The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Dreams

His presence

Les Allers, Les Retours by Antonio Palmerini

She’s never seen him in their apartment, nor during her walks alone in the city. He’s never visited her in her dreams, asleep or awake. Once she went to her old apartment over the Gendarmenmarkt, now an empty place she intends to let. Rents in Berlin would have gone through the roof, as in so many other cities in Europe, if it had not been for the municipality slapping tenant protection regulation to stop the greedy landlords in their track. At the time she thought Julian would have been delighted with that decision.

There was nothing in the apartment: not the shadow of their rare visits there, no trace of Julian’s puzzlement at the picture in her room, the one of Melissa and her, playful. Along the Landwehr canal, on her morning jogs, she looks at runners and passers-by, half hoping to catch a glimpse of his face. Does she miss him? It is worse, or better, than that: she’s convinced he’s around her, all the time, in the morning when she showers, brews coffee, in the evening when she works, in the room that had been his study. She knows, in a conviction that defies her usual realism, that when she’s alone in bed he’s there, calm, observing her, at peace with himself and their destiny. Only when Jane, or another occasional visitor, is there with her, is he absent, perhaps retiring to another room, or in one of those places where fallen angels disappear.

She’s worked through his correspondence, through the unfinished manuscripts, or, rather, the gigabytes of notes and work in progress of his archives. There is material enough for three more books, and his publisher is pushing her to give her the go-ahead. But Sarah’s holding back. What she wants is to discuss it with Julian… Sometimes she pauses, reflecting on how absurd her feelings are, beyond “normal” grieving. Helga, who writes to her long letters, sometime coded, from her retreat somewhere in Scandinavia, suggested she took a holiday, away from Berlin and Julian’s memories, and invites her to her house on the shores of the North Sea.

She hesitates. Jane wants her to go, and have a change of life. Sarah does not want a change of life. Is she happy with this strange expectation, this fantasy that, suddenly, out of nowhere, Julian may reappear? But would it be out of nowhere? Or would it be out of that interstice of space where she thinks he spent most of his alive time with her? Would it be off the shores of Chi, where Jane had first met a hooded Melissa?

One evening, before autumn set in the city, she had visitors from the BND. Helga had warned her, the year before, when they last met in London, that it would happen. Two blond women and a man, the three of them charming, quiet, unassuming. They wanted to talk about her husband, his work, his relations in the East, and also her own travel, with a friend, in the war-torn eastern province. She answered her questions, smiling and calm. They asked if Julian still had living relatives, and then they asked about a woman, who may be known to her as “Melissa”, and showed her a picture. It was not the Melissa Sarah had once known, her and Julian’s playmate. She told them. Then they thanked her, asking her not to leave Berlin without noticing them, and gave her a phone number to call. Sarah, from her balcony, watched their black Audi turn the corner of her street. That evening the apartment stayed empty of Julian’s presence.

Image: Les Allers, Les Retours by Antonio Palmerini

Tempest

This story is inspired by Angela Goff’s VisDare 86: Tempest

Tempest

Snowdrops and crocuses have appeared, at street corners, and on those little urban gardens the city’s residents look after with love throughout the year. The air is still icy, and at night the temperature drops below freezing. Julian is at his desk, writing. The meeting of minds, in Denver, was a great boost for him: he’s now started a new story, while his previous novel is making its début in the US. As Sarah was busy, under the volcano, learning about the Hopis, and perhaps even more, being taught by Marie, Julian was reinventing himself, as a new-look inspired writer.

In the calm of the Neukölln apartment, with the far away humming of slow traffic filtering through the open balcony bay window, young Melissa is busy watering the numerous house plants, occasionally glancing and smiling at Julian. In one corner stands the small glasshouse that shelters the baby cacti: a sample of lovely plants from the Southwest collected by Sarah. Soon Melissa will be making coffee, and will invite him, her eyes searching his, to look at the future. The square bottle is on the lounge table, green and still, full of a pale grey liquid, for now opaque to human eyes. Today, as Sarah taught her, this recently acquired skill she must have learned from Marie, Melissa will attempt to read their future to the man she loves.

Julian is skeptical, Sarah’s happy to wait and see what the Oracle reveals. Since she showed her husband her “secret” hide-away pad near Gendarmenmarkt, Sarah has been very attentive to his comfort, and peace of mind. She sees the reading in the bottle as a gift, a sign of complicity, a way, perhaps, to encourage Julian’s imagination in the direction she wants. She knows a new work is in the making.

She comes back from Tempelhof, where she went for her morning run (she suggested to Melissa, so willing, to get ready, and look after the man of the house, in her absence.) She walks in Julian’s study, all legs and heaving breasts, hair caught in a girly ponytail, looks at him, and kisses him on the lips. Her scent, her gestures, her body in the room, pull him up from his writing, as from a dream. He smiles. Sarah disappears to the bathroom. Coffee aroma floats unseen from the kitchen. Soon they join Melissa, who stands holding the bottle in her hands, her green eyes scrutinising its content.

Minutes go by, in a silence now unperturbed by Julian’s key strokes. Sarah and Melissa exchange the ritual phrases, rehearsed many times, an invocation of the ancient deities of the Sinagua. Melissa, eyes closed, holds the Oracle high: the liquid inside has started rotating, and thin sparks of light appear, from a great distance within. Julian looks, fascinated. Vortices of light spin from the centre of the Oracle, that seem to look for direction.

“There is a tempest,” Sarah says, “a lot of lightning, and we are in it…” Melissa replies: “We will go through the clouds, there will be fire.” The Oracle is now bright from a darker centre; Melissa, eyes closed, appears to be in a trance.

Julian, transfixed, looks at the changing lights inside the bottle: a fire is raging, alien shapes are born from the flames, then disappear, as if beaten back by a greater force. A long silence, Julian holding his breath, then Melissa sighs, seems to come back to reality. Looking at her husband, Sarah states as a matter of fact: “it’s all happening in this new book, you will have to tell us…” Melissa rests the bottle, now inert, back on the table. “I am hungry,” she declares, “How about you?”

Far away, in a corner of the Life Sciences lab, Marie looks at an identical green bottle, smiling.

Under the Sunset Crater

DSC_0287

Her husband was in Denver, at a writers’ s conference, and Sarah, for the first time in two years, felt free to roam. She was in Tucson, the city founded in 1775 in the Sonora desert, visiting William Freyr and his wife Marie, her friends in the Southwest. William was teaching law at the University of Arizona, and Marie was a researcher in desert ecology in the famed Life Sciences department.

Still mentally exhausted by her journey to the new Eastern Front with Helga, Sarah felt liberated in the warmth of the South Arizonan sunshine. She had met Marie only once before, at her wedding, one of a handful of  invited Pahaana – white people – guests, when William had introduced Sarah to his young wife “as my best European friend.” Now, as Marie was on holiday, the two women went for hikes in the Catalina mountain, for brunch at El Charro, for long visits to the Art Museum, and to the collection of Native American Art at the University. The wilderness of the canyons seduced Sarah, who admired the variety of the flora, the great Saguaro, the smaller cacti, the ashes and willows, the short olive trees and acacias, and the vistas over the Tucson basin, opening along the rocky trails. It was winter, with the air temperature down to freezing point at night, and a balmy fifteen, or even twenty degrees at midday: what difference form Berlin! The air was clear, crisp-dry and vivifying.

All day long they enjoyed discussing almost any subject, from the water table of the Southwest (Marie’s hinting at the foolish wasteful habits of the new Americans), to the various law suits being prosecuted by the Hopis, Marie’s tribe, for recovery of their lands rights. Both William and Marie had their roots in the Hopi tradition, and came originally from the high plateaux of the North-East, Marie from the Wupatki country. She talked about the role of women in Hopi society: not only as mothers and grand-mothers, but as property owners, religious leaders and creators of beauty. Sarah asked her friend about her family, the history of her clan, the Water clan. Marie was patiently educating Sarah, explaining that she could not discuss details of some ritual traditions and customs, but visibly enjoying the interest Sarah showed to her culture. Sarah and Marie were discovering shared ideas and aspirations, from their respective traditions, and discovery led to intimacy.

One morning, Marie mentioned she was planning to visit her ancestors in the North-East, and invited Sarah to accompany her. Sarah accepted enthusiastically. Their itinerary would take them on Highway 77, to Phoenix, the state capital, then on the long road to Sedona and Flagstaff, to reach the volcanic region of the Sunset Crater and Wupatki. Sarah helped Marie prepare for the trip, packing clothes and food, and Marie’s elaborate hiking and camping gear. They then loaded their luggage on Marie’s Jeep, an elegantly painted four by four, itself a good example of modern-days Hopi graphic art.

On route 77, Marie was negotiating the dense traffic with skills, from time to time smiling to Sarah, who was retelling the story of her journey in the East. Marie questioned her friend about the people, their language, their homes, the city Sarah had visited. The road North was edging down towards Phoenix and the temperature was rising. Marie explained that Tucson was privileged, by the altitude of the basin, already over one thousand meters above the lower grounds of the capital. Phoenix was more polluted, and she was happier to live further South, in the country of the ancient O’odham tribes. They passed long freight trails moving North at snail pace, from Mexico.

The traffic got busier and slower as they approached the stretched-out suburbs of Phoenix. Sarah was silent, admiring Marie’s driving dexterity. Phoenix was huge, a metropolis compared with Tucson. Soon they were leaving 77 and took route 17 to the North-East. The vegetation was changing, cacti at first mixed with low grey bushes, and the colour of the soil turned paler. They were now climbing, the road no longer a straight ruler, but winding up between huge rocks and round hills. Near Cordes Junction Marie pointed out the turn-off to Camp Verde, a historical site of the Mexican wars. She explained that the whole North-East was packed with pre-historical and historical remains, from the ancient people who had cultivated the desert centuries back, to invaders and friendly or hostile tribes settlements, and to the nineteen century trail of tears, the genocide of her people. On the right they saw the sign to Montezuma Castle.

“It has nothing to do with Montezuma,” laughed Marie, “but there you are: such a confusion about us!  This is the country of the ‘People in Between’: the Sinagua and the Salado.” Marie pointed out the changing landscape to Sarah. “The Seen-Awa made their homes here in what was, for you, early in the sixth century of the Christian calendar…”

Sarah asked where those settlers came from. “From far North,” replied Marie, “probably from somewhere near what is today Canada… They knew how to use rocks to moderate soil temperature, they knew about water… Our tradition is that the Hopis learned from them.” Sarah was silent, stunned by the beauty of the landscape. They left route 179 on their left, the road to Sedona: “All tourism and fake new age” remarked Marie. She explained her people disapproved of the new agers’s attitude toward the sacred sites, and their naivety toward the traditions. They were now approaching Flagstaff.

“It’s a new town,” explained Marie, “built by prospectors and gold diggers around 1860…” They stopped for refuelling, Sarah looked at the map. To the South-East was Apache country; after Flagstaff, on route 89, they would enter Wupatki, and the home of the Water Clan, Marie’s ancestral family. On the horizon rose the snowy summits of the San Francisco range. A few miles from the town Marie stopped the Jeep near a dark wood of pine trees. There was no traffic, the air was much colder now. The earth was white with frosty snow, the soil dark grey with touches of ochre. They drove a little further, then took the loop road to the Sunset Crater Volcano. At the visitor centre Sarah looked at the exhibits, the history of the great eruption of 1040. Marie was engaged in a deep conversation in native language with the young ranger, a local woman in her late twenties. They got their permit to park and camp near the lava flow trail. Marie told Sarah she knew the grounds by heart. She drove the Jeep to the overlook, and they took the rucksacks and hiking boots out.

They were surrounded by hills of cinder. In between grew pines, mountain oaks, olive trees and acacias. The grey lava trail contrasted with the darker cinder, and with the lighter ochre soil that appeared between the trees roots. “The trees grew again,” said Marie following Sarah’s eyes, “and we stayed because the land was so fertile…” Sarah turned toward her friend, they stay silent, and close to each other, for long minutes. Sarah knew she was falling in love: with the country, with the sky, and with her friend. Then Marie said, in a voice and a language that Sarah understood to come from her soul:

“For us, this is sacred ground, we are going to follow the trail, and we’ll sleep tonight under the stars that guided my ancestors.”

Later, after sunset, in the absolute silence of the Arizonan night, Marie told Sarah about Hopivotskwani, the Hopis Path of Life. In the early morning, in the warmth of their tent, Sarah woke up in Marie’s arms. Lifting the tent door, they saw the rising sun, above the snowy mountains, and, to their left on the horizon, the magical colours of the Painted Desert.

 

Imaginary friend

MelissaFor once Melissa and him have the Schöneberg apartment to themselves: Sarah and Helga have gone on a mysterious mission to Istanbul, driving in Helga’s antique Mercedes. Julian is unsure for how long their friends have gone, probably several days, more than enough time to renew their intimacy, and for a few runs along the Landwehr canal, surrounded by the gold of a Berlin autumn.

The first morning they go out early in the dawn stillness. Melissa looks the very essence of the city: her short blond “East-Berlin” hair, the long legs, her beautiful sun-tanned face and the probing grey eyes: as this is for a serious long run, perhaps a half marathon, if she fancies it, Julian braces himself to be her equal. They follow the Maybachufer at a good pace, on their own for another hour, until the early risers in Kreuzberg and Neukölln realise what a sumptuous day this is. Julian notices his friend wears the t-shirt she wore when they first met, and those o-so brief shorts that made him dream awake… He’s missed being on his own with her, at the same relishing the happiness of the small tribe.

At the Görlitzer park Melissa sees a fixed bar and decides to do some gym, which lasts ten minutes, enough to make Julian admire her muscles, and feels his: had he really forgotten what an athlete she is? They resume their track toward the river, as the low humming of the city signals the start of the day. Melissa decides to run up to the Jannowitz bridge on the east bank, and then across Kreuzberg on their way back home. He now follows her, along the bank, on the line of the old wall, then across the bridge.

When they reach home she takes him to the shower and the glory of hot water. Later, as he looks in her triumphant and loving eyes, and feels the weight of her vigorous body over him, he knows how real his friend is. The ghost is himself.

Metamorphosis

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.

 

Lützowplatz

La PoupéeEverything revolves around the canal: wherever his walks, or rides, take him, he’s always back there, in the Tiergarten, or on Schönerberger Ufer, or closer to home on Tempelhofer Ufer, and all the way to Maybachufer. So it is when he walks through Lützowplatz, on his way to the Nollendorfplatz station, or further west, to the Kurfürstendamm (which he compares with Regent street), as if he was, in a mysterious way, bound tight by the water spirits – or is it by the spirits of the martyrs whose tortured bodies were thrown in the Landwehrkanal?

He rides to Charlottenburg, loses himself in the park, reflects on Queen Luise’s grave – oh! the marmor… – and finds treasures in the Scharf-Gerstenberg museum. For him, the City hides layers after layers of troubling mysteries, to be discovered so slowly, as an endless source of inspiration, an endless flow of loss, wondering and hope, as if generations before him had legated to him their forgotten dreams. Faust’s metropolis has now a firm grip on his soul, and Julian enjoys that servitude. Melissa understands, who shares his passion. But she’s no barbarian, like him, but a native of Köpenick, where the ancient fortress once stood, between two worlds. Sometime, he sees her too as a beautiful ghost, not one from his childhood, but one direct descendant from the slavic tribes that once lived on this land, the old Brandenburg, before Berlin and Germania even existed at all.

The studio on Eylauerstraße is now too small, as Sarah and her husband have brought more books, and some furniture from their East London house, and Melissa has moved her little possessions, finally. So he’s looking for a larger apartment, for the three of them to pursue their dream, where they will work, love, reinvent their shared adventure. He roams in Schöneberg, and further East, along the Spree, always armed with camera and notebook, which makes Sarah smile. None of them ever mentions the Jägerstraße house, it remains taboo, without anyone willing to even question it.

So Julian is on a search, around his beloved Kreuzberg, and further afield, in Schöneberg, in Tempelhof, in Friedrichshain, in Neukölln. He – and Sarah – know what they want, the quiet tree-lined street, a second or third floor, a balcony, two or three good rooms. Melissa’s on the lookout too, now an essential part of this community, and devoted body and soul to the couple. It is the high summer, with the humid heat that renders Berliners a little slower, and Julian himself more meditative. Between bouts of e-mailing estate agents, and photography editing, he manages some writing, and is now looking for a local literary agent, since he wants to publish his two novels with a German house.

Sarah is attentive, sometime even watchful, more often in Berlin now than in London, when she can afford the time off her business. Julian’s sister, Jane, visits them also more frequently. She was around for the Berlin fashion show, and stayed over for a few days. She took immediately to Melissa, who sees her as her “big” sister. Julian’s mind wanders, around the new pair, his sister and his lover, under Sarah’s knowing smile.

Then, one morning, as the three of them breakfast at Ambrosius, at the corner of Einemstraße and Kurfürstenstraße, Sarah decides that her husband is now cured of his phantasms, and back to the reality of the living.

Image: Hans Bellmer, la Poupée (die Puppe, the Doll), courtesy Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Berlin-Charlottenburg

Voices

MindAlone, in a crowd of strangers, or in deserted streets, he feels her gaze: she’s watching him, her calm loving eyes forever binding him to her. Twice now he has walked to a woman he thought he recognised, and twice, at the last second, he saw his mistake. Then, he hears her voice, not only in his sleep, but awake, when he lets his mind wander. He’s decided for now not to conclude: onset of mental distress, or overheated inspiration.

From the small balcony, he can see the buildings at the street junction with Monumentenstraße: colourful fronts, small flower displays on the window sills, silent doorways. He takes pictures at different times of day, observing the city’s lights playing on the roofs and alleyways. Four floors below, on the pavement , someone is growing a miniature city garden at the foot of a chestnut tree.

Observer and observed, he meshes with the objects and inhabitants of the city. Soon, he will walk to the Brandenburger Tor to join in the celebrations of the Worldcup. He’s never felt more inspired, his writing flowing, from the scenes out on the street, from the faces of youth, the smiles, the limitless freedom, to the pages.

On one of his nighttime walks he tried to discover the entrance to the apartment on Jägerstraße, and of course found nothing. It has been some months now since he last visited the place, in his dreams. The details are still vivid in his imagination: the art objects in the lounge, the paintings, the long balcony, the view over Gendarmenmarkt. He has not asked Sarah any question about the apartment, as if he did not want to break the spell.

For now, Sarah and Melissa are somewhere in France, perhaps up on the high plateau of the Gévaudan. The two of them went off, giggling, in his wife’s battered holiday Peugeot, after the girl tenderly embraced him, kissing him full mouth, under Sarah’s indulgent stare. In their loveliness, their pictures, two women in various stages of nakedness, and postures of intimacy, are everywhere in the studio: a permanent exhibition of his passion.

In the morning he goes running for a couple hours along his beloved canal. The chestnut trees now in full leaves, their welcome shade protecting lovers and runners. And, always, those eyes watching him, and her voice floating, as a crystal stream, in the peace of the city.

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.

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

In Köpenick

DSC_0221Thoughtful, she relives the few hours she spent with Sarah in Köpenick. She wanted to show her friend, perhaps soon her Mistress, her birth town, the place where she grew up, learned to love. It had been an enchanted day, in the old part of town, near the castle of the Great Elector.

Sarah had listened, attentive, to Melissa’s story, her childhood memories, asking questions, not pressing, but clear questions that an experienced and confident woman would ask from a younger disciple. Melissa feels like Sarah’s disciple. She has never felt like this with anyone else. She’s in love with Julian, and in awe with his wife. She would not change anything.

She loved the way Sarah took her hand and kissed her, in the park, near the statue of the children with the tortoise. She felt safe, not a little aroused, but safe, as if in the care of a goddess. Sarah wanted to know what she liked at school, how good she was at sport,  about her first love. Melissa had already decided she would not keep anything secret for her: she spoke, freely, abandoned, looking at Sarah with her great blue eyes, already in devotion.

They took the tram on the way back, and went straight to Sarah’s house. Julian was out at a photographic exhibition. Sarah took Melissa to bed, and made tender and exquisite love to her, slowly asserting her possession of her. Melissa surrendered herself, overwhelmed, charmed, soon exhausted. The room was full of Sarah’s and Julian’s clothes, books and pictures.

Now she’s thinking back to the day, the delights and the fear. The fear was there, in her belly, that Sarah, and hence her husband, would tire of her, would leave her stranded, used, forgettable. But now she knows that won’t happen. She’s unsure of the source of her confidence, but she knows there is a link, a secret bridge, between the life of the couple, and her own.

What the bridge is, how ancient it is, and how real it is, she does not know, cannot know. In her presence, she’s aware of Sarah’s power, her ability to seduce, to conquer. When she’s alone with Julian, she feels her friend’s calmness and aptitude for peace, but also his wish for solitude. She desires him, but would not try anything that may displease him. With Sarah, she wants to be taken, perhaps beaten, she wants to submit, humiliate herself. She aspires to becoming Sarah’s servant, and maybe confident.

 Melissa is at a turning point. She has never been short of men, admiring and annoying. But this is different. Sarah has taken her, showed her how deep love could be, in ways that are already changing her. Her destiny is linked to them, they occupy her dreams. She wants to read Julian’s novel, the one Sarah mentions when they were walking in the park, and Melissa was still a little shaken and aroused by Sarah’s kiss.

This evening she’s meeting them, at their place in Eylauerstraße. She will make herself as elegant and seductive as she knows. She is making a cake, as her mother showed her.

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