The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: London

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.

La Tosca

ToscaShe did not know much about Puccini, but when she heard that Sarah, her much admired Mistress, wife of Julian, her beloved, hardly secrete, crunch, was planning to take them both to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Melissa got very excited. Sarah had swept one morning in the little studio in Kreuzberg, finding them both asleep in bed, her pet showing all the signs of the satisfying evening before. She laughed, and woke them up with cold water.

After breakfast, which Sarah prepared with her customary imagination – who else could find fresh Baltic salmon in Berlin on a Tuesday early morning? – she explained that it was time Melissa saw London, and got a bit out of Faust’s city, to taste the megapolis of greed, Mammon’s capital. Julian was enthusiastic, the more so since his wife appeared to accept his new intimacy with her pet, with good grace. Of course, for Sarah, it was exactly what she had intended, a soft therapy to counter her sick husband’s longing for Melissa-the-ghost, hopefully for ever.

So it was that, a few hours later, the three of them were in Sarah’s East End home, Melissa trying various items of underwear and evening dress in Sarah’s room. Being back in London, for the first time in nearly a year, was strange and a little frightening for Julian. A silent witness to the delightful spectacle of his wife and lover, both naked, trying out garments and jewellery, he took pictures of the two of them, modelling for him and playing dolls. With interest, and not without a little lust, he observed the attention Sarah was giving to Melissa’s toilette. One of his favourite shots would later be that of Sarah,  adjusting Melissa’s stockings over the pet’s silky thighs, a devilish smile on her lips, and sensitive fingers.

The opera was at seven, and they had plenty of time to enjoy a pre-performance drink at the bar, after taking a walk through the busy market. Melissa was amused by the jugglers and acrobats. Julian could not not admire his companions, who, for sure, attracted much male attention. Sarah had fitted Melissa with an audacious green low naked-back long dress, which enhanced the girl’s fine features, athletic backside and striking short blond hair, and lent her a pair of long black ebony earrings. Her black leather and silver collar looked enticing on Melissa’s neck. For herself, Sarah had chosen a simple split black dress, that revealed her splendid thighs and shins, and let most of her breasts free, and free to be admired.

They had good orchestra seats, and during the first act, Melissa got agitated whenever the evil Scarpia appeared, and enthralled by the duos between the lovers. At the break, the three of them enjoyed a bottle of Dom Perignon, and Sarah kissed them both on the lips. Melissa was floating. She cried for the rest of the concert, every time La Tosca sang. Sitting between Sarah and her husband, she held on to one hand each, in despair, drowning in tears.

Later Sarah took her to the ladies room for a bit of repair. Fortunately Melissa wore very little make up, so the disaster had been avoided. They caught a cab to Julian’s club in Mayfair, a discrete place where his wife was always welcome with awesome respect. Finally Melissa stopped crying, after she was promised to be allowed that night to sleep – or so she was told – in Sarah’s bed, that happened, of course, also to be Julian’s. Sarah explained to her the plot of Tosca, and the historical settings of post-napoleonic Italy. She wanted to know more, if Mario had really been shot, and if Scarpia was really dead. She had plenty of questions about Puccini too. Julian, amazed, was looking at his lover with much tenderness, to his wife’s great entertainment.

At the end of the evening Julian’s favourite and friendly barman, who lived East-way, gave them a lift to their place. Sarah told Julian she needed a little time alone with Melissa, and then he could join them. Together they were going to spend a few days in London, and Sarah planned to show Melissa shops and museums, girls out by themselves. Julian too had some business to expedite in London with his publisher and solicitor. Then Sarah would send back husband and pet to Berlin, well groomed and satiated. Both, she knew, were now in good hands.

Honeymoon

The Chancellery, Berlin

Sarah and Julian stand on the bridge, near the Chancellery, one cool and bright April morning, looking at the Spree. Sarah observes her husband, the last words of their earlier conversation slowly dissipating in the air. The thin traffic is sliding, silently, towards the Alt Moabit.

“I agree with you, I don’t want to leave now, I want to stay here, to learn with you, about all that happened in this city…” Julian knows Sarah means what she is saying, he’s not sure, yet, what it means for both of them. He choses to talk about the practicality, the tangible objects of their life, the anchors he can recognise, any help to stop his still fragile mind drifting.

“I’d like us to find a bigger apartment.” Sharing his thoughts, “I love our place in Kreuzberg, but I fancy more space.” – “It’s such a nice idea,” Sarah replies with a tender smile, “Besides, we will bring all our books here from London, so we will need some space!” They laugh.

“But I want to stay in Kreuzberg, or Friedrichshain,” she adds, turning toward him to kiss. Hand in hand they walk back slowly across the gardens in the direction of the Bundestag. The first tourist coaches have started to park along Scheidemannstrasse.

“You finish the book, then we have a long break. We will explore Brandenburg, and study the Bauhaus. Maybe we will travel as far as Dessau!” proposes Sarah. Julian is happy with such a programme, it suits his mood perfectly. They walk in the direction of Friedrichstrasse, then turn toward the Gendarmenmarkt. They stop at a small café: Julian remembers they stopped in the same place before, several months ago. He needs more landmarks, slowly he has started rebuilding the grid of his memories. He tells Sarah: “The more places we see together, the easier for me to forget…” – “I know: I am your mind guard.”

The following day they start looking, and this activity is a blessing for Julian. Sarah finds a buyer for her studio straightaway. They visit several apartments, and finally settle for a spacious four-rooms renovated one, near Viktoria Park. Julian is very happy.

Their new home is on the fifth floor of a classical building, facing the park. There is plenty of light, a wide balcony. Soon they are busy deciding what they will move back from their house in London, and what they will buy here in Berlin. They draw a lay-out of how they want to use their new space, their room, Sarah’s study, Julian’s, what they want on the walls. They buy a new bed. Soon they are on a new honeymoon.

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.

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

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.

Aftermath

Fanny Nushka Moreaux Julian ~ Only this morning, after sleeping twelve hours, did I realise how tired I have been. The long days, the indulgence we fell into, spurred by a sudden onrush of desires, and the week-long conference, finally overcame us. My sister flew to Moscow a week ago, after a tearful and emotional farewell. Then Sarah, Melissa and I attended the conference, a very boring and formal affair, with dignitaries’s speeches, lengthy keynote lectures, and a grandiose final. Treaties were signed, the world-press entertained with a frenzy of television interviews, flashbacks on other great planetary events, and a promise of more to come. For us it was a watershed. All work groups, they said, had delivered magnificently, and the benefits would be felt for years to come. The Peace conference was hailed as a worldwide success.

We are subdued. Melissa, a little paler than usual, and Sarah, still smiling but quieter, convinced me to go out to Tempelhof for a last morning run. The sky is blue and cloudless after the night’s rain, the air cool. One run around the whole perimeter of the old airfield is nearly six kilometres. We keep going and achieve two full runs, then take the road back home. We haven’t seen either Gabrielle or Helga other than hovering around the stage for the whole conference. At the final press meeting, they both sat at the top table, listening to the closing speech of the Great Power’s President.

Today we pack, close the little apartment for the winter, and fly home, that is to our place, in London. Sarah and Melissa are inseparable.

Sarah ~ At last, we are at home, and my dear husband is resting, after what was supposed to be a long break away, in Berlin. I know, he did enjoy himself, and he was well cared for.

My friend Gabrielle, and his own sister Jane, did say that the change could have worked, if only. But his schizophrenia is now too advanced to heal itself without a great deal of professional help. His phantasms about the mythical Melissa have got worse over there, with hallucinations that frightened me at times.

I am still puzzled at the way his imagination works, and how, in front of our eyes, he transformed that peaceful holiday, in a city he professes to love – it is my city after all – into a progressive nightmare of conspiracies, weird aliens and personal grief. At one point he said that he had enough material for at least two novels. Gabrielle says that his talent as writer is the obverse of his tendency to morbidity, his sudden depressive bouts, and his suspicion of strangers.

His sleep is peaceful enough. Since we came back, he has hardly spoken of Melissa; for now she appears to have dissipated behind some other dream. For I do not doubt that he is dreaming, even when he’s awake. As his wife, my role is to watch over him, to take care of his needs, to protect him.

Jane comes and visits when she’s in the country. And our doctor, Helga, is here at least once a week. We have known her since Julian showed his first sign of a serious illness. Gabrielle introduced us to her. At first I was a little frightened of her piercing grey eyes, her jet-black hair, and her long, beautiful hands. The hands of a witch, I then thought. Helga is Austrian, and a disciple of Jung. She’s however a cool clinician, and her approach to treating Julian is most impressive. With Gabrielle, who knows her since their medical school days, we have often spoken of the origin of Julian’s illness. Helga has a very pragmatic view: Julian is victim of some genetic quirk, but also of a vivid imagination he has carefully nurtured as a fiction writer. She has an interpretation of my husband’s obsession with the little town of his childhood, and of Melissa, his college sweetheart. For Helga, Julian missed out big time as a youngster, all messed up he was with ideas of chivalry, his delusive military ambitions, his idealism. He has now reconstructed the character of Melissa in a new incarnation, all fictional, but for him, also real.

For myself, I believe there is more to it than his school years and his platonic love for that young girl. Julian goes back, time and time again, to the period that followed his leaving the little town, what he calls his lost years. I have looked at his papers, his military record, his diary. He was seriously wounded in North Africa, nearly died from head injuries. Perhaps the Melissa of today, however fictional, is the ghost of his dreams, when he was awaiting death, on his hospital bed. Perhaps the Coven of his delirium is a compendium of all the threats that surrounded him then.

Once Upon A Time

Erasmus Melissa ~ I have succeeded to an extent I could have never dreamed of. I, the girl who was left for dead, live again, have a handsome lover; soon, I will morph into Sarah, the gorgeous wife, I will become her, and will have him for ever. At what price? Yes, I know, the boy I loved, is soon to become a bestseller, a famous writer, and with that he will change. But he is so much enthralled with the adventure…

Gabrielle, my Teacher, can be proud of me. I have followed my destiny, and yet, sometime, I think I am just in one of Julian’s dreams, perhaps in one of his novels. As I write, the conference is only a few days away. I cannot believe how quickly those weeks have past, the long evenings with Sarah, Jane and Julian, Helga’s visits, our rides around Berlin, the long hours of work… This is coming to an end. Julian has agreed to the experiment, he and I will soon be attached by more than our feelings – our genes will mesh, and something extraordinary will happen, I will then bear in my blood the blueprint of a new being, the renewal the Coven wants so much. You see, my success will be also their future, their salvation. What a fate for a girl from a small village, lost in time…

Sarah has been a marvellous companion, her mind open to new ideas, however challenging, or even provocative. Of course, emotionally, she is so much more for me: she’s opened the gate to a love I never thought I could attain, another miracle. She’s the sister I never had, and she’s his wife. She knows now what the experiment is about, she understood everything. At first she was worried for him, and that reawakened my fears. Then she changed, perhaps under Helga’s influence: I suspect those two share a lot, in ways I cannot yet fathom. But later, when I have become her, her double, her true twin, then I will know…

The city is colder, we are now wearing warm jackets and hats. Jane looks lovelier than ever, and her eyes on me tell me the story of a young woman who too understood everything; it was so soon, after our first meeting on the shore of Chi. Jane knows the truth about me, about her brother, about us. She’s the only human who could stop the wheel turning. Maybe she will.

Jane ~ Yes, I know you know, Melissa, dear Melissa, the one who claims to be who you are not, not quite, almost; that part of you that is missing is that I would truly believe in. But you are wrong about Julian: he won’t change, not in the sense you mean. He will continue to love you, the person you are still in his mind. But, you will see, I hope, he is much stronger than they think, those who think they are now in control. And you too will realise that mankind cannot be so easily trumped. I know, the Great Power is here, their president will attend the final day, and so will his counterpart from the Great Power To Be… So will many others among the rich and powerful of this world. But me, I will hit the catwalk in Moscow, as this happens, and before the three of you fly back to London. Unless Sarah and my brother decide to stay – and keep you – in Berlin for a while. After all it is their city…

Longing

Longing She misses him: since coming back from New-York Melissa is longing for Julian, more so than ever – and she’s been longing for him for ever. She’s no longer sure of his thoughts, of how he sees her now, of his feelings towards her. In Brooklyn she must have appeared to him as part of the gigantic plot that he now knows involves the Pentagon and the Coven, and probably others. She read the terror in his eyes, she saw him gripping Sarah’s hands as they both understood the implications of what the general was saying. Has she lost him?

She ought to call Sarah, cool and loving Sarah, but she dares not. What would happen to her if Sarah rejected her? For Melissa knows that Sarah’s her friend, maybe more than just a friend, for as long as she does not see Melissa as part of the threat. Being a threat to Julian: that would turn Sarah into a formidable enemy. And Melissa knows that, for the Coven, Sarah’s role is essential: she is the key to Julian, and Julian is the path. On that Melissa knows the truth: she was chosen because of Julian, her ancient friendship with Julian. Gabrielle seized the opportunity, and so Melissa survived, did better than survive.

Gabrielle and Elga are now in deep consultation with the collective. The Coven is preparing the Berlin conference, one thread among millions, in a whirl of deliberations and mathematical – Melissa wonders: mathic? – computations that even her could not follow. Elga… How strange that she – but she’s no “she” of course, but a conglomerate of particles that long left their living anima, always asexual, far behind – that “she” tried her charm on Julian, after all that Melissa had explained.

“They” have their own blind corners, things they don’t appear to really understand. They have their weaknesses, otherwise they would not need that association with the Great Power, and the Power to Be, perhaps other darker powers that Melissa does not know about. They need the path to conquer this world, Melissa’s world, and for now, the path is one individual in the entire universe: her college sweetheart, Julian. Melissa relaxes a little. She sees several futures, in one of them, Sarah, Julian and herself overcomes the fear, and clear the way for the Coven to exit from their lives, without pain. But there are others, other futures. She knows, and shudders a little. She thinks of Tosca, of the mock execution at dawn, which turns out to be real. She thinks of  Berlin…

Melissa brushes the sinister vision away. At heart she is a positive person, at heart she is not afraid of demons. But Julian may be, always was, even at school, he had that irrational fear of the hidden fiends, of ancient secrets, of bewitched objects… Oh… how protective she felt towards him then, him: her young street fighter, he with the clinched fists… Melissa’s in a dream, she’s moved back in time, to the small town where they both lived, where it all started. She stands in front of the gate, she’s waiting for him, she sees him, joking with other boys – he sees her, waves to his friends and walks towards her, that triumphant smile on the thin lips – a young god… He always knew how to kiss her, and of course she wanted more…

The phone rings and pulls Melissa out of her dream. It’s Sarah. They chat politely, then Sarah says: “My husband is away for a few days and said he will join you in Paris, and please let him know when you want to meet, that’s the message he asked me to give you…” Melissa tries to think quickly, Julian’s away? “Sarah, could you come too?” She could almost hear Sarah smiles: “Mel, the two of you deserve a bit of intimacy, you have to give Julian time with you, just the two of you. I trust you both, and you can understand why I would be a bit of an obstacle – he needs to find you again…” Sarah’s voice trails off. “When he’s back please come to us as soon as you can: then we’ll have a party, I’ll invite Jane too.”

So it is, Sarah has given her the go-ahead, in the city where Julian was born, his city. A thought hits Melissa, a twist she had not thought of before this instant: has Sarah been “recruited”?  Has the Coven enrolled beautiful Sarah? She scans her memory of the meeting in Brooklyn, Gabrielle and Elga, and herself, and then Sarah and Julian, Sarah looking as if she is sheltering her husband. But she also sees Elga and Sarah exchanging a smile, more than once. But why should Sarah be tempted? What does she have to gain? Security for her husband and herself? And if this happened where does that leave her, Melissa, the go-between?

Soon she shrugs off that thought. Sarah’s has one mission: protecting her husband. Melissa knows she would not stop at anything for Julian’s sake, but there is no value in enlisting now, when she knows too little. Later perhaps, after Berlin, when they know. For now Sarah thinks Melissa’s good for Julian, it is simple.

Alone in the little house in East London Melissa’s planning the Paris meeting. She wants to chose the location of their meeting carefully: a public place but not one where Julian would feel crowded. Maybe the old arena, the roman amphitheater? Then they can walk rive gauche, perhaps aim for the Luxembourg? Of course he knows the city inside out, he lived there, and met Sarah there first. Melissa’s troubled by another thought: they did not stay, they moved to London almost immediately, indeed, they got married in London. Was there a reason for Julian to leave the city he loved, so soon after meeting the woman about to become his wife?

She’s soon distracted by the familiar tremor of air and sounds in the house: one of them, may be both – or more – have arrived. Soon she’s faced with a smiling Gabrielle who is still adjusting her human appearance. The fluid contours materialise, the face still indistinct… It takes no more than twenty seconds. “So, Gabrielle says calmly, you and Julian are going to meet one to one?” Melissa smiles, she knows “they” know everything, they hear everything, and her teacher, wise Gabrielle, is a master at sieving through all that their sensors capture, particularly if it involves Julian or his wife.

The two of them update each other, silently. Soon Melissa’s appraised of the Coven’s current state of play for Berlin. She also learns that Elga is in Moscow. The wheels are turning.

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