Love and Chaos Part 9(B) Johanna 1

19th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin.

Johanna brushed her short blonde hair and checked her watch. She hated being late, and she hated waiting. Richard, her date, waited nervously outside the cinema. Chain smoking. Throwing away cigarettes half smoked. Lighting up fresh ones. Walking up and down, battling the cold, battling his anxiety. Johanna arrived sheltered by a scarf. She removed it and smiled at her date. She took his arm and they went inside.

A movie followed by drinks in a bar. Predictable. Safe. Richard was a safe and predictable man. Johanna had chosen the film, after she took him to a light and lively bar. This spacious corner Kneipe was popular with students, bench seats and large tables where they could count out their small coins hoping it amounted to the price of a beer. Music played, old-time waltzes. People sang, laughed, shouted. Sometimes Johanna had to move closer to Richard to be heard. The chilling night walk to the station, a shared journey as far as Alexanderplatz. Richard insisted on waiting with her for her connection. She found that sweet. She kissed his cheek goodbye, held his hand before she got onto the train. Smiled and waved as the train pulled away.

Johanna thought about how pleasant the evening had been. She would certainly see Richard again. If he called. After that, she thought no more, not wanting to expect anything. She didn’t want one more disappointment, one more man who seemed so different, so ideal, only to have all her illusions painfully shattered, be left permanently damaged. It had happened too often. The chances of finding someone who would love, respect and look after her were zero. So Johanna believed.

‘A cry for help’. Johanna hated that expression. A meaningless banality uttered by those who could never conceive pain. Real physical pain. Real emotional pain. A rationalisation, a way of tying up with one neat thread, the thousands of multiplying loose ends. The psychologically scarring, unanswerable questions. Johanna tried to kill herself. She wasn’t crying for help. She was crying for death. The cry was from her own demons imploring her. The agony she was in would never end, the crying, the calling was never going to end.

While her family asked the ‘why ?’ question, Johanna had one of her own; why was she alive ? Worse than ‘the cry for help’ was the, ‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ dictum, as if someone was watching over her. She spat on that fallacy. If anyone was watching, it was with a sadistic grin, not a protecting hand. Failure. She was alive and would have to account to her inconsolable parents and clueless doctors if she were to regain the freedom she needed. The freedom to try again. The freedom to succeed.

A list of easily acceptable motives; boyfriend trouble, pressure of work, lack of fulfilment in her life. Easily remedied. As quickly as she had been admitted, she was discharged, returned to her parent’s suburban house. Searching for university courses. Her parents were sure she’d meet a nice man at college, and all would be well. Johanna’s placid smile always dropped when the subject of men came up. She believed that had she confessed the real reason behind her suicide attempt, she would have sickened and repulsed the doctors, who would thereafter treat her as filth, too contemptible and contaminating for their sanitised wards, sanitised words, sanitised world.

Teenage dramas common to many pretty girls. Suddenly being very popular with boys, who wanted one thing from her. She had once been cornered by three teenage boys who had succeeded in removing and keeping her panties as ‘proof’ of their conquest. She was just grateful that they hadn’t gone any further. Her first serious boyfriend had been sleeping around with her other friends. When discovered, claimed it was a test to see if he really loved her. A confused inexperienced teenager, Johanna knew this was no test of love. The boyfriends that followed were faceless. They pressured her for sex, then dropped her after their few minutes of glory.

Word had gotten around that she was anyone’s for the asking. Time to leave school, look for work. The adult world. Shops were always hiring pretty young girls. Her parents knew she had more independence than academic ability. They felt proud, chose to feel proud, of their daughter making her own life. They arranged for her to stay in a shared house in Wilmersdorf that belonged to an old family friend, Herr Schulz. He appeared very friendly to Johanna, very attentive, offering to drive her wherever she needed to go. She found his slits of eyes and joined eyebrows charming, as if he were a creature from a fairy tale. But it wasn’t long before that tale took a very adult twist.

Still being very young and inexperienced, Johanna had difficulty managing her money. Buying clothes without making sure she had covered her rent. The first time, Herr Schultz smiled, patted her knee and told her not to worry. The next time he playfully spanked her, but she wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Knowing that she would not be able to pay on time, Herr Schultz took Johanna to her room and screamed at her. He told her how much money she was costing him, how many bills he had, how she was destroying his business, endless abuse that paralysed her with fear. He then calmly, in a professional way, offered her a choice of services that she could perform to pay her debts.

Frustrated at her lack of response, he grabbed her hand, used it to open his fly and showed her what to do. Grotesque sounds and expressions as his pleasure increased. The smell. She was sick when it was over. Repeatedly washing, scrubbing her hand. That was just the start. Johanna was still on the lowest wages. Herr Schultz began improving the house, all of which added expense to the rent. When he threatened her with sending her home and telling her parents that she had been bringing too many boys back, she went along with his next demand. She stripped, got into bed, and after preparing him for the condom, allowed him to do what he wanted. Emotionally, she felt nothing, barely blinked, didn’t move. She refused to cry out in pain, to shed tears, to show any life. As soon as he was satisfied, she left the bed, locking herself in the bathroom until he was gone. This was the way it was going to be. And it was. Until she met Marcus.

Marcus was a driver at work. She only saw him two or three times a week, but he was so different to anyone else she had known. He was confident, strong, a real Alpha-male, always centre of attention. He noticed her and told her, rather than asked her, that he would take her out. She felt that someone so powerful could protect her. Johanna was determined to keep him interested, allowed him to sleep with her that first night. Her nightmare with Herr Schultz had at least taught her what men want. Marcus got the benefit of her unsentimental education. He was used to taking what he wanted, and wasn’t prepared for her, a wild sex-fiend in a demure body. Johanna began bringing him home when she knew the landlord would be there, and it worked. He collected the rent and left her in peace.

For a time, she was something close to happy, though she never was able to predict what mood Marcus would be in. He’d either be very rough with her, foregoing any sort of foreplay, and leaving her bruised and sore, or would be completely docile and indifferent to her body. Nothing surprised her about men. Her own moods altered from gregariousness to complete detachment, from contentment, to deepest depression. Why should men be any different ? Hindsight. In hindsight it was obvious. Erratic behaviour, nervousness, sweating. Johanna’s mental state was controlled by unpredictable internal forces. Marcus’ was dependent on external. She hadn’t even realised that her boyfriend was on drugs. Another reason to detest herself soon followed.

One Saturday morning, she was woken by Marcus who barged into her room, demanding money. She had just woken up and pointed to her bag, naively thinking that it was to pay a taxi. Marcus threw the bag down in disgust when he saw how little she had. He began rambling, muttering incoherent words to himself, walking up and down the room. He looked over at her, in bed, stopped his disturbing movements. He told her to wait. Two men came into the room. One took a look at her and seemed pleased, the other looked around, opening drawers, picking up her possessions. She looked at Marcus, who moved over to her and told her it was all right, before he grabbed her arms and pinned her down.

The first man pulled down his trousers, threw back the bedclothes and had her panties off before she could even think. He was finished very quickly. All the time, Marcus, with one hand over her mouth, the other holding her down, was telling her that everything was going to be OK. The second man’s turn. He made sure she saw him, made her see the hatred in his eyes. He preferred to bite and slap her, made sure he caused her as much pain as possible, her muffled cries only encouraging him. He stopped and demanded that she finish him off with her mouth, to the approving applause of his friend. Marcus assisted, grabbing her long hair and forcing her onto him. The man screamed out, grabbed her chin and made her look at him. He demanded, ‘Swallow, bitch !’ As an encore he slapped her face and spat on her.

She fell back on the bed. Lifeless, not physically there as if she were above the room, looking down on the shell of a body that she knew was her own, yet alien to her. She could hear distorted voices, the men talking. Something was exchanged. Marcus laughed. Why weren’t they leaving ? Marcus was offering them a drink ? After some time, minutes or hours, probably only seconds, they left. The second man gave Marcus a friendly slap on the face, telling him he was a lucky man, before acting out his recent conquest. They all laughed. All except Johanna. Marcus immediately began preparing himself, jumping on the bed next to the immobile Johanna. He relaxed, lay back, and was in his own world.

At some point, Johanna began moving. She knew she had to wash herself and painfully made her way to he bathroom. Only then did the first realisation crack the shock and soft tears flowed faster, as she tore at her hair, vomited in the sink and began throwing herself against the walls, a terror-stricken animal in a tiny cage. She saw the razor blade.

Johanna woke up in hospital, wrists restrained, tubes in her arm, the contemptuous eyes of a male nurse watching over her. His eyebrows reminded her of Herr Schultz and she tried crying out, but no sound came. She never knew how she got there. The police wanted to know about her boyfriend. One of them said that she should have just died. A total waste of their time looking after silly girls who make a big performance if their boyfriend forget to bring them flowers. Stupid bitches.

Johanna was kept on suicide watch. Couldn’t be left alone, couldn’t lock the bathroom, couldn’t take a bath without being observed. She would have to give a reason before she could leave. What could the doctors do, anyway ? Nothing could be undone. Ever. The only help she got was from Günther, a fellow patient and another failed suicide. It was obvious to her that he was gay, so was the only man she felt safe with. Her own father had led her to Herr Schultz and, in turn, to Marcus.

Günther explained how the system worked. The sessions with the psychiatrists, the group talks. The correct responses. Nobody really cared, anyway. The first time Johanna had heard someone else express her sentiments. She bonded with him. The only professional interest seemed to come from a young medical student who saw patterns in her behaviour that seemed to indicate a certain condition. He asked to be allowed to study her, but case studies on opposite-sex subjects were discouraged. No qualified doctor had time to listen to over-enthusiastic amateur speculations regurgitated from recently-read textbooks.

Johanna followed the advice. Back to the suburbs, with Günther’s phone number. Only the thought of seeing him again kept her from repeating the attempt, that and her mother’s pathetic act of finding reasons to come into her room to check up on her. Night and day. Externally, Johanna tried to alter as much as she could. Her hair, always long, was now cut into a boyish bob. She was obsessed with washing, showering several a day, in a room that now had no lock. No control over when the memories would come back. She became a different person, unrecognisable. She would scream abuse. She fell in hysterical crying fits. Once she grabbed the largest kitchen knife and spat demonically, stabbing an imaginary Marcus, over and over.

Johanna had to see two or three psychiatrists, neither of which inspired Johanna to open up. Her history of abuse was too painful and sickening for anyone else to hear. She would deal with it her own way. Her look already altered. She cut off all contact with everyone who knew her. Her parents encouraged her to go back to school, get some professional qualifications. There were several business courses that could be of practical use. And she choose denial. She tried to block out everything that had happened to her, to project it onto an imaginary friend. She wanted to believe it worked. Denial hadn’t a chance.

By the autumn of 1995 she had started on her course and was doing well. Living at home and travelling into Berlin. She became an avid reader, losing herself in long books. By studying. By spending so much time studying, she hoped to block out the past. But it always attacked her, especially when she was alone. She was generally alone. To protect herself from herself, she started accepting offers to go out. Invitations were constant. She gave nothing of herself, no encouragement. She always made sure that she never dated anyone more than twice. Avoid the implied sex after the third date. She only really felt comfortable with Günther, who was now living in Friedrichshain, not exactly the epicentre of gay Berlin. He was quite taken by a certain squat bar he had discovered, and his vivid description made Johanna curious to see it.

She felt quite relaxed there, and was amazed at the lack of sexual tension. She could just relax and drink with her friend, no one came up and tried to join them, or start trying to pick her up. One night she looked over and saw a tall young man who seemed both at home and totally out of place. She could sense something about him. When he looked over she smiled at him. It was no surprise that he looked away, not in arrogance, but out of nervousness. Johanna decided that she would like to meet him. Something about him told her that he was different.

Love and Chaos Part 7(F) Ragno 1

3rd June 2021

Berlin Was Built on Nightlife, Now Under Threat From Gentrification
Berlin club scene. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. Early – Mid 1990s

Ragno Bicceri put down the telephone receiver. He had just said the final goodbye to the girl he loved, a girl he loved so much that it scared him. A girl that he couldn’t live without except now, she was gone; there was no longer any reason to live.

He lifted the phone and left it off the hook.

He tried to control his nerves, but he could actually hear his heart pounding after feeling numb. For a few agonising seconds, he had stopped breathing, his heart had stopped beating.

Not knowing what to do, he left his flat, hoping the walk would give him some kind of clarity, some purpose, some idea.

Everything was altered.

He couldn’t process the various sounds or sights. They were elsewhere, somehow not of this time and place. Or he was. He could see himself, as if he were a totally separate entity, walking aimlessly, pointlessly, no point in existing.

He had hoped that he would be able to get his heart rate down, get air into his lungs, but he felt exactly the same. He was in such pain and had no idea how to cure it.

Then came the idea. He went back home. There was a half bottle of brandy. He also got his aspirin out and saw that there were enough.

He was unable to sit down, but had to get up and walk around his room, corner to corner, with all the futility of a trapped animal, desperately trying to escape from it’s snare.

Finally, the draw of the alcohol and aspirin made him sit. He undid the bottle and began counting out the pills.

One of the office girls had jokingly asked him what was the last film he had seen, then offered a suggestion, a film from the early 80s. Ragno laughed it off, but knew there was an element of truth in it; he hadn’t been to the cinema for years. Apart from bars, he hadn’t really been anywhere in years.

There was a big new film that everyone was talking about, and he said he would go and see it. The young office girl teased that she would ask him about it, so he’d better keep his word. The possibility that she may have been hinting for a date never occurred to him.

He went to the mid-week screening, deciding that it would be quieter, no teenagers or couples kissing.

He sat through the film, optimistically at first, but soon began to lose interest. It was a Hollywood movie; the star was popular with young women, evidently more to do with his looks than his talent.

Not wanting to leave at the same time as everyone else, Ragno waited for the credits then left. As he did so, he noticed a purse on the floor. He looked up and saw the young woman who had sat further along his row leave the cinema. He caught up with her in the foyer and handed it to her.

She was so surprised and pleased, that she insisted on buying him a drink.

The girl was in her early twenties, twenty-five at most and Ragno, twenty years older, smiled and said that it wasn’t necessary.

But the girl looked so hurt, that when she asked again, he conceded.

Luisa, the girl, was twenty two. She was charming and very attractive, and Ragno was very happy when he asked her if she would like another drink, and she accepted.

She shared his opinion about the film, and they laughed at how bad it was. They spoke about music and she wrote down a list of her favourite bands, and unsurprisingly, none of the names meant anything to him.

Before long, they began speaking a little about themselves. Luisa explained that she was single, allowing Ragno to make a compliment, unable to believe that a girl so sweet could be alone.

Luisa promised she would explain . . . maybe . . . after another drink. Ragno smiled. He hadn’t been in the company of any woman for a long time. In the company of an attractive young girl . . . he couldn’t remember when. He couldn’t really remember if.

For the last three months, Luisa had been alone. Alone and scared.

“The thing I am afraid of most is loneliness.”

That short sentence conveyed so much to Ragno. He understood what she was saying. He sensed her shame at having done things that she had regretted, even as she had been doing them. He could feel her self-loathing and disgust. And he felt himself being drawn to her. He knew where these feelings were heading and had to stop them. Now.

But, when he said goodbye and she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek, he was defenceless. She told him that she enjoyed speaking to him that he made he feel secure, safe that she could tell him anything.

He nodded and made her a promise; he would never tell anything she had told him. Whatever happened, he would share it with no one.

She asked for his phone number and he wrote it down, not expecting to ever hear from her again.

But she called the following night. Half an hour after her call, Ragno was in a bar, waiting for her.

They began meeting two, three times a week. She sometimes worked in Köln (Cologne), so she suggested they make the most of her time in Berlin. Other nights, there were phone calls, increasingly frequent, increasingly lengthy.

Ragno had been totally honest from the beginning. About his age, his job, (a dead-end office job in a factory), and that he was married. He just hadn’t seen or heard from his wife for three years.

Luisa found him easy to speak to and trustworthy. She even liked that he was older. She had had enough of men of her own age. Now she wanted maturity and experience, someone who would just talk and listen, and not suddenly make a leap or try to get her into bed, with or without her consent.

She loved his voice, his accent. Even speaking in German couldn’t disguise those soft Italian tones. He loved her laugh. He made it his mission to make her laugh as often as possible. He made it his job to be there for her and help her, how ever he could.

Just by being there, just by listening, Luisa felt him helping. No one had ever just listened to her before.

No one had ever spoken to him before, not like this.

But Ragno was worried.

He had told himself that at his age, he would be a father figure, an avuncular friend to give advice and to comfort when this precious butterfly got hurt.

He tried to exclude romantic ideas about her. That would be too ludicrous. He wouldn’t even think about it. He would be a friend until . . . until she met someone, someone her own age, someone who would make her happy, someone who would get all the love this beautiful girl was so desperate to give. Ragno was already jealous of this someone.

But he was mature and experienced enough to know one thing. There is nothing so attractive and sensual as honesty. Nothing more erotic that to open yourself to another person, to let them in, to see you emotionally naked, to tell them your story, your ideas, your dreams, your desires.

It was Luisa who said it first.

One late night phone conversation when neither one was truly expressing themselves, so anxious to say but not to say what they were feeling.

“I’m falling in love with you.”

The effect these words had on Ragno were indescribable. He hadn’t felt anything like it for many years. He hadn’t felt this intensity ever.

He tore down his walls. He stopped hiding and stood without his defences. He told her that he had already fallen in love with her.

That night they both slept calmly.

They said that they wanted to be with each other, to sleep in each other’s arms. They couldn’t be together, Luisa was in Köln, working, but would come back to Berlin the following weekend.

Until then, there were constant phone calls.

Ragno was confident enough to tell her how much he wanted her, wanted to undress her and kiss her. Luisa encouraged him to keep talking. He did.

But they both had a past they were ashamed of. Luisa had hinted several times that she had done things that would drive him away. He said that he couldn’t change her past, but could forgive it. It was the present that now mattered. And their future.

It was never spoken, but they knew they had to share before they became lovers.

One night, in Ragno’s flat, he began.

His main fear was rejection. Emotional, sexual. He had been with only a handful of women in his life. He had gone years without being with a woman. He had tried, but he just didn’t seem to appeal to women. He was the kind that women want as a friend. He was sweet and kind. Not someone who was worthy of being taken into a bed and loved, and fucked.

So he had accepted it. He had married the first woman who had agreed to date him. By this time, he was already in his late thirties.

Then came a familiar pattern. She began going out, alone. She began coming home later and later. Soon she began coming home at eight or nine in the morning, telling stories about falling asleep in bars, or going to new underground bars that stayed open all night. It was Berlin. It was possible. So he chose to believe.

One night she just didn’t come back. Some days later, she entered the flat while he was working, took as much as she could carry and left a brief note.

Nothing since, though he constantly expected a divorce request by post.

Luisa sat on his lap and kissed him. He wasn’t finished, though.

“There’s something else, my Beauty. I was an addict. I know it now. I never considered it then, but it was true. I thought an addict was someone who woke up shaking and had to inject himself in order to function. I was never like that, so I convinced myself I was OK. But I began taking drugs. Anything I could get. Uppers. Speed. Anything to feel good. I’d spend my wages on drugs, go to bars where I knew I could get some. Then try to get girls by sharing my drugs. Even then, nothing. They’d share my drugs, then leave. And, of course, I did some things. As far as I can remember. Mostly I was in clubs, where everyone was stoned or drunk, but I got into fights, began screaming at people, pushing people. Probably tried to pick up women. Became one of those awful men that harass women. And, or course, on drugs, I could drink all night and, well, I did. Began missing work, missed out on some promotions. Began getting high at work. Thinking that nobody would notice. Of course, they all did. I had to stop. The way I chose to was, how can I say ? Something like Zen, or Buddhism. To free myself of desire. I wanted to feel a woman’s love so much, but it wasn’t possible, not for me. If I could just accept this, I would no longer want it, and therefore no longer have to take anything to kill the pain. So, that is what I did. I told myself that I would never be attractive to or attracted by a woman. I would never again go through all the agony of not being wanted, not being desired, not even being seen. I would never suffer when I saw women I like go with other men. It maybe wasn’t ideal, but, it worked . . . until . . .”

“Until . . . ?”

“I met you. And I tried to fight it, and to push you away and to tell myself that nothing would ever happen, but . . .”

They kissed, deeply, warmly. Luisa stroked his hair and gave him the softest kisses on his head. Then she nestled her head against his neck. She had her own story to tell, but couldn’t bear to look at Ragno as she spoke, in case the love in his eyes turned to disgust, or hatred.

“Me too … with drugs. I could never be alone. I did what I had to do to get company. It was easy. I didn’t always go home with them. But most of the time. I thought they would like me. But that didn’t happen. I was used for one night. Then felt even more alone. And I hated myself. Told myself I wouldn’t ever do it again. But I was back. Then someone gave me some coke. First time I felt nothing. But after a time . . . I would do anything to get it. Or do anyone. I won’t tell you, but . . . I can’t even say it. I would do whatever they asked me. Anywhere. To anyone.”

Ragno had been gently stroking her hair, but Luisa felt him stop. She could also feel his heart. It had been beating increasingly fast. The stroking continued, as he kissed her head.

“This was all long ago. But every time I go to a bar, I have a panic attack that someone will recognize me. That’s why I like to go to local bars, with you. If I go to a club, it is a certainty that some people will know me. That’s why I looked for work in Köln. I wanted to move there. Start over. Not know anyone. Never come back to Berlin. Then I had a boyfriend and I stopped. And at first he was so sweet to me and he really helped. I didn’t want to go out, or to drink or take drugs. I didn’t feel lonely anymore. Then something happened. We were out one night and having a nice time, just laughing and he was kissing me and holding me. He went to the toilet, but when he came back, he had changed. Totally. He was all cold. Wouldn’t touch me, wouldn’t even look at me. When I tried to hold him, he pushed me away, but, he was hard. He hurt me. I began crying. He said, ‘shut up you fucking slut!’ I would have preferred he shoot me or stab me. We walked out. He never said what happened, but someone must have recognized me and told him. After that, he wouldn’t sleep with me or touch me. He looked at me with hate. I asked him, I begged him to kill me, it would be kinder. I asked him to tell me, but he wouldn’t. I told him everything, but he wouldn’t listen and he threw things at me. Then he came over and began punching me and he wouldn’t stop. But I didn’t scream. I deserved it, and wanted more, I wanted him to punch and kick and strangle me, I wanted this life to be over.


“I was on the floor and he stood back and kicked me in . . . he kicked me. I thought I would die. And I felt happy. But in pain, such pain. First it was numb, but soon, each second, it hurt more and more. Then I screamed and began crying and couldn’t stop. I was hysterical. That stopped him. I don’t blame him because I know how hurt he was. I still don’t blame him. I only blame myself. But even worse, he knelt down and began calling me all names. Then he spat in my face and packed my bags. I was still on the floor in agony. He picked me up and threw me out, down the stairs. I still felt I deserved it and that I was glad it was out. I went to my parents. I must have put them through hell. I took it all out on them. Wouldn’t answer any of their questions. Made them think the worst, enjoyed torturing them. It made me stronger, that I could hurt someone. So I just wanted to hurt everyone. Of course, the only people I had around me were family and old friends. And I made them all suffer. Yes, suffer and I loved the power.”

Luisa was unable to continue. She was crying so much, but Ragno knew the best he could do was to just hold her. He did. After nearly half an hour of constant crying, Luisa fell asleep, on his lap. Ragno may have slept once or twice, but soon awoke, and carried on with his job, his job to comfort and love her, to kiss her all night, to stroke her hair, to rest her head under his, his lips never to stop kissing, so she would feel his love, feel safe, feel worthy, feel.

Ragno wanted this night to last forever. But day was breaking. Luisa would at some point wake up, get off his lap and leave. It was possible that they would never share such a moment again, and Ragno panicked. She may feel so dirty and ashamed that she would be unable to face him. He thought back to some of her words. She was fond of saying that people must learn to enjoy the present. Not to make impossible plans, but to appreciate that everything dies, so make the most of happiness.

Luisa stirred. She woke up, looked at Ragno, but instead of jumping up and away, she snuggled into him and he held her tighter. She responded and kissed his neck. Then she asked to use his shower. When she returned, wearing a towel, she kissed him, then looked into his eyes. He looked into hers and she smiled and nodded. He took off her towel.

As they made love, Ragno felt it was such an emotional, spiritual moment. He loved her so softly, like she was the most precious, delicate, angelic girl. He kissed her all over and made her cum twice before he entered her, and when he did, holding her hands, he was so gentle, that she couldn’t hold back the tears.

As for Ragno, he felt what it was to be in love. He felt what it was like to be loved back, to be needed and wanted and cherished.

For Luisa, she learnt what it felt like to be respected and loved. And loved. And loved. She felt safe.

They had moments of fear, when small misunderstandings seemed about to destroy everything. Luisa spoke German and English, Ragno Italian, basic English and good, very good German, but he wasn’t fluent. He often missed nuances and inflexions, took jokes seriously, didn’t understand references or know that a number of words had several different meanings in different contexts.

He had complimented Luisa on the amount of love she had to offer. It was abundantly clear that she was the kind of girl that stays friends forever. The kind who loves helping people, that need to be needed. Ragno mentioned this one day on the phone, when she called from Köln.

Luisa had managed to find some work, albeit piecemeal, in Köln but not enough to sustain moving to the city. She knew this was going to be a difficult conversation, but it would be honest. As they were honest with each other, Ragno would understand.

Her old boyfriend had called. Despite all their history, she had loved him, and said that love never dies. How could it ? And she knew that as a way of making up for her past, she must offer herself to whoever needs her. If anyone were lonely, or lost or confused, she would go to that person and love them.

Ragno was silent.

Luisa continued. The boyfriend was having trouble and needed her.

Ragno felt his throat tightening, wasn’t sure if he could even speak.

“So, you’re going to . . . go to him ?”

“No, he’s here. In Köln.”

“But . . . what about us ?”

“I still love you. But you’re not here and I have to love people, so . . .”

“Luisa, please, listen, what are you saying ?”

“I’ll still be here for you, Sweetness, but now he needs me.”

“I’m supposed to be OK with this ?”

“Oh, you’re being silly. There is love enough for both of you. I go to Berlin and love you, now he needs me.”

“Are you really … ? You’re going to sleep with him ?”

“You know me, know I have to give my love, I have enough to give.”

“Please, Luisa, answer me ! Are you going to sleep with him ?”


But, again, Luisa spoke on a different subject and showed no sign of answering the question. He stressed how important it was, but she began on a totally new subject. Ragno interrupted,

“Then . . . it’s over. I can’t see you anymore.”

“What ? Why ?”

“You really have to ask ? How can you do this to me ? Are you just out for revenge ? Are you trying to get back at men ? Well, if so, you can stop, now. You’ve won.”

“Wait, look, I didn’t say anything . . .”

“No. Exactly, I asked and asked . . .”

“But I didn’t say . . . “

“I gave you two, three chances, to tell me, but I got the answer. You didn’t give me a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but you answered. I can’t do this. I can’t. Goodbye. I wish I didn’t love you. I really do.”

Ragno put the phone down, having said the final goodbye to the girl he loved.

She would call back, so he lifted the receiver off the hook.

He looked at the brandy and poured out a large glass. He looked at it, but didn’t yet drink.

She was in Köln. Working. Wouldn’t be back until the weekend.

How would that be ? She’d come here, and no answer at the door, or phone. Have to ask the neighbours. No, no one’s seen or heard him.

Soon have to call the Politzei to smash the door down. And she would see him. In front of the phone. Empty bottle of alcohol, empty container of pills. And she would suffer for the rest of her life.

Ragno took the glass and lifted it to his mouth, but the smell made him stop.

Did he really want to do this ?

He kept the glass raised while he thought.

What had she meant ? How, how, how could she mean this ? He had told her how vulnerable and damaged he was. It wasn’t possible. But she hadn’t denied it. Hadn’t confirmed it. Why had she toyed with him, though ? What sadistic pleasure did she get from that ? But she was so sweet and loving, how could she really mean it ? And so sensitive. Or was it all an act ? But why act ? No one would go to all this trouble just to hurt him.

He sat and asked himself question after question.

He put the glass down.

He put the phone back on the receiver.

Less than two minutes later, the phone rang. He didn’t answer.