The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Month: January, 2014

My Man

Sarah ~

http://kamilanoranetik.com/Julian is working again, at his desk every morning, writing. I think, now, that his inspiration has come back, and he tells me how many words he’s managed to write very day, which he has not done for many months. I am pleased for him, and for us. During the autumn, after our visit to Berlin, he seemed to have lost any taste for his work.

There is more light in the afternoon, and this cheers him up. He’s started enjoying hanging the washing out on the line again, looking at the sky, whistling opera tunes to himself!

I speak with Helga at least once a week. She drove him to the coast yesterday, for a walk on the shore, and a chat, and to probe his spirits a bit. She said she did most of the talking, and that his observations were surprisingly relaxed. Helga tried to engage him on the subject of the role of the medical profession in the current crisis, one of her “serious” subjects. She hopes to get Julian interested enough to write a few articles on the subject. She says that he shows signs of taking an interest in other things than his own predicament, or what he sees as such. He tried the trick of calling her “Elga” again, and she ignored it. She’s positive about his chance of a prompt recovery now. But she says that I have to be attentive, and patient. He could relapse: his vulnerability to mood changes, or even the weather, is real. Helga also asked me about Jane, and whether we were seeing much of her. I wonder why she wanted to know. As a matter of fact, we don’t see much of Julian’s sister at he moment. She was lately at the Paris show, and she’s now in Moscow (again), next will be Shanghai.

Gabrielle has been more elusive. She was back to work after the New Year, and she’s travelling in Switzerland at present, doing some research for a book on romanche linguistics. I got a short email asking me if we were going back to the Tyrol this summer. I replied we had not yet talked about the summer. She knows of Julian’s state of mind at the end of last year, and she may be trying to encourage me to plan a trip early. When Julian fell ill, Gabrielle encouraged me to take him away from the city, and move to the mountains. But I was afraid of lack of medical assistance if things got out of hands.

As I write, Julian walks into the room: “Hey! Do you fancy going to the opera?”

“Marriage of Figaro is on,” he adds with his mischievous smile. “Anywhere, anytime…” I reply, and I mean it. Opera, and the sophistication of Coven Garden, suit us. Somehow I feel we are emerging from a tunnel. But I cannot remember how and when we entered it.

Later, we talk about Easter, Berlin, a trip to Paris, and the Tyrol. Slowly, I test my grip on him, on his mind, and he knows what I’m doing, and he’s willing, my man.

Image: courtesy K A M I L A  N O R A  N E T Í K O V Á at http://kamilanoranetik.com/

Helga

LostThe shore is as I remember it, when Sarah and I came here, the first time, at Gabrielle’s invitation. Unlike that day, Helga is now wearing her best London suit, business-like and sober. Then, she had worn the toga loved of high members of the Coven.

“It’s nice to see you relaxed and happy, Julian…” Helga looking at me with her enigmatic smile. I think that she is right, relaxed I am, having left behind those dark memories, and my little ghost.

“But how about you, Helga, what is new in your trade?”

Helga stops, turns towards me: “And what trade is that, Julian?” Her dark eyes are reflecting only the deep blue light of the sky. “The art of disseminating peace in the Universe,” I reply calmly, adding: “As a doctor, this is your ultimate role, isn’t it?”

We resume our walk on the water edge. “Oh, my medical ambitions are more modest.” There is no trace of irony in Helga’s voice. Nonetheless we are here, and I sense she’s waiting for me to ask, how and why. But I won’t be trapped in a game of cat and mouse, with this beautiful, very beautiful, woman, who I suspect to be more than human…

“We are overwhelmed by the stress in your society,” starts Helga, then correcting herself, “I mean our society…” No, you did not mean that, I think, but I won’t take you on for this. “Every period of change has its human cost.” I remark, philosophically. “And now this is mental health, your domain, dear Elga.”

I omitted the “H”, but she does not give any sign of noticing.

“Yes, in previous ages, it was self-flagelling, and all sorts of religious hysteria, now it’s drugs and other abuses…” She adds matter-of-fact: “And we, doctors, can no longer cope.”

I am about to ask if this is a question of economics, or simply sheer numbers. Helga’s mind is racing ahead of me. “It is about demographics. You have long realised yourself that the present inequalities are self-destructive. Extreme wealth corrodes the body of society, and the fact that ninety percent of the world population lives, or rather survives, on one percent of the revenue of the top ten is an engine of destruction. We can do very little about it… from strictly a medical standpoint.”

Now I want to ask: “But peace…” Helga is prompt to cut me off: “The state of war is merely one way to extend military imperialism beyond its shelf date, whatever chaos and misery result from it. The Cold War is over, but there had to be something to take its place, anything. The corporate lords cannot live in peace for very long. They need war and destruction: it is part of their system,” After a pause, she continues:

“For most of us, the resulting stress converts into either extreme poverty, or extreme distress, or both, depending on where we live.”

“If you believe this, then what is our destiny?” I ask, suddenly worried at Helga’s gloomy outlook. “I think there has to be a big change, another great transformation. But we may have to wait for that. In the meantime, people like myself, or Gabrielle, in our respective capacities, are struggling along…”

Those words leave me silent. Helga takes my arm: “But you know also that there is nothing new. Over history, societies have aged, gone sick, then somehow managed to transform themselves, or had to disappear, be absorbed in something bigger, sometime better. There is always a choice…”

We have come to the end of the walk, and I recognise now where we are. “I’ll give you a lift home,” Helga says. “And if I may, I’ll pop in to say hello to Sarah…” We laugh.

Lost, without you

Jacqueline Devreux Melissa ~ It is my turn now, to roam those streets, to visit Viktoria Park in the cold mornings, alone. Petrified, cold, ugly, I stand in the street where Sarah and you stayed. You made me beautiful, and without your presence, without your patient love, I am just that: an old woman, a witch without broom, a useless ghost.

How beautiful, how warm was that summer, how gracious and handsome you both were, you, in love with Sarah, and in love with me, the one who could not exist without you, other than as a wreck. This is what I am now, a wreck, haunting the streets you walked along, before your mind lost its way, or, perhaps, before reality set in. How can I know? If I am an illusion of your memories, if my existence is in your mind, a little mirage of those synapses, then I cannot judge if the same mind rejects me, decides that, after all, I do not exist.

This is Sarah’s silent revenge, the triumph of virtue against the lewd creature from your past. She, the wife, the loyal companion who had to endure what she calls your illness. Your illness was me, intrusive reflection of a doubtful past, of your lost youth.

So, facing my fate, I am receding into darkness. I have erased my page, those photos I collected, of the fugitive moments of this life, the life that once was. A few snapshots survived from last summer: Sarah in the Tiergarten, a triumphant smile on her lips, radiant; you, near the Airlift Memorial, your bike and rucksack lying on the grass, the Bundestag… There is no photo of me, or at least of the person who was at your side then. The being who may have taken those pictures.

Your sister Jane has already forgotten me. Our encounter was a sort of dream, at a time when I was struggling to reach you. And now, I will never again attempt to approach your life. Never again will I stand near the shore at Chi, waiting for you, and meeting Jane.

The mirage is fading, so fast I soon will be unable to summon my own image, the tall red-haired girl who walked at your arm, the parted lips, ready for a kiss. Soon those fleeting instants will be forgotten. Yet, what will endure, will be the need for me to roam those streets, for I will stay in Berlin. Not that I entertain any hope to see you again, merely to exist, as a wraith, in the city you love so much. A passing mist, in the anonymous crowd, ignored by all.

And I’ll wait for the night, when entropy finally reclaims me, a wretched remnant of a lost soul. And if the Coven takes pity of me, they may give me another chance, far away,  on another world…

Melissa

Sarah ~

G. Alberto Nacci - ‘One, No One, One hundred Thousand’Often I look back at those years, when I had not met him yet, when you were his horizon, his sole love. I have wondered who you really were, how charming and determined you must have been then, to capture his heart, to change him from the timid little boy, to what he became, after falling in love with you, the silent street fighter – for you.

We will never know what reanimated the flame, after all that time. Was it a chance encounter, that morning in the Apple store, as he was to write much later, when his delusion had engulfed him? Was it the hazard of wandering in some of those imaginary places where his muse took him, when he was inspired? Was it tiredness with his adopted city?

But you are the only ghost I know whose presence has been alive for me, me the paragon of Cartesianism, me the scientist, the skeptical and rational woman. Julian is a very convincing man, and as his wife, I too was tempted to play the game, as his sister was. What a mistake! We only succeeded in reinforcing the mirage, in making you more present than ever. Then there was that feeling of guilt: the guilt he felt, I know now, all his life, for abandoning you, for letting you murdered, alone, far away from him, the guilt for never daring to make you his. And the guilt we all felt, to ignore how ill he was, to ignore the evidence, not of writer’s inspiration, but of a cruel delusion that could kill him.

Did the ghost seek revenge? Were you still angry with him then? Or did he conjure up the idealised young woman of his dreams, a reflection that had stayed with him over the years, a powerful intoxication of the soul?

Still, as I observe his peaceful sleep, in the calm of our house, I cannot not like you, the way one may like a beautiful, venomous flower. You are part of him, a fragment of the person I live with. I know that in his dreams you and I are are often one and the same, but I no longer feel the pang of jealousy. For he is mine, and has been all the time you have been in darkness, alone, unable to reach him. In fact I have started pitying you, and your loneliness.

Melissa ~

O Sarah, how I love those words, how I admire the kindness and noble thoughts that once again I sense from you. How I understand why Julian is so deeply in love with you, why you are for him more precious than his own life, or those pitiful childhood memories. What he became, as a man, has far more to do with you, your love, the paradise you gave him, than anything he and I may have once shared.

Then, we were young, and without understanding of the world as it really was. And I, what to say, other than I was not worthy of him. His friends called me a bad girl, a slut, and that really was what I was. I was lost, diseased, my soul was as rotten as my flesh, even before they killed me. He was so much above me, an intelligent boy, a generous heart, courageous and loyal.

Yet, in the well of darkness I fell into, I had no other thought than finding him, seeing his face again, touching his hand, kissing his lips… I was selfish, the way stupid people are. I was unable to control my greed for him. I corrupted once again his innocence. I disrupted the perfect equilibrium you created for him. I am deeply ashamed of myself, and I do not know if I will ever be able to redeem myself. No, Sarah, we are not one and the same, but the opposite: you are clean, healthy, devoted to your husband; and I, I am a monster of egotism and lust, I am his rotten dream.

Image: G. Alberto Nacci – ‘One, No One, One hundred Thousand’, source: http://philosophyandthearts.tumblr.com/

In the City

istantanea Ira BordoSarah ~ I imagine you, standing above the vast space of the station, watching the crowds of travellers. The remnants of end of year celebrations still adorn the walls of the building. Outside the sky is clear, the air almost mild for January. You are thoughtful, perhaps remembering the last time you were here, meeting her. You may be even thinking of the delightful hours you spent together then, in an intimacy you never knew when she was alive.

Whatever doubts I may have had about the reality of Melissa for you, I have now left behind us. The truth is so simple: Melissa is you, a reflection of the young man you were, of your life in the little town, of your loves and hopes. I know that once Melissa was real, of blood and flesh, a tall girl with sensuous lips, who loved you; and I know that, perhaps, a friend who knew both of you, built that memorial page.

I don’t think that the spirit of the real Melissa haunts those virtual worlds, but it haunts your mind, as the impossible dream of that rarest of love: the love that lasts all of one’s life, and never dies. And, now, now that I have understood, I cherish that memory of your youth too.

So you go back to the city of your birth, the metropolis where we met for the first time. You have, with the city, the strangest of relationship. We live in London, but you wish we moved to Berlin – now also full of her memories – but you cannot give up Lutèce, even when you are disappointed, at a loss, in the midst of its sins. The city still holds your heart, and its population of ghosts are now for you the equal of the living, maybe more. Time and time again you go back there, with or without me. Together we walk those streets, we sit in your favourite park, in Spring we admire the apple trees in bloom on the river banks.

Today you are on your own, walking along the boulevard, silently observing the traffic, the seedy shop windows, the girls on bikes flying past you. You follow your favourite walk, some ten miles from the centre to the East, walking past landmarks known the world over. Your steps fall into the rhythm of the city. Soon, you are the younger man again, supple demeanour, shoulders back, fists in your pockets. Soon you are whistling Riverside of Agnes Sobel, and she, Melissa, is walking along with you, a tall girl, red-haired and full lips, holding to your arm. Your heart is full of her, your love for her. She turns her beautiful face towards you, and, in her eyes, you see the deep well of time past.

The mirage won’t last, but it is enough to inspire you. At the Bastille you will look at the skateboarders, listening to the heart of the city. You could walk for hours.

Tonight you will come back to me, tired but happy. Exorcising your past has become part of our lives.

Julian ~ Only you matters now, Sarah, my past is dead, the ghosts who surround me have nothing more to say to me, about her, about the way we lived, once, about her death. I too have understood, and there is nothing more to say. Yes, one thing: I love you.

The Julian who once shared his dreams with her, with the girl named Melissa, is no more. Those years are now far away, in the world of subdued memories, in the world of writing. As Helga told me, I have everything to win in accepting my lucky fate, married as I am to you, and still able to enjoy life with you. What should I care about ghosts?

 

Image: courtesy Fleeting Illuminations

Searching

~ Julian

Otto Steinert Looking back at the past year I have to ask myself: where have I been, and who am I, in reality? On this word, reality, hinges the whole question. As I look out of the window at the January rain falling on the already water-saturated garden, I try to make sense of my failing memories. What comes back to me, in small clouds of sights and sounds, is that what my reality was?

Sarah says “yes, and no”, and I am tempted to call my wife a sophist. But I don’t. I know she’s right, as some of those remembered instants were once real for me, for her husband, the man called Julian. Julian walked on Regent Street, he had a phone call, he visited her page on Facebook… He went to Brooklyn, to Paris, to Berlin. He saw  the missiles on the compound, in the dark pine forest, he saw the blond guards on duty at the new Chancellery. He ran with his wife and his sister around the Tempelhof airfield. All that happened, but other fragments may have only existed in his mind – or did they? How do I tell the difference between what happened, and what could have happened? For me, now, I cannot tell.

So, the question who am I? – That question is legitimate. If part of my life is an imaginary story, am I the writer, or, am I the story? And who writes that story? Am I a character in someone else’s book? And what’s her name? What is the writer’s name?

There is another question haunting me: was the writer, if that was the way it was, was she human? As she wrote those episodes in Julian’s life, was she looking on his past, or her future? Was she anticipating a life not yet in his, her – reality?

Sarah listens to me, from time to time asking me to retell a scene, a dialogue, as if she was analysing this work: “her” novel. But it is all disjointed, my memories are not contiguous, there are gaps, and many, many inconsistencies. Some characters appear in distorted roles, not their “real” functions, or professions. Take Helga, for example. In my memory she’s “Elga” – and she is not from this world, she’s from a far away galaxy. But Helga is our doctor, she is real, she exists not merely in my reality, but Sarah’s, and our friend Gabrielle’s too.

“It will all make sense, finally,” says Sarah, with the smile of patience itself.

“Yes, but even if it does not, does it matter?” I ask in reply. We hug.

Image: Otto Steinert, via Inner Optics

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