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A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Melissa

His presence

Les Allers, Les Retours by Antonio Palmerini

She’s never seen him in their apartment, nor during her walks alone in the city. He’s never visited her in her dreams, asleep or awake. Once she went to her old apartment over the Gendarmenmarkt, now an empty place she intends to let. Rents in Berlin would have gone through the roof, as in so many other cities in Europe, if it had not been for the municipality slapping tenant protection regulation to stop the greedy landlords in their track. At the time she thought Julian would have been delighted with that decision.

There was nothing in the apartment: not the shadow of their rare visits there, no trace of Julian’s puzzlement at the picture in her room, the one of Melissa and her, playful. Along the Landwehr canal, on her morning jogs, she looks at runners and passers-by, half hoping to catch a glimpse of his face. Does she miss him? It is worse, or better, than that: she’s convinced he’s around her, all the time, in the morning when she showers, brews coffee, in the evening when she works, in the room that had been his study. She knows, in a conviction that defies her usual realism, that when she’s alone in bed he’s there, calm, observing her, at peace with himself and their destiny. Only when Jane, or another occasional visitor, is there with her, is he absent, perhaps retiring to another room, or in one of those places where fallen angels disappear.

She’s worked through his correspondence, through the unfinished manuscripts, or, rather, the gigabytes of notes and work in progress of his archives. There is material enough for three more books, and his publisher is pushing her to give her the go-ahead. But Sarah’s holding back. What she wants is to discuss it with Julian… Sometimes she pauses, reflecting on how absurd her feelings are, beyond “normal” grieving. Helga, who writes to her long letters, sometime coded, from her retreat somewhere in Scandinavia, suggested she took a holiday, away from Berlin and Julian’s memories, and invites her to her house on the shores of the North Sea.

She hesitates. Jane wants her to go, and have a change of life. Sarah does not want a change of life. Is she happy with this strange expectation, this fantasy that, suddenly, out of nowhere, Julian may reappear? But would it be out of nowhere? Or would it be out of that interstice of space where she thinks he spent most of his alive time with her? Would it be off the shores of Chi, where Jane had first met a hooded Melissa?

One evening, before autumn set in the city, she had visitors from the BND. Helga had warned her, the year before, when they last met in London, that it would happen. Two blond women and a man, the three of them charming, quiet, unassuming. They wanted to talk about her husband, his work, his relations in the East, and also her own travel, with a friend, in the war-torn eastern province. She answered her questions, smiling and calm. They asked if Julian still had living relatives, and then they asked about a woman, who may be known to her as “Melissa”, and showed her a picture. It was not the Melissa Sarah had once known, her and Julian’s playmate. She told them. Then they thanked her, asking her not to leave Berlin without noticing them, and gave her a phone number to call. Sarah, from her balcony, watched their black Audi turn the corner of her street. That evening the apartment stayed empty of Julian’s presence.

Image: Les Allers, Les Retours by Antonio Palmerini

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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.

Tempest

This story is inspired by Angela Goff’s VisDare 86: Tempest

Tempest

Snowdrops and crocuses have appeared, at street corners, and on those little urban gardens the city’s residents look after with love throughout the year. The air is still icy, and at night the temperature drops below freezing. Julian is at his desk, writing. The meeting of minds, in Denver, was a great boost for him: he’s now started a new story, while his previous novel is making its début in the US. As Sarah was busy, under the volcano, learning about the Hopis, and perhaps even more, being taught by Marie, Julian was reinventing himself, as a new-look inspired writer.

In the calm of the Neukölln apartment, with the far away humming of slow traffic filtering through the open balcony bay window, young Melissa is busy watering the numerous house plants, occasionally glancing and smiling at Julian. In one corner stands the small glasshouse that shelters the baby cacti: a sample of lovely plants from the Southwest collected by Sarah. Soon Melissa will be making coffee, and will invite him, her eyes searching his, to look at the future. The square bottle is on the lounge table, green and still, full of a pale grey liquid, for now opaque to human eyes. Today, as Sarah taught her, this recently acquired skill she must have learned from Marie, Melissa will attempt to read their future to the man she loves.

Julian is skeptical, Sarah’s happy to wait and see what the Oracle reveals. Since she showed her husband her “secret” hide-away pad near Gendarmenmarkt, Sarah has been very attentive to his comfort, and peace of mind. She sees the reading in the bottle as a gift, a sign of complicity, a way, perhaps, to encourage Julian’s imagination in the direction she wants. She knows a new work is in the making.

She comes back from Tempelhof, where she went for her morning run (she suggested to Melissa, so willing, to get ready, and look after the man of the house, in her absence.) She walks in Julian’s study, all legs and heaving breasts, hair caught in a girly ponytail, looks at him, and kisses him on the lips. Her scent, her gestures, her body in the room, pull him up from his writing, as from a dream. He smiles. Sarah disappears to the bathroom. Coffee aroma floats unseen from the kitchen. Soon they join Melissa, who stands holding the bottle in her hands, her green eyes scrutinising its content.

Minutes go by, in a silence now unperturbed by Julian’s key strokes. Sarah and Melissa exchange the ritual phrases, rehearsed many times, an invocation of the ancient deities of the Sinagua. Melissa, eyes closed, holds the Oracle high: the liquid inside has started rotating, and thin sparks of light appear, from a great distance within. Julian looks, fascinated. Vortices of light spin from the centre of the Oracle, that seem to look for direction.

“There is a tempest,” Sarah says, “a lot of lightning, and we are in it…” Melissa replies: “We will go through the clouds, there will be fire.” The Oracle is now bright from a darker centre; Melissa, eyes closed, appears to be in a trance.

Julian, transfixed, looks at the changing lights inside the bottle: a fire is raging, alien shapes are born from the flames, then disappear, as if beaten back by a greater force. A long silence, Julian holding his breath, then Melissa sighs, seems to come back to reality. Looking at her husband, Sarah states as a matter of fact: “it’s all happening in this new book, you will have to tell us…” Melissa rests the bottle, now inert, back on the table. “I am hungry,” she declares, “How about you?”

Far away, in a corner of the Life Sciences lab, Marie looks at an identical green bottle, smiling.

Of Arnold Böcklin

Böcklin's tomb, by Albert von Keller

Julian and his wife were in love with Böcklin. Wherever they were, they looked for his work, and that of artists who praised him. So it was no surprise, when, at long last, Sarah let her husband in the secret apartment on Jägerstraße, and he saw the numerous reproductions of the master’s work on the walls of his wife’s hideout. As she let him in, a hint of mischief in the eyes, he walked into the small entrance with some anxiety: after all, this had remained Sarah’s exclusive domain since their arrival in Faust’s city, more than a year before.

She explained to him how she’d inherited the apartment from an old friend of her late father, a lifelong Berliner, who refused to sell it to “bankers”. Sarah also said she’d almost forgotten about it, until one day she felt like having a look, as she and Melissa were walking through the Gendarmenmarkt. Julian was walking behind Sarah, who seemed delighted to show him the place. In the bedroom, her bedroom, he saw the pictures: Böcklin’s self-portrait with Death, and a large photograph of a young woman, a Native American,  looking straight at the camera (was Sarah taking the shot then?) with the most beautiful smile on her face.

“Yes,” said Sarah, reading his mind, as ever, “I took this picture of Marie in Tucson, when we were at the university.”

There was  another picture, just above the Queen’s size bed, and Julian stopped on his track when he saw it, as Sarah was already walking out of the room into the wide lounge. It was a picture of the two of them, Sarah and Melissa, naked, on the bed, looking at the camera and laughing, a vision of fun and lust. Sarah was calling him. She stood in front of the open bay window, facing the Dom. The morning was clear, children were already playing on the square. Sarah was talking about Albert von Keller’s painting of Böcklin’s tomb. She wanted to look for a copy. They decided to do this soon.

“Oh, you realise there is no kitchen in this apartment?” she said jokingly, Julian laughed, then replied, kissing his wife: “I’ve realised this place is for art and culture… only… But there are plenty of nice places where to go and eat nearby!”

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.

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.

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.

 

Lützowplatz

La PoupéeEverything revolves around the canal: wherever his walks, or rides, take him, he’s always back there, in the Tiergarten, or on Schönerberger Ufer, or closer to home on Tempelhofer Ufer, and all the way to Maybachufer. So it is when he walks through Lützowplatz, on his way to the Nollendorfplatz station, or further west, to the Kurfürstendamm (which he compares with Regent street), as if he was, in a mysterious way, bound tight by the water spirits – or is it by the spirits of the martyrs whose tortured bodies were thrown in the Landwehrkanal?

He rides to Charlottenburg, loses himself in the park, reflects on Queen Luise’s grave – oh! the marmor… – and finds treasures in the Scharf-Gerstenberg museum. For him, the City hides layers after layers of troubling mysteries, to be discovered so slowly, as an endless source of inspiration, an endless flow of loss, wondering and hope, as if generations before him had legated to him their forgotten dreams. Faust’s metropolis has now a firm grip on his soul, and Julian enjoys that servitude. Melissa understands, who shares his passion. But she’s no barbarian, like him, but a native of Köpenick, where the ancient fortress once stood, between two worlds. Sometime, he sees her too as a beautiful ghost, not one from his childhood, but one direct descendant from the slavic tribes that once lived on this land, the old Brandenburg, before Berlin and Germania even existed at all.

The studio on Eylauerstraße is now too small, as Sarah and her husband have brought more books, and some furniture from their East London house, and Melissa has moved her little possessions, finally. So he’s looking for a larger apartment, for the three of them to pursue their dream, where they will work, love, reinvent their shared adventure. He roams in Schöneberg, and further East, along the Spree, always armed with camera and notebook, which makes Sarah smile. None of them ever mentions the Jägerstraße house, it remains taboo, without anyone willing to even question it.

So Julian is on a search, around his beloved Kreuzberg, and further afield, in Schöneberg, in Tempelhof, in Friedrichshain, in Neukölln. He – and Sarah – know what they want, the quiet tree-lined street, a second or third floor, a balcony, two or three good rooms. Melissa’s on the lookout too, now an essential part of this community, and devoted body and soul to the couple. It is the high summer, with the humid heat that renders Berliners a little slower, and Julian himself more meditative. Between bouts of e-mailing estate agents, and photography editing, he manages some writing, and is now looking for a local literary agent, since he wants to publish his two novels with a German house.

Sarah is attentive, sometime even watchful, more often in Berlin now than in London, when she can afford the time off her business. Julian’s sister, Jane, visits them also more frequently. She was around for the Berlin fashion show, and stayed over for a few days. She took immediately to Melissa, who sees her as her “big” sister. Julian’s mind wanders, around the new pair, his sister and his lover, under Sarah’s knowing smile.

Then, one morning, as the three of them breakfast at Ambrosius, at the corner of Einemstraße and Kurfürstenstraße, Sarah decides that her husband is now cured of his phantasms, and back to the reality of the living.

Image: Hans Bellmer, la Poupée (die Puppe, the Doll), courtesy Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Berlin-Charlottenburg

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.

Where do you write best? #DailyPost

LandwehrkanalWhere do you write best?” asks Melissa one morning. They are enjoying a lazy breakfast in the studio on Eylauer Straße, a few days after the half marathon. Julian thinks for a few seconds, then replies: “Here of course, I love this place, and the more so when you are here!”

“Which is almost permanent!” laughs Melissa. “And I love when you are working, just a little jazz in the air, and the city in the background, our quiet street…”

Julian finds Kreuzberg inspiring, the ideal place for creative thinking. When he wants to take a break – he tends to work best in the morning, while Melissa practices her yoga on the rug – they walk through the park to Bergmannstraße and sit at one of the small café terraces, or take a walk along the canal, on the Maybachufer. For Julian, his writing is now inseparable from this peace, the tranquility he finds in the tree-lined streets, the parks, and Melissa. For she’s become his muse, the indispensable companion, his fellow runner, his soulmate.

The book is progressing well, the story unravelling, meandering between the mystery which inhabits the heroine, and the greater myth born from her dreams. He understands that the contrast between his space, their space, the peace therein, and the maelstrom of the novel, is part of his inspiration: in their space lives the real Melissa, in the novel, Melissa the ghost.

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