The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Sarah

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.

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.

Under the Sunset Crater

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Her husband was in Denver, at a writers’ s conference, and Sarah, for the first time in two years, felt free to roam. She was in Tucson, the city founded in 1775 in the Sonora desert, visiting William Freyr and his wife Marie, her friends in the Southwest. William was teaching law at the University of Arizona, and Marie was a researcher in desert ecology in the famed Life Sciences department.

Still mentally exhausted by her journey to the new Eastern Front with Helga, Sarah felt liberated in the warmth of the South Arizonan sunshine. She had met Marie only once before, at her wedding, one of a handful of  invited Pahaana – white people – guests, when William had introduced Sarah to his young wife “as my best European friend.” Now, as Marie was on holiday, the two women went for hikes in the Catalina mountain, for brunch at El Charro, for long visits to the Art Museum, and to the collection of Native American Art at the University. The wilderness of the canyons seduced Sarah, who admired the variety of the flora, the great Saguaro, the smaller cacti, the ashes and willows, the short olive trees and acacias, and the vistas over the Tucson basin, opening along the rocky trails. It was winter, with the air temperature down to freezing point at night, and a balmy fifteen, or even twenty degrees at midday: what difference form Berlin! The air was clear, crisp-dry and vivifying.

All day long they enjoyed discussing almost any subject, from the water table of the Southwest (Marie’s hinting at the foolish wasteful habits of the new Americans), to the various law suits being prosecuted by the Hopis, Marie’s tribe, for recovery of their lands rights. Both William and Marie had their roots in the Hopi tradition, and came originally from the high plateaux of the North-East, Marie from the Wupatki country. She talked about the role of women in Hopi society: not only as mothers and grand-mothers, but as property owners, religious leaders and creators of beauty. Sarah asked her friend about her family, the history of her clan, the Water clan. Marie was patiently educating Sarah, explaining that she could not discuss details of some ritual traditions and customs, but visibly enjoying the interest Sarah showed to her culture. Sarah and Marie were discovering shared ideas and aspirations, from their respective traditions, and discovery led to intimacy.

One morning, Marie mentioned she was planning to visit her ancestors in the North-East, and invited Sarah to accompany her. Sarah accepted enthusiastically. Their itinerary would take them on Highway 77, to Phoenix, the state capital, then on the long road to Sedona and Flagstaff, to reach the volcanic region of the Sunset Crater and Wupatki. Sarah helped Marie prepare for the trip, packing clothes and food, and Marie’s elaborate hiking and camping gear. They then loaded their luggage on Marie’s Jeep, an elegantly painted four by four, itself a good example of modern-days Hopi graphic art.

On route 77, Marie was negotiating the dense traffic with skills, from time to time smiling to Sarah, who was retelling the story of her journey in the East. Marie questioned her friend about the people, their language, their homes, the city Sarah had visited. The road North was edging down towards Phoenix and the temperature was rising. Marie explained that Tucson was privileged, by the altitude of the basin, already over one thousand meters above the lower grounds of the capital. Phoenix was more polluted, and she was happier to live further South, in the country of the ancient O’odham tribes. They passed long freight trails moving North at snail pace, from Mexico.

The traffic got busier and slower as they approached the stretched-out suburbs of Phoenix. Sarah was silent, admiring Marie’s driving dexterity. Phoenix was huge, a metropolis compared with Tucson. Soon they were leaving 77 and took route 17 to the North-East. The vegetation was changing, cacti at first mixed with low grey bushes, and the colour of the soil turned paler. They were now climbing, the road no longer a straight ruler, but winding up between huge rocks and round hills. Near Cordes Junction Marie pointed out the turn-off to Camp Verde, a historical site of the Mexican wars. She explained that the whole North-East was packed with pre-historical and historical remains, from the ancient people who had cultivated the desert centuries back, to invaders and friendly or hostile tribes settlements, and to the nineteen century trail of tears, the genocide of her people. On the right they saw the sign to Montezuma Castle.

“It has nothing to do with Montezuma,” laughed Marie, “but there you are: such a confusion about us!  This is the country of the ‘People in Between’: the Sinagua and the Salado.” Marie pointed out the changing landscape to Sarah. “The Seen-Awa made their homes here in what was, for you, early in the sixth century of the Christian calendar…”

Sarah asked where those settlers came from. “From far North,” replied Marie, “probably from somewhere near what is today Canada… They knew how to use rocks to moderate soil temperature, they knew about water… Our tradition is that the Hopis learned from them.” Sarah was silent, stunned by the beauty of the landscape. They left route 179 on their left, the road to Sedona: “All tourism and fake new age” remarked Marie. She explained her people disapproved of the new agers’s attitude toward the sacred sites, and their naivety toward the traditions. They were now approaching Flagstaff.

“It’s a new town,” explained Marie, “built by prospectors and gold diggers around 1860…” They stopped for refuelling, Sarah looked at the map. To the South-East was Apache country; after Flagstaff, on route 89, they would enter Wupatki, and the home of the Water Clan, Marie’s ancestral family. On the horizon rose the snowy summits of the San Francisco range. A few miles from the town Marie stopped the Jeep near a dark wood of pine trees. There was no traffic, the air was much colder now. The earth was white with frosty snow, the soil dark grey with touches of ochre. They drove a little further, then took the loop road to the Sunset Crater Volcano. At the visitor centre Sarah looked at the exhibits, the history of the great eruption of 1040. Marie was engaged in a deep conversation in native language with the young ranger, a local woman in her late twenties. They got their permit to park and camp near the lava flow trail. Marie told Sarah she knew the grounds by heart. She drove the Jeep to the overlook, and they took the rucksacks and hiking boots out.

They were surrounded by hills of cinder. In between grew pines, mountain oaks, olive trees and acacias. The grey lava trail contrasted with the darker cinder, and with the lighter ochre soil that appeared between the trees roots. “The trees grew again,” said Marie following Sarah’s eyes, “and we stayed because the land was so fertile…” Sarah turned toward her friend, they stay silent, and close to each other, for long minutes. Sarah knew she was falling in love: with the country, with the sky, and with her friend. Then Marie said, in a voice and a language that Sarah understood to come from her soul:

“For us, this is sacred ground, we are going to follow the trail, and we’ll sleep tonight under the stars that guided my ancestors.”

Later, after sunset, in the absolute silence of the Arizonan night, Marie told Sarah about Hopivotskwani, the Hopis Path of Life. In the early morning, in the warmth of their tent, Sarah woke up in Marie’s arms. Lifting the tent door, they saw the rising sun, above the snowy mountains, and, to their left on the horizon, the magical colours of the Painted Desert.

 

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.

Mirror on the Wall

Lilya CorneliAs they walk through the entrance of the apartment, the wide mirror on the left of the doorway reflects their image: Julian and his elegant wife Sarah, coming home from a late evening in town. On the opposite side he recognises the Toulouse Lautrec, as Sarah walks in and drops her cape on the back of a leather chair. He touches a switch and the side lighting comes to life, so soft it reveals the features of the apartment only slowly, as if reluctantly.

Everything is so familiar, shrouded in the comfort of an intimate space: their space. A thought filters through his mind: he knows this place, he knows where everything is, the furniture they chose, the art they collected, and yet it is not their home. He walks to the bar, next to the long balcony, and mixes two martinis. Sarah is at the concert piano, facing the large bay window, and has started playing. To his left he sees their bedroom door, and he knows what the room looks like, the queen-size bed, the portrait above it.

He walks to the piano and sets Sarah’s glass on a low table next to her seat. She offers a radiant smile back at him: she’s never been so striking, and he so much in love. A melody of Schubert fills the air. Now, he opens the balcony double door: it is late and the city’s sounds reach him, muffled. The Berlin night is cool and full of the promises of youth. But he, Julian, feels ancient, as ancient as the steps to the Dom. There are few revellers left on the square but the lights are still on. The Deutscher Dom seems to shine in the moonlight, as a reminder of past glories. Clouds briefly mask the moon. But can it be be right: the geometry is improbable, the Dom is at the other end of Gendarmenmarkt…

He walks out to the balcony: mementoes of their lives are everywhere, photographs, paintings they bought all over the world. “They”? Julian feels now deeply troubled, as if he had intruded into someone’s life, someone he may have known, perhaps intimately, in another time. There is a photo of two women, one, older, wearing a pair of old-fashion spectacles, a teacher sort of character, with a benevolent look on her peaceful face. He should remember their names, the names of the two women on the picture. The younger woman is red-haired with sensual lips, and she seems to be looking straight at him. Her sight feels painful to Julian. Julian looks down to the street: Jägerstraße runs past the Französicher Dom, and across Friedrichstraße. He knows the geography of the city so well.

Through the bay window, he sees his wife playing, her face now partly hidden by a statue that stands in front of the piano: a replica of the wounded gladiator. Slowly, he walks along the balcony to the other end. On a low table stand more pictures, and a vase full of fresh carnations. He sees a photo of two women dancing: here on this balcony, where he stands. This time he recognises them: Sarah and his sister Jane. A younger Jane, perhaps even before she became a fashion star.

His unease grows, and as he turns round to walk back to the lounge, he senses a figure standing near the door: a tall hooded shape. He can no longer hear Schubert, but instead, the low murmur of small waves running ashore.  The shape fades into nothingness, he walks back through the door. Although he cannot hear the notes, his wife is still playing. The lights in the lounge appear dimmer. Sarah turns round towards him: she’s not Sarah. Julian sees a woman face with features he thinks he recognises: the jet-black hair, the blue on blue pupils. Helga is looking at him, unsmiling, perhaps even a little threatening.

Julian feels a small tremor. The image dissolves.

Melissa is sitting on the floor of the studio, looking at old pictures. The notes of Schubert float through the calm air of the Eylauer straße. He is lying on the couch, and must have fallen asleep. Melissa looks at him, and blows a kiss. “Now you’re awake, I’ll start cooking,” she says with a teasing smile.

Carnival

MelissaIt was a long week-end, the real start of Summer in the city. Crowds of young people were walking and singing along the streets from mid morning, a rare sight on a Saturday. Julian took his camera and went out for a spell of street photography. A few days before, Sarah had told him she had arranged with Melissa for him to take a series of nude shots of the young woman. Sarah’s instructions were precise, and Melissa had been thoroughly briefed. She came to Julian’s studio, and lent herself to a couple hours shooting, in good humour, flirting a little with Julian, without pretension.

Now Melissa had gone to her mother in Köpenick, and Julian had the weekend to himself. Kreuzberg, at the time of Carnival, was a wonderful place where to be: the streets were alive, musicians everywhere, food and drinks stalls, acrobats, thousands of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine. He decided to walk up Linden Straße, up to the Jewish museum, perhaps even as far as the Berlinische Galerie, and back towards the canal through the smaller streets, and on to the Treptower Park, along the Maybachufer. On the way he would take pictures of places and people, the kind of photography he enjoyed most. The air was full of laughter and joyous songs. His mind still full of images of her young naked body, Julian thought of Melissa. She had become a permanent companion, discrete, helpful, always charming. Julian did not doubt that she was entirely under Sarah’s spell. They cooked together, played games, listened to jazz and rock and roll, sometimes, late at night, to classical music which often made Melissa cry.

He was surprised as to how quickly he had accepted her presence in his life, and trusted her. Until the shoot, he had seen her in briefs, or her running shorts, at times without much else (she had asked him if she could go about bra-less in the studio, and he had agreed). During the shoot she had surprised him with her modest demeanour, following, with good grace and charm, Sarah’s orders, that led her to reveal everything to Julian. He had felt very protective, a feeling that was, above all, made of his sense of responsibility for her.

Seeing the camera and guessing at his interest, a group of young people, sitting on the terrace of one of the fashionable cafés, asked him to take a group picture: Julian obliged, taking several shots, and a few more for some of the girls who asked for a personal pic. Then he had to make notes of email addresses to send the pictures, and he felt really on a holiday.

He crossed the Böckler Park, full of couples and children playing, and soon was at the Kottbusser bridge. Eons ago, Sarah, himself, and another woman he could not recognise in his memories, had stood on this bridge, he thought, before running to the Hasenheide. He paused and let the image dilutes in the warm air.

Those pictures of Melissa. He posted them, as instructed, on a private web site Sarah had given him access to. There were pictures of his sister Jane there too. Julian had been a little surprised, but was not in the habit of questioning his wife’s projects.

He was now following the footpath along Maybachufer, one of his and Melissa’s favourite running tracks, together with Tempelhof and the Tiergarten. The Landwehr canal had its summer suite on: the water greener and deeper than ever, both banks alive with families and couples, the trees smiling to them. There was hardly any traffic noise, the city was moving effortlessly into carnival mood. He headed toward the river and the Puschkinallee. Sarah and him had followed the same route at his first visit to the Treptower Park, and since then he had been many times, flanked by loyal Melissa. He wondered if he was beginning to miss her when she was not with him.

He took several pictures of the wonderful murals along Puschkinallee. There was little traffic there either, with crowds of pedestrians occupying the whole street. As he was approaching the entrance to the park, his phone rang. Hesitantly he took the call: the tune was that he had set for Melissa, if she needed help. Her voice was low and quiet, incredibly young:

“I hope not to disrupt your walk, Julian, I just wanted you to know, I love you and I miss you, terribly.” He was silent, seconds passed, he could hear her breathing, almost sense her being there, attentive, nervous. “I love you too Melissa: please don’t worry about anything, I am here, will always be here for you…” “I was afraid you were angry with me for posing nude for you…” “Of course not, Sarah wanted this, and you are beautiful, very beautiful.” More seconds passed, then she asked in one breath: “Would you like me to join you tonight?” He could hear her heartbeat, hesitated again; then made his move: “I thought you wanted to have time with your mum, but if she had enough of you, then, yes, pop in when you want, but after six…”

He resumed his walk, his mind floating. The park was already full of children and young adults, but the long alleys lined by the ancient elms were welcoming and shady. In the hours that followed he took more pictures of strangers, of trees, and walking back toward Kreuzberg, of bridges, and smiling girls pretending to pose for him. At the corner grocery, back on Eylauer Straße, he picked up a few bottles of Melissa’s favourite Trento wine, and a few beers for himself. He would cook risotto, dance with her, show her what a gentle lover he could be.

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.

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