The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Month: November, 2013

A time to look back…

Julian ~

Brouillard The room is very quiet, and I must be alone here, or at least, I cannot see anyone else within the view I have. There is a window, through it I can see colours of autumn: rusty and yellow leaves that belong to a tall tree standing alongside the wall of the building. But I cannot see the ground. Maybe this room is on a first or second floor.

I am lying flat on my back, and I appear to be wired to various instruments. I have no idea where I am, why I am there, or how and when I got in. After a few minutes of reflection I try to move my right hand: but it stays inert on the light sheet which seems to cover my body. Am I dreaming? The bit of sky I can see out of the window seems real enough: a pale blue canvas with small white clouds, and those appear to be moving with the wind.

Something – someone? – is moving in the room. Then there is a voice: “How are you feeling, Julian?” I know this voice, but cannot name the person it belongs to.

“You have been asleep for sometime,” the voice resumes, “it will take an hour or so for you to feel okay again, aware of what is going on. For now I expect you cannot do much talking…”

The voice is correct: I cannot speak. I cannot even think of how to speak. I cannot see the person who’s speaking either. But then I don’t know how to move my head. “Everything is fine, please don’t worry, you must feel strange, and you probably don’t know what you’re doing here, but for now it does not matter.” So I think, I must wait, I cannot rush anything, I must take this, whatever “this” is, a step at a time.

I close my eyes. Slowly the mist begins to lift. A name comes to my mind, associated with the voice: Helga. The name is there, floating in my mind, but it does not tell me who Helga is, or was, or will be. In the room there is a faint scent. A scent which has a name also: Sarah. Where is Sarah? I know who Sarah is: she’s my wife. Probably Sarah knows what I am doing here; and maybe that Helga – whoever she is – might know too, and furthermore knows where Sarah is?

Images invade my mind, as through clouds, images that say: Berlin. Am I in Berlin? I was, we were, but we have come back, Sarah and me, I am pretty sure of that. “Take your time, Julian,” says the Helga voice. “You are not in danger, and soon, your wife Sarah will be here.” So the connection is there: Helga knows Sarah.

I close my eyes again, and start drifting back, somewhere. In the dark corridor where I seem to be floating, I hear footsteps, light footsteps. Those footsteps are familiar, although I couldn’t say why, nor whom they might belong to. A lighter silhouette is moving towards me, imprecise, surrounded by a sort of halo. Am I dying? Or am I dead already?

All of a sudden, I know. I know what I am doing here, or, at least, along this corridor: I am due to meet Melissa, of course… But who is Melissa? I open my eyes, I am now in total darkness, and I am somehow convinced, on my own. Then, slowly, the room – if I am in a room at all – becomes lit by a feeble sparkle of day light. Is it morning?

A voice, that is not Helga’s, says: “Julian’s popped up again, are you sure this is okay?” I know it is Sarah speaking, but I cannot see her.

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I was a baby…

Jane ~

Seeing you It is sad to say this, but I do see my brother now, as never before, as an ageing man. His wife knows, even better than me. The change, in the past three months, since they returned from Berlin, has been so worrying. Finished the laughter, the jokes, the amiable flirtation: he’s now behaving like a much older man.

What has changed him? Sarah says that his illness has progressed rapidly, overwhelming him at times, in a hopeless daytime melancholy. Perhaps I never realised how serious this illness was for him, as I always played his game, around this absurd story of his lost sweetheart. How I now regret all that nonsense, on the island of Chi and the lady in the cloak.

In Berlin, he lived in a trance, in a fictional world of his own that followed vaguely his reality. He weaved the story of the “Coven”, even using poor Gabrielle as one of the main characters in the plot. When we visited the Bundestag, he pointed out to Sarah the special uniforms and badges the official staff wore. At the time she did not see the significance of it, and thought it was only her husband’s imagination at work, the writer in action, gathering odd facts and details, to use later in his story. Since then, he has become a character in his own novel. I find it frightening. Is he playing the part of the doomed lover?

Towards me, he is still the older, protective, loving, brother. His voice is deeper, his gestures slower. On the telephone, he sounds far away. Face to face, he is not quite present, almost fading. Sarah wants Helga, his therapist, to prescribe him a tougher treatment. Apparently Helga’s resisting this, saying that the risks of serious damage to Julian’s persona are real. She favours patience, a lot of rest, and no dramatic change.

As his sister, I tend to agree with Helga. But who knows him best? I was a baby when he left the family home, and I never caught up with that period of his life, as a young man, until, many years later, he reappeared, so completely changed, our mother thought. Then, the young girl I was, saw him as her hero. The strong brother, the one who knew about all the things I was curious about, and not a little frightened of. The one who would protect me as I took my first timid steps into this wild world. I admired him, but I did not know him, and still don’t. Only Sarah knows her husband.

No peace

Shadow Julian ~ I have lost all energy, and the world around me no longer makes sense. Sarah’s here, as ever loving and attentive to my needs; yet she talks to me in a different voice now, as if to a child. When I ask her a question, about Brooklyn, for example, or about what we heard at the conference, she answers with parables, or just smiles and changes the subject.

What happened to her? What is happening to us? Is it merely the change of rhythm, the change of city? I know those days in Berlin were magical: the tree-lined streets, the companionship, the limitless sex…  How I miss the small apartment near Viktoria Park, our running across the old airfield in Tempelhof. Has the magic gone, or was it all in my mind? Sarah, the ultimate logical being, seems to be telling me that nothing has changed, and that I should rest. Why am I so tired, am I ill? I don’t feel ill; I don’t feel I have changed, but the world around me has.

The worst part of it is that Melissa is nowhere to be seen. Yet I know she was with us travelling back from Berlin. I still see the two of them, my wife and her, walking across the arrival luggage area at Heathrow, chatting and laughing, while I pushed the trolley with our suitcases. Then things got blurred. Sarah drove us home, through the evening traffic and the usual rain. I fell asleep, next to her, or was it next to Melissa?

Am I the victim of a twist in time? Or is there a sombre explanation for what I feel? In my office I watch out of the window, over the late autumn garden. The rain is falling on the dead leaves, a solitary crow picks up minuscule black corpses on the wet grass.

There is nowhere to go: Sarah is out for the rest of the day. Jane is still in Russia, perhaps she will call tonight from her hotel… The idea of going to the city appals me, merely thinking of the crowded walkways, the overwhelming noise, the unknown faces, everywhere.

There is another thought lurking in the depth of this grey mood: the other night I thought I heard Helga’s voice, in our house, not in my room, but closed by. What would Helga be doing here? Would she be visiting Sarah? Was she then talking with Sarah?

Blurred pictures of three girls, running in the clear morning air of the airfield, cross my mind: Sarah, Melissa and Helga, their long legs, their smiles, the smiles of young men waving at them. Then, in our studio, Sarah and Helga coming out of the bathroom, naked, still wet, laughing, and disappearing in the bedroom where Melissa is waiting for them. Or did I imagine that scene?

I walk to the living room, leaving behind on the desk the stack of papers, notes, and my manuscript, which I am supposed to be working on today. On the coffee table I see my phone, untouched since we arrived from the airport; I realise the SIM card is still my German one, the one Sarah bought for me at Aldi’s on Yorckstrasse. No, I do not want to think about the day, eons ago, when Melissa called me.

From our vast record collections I pick up some classic blues, John Hurt and Elmore James, the ones Sarah loves. Soon the soothing notes of jazz fill the room. In the kitchen I ground coffee beans. Now, the telephone rings: Sarah wants to know how I am, and I say I am good, just a little sleepy.

“Take things easy, Julian, my love, no need to worry about anything, and I’ll be back early tonight.”

Suddenly I need her here, holding me, I need her warmth, I need her physical presence, to protect me from the shadows around me.

Aftermath

Fanny Nushka Moreaux Julian ~ Only this morning, after sleeping twelve hours, did I realise how tired I have been. The long days, the indulgence we fell into, spurred by a sudden onrush of desires, and the week-long conference, finally overcame us. My sister flew to Moscow a week ago, after a tearful and emotional farewell. Then Sarah, Melissa and I attended the conference, a very boring and formal affair, with dignitaries’s speeches, lengthy keynote lectures, and a grandiose final. Treaties were signed, the world-press entertained with a frenzy of television interviews, flashbacks on other great planetary events, and a promise of more to come. For us it was a watershed. All work groups, they said, had delivered magnificently, and the benefits would be felt for years to come. The Peace conference was hailed as a worldwide success.

We are subdued. Melissa, a little paler than usual, and Sarah, still smiling but quieter, convinced me to go out to Tempelhof for a last morning run. The sky is blue and cloudless after the night’s rain, the air cool. One run around the whole perimeter of the old airfield is nearly six kilometres. We keep going and achieve two full runs, then take the road back home. We haven’t seen either Gabrielle or Helga other than hovering around the stage for the whole conference. At the final press meeting, they both sat at the top table, listening to the closing speech of the Great Power’s President.

Today we pack, close the little apartment for the winter, and fly home, that is to our place, in London. Sarah and Melissa are inseparable.

Sarah ~ At last, we are at home, and my dear husband is resting, after what was supposed to be a long break away, in Berlin. I know, he did enjoy himself, and he was well cared for.

My friend Gabrielle, and his own sister Jane, did say that the change could have worked, if only. But his schizophrenia is now too advanced to heal itself without a great deal of professional help. His phantasms about the mythical Melissa have got worse over there, with hallucinations that frightened me at times.

I am still puzzled at the way his imagination works, and how, in front of our eyes, he transformed that peaceful holiday, in a city he professes to love – it is my city after all – into a progressive nightmare of conspiracies, weird aliens and personal grief. At one point he said that he had enough material for at least two novels. Gabrielle says that his talent as writer is the obverse of his tendency to morbidity, his sudden depressive bouts, and his suspicion of strangers.

His sleep is peaceful enough. Since we came back, he has hardly spoken of Melissa; for now she appears to have dissipated behind some other dream. For I do not doubt that he is dreaming, even when he’s awake. As his wife, my role is to watch over him, to take care of his needs, to protect him.

Jane comes and visits when she’s in the country. And our doctor, Helga, is here at least once a week. We have known her since Julian showed his first sign of a serious illness. Gabrielle introduced us to her. At first I was a little frightened of her piercing grey eyes, her jet-black hair, and her long, beautiful hands. The hands of a witch, I then thought. Helga is Austrian, and a disciple of Jung. She’s however a cool clinician, and her approach to treating Julian is most impressive. With Gabrielle, who knows her since their medical school days, we have often spoken of the origin of Julian’s illness. Helga has a very pragmatic view: Julian is victim of some genetic quirk, but also of a vivid imagination he has carefully nurtured as a fiction writer. She has an interpretation of my husband’s obsession with the little town of his childhood, and of Melissa, his college sweetheart. For Helga, Julian missed out big time as a youngster, all messed up he was with ideas of chivalry, his delusive military ambitions, his idealism. He has now reconstructed the character of Melissa in a new incarnation, all fictional, but for him, also real.

For myself, I believe there is more to it than his school years and his platonic love for that young girl. Julian goes back, time and time again, to the period that followed his leaving the little town, what he calls his lost years. I have looked at his papers, his military record, his diary. He was seriously wounded in North Africa, nearly died from head injuries. Perhaps the Melissa of today, however fictional, is the ghost of his dreams, when he was awaiting death, on his hospital bed. Perhaps the Coven of his delirium is a compendium of all the threats that surrounded him then.

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