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A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Brooklyn

Questions…

You Julian ~ Last year was hard on both of us. The Summer was beautiful, coming after that long extended Winter, and no Spring… Having time together, away from business and political worries, was wonderful. We enjoyed that time, the trip through Germany, the Ostsee, the days in Berlin, soaking up the landscapes, the architecture, the history, the art. And you were there, caring, attentive, stunning. We ran in Tempelhof, wandered in Unter den Linden, visited the Bundestag, ate chips and Curry Wurst on the Alexander Platz, cuddled in Viktoria Park… Your city became mine, I belonged there, with you.

All the time I sensed how much you wanted me to be close, not drifting, not worrying about ghosts. I want to assure you that, all that time, I was with you, and with no-one else. This imagination of mine then played tricks on me, and this got worse when we came back to England. So the end of last year was a struggle: I know that I was responsible for that. I still feel ashamed about it.

But I have questions, and you may be able to answer, at least some of them. Who really is Helga? She has been helping me, that I understand, but what her role is, what she is to you, I do not know. I occasionally read about her in the international media. She’s written a book about Carl Jung. But I cannot recall when we first met, my memory is failing me (perhaps you will recall what the Worker of Secrets says to Siris: “… this failing memory of yours…”)

Then, there is Gabrielle, who claims to be a historian. Does Gabrielle teach? I imagine that you may know, but perhaps you don’t. About her, I am perhaps even more in the dark than I am about Helga. Obviously the two of them know each other, of that I am convinced. I have a very vague recollection of visiting Gabrielle once, at her place, and it must have been in London. That is very confused in my mind. Were we together?

We have this weekend to talk about it, if you want.

After some time Julian recognises the building, despite the near total darkness. He can hear sounds of activity around him, boots making contact with the hard and dry concrete, the vibration of engines, but no human voice. The air is cold, almost metallic, with a whiff of wood fire; he realises he’s wearing a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Slowly his sight gets used to the dim lights that appear flickering in the distance. Groups of soldiers in fatigues are loading crates and machines on trucks: he is certain now to be back to the warehouse in Brooklyn, where once Sarah and him were guests to Gabrielle and Elga. 

He sees and recognises the door to the elevator. It is not guarded, in fact no-one seems to pay any attention to his presence. He walks toward the door: it is unlocked. In a few steps he is in front of the elevator, the metal doors open and let him in. It opens again, as the first time, and Julian finds himself in a lit corridor which he recognises immediately: it is the same place. Traditional prints of boats and aircrafts decorate the adobe walls. 

There is no sound. Julian walks to the end of the corridor, finds the entrance to the conference room. There the general showed them a view of the city. There Sarah and Elga exchanged knowing smiles. And there, Melissa was for ever protecting him in an invisible cloak of attention… Melissa… But he is now walking into the room.

The room is lit by dimmed spot lights facing the white ceiling and walls. People in uniforms are sitting around a central circular table, now as then. There appears to be some sort of shimmering hologram at the centre of the table. A little aside, flanked by four masked guards, stands a hooded shape. Immediately, Julian knows that, under the hood, is no human face; at that instant he would say the hidden body may not even be organic. There is a light current of air flowing through the room. He is suddenly aware of a presence behind him. Slowly he turns round to face that presence, with some expectation, and no fear. There standing, is a tall red-haired young woman, wearing a grey jump-suit, who smiles at him, a finger on her lips to request silence. The room goes dimmer.

But he hears a voice: Sarah is waking him up. “Now, my husband fell asleep near the fire, like an old bear!” she laughs. They kiss.

Searching

~ Julian

Otto Steinert Looking back at the past year I have to ask myself: where have I been, and who am I, in reality? On this word, reality, hinges the whole question. As I look out of the window at the January rain falling on the already water-saturated garden, I try to make sense of my failing memories. What comes back to me, in small clouds of sights and sounds, is that what my reality was?

Sarah says “yes, and no”, and I am tempted to call my wife a sophist. But I don’t. I know she’s right, as some of those remembered instants were once real for me, for her husband, the man called Julian. Julian walked on Regent Street, he had a phone call, he visited her page on Facebook… He went to Brooklyn, to Paris, to Berlin. He saw  the missiles on the compound, in the dark pine forest, he saw the blond guards on duty at the new Chancellery. He ran with his wife and his sister around the Tempelhof airfield. All that happened, but other fragments may have only existed in his mind – or did they? How do I tell the difference between what happened, and what could have happened? For me, now, I cannot tell.

So, the question who am I? – That question is legitimate. If part of my life is an imaginary story, am I the writer, or, am I the story? And who writes that story? Am I a character in someone else’s book? And what’s her name? What is the writer’s name?

There is another question haunting me: was the writer, if that was the way it was, was she human? As she wrote those episodes in Julian’s life, was she looking on his past, or her future? Was she anticipating a life not yet in his, her – reality?

Sarah listens to me, from time to time asking me to retell a scene, a dialogue, as if she was analysing this work: “her” novel. But it is all disjointed, my memories are not contiguous, there are gaps, and many, many inconsistencies. Some characters appear in distorted roles, not their “real” functions, or professions. Take Helga, for example. In my memory she’s “Elga” – and she is not from this world, she’s from a far away galaxy. But Helga is our doctor, she is real, she exists not merely in my reality, but Sarah’s, and our friend Gabrielle’s too.

“It will all make sense, finally,” says Sarah, with the smile of patience itself.

“Yes, but even if it does not, does it matter?” I ask in reply. We hug.

Image: Otto Steinert, via Inner Optics

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.

In the Chancellery

The Chancellery, Berlin We are at the entrance of the long steel and glass building that adorns the long perspective in front of the Bundestag. Sarah and Melissa are standing, superb in their sober grey suits and white silk shirts: they have adopted the same hair style, and today they are both dark red, and wear sharp black high heels. They also wear black lipstick. There is today an unforgiving coldness to their beauty. We walk slowly to the gate, welcome by a platoon of  dark-blue clad officers. I notice their badges which I do not recognise, I notice the blond hair tightly held under the strict berets: the Chancellery is guarded by women warriors.

We walk in as part of a small group of  about twelve guests. Classical music – is it Schubert? – floats through the endless glass corridors. Late afternoon light filters through the large windows. We are all assigned specific seats through specific doors. We are shepherded by the silent guards to one of the larger conference rooms in the building. As we enter the room one guard invites Sarah and Melissa to follow her, while another guides me to my seat. My wife and lover disappear through a side door.

I sit back and look at the audience which slowly fills in the large auditorium. Guards in uniform stand at all corners. Large flags of the United Nations and the Federal Republic, as well as the Union’s, ornate the wide stage. The auditorium is large enough for three or four thousand people. Schubert plays on. Sarah’s and Melissa’s seats remain empty for another half an hour. I then remember that we were given portable audio guides as we entered the building. I connect mine. There is a live broadcast, and on the little screen one can observe the speaker. It is a man, in USAF uniform, and I immediately recognise the officer who was our host in Brooklyn. He’s introducing the programme for the conference and explains the purpose of this pre-conference meeting.

I stand up to let a group of journalists access their seats a little further on the same row. They are all women. I notice an insignia on their jackets. Soon Sarah and Melissa join me, smiling, stunning in their suits and shiny makeup. Sarah kisses me lightly on the cheek and insists for me to sit between her and Melissa. Melissa briefly touches my knee. As I turn toward her I see she wears the same insignia as the journalists. So does Sarah. Then it comes to my mind that this is a smaller, more discreet version, than the one worn by the Chancellery guards. It’s an eagle seizing a small sphere. In the middle of the sphere is a heart.

On the stage now stand four people. One of them is Gabrielle. I also recognise the Chancellor herself, the same US officer, and a tall woman in a Chinese military uniform, perhaps a navy officer. As the four of them stand to attention, Schubert stops and the audience stands up for the German national anthem. The three of us know the words and the melody well. It is a moving moment. As the audience sits back a film appears in the background of the stage, silent. But the Chancellor stands up and speaks. She introduces the conference, states its main purpose, which is to launch a universal movement for peace and the end of all wars. The film shows the horrors of recent conflicts, then switches to views of recent meetings and diplomatic events. The Chancellor introduces Gabrielle – I hold my breath – as “our friend from the East”. No mention of the Coven or of Andromeda… The eagle and the sphere emblem appear on the screen. As the Chancellor concludes her introduction Gabrielle stands up. Her voice is high and clear, without accent. Her German is perfect, the online translation equally so. The portable audio device gives us fifteen language options. Gabrielle’s words reach my consciousness as Sarah takes hold of my hand. There will be four strands of work for the conference: diplomacy, military disarmament, environment and, demographics and “gender”.

I feel dizzy. Gabrielle explains the purpose of each strand, and expands on the diplomatic work undertaken by the UN, the Great Power and her competitors since the last crisis. Then the USAF general talks about the military side of the conference. Fluently he describes the work done so far, since the “disappearance” of the missiles in East Asia. He mentions the recent crisis in the Middle-East and how this is being resolved “to the best interest of mankind”.

The lady in Navy uniform then introduces the environment part of the programme. She’s evidently an expert. The screen displays a series of views describing threats to the planet, as seen from space. The speaker describes the mathematics of carbon reduction. I wonder how many in the audience follow her exposé. Suddenly Gabrielle is back to the fore. I must have missed the last minutes of the environment presentation, lost in a dream. At first I do not understand what Gabrielle is saying. The screen is again full of equations, this time about demographics. Sarah holds my hand tighter. Melissa says something, very low, in my ear. I shiver. Gabrielle is talking about her people. She talks about their ancient history, how they overcome the threats to their survival, how they conquered Space. She says that it is now mankind’s turn to make the choice: survival or self-destruction through dark ages. The audience is totally silent. No one moves. The film is now showing old newsreels. Soon Gabrielle concludes that one of the objectives of the conference is to achieve agreement on population control, a condition of peace. As she sits down, smiling, the Chancellor rises, wishes the audience a positive experience during the conference, and explains that we will be individually called in, in small groups, for the follow-up debriefing.

As I am called in my companions stand up with me and escort me holding my arms along the corridors. I cannot believe what I heard, what is happening. Sarah and Melissa guide me through another corridor and a flight of steps. Melissa knocks at a door and walks in, followed by Sarah who ushers me in. We follow another short corridor and stand by another door. Gabrielle opens the door. She smiles at my companions and shakes my hand.

“You are a lucky man, Julian”, she says in her softest voice, “thanks to your friends your conference will be only hard and interesting work.” At those words Melissa hugs me. There is a new strength in her taking hold of me. I am invited to sit down in one of four comfortable leather chairs that face a wide bay window opening toward the Bundestag. I feel my destiny is no longer mine to control. Gabrielle was not threatening me, but merely stating a fact.

“Julian, you may not have followed all of the presentations this afternoon, there was a lot to absorb. You have been attached to the demographics strand of the conference. You should know that you are one of a very small number, a minority, of non-expert male participants, invited to join us for this project.”

What Melissa said to my ear a few minutes back was: “Trust us.”

Sunset

Clair de TerreThe meeting in the Brooklyn safe house lasts for hours. The aerial view of the city is wiped out from the wall, replaced by a zoomed high-resolution picture of where we are, the vast warehouse, outside in the street first, then a roaming view across the corridor we had followed on our arrival, and, finally the room where we sit. Sarah and I look at each other, she later said I was as pale as a ghost. The general explains that these views are taken, live, by a drone above us at an altitude of twelve hundred meters. There is a silent pause. Then I say: “I do not know of any sensor capable of that level of precision across solid walls.” Everyone is quiet, then Elga breaks the silence. “You are right Julian. We have used” – I notice the “we” – “a US Airforce drone, but also a little cloud of Coven-technology sensors, controlled through it…” I look straight into Elga’s blue on blue eyes, then at Melissa, I see them both smiling, and behind those smiles I cannot avoid thinking of alien minds, calculating, unassailable to any human being. At that moment I am convinced that my friend is there, but she no longer is the woman I had known, but someone – I hate the thought of thinking “something” – completely different. I also sense that both of them, certainly Melissa, are determined to convince me that it is not the case, and I saw in Melissa’s face the beginning of seduction, as if saying “Look at my soul, Julian, can you challenge my humanity?”.

The general resumes his exposé. The Great Power, her competitor in the East and the Coven are cooperating for the benefit of peace. The GP needs some of the Coven’s technology to achieve her goals. So, important and complex negotiations are taking place. There is a need for discretion, even secrecy, but also carefully tailored information to be presented to the public – a worldwide public – other than through the ordinary channels of commercial TV, radio and newspapers. They will be involved, but the new Alliance – the general actually uses the phrase “the new Alliance” – is creating its own channel. And this is where we come in, the three of us, Sarah, Mel and me…

There is danger, the general continues. Some countries and interests have deep suspicions about what the GP is about. There are jealousies and fear. Incidents may be misrepresented. False news may frighten the public. The conference in Berlin will be the locus for an official launch of the New Alliance. The general pauses, as if to let us reflect.

In a soft voice Gabrielle speaks for the first time. “Melissa and I are moving to Paris in order to prepare for this. You two are invited to join us next month. We have much to discuss to get you up to speed. For the time being the small town is off limits.” I am tempted to ask what is off limits and why, but a look from Sarah convinces me to hold back. The general concludes his account by asking us if we have any question. To her credit Sarah realises that I am in no emotional state to reply. “We are grateful, she says soberly, for your trust and, smiling in the direction of Gabrielle and Elga,  that of our friends here. As you all know, in turn, Julian and I have entrusted Melissa to give us support as we endeavour to serve the cause of peace.” Everybody is smiling and Elga, yes, Elga comes to me and hugs me. Soon, after saying good bye to the general, we are walking down the corridor to the lift. Our guard is waiting. This time both Melissa and Gabrielle are with us. As Melissa drives us out of the warehouse, we are on our way back to Long Island for the evening. A grey van is following us, its windows reflecting the sunset light.

In Brooklyn

Hope, by George Frederic Watts (1886) Melissa drives us at the top permitted speed, avoiding the slower traffic on the turnpike with remarkable skill. This morning she wears black jeans and a blue shirt, her beautiful hair held in a severe bun: her face is taut and serious and she wears no makeup. Sitting next to Julian at the back, as she requested, I observe on the front seat  the holster, with the black and flat handgun, the same as she drew out yesterday at our arrival on Long Island. The uniformed officer who came out of the house at that instant would not have stood a chance, had he shown himself to be a foe: our friend had him framed, her steady hand still as rock. To me her posture then was a revelation: the calm and impeccable hold, feet well positioned on the ground, legs a little apart: a trained marksman or assassin. I did not share my reaction with Julian. I think he admires Melissa more than ever, and she frightens him already enough.

We are on our way to meet Gabrielle and Elga again, this time in very different surroundings. Melissa told us last night that we would meet the high ranking Great Power officer, who is now the official liaison with the Coven. We know that after the flurry of media speculation, following the press conference Melissa and Julian attended, there has been a lull. Television channels have been especially sober in any reportage related to the Coven, or any event attributed to it. The name is now out, and no-one knows for sure who it is or what it is for, other than promoting world peace. No extra-terrestrial, let alone galactic,  connection is suggested anywhere. The tone of the few articles is only sober and respectful: journalists have been told by their editors to keep it that way, or else.

We reach the freeway in the direction of Brooklyn. Melissa explains that our escort – a grey SUV with reflecting black windows which has been trailing us since Long Island –  will now precedes us and that another car will take its place. Soon enough a dark blue van is on our tail, I cannot see inside either but notice the tall antenna on its roof.

As we reach Brooklyn Melissa slows down. We are sandwiched by our escort, front and back. After half an hour through the streets Melissa turns off and the car faces what looks like a massive warehouse. The SUV is in front of us, soon a huge metal door opens and the three cars move in. The door closes.

The escort wears dark overalls and masks. They carry short machine guns. Melissa leads us towards a staircase, preceded by two armed masked men. The stairs lead to a small room with a lift. There is no button or visible control near the lift. It opens, we walk in, the door shuts without a sound. We exit the lift a few seconds later, I think we went up. We now stand in front of a closed door of polished wood. Julian presses my hand, and I can feel his anguish. Then the door opens: Gabrielle is on the threshold, smiling. She signals me to walk in, followed by Julian and Melissa. The door closes silently, I guess our guards stand now by the door.

I follow Gabrielle into a wide corridor, between walls painted a pale ochre. Paintings of boat races and aircrafts ornate these walls. Turning round I see that Melissa is leading Julian by the hand: she smiles and signals me that all is well. Gabrielle opens a door at the end of the corridor: it opens into a large well lit office, and near a massive desk in its middle stands Elga. She is absolutely stunning, her long black hair to the shoulder, wearing a grey suit that perfectly renders her athletic shape in a way I find immediately disturbing. Behind the desk stands a tall man with a crew cut wearing the four stars of a US Air Force general.

Gabrielle does the presentation, and then hugs me. Julian and I shake hands with the general. We are offered comfortable seats and coffee, that Elga serves herself. Julian sits between Melissa and me. I notice that Melissa left the handgun in her car.

The general welcomes us and says how happy he is to meet us at long last. He refers to the press conference but not to the missiles. Then in the quiet and firm voice of a man used to be listened to without fuss, he says that Melissa, Julian and me have been invited to attend a conference of the four largest military powers in the world: the Great Power herself and her Asia challenger, the Russian Federation and Japan. The military Alliance will be also represented. The conference will take place in the fall, in Berlin. Another round of coffee is being served. I relax a little, Elga smiles at me, the general stands up and invites us to look at the view. Then I notice that behind us, where the door stood, is al large bay window. The view is that of the whole of New-York City and a good slice of New Jersey, as if we were at a very high altitude, perhaps a kilometre high. And maybe we are.

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