The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Journal

In a Deep Well

Dan DaminghaAutumn succeeds to the late Berlin summer: gold streaks appear through the foliage of the Tiergarten, and along the canal. Step by step life resumes: Sarah – Melissa – Helga, and Julian. In his searching mind, it is a pentagram, and one vertex is still missing. Does he expect Gabrielle, the historian? Or, perhaps, the older Melissa? He cannot tell, but he knows, that someone would soon be there, completing the magical polygon.

The three women often go out in Neukölln, or Kreuzberg, walking, cycling, shopping, or to exercise in an exclusive women-only gym Melissa had discovered in Schöneberg. He does not feel excluded, rather the opposite. He has started relishing a kind of daylight solitude, in the full knowledge that later in the day, or the evening, they would be four again. On the banks of the Landwehr canal the chestnut trees are wearing their cloak of mystery, as he runs, tireless, breathing in the essence of the city, all the way to the Spree, and back to their place.

Now at the apex of her modelling career, his sister has written to him from far away places, attentive, caring, even flirting. She joins them for one long weekend, at once blending with the other three ladies as if she has just left yesterday. They talk of fashion, of the approach of winter, of Jane’s new assignment in Russia, and of books. Sometimes Julian surprises himself, as he imagines being at the bottom of a deep dry well, as Toru Okada once was, listening and seeing a small sector of the sky from far down, awaiting the special ray of the sun.

In the evening they invade Italo, and he recalls the many times he has been there, alone with Sarah, with his wife and Melissa, and as they are tonight, the completed pentagram. The Berlin night sky is clear, and the air chillier that it has been in recent days. The candles light plays on the faces of his friends, Melissa smiles at him, blows him a kiss.

On Monday morning Sarah and Melissa take Jane to Schönefeld, to catch her flight to Saint Petersburg. Julian stays at home with Helga, talking about the East, and what could happen next, as they sip coffee. Mahler floats in the fresh air of the lounge, teasing the morning sunlight. Helga is pessimistic about peace, and talks about “their” findings on the years that preceded the first world war: how the slide to war had happened, despite, or maybe because, of the fear that very prospect inspired to most people. She explains that war has its logic, and that beyond some threshold, that logic takes over human destinies, whatever governments and people attempt to do: then the future is no longer controllable by human will. It is not merely the interplay of alliances, promises and prejudices, the consequences of fear, it is the work of the Devil himself. Julian looks at his friend, incredulous. Helga is evoking evil, a weird, anachronistic, unscientific concept, for her exceptional mind. He has surprised her using clichés before, and wondered if it was her way to tell him she had abandoned all pretence of superior knowledge. She smiles, acknowledging she has been caught.

Julian sees that Helga has changed, in subtle ways. In the middle of their conversation they stop, looking at each other in silence: she holds his gaze, and, at the end, he is the one who surrenders. He is much in love with her face and expressions, remembering how cold and icy she used to be, once upon a time. He can no longer pretend ignoring her sensual lips. Sarah calls to say that Jane’s flight is delayed and they are keeping her company as she waits. She gives instructions to Julian for lunch. Helga and him decide to go out shopping. The other two will meet them later at the little coffee shop in Bergmannstraße.

Maybachufer

MaybachuferNow that he lives in the city, it is his favourite run: he starts from the S-Bahn Treptower Park station, and runs all the way on the bank of the Landwehrkanal, all the way to their home in Kreuzberg. On his way he admires the dark, deep waters of the canal, his mind full of history, of images, of kisses.

Now, a few days after Easter, the trees leaves are getting darker too, and the young and older people on their walk, still, smiling, for it is the start of the magic season in Faust’s city.

He has been training since February, when it was too cold to wear shorts and a light vest. He’s fit now, a hint of suntan on his cheeks and legs. His breathing is regular, his steps assured.

The young woman is running towards him: he sees the severe “East-Berlin” hair cut, the blond hair, the long thighs. She’s an athlete, and she smiles as their eyes meet. On the back of her black T-shirt is her name in gold letters: Melissa. He smiles, continuing on his way, he knows “she” is everywhere. Only, now he’s free. He’s himself, in the city where he will die, and before that, where he’s writing the story of his life, about her, about Sarah, about Berlin. He turns round: the young woman is already far along the path, her long strides silent and enticing, even from a distance.

There is no traffic noise, in this mid-morning of April, the city is quiet, and the Maybachufer walkers quieter still. Near their home a new cycling and walking path is opening soon, along the old railway line. Soon he will be able to jog to the centre, uninterrupted by traffic.

He’s living his dream. He’s almost reached his destination: reluctantly he leaves the canal bank, starts running down Gneisenaustraße, soon home. More slowly he crosses the little park, and there, at the entrance, she’s waiting for him, her radiant smile is already taking him inside.

Lindenstraße

Julian

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer): Amor Skin, Berlin, ca. 1925-1930, Fotografie auf Silbergelatinepapier © Jüdisches Museum Berlin  I have always worked better in the morning, at the time dawn light is already visible, but not bright enough to let the night be forgotten. Then, the mind still remembers the nocturne walks and drifts, the bodies and faces met, perhaps touched, in those misty dreams. Early, inspiration proceeds from still live memories, and those clearer sparks born from the shock of the day.

Here, in Kreuzberg, the rising noises of city life, never as aggressive as in London or Paris, accompany the first writing shift of the day, part of that concert of senses, of which the aroma of brewing coffee is a central piece. There is you, emerging a little behind me, your soft steps a mere fluster in the peaceful atmosphere of our home.

When it is a little warmer the balcony door is open, letting the city visit our world, but this street is so quiet that only village-like sounds reach us. Sun light plays little tiling games on our walls, on the prints that adorn them, on the glass tumblers on the table. We drink coffee, in a silence hardly interrupted by the sound of a distant radio.

We talk about the book, the characters, the plot that appears so anchored in the city that it resembles a diary. Your smile encourages me to continue, rather than be tempted to lead you back to our room, as my main character would do, if he were me. Of course you know that this is for me therapy, as much as a way to finance the small luxuries that add flavour to our life here: a pair of new bicycles, new lenses, some rare vinyl records found in a marvellous and hidden shop in Friedrichshain…

We talk about going back to Sans-Souci, of Friedrich and Voltaire, of Clausewitz and Charnhorst. Prussia, we call her Brandenburg, is all around us. Constantly we look back at history, what would have happened if, if Bismarck had lived longer, if Germany had remained united, neutral, the opposite of the nexus of the Cold War. History feeds our love of the city, and my work.

We decide to take a walk, there will be time for me to go back to this chapter later, as I know that you will be out this afternoon. Hand in hand, we cross Viktoria Park, and aim for Lindenstraße and the Museum. The Museum is our meditation place, our souls’ meeting place with the city, the grey corridors and corners a replica of our minds. You said that all our secrets and hopes are there, more so than between the monoliths of the open space near the Tiergarten.

We belong here, like the others, the dead and the living, to the city of Faust.

Photography: Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer): Amor Skin, Berlin, ca. 1925-1930, Fotografie auf Silbergelatinepapier
© Jüdisches Museum Berlin 

Honeymoon

The Chancellery, Berlin

Sarah and Julian stand on the bridge, near the Chancellery, one cool and bright April morning, looking at the Spree. Sarah observes her husband, the last words of their earlier conversation slowly dissipating in the air. The thin traffic is sliding, silently, towards the Alt Moabit.

“I agree with you, I don’t want to leave now, I want to stay here, to learn with you, about all that happened in this city…” Julian knows Sarah means what she is saying, he’s not sure, yet, what it means for both of them. He choses to talk about the practicality, the tangible objects of their life, the anchors he can recognise, any help to stop his still fragile mind drifting.

“I’d like us to find a bigger apartment.” Sharing his thoughts, “I love our place in Kreuzberg, but I fancy more space.” – “It’s such a nice idea,” Sarah replies with a tender smile, “Besides, we will bring all our books here from London, so we will need some space!” They laugh.

“But I want to stay in Kreuzberg, or Friedrichshain,” she adds, turning toward him to kiss. Hand in hand they walk back slowly across the gardens in the direction of the Bundestag. The first tourist coaches have started to park along Scheidemannstrasse.

“You finish the book, then we have a long break. We will explore Brandenburg, and study the Bauhaus. Maybe we will travel as far as Dessau!” proposes Sarah. Julian is happy with such a programme, it suits his mood perfectly. They walk in the direction of Friedrichstrasse, then turn toward the Gendarmenmarkt. They stop at a small café: Julian remembers they stopped in the same place before, several months ago. He needs more landmarks, slowly he has started rebuilding the grid of his memories. He tells Sarah: “The more places we see together, the easier for me to forget…” – “I know: I am your mind guard.”

The following day they start looking, and this activity is a blessing for Julian. Sarah finds a buyer for her studio straightaway. They visit several apartments, and finally settle for a spacious four-rooms renovated one, near Viktoria Park. Julian is very happy.

Their new home is on the fifth floor of a classical building, facing the park. There is plenty of light, a wide balcony. Soon they are busy deciding what they will move back from their house in London, and what they will buy here in Berlin. They draw a lay-out of how they want to use their new space, their room, Sarah’s study, Julian’s, what they want on the walls. They buy a new bed. Soon they are on a new honeymoon.

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/

Another him

Sarah ~

Masaako Sasamoto I went to see Julian everyday, all the time he was an in-patient at Helga’s clinic. For a long time he was deep in his reverie, almost totally absent, other than physically, and, even then, I sometimes wondered if it was really him.

One morning he recognised me, and tried to smile. Helga explained that the partial paralysis of his movements was a side-effect of the treatment, and that he would recover quickly. At the beginning I thought I’d made a terrible mistake by convincing him to follow this course, I feared he would not, ever, recover.

Helga and Gabrielle were constantly reassuring me. They said there was nothing untested in the treatment Julian was following. It was state-of-the-art, not experimentation. I wanted to believe them.

After several weeks my husband started talking again, reminiscing some pleasant holidays we had together, talking books, asking me about films I wished to go and see, being as his normal self as I had not seen him for a very long time. He was tiring quickly, and after a five or ten minutes conversation, he would suddenly turn silent again, and then fall asleep, eyes wide open.

A month later we walked in the park together, he wanted to know about Jane, who was to visit him on her return from China, the week after. I was pleased to see him more animated, with colours on his cheeks, and we joked about pumping him up, and him resuming his normal exercising.

When Jane came he seemed to be back to his normal being, as I watched the two of them talking as only two closed siblings can, the private jokes, the little flirting, the memories. The three of us decided to arrange to go to Berlin again soon, as soon as Julian would feel the strength to travel. This time we would take the slow route, by road. Jane said she would take a break, and forget about modelling and fashion. Her brother suggested we set dates and get ready at the next opportunity.

Two weeks later, after consultation with Helga, Julian was released to my care. Back to our home he seemed to be happy as a little boy who has found his toys again; he wanted me to take him to bed, straightaway, wanted to cook me a meal, open a bottle of champagne, sit near the fire with me. As Helga had instructed me, I asked him brutally, without waiting, as he was busying himself in the kitchen: “Tell me Julian, did you think of Melissa at all when you were at Helga’s?”

He turned to me, smiling an angel’s smile. “Darling, I know that Melissa was, will probably always be, a tremor of my imagination. Yes, she came to visit my mind a few times. But in truth, we should stop mentioning her, as I intend to forget.”

My husband’s words filled me with happiness.

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.

Genome

 The work is intensive, and captivating. Our daily schedule has increased from six hours to eight, and I now finish my day at six, one hour after my companions. We have agreed that from now on we meet at the apartment in Kreuzberg, and I enjoy the prospect of three beautiful women waiting for me there every day…

As a member of a highly scientific community I feel at times overwhelmed by the knowledge of those specialists. The geneticists hold the high ground, as the debates have moved irresistibly towards the feasibility of clearing the human genome from the spurious anomalies that are cause to so many diseases and unhappiness. My own genetic spectrum was used several times as example, which made me a little uneasy at first. Gabrielle, who has become ever so friendly and chatting, reassured me, and explained that my case was most interesting since my antecedents presented a variety of mutations. I am still perplexed about that remark.

We received several thorough exposés of the current status of genetic science, and of its possible applications. I discovered that our group comprises at least four Nobel prizes, in genetics and medicine. The work is split each day into one theoretical and one practical seminar, with open discussions in-between. The other non-biologist member of the group is a young Korean lady, named He-Ran, who appears to be a statistician specialising in demographics. Demographics is the other strand of work for this group, but we have not yet started in earnest. This is where this work group dovetails with the environment and climate change strand of work.

Our evenings in Kreuzberg are enchanted and tender: the four of us seem to be under some sort of charm, a spell, that now governs our emotional life. Sarah and I were never prude, but now, together with Melissa and Jane, we have utterly forgotten any inhibitions we might had left in us. It may be the city, and the contrast between the stern work of the day and our relaxed evenings. Jane, as ever an enthusiastic and imaginative participant in our games, but also a critical observer, thinks that we are in someone’s story. Perhaps it is true: we seem to be floating happily in a direction that no longer depends on our own will.

Today there was a slight change to the normal schedule: I was invited to take part in a smaller group test in a genetic lab in Friedrichsain. We were driven there in a small grey van with reflective windows, six of us including He-Ran and myself. The others were all specialists in genetics or human biology. The work consisted of a deeper study of genes conditioning certain mental conditions, and their counterparts: those that appear to enable some aptitudes to science, mathematics and creative skills. There was half an hour of a film that seemed to suggest that similar studies on other species may yield interesting results for humans as well. He-Ran thought we were being prepared for some experimental work.

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