The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Longing

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.

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.

Imaginary friend

MelissaFor once Melissa and him have the Schöneberg apartment to themselves: Sarah and Helga have gone on a mysterious mission to Istanbul, driving in Helga’s antique Mercedes. Julian is unsure for how long their friends have gone, probably several days, more than enough time to renew their intimacy, and for a few runs along the Landwehr canal, surrounded by the gold of a Berlin autumn.

The first morning they go out early in the dawn stillness. Melissa looks the very essence of the city: her short blond “East-Berlin” hair, the long legs, her beautiful sun-tanned face and the probing grey eyes: as this is for a serious long run, perhaps a half marathon, if she fancies it, Julian braces himself to be her equal. They follow the Maybachufer at a good pace, on their own for another hour, until the early risers in Kreuzberg and Neukölln realise what a sumptuous day this is. Julian notices his friend wears the t-shirt she wore when they first met, and those o-so brief shorts that made him dream awake… He’s missed being on his own with her, at the same relishing the happiness of the small tribe.

At the Görlitzer park Melissa sees a fixed bar and decides to do some gym, which lasts ten minutes, enough to make Julian admire her muscles, and feels his: had he really forgotten what an athlete she is? They resume their track toward the river, as the low humming of the city signals the start of the day. Melissa decides to run up to the Jannowitz bridge on the east bank, and then across Kreuzberg on their way back home. He now follows her, along the bank, on the line of the old wall, then across the bridge.

When they reach home she takes him to the shower and the glory of hot water. Later, as he looks in her triumphant and loving eyes, and feels the weight of her vigorous body over him, he knows how real his friend is. The ghost is himself.

Metamorphosis

HelgaHelga came to visit him, one autumn morning, when his women had gone out to take a look at the new mall. Hearing her knocking quietly at his door he knew, immediately, who it was, as if her visit was a preordained moment of his life.

They smiled at each other, and finally he hugged Helga. Holding her in his arms was a strange feeling, like rediscovering a well-loved mistress after many years of absence. Openly, he admired the black hair, the steely eyes, the full lips, and she seemed to return the compliment. She made herself comfortable on the sofa, and looked at the book he had been reading. He went to the kitchen and made coffee. When he was back in the lounge she kissed him, a long and passionate kiss, as if to say that she was back in his life, a very human being, a woman of flesh and blood.

She said they had lost their bet, and that the war would continue, implacable. He thought she meant the group that had attempted to force peace, and disarm the “powers”, but in his mind the time and place of those actions were shrouded in mist. She was pleased he had renewed with Melissa, and Julian understood she meant Melissa of Köpenick, not his long-dead childhood friend. Suddenly he understood everything: step by step he checked the facts with Helga, her head resting on his shoulder, her hands around his knees. Yes, Melissa, the ghost, had been an intermediary, a go-between. No she was no cyborg, but a real being whose love had taken back to him, through a painful metamorphosis, the kind of journey he was himself embarked on now, with Sarah, and, still, with Melissa’s help. Julian asked about Gabrielle. Helga told him then that Gabrielle had returned to her studies, moving back to a time closer to the “Great War”. “They” had not given up, but had realised it would take much longer to influence human destiny decisively. So their friend, Gabrielle, had been asked to research the origins of the war more deeply.

He asked Helga if she was staying in the city, and she replied she wanted to. She would like to come back and meet with the three of them. He wanted to ask her more about her circumstances, whether she was alone in Berlin, but hesitated to hurt her privacy. She said she missed him and Sarah, and regretted to have disappeared the way she had to. They were silent for a few minutes. Helga sipped her coffee, looking at him. He returned her look, smiling. He had noticed the simplicity of her clothes, the absence of makeup, the slightly longer beautiful dark hair. She stood up, and said she would be back. This time she hugged him, the way a longtime lover could do, and kissed him, lips on lips. And she was gone.

 

Voices

MindAlone, in a crowd of strangers, or in deserted streets, he feels her gaze: she’s watching him, her calm loving eyes forever binding him to her. Twice now he has walked to a woman he thought he recognised, and twice, at the last second, he saw his mistake. Then, he hears her voice, not only in his sleep, but awake, when he lets his mind wander. He’s decided for now not to conclude: onset of mental distress, or overheated inspiration.

From the small balcony, he can see the buildings at the street junction with Monumentenstraße: colourful fronts, small flower displays on the window sills, silent doorways. He takes pictures at different times of day, observing the city’s lights playing on the roofs and alleyways. Four floors below, on the pavement , someone is growing a miniature city garden at the foot of a chestnut tree.

Observer and observed, he meshes with the objects and inhabitants of the city. Soon, he will walk to the Brandenburger Tor to join in the celebrations of the Worldcup. He’s never felt more inspired, his writing flowing, from the scenes out on the street, from the faces of youth, the smiles, the limitless freedom, to the pages.

On one of his nighttime walks he tried to discover the entrance to the apartment on Jägerstraße, and of course found nothing. It has been some months now since he last visited the place, in his dreams. The details are still vivid in his imagination: the art objects in the lounge, the paintings, the long balcony, the view over Gendarmenmarkt. He has not asked Sarah any question about the apartment, as if he did not want to break the spell.

For now, Sarah and Melissa are somewhere in France, perhaps up on the high plateau of the Gévaudan. The two of them went off, giggling, in his wife’s battered holiday Peugeot, after the girl tenderly embraced him, kissing him full mouth, under Sarah’s indulgent stare. In their loveliness, their pictures, two women in various stages of nakedness, and postures of intimacy, are everywhere in the studio: a permanent exhibition of his passion.

In the morning he goes running for a couple hours along his beloved canal. The chestnut trees now in full leaves, their welcome shade protecting lovers and runners. And, always, those eyes watching him, and her voice floating, as a crystal stream, in the peace of the city.

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.

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.

Collar

In Köpenick

DSC_0221Thoughtful, she relives the few hours she spent with Sarah in Köpenick. She wanted to show her friend, perhaps soon her Mistress, her birth town, the place where she grew up, learned to love. It had been an enchanted day, in the old part of town, near the castle of the Great Elector.

Sarah had listened, attentive, to Melissa’s story, her childhood memories, asking questions, not pressing, but clear questions that an experienced and confident woman would ask from a younger disciple. Melissa feels like Sarah’s disciple. She has never felt like this with anyone else. She’s in love with Julian, and in awe with his wife. She would not change anything.

She loved the way Sarah took her hand and kissed her, in the park, near the statue of the children with the tortoise. She felt safe, not a little aroused, but safe, as if in the care of a goddess. Sarah wanted to know what she liked at school, how good she was at sport,  about her first love. Melissa had already decided she would not keep anything secret for her: she spoke, freely, abandoned, looking at Sarah with her great blue eyes, already in devotion.

They took the tram on the way back, and went straight to Sarah’s house. Julian was out at a photographic exhibition. Sarah took Melissa to bed, and made tender and exquisite love to her, slowly asserting her possession of her. Melissa surrendered herself, overwhelmed, charmed, soon exhausted. The room was full of Sarah’s and Julian’s clothes, books and pictures.

Now she’s thinking back to the day, the delights and the fear. The fear was there, in her belly, that Sarah, and hence her husband, would tire of her, would leave her stranded, used, forgettable. But now she knows that won’t happen. She’s unsure of the source of her confidence, but she knows there is a link, a secret bridge, between the life of the couple, and her own.

What the bridge is, how ancient it is, and how real it is, she does not know, cannot know. In her presence, she’s aware of Sarah’s power, her ability to seduce, to conquer. When she’s alone with Julian, she feels her friend’s calmness and aptitude for peace, but also his wish for solitude. She desires him, but would not try anything that may displease him. With Sarah, she wants to be taken, perhaps beaten, she wants to submit, humiliate herself. She aspires to becoming Sarah’s servant, and maybe confident.

 Melissa is at a turning point. She has never been short of men, admiring and annoying. But this is different. Sarah has taken her, showed her how deep love could be, in ways that are already changing her. Her destiny is linked to them, they occupy her dreams. She wants to read Julian’s novel, the one Sarah mentions when they were walking in the park, and Melissa was still a little shaken and aroused by Sarah’s kiss.

This evening she’s meeting them, at their place in Eylauerstraße. She will make herself as elegant and seductive as she knows. She is making a cake, as her mother showed her.

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.

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…

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