I was in the corner of the barn. It was one of the strangest and most interesting gatherings I had ever seen, but there was no way for me to know just how interesting it would soon become.
That’s when I saw her. There was no way for me to be sure, but the sight of the woman standing against the far wall nearly took my breath away. I started to walk, but the shock I felt made it impossible for me to be aware of anyone or anything else around me. The closer I got, the more sure I was, but the impossibility of what I seemed to be looking at confused and mystified me. My eyes had to be playing tricks in the light, but I knew that it wasn’t an illusion. I was only twenty feet away and I froze in place, feeling like I was about to faint.
She ran forward to prevent me from collapsing on the floor.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked as she reached out and took hold of my arm. ‘You turned white and should probably sit down. Come over here with me.’
She led me to an area where four or five hay bales rested against the wall, then guided me by the arm till I was sitting down. I placed my head between my legs to let the blood return to my brain and to shelter myself from the strange hallucination. My eyes were closed so I couldn’t see my surroundings, but the fact remained that a woman who looked and sounded exactly like Linda was sitting next to me. And yet, it wasn’t the woman I knew in middle age who had died when she was forty-three. The woman who sat next to me was in her early twenties, the same age Linda was when we met.
I finally gained the courage to sit upright, then opened my eyes to look at her again. Her smile was bright, and her eyes possessed a brilliance that seemed otherworldly.
‘My name is Linda,’ she said as she reached out her hand. I didn’t know if I should offer mine in return or not, but finally did when I realized she wasn’t going to pull away. ‘I saw you walking toward me, then you had this terrible pain in your face and I thought you were going to pass out.’
‘You said your name is Linda?’ I asked without looking at her.
‘Yes, that’s what I said.’
‘Linda what? What’s your last name?’
It was as if the question puzzled her. She looked toward the far wall of the barn as if she was thinking, then turned back to me and said: ‘I honestly don’t know. It feels like I do, or that I should, but for the life of me I don’t know what it is. I guess it isn’t important.’
‘Do you know who I am?’ I asked, finally getting up enough courage to look directly into her eyes. ‘You have to recognize me . . . do you know my name?’
She looked into my eyes and at my face. ‘Well, you do look very familiar, but I can’t say I know who you are. Am I supposed to?’
It was as if something broke inside me and I wasn’t able to hold myself together any longer. There was no question that this was the young woman I’d met in 1984, married, and raised a daughter with. She was also the woman who had been brutally murdered three and a half years earlier.
That was the thing that disturbed me the most, the fact that the woman I had been grieving for was now sitting in front of me as if nothing had ever changed.
‘Yes, you are supposed to,’ I said as I stood up from the hay bale. ‘It’s me . . . your husband, or ex-husband, or whatever. Why don’t you recognize me? And where the hell are we where this kind of thing feels so natural and normal?’
‘I can guarantee we’re not in hell,’ she said with a smile. ‘I wish I could help you more, but I honestly don’t remember. All I know is that I came to this wonderful dance and you’re here with me. You’re a little confused, but you seem like a nice person so I want to help you. Can you tell me what I should do now?’
Her words were so innocent, like a child wanting to please a loved one or a lover opening her heart to a person she tenderly cares for. I decided to relax as best I could, and sat back down, then took a deep breath.
‘I don’t know what’s happening here,’ I said, ‘but this is the most incredible and bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced, or even heard of.’ I took another deep breath, as if I knew the next step wouldn’t be an easy one. ‘Let me try to explain why I’m so totally surprised. My name is Jimmy and you’re Linda, the woman I married twenty-four years ago. The only thing is, you don’t look like you did the last time I saw you. You were forty-three then, and now it looks like you’re . . .’
‘Twenty-two . . . I’m not ashamed to tell you.’
‘Twenty-two? That’s how old we both were when we met. We got married when we were twenty-three and then had a daughter. Her name is Angela. And then three and a half years ago something really bad happened.’ I stopped, willing myself to go on but not knowing if I should. I clenched my fists and let the words finally release. ‘You were killed . . . murdered. Last week a man confessed, and I became totally obsessed with this road, the one we almost died on when we were driving west after your funeral. I came back because I felt like I’d left a piece of myself behind and I had to find it before I’d be happy again. Then I meet this guy and he brings me here . . . to a barn dance. And who do I see on the other side of the room when I come to this barn dance? Well, only my former wife who was killed, as I said before. That’s why I almost passed out when I saw you, and that’s why I’m feeling pretty freaked out talking to you.’
Linda started to laugh when I finished. ‘Wow, that’s amazing . . . and that was me? It’s incredible that I don’t remember any of it.’
‘How can you not remember?’ I said. ‘There’s no question who you are. I’d know you anywhere. But why did you forget?’
‘That’s just how it works,’ she said. ‘When you’re here, none of that matters anymore. Only now matters, and right now I’m sitting having the most interesting conversation with you. I’m really enjoying this.’
‘You said when you’re here. What does that mean? Where are we?’
‘We’re here, at the barn dance,’ she said as if it was completely obvious.