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A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Jägerstraße

Mirror on the Wall

Lilya CorneliAs they walk through the entrance of the apartment, the wide mirror on the left of the doorway reflects their image: Julian and his elegant wife Sarah, coming home from a late evening in town. On the opposite side he recognises the Toulouse Lautrec, as Sarah walks in and drops her cape on the back of a leather chair. He touches a switch and the side lighting comes to life, so soft it reveals the features of the apartment only slowly, as if reluctantly.

Everything is so familiar, shrouded in the comfort of an intimate space: their space. A thought filters through his mind: he knows this place, he knows where everything is, the furniture they chose, the art they collected, and yet it is not their home. He walks to the bar, next to the long balcony, and mixes two martinis. Sarah is at the concert piano, facing the large bay window, and has started playing. To his left he sees their bedroom door, and he knows what the room looks like, the queen-size bed, the portrait above it.

He walks to the piano and sets Sarah’s glass on a low table next to her seat. She offers a radiant smile back at him: she’s never been so striking, and he so much in love. A melody of Schubert fills the air. Now, he opens the balcony double door: it is late and the city’s sounds reach him, muffled. The Berlin night is cool and full of the promises of youth. But he, Julian, feels ancient, as ancient as the steps to the Dom. There are few revellers left on the square but the lights are still on. The Deutscher Dom seems to shine in the moonlight, as a reminder of past glories. Clouds briefly mask the moon. But can it be be right: the geometry is improbable, the Dom is at the other end of Gendarmenmarkt…

He walks out to the balcony: mementoes of their lives are everywhere, photographs, paintings they bought all over the world. “They”? Julian feels now deeply troubled, as if he had intruded into someone’s life, someone he may have known, perhaps intimately, in another time. There is a photo of two women, one, older, wearing a pair of old-fashion spectacles, a teacher sort of character, with a benevolent look on her peaceful face. He should remember their names, the names of the two women on the picture. The younger woman is red-haired with sensual lips, and she seems to be looking straight at him. Her sight feels painful to Julian. Julian looks down to the street: Jägerstraße runs past the Französicher Dom, and across Friedrichstraße. He knows the geography of the city so well.

Through the bay window, he sees his wife playing, her face now partly hidden by a statue that stands in front of the piano: a replica of the wounded gladiator. Slowly, he walks along the balcony to the other end. On a low table stand more pictures, and a vase full of fresh carnations. He sees a photo of two women dancing: here on this balcony, where he stands. This time he recognises them: Sarah and his sister Jane. A younger Jane, perhaps even before she became a fashion star.

His unease grows, and as he turns round to walk back to the lounge, he senses a figure standing near the door: a tall hooded shape. He can no longer hear Schubert, but instead, the low murmur of small waves running ashore.  The shape fades into nothingness, he walks back through the door. Although he cannot hear the notes, his wife is still playing. The lights in the lounge appear dimmer. Sarah turns round towards him: she’s not Sarah. Julian sees a woman face with features he thinks he recognises: the jet-black hair, the blue on blue pupils. Helga is looking at him, unsmiling, perhaps even a little threatening.

Julian feels a small tremor. The image dissolves.

Melissa is sitting on the floor of the studio, looking at old pictures. The notes of Schubert float through the calm air of the Eylauer straße. He is lying on the couch, and must have fallen asleep. Melissa looks at him, and blows a kiss. “Now you’re awake, I’ll start cooking,” she says with a teasing smile.

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Gendarmenmarkt

She loves the crowds of onlookers, the small groups waving flags of all colours, the joy of the children playing with balloons, and for some time she manages not to think of him, or of her. In her mind the lover she has, and the lover she wants, still, are as one: the couple she’s enthralled with.

She knows Sarah has another apartment, nearby, in Jägerstraße. There she keeps works of art, and Melissa thinks, secrets she may have, once, shared with her husband. Melissa has never been there, but she’s seen the place, in her dreams. She does not yet know that those dreams have a meaning, a meaning not to be revealed to her before she wins Julian. For this is the challenge set for her by forces she is, for now, ignorant of.

In Sarah’s apartment, much more spacious than the studio on Eylauerstraße, there is a short corridor leading to a lounge: bay windows and a whole-length balcony on one side, two large bedrooms on the other (Melissa has failed so far to locate the apartment and its balcony from the street, so, maybe it does not exist in her reality). There are paintings on the walls, a large photograph of Julian in uniform, and of him and his wife on a beach. Melissa knows how beautiful the couple looks on that picture. There is a  concert piano in one corner, facing the balcony. The balcony opens on the Französicher Dom, and is large enough for several couples to dance. In her dreams Sarah has seen one of the bedrooms: there is, above the queen size bed, a wide picture of a naked woman. The woman sits in front of Sarah who is looking at her, a little in the shadow. Sarah wears an evening dress, and she looks at the woman with a distant smile on her lips. The woman is of Melissa’s age, with beautiful lustrous red hair, and her eyes are looking up to Sarah, full of admiration and submission, perhaps a touch of fear. Melissa is puzzled by the woman’s face, as if she should know her name, as if she has met her, sometime, but not in this life.

Then she remembers: the woman is wearing something, a black leather collar around her slender neck. On the collar there is a ring and a name engraved on a silver plate, but Melissa has not read the name. If she has a chance to go back there, in a dream, she will try to read the name.

She’s now walking down the Friedrichstraße, her heart bursting with joy, and excitement, ignoring the traffic and the tourists. For later she is meeting with Julian, on his own, at his place (that is Sarah’s place). Sarah herself is now back to travelling, to Italy and then South Africa. Melissa will not ask Julian anything about the apartment on Jägerstraße. She’s promised to respect his – and his wife’s – privacy. They tell her what they want her to know, she does not ask.

Julian opens the door, he seems pleased to see her: they hug. Melissa feels her heart melting. “Tonight I’m cooking,” Julian says in a cheerful tone “and I count on you to help me in the kitchen!” They sit on the sofa, chatting about the local news, the daily tide of laughing and crying of the Kreuzberg community. Melissa feels at home with Julian. Is she kidding herself, or is Julian looking at her now with a new interest? The notes of “Rites” fill the room. The small balcony window is open. There are geraniums, wild fennel and poppies in a hanging basket. Julian shows her pictures he has taken of the three of them running along the Landwehr canal bank. He also took one picture here in the studio: Sarah and Melissa dancing to Miles’ Kind of Blue. Melissa looks at the picture: she’s wearing the little white corsage Sarah liked. As her eyes wander around the photo she notices something else: she, Melissa, is wearing a black-leather collar, with a silver plate. There is a name on the plate. Melissa cannot recall ever to have worn a collar, and Sarah did not give her one. She looks at Julian, who smiles and invites her to the kitchen.

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