead, but also from my own eyes: tiny pinprick explosions that hurt like hell. I close my eyes.
Kai. The guy I traveled with from Tirana to Dubrovnik was called Kai. We drank weak Croatian pilsner on the ramparts of the city and then laughed as we pissed into the Adriatic. His name was Kai. He was from Finland.
The sirens blare. I still don’t know where I am.
• • •
The sirens stop. I hear a door opening, I feel water on my skin. A shifting of my body. I sense it is better to keep my eyes closed. None of this is anything I want to witness.
But then my eyes are forced open, and there’s another light, harsh and painful, like the time I spent too long looking at a solar eclipse. Saba warned me not to, but some things are impossible to tear yourself away from. After, I had a headache for hours. Eclipse migraine. That’s what they called it on the news. Lots of people got them from staring at the sun. I know that, too. But I still don’t know where I am.
There are voices now, as if echoing out from a tunnel. I can hear them, but I cannot make out what they’re saying.
“Comment vous appelez-vous?” someone asks in a language I know is not mine but that I somehow understand. What is your name?
“Can you tell us your name?” The question again in another language, also not my own.
“Willem de Ruiter.” This time it’s my voice. My name.
“Good.” It is a man’s voice. It switches back to the other language. French. It says that I got my own name right, and I wonder how it is he knows this. For a second I think it is Bram speaking, but even as muddled as I am, I realize this is not possible. Bram never did learn French.
• • •
“Willem, we are going to sit you up now.”
The back of my bed—I think I’m on a bed—tilts forward. I try to open my eyes again. Everything is blurry, but I can make out bright lights overhead, scuffed walls, a metal table.
“Willem, you are in the hospital,” the man says.
Yes, I was just sussing that part out. It would also explain my shirt being covered in blood, if not the shirt itself, which is not mine. It is gray and says SOS in red lettering. What does SOS mean? Whose shirt is this? And whose blood is on it?
I look around. I see the man—a doctor?—in the lab coat, the nurse next to him, holding out an ice compress for me to take. I touch my cheek. The skin is hot and swollen. My finger comes away with more blood. That answers one question.
“You are in Paris,” the doctor says. “Do you know where Paris is?”
I am eating tagine at a Moroccan restaurant in Montorgueil with Yael and Bram. I am passing the hat after a performance with the German acrobats in Montmartre. I am thrashing, sweaty, at a Mollier Than Molly show at Divan du Monde with Céline. And I’m running, running through the Barbès market, a girl’s hand in mine.
“In France,” I manage to answer. My tongue feels thick as a wool sock.
“Can you remember what happened?” the doctor asks.
I hear boots and taste blood. There is a pool of it in my mouth. I don’t know what to do with it, so I swallow.
“It appears you were in a fight,” the doctor continues. “You will need to make a report to the police. But first you will need sutures for your face, and we must take a scan of your head to make sure there is no subdural hematoma. Are you on holiday here?”
Black hair. Soft breath. A gnawing feeling that I’ve misplaced something valuable. I pat my pocket.
“My things?” I ask.
“They found your bag and its contents scattered at the scene. Your passport was still inside. So was your wallet.”
He hands it to me. I look at the billfold. There are more than a hundred euros inside, though I seem to recall having a lot more. My identity card is missing.
“We also found this.” He shows me a small black book. “There is still quite a bit of money in your wallet, no? It doesn’t suggest a robbery, unless you
fought off your attackers.” He frowns, I assume at the apparent foolishness of this maneuver.
Did I do that? A low fog sits overhead, like the mist coming off the canals in the morning that I used to watch and will to burn off. I was always cold. Yael said it was because though I looked Dutch, her Mediterranean blood was swimming in me. I remember that, remember the scratchy wool blanket I would wrap myself in to stay warm. And though I now know where I am, I don’t know why I’m here. I’m not supposed to be in Paris. I’m supposed to be in Holland. Maybe that explains that niggling feeling.
Burn off. Burn off, I will the fog. But it is as stubborn as the Dutch fog. Or maybe my will is as weak as the winter sun. Either way, it doesn’t burn off.
“Do you know the date?” the doctor asks.
I try to think, but dates float by like leaves in a gutter. But this is nothing new. I know that I never know the date. I don’t need to. I shake my head.
“Do you know what month it is?”
Augustus. Août. No, English. “August.”
“Day of the week?”
Donderdag, something in my head says. Thursday. “Thursday?” I try.
“Friday,” the doctor corrects, and the gnawing feeling grows stronger. Perhaps I am supposed to be somewhere on Friday.
The intercom buzzes. The doctor picks it up, talks for a minute, hangs up, turns to me. “Radiology will be here in thirty minutes.” Then he begins talking to me about commotions cérébrales or concussions and temporary short-term memory loss and cats and scans and none of it is making a lot of sense.
“Is there someone we can call?” he asks. And I feel like there is, but for the life of me, I can’t think who. Bram is gone and Saba is gone and Yael might as well be. Who else is there?
The nausea hits, fast, like a wave I had my back to. And then there’s puke all over my bloodied shirt. The nurse is quick with the basin, but not quick enough. She gives me a towel to clean myself with. The doctor is saying something about nausea and concussions. There are tears in my eyes. I never did learn to throw up without crying.
The nurse mops my face with another towel. “Oh, I missed a spot,” she says with a tender smile. “There, on your watch.”
On my wrist is a watch, bright and gold. It’s not mine. For the quickest moment, I see it on a girl’s wrist. I travel up the hand to a slender arm, a strong shoulder, a swan’s neck. When I get to the face, I expect it to be blank, like the faces in the dream. But it’s not.
Black hair. Pale skin. Warm eyes.
I look at the watch again. The crystal is cracked but it’s still ticking. It reads nine. I begin to suspect what it is I’ve forgotten.
I try to sit up. The world turns to soup.
The doctor pushes me back onto the bed, a hand on my shoulder. “You are agitated because you are confused. This is all temporary, but we will need to take the CT scan to make sure there is no bleeding on the brain. While we wait, we can attend to your facial lacerations. First I will give you something to make the area numb.”
The nurse swabs off my cheek with something orange. “Do not worry. This won’t stain.”
It doesn’t stain; it just stings.
• • •
“I think I should go now,” I say when the sutures are done.
The doctor laughs. And for a second I see white skin covered in white dust, but warmer underneath. A white room. A throbbing in my cheek.
“Someone is waiting for me.” I don’t know who, but I know it’s true.
“Who is waiting for you?” the doctor asks.
“I don’t remember,” I admit.
“Mr. de Ruiter. You must have a CT scan. And, after, I would like to keep you for observation until your mental clarity returns. Until you know who it is who waits for you.”
Neck. Skin. Lips. Her fragile-strong hand over my heart. I touch my hand to my chest, over the green scrub shirt the nurse gave me after they cut off my bloody shirt to check for broken ribs. And the name, it’s almost right there.
Orderlies come to wheel me to a different floor. I’m loaded into a metal tube that clatters around my head. Maybe it’s the noise, but inside the tube, the fog begins to burn off. But there is no sunshine behind it, only a dull, leaden sky as the fragments click together. “I need to go. Now!” I shout from the tube.
There’s silence. Then the click of the intercom. “Please hold still,” a disembodied voice orders in French.
• • •
I am wheeled back downstairs to wait. It is past twelve o’clock.
I wait more. I remember hospitals, remember exactly why I hate them.
I wait more. I am adrenaline slammed into inertia: a fast car stuck in traffic. I take a coin out of my pocket and do the trick Saba taught me as a little boy. It works. I calm down, and when I do, more of the missing pieces slot into place. We came together to Paris. We are together in Paris. I feel her hand gentle on my side, as she rode on the back of the bicycle. I feel her not-so-gentle hand on my side, as we held each other tight. Last night. In a white room.
The white room. She is in the white room, waiting for me.
I look around. Hospital rooms are never white like people believe. They are beige, taupe, mauve: neutral tones meant to soothe heartbreak. What I wouldn’t give to be in an actual white room right now.
• • •
Later, the doctor comes back in. He is smiling. “Good news! There is no subdural bleeding. Only a concussion. How is your memory?”
“Good. We will wait for the police. They will take your statement and then I can release you to your friend. But you must take it very easy. I will give you an instruction sheet for care, but it is in French. Perhaps someone can translate it, or we can find you one in English or Dutch online.”
“Ce ne sera pas nécessaire,” I say.
“Ahh, you speak French?” he asks in French.
I nod. “It came back to me.”
“Good. Everything else will, too.”
“So I can go?”
“Someone must come for you! And you have to make a report to the police.”
Police. It will be hours. And I have nothing to tell them, really. I take the coin back out and play it across my knuckle. “No police!”
The doctor follows the coin as it flips across my hand. “Do you have problems with the police?” he asks.
“No. It’s not that. I have to find someone,” I say. The coin clatters to the floor.
The doctor picks it up and hands it to me. “Find who?”
Perhaps it’s the casual way he asked; my bruised brain doesn’t have time to scramble it before spitting it out. Or perhaps the fog is lifting now, and leaving a terrific headache behind. But there it is, a name, on my lips, like I say it all the time.
“Ahh, Lulu. Très bien!” The doctor claps his hands together. “Let us call this Lulu. She can come get you. Or we can bring her to you.”
It is too much to explain that I don’t know where Lulu is. Only that she’s in the white room and she’s waiting for me and she’s been waiting for a long time. And I have this terrible feeling, and it’s not just because I’m in a hospital where things are routinely lost, but because of something else.
“I have to go,” I insist. “If I don’t go now, it could be too late.”
The doctor looks at the clock on the wall. “It is not yet two o’clock. Not late at all.”
“It might be too late for me.” Might be. As if whatever is going to happen hasn’t already happened.
The doctor looks at me for a long minute. Then he shakes his head. “It is better to wait. A few more hours, your memory will return, and you will find her.”
“I don’t have a few hours!”
I wonder if he can keep me here against my will. I wonder if at this moment I even have a will. But something pulls me forward, through the mist and the pain. “I have to go,” I insist. “Now.”
The doctor looks at me and sighs. �
�D’accord.” He hands me a sheaf of papers, tells me I am to rest for the next two days, clean my wound every day, the sutures will dissolve. Then he hands me a small card. “This is the police inspector. I will tell him to expect your call tomorrow.”
“You have somewhere to go?” he asks.
Céline’s club. I recite the address. The Métro stop. These I remember easily. These I can find.
“Okay,” the doctor says. “Go to the billing office to check out, and then you may go.”
He touches me on the shoulder, reminds me to take it easy. “I am sorry Paris brought you such misfortune.”
I turn to face him. He’s wearing a name tag and the blurriness in my vision has subsided so I can focus on it. docteur robinet, it reads. And while my vision is okay, the day is still muddy, but I get this feeling about it. A hazy feeling of something—not quite happiness, but solidness, stepping on earth after being at sea for too long—fills me up. It tells me that whoever this Lulu is, something happened between us in Paris, something that was the opposite of misfortune.
At the billing office, I fill out a few thousand forms. There are problems when they ask for an address. I don’t have one. I haven’t for such a long time. But they won’t let me leave until I supply one. At first, I think to give them Marjolein, my family’s attorney. She’s who Yael has deal with all her important mail, and whom, I realize too late, I was supposed to meet with today—or was it tomorrow? Or yesterday now?—in Amsterdam. But if a hospital bill goes to Marjolein, then all of this goes straight back to Yael, and I don’t want to explain it to her. I don’t want to not explain it, either, in the more likely event she never asks about it.
“Can I give you a friend’s address?” I ask the clerk.
“I don’t care if you give me the Queen of England’s address so long as we have somewhere to mail the bill,” she says.