The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Tempelhof

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.

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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.

The Irish Saint, and a young couple

Guillaume & MatildeThey find the place, as they hoped for, a spacious, airy fifth floor apartment in Tempelhof, in a quiet street. There is a wide balcony, and a large lounge, which Sarah and Melissa immediately love. Julian is enthusiastic with the view over the old airfield, Berliners’s favourite playground, where the three of them go running three times a week. The smallest room will be his study, his lair, where he can hide when the other two decide to play without him, and where he will continue working at the great story.

They look at each other, the morning after their first night there, boxes, clothes and books littering the whole floor: it’s like a honeymoon, everything is new, the future belongs to them. They start making plans: exploring the neighbourhood, finding the good shops, the best places for drinking and dancing, the shortcuts. They talk about a holiday, perhaps in Normandy, maybe visiting Julian’s old friend, Saint Laurent O’ Toole, the holy bishop who died in Eu, in 1180 (he remembers the celtic cross, behind the church, facing the valley and the hill where the saint rests in the little chapel). Sarah says that the littoral there would be a lovely setting for a shoot, Melissa and her, and the ghosts of Guillaume and Mathilda. Immediately Melissa wants to know who Mathilda was. Sarah explains: the cousin of the warrior, at first their wedding condemned by the Pope, then, the glory, the bliss, and later England, the conquest, their graves in Caen… Melissa wants to go and see the tapestry, Sarah has to promise.

Julian embarks on wiring the place, there is apparently a very good connection in the apartment. For them the future takes shape, here in Berlin, and there, perhaps later in Guillaume’s country. One morning, when Melissa has gone out shopping, Sarah asks her husband:

“So, about this war, what does it mean?”

Julian is slow to understand the question. Then, speaking slowly, as if reluctantly admitting the truth:

“It means they have failed, and I do not know what they will do next…”

Silently they agree that they wouldn’t touch the subject again: enough has been said, and they refuse to stir the ghosts any further. They talk about Julian’s progress on the novel, waiting for Melissa to come back. When she does, Sarah and her disappear in the kitchen for more giggles. Julian sits at his desk, soon the notes of Medusa fill his room.

A different you

~ Sarah

Ex Libris,  Franz von Bayroz.  You have changed so much, Julian, that your friends won’t recognise you. Even I sometimes hesitate, when I observe you, at work, writing, or simply walking around the house: is this my husband? It is only small changes, you look the same, but “feel” different, in your way of speaking, your posture when we talk, and, yes, the way our love life has now evolved. I know, people change, and I have changed too.

There is your work. You used to work chiefly in the morning, sometimes, less frequently, in the evening. Now, you are at your desk for long hours, often late into the night. Yes, you have been very successful, the last title is well on its way to become a literary best-seller. But I wonder: this sudden wave of inspiration, this new commitment to your work, what does it all mean? It happened so suddenly. One day it was writing as usual, then, it became obsessive.

Then, there are your dreams, more vivid than ever before, you speaking in your sleep, which used to be very rare. What, or who, is haunting you? You say nothing, and you smile. I find your denials not so convincing. Your treatment ended months ago: you are cured now, aren’t you? Yet, at times, I could believe you are somewhere else, far from me, perhaps far from yourself. I would say that you appear now to live first and foremost for your writing. And as I am your wife, your support, I should be pleased for you, and maybe, I am. Only a little worried.

I will keep these observations to myself, for now. I am pleased with the progress you are making with your writing, and I am proud of your achievements, how could I not be? But I am also wondering, about the dark side of your soul, about the shadows that I suspect, around you.

Soon we will leave, we will return to Faust’s city, his metropolis. I know you want to be back there, and so do I. More than ever it is our city, and there we will find again the path of love. I want to run with you in the Tiergarten, around the old airfield in Tempelhof. I want to look at the paintings of Prussian soldiers of the 1870 war, in the old gallery, I want to see you smile at the bust of Wagner. I want us to go back to the Jewish museum in Kreuzberg, I want to do all those things, with you.

And, perhaps, you will become like the old you, again.

Image: Ex Libris
Franz von Bayroz.
Eau-forte originale signée dans le cuivre. Vers 1910 (via triciclo)

No peace

Shadow Julian ~ I have lost all energy, and the world around me no longer makes sense. Sarah’s here, as ever loving and attentive to my needs; yet she talks to me in a different voice now, as if to a child. When I ask her a question, about Brooklyn, for example, or about what we heard at the conference, she answers with parables, or just smiles and changes the subject.

What happened to her? What is happening to us? Is it merely the change of rhythm, the change of city? I know those days in Berlin were magical: the tree-lined streets, the companionship, the limitless sex…  How I miss the small apartment near Viktoria Park, our running across the old airfield in Tempelhof. Has the magic gone, or was it all in my mind? Sarah, the ultimate logical being, seems to be telling me that nothing has changed, and that I should rest. Why am I so tired, am I ill? I don’t feel ill; I don’t feel I have changed, but the world around me has.

The worst part of it is that Melissa is nowhere to be seen. Yet I know she was with us travelling back from Berlin. I still see the two of them, my wife and her, walking across the arrival luggage area at Heathrow, chatting and laughing, while I pushed the trolley with our suitcases. Then things got blurred. Sarah drove us home, through the evening traffic and the usual rain. I fell asleep, next to her, or was it next to Melissa?

Am I the victim of a twist in time? Or is there a sombre explanation for what I feel? In my office I watch out of the window, over the late autumn garden. The rain is falling on the dead leaves, a solitary crow picks up minuscule black corpses on the wet grass.

There is nowhere to go: Sarah is out for the rest of the day. Jane is still in Russia, perhaps she will call tonight from her hotel… The idea of going to the city appals me, merely thinking of the crowded walkways, the overwhelming noise, the unknown faces, everywhere.

There is another thought lurking in the depth of this grey mood: the other night I thought I heard Helga’s voice, in our house, not in my room, but closed by. What would Helga be doing here? Would she be visiting Sarah? Was she then talking with Sarah?

Blurred pictures of three girls, running in the clear morning air of the airfield, cross my mind: Sarah, Melissa and Helga, their long legs, their smiles, the smiles of young men waving at them. Then, in our studio, Sarah and Helga coming out of the bathroom, naked, still wet, laughing, and disappearing in the bedroom where Melissa is waiting for them. Or did I imagine that scene?

I walk to the living room, leaving behind on the desk the stack of papers, notes, and my manuscript, which I am supposed to be working on today. On the coffee table I see my phone, untouched since we arrived from the airport; I realise the SIM card is still my German one, the one Sarah bought for me at Aldi’s on Yorckstrasse. No, I do not want to think about the day, eons ago, when Melissa called me.

From our vast record collections I pick up some classic blues, John Hurt and Elmore James, the ones Sarah loves. Soon the soothing notes of jazz fill the room. In the kitchen I ground coffee beans. Now, the telephone rings: Sarah wants to know how I am, and I say I am good, just a little sleepy.

“Take things easy, Julian, my love, no need to worry about anything, and I’ll be back early tonight.”

Suddenly I need her here, holding me, I need her warmth, I need her physical presence, to protect me from the shadows around me.

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