The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Old World

In the Chancellery

The Chancellery, Berlin We are at the entrance of the long steel and glass building that adorns the long perspective in front of the Bundestag. Sarah and Melissa are standing, superb in their sober grey suits and white silk shirts: they have adopted the same hair style, and today they are both dark red, and wear sharp black high heels. They also wear black lipstick. There is today an unforgiving coldness to their beauty. We walk slowly to the gate, welcome by a platoon of  dark-blue clad officers. I notice their badges which I do not recognise, I notice the blond hair tightly held under the strict berets: the Chancellery is guarded by women warriors.

We walk in as part of a small group of  about twelve guests. Classical music – is it Schubert? – floats through the endless glass corridors. Late afternoon light filters through the large windows. We are all assigned specific seats through specific doors. We are shepherded by the silent guards to one of the larger conference rooms in the building. As we enter the room one guard invites Sarah and Melissa to follow her, while another guides me to my seat. My wife and lover disappear through a side door.

I sit back and look at the audience which slowly fills in the large auditorium. Guards in uniform stand at all corners. Large flags of the United Nations and the Federal Republic, as well as the Union’s, ornate the wide stage. The auditorium is large enough for three or four thousand people. Schubert plays on. Sarah’s and Melissa’s seats remain empty for another half an hour. I then remember that we were given portable audio guides as we entered the building. I connect mine. There is a live broadcast, and on the little screen one can observe the speaker. It is a man, in USAF uniform, and I immediately recognise the officer who was our host in Brooklyn. He’s introducing the programme for the conference and explains the purpose of this pre-conference meeting.

I stand up to let a group of journalists access their seats a little further on the same row. They are all women. I notice an insignia on their jackets. Soon Sarah and Melissa join me, smiling, stunning in their suits and shiny makeup. Sarah kisses me lightly on the cheek and insists for me to sit between her and Melissa. Melissa briefly touches my knee. As I turn toward her I see she wears the same insignia as the journalists. So does Sarah. Then it comes to my mind that this is a smaller, more discreet version, than the one worn by the Chancellery guards. It’s an eagle seizing a small sphere. In the middle of the sphere is a heart.

On the stage now stand four people. One of them is Gabrielle. I also recognise the Chancellor herself, the same US officer, and a tall woman in a Chinese military uniform, perhaps a navy officer. As the four of them stand to attention, Schubert stops and the audience stands up for the German national anthem. The three of us know the words and the melody well. It is a moving moment. As the audience sits back a film appears in the background of the stage, silent. But the Chancellor stands up and speaks. She introduces the conference, states its main purpose, which is to launch a universal movement for peace and the end of all wars. The film shows the horrors of recent conflicts, then switches to views of recent meetings and diplomatic events. The Chancellor introduces Gabrielle – I hold my breath – as “our friend from the East”. No mention of the Coven or of Andromeda… The eagle and the sphere emblem appear on the screen. As the Chancellor concludes her introduction Gabrielle stands up. Her voice is high and clear, without accent. Her German is perfect, the online translation equally so. The portable audio device gives us fifteen language options. Gabrielle’s words reach my consciousness as Sarah takes hold of my hand. There will be four strands of work for the conference: diplomacy, military disarmament, environment and, demographics and “gender”.

I feel dizzy. Gabrielle explains the purpose of each strand, and expands on the diplomatic work undertaken by the UN, the Great Power and her competitors since the last crisis. Then the USAF general talks about the military side of the conference. Fluently he describes the work done so far, since the “disappearance” of the missiles in East Asia. He mentions the recent crisis in the Middle-East and how this is being resolved “to the best interest of mankind”.

The lady in Navy uniform then introduces the environment part of the programme. She’s evidently an expert. The screen displays a series of views describing threats to the planet, as seen from space. The speaker describes the mathematics of carbon reduction. I wonder how many in the audience follow her exposé. Suddenly Gabrielle is back to the fore. I must have missed the last minutes of the environment presentation, lost in a dream. At first I do not understand what Gabrielle is saying. The screen is again full of equations, this time about demographics. Sarah holds my hand tighter. Melissa says something, very low, in my ear. I shiver. Gabrielle is talking about her people. She talks about their ancient history, how they overcome the threats to their survival, how they conquered Space. She says that it is now mankind’s turn to make the choice: survival or self-destruction through dark ages. The audience is totally silent. No one moves. The film is now showing old newsreels. Soon Gabrielle concludes that one of the objectives of the conference is to achieve agreement on population control, a condition of peace. As she sits down, smiling, the Chancellor rises, wishes the audience a positive experience during the conference, and explains that we will be individually called in, in small groups, for the follow-up debriefing.

As I am called in my companions stand up with me and escort me holding my arms along the corridors. I cannot believe what I heard, what is happening. Sarah and Melissa guide me through another corridor and a flight of steps. Melissa knocks at a door and walks in, followed by Sarah who ushers me in. We follow another short corridor and stand by another door. Gabrielle opens the door. She smiles at my companions and shakes my hand.

“You are a lucky man, Julian”, she says in her softest voice, “thanks to your friends your conference will be only hard and interesting work.” At those words Melissa hugs me. There is a new strength in her taking hold of me. I am invited to sit down in one of four comfortable leather chairs that face a wide bay window opening toward the Bundestag. I feel my destiny is no longer mine to control. Gabrielle was not threatening me, but merely stating a fact.

“Julian, you may not have followed all of the presentations this afternoon, there was a lot to absorb. You have been attached to the demographics strand of the conference. You should know that you are one of a very small number, a minority, of non-expert male participants, invited to join us for this project.”

What Melissa said to my ear a few minutes back was: “Trust us.”

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Husband, brother, lover…

Melissa

Sarah, Melissa and Jane are talking, they are talking about me. I know this because I am sitting upstairs, working on this story, the story of us, and I can hear their voices downstairs in the lounge, laughing and suddenly quieter, almost whispering.

What surprises me most is how comfortable Sarah and Jane are, holding a normal conversation with Melissa. Indeed is it Melissa? Is my long-dead friend really back with us, or is it an illusion created in our minds by Gabrielle’s sorcery? I still don’t know. Sarah and Melissa meet often, in this house or in Gabrielle’s old house, which Sarah and me have started calling the “time capsule”. I have told Sarah about Gabrielle’s tale of space-faring and teleports, and she smiled, she smiled knowingly. “I have no doubt that Gabrielle’s knows a lot about stars and galaxies” she said, “and I know also that now you believe everything she tells you”, she added with a kiss on my nose.

I fear a conspiracy: the three – or is it four? – women in my life, my wife, my sister and my old friend back from the dead, somehow conspiring to make me believe a fairy tale. The old space travellers, a civilisation of awesome power, colonising not one but several galaxies… Last night Sarah made tender love to me: the moon was shining a spectral light through our window, and I could see Melissa’s smile on my wife’s face. Am I being possessed? Is Melissa a devil? The three of them are having a good time and I feel a slight pang of jealousy, as if I were excluded form a very select club: Jane’s clear voice rises, she’s telling a story. My younger sister is so beautiful. I am surrounded with beauty, and afraid of interrupting a conversation which is about me. I asked Sarah if she thought the black holes tale made any sense. Her reply was slow to come, and she finally said: “our physics breaks down on the horizon of a singularity, we have no way of knowing what goes on inside, or even if there is an inside…” She thought a little longer, then said, “the only thing I know is that their existence is more than a lose hypothesis, they must exist for the universe as we see it to make sense…”

Later on we talked about dark matter, and about experiments designed to prove its existence beyond doubt. Sarah’s view seems to be that Gabrielle has given me a very simplified view of what really happens in space travel. But she does believe Gabrielle comes from “elsewhere”, and probably far away. Sarah’s theory seems to be that Gabrielle may come from our future. I am suddenly aware of silence downstairs, and then of Melissa’s voice, and I listen.

My friend is talking about the old town, our town, the narrow streets, the small shops and museums we used to visit. Jane is asking her about the school. The school… There is something unreal about what they say, as if they were watching a film of my youth, as if they could access any second of my past.

I hear Sarah’s steps in the stairs. “Would you like to join us?” I sigh. Melissa and Jane are talking in low voices, deep in one to one conversation. There is a hologram floating above the reading table near the fire place. It takes me some time to recognise what it is: the old church in my town, in vivid relief. Sarah says: “Melissa has a collection of those. It appears that they can reconstruct the past too…” Then I realise the hologram shows the church as it was before the war, and my mind slides back to my childhood.

There is an orchestra in the street, people are dancing, children in old-fashion clothes are playing, horse carriages ride past a small group of people standing on the pavement: but those are not my memories but someone else’s… I look at Melissa: her green eyes are fixed on me, she’s smiling, Sarah’s hand is on my shoulder.

Peace

Norwegian_woodAs I look at those pictures, at the colours beginning to fade, and those faces not yet totally forgotten, I recall those instants I never seized, all those years back, before peace reached me. And peace, I owe to you, my love, you brought me down to reality, and to acceptance of the world. Yet I cannot entirely forget that other life, those other lives. These places still impregnated of the then recent disasters, the long wars, the signs of destruction still present all around us. Europe was then still on her knees.

From time to time, an article, a book, a scent, brings me back to those years, to a youth full of longing and unhappiness. The world was young… no, it was the old world, but we were young, naive, and dangerous. The calamities of today pale in insignificance compared to what was then the daily life of our parents: the sheer poverty, the cold, the threats, and the still smoking ruins. Yet there was also hope, born from the deep soul of their hearts.

This is when I met Melissa, both of us, me more than her, innocent and ignorant. This story is that of our loss, and the strange way we found each other again, decades apart, in a world we could never have then imagined. A world of shadows. But I have first to write about the present, this fabulous mixture of the seedy and the wonderful, called modernity, although this term is now, so passé…

This coming year, after much consideration, and with your help my love, I am leaving behind those preoccupations, the business where I have made my fortune, for indulging in my long postponed passions. I will be the writer – even if unpublished – that I have longed to be since my school days, and also the serious runner, the one unconstrained by time and professional duties: freedom. Freedom to train, to spend long hours refining the person I want to be. Then there will be the long hikes in the mountains we both love: and there will be pictures, of you.

And so, on the threshold of a new year, I will start anew. Soon I will have forgotten the illusions of ambition, the jealousies, the petty envy of lesser mortals. I will live again. My close friends will be the blank page, where I will share those memories and longings I care most for, and those beautiful lenses that will help me to see the world with new eyes. Soon I will roam those streets, in the city that has adopted me, reluctantly at first, but, ultimately, without looking back.

I will, but not now, I am just observing the clear sky from my desk, that faces our garden: a pale blue sky of December, small frayed clouds already tainted pink by the early sunset. Familiar tunes float through the room. My wife, Sarah, is upstairs washing her hair. Peace.