The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Category: Memories

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.

Between light and shadows

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Sarah fills the months that follow Julian’s death with work and strenuous exercise. She looks after Jane, with Paul, and make regular visits to their London house. Slowly, as if reluctantly, Jane tries to return to a normal life; without Paul and Sarah, she would fail.

Her financial consultancy business is thriving. A group of investors, some from as far away as Japan, have requested her services. She often flies to Frankfurt and Berlin, once to Tokyo.

In Berlin, Julian’s room in their Neukölln apartment, is still as it was during their last stay there, together. Pictures of her, of her with Melissa, of them three with Helga, are everywhere. The Mac is on the desk, Julian’s last manuscript safely buried on the big drive. Her thoughts of him are calm, her resolution not to give way to despair. There, or in London, she runs five kilometres every morning. In Berlin, she retraces Julian’s footsteps along the Landwehr canal, in Maybachufer imagining him and Melissa, the Melissa of Köpenick, who soon would become her, as well as his, bed companion.

Back home, in South London, she’s reorganised their place, archiving Julian’s papers, and clearing some of the furniture in his office, which is now hers. Soon Julian’s estate is cleared, which will make her a rich widow. She has offers, from customers, bankers, admirers, and, unexpectedly, from a young woman journalist, who claims to want to write a biography of her husband, and seeks her cooperation.

Then, one morning, as she emerges from the shower after her 5K, she gets a call from Helga. Sarah does not recognise her voice at first. Helga’s accent sounds more pronounced that she remembers. Helga wants a meeting, she says she has important information to share with Sarah about Julian’s work, and his connections to the country they visited together, the year before. This surprises Sarah, but she agrees to meet Helga in London two weeks later.

Helga suggested a smart LGBT restaurant in Shoreditch, and they meet there on the day, in the hazy sunshine of a London’s late summer evening. Their appearance there is not unnoticed: they are a stunning couple. Sarah wears a long summer dress in a simple motif, of almost autumnal charm, her auburn hair long on her alabaster shoulders. Helga looks strict and coldly elegant in a pearl-grey silk suit over a pale blue shirt, her raven-black hair held high by a silver comb. As they order some wine, Sarah notices a young woman sitting quietly at the bar, whose short red hair and facial jewelry reveals as a Berliner: she’s seen her before, and recalled that it was at one of their morning runs at Tempelhof, when Helga introduced her as her bodyguard.

They exchange gossip. Helga’s accent has disappeared: her English is near perfection. They talk about their trip to the East, the people they met, the feelings they had at the sight of destruction and murder. Then, fixing her deep blue eyes on Sarah, Helga says slowly: “Do you know that Julian was involved in the delivery of arms to the insurgency?” Sarah is silent, she did not know, and finds hard to think of why her husband would have concealed such a fact to her. They are now facing each other, not with hostility, but without understanding, yet.

“Why are you telling me?” Sarah asks. Helga does not reply immediately. Sarah wonders who she really is, a person who may or may not be the Helga she knew in Berlin. “Her” Helga helped bring her husband back to sanity: is she the one sitting in front of her now?

Calmly, beautiful long fingers playing with her crystal glass, Helga replies: “I am wondering if this has anything to do with his death.”

Helga then proceeds to explain to Sarah the dark politics at the centre of the Eastern uprising, and the role of donors and supporters in the jungle of German politics. Patiently, Sarah listens: she’s heard stories, and Julian did share with her some of the myths already surrounding the history of the rebellion.

“I need to understand where this information comes from, and how confident you are about it,” she says finally. Helga agrees, they will resume this discussion later, and for now they wish to enjoy the glorious meal, served by a delightful young lady…

Later the short-haired bodyguard drives them to Sarah’s place. She’s invited Helga to spend the night, and the invite was well received.

Fight

We have broken the old chains…

Hortus Closus

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Women are not toys,
They are not stupid,silly.
They are not men’s dolls.

We are free human beings,
We have broken the old chains.

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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.

Lady of Sheol

Where my soul was born again…

Hortus Closus

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You took me in your
Arms and you have soothed my
Pain, Queen of Sheol.

Your cold arms were the cocoon
Where my soul was born again

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Delusion

Fallen angel…

Hortus Closus

DELUSION

I go on my way,
I do not listen to the
Words of delusion.

I am a fallen angel,
I only cross this grey world.

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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

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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.

 

A desolate landscape

Robert Doisneau: Les Helicopters, 1972As instructed Helga stopped the car at the limit of the airport. Both sides of the road were littered with the refuse of war, broken vehicles, hideously torn and burnt debris, broken glass and the litter of troops on the move. Beyond was a desolate landscape of ruined buildings, carcasses of airliners, burnt out armour, and artillery shells, sinister mementoes of the carnage of the last year.

She could hear, at intervals, the distant hammering of artillery, somewhere far away toward the North-East. Her guide pointed out the remnants of a control tower, an eerie skeleton over which savage battles had earlier been fought. The runways were reduced to grey dust punctured by craters and broken concrete slabs.

Through her human eyes, others, with more piercing vision, would observe the landscape, appraising, calculating, measuring. There were few sensors in this part of the country: the events had surprised the coven, thus her mission was now to conduct a direct assessment of the risks of planetary war. For what worried her species was the potential for a new conflict, and the consequences that would for decades delay their ambition of colonisation.

But Helga knew that this was already war: later, perhaps soon, the real fight would start, and huge armies and weaponry would be engaged. With Julian and Sarah, in the evenings of this late autumn, they had discussed the scenario for several weeks: a local uprising provokes a violent response, soon a conflict is born, fuelled by foreign interests and hatred… She trusted Julian’s deep understanding of the human psyche, more acute than hers, and Sarah’s judgement. Sarah… Helga longed to be now with her friend.

As she observed the desolation surrounding them, she was listening to her guide, who, in perfect German, was describing the life of local people, in the nearby city, through the night and day shelling and bombing of the past year, when the airport had been a battlefield. Helga reflected on the soldier’s absence of accent. At first she’d thought he might be a German mercenary, or volunteer fighter. But he had explained where he came from, far North, near the Arctic circle. Like the other military men Sarah and her had met on their arrival in *** his uniform had no insignia.

Three weeks ago they had driven all the way through Poland, after leaving Berlin. Friends in the German military had given Helga a detailed itinerary, and a letter for the authorities, in the capital. There they had spent three days, visiting the city, waiting for their laissez-passer. With their passports the officer who briefed them, explained how to make sure they would cross the front line at authorised checkpoints held by the army, and avoid those  guarded by militiae who were largely out of the government’s control.

Further East, Helga had relied on one contact she had from the coven’s days, a high ranking officer, who had confirmed the safe crossing points. Driving through the deserted back roads of the demilitarised zone, as such existed, they were met by two civilians, who, again in perfect German, had told them to follow them. Soon they entered the city, passing on their way columns of armour and motorised artillery. The country was at war.

In the city they had to wait another four days, under armed surveillance. They were well looked after. Helga’s contact had explained they would have to be patient. They would be cleared by officers of the army East, not from the local battalions. Indeed one morning they met the “team”. Four soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms, the look of professional fighters on their clean-shaven faces. Only one of them, apparently the political officer, spoke to them, in German. They would be given a guide and internal passports. At all times they must listen to the guide’s instructions. Their request to visit the airport had been granted at that condition. Only one of them at a time should go there, always with the guide. They could visit the city together, but had to keep within the military limits.

They were allocated comfortable quarters on what seemed to be the base of an army unit busy with telecommunications, judging by their vehicles, the forest of masts and satellite dishes on the roof of the building. Their room was guarded by two heavily armed soldiers. At no time had their luggage be checked, nor themselves interrogated, nor searched.

Today Sarah was meeting with some residents in the centre of the city, something she’d hoped to be able to do during their stay. Sarah was more relaxed here than she had been in the capital. Helga was reflecting on her friend’s affinities with the rebellion in this part of the country. Julian had also made clear where his sympathies lied.

Her guide was signing to her to enter a low level warehouse and be silent. Soon she heard the noise of powerful engines, still some distance away, above ground. Through the door of the warehouse Helga saw the helicopters, three ugly machines, bristling with weaponry and aerials. Her guide was talking on his combat radio set, in a language she could not identify.

The choppers were now very closed, in a few seconds a cloud of dust invaded the warehouse, the guide gestured to Helga to come out. One craft had landed in front of them, the other two were hovering a few meters from the ground, on each side of the warehouse. Three soldiers and one civilian were walking toward them. Her guide saluted. The three soldiers stood behind the civilian, and Helga recognised her contact.

The general had not changed since the day they had met in the small town, on the Rhenan border, it seemed a long time back. He smiled and they shook hands. Helga knew that he had worked out the reason for their visit, and remembered perfectly well who – or what – she was. “I am pleased to see you Helga, and you haven’t changed either, only more beautiful than ever,” he said gallantly, as if he could read her mind.

Helga did not answer immediately, her sight fascinated by the icy eyes, the calm composure, and his smile. For a fraction of a second she wondered if the general was not one of them, an agent like herself, gifted with a perfect human persona.

“I am sure the coven has good reasons to risk someone of your rank in this war zone… Although of course we have cleaned up this area now, as well as that corridor from where the enemy was shelling the city. People can sleep peacefully now, and you and your companion are safe.”

Helga replied: “We are grateful for your help, please accept this message from my own that should you require our… contribution,” Helga paused, “This would not be withheld.”

The general looked at her with searching eyes, smiled, then exchanged a few words with the guide who had stood by Helga all the time of the encounter. “We wish you a good stay,” the general finally said, “be assured you can contact me any time via your guide if you need anything, or just want to talk, I am here for a while.” He waved to her as he and his escort boarded the chopper. There was no signage on the craft, no identification. Helga and her guide looked on as the choppers were disappearing to the South.

 

Image: Robert Doisneau, Les hélicoptères, 1972

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