The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Julian

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.

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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.

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.

A singular passion

Watch tower in TreptowShe finally admits it: she’s attracted to him, the quiet walker, sometime runner, she meets here and then, as if their paths had to cross. One morning, as she runs past the old guard tower, she notices him near one of the wooden benches, as he is changing into his running gear. She hides behind a tree, to better observe him; she now looks at his body, the sparse but vigorous frame, his supple and determined moves.

He does not see her, and starts running toward the park, at a regular and tranquil pace. She follows, at a safe distance, and when he accelerates a little, she adjusts her own steps, her eyes firmly fixed on his shoulders.

She’s the faster runner, and soon she’s level with him, slows down to his pace, turns to him, wave. He smiles, says hello. That smile… she thinks. She offers to run with him for a while. He accepts with a small gesture, as if to say “why not?” She tells him she knows where he lives, and that she does not think he is from the City. He says she’s right, he’s only one of the City’s many adopted sons. She says his name: he’s surprised, she can sense, but does not ask her how she knows.

She tells him she’s been stalking him, peacefully, without bad intentions, ever since they met along the canal, several weeks back. She knows where he lives, his apartment, his name on the door. She’s been studying his habits, where he goes in the evening, the Italian restaurant in Kreuzberg, his favourite bar, where he shops, where he parks his bike.

He’s silent for a while, as they run, in steps, deep in thoughts, on their own. Finally he says: “if you know so much about me, then you may know also how much your name means to me.” She does not know, but she guessed there was, somewhere, sometime, in their separate lives, a reason for them to meet here, in this City.

She senses his inner strength, his resistance to seduction, perhaps his unwillingness to sacrifice his inner peace. Now she wants him, badly. But she knows better than rushing him. She says: “Please forgive and accept me, I won’t annoy you, or invade your privacy anymore, I am asking merely to be the girl you take with you from time to time, like this. I will not try to be the other Melissa.”

For several minutes he says nothing. She’s worried he’s about to chase her away. What he says then touches her deeply, and she feels triumphant.

“I am an old man, so I fail to understand your interest in me… You should know that I have in me more than memories: I am haunted. But I know also that you are not the other Melissa.  But, if you wish, you may be that girl, my guide, shall we say, in the city of Faust.”

A different you

~ Sarah

Ex Libris,  Franz von Bayroz.  You have changed so much, Julian, that your friends won’t recognise you. Even I sometimes hesitate, when I observe you, at work, writing, or simply walking around the house: is this my husband? It is only small changes, you look the same, but “feel” different, in your way of speaking, your posture when we talk, and, yes, the way our love life has now evolved. I know, people change, and I have changed too.

There is your work. You used to work chiefly in the morning, sometimes, less frequently, in the evening. Now, you are at your desk for long hours, often late into the night. Yes, you have been very successful, the last title is well on its way to become a literary best-seller. But I wonder: this sudden wave of inspiration, this new commitment to your work, what does it all mean? It happened so suddenly. One day it was writing as usual, then, it became obsessive.

Then, there are your dreams, more vivid than ever before, you speaking in your sleep, which used to be very rare. What, or who, is haunting you? You say nothing, and you smile. I find your denials not so convincing. Your treatment ended months ago: you are cured now, aren’t you? Yet, at times, I could believe you are somewhere else, far from me, perhaps far from yourself. I would say that you appear now to live first and foremost for your writing. And as I am your wife, your support, I should be pleased for you, and maybe, I am. Only a little worried.

I will keep these observations to myself, for now. I am pleased with the progress you are making with your writing, and I am proud of your achievements, how could I not be? But I am also wondering, about the dark side of your soul, about the shadows that I suspect, around you.

Soon we will leave, we will return to Faust’s city, his metropolis. I know you want to be back there, and so do I. More than ever it is our city, and there we will find again the path of love. I want to run with you in the Tiergarten, around the old airfield in Tempelhof. I want to look at the paintings of Prussian soldiers of the 1870 war, in the old gallery, I want to see you smile at the bust of Wagner. I want us to go back to the Jewish museum in Kreuzberg, I want to do all those things, with you.

And, perhaps, you will become like the old you, again.

Image: Ex Libris
Franz von Bayroz.
Eau-forte originale signée dans le cuivre. Vers 1910 (via triciclo)

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/

Lost, without you

Jacqueline Devreux Melissa ~ It is my turn now, to roam those streets, to visit Viktoria Park in the cold mornings, alone. Petrified, cold, ugly, I stand in the street where Sarah and you stayed. You made me beautiful, and without your presence, without your patient love, I am just that: an old woman, a witch without broom, a useless ghost.

How beautiful, how warm was that summer, how gracious and handsome you both were, you, in love with Sarah, and in love with me, the one who could not exist without you, other than as a wreck. This is what I am now, a wreck, haunting the streets you walked along, before your mind lost its way, or, perhaps, before reality set in. How can I know? If I am an illusion of your memories, if my existence is in your mind, a little mirage of those synapses, then I cannot judge if the same mind rejects me, decides that, after all, I do not exist.

This is Sarah’s silent revenge, the triumph of virtue against the lewd creature from your past. She, the wife, the loyal companion who had to endure what she calls your illness. Your illness was me, intrusive reflection of a doubtful past, of your lost youth.

So, facing my fate, I am receding into darkness. I have erased my page, those photos I collected, of the fugitive moments of this life, the life that once was. A few snapshots survived from last summer: Sarah in the Tiergarten, a triumphant smile on her lips, radiant; you, near the Airlift Memorial, your bike and rucksack lying on the grass, the Bundestag… There is no photo of me, or at least of the person who was at your side then. The being who may have taken those pictures.

Your sister Jane has already forgotten me. Our encounter was a sort of dream, at a time when I was struggling to reach you. And now, I will never again attempt to approach your life. Never again will I stand near the shore at Chi, waiting for you, and meeting Jane.

The mirage is fading, so fast I soon will be unable to summon my own image, the tall red-haired girl who walked at your arm, the parted lips, ready for a kiss. Soon those fleeting instants will be forgotten. Yet, what will endure, will be the need for me to roam those streets, for I will stay in Berlin. Not that I entertain any hope to see you again, merely to exist, as a wraith, in the city you love so much. A passing mist, in the anonymous crowd, ignored by all.

And I’ll wait for the night, when entropy finally reclaims me, a wretched remnant of a lost soul. And if the Coven takes pity of me, they may give me another chance, far away,  on another world…

Melissa

Sarah ~

G. Alberto Nacci - ‘One, No One, One hundred Thousand’Often I look back at those years, when I had not met him yet, when you were his horizon, his sole love. I have wondered who you really were, how charming and determined you must have been then, to capture his heart, to change him from the timid little boy, to what he became, after falling in love with you, the silent street fighter – for you.

We will never know what reanimated the flame, after all that time. Was it a chance encounter, that morning in the Apple store, as he was to write much later, when his delusion had engulfed him? Was it the hazard of wandering in some of those imaginary places where his muse took him, when he was inspired? Was it tiredness with his adopted city?

But you are the only ghost I know whose presence has been alive for me, me the paragon of Cartesianism, me the scientist, the skeptical and rational woman. Julian is a very convincing man, and as his wife, I too was tempted to play the game, as his sister was. What a mistake! We only succeeded in reinforcing the mirage, in making you more present than ever. Then there was that feeling of guilt: the guilt he felt, I know now, all his life, for abandoning you, for letting you murdered, alone, far away from him, the guilt for never daring to make you his. And the guilt we all felt, to ignore how ill he was, to ignore the evidence, not of writer’s inspiration, but of a cruel delusion that could kill him.

Did the ghost seek revenge? Were you still angry with him then? Or did he conjure up the idealised young woman of his dreams, a reflection that had stayed with him over the years, a powerful intoxication of the soul?

Still, as I observe his peaceful sleep, in the calm of our house, I cannot not like you, the way one may like a beautiful, venomous flower. You are part of him, a fragment of the person I live with. I know that in his dreams you and I are are often one and the same, but I no longer feel the pang of jealousy. For he is mine, and has been all the time you have been in darkness, alone, unable to reach him. In fact I have started pitying you, and your loneliness.

Melissa ~

O Sarah, how I love those words, how I admire the kindness and noble thoughts that once again I sense from you. How I understand why Julian is so deeply in love with you, why you are for him more precious than his own life, or those pitiful childhood memories. What he became, as a man, has far more to do with you, your love, the paradise you gave him, than anything he and I may have once shared.

Then, we were young, and without understanding of the world as it really was. And I, what to say, other than I was not worthy of him. His friends called me a bad girl, a slut, and that really was what I was. I was lost, diseased, my soul was as rotten as my flesh, even before they killed me. He was so much above me, an intelligent boy, a generous heart, courageous and loyal.

Yet, in the well of darkness I fell into, I had no other thought than finding him, seeing his face again, touching his hand, kissing his lips… I was selfish, the way stupid people are. I was unable to control my greed for him. I corrupted once again his innocence. I disrupted the perfect equilibrium you created for him. I am deeply ashamed of myself, and I do not know if I will ever be able to redeem myself. No, Sarah, we are not one and the same, but the opposite: you are clean, healthy, devoted to your husband; and I, I am a monster of egotism and lust, I am his rotten dream.

Image: G. Alberto Nacci – ‘One, No One, One hundred Thousand’, source: http://philosophyandthearts.tumblr.com/

In the City

istantanea Ira BordoSarah ~ I imagine you, standing above the vast space of the station, watching the crowds of travellers. The remnants of end of year celebrations still adorn the walls of the building. Outside the sky is clear, the air almost mild for January. You are thoughtful, perhaps remembering the last time you were here, meeting her. You may be even thinking of the delightful hours you spent together then, in an intimacy you never knew when she was alive.

Whatever doubts I may have had about the reality of Melissa for you, I have now left behind us. The truth is so simple: Melissa is you, a reflection of the young man you were, of your life in the little town, of your loves and hopes. I know that once Melissa was real, of blood and flesh, a tall girl with sensuous lips, who loved you; and I know that, perhaps, a friend who knew both of you, built that memorial page.

I don’t think that the spirit of the real Melissa haunts those virtual worlds, but it haunts your mind, as the impossible dream of that rarest of love: the love that lasts all of one’s life, and never dies. And, now, now that I have understood, I cherish that memory of your youth too.

So you go back to the city of your birth, the metropolis where we met for the first time. You have, with the city, the strangest of relationship. We live in London, but you wish we moved to Berlin – now also full of her memories – but you cannot give up Lutèce, even when you are disappointed, at a loss, in the midst of its sins. The city still holds your heart, and its population of ghosts are now for you the equal of the living, maybe more. Time and time again you go back there, with or without me. Together we walk those streets, we sit in your favourite park, in Spring we admire the apple trees in bloom on the river banks.

Today you are on your own, walking along the boulevard, silently observing the traffic, the seedy shop windows, the girls on bikes flying past you. You follow your favourite walk, some ten miles from the centre to the East, walking past landmarks known the world over. Your steps fall into the rhythm of the city. Soon, you are the younger man again, supple demeanour, shoulders back, fists in your pockets. Soon you are whistling Riverside of Agnes Sobel, and she, Melissa, is walking along with you, a tall girl, red-haired and full lips, holding to your arm. Your heart is full of her, your love for her. She turns her beautiful face towards you, and, in her eyes, you see the deep well of time past.

The mirage won’t last, but it is enough to inspire you. At the Bastille you will look at the skateboarders, listening to the heart of the city. You could walk for hours.

Tonight you will come back to me, tired but happy. Exorcising your past has become part of our lives.

Julian ~ Only you matters now, Sarah, my past is dead, the ghosts who surround me have nothing more to say to me, about her, about the way we lived, once, about her death. I too have understood, and there is nothing more to say. Yes, one thing: I love you.

The Julian who once shared his dreams with her, with the girl named Melissa, is no more. Those years are now far away, in the world of subdued memories, in the world of writing. As Helga told me, I have everything to win in accepting my lucky fate, married as I am to you, and still able to enjoy life with you. What should I care about ghosts?

 

Image: courtesy Fleeting Illuminations

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