Since they’d settled in the city, by now he has almost forgotten when that was, he rarely thinks of the old town. Only in Spring, as the resurgence of colours, the clothes of women in the street, and the smiles on children’s faces, made him long for a past of peace and smallness, when himself was a kid, and the world was still vast.
In his study of Neukölln, surrounded by pictures of their travel, through Europe and North America, and portraits of his wife, Sarah, and of his one-time lover Melissa, the girl from Köpenick, sometime together, once or twice in a trio with Helga, his therapist, he continues to write, now on his second novel, now richer than ever, but still a disturbed soul.
This morning, Sarah’s out with Melissa, on a shopping expedition that may also take them to the haven of the Gendarmenmarkt apartment, and the renewed complicity of their mutual affection. His mind, unconcerned, at peace with heir present life, is floating away, to narrow streets, to medieval lanes bordering overgrown and haunted gardens, to a busy street where pedestrians wear old-fashioned clothes, and where he, alone, for a while friendless, seeks answers to questions that will elude him for ages to come.
There, behind clouds and the sharpness of an ancient Spring, he’s looking for her, near the old school, not far from his parents’ house, perhaps even along the river where his mother walks to admire the kingfisher. The sounds are low and a little hesitant, blurred by the silence of his room, and the low notes of jazz drifting from the lounge: this is an imperfect journey, as if he were reluctant to go all the way, resisting the call from these years of solitude and longing, from his childhood.
He’s near the church; he sees the pharmacy on the right, next to the barber where his father and he have their haircuts on Saturdays. The wide square has recently been redesigned, and the rubbles from the war cleared, and replaced by an elegant parterre of flowers. To his left he knows a short walk would take him to the bridge, over the little river. To the right is the main street, and somewhere, half way to the town limits, is the house with the courtyard.
He can see her now, a young girl, naked like him, and bathing in the old stone tub, near the fountain, at their feet the rounded stones reflect the sunlight: she’s laughing and throwing water at him, her face that of sheer pleasure. House and yard may be the oldest in the town, at the back is a workshop: her dad’s working space. Her face upturned to him, she sees their future, no doubt, and her smile fades. She starts crying, small tears keep flowing on her rosy cheeks. He does not understand, he thinks she’s angry with him, he holds her hands in silence. Calmer, she kisses his cheek. Her mum calls them both inside, to get dry and clothed.
At night, in his room, or rather the corner of the house where he sleeps, he can hear the rats running inside the hollow walls. His mum says they are as old as the house. He’s no longer there, time must have passed, he’s now bigger, stronger, but he’s still looking for her. He cannot remember, there is a small lane, near a nightclub: he knows this is important, or it will be. Some shadows obscure his vision: Helga did say he should not attempt to go there. A crime was committed there, not by him, he was far away then.
This is it, he was far away, and he should not have been: Julian knows the truth, he betrayed his childhood love, he is inconsolable. No amount of work, of success, no therapy, can ever change that fact.
Low clouds and signs of rain and her eyes go misty: away with her dreams, lost to us.
Thunder and high winds push her yet further away, in a corner of her kingdom inaccessible to mortals.
Gaia is her maiden name.
Image: John William Waterhouse, Flora.
For this week’s writing challenge, we’re asking you to explore what age means to you. Is the the loss of youth, or the cultivation of wisdom? Do things get better as you grow older, or worse? There are many ways to interpret age, often depending on your relationship with the passing of time.
I hear your voices: often you are louder than the living, and I appreciate your attention. On a walk, in the agitation of the city, we talk, passers-by may well think I am talking to myself, but, no, I am talking with you.
My dead siblings and friends, how could I forget you? You are just as alive as I am, since in my dreams, I often see myself after, after I have surrendered this fragile frame. And you are there, welcoming, attentive, wise.
One achieves peace, in latter years, despite, or because, of the small indignities, the effort to do simple things. Suddenly one knows the meaning of humility, the opposite of thuggery: the smooth appreciation of peace and kindness.
And one remembers, the beauty, the fears, the discoveries, how rich and frightening this was: living. Walking along the shore, one sees the chessboard, when the Knight plays with Death: the Seventh Seal. The melody of the waves, the cries of the sea birds, the calm majesty of the world, at peace, one is with oneself. The sky is blue, in this wind I hear your voices again, louder.
Soon I will join you, and kneel in front of my Maker. He or She, will know who I am, and you will vouch for me.
Years later she would remember, his last letter from the front, the collapse, the ruins, the hunters in the streets…
Now she was smiling, for their son was there, a strong tall young man, with his father’s calm eyes, and hard fists.
He had done the pilgrimage once, to his father’s and his comrades tombs, far away, hard to find.
And he had captured the moment: when he lifted the steel helm, rusted by time, that now hung on the small wooden cross, one cross for four heroes.
She noticed him as soon as he walked into the bar. There was a sudden lowering of voices, the other girls were quiet, their eyes down, and she saw that other men greeted him silently, with the sort of respect one owes to someone special. He went to sit in one of the leather chairs near the wide window, and to O’s surprise signalled to her to come to him. O stood in front of him, silent. “You are O”, he said in a deep and yet youthful voice, “Anne-Marie has told me about you, and Sir Stephen”. O could not stop herself shed a tear. “I have come to take you with me”, he said in a matter of fact voice. Then, against her usual discipline, she looked at his face, his eyes. He smiled. “I have told Anne-Marie to have your iron rings removed. I will give you a pair of rings to wear if you wish, but this time of silver. Also I have a new collar for you, and you will find it more comfortable.” His eyes were grey, the pale grey of autumn clouds near the sea. O knelt and started crying, unable to stop. He slowly pulled her to him, cradling her in his arms.
Later he took her to her room. He had brought her clothes, and lingerie. Anne-Marie came in with her tools. She showed great respect for him, as he watched her remove O’s rings. Then she asked O if she wanted her to undo her collar. O said yes, all the time looking at him. When this was done, he thanked Anne-Marie who left the room. He took O in his arms. She felt at the end of a long road, and she wanted to belong. She fell asleep in his arms. In the morning, he helped her dress in her new clothes. Then they left.
The following year O gave him a son.
(This story was prompted by a comment from Gemini on my previous post. The full story can be found here)
I see the world reflected in your eyes
For what I see you have seen first
A long time before I was born ~
And now the colours are the colours you see
The shapes, the stones, the skies, the flowers
And the trees you have taught me to love
O Mother, Mistress of this world
Mother, lover, Gaia
Do not insult Her, for She may not forgive ~ and then we will die in the blackness and silence of space…
She is vast, beautiful like a constellation.
She and I are made up of the same stars.
If you could search her eyes
you would see a whole universe swirling there.
Being a part of her is like riding on a spaceship,
watching as the moon shines like a disco light.
Don’t try to harm her. She’ll become destructive.
Her storms are wild and restless.
Inside she is a fragile chemistry set.
I wish to hug her to me, keep her safe,
but she’s too big to wrap my arms across.
Her seas are endless. She holds life in a pulsating fist.
Her secrets carry on the wind. Her breath is my breath.
©2013 Louise Hastings
A belated Earth Day poem 🙂
But in the depth of his heart he hides a wonderful secret, a secret always present, as he works through the day.
Only he – and the one who shares his life – know the secret: it is their shared treasure, the magic link between them when he is away.
She has the key, and she knows, every evening he will be there, at their door…
For she is the guardian, collared, fragile, her white skin like snow in Spring, her lips so red, waiting to open for him the door of Paradise.
Image: Daria Bagrintseva