The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: love

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.

In a Deep Well

Dan DaminghaAutumn succeeds to the late Berlin summer: gold streaks appear through the foliage of the Tiergarten, and along the canal. Step by step life resumes: Sarah – Melissa – Helga, and Julian. In his searching mind, it is a pentagram, and one vertex is still missing. Does he expect Gabrielle, the historian? Or, perhaps, the older Melissa? He cannot tell, but he knows, that someone would soon be there, completing the magical polygon.

The three women often go out in Neukölln, or Kreuzberg, walking, cycling, shopping, or to exercise in an exclusive women-only gym Melissa had discovered in Schöneberg. He does not feel excluded, rather the opposite. He has started relishing a kind of daylight solitude, in the full knowledge that later in the day, or the evening, they would be four again. On the banks of the Landwehr canal the chestnut trees are wearing their cloak of mystery, as he runs, tireless, breathing in the essence of the city, all the way to the Spree, and back to their place.

Now at the apex of her modelling career, his sister has written to him from far away places, attentive, caring, even flirting. She joins them for one long weekend, at once blending with the other three ladies as if she has just left yesterday. They talk of fashion, of the approach of winter, of Jane’s new assignment in Russia, and of books. Sometimes Julian surprises himself, as he imagines being at the bottom of a deep dry well, as Toru Okada once was, listening and seeing a small sector of the sky from far down, awaiting the special ray of the sun.

In the evening they invade Italo, and he recalls the many times he has been there, alone with Sarah, with his wife and Melissa, and as they are tonight, the completed pentagram. The Berlin night sky is clear, and the air chillier that it has been in recent days. The candles light plays on the faces of his friends, Melissa smiles at him, blows him a kiss.

On Monday morning Sarah and Melissa take Jane to Schönefeld, to catch her flight to Saint Petersburg. Julian stays at home with Helga, talking about the East, and what could happen next, as they sip coffee. Mahler floats in the fresh air of the lounge, teasing the morning sunlight. Helga is pessimistic about peace, and talks about “their” findings on the years that preceded the first world war: how the slide to war had happened, despite, or maybe because, of the fear that very prospect inspired to most people. She explains that war has its logic, and that beyond some threshold, that logic takes over human destinies, whatever governments and people attempt to do: then the future is no longer controllable by human will. It is not merely the interplay of alliances, promises and prejudices, the consequences of fear, it is the work of the Devil himself. Julian looks at his friend, incredulous. Helga is evoking evil, a weird, anachronistic, unscientific concept, for her exceptional mind. He has surprised her using clichés before, and wondered if it was her way to tell him she had abandoned all pretence of superior knowledge. She smiles, acknowledging she has been caught.

Julian sees that Helga has changed, in subtle ways. In the middle of their conversation they stop, looking at each other in silence: she holds his gaze, and, at the end, he is the one who surrenders. He is much in love with her face and expressions, remembering how cold and icy she used to be, once upon a time. He can no longer pretend ignoring her sensual lips. Sarah calls to say that Jane’s flight is delayed and they are keeping her company as she waits. She gives instructions to Julian for lunch. Helga and him decide to go out shopping. The other two will meet them later at the little coffee shop in Bergmannstraße.

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.

The benevolent wife

Gleis-DreieckSarah is listening to her husband in their studio in Eylauerstraße. Julian is talking of his discoveries, the turkish market on Maybachufer, the secret corners of the park, the Serbian barber, his new gym. It has been two months since Sarah’s last visit: her business has taken her almost everywhere in Europe, except here, in Berlin. Now she’s taking a break.

The morning sun invades their lounge. Soft jazz floats through the cool air: far away street noises can be heard, soft and unobtrusive. Julian’s now talking about his new friend: the ‘golden girl’. He’s unsure about what it means, new fantasy – or something deeper. Melissa has been true to her word: she’s discrete, and has respected his privacy, as far as he can tell. Once a week they go running, or for a swim in the nearby pool.

Sarah’s unworried, and rather pleased her husband has found a new friend. What she’s not telling Julian is that she knows all about the ‘new’ Melissa. On a previous visit she surprised the girl taking pictures of their balcony, and she challenged her. They too talked, and got friendly, and have since communicated, all the time Julian and Melissa have been seeing each other. Wiser and more experienced, Sarah understood the young woman’s crush on her husband. She advised her caution, and explained what to do, or not. Melissa quickly proved herself a listening and obedient pupil.

Sarah and Julian decide to go for a walk, and they cross the park toward the Yorckstraße. When they reach the Ostpark playground they stop at the little café. “Are you interested in her?” asks Sarah, as she and Julian watch the young children playing in the nearby field.

“I don’t really know,” replies her husband, “I am not interested in her sexually, however cute she is, but I am probably intrigued, by her own interest, which I cannot explain.” Sarah thinks that such things need no explanation: the girl’s infatuation, if it is what it is, may disappear just as quickly. What she really meant to ask, and decided not to, at least for now, was: “Does she remind you of the other girl?” They smile at the children’s games, look up at the new city landscape being raised from the ruins around them.

“Do you know where she comes from?” she asks Julian after a pause. Julian does not know, but thinks she’s local, though not from the city, probably some small place nearby. Sarah knows: Melissa’s accent is from Köpenick, to the south-east of the city.

They continue their walk, cross Julian’s beloved Landwehr canal, and soon reach the Potsdamer Platz. For a moment they enjoy the crowd of strangers, visitors of many tongues and colours, and the low traffic hum of the city centre. They talk art and the music scene in the city. Julian wants to take Sarah to a small modern art gallery, hidden in a deep bunker, north of the Mitte. Sarah says she will be here for a week, perhaps longer: they have time. Julian smiles, kisses his wife, for long seconds, standing. Now she wants to reassert her ownership, her dominance. They go home, this time taking the U-Bahn. The City soon surrounds them in her calm embrace.

Later Sarah says, during one of those instants of delight when she knows for certain nothing has changed in her husband’s devotion to her: “Why don’t you invite your new friend for drinks, sometime while I am here?”

Maybachufer

MaybachuferNow that he lives in the city, it is his favourite run: he starts from the S-Bahn Treptower Park station, and runs all the way on the bank of the Landwehrkanal, all the way to their home in Kreuzberg. On his way he admires the dark, deep waters of the canal, his mind full of history, of images, of kisses.

Now, a few days after Easter, the trees leaves are getting darker too, and the young and older people on their walk, still, smiling, for it is the start of the magic season in Faust’s city.

He has been training since February, when it was too cold to wear shorts and a light vest. He’s fit now, a hint of suntan on his cheeks and legs. His breathing is regular, his steps assured.

The young woman is running towards him: he sees the severe “East-Berlin” hair cut, the blond hair, the long thighs. She’s an athlete, and she smiles as their eyes meet. On the back of her black T-shirt is her name in gold letters: Melissa. He smiles, continuing on his way, he knows “she” is everywhere. Only, now he’s free. He’s himself, in the city where he will die, and before that, where he’s writing the story of his life, about her, about Sarah, about Berlin. He turns round: the young woman is already far along the path, her long strides silent and enticing, even from a distance.

There is no traffic noise, in this mid-morning of April, the city is quiet, and the Maybachufer walkers quieter still. Near their home a new cycling and walking path is opening soon, along the old railway line. Soon he will be able to jog to the centre, uninterrupted by traffic.

He’s living his dream. He’s almost reached his destination: reluctantly he leaves the canal bank, starts running down Gneisenaustraße, soon home. More slowly he crosses the little park, and there, at the entrance, she’s waiting for him, her radiant smile is already taking him inside.

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.

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.

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.

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