The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Month: September, 2014


HelgaHelga came to visit him, one autumn morning, when his women had gone out to take a look at the new mall. Hearing her knocking quietly at his door he knew, immediately, who it was, as if her visit was a preordained moment of his life.

They smiled at each other, and finally he hugged Helga. Holding her in his arms was a strange feeling, like rediscovering a well-loved mistress after many years of absence. Openly, he admired the black hair, the steely eyes, the full lips, and she seemed to return the compliment. She made herself comfortable on the sofa, and looked at the book he had been reading. He went to the kitchen and made coffee. When he was back in the lounge she kissed him, a long and passionate kiss, as if to say that she was back in his life, a very human being, a woman of flesh and blood.

She said they had lost their bet, and that the war would continue, implacable. He thought she meant the group that had attempted to force peace, and disarm the “powers”, but in his mind the time and place of those actions were shrouded in mist. She was pleased he had renewed with Melissa, and Julian understood she meant Melissa of Köpenick, not his long-dead childhood friend. Suddenly he understood everything: step by step he checked the facts with Helga, her head resting on his shoulder, her hands around his knees. Yes, Melissa, the ghost, had been an intermediary, a go-between. No she was no cyborg, but a real being whose love had taken back to him, through a painful metamorphosis, the kind of journey he was himself embarked on now, with Sarah, and, still, with Melissa’s help. Julian asked about Gabrielle. Helga told him then that Gabrielle had returned to her studies, moving back to a time closer to the “Great War”. “They” had not given up, but had realised it would take much longer to influence human destiny decisively. So their friend, Gabrielle, had been asked to research the origins of the war more deeply.

He asked Helga if she was staying in the city, and she replied she wanted to. She would like to come back and meet with the three of them. He wanted to ask her more about her circumstances, whether she was alone in Berlin, but hesitated to hurt her privacy. She said she missed him and Sarah, and regretted to have disappeared the way she had to. They were silent for a few minutes. Helga sipped her coffee, looking at him. He returned her look, smiling. He had noticed the simplicity of her clothes, the absence of makeup, the slightly longer beautiful dark hair. She stood up, and said she would be back. This time she hugged him, the way a longtime lover could do, and kissed him, lips on lips. And she was gone.



A bad dream

DreamingIn his sleep, he hears Melissa get up, leave the room, walk to the entrance door. She unlocks the door, and let four people in. He sees them as clearly as if he was standing above them, a fly on the ceiling (maybe he is): four women in grey uniforms, wearing the ugly symbol he so fears.

Melissa’s talking to them, in her soft schoolgirl voice. They listen, lips tight, hands on their hips. He observes their faces, the face of his lover. Sarah must be deep asleep and has not noticed anything. One of them looks up at the ceiling, as if she was aware of his presence there.

He closes his eyes. Sleep returns.

At dawn, as he listens to the chorus from the trees outside their window, he watches Sarah and Melissa, fast asleep in each other’s arms. He sighs, gets up, shuts the door carefully.

In the kitchen he prepares coffee as silently as he can, his usual routine. On the balcony he scrutinises the street, at present deserted. The sky is cloudy, there is a hint of autumn in the air. Then he notices the van, a grey thing without marking, with a small arial on top. He’s never seen it since they moved in, but perhaps it is some workman on a nearby project. Coffee aroma fills the living room. He turns on his laptop. First he checks his mail, expedites current business, letters from his publishers, letters from readers, notes from colleague writers he follows.

He now checks the news line: last night the city police arrested some suspected terrorists, not far from their place. There is no indication of who they are, nor whence they came from. There is a picture: a young woman officer walking next to another woman, a civilian, in handcuffs. The officer wears the grey uniform of the federal border guards.

Sarah comes in, wearing an ultra thin nightshirt. She smiles, goes to the kitchen, comes back with two cups of steaming coffee, sits next to him. They kiss. “I slept like a log,” she says, “Melissa is such a nice bed companion!” They laugh.

He stands up, walks to the balcony: the van has gone.

The Irish Saint, and a young couple

Guillaume & MatildeThey find the place, as they hoped for, a spacious, airy fifth floor apartment in Tempelhof, in a quiet street. There is a wide balcony, and a large lounge, which Sarah and Melissa immediately love. Julian is enthusiastic with the view over the old airfield, Berliners’s favourite playground, where the three of them go running three times a week. The smallest room will be his study, his lair, where he can hide when the other two decide to play without him, and where he will continue working at the great story.

They look at each other, the morning after their first night there, boxes, clothes and books littering the whole floor: it’s like a honeymoon, everything is new, the future belongs to them. They start making plans: exploring the neighbourhood, finding the good shops, the best places for drinking and dancing, the shortcuts. They talk about a holiday, perhaps in Normandy, maybe visiting Julian’s old friend, Saint Laurent O’ Toole, the holy bishop who died in Eu, in 1180 (he remembers the celtic cross, behind the church, facing the valley and the hill where the saint rests in the little chapel). Sarah says that the littoral there would be a lovely setting for a shoot, Melissa and her, and the ghosts of Guillaume and Mathilda. Immediately Melissa wants to know who Mathilda was. Sarah explains: the cousin of the warrior, at first their wedding condemned by the Pope, then, the glory, the bliss, and later England, the conquest, their graves in Caen… Melissa wants to go and see the tapestry, Sarah has to promise.

Julian embarks on wiring the place, there is apparently a very good connection in the apartment. For them the future takes shape, here in Berlin, and there, perhaps later in Guillaume’s country. One morning, when Melissa has gone out shopping, Sarah asks her husband:

“So, about this war, what does it mean?”

Julian is slow to understand the question. Then, speaking slowly, as if reluctantly admitting the truth:

“It means they have failed, and I do not know what they will do next…”

Silently they agree that they wouldn’t touch the subject again: enough has been said, and they refuse to stir the ghosts any further. They talk about Julian’s progress on the novel, waiting for Melissa to come back. When she does, Sarah and her disappear in the kitchen for more giggles. Julian sits at his desk, soon the notes of Medusa fill his room.

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