The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Love

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

Return to the City of Faust

LongingAfter two years, Sarah decides to return to Berlin, the city where last she lived with her husband. She longs to see again the banks of the Spree, crowds of youths on Museen Insel, the cafés of Bergmannstraße, the runners along the Landwehrkanal… Above all, she wants to find the spirit  of Julian, the one who left, leaving her, alone with his ghosts. Maybe she’ll be better armed to exorcise them, there, in the light and peaceful apartment where they lived, in Neukölln, through the quiet streets of Friedrichshain, in the park of Charlottenburg…

She’s tired of her lucrative business. For two years, after her last encounter with Helga, she travelled across the world, from financial centre to another, tirelessly making money, negotiating deals, to saturation. With Julian’s inheritance, and her own fortune, she can retire comfortably, keeping her house in London – she may well let it now – and living the life she wants in the city of Faust. She is not without men, a cohort of admirers that have long followed her and showered her with presents, offers, sometime to absurdity. But her only attachment is for Jane, Julian’s young sister, a regular visitor to her place in London, and now in Berlin. Jane, more beautiful than ever, a successful actor and model, and her lover since her first stay with the couple in Berlin. Jane, loyal, for ever missing her brother – Sarah’s well aware of her romantic attachment to him – and whose smile may turn, in the light of this late summer, so much like that of Julian.

Sarah moves back to their Neukölln apartment in late July, with those pieces of furniture, art and books she wants to retains from London. She makes Julian’s study her room, and shifts the HiFi and bookshelves to their former bedroom. The lounge is now her workshop, where she intends to write, paint, and spend hours with Jane, nude, to design the photography album they have decided to make together.

One evening, as she walks back through Kreuzberg from a visit to the Altegallerie, she stops at a restaurant in Bergmanngieß where Julian and her used to go, in Melissa’s time. She likes the place but it is the first time she goes back there since Julian’s departure. She orders an Italian dish and some wine, and, as she waits for the wine to arrive, she suddenly recalls what Helga shared with her, at their last meeting in London. Through her Eastern contacts, Helga had learnt of Julian’s activity in shipping arms to the insurgency via the Caucasus. She also knew that this displeased the authorities of the Federation to the extreme. Late into the night they had discussed the implications of Julian’s actions, for his and his wife’s safety. Was Julian’s death natural? This was also the question Sarah was determined to resolve, here, in the city of Faust.

His widows

DSC_0145 - Version 2Sarah stands a little away from the group, her group, that of Julian’s sister and close friends. Together with her husband, she came here not long ago, a sudden request of his, as if, in some way, he had felt time would soon come.

He told her, then, in a voice of factual observation, that the place felt quiet, and well appropriate for a resting writer. She wondered if this was not a dream, one of those awake dreams, where reality and inner thoughts mesh, unrecognisable: Julian’s territory.

Her eyes are dry. At her side, Jane is in tears, inconsolable, and she will be for many months. Her pretty face no longer that of beauty and glamour, but of only grief. There are two other groups: the literati and Julian’s publisher, and then a little away from them, the two women.

One looks to Sarah as if she could be Helga, Julian’s therapist. But, if it is Helga, she has not tried to communicate yet. She wears a dark grey suit, her black hair held in a strict bun, and dark sun glasses. Her companion, equally tall, is dressed in a long black cape, her face masked by a low hood. Both are silent, their sights resting on the fresh grave.

Jane, her head on Sarah’s shoulder, is crying softly. Just behind her, her boyfriend Paul, silent and composed,  told Sarah earlier, in a quiet and attentive voice, that he would drive them back to London, as soon as she instructed him. Sarah looks up at the two women again, and it strikes her, as if Julian had told her, that the hooded one could only be Melissa, not the girl she’d known, and her sometime lover, but the ghost in Julian’s soul. A small cloud now obscures the old churchyard, and, from a nearby field , she hears the call of a lark.

As the sunshine comes back, the two women have gone. Later, after they bode farewell to friends and Julian’s colleagues, as Jane and her are being driven expertly along roads Sarah has known for years – Julian’s and her playground – she knows that Melissa is his soul’s widow, mourning for eternity, as faithful as ever. She smiles, and kisses Jane.

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.

Of Arnold Böcklin

Böcklin's tomb, by Albert von Keller

Julian and his wife were in love with Böcklin. Wherever they were, they looked for his work, and that of artists who praised him. So it was no surprise, when, at long last, Sarah let her husband in the secret apartment on Jägerstraße, and he saw the numerous reproductions of the master’s work on the walls of his wife’s hideout. As she let him in, a hint of mischief in the eyes, he walked into the small entrance with some anxiety: after all, this had remained Sarah’s exclusive domain since their arrival in Faust’s city, more than a year before.

She explained to him how she’d inherited the apartment from an old friend of her late father, a lifelong Berliner, who refused to sell it to “bankers”. Sarah also said she’d almost forgotten about it, until one day she felt like having a look, as she and Melissa were walking through the Gendarmenmarkt. Julian was walking behind Sarah, who seemed delighted to show him the place. In the bedroom, her bedroom, he saw the pictures: Böcklin’s self-portrait with Death, and a large photograph of a young woman, a Native American,  looking straight at the camera (was Sarah taking the shot then?) with the most beautiful smile on her face.

“Yes,” said Sarah, reading his mind, as ever, “I took this picture of Marie in Tucson, when we were at the university.”

There was  another picture, just above the Queen’s size bed, and Julian stopped on his track when he saw it, as Sarah was already walking out of the room into the wide lounge. It was a picture of the two of them, Sarah and Melissa, naked, on the bed, looking at the camera and laughing, a vision of fun and lust. Sarah was calling him. She stood in front of the open bay window, facing the Dom. The morning was clear, children were already playing on the square. Sarah was talking about Albert von Keller’s painting of Böcklin’s tomb. She wanted to look for a copy. They decided to do this soon.

“Oh, you realise there is no kitchen in this apartment?” she said jokingly, Julian laughed, then replied, kissing his wife: “I’ve realised this place is for art and culture… only… But there are plenty of nice places where to go and eat nearby!”

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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