The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Month: June, 2014

Where do you write best? #DailyPost

LandwehrkanalWhere do you write best?” asks Melissa one morning. They are enjoying a lazy breakfast in the studio on Eylauer Straße, a few days after the half marathon. Julian thinks for a few seconds, then replies: “Here of course, I love this place, and the more so when you are here!”

“Which is almost permanent!” laughs Melissa. “And I love when you are working, just a little jazz in the air, and the city in the background, our quiet street…”

Julian finds Kreuzberg inspiring, the ideal place for creative thinking. When he wants to take a break – he tends to work best in the morning, while Melissa practices her yoga on the rug – they walk through the park to Bergmannstraße and sit at one of the small café terraces, or take a walk along the canal, on the Maybachufer. For Julian, his writing is now inseparable from this peace, the tranquility he finds in the tree-lined streets, the parks, and Melissa. For she’s become his muse, the indispensable companion, his fellow runner, his soulmate.

The book is progressing well, the story unravelling, meandering between the mystery which inhabits the heroine, and the greater myth born from her dreams. He understands that the contrast between his space, their space, the peace therein, and the maelstrom of the novel, is part of his inspiration: in their space lives the real Melissa, in the novel, Melissa the ghost.

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Mirror on the Wall

Lilya CorneliAs they walk through the entrance of the apartment, the wide mirror on the left of the doorway reflects their image: Julian and his elegant wife Sarah, coming home from a late evening in town. On the opposite side he recognises the Toulouse Lautrec, as Sarah walks in and drops her cape on the back of a leather chair. He touches a switch and the side lighting comes to life, so soft it reveals the features of the apartment only slowly, as if reluctantly.

Everything is so familiar, shrouded in the comfort of an intimate space: their space. A thought filters through his mind: he knows this place, he knows where everything is, the furniture they chose, the art they collected, and yet it is not their home. He walks to the bar, next to the long balcony, and mixes two martinis. Sarah is at the concert piano, facing the large bay window, and has started playing. To his left he sees their bedroom door, and he knows what the room looks like, the queen-size bed, the portrait above it.

He walks to the piano and sets Sarah’s glass on a low table next to her seat. She offers a radiant smile back at him: she’s never been so striking, and he so much in love. A melody of Schubert fills the air. Now, he opens the balcony double door: it is late and the city’s sounds reach him, muffled. The Berlin night is cool and full of the promises of youth. But he, Julian, feels ancient, as ancient as the steps to the Dom. There are few revellers left on the square but the lights are still on. The Deutscher Dom seems to shine in the moonlight, as a reminder of past glories. Clouds briefly mask the moon. But can it be be right: the geometry is improbable, the Dom is at the other end of Gendarmenmarkt…

He walks out to the balcony: mementoes of their lives are everywhere, photographs, paintings they bought all over the world. “They”? Julian feels now deeply troubled, as if he had intruded into someone’s life, someone he may have known, perhaps intimately, in another time. There is a photo of two women, one, older, wearing a pair of old-fashion spectacles, a teacher sort of character, with a benevolent look on her peaceful face. He should remember their names, the names of the two women on the picture. The younger woman is red-haired with sensual lips, and she seems to be looking straight at him. Her sight feels painful to Julian. Julian looks down to the street: Jägerstraße runs past the Französicher Dom, and across Friedrichstraße. He knows the geography of the city so well.

Through the bay window, he sees his wife playing, her face now partly hidden by a statue that stands in front of the piano: a replica of the wounded gladiator. Slowly, he walks along the balcony to the other end. On a low table stand more pictures, and a vase full of fresh carnations. He sees a photo of two women dancing: here on this balcony, where he stands. This time he recognises them: Sarah and his sister Jane. A younger Jane, perhaps even before she became a fashion star.

His unease grows, and as he turns round to walk back to the lounge, he senses a figure standing near the door: a tall hooded shape. He can no longer hear Schubert, but instead, the low murmur of small waves running ashore.  The shape fades into nothingness, he walks back through the door. Although he cannot hear the notes, his wife is still playing. The lights in the lounge appear dimmer. Sarah turns round towards him: she’s not Sarah. Julian sees a woman face with features he thinks he recognises: the jet-black hair, the blue on blue pupils. Helga is looking at him, unsmiling, perhaps even a little threatening.

Julian feels a small tremor. The image dissolves.

Melissa is sitting on the floor of the studio, looking at old pictures. The notes of Schubert float through the calm air of the Eylauer straße. He is lying on the couch, and must have fallen asleep. Melissa looks at him, and blows a kiss. “Now you’re awake, I’ll start cooking,” she says with a teasing smile.

La Tosca

ToscaShe did not know much about Puccini, but when she heard that Sarah, her much admired Mistress, wife of Julian, her beloved, hardly secrete, crunch, was planning to take them both to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Melissa got very excited. Sarah had swept one morning in the little studio in Kreuzberg, finding them both asleep in bed, her pet showing all the signs of the satisfying evening before. She laughed, and woke them up with cold water.

After breakfast, which Sarah prepared with her customary imagination – who else could find fresh Baltic salmon in Berlin on a Tuesday early morning? – she explained that it was time Melissa saw London, and got a bit out of Faust’s city, to taste the megapolis of greed, Mammon’s capital. Julian was enthusiastic, the more so since his wife appeared to accept his new intimacy with her pet, with good grace. Of course, for Sarah, it was exactly what she had intended, a soft therapy to counter her sick husband’s longing for Melissa-the-ghost, hopefully for ever.

So it was that, a few hours later, the three of them were in Sarah’s East End home, Melissa trying various items of underwear and evening dress in Sarah’s room. Being back in London, for the first time in nearly a year, was strange and a little frightening for Julian. A silent witness to the delightful spectacle of his wife and lover, both naked, trying out garments and jewellery, he took pictures of the two of them, modelling for him and playing dolls. With interest, and not without a little lust, he observed the attention Sarah was giving to Melissa’s toilette. One of his favourite shots would later be that of Sarah,  adjusting Melissa’s stockings over the pet’s silky thighs, a devilish smile on her lips, and sensitive fingers.

The opera was at seven, and they had plenty of time to enjoy a pre-performance drink at the bar, after taking a walk through the busy market. Melissa was amused by the jugglers and acrobats. Julian could not not admire his companions, who, for sure, attracted much male attention. Sarah had fitted Melissa with an audacious green low naked-back long dress, which enhanced the girl’s fine features, athletic backside and striking short blond hair, and lent her a pair of long black ebony earrings. Her black leather and silver collar looked enticing on Melissa’s neck. For herself, Sarah had chosen a simple split black dress, that revealed her splendid thighs and shins, and let most of her breasts free, and free to be admired.

They had good orchestra seats, and during the first act, Melissa got agitated whenever the evil Scarpia appeared, and enthralled by the duos between the lovers. At the break, the three of them enjoyed a bottle of Dom Perignon, and Sarah kissed them both on the lips. Melissa was floating. She cried for the rest of the concert, every time La Tosca sang. Sitting between Sarah and her husband, she held on to one hand each, in despair, drowning in tears.

Later Sarah took her to the ladies room for a bit of repair. Fortunately Melissa wore very little make up, so the disaster had been avoided. They caught a cab to Julian’s club in Mayfair, a discrete place where his wife was always welcome with awesome respect. Finally Melissa stopped crying, after she was promised to be allowed that night to sleep – or so she was told – in Sarah’s bed, that happened, of course, also to be Julian’s. Sarah explained to her the plot of Tosca, and the historical settings of post-napoleonic Italy. She wanted to know more, if Mario had really been shot, and if Scarpia was really dead. She had plenty of questions about Puccini too. Julian, amazed, was looking at his lover with much tenderness, to his wife’s great entertainment.

At the end of the evening Julian’s favourite and friendly barman, who lived East-way, gave them a lift to their place. Sarah told Julian she needed a little time alone with Melissa, and then he could join them. Together they were going to spend a few days in London, and Sarah planned to show Melissa shops and museums, girls out by themselves. Julian too had some business to expedite in London with his publisher and solicitor. Then Sarah would send back husband and pet to Berlin, well groomed and satiated. Both, she knew, were now in good hands.

Carnival

MelissaIt was a long week-end, the real start of Summer in the city. Crowds of young people were walking and singing along the streets from mid morning, a rare sight on a Saturday. Julian took his camera and went out for a spell of street photography. A few days before, Sarah had told him she had arranged with Melissa for him to take a series of nude shots of the young woman. Sarah’s instructions were precise, and Melissa had been thoroughly briefed. She came to Julian’s studio, and lent herself to a couple hours shooting, in good humour, flirting a little with Julian, without pretension.

Now Melissa had gone to her mother in Köpenick, and Julian had the weekend to himself. Kreuzberg, at the time of Carnival, was a wonderful place where to be: the streets were alive, musicians everywhere, food and drinks stalls, acrobats, thousands of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine. He decided to walk up Linden Straße, up to the Jewish museum, perhaps even as far as the Berlinische Galerie, and back towards the canal through the smaller streets, and on to the Treptower Park, along the Maybachufer. On the way he would take pictures of places and people, the kind of photography he enjoyed most. The air was full of laughter and joyous songs. His mind still full of images of her young naked body, Julian thought of Melissa. She had become a permanent companion, discrete, helpful, always charming. Julian did not doubt that she was entirely under Sarah’s spell. They cooked together, played games, listened to jazz and rock and roll, sometimes, late at night, to classical music which often made Melissa cry.

He was surprised as to how quickly he had accepted her presence in his life, and trusted her. Until the shoot, he had seen her in briefs, or her running shorts, at times without much else (she had asked him if she could go about bra-less in the studio, and he had agreed). During the shoot she had surprised him with her modest demeanour, following, with good grace and charm, Sarah’s orders, that led her to reveal everything to Julian. He had felt very protective, a feeling that was, above all, made of his sense of responsibility for her.

Seeing the camera and guessing at his interest, a group of young people, sitting on the terrace of one of the fashionable cafés, asked him to take a group picture: Julian obliged, taking several shots, and a few more for some of the girls who asked for a personal pic. Then he had to make notes of email addresses to send the pictures, and he felt really on a holiday.

He crossed the Böckler Park, full of couples and children playing, and soon was at the Kottbusser bridge. Eons ago, Sarah, himself, and another woman he could not recognise in his memories, had stood on this bridge, he thought, before running to the Hasenheide. He paused and let the image dilutes in the warm air.

Those pictures of Melissa. He posted them, as instructed, on a private web site Sarah had given him access to. There were pictures of his sister Jane there too. Julian had been a little surprised, but was not in the habit of questioning his wife’s projects.

He was now following the footpath along Maybachufer, one of his and Melissa’s favourite running tracks, together with Tempelhof and the Tiergarten. The Landwehr canal had its summer suite on: the water greener and deeper than ever, both banks alive with families and couples, the trees smiling to them. There was hardly any traffic noise, the city was moving effortlessly into carnival mood. He headed toward the river and the Puschkinallee. Sarah and him had followed the same route at his first visit to the Treptower Park, and since then he had been many times, flanked by loyal Melissa. He wondered if he was beginning to miss her when she was not with him.

He took several pictures of the wonderful murals along Puschkinallee. There was little traffic there either, with crowds of pedestrians occupying the whole street. As he was approaching the entrance to the park, his phone rang. Hesitantly he took the call: the tune was that he had set for Melissa, if she needed help. Her voice was low and quiet, incredibly young:

“I hope not to disrupt your walk, Julian, I just wanted you to know, I love you and I miss you, terribly.” He was silent, seconds passed, he could hear her breathing, almost sense her being there, attentive, nervous. “I love you too Melissa: please don’t worry about anything, I am here, will always be here for you…” “I was afraid you were angry with me for posing nude for you…” “Of course not, Sarah wanted this, and you are beautiful, very beautiful.” More seconds passed, then she asked in one breath: “Would you like me to join you tonight?” He could hear her heartbeat, hesitated again; then made his move: “I thought you wanted to have time with your mum, but if she had enough of you, then, yes, pop in when you want, but after six…”

He resumed his walk, his mind floating. The park was already full of children and young adults, but the long alleys lined by the ancient elms were welcoming and shady. In the hours that followed he took more pictures of strangers, of trees, and walking back toward Kreuzberg, of bridges, and smiling girls pretending to pose for him. At the corner grocery, back on Eylauer Straße, he picked up a few bottles of Melissa’s favourite Trento wine, and a few beers for himself. He would cook risotto, dance with her, show her what a gentle lover he could be.

Gendarmenmarkt

She loves the crowds of onlookers, the small groups waving flags of all colours, the joy of the children playing with balloons, and for some time she manages not to think of him, or of her. In her mind the lover she has, and the lover she wants, still, are as one: the couple she’s enthralled with.

She knows Sarah has another apartment, nearby, in Jägerstraße. There she keeps works of art, and Melissa thinks, secrets she may have, once, shared with her husband. Melissa has never been there, but she’s seen the place, in her dreams. She does not yet know that those dreams have a meaning, a meaning not to be revealed to her before she wins Julian. For this is the challenge set for her by forces she is, for now, ignorant of.

In Sarah’s apartment, much more spacious than the studio on Eylauerstraße, there is a short corridor leading to a lounge: bay windows and a whole-length balcony on one side, two large bedrooms on the other (Melissa has failed so far to locate the apartment and its balcony from the street, so, maybe it does not exist in her reality). There are paintings on the walls, a large photograph of Julian in uniform, and of him and his wife on a beach. Melissa knows how beautiful the couple looks on that picture. There is a  concert piano in one corner, facing the balcony. The balcony opens on the Französicher Dom, and is large enough for several couples to dance. In her dreams Sarah has seen one of the bedrooms: there is, above the queen size bed, a wide picture of a naked woman. The woman sits in front of Sarah who is looking at her, a little in the shadow. Sarah wears an evening dress, and she looks at the woman with a distant smile on her lips. The woman is of Melissa’s age, with beautiful lustrous red hair, and her eyes are looking up to Sarah, full of admiration and submission, perhaps a touch of fear. Melissa is puzzled by the woman’s face, as if she should know her name, as if she has met her, sometime, but not in this life.

Then she remembers: the woman is wearing something, a black leather collar around her slender neck. On the collar there is a ring and a name engraved on a silver plate, but Melissa has not read the name. If she has a chance to go back there, in a dream, she will try to read the name.

She’s now walking down the Friedrichstraße, her heart bursting with joy, and excitement, ignoring the traffic and the tourists. For later she is meeting with Julian, on his own, at his place (that is Sarah’s place). Sarah herself is now back to travelling, to Italy and then South Africa. Melissa will not ask Julian anything about the apartment on Jägerstraße. She’s promised to respect his – and his wife’s – privacy. They tell her what they want her to know, she does not ask.

Julian opens the door, he seems pleased to see her: they hug. Melissa feels her heart melting. “Tonight I’m cooking,” Julian says in a cheerful tone “and I count on you to help me in the kitchen!” They sit on the sofa, chatting about the local news, the daily tide of laughing and crying of the Kreuzberg community. Melissa feels at home with Julian. Is she kidding herself, or is Julian looking at her now with a new interest? The notes of “Rites” fill the room. The small balcony window is open. There are geraniums, wild fennel and poppies in a hanging basket. Julian shows her pictures he has taken of the three of them running along the Landwehr canal bank. He also took one picture here in the studio: Sarah and Melissa dancing to Miles’ Kind of Blue. Melissa looks at the picture: she’s wearing the little white corsage Sarah liked. As her eyes wander around the photo she notices something else: she, Melissa, is wearing a black-leather collar, with a silver plate. There is a name on the plate. Melissa cannot recall ever to have worn a collar, and Sarah did not give her one. She looks at Julian, who smiles and invites her to the kitchen.

Collar

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