The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Murder

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.

Battlefield

AlienMost of us left when you started exploding nukes, only a handful of historians and specialists remained, and I was one of them. Explaining the horror we felt is probably beyond my abilities in your language. Suffice to say that we have been around, on your world, for at least half a millennium of your time, but this was beyond all the horrors we had seen before, worse than the sack of Beijing, worse than Borodino, worse than Verdun, even worse than Stalingrad: wanton destruction of a defenceless “enemy”.

Still my job was, still is, to bear witness, observe, document and ensure all the evidence was collected, so that one day, perhaps soon, a decision could be made – should we let you continue killing each other, or should we put an end to it, for the sake of the rest of us. It had happened before, but, of course, you have no knowledge of it, as this was well before you, far away…

That year I was researching what you call “modern history” in that small town, in the middle of what has been, through your ages, a battlefield. Humans have been butchering each other on that plain since the stone age. Savage battles took place there, a mere few years before, when you started using the nascent power of your new industries to forge weapons. Already we were appalled then, silent witnesses to inept massacres. But what you will later called the First World War – more of a sinister civil war in our view –  was merely a harbinger of worse to come.

So it was that one evening, I was musing around the town, looking at buildings, taking scans of artefacts buried in the ground, listening to the rich electromagnetic and psychic mix always arising from human settlements. I came across a little lane, and immediately I could hear the familiar sad tune, a dying human being, in the thralls of a violent end. How often have we been there: listening to the cacophony of death. I know you would not understand: our perceptions are shaped by the quality of our sensors, and in that domain there is simply no comparison between us. You still have differentiated limited senses that, at this stage in your evolution, allow you to ignore most of what goes on around you – fortunately, since your brains are not yet able to engineer the filters necessary for clarity and processing.

I easily located the soon to be dead being: a young woman who was lying in a pool of her blood in an unlit corner of the lane. The mix of pain, longing and other violent feelings she emitted surprised me, a veteran of many such observations. Her forearms had been cut deep, and she had already lost a lot of blood. Some beast had strangled her and she was hardly breathing when I arrived. Even I could not have saved her. I knew that, within perhaps a few seconds of her time, she would die, and all those memories, thoughts, beliefs would disappear. I just took a snap decision to save that precious load, and scanned her mind, an operation that took longer than I thought, so that I had to sustain her a little, to ensure I had captured everything. She had beautiful green eyes – human beings are sometimes stunningly attractive. Whether she realised I was there I am not sure, but suddenly her body was quieter, and before her heartbeat disappeared, I took a sample of her genetic and endocrine material. Other humans were around nearby and I had to leave. As a rule we avoid unnecessary contacts.

We rarely intervene: we are, as you would say, mere scientists. Doing good, as you understand it, is a concept we don’t fully apprehend in your context, still now. How can the most ferocious and pitiless species in the known universe have, at the same time, that travesty of “morality”? In any case, we cannot fully recreate a human being, not perfectly. We can restore her mind, recreate the body, but there is always something missing, as if, at the time of death, something had escaped, irretrievably.

Her name is Melissa, she was about twenty human years old when she was murdered. We get on well. She has a fatal longing for that boy she knew, and step by step, she coerced me in finding him. I am not sure it is a good idea. But she was so excited when we did. I helped her with the technology, so much had already changed by the time she reached again the age at her death. Surprisingly, not many of you have yet realised the power of some of your own creations. For example the fact you have developed simulators, evidently still quite crude, that mimic real life. In my experience this is just a beginning – as a matter of fact, as so often in your short history, it starts with “games”. You excel at that: wars and games…

Poor girl: I am fond of her, her fragility, even now, when she is, by human standards anyway, pretty close to immortality. I know that she’s trying to contact him, see him, and it worries me a little: I am, after all, responsible for bringing her back from the dead.

In the night

MelissaHis interest in photography is boosted by his sister’s evident talent, and his curiosity for her work. Now he notices far more the light variations during the day, the subtle changes of hue and shifting skies’ s reflections that are so typical of northern climates. Jane is amused by his renewed passion. He is also taking a close interest in portraits. She, without consulting him, started taking nude pictures of Sarah a year ago, and her visits are a chance for them to continue with this project. They then disappear in Sarah’s room, and even sometime the study, after kicking Julian out and locking the door. In summer they have been seen taking shots out there, in the beautiful garden, away from preying eyes. He’s not upset by it, intrigued perhaps, and, more than ever, curious. The pictures are all black and white, and do more than justice to his wife’s beautiful body. At the beginning he was startled by the erotic style of Jane’s work, but what did he expect: two gorgeous women accomplice in making art? He was wondering if Sarah, in turn, was taking pictures of Jane, but he never asked. Since he was not briefed, nor invited to participate, he chose to remain quiet on the subject, and just enjoy what he is invited to look at.

The incident of the screen shots on Chi no longer worries Julian. He has made up his mind that it was merely an accident of simulation, or perhaps even editing. After Jane’s visit he feels rejuvenated, and full of new ideas. It has given a boost to his libido too, not that he’s ever short of that, but somehow the presence of both Sarah and Jane in his house inspires him. Sarah finds it hilarious, and teases him about it.  One night, before Jane left, he woke up from some dream, and notices that Sarah is no longer in bed. It did not bother him but, feeling thirsty, he walks downstairs to the kitchen for a drink of water. Sarah is nowhere to be seen, not in the back-room, nor in the lounge, nor the bathrooms. The only place where she could be, Julian concludes, is in Jane’s room. Indeed he could hear, walking past Jane’s door, a low sound of giggles. He smiles and goes back to bed, falling back into sleep immediately.

He finds a new inspiration for the novel too, writing for long hours non-stop, to the extent of neglecting his weekly visits to the gym, as he realises quickly by checking his weight. He knows that his wife won’t let him put on weight and get fat: she would immediately impose the kind of spartan regime she can very well design for her “boy”. So he reorganises his time, making space for gym and running, and still making the best of day light hours for his writing. He’s almost forgotten about the phone call, and the message on his page.

Then, one day, as he checks his wall, he incidentally clicks on the link that did not work, on the message “she” had left. And this time it works. It takes him straight to “her” Page.

He hesitates, as if on the edge of a deep fault, unable to see how far he would fall. Then he plunges…

At first he is lost. His own page is minimalist. “Her” wall appears to be densely packed, with an impressive list of “friends” and pictures. He looks at her profile picture. The red hair, the young face, the green eyes, the full lips, a simple flowered blouse… a beautiful young woman, a little old-fashion. Something stirs at the deep end of his memories…  That picture looks strangely familiar, but still he cannot recall who she is. He decides to read her profile. “She” has listed as much as she could, her schools, where she lived, where she worked.

She was born two years before him, near the town where he spent most of his childhood. She’s also attended the same high school. He pauses. Suddenly her name comes to him: Melissa. Something attracts him on Melissa’s page. One of her pictures is that of an adolescent, fresh-faced, athletic, standing in front of what looks like a school entrance with other youngsters. Julian looks at the picture, heart beating, suddenly transported in time. It was his school, and that young man is him, probably shortly before he left for the army – all those years back. He realises suddenly that Sarah is standing behind him: “An old flame has caught up with you?” she asks tenderly, with a touch of concern in her voice.

There is something else on Melissa’s page, a link to a location with a photograph: a place called Chi.

Julian pauses again, his mind a whirlpool of conflicting feelings and memories. Then, as he sits still, his mind suddenly sees her, the girl at the school gate, waiting for him, tall and smiling. A wave of memories submerges him: the old town, the medieval streets, the library where he worked and studied, the provincial railway station, the ugly buildings from the post-war period, the school, the calm waters of the canal… and Melissa: his forgotten friend, his adolescence sweetheart. What happened to her? And why all that secrecy? Why could not she just approach him, write to him, say who she was? Reading his mind Sarah says: “Maybe she has a grudge?”

Nostalgia has overcome Julian, and thousands of pictures are flashing past his eyes: the small shops, the cathedral, Mel at the swimming pool, her breasts, him boxing to pulp that big thug, who had insulted her, their walks along the river, his mother asking him: who is that tall girl she saw with him at the market… A sudden dread seizes him: where is Melissa now? And this page, what is the meaning of it? He takes a closer look: the friends listed on her page are all of her, his, generation, and there is something else: when he tries to follow the links they all lead to the same message: he is not allowed to see their profiles. “She’s protecting their privacy” Sarah says calmly.

Something else attracts Julian’s attention: there are notes, scores of them, some by Melissa.

For a second he hesitates, then starts reading.

The early notes sweep through three years of her life: the years they have been “together”, his school years, before the war and the world took him away.  Melissa has written at first a sort of journal, recounting their first meeting, their first kiss, her hopes, their walks, the many kisses that had followed, the tender touches, her wondering why he seems to be so gentle, almost shy, with her, and such a tiger with the others, whoever they are. She guesses at his internal violence, the turmoil in his young mind. She, who is ready to give him everything, admits to her puzzlement, at times her irritation. And yet she is writing about the delight of those days, their intimacy, his way of ignoring the jealous looks, the sly comments of the other girls. His way also to fight for her, suddenly changed, his fists tight, his jaws hardened, the pitiless concentration of a street fighter. She has made it her mission to win him over, and to give him happiness – for ever, her virgin lover. The last sad note is of a walk they take along the river, when he speaks to her of the war, and of a man’s duty. She was puzzled, and worried. Then the tone of the notes change. Melissa is alone, he is gone, silent, with hardly a good bye.

At first she is expecting him to write, perhaps even to visit. She tries to talk to some of his friends, those who, she thought, would be willing to share their knowledge of where he might be. No-one she spoke to knew.  In desperation she decides to contact his parents. His mother only says that her son has gone to fight. Neither she nor Julian’s dad would  give away anything else. Mel is desperate.

There is only one country he could have gone to, and this is beyond Mel’s reach, a hellhole of murder, torture and destruction, closed to anyone not directly involved with the fighting. At night she cries, remembering the days, with him, with him alive, their love. Then the notes stop being a journal. It is as if someone else has taken over, and is reporting, factually, without any feeling.

The first note is a newspaper extract. 

Julian turns pale as a wraith. Sarah, suddenly aware of a deadly silence, looks up: her husband is crying. Silent, cold tears, tears of despair. She looks at the screen.

The note states that the body of Ms Melissa xxx, daughter of Mr and Mrs xxx of a local village, aged nineteen, has been found at dawn, in a small lane near a night club where she was seen dancing with several men two hours earlier.  She was strangled by unknown assailants and her wrists cut. 

There is a date: Melissa was murdered twenty years earlier.

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