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“Put me under,” he said in a half whisper.

“For how long?” the doctor asked.

“Long enough.”

“Long enough for what?”

“I don’t know exactly. I lost something. Something precious to me. And I think I know where to find it. A metaphor. A metaphor trapped inside me.”

“How the hell will I know you’ve found this metaphor? Toru, this is serious. If you’re under for too long, I may not be able to bring you back. Some people have been down for weeks, for months.”

He motioned for Toru to take a look around the room. Light from the windows flooded the interior: Rows of men and women strapped to hospitals beds, seemingly in deep sleep. Not a soul stirred besides himself and the doctor.

“Toru, these people gave up on reality. They’ve slipped through the border and lost their way. Trying to bring them back, back to this side, isalmost impossible.”

“I’ll be back. I know it.”

“What the fuck Toru. Why are you doing this? How will I know when to unplug you?”

Toru stopped for a second and allowed the silence to build. Until it was too heavy for the moment to sustain.

“When I start dancing.”

The doctor looked at him as if he just heard the most bizarre thing in the world.

“Yeah that’s it,” continued Toru. “But not a minute before. Doc, don’t unplug me until I start dancing.”

“What the fuck Toru,” he repeated in a scratchy voice. “What are you talking about? What do you mean by dancing? How the hell am I supposed to see you dancing in your meta-world.”

“You’ll see it. No. You’ll feel it. I’ll make sure of it.”

The doctor ran his hands through his hair and looked Toru straight in the eyes. “O.K. Let’s do this. But I hope you know what you’re doing. As your friend, I really do.”

He picked up a mask and held it in his hands.

“Put me under.”

The doc raised the mask to Toru’s face and placed it over his mouth and nose. “Breathe in slowly.”

One heartbeat blended into two and after three Toru lost count. Time was slowing down, becoming diluted with another kind of time: like a river water rushing into the ocean. Toru’s body grew heavy. He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes.

“Don’t linger,” said the Doc as Toru began to trade one form of consciousness for another, like a merchant dealing in contraband.

Don’t linger were the last words Toru heard. Don’t linger. That phrase was his last connection to this side of reality. He better remember them he thought. They formed a rope that he used to descend into himself. And he may need to use it to climb back up.

Before he knew it, he was under.

II

“Here’s your stop.”

He jolted back to consciousness. Slightly taken aback, it took him a few moments to regain his bearings. Where the hell I am? he thought. Toru steadied his eyesight and tried to focus on his surroundings: by the looks of it he was in the back of a cab. He glanced outside the window. It was already evening. The city was alive, crowds of people blurring in and out of each other. Flashing lights everywhere. This could be only one place. Manhattan.

“Hey buddy, are you awake? Here’s your stop. The Park Hyatt. The swankiest joint in town.”

“That’s right!” he said surprised. “Pardon me, I must have dozed off. How much will that be.”

“Let’s see. According to the meter, it’ll cost you $943.”

“What! 943 dollars? Did we drive from Beijing?”

“As far as I know, you can’t taxi from China to New York. But hey, we’ve come a long way, if you know what I mean,” he said looking at Toru through the taxi mirror.

Toru reached for his pockets. That’s when he felt the material. Whatever he was wearing, it was expensive. He surveyed himself very quickly. Dressed in a suit. He took out his credit card and paid the driver. Seconds later, he slipped out into the street.

Well, the Park Hyatt.

He strolled into the lobby and made for the main reception area. His suit felt like a second skin, fitting him perfectly. If only you could tailor time like this he thought to himself. If only.

He scanned the waiting area, looking for the most dashing receptionist and walked in her direction. Call it a weakness, but nothing attracted Toru more than beauty. A man of aesthetics.

“Good evening, sir. How may I help you.”

“Good evening. I’m here to check in.”

“Have you made a reservation, Mr…?”

“Mr. Fairwell.”

“Yes. Mr. Fairwell. Have you made a reservation?”

“You tell me.”

“Right. Let me just consult our system.” She took a few seconds and scanned the computer. “Yes, we do have you on file. Room 511.”

“Charming.”

She made all the necessary motions, checking things off an invisible list. “And here’s your key, sir. The concierge will escort you to your room.”

He bid her adieu and turned. The concierge made his introductions and they both made for the elevator. When the door closed he spoke.

“And how long will you be staying, sir?”

“Shouldn’t you already know that?” Toru asked.

“Well, no sir. Let’s just say the person who arranged your reservation made a rather unusal request.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, yes indeed. She…”

Toru cut him off sharply: “She?”

“Yes a woman. She called and asked to book a room for you” he said looking confused.

“Carry on.”

“And when we inquired about the duration of your stay, she said, “Until he finds what he needs. Indéfiniment.”

“Very well.”

Indéfiniment. He let the word sink in. The elevator door opened on the fifth floor and they both exited. Toru trailed the concierge, counting down the room numbers.

507

508

509

510

512

The concierge stalled, like a car running on jet fuel.

“Excuse me sir, I think there’s slight problem.”

“What’s that?” Toru said in complete shock at what was he seeing. Or rather, what he was not seeing.

“Well, Room 511 is not quite ready.”

Not ready? What was this fool saying? There was no Room 511. It was missing. What was going on here?

“How can that be? Please explain to me how there’s a Room 510 and 512 and no 511?”

“Pardon me, sir. We will correct the problem promptly! This happens sometimes. It’s a rather old hotel. Please, in the meantime, we invite you to check out the hotel bar.”

“The hotel bar?”

“Yes, sir. It’s a lovely space. It’s called The Translation. On the top floor. I’d be happy to escort you.”

“No, that won’t be necessary. Just please locate Room 511. I can escort myself to the bar.”

And with that Toru turned away from the concierge and doubled back to the elevator.

III

The doors opened into the bar. Before him, Toru saw tables of people talking over dimly lit lamps. Women smoking and laughing, softly but provocatively. Waiters silently pouring out drinks. Shadows huddling close together.

Somewhere a woman was performing Chet Baker’s "The Thrill is Gone,” although he couldn’t quite make out the stage from where he stood.

He slid across the room, like a man adept to the dark, and took a seat at the bar.

“What will it be?” asked the bartender.

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory Time,” Toru said dryly.

“Whiskey it is.”

He prepared the drink. A double shot with an equal amount of water and a little bit of ice. He brought it over to Toru.

“That was a great film,” the bartender said.

“A classic,” Toru said curtly. He wasn’t in the mood for small talk. He sipped on his whiskey and relaxed, taking in the beautiful skyline pouring in through the large windows. The music struck a chord in him.

He downed his drink and ordered another. Then a third. Feeling at ease, he decided to make his way to the other end of the bar, closer to the music; closer to the warmth. He took another long look at the city outside. What was it about skylines that made people think about past lovers? He hardly knew.

The whiskey was flowing through him now, helping him forget. It seemed that’s all he really needed these days. To forget. But memories were like shadows. Shine a light on them and they just shift to another corner.

Shadows. They seemed to be increasing in number all around him. The bar was getting darker now. Unnaturally dark. As Toru progressed to the other side of the room, it became harder to make out individual faces. People were standing in near darkness, whispering intimate secrets to each other. Words he couldn’t make out. As he got closer to music he saw several couples holding each other, dancing seductively to the music. Toru brushed past them, determined to get closer to the stage. To the main artery of the room. To the warmth. He needed that warmth now.

And that’s when he saw her. Standing in the middle of the floor, surrounded by dancing shadows. Motionless, looking down. It was his metaphor. And she was as beautiful as ever.

Toru wanted nothing more than to go up to her and say “Excuse me, may I have this dance?”

But it was clear that this beautiful girl had no intention of dancing. The way she stood there, motionless, it was as if she couldn’t hear the music at all. As if the sounds from this world couldn’t reach her. But he needed to reach her. He had to. He needed to act.

Our lives, when you think about, boil down to a few critical moments. Toru knew that. All too well. And this was about to be one of them.

He suddenly dashed for the stage. Like a madman. The shadows all turned in his direction. They rushed after him, grabbing his arms, trying to hold him back. But Toru was determined not to be stopped. He broke through them like paper-mache walls and jumped on stage.

He looked down at the girl. The shadows surrounded her, looking back and forth between Toru and the metaphor.

Toru grabbed the microphone from the singer and signaled for the shadow band to kill the jazz ensemble. He looked back at the girl. He was going to make her hear the music. He was going to make her feel the music. He was going to make her see him.

Toru knew he couldn’t bring back the past. But dammit, he was going to make it dance.

He screamed into the microphone: “Hit it!”

The shadow drummer erupted. The shadow guitarist roared into life. The collective pulse in the room jumped. Toru felt the sound stream through him, mixing in with the whiskey from earlier. The music was taking control of him. He started snapping his fingers, tapping his feet. In a matters of seconds, he was dancing like a madman. His entire body shaking with fervor, a rock star born out of thin air. Toru never performed on stage in his life. But this was his dream. And she was his girl. That’s all that mattered.

Toru held the microphone with a wild intensity and started roaring the lyrics to the first song that came to his mind, the shadow band backing him up perfectly: Future Islands — Long Flight

I got back from a long flight,
You said you’d meet me there,
I’ve been tripping off constellations and stars.
I found you at home, what was our home,
With another man, oh man.
Been keeping you in my heart

The sleepy bar jolted to life. The shadow couples on the dance floor began swaying their bodies in fury. Toru was singing with such unhuman passion that one could feel the hotel shaking at its core. He zipped across the stage, thrusting his head and shoulders, his feet moving like James Brown.

But the girl didn’t budge. While the shadows erupted into dance she stood there, frozen like ice. But Toru was determined to break through, to melt away her cold exterior.

And so I whispered into your ear,
“What are you thinking about?”
You just looked up at the stars

And so I whispered into your ear,
“Who are you thinking about?”
It couldn’t be me.

Sweating profusely in his Italian suit, breathing like a whale that just broke through the ocean’s surface and shaking his entire body, Toru went on unabated, staring at his motionless metaphor as she continued to look at the ground.

You can’t look me in my eyes anymore,
Without the rivers to tend.
Because you remember our love was true,
But you just needed a hand

….

JUMP TO DOCTOR’S OFFICE

The doctor couldn’t believe what he was seeing. There on bed #7 lay his friend Toru. The doc thought he was a goner. 19 months. 19 long months Toru lay in that bed, sleeping away, lost in the world of dreams. But not now. The doc was almost thrust into a state of shock. This has never happened before. Toru’s body began shaking. And it didn’t look like a seizure. No, Toru wasn’t having a fit. He was dancing.

The doc and two nurses rushed to Toru’s bedside. They felt his pulse. His heart rate was skyrocketing. Something was going on. It was time! The doc looked at the two nurses and began to reach for the mask. It was time to pull the plug.

….

HOTEL BAR

Because you remember our love was true,
But you just needed a hand,

Toru was on fire. And that fire spread wildly across the room, setting the hearts of everyone in a blaze. Every heart except the girl’s. Pounding his chest and singing out his soul, he made his last gesture. He held out his hand. Fully extended, screaming his lungs out:

Because you remember our love was true,
But you just needed a hand.
just cus you needed a hand,
Just cus you needed a hand

The shadows circled around the girl, dancing with everything they had: spinning, shaking their hips, shoulders and souls. And as Toru sang, he kept his hand fully extended, reaching for the girl.

And in a moment as magical as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, she blinked. She jolted back to this layer of consciousness. All the gravity in the room rushed to her, sending everyone else into a space-like drift. After an eternity of seconds, she looked up… at Toru, in the dead center of his eyes. At the very core of his being.

And Toru kept performing, hand still outstretched, eyes locked on hers. He was going to set the Hyatt on fire. After all, he knew there’d never find Room 511. Because he knew exactly where it was the whole time: tucked away in the shadowy corners of his heart.

DOCTOR’S OFFICE

The doctor held his hand on Toru’s mask, preparing to pull it off, to bring his friend back home.

“Doctor, look!” said one of the nurses pointing in the direction of the adjacent bed.

There on #8 was the girl: the metaphor in real life. She lay there completely unconsciousness, as she has been for a while. But suddenly, as spontaneous as atomic entanglement, she started raising her left hand. It was a beautiful hand. The hand of a queen. And it started to rise in the air, as if it reaching for the stars. Fully outstretched.

Meanwhile the boy on bed #7 kept dancing, a smile breaking across his face.

The doctor looked at the nurses.

“Sir, they’re coming back to life … Together.”

“Together?”

“As one.”

They looked on in awe.