I Am and Again
Leo fights his way out of sleep. Back there in Lalaland, he had a sensation of being sucked up the funnel of a tornado to see a bright light, but now it’s gone. He feels an intense urge to urinate.
The rug seems oddly rough on his feet. For that matter, his feet feel weird, but if he doesn’t get a move on, he is going to hose them down, so he rushes to the bathroom, only to crash into the wall.
Disoriented, he gropes till he meets open space, then plunges through the door and makes for the toilet, which is not where it’s supposed to be. The light switch isn’t next to the door either. Is he still asleep?
He whips around and smacks into the toilet. The seat, usually down, is up, and when he holds his penis ready to aim, that feels different, too. He pees anyway, now terrified.
He went to bed very late after being called out on an ongoing murder case, so is that possibly why he is feeling so strange? Or has someone drugged him, and he’ll find the proverbial dead hooker in his bed? He’s about to yell for Cindy, but tries again to find the light switch, locates it by the mirror and flicks it on.
Staring back at him is an Asian man who does not look anything at all like Leo Canfield. He touches his face and so does the man in the mirror. The blood rushes from his head and he grabs at the sink to steady himself.
His heart, or whoever’s heart this actually is, thuds as he leans in for a better look. Square face, while his own is long and bony, black eyes instead of gray, a small, almost feminine mouth, smooth cheeks and hooked nose. (His own is the oversized Canfield honker.) Thick, black hair, while his own is light brown and thinning on top.
This other person’s hand shoots up to feel that hair, and he sees that the nails are chewed to the quick. Leo never chews his nails. He checks out his naked body, tannish skin, not a hair on the chest, flat stomach, well-developed thighs, and feet much smaller than Leo’s size-thirteens. He steps back and faints dead away on the floor.
“Guangtse!” Someone shakes him, checks his forehead, then shakes him again. “Wake up!”
He opens his eyes to see a stunning woman, her face a foot from his. Her own visage is heart-shaped with large brown eyes, flushed cheeks, Angelina Jolie lips, and surrounded by a mane of mahogany hair. As he struggles to a sitting position, he sees that both of her arms are decorated with tribal tattoos. She appears scrappy, like a tough street kid, yet vulnerable. As a cop, he is good at sizing people up, and one look at her tells him that she’s been hurt badly sometime in her life.
He rubs his eyes. “I— I don’t know who I am,” he mumbles, flinching at the sound of the voice. It is lower-pitched than his own, and accented. What is happening to me?
The woman leans back and springs to her feet. “You know, Guangtse, I don’t put up with bullshit, I told you that from the start. You mess around with drugs and I’m out of here.”
He manages to stand up, vulnerable in his nakedness.
“I don’t use drugs,” he states firmly, again in that accent. He can’t seem to form the words any other way. “My name is Leonard Canfield. I am thirty-three years old and a Detective Sergeant in the Dalton, Arizona police force. My wife’s name is Cindy, and we have a four-year-old son, Cody. I am white, six feet two and of German and Scotch descent! How the hell I find myself here—”
“Guangtse, don’t mess with me. I’ve left four men, and I won’t hesitate—”
His stomach feels like it is somewhere down by his knees. “Whatever-your-name-is, I don’t care what you do. If this Guangtse loves you, that’s his thing, not mine. I love my wife!” Suddenly, it hits him that Cindy might think he is dead. “Where’s the phone?” he snaps.
The woman hesitates, now a little scared. She motions toward the bedroom. He walks in and gawks about. The room is sparsely decorated: a futon on what looked like a big wooden box, standup crate next to the bed holding an arty-looking metal lamp, banged-up dresser and three posters on the dingy walls, one of the Shanghai Sharks—some Chinese basketball team—one of Mila Kunis in a bikini pushing against a wall, and the third some kind of science chart.
“The phone?” he barks, which sounds impressive in the deep voice, though the accent takes the edge off any bad-assness.
She points to the crate, where he now notices the cell.
Cindy doesn’t answer, and what kind of message can he leave? That he finds himself in an Asian body, only God knows where? The woman watches him warily as she backs toward a door that apparently leads into a hallway.
“You don’t have to fear me,” he says. “I’m not going to hurt you. Why would I?”
“Well, for starters, you’re suddenly freakin’ nuts!” she says.
“What’s your name?”
“Okay, now I am really scared, Guangtse.”
“Humor me,” he says.
“June,” she says. “You bastard.”
“June, maybe I’m having a multiple personality disorder. Just bear with me.” Of course, he doesn’t believe that for a second. “Maybe Guangtse ingested something poisonous in his food. Have some pity, okay?”
Her mouth hardens. “I got two wacky people in my family, and I don’t need any more!”
Cagily, he says, “Here I assumed you love me. Guess I was wrong.”
Her already large eyes widen further. “Love? You’ve never mentioned it. So why should you assume anything?”
He sits down on the futon. Once again, he presses in his telephone number. The machine answers. “Honey, it’s me. Call me at (he looks desperately at the phone—what’s the number?) … look at the caller ID and call me at that number. Cindy, I love you. Something terrible is going on. Please call me.” He realizes that all she will hear is a strange man with a Chinese accent.
Defeated, he puts his head in his hands.
“Don’t you have a meeting with your advisor today? Nine-thirty or something?”
He doesn’t respond.
“Guangtse?” Her tone changes. “Maybe you should see a doctor.”
“Leave me alone, all right?” he says, not looking at her. “Just let me be.”
“Well, screw you!”
He hears a door slam, looks up and waits. After a few minutes, he stands up to go see where in God’s creation he is.
The place consists of an office, bedroom, eat-in kitchen and small living room. He looks outside. Apparently, he is on the second floor of a house with a backyard in which two little kids are playing. He hears their happy cries muffled through the closed window.
He returns to the bedroom, locates clothes, finds a wallet on the dresser and rifles through it. The guy’s name is Yeu Guangtse, and he is a student at Cornell University.
Leo looks out a front window. Cracked sidewalk, two girls in hoodies strolling by, a boy that looks African … student housing. He racks his brain. Cornell is in Ithaca, New York. One time, he contacted the Ithaca police; a sixteen-year-old Dalton girl ran off with some druggie from there. They never found her.
This is a nightmare beyond his imaginings. Cindy has not returned his call. What is going on at her end? What is the state of his own body? Has he sinned somehow to earn this special hell? Though he is Presbyterian, he grew up Baptist, and they liked to stoke the fires of hell in a person.
He has tried to be a good husband and father, voted for family values, did his best to keep his little part of the world clean. There were a few times in his life that he’d been hard, but sometimes you have to be, especially when you’re a cop. He believes in doing for yourself, contributing your share to society, not taking handouts. He has often helped people get out of trouble. So what has he done to merit this horror? Does it happen to others too, and no one knows about it?
And why does he find himself inside the life of an immigrant? He has turned against immigration, is damn sick of dealing with illegals who abuse the system. While Leo has the fleeting impression that this Guangtse wants to remain in the US, he’d bet the guy will be out of here the minute he graduates, taking all that knowledge back to China where they’ll use it against Americans first chance they get.
His stomach growls, propelling him to the kitchen. The fridge holds beer and foods he doesn’t recognize. He eschews the beer, never one to drink on duty. And if he’s ever been on duty, this is it. On the counter sits a box of tea. He nukes some water and brews a cup.
While he drinks, something switches in his brain. Memories of Yeu Guangtse’s life bubble to the surface. Playing ball in an alley behind an apartment building … visiting a friend who lived in a house over a magnificent garden, fishing with an old man on a beautiful lake. Suzhou, is this the place? Leo groans, seemingly splitting in two. These strange memories pull at him. A girl, eighteen or so, shyly tilts her head and shoots him looks from the side of her eyes. Why does he feel a sickening sense of obligation about her, even a horrible desire that she disappear from the earth?
In contrast, the woman who just walked out fills his heart with admiration and desire. Instantly, Leo knows she is an artist. He sees her work in his mind’s eye, handmade paper and cloth constructions, shown in SoHo. Leo would never have known what or where SoHo is until now. The brain in this body is smarter than his own in certain ways, conceiving of mathematical relationships, a view of matter that Officer Canfield would never have considered. He glances at the plastic mug he is using. To Leo, it is just a mug, but to Guangtse, it’s a molecular construction that could be improved upon. He is thinking this in Mandarin!
A door opens, then comes the sound of footsteps and June bursts into the kitchen. “Okay,” she says, “I’m worried. What’s going on?”
What can he say besides that literally he is not himself?
He raises his eyes to hers and understands that before Guangtse came here, he capitulated to his mother’s wishes and tied himself to the girl Leo just visualized, the daughter of family friends who has nothing in common with her educated, ambitious husband.
“I don’t want to go back to China, do I?” he suddenly blurts, which sounds ridiculous in the heavy silence.
June studies him carefully. She says, “I don’t know, Guangtse, do you not want to go back?”
She knows nothing about the wife back home. She has no idea how much this Guangtse loves her, but oddly Lou can feel it. But it is not up to Lou to explain how Guangtse feels. He wishes he hadn’t started this conversation.
“I’m not who you think I am.”
“Okay, big boy, who are you? A terrorist? Secret prince? Billionaire and you’re going to sweep me off to your yacht?”
He breaks into tears, sobs uncontrollably. Her expression changes from scorn to compassion. She wraps him in her arms. “You’ve been under such stress—those orals—they’re terrifying, especially with the committee you have to appear before. We need to run over to the clinic, get you checked out.”
To his amazement, her proximity and the way she is stroking his back excites him. He is quite hard. Her mouth next to his ear, her soft breath against his skin, and he forgets all the rest, who he really is, that he loves Cindy, that he is in a terrifying predicament. Suddenly he is leading her by the hand to the bed, and they are on it, and he is inside her.
After it’s over, he feels terrible guilt. Will this keep going, and he’ll forget who he is entirely? Has some demon/angel done this as a cosmic joke and is now laughing its celestial ass off?
To support this idea, he thinks he sees a flickering in the corner of the bedroom. Something shimmers there, almost takes form, then disappears. Gently, he disentangles his arm from under June and sits up. A woman in Flagstaff who claims to be a psychic comes to mind. She once showed up at the station to offer her help with unsolved cases. She was a dowdy little thing in her sixties, part Navajo. He remembers wondering why, if she is psychic as she claims, why isn’t she rich? But now he wonders if she could help him.
He would give anything to be home with Cindy and Cody, frying pancakes in the kitchen, the dogs swishing their happy tails, his life once again comfortable and familiar.
“What if Cindy thinks I’m dead and buries my body?” he says aloud. He is in a panic. Would she have him as he looks now? He thinks back to the times when he made remarks about her friend who married a black guy.
“What?” says June. She looks sleepy.
“I need some paper,” he says. “Quick, where’s a pen?”
She squints at him. “Going all wacko again, Guangtse? There’s some in the living room, in the library table.”
He jumps out of bed. After finding what he needs, he sits on the ratty looking couch to compose his mind. Then he writes:
I am Louis Canfield, Detective Sergeant for the Dalton, Arizona, police. I am thirty-three years old and I …
He gets it all down, address, telephone number, everything he can think of, before June walks into the room, gorgeous mane disheveled, and stands there waiting. Guilt again punches him in the stomach. He has made love to this woman. Some kind of loyalty to this person whose body he occupies stops him from telling her a truth she has the right to know. And what has he done to his marriage? Never before has he cheated on Cindy.
“What are you writing? Aren’t you supposed to be at that meeting?”
He hands her the paper. “Give this to Guangtse should anything change,” he says. “And tell him I’m sorry.”
He stands up, one hand to his forehead. He has the oddest pain inside his head.
“Sorry for what? Guangtse? I want you to so see a doctor now!”
He stumbles to the bedroom, lies down and passes out. It is the last he will see of Guangtse’s bedroom.
* * *
Cindy leans over him, her face a mask of anxiety. “Leo, Leo!” She turns to someone behind her. “He’s awake!” she cries and a nurse touches his arm, then begins to take his vitals.
“Cindy,” he murmurs, “is it you? Where are we?”
She kisses him. “We thought you had a stroke! But before that, you wouldn’t believe what happened. You were speaking Chinese!”
He struggles to sit up. “How did you know it was Chinese?” Oh my God, what did he say?
“Well, I’m not stupid, Lou. Dad and I took you to the Chinese restaurant and had them listen. They mostly speak Cantonese, but they could understand Mandarin. You were babbling about being someone called—”
He interjects. “Guangtse?”
She stops, clearly afraid that he is regressing. “Yes,” she says warily.
“Yeu Guangtse? A student at Cornell? Chemical engineering?”
She nods sadly.
“Did I say anything about anyone else?” What if she knows what he did with June?
“Are you doing it again?” she snaps.
“No, no, I’m back,” he says firmly.
“I had to listen to this insane talk for hours, Lou!”
“But I spoke Chinese!” he says. “How do you imagine I did that?”
“I don’t know,” she admits. “No one does.”
“Can we please just go home?”
“They want to run some tests first,” she says.
* * *
To all appearances, Leo appears normal. Every morning, his heart races when he awakens and before getting out of bed, he checks his parts to see if they’re really his. He can never tell anyone at work about what really happened. But his partner notices that he is different.
“You gone all soft all of a sudden?” Rick asks their second day on an illegal immigration case. “This coyote bastard has been shipping van loads of illegals. Some of ‘em die, and he dumps the bodies, like I give a shit, but if Crowly says get him, we’ll get him.”
Lou doesn’t respond. He is looking out the window at a horned toad sunning itself on a decorative rock. He thinks of the trouble Guangtse endured to come to this country and of the woman he now loves. He wonders about every person who comes here, especially those who risk their lives to do so.
He grabs his keys. “Let’s get this bastard. Though my heart’s not in it.” He does not explain why he said that, and Rick doesn’t ask.
* * *
The psychic’s name is Lena Lighai. Her husband has dementia and sits in front of the TV, his arms resting on a tray. Every so often, he giggles.
“Don’t worry about Joe,” Lena says. “He’s still in there most of the time, though his spirit flies occasionally. You just look at me and tell me your story.”
“How did you know I didn’t come for police work?” Lou asks.
He tells her the story.
“Well, now,” she says. “This is a rare occurrence.”
“No shit,” he says.
She waves a hand at him. “No, I mean for an oversoul to mix things up.”
“You know, that light at the end of the tunnel when you make the transition? It’s your oversoul. Not an angel, not a religious figure, it’s you. That oversoul sends out branches into the material world. You’re one of those branches and this Guangtse, he’s another.”
“You mean that Guangtse is me?”
“Just another branch of the same tree,” she says and glances at Joe.
Leo’s brain spins. “How many branches are there?”
She closes her eyes. “Three maybe, four or five. Could be more.”
His mouth hangs open. “What does this mean? Do other people besides you know about this?”
She shrugs. “Probably some. It’s not important. I’m just curious as to how this happened. Usually, the oversoul keeps things in their proper places.” She chuckles.
He frowns. “My wife, she might have others too?
She nods. “Most people, probably. Branches in the same time period, in other times, past and future. All simultaneous. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?”
Joe giggles loudly, then simmers back down.
“Joe there,” she says. “He’s my husband, but he’s in other places too, and there his brains are working fine. This is only temporary, this problem he has now. Just a temporary thing here as Joe.”
“I want to go see Guangtse.”
“Why?” she asks. “This would make things messy. You’d might like each other, maybe hate each other. Let Guangtse be. Be Lou. That’s your job now.”
He feels a kind of wildness inside him, wants to contradict her, though he knows she is probably right.
“I— I did something I shouldn’t have—” he begins.
She makes a face and waves her hand. “In the great scheme of things, who cares? Just get back to being yourself.”
She stands up. “Time for Joe’s lunch.”
He thanks her, offers to pay but she refuses. “Remember what you learned,” she says.
He will never be just Lou again, and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to hold himself back from visiting Ithaca, but for now he drives to the station and returns to hunting down the ruthless transporter of illegal aliens.