The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Gabrielle

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.

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A birthday

Melissa Melissa ~ What does one do, when faced with someone, who’s still very dear to one’s heart, but who has lost interest? I know that I may be very unfair to him. I can only guess at the pressure he must be under, not in a hostile manner, but as a result of people caring for him, fearing for his reason, the wellness of his mind, his sanity. Julian is fragile, and has always been. Strong and fragile at the same time. In that he has not changed since his adolescence…

In two days he will have a birthday. How could I forget the date? We used to joke about it between us, as if of a well kept secret: the golden boy has his birthday and Valentine on the same day! This thought brings me back to our childhood, for we were still children then. My mentor keeps reminding me that we were of a very different mental age: I was, she says, a grown woman, who enjoyed sex and the thrill of new encounters, he was a little monk, all wrapped up in dreams of chivalry and saving the world, and saving me. And I did not want to be saved, rather I wanted him, I wanted him to lose himself in me. That too was a dream.

So, I am unsure how to wish him a happy birthday. I do not wish to intrude, as this would upset Sarah, and probably hurt him. Yet I want him to know that I am here, that is not so far from him, and that my soul aches for him, that I want him to be happy, content, even if it means being silent, being hidden. Words are not well suited for this kind of message. It leaves me with floating to him in one of his dreams. Sarah said once to me, as we were making love, she and I, that she did not want me to violate his mind in that way. “You have me now, and I want you to leave him in peace.”

So I have, and will. I remember Sarah adding that the price for failing would be for me to lose both of them. And of course, while I kept to my word, I failed nonetheless, since I lost both of them, anyway. Sarah guards her husband, he clings to her as never before. When I approached his sister, Jane, she made clear she did not want to act as go-between.

“I know my brother is at times delusional, and I will do nothing to encourage his illness.” Which for me was final. As is normal for me when I am distressed I then sought my mentor’s help. Gabrielle was evasive, which is unusual, and made me a little suspicious of her reasons. Finally I hit on a solution: I will send him a Valentine card, unsigned.

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/

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

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.”

He came back to me…

Sisters Teacher, I do not know how to express the joy and happiness I feel in myself, for Julian has come back to me, he loves me, he is mine. I know how important this man is to you and your cause, Teacher, but at this instant he is mine, my lover, the one I sought for all these years, the one I was desperate to find again.

He is as he always were: a young knight, with now the experience and strength of a grown man. He gave me everything I always wanted from him, and I have already forgotten the bad dreams, the pain, the torture of not reaching him, the solitude I had to endure in life and death, until you saved me. In that quiet street, in the little room with sunlight filtering through the thin white lace curtain he took what has been his all that time: the woman in me, my heart, my mind, my soul, for I belong to him in ways that I cannot explain. All I can say is that he loved what he found, and he knows how to please me, to the depth of me.

Later we walked the streets till early morning: every ten steps I had to kiss him – did I tell you how much I want his mouth, his lips, his tongue? My body, my arms, my hands did not leave him a second. We walked along the river, across the bridges full of light and history. Other couples smiled at us… In Saint-Germain we went to Café de Flore – you remember how keen on literature he’s always been… I, who never drinks, shared a bottle of cool Loire wine with him. We walked back through the Arénes but the little park was closed when we got there, it was already morning… Back to our room we made love till sleep overwhelmed us, enlaced, exhausted, belonging.

I want to say, Teacher, I know he is the Path, the human being you need. And I have promised to help you. I will be loyal to my promise, but I want to say this: I will die defending him if he is in danger – whoever wants his death will have to kill this woman first. One last thing, for I want nothing to be hidden from you, Teacher: I told Sarah everything, and she said she was more than happy that Julian had at long last found me. She also said she was prepared for me to go and live with them two. As you know she and I are already very close. As I write, he is asleep next to me, it will be soon the end of our second day. Then he will go back to London, and when we meet again we will be on our way to you, and to Berlin…

Immersed in the myriads of  combinations and second order equations, and woven in the fabric of the Coven, Gabrielle is thinking, all the time observing the young woman who’s writing to her, next to her lover asleep. How beautiful she is, her Melissa. Yes she, Gabrielle, will continue to protect her. But Julian, of course, is another matter. Melissa led them to him, and he’s proven a little tough, not as pliable as she was. But was Melissa pliable? Or did she understand that her way back to humanity and her man was through them? “We don’t know”, reflects Gabrielle, “if a human being can survive this ordeal. When we tried with specimens of other species we failed: they all died.” And she adds to herself: “And this why we are so cautious here…”

This sombre thought annoys her. Gabrielle has invested so much in this, she and Elga. Their voice was heard, they got what they wanted, the wheels are turning. They are about to change the course of history on this world, and on theirs. And the path to these futures, the renewal of the Coven itself, is dependent on Julian, and for now, on Melissa. What irony, she thinks, remembering the young woman, dying in a pool of her blood, her dress soiled, hideous wounds in her chest and throat, the dying green eyes…

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.

A house on Long Island

SecretiveI, Melissa Baudoin, who, in our school days, loved Julian more than my own life, is now charged with his, and his lovely wife Sarah’s, protection. I am standing at JFK’s airport, just behind the Emigration line, and their plane landed half an hour ago. I don’t expect them to have a huge amount of luggage, they are here only for a few days.

Gabrielle and Elga will meet with them at our Brooklyn safe house tomorrow. In-between they are my flock to look after. But perhaps I should tell you who I am, really. Last time you saw me I was with Julian on that strange military base  near the German border where we attended a media circus organised by the Alliance. Then Julian noticed Elga there but I did not have the courage to explain to him the reason for Elga’s presence in the middle of the Alliance’s top brass. Now I will, when they meet again tomorrow.

I report to the Coven, the collective who, ultimately, was responsible for my rebirth, after I got murdered by those thugs, all those years ago, after Julian abandoned me. No, please don’t think I have a grudge, he did what young men then did: go to war, us, the mothers, the sisters, the lovers, stayed behind, that was how it was, then. In what you may call their Air Force I have the grade of colonel, and my mission is to ensure our human witnesses are kept safe. Above all Julian and Sarah. Here in New-York they will get appraised of the plot that we are trying to unravel and defeat. The step after that is for Julian and me to go to Berlin, so that we meet with the centre of power that will soon decide our fate on this planet.

But I see Julian and his wife now going through Emigration. They are such a lovely couple, and despite the inherent frigidity of this body, my heart swells at the view of that man, for how I loved him, the virgin boy who was my platonic lover, and yet I never truly possessed him. Here they are smiling as they walk toward me. I hugged Sarah first, and, yes, we kiss, long, on the mouth. Then I hug Julian, and I am aware of a tear running down Sarah’s face.

“Come, I say, I have a car, I am driving you to your house.” I have arranged for a nice place for them to stay, on Long Island, a hundred miles from here. In the car I explain the plan. Tonight peaceful evening at home. Gabrielle will join us, I have dinner all sorted out, then they have the evening for themselves, once we have briefed them on the schedule. I will stay in the house, watching over them, discrete, invincible. You see: I need no sleep. As I sit down at the wheel of the Mercedes I check the holster down my thigh and the 9mm Heckler & Koch handgun in it. I cannot be too careful. In the car we chat, Sarah next to me, Julian at the back. I pulled out of the airport traffic quickly and take the main highway to the north. Sarah’s talkative, I share with them my experience here. Julian is silent, smiling, observing me. Sarah’s telling me about their last stay in the US, some five years ago in Chicago. They are both keen jazz lovers. I smile: Julian was already that at school. I recall us two discussing Miles’ and Juliette Greco’s relationship.

A black van overtakes us briefly flashing its lights: our US Air Force guardian angels. We get to the house, which is some distance from the main road, behind high walls, and close to the shore. As I stop Julian makes his first statement of the evening about the sight of tall sail boats in the bay. We laugh. As I park the car I notice the front door is open. I tell Julian and Sarah to stay near the car and walk to the house, the H&K drawn. One of the US officers appears at the door and apologizes. We have been a little faster than they expected: they had to scan, again, the house. He salutes and disappears behind the house, where I expect their van is parked. Still holding the gun I wave to my friends to come in, while I get their suitcase from the car. As I walk back to the house I see Julian and Sarah hugging in the hall. I smile and say cheekily: “Plenty of time later, let me show you your room.” Soon we are chatting in the lounge, comfortably sitting on the huge leather arm chairs, savouring bourbon on ice. Then Gabrielle arrives and there is a clatter of greetings, hugs and kisses, while I rush to the kitchen and get the cook going. The H&K is quietly back to its holster, fully loaded.

 

The Beautiful City

La Seine à Paris Early morning we walk slowly hand in hand along the river. The pavements are being washed, the sky a luminous well above our heads, above the city we love. We have come to the capital city to reflect, make love, and try to forget the strange adventure that beset us with the return of Melissa in my husband’s life, our lives.

Julian is taking pictures of the left bank as we make our way towards the Tuileries. There is still very little traffic, and a few pedestrians, looking forward to the sunlit day. I feel at ease with this place, the historic buildings, the light that permeates the stones, the trees, the wandering tourists. And I know that my husband wishes, in his words, to be reconciled with his birth place, perhaps also find an inspiration that has eluded him since the day he saw Elga among the military of the Alliance: that sight frightened him more than anything that he had witnessed before.

It has been three months now and we haven’t heard from Melissa, or from Gabrielle. We are aware that things have started changing in our world: the divided country in the far East that nearly brought us to the brink of war is now trying to reconcile its two halves. The Great Power to Be appears to have taking the role of benevolent mediator, and its competitor, the Great Power, is suddenly seeking peace… But we know better than expecting a miracle. Julian has bouts of despair when we hear of massacres and demonstrators being persecuted, tortured, killed, there and everywhere. There is a long way to go, but things are moving.

We cross the Seine on the little foot bridge, its edges decorated by thousands of small locks with painted initials. A year ago there was still space for more, now we smile, we would find it difficult to fit ours anywhere along the metal fence. A couple walks towards us and smiles, the two young women looking at me, then at Julian, our shorts, our short hair. They giggle and walk past. We stop and turn towards the sun, past the statue of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf. My arms around Julian’s shoulders I kiss him, full lips, searching him. “I wish Mel would call us or at least email us, or something…” Julian says looking at me deep. “Stop worrying”, I reply, holding him tighter still, “nothing can happen to her, as we know…”

We are now walking through the small streets of the left Bank, and I know it’s a bit of a pélerinage for my husband: he’s retracing the steps of his youth. The city is around us, immortal. We buy mineral water at a small shop, ran by youngsters, the taller boy smiles at me, I could be his mother. We walk to the rue Sébastien Bottin, and Julian says the name has changed to that of the great publisher whose offices are still there. Julian takes more pictures. We walk across the boulevard, stopping for another hug.

Lips On boulevard Raspail we stop at the bookshop and stay there an hour, browsing. The  manager takes a definite interest in me, her grey eyes inviting; oblivious Julian picks up the review – a double issue about Proust – and a biography of Flaubert. I chat with the manager who gives me her card, Julian pays for his books, and we walk towards the Luxembourg. It is now a little warmer, my arm is around Julian’s shoulder, in steps we enter the garden. People are playing tennis on the courts. We find a couple of chairs near the statue of Verlaine, Julian drops his bag, we kiss for long minutes, enlaced.

Hours later, in our room, near the République, we make love till exhaustion, which does not happen for two hours. As we get showered and dressed, taking our time and teasing each other, my telephone rings: it’s Gabrielle, who invites us both for the next weekend. She gives me an address, in New York.

Dear, so dear brother… (sisterly #love)

Jane I am ever so pleased to see you Julian: you look well, you have left behind the worried eyebrows you wore for some time. I know Melissa and you are reconciled. I can tell from your look and hers. And I know what you think: she’s perfect isn’t she? She’s no ghost from the past that young woman, but someone who cares for you, who admires your work, who follows your progress. She reads what you write, she’s made comments on her page: have you visited her page Julian? She’d follow you everywhere if you were alone. I’m smiling as I say this. She cannot and would not compete with Sarah: they also love each other very much… But I know you know that too.

I now think that the past matters very little. Yes of course you have your memories: but you live in the present, don’t you? At best those images – for that is what they are – are a mere backdrop, perhaps material for your writing, an inspiration for some short story, or maybe even your next novel… Your life is now. Sarah says what you learnt from Gabrielle and Elga has made you think again. I am glad. Hopefully this will find its way in your writing too: not a remembrance of things past, but our futures, our future, yours, Sarah’s, Melissa’s and mine. I feel that we are now inseparable. You know that Melissa and I are lovers. Looking back at our first meeting on Chi, it was inevitable. She cannot love you as she no doubt wanted, so there is me, your sister (I sense your puzzlement). This way she won’t trouble you. And I must say, I don’t regret anything: she’s a wonderful companion, she loves Sarah, and, yes, she still think of you as the unattainable young man she, or whoever preceded her, knew long ago.

But let’s not stir the nostalgia: we enjoy our relationship, Melissa and me, and we love you deeply, brother. Melissa says that Elga was impressed by Sarah and you, the way you listened. I understand that she – Melissa – and Elga are often corresponding. She also said that to understand the science the coven has at their disposal, you need to think of nanotechnology, the art of molecule-level engineering. They are working at the pico level, a millionth time smaller in scale, making engines from particles, building new assemblies with those electrons and pions our physicists are still struggling with. You know the recent asteroid, the one that crashed in the Urals breaking a lot of glass? Melissa said that, while she could not be sure, she thought the coven uses asteroids to spread planets with small “observers”, tiny recording devices that feed back all sorts of measurements, not only in the visible light spectrum, to their labs… Amazing isn’t it? I can see that Melissa admires them, with reason. By the way, Elga will pay a visit here soon. Mel will let us know when and where. I love you.

Your sister, Jane.

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