Richard was in the bathroom, trying to get his hair to do something presentable, when he heard someone shouting, in English, from the Hof,
“RECALLED TO LIFE ! RECALLED TO LIFE !”
Having just finished ‘The Tale Of Two Cities’, he instantly recognised the quote, and the speaker could only be Chris.
Sure enough, within seconds, there was the sound of key in lock, the door opening and Chris bounding in, repeating his phrase, with a wide smile.
“Hey, I’m coming, too ! Couldn’t miss Al’s gig.”
They embraced and whooped it up.
“What about work ?” asked Richard, having gone with Monika as she had driven Chris to work in Yorckstrasse, some hours previously.
“I raged against the washing-up machine. I threw down my tea towel, pointed at the head chef and said, ‘fuck you ! I won’t do what you tell me !’”
“Well . . . OK, not exactly. I jumped out the window and legged it.”
“You’re gonna hafta fill me in here, Dude, c’mon, full story.”
“So I’m at work, and it’s Saturday and you’re going out tonight with my girlfriend, not sure how I feel about that, but by the by, everyone’s going to have fun . . . “
“No, we’re going to see Al. Have you heard Al ?”
“A minor point, I’m working and I get sent to get something, I don’t even know what it is, some long piece of meat, about two metres long, who the fuck knows where it comes from, real ‘Naked Lunch’ food. Anyway, I forget what it is I’m going for and I have to ask somebody . . . “
“I hate having to ask somebody.”
“. . . and I completely forget the fucking chef’s name. I know it’s something like Randy, Roderick, Reginald, but they’re not sounding too German, so I’m in the fridge, suddenly it comes to me. I run out, stand in the middle of the kitchen and shout out, ‘RUDOLPH!’ like, you know, as in reindeer. Everyone looks at me, then goes back to work.”
“Guessing his name wasn’t Rudolph, then.”
“Guessing you could be right. Randolf.”
“Ah, much more German.”
“I just thought, fuck this ! I’m standing in the middle of a greasy, pasta-stinking kitchen calling out for a red-nosed, possibly fictional, animal. And not even drunk. The sink is right by the window, looks out onto the street.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Future reference. You ever start a kitchen, don’t ever give the Spüler clean sight of escape.”
“Well, you just did your duty.”
“Absolutely. I mean, fucking hell, washing-up for a living, screw me.”
“Yes. Pretty rough, isn’t it. Monika should be here soon.”
Soon enough, the knock on the door. Richard opened it and he hugged Monika. She asked him,
“Ah, question, shall we go straight there, or would you like we go to another bar first ? Get a bit drunk ?”
At that point, Monika stopped. She had just seen Chris come out from the living room. He stood by the door, smiling,
“Liebling ! (Darling)”
“And . . . what is ?”
“I left the job. I’ll get another.”
“And, when ? You have something ?”
Monika walked into the room and into the kitchen, Chris expected to follow.
“Er, it’s OK, I’m just gonna put some blue shit on my face,” said Richard, trying to be tactful, and referring to a face pack he’d picked up at Zoo Station. Chris had no idea what he was talking about, but did know that he was in for a rather unpleasant meeting.
The bathroom wall backed onto the kitchen, so the voices were quite clear, especially the female one, which sounded somewhat angry. Richard turned on the taps and began humming to himself.
After a series of very animated, though muffled screams, Richard heard heavy footsteps, followed by the front door slamming shut.
He came out of the bathroom, with the face pack on. Chris just gave him a look, an intake of breath and shake of the head. Then he looked at Richard more intensely,
“You’ve got blue shit all over your face.”
“You going like that ?”
“Naw, thought I’d wash it off, first.”
“Cool. Ummm . . . don’t think Monika will be joining us, tonight.”
Gabi was on the merry-go-round. She fell onto the red, leather sofa, holding her head and knowing that all would be well, if only she could get the room to stop spinning.
Monika sat next to Gabi and instinctively began stroking her hair, while Lorelei went to the bar to get water, and another round of Voudinis for those still standing.
Silke waited impatiently. When Lorelei returned, she grabbed the vodka and bitter lemon drink and handed one to Monika,
“Come, Prost!” She emptied her glass in one go.
The four girls were getting a lot of attention from a group of men in the Nollendorfplatz bar, but before they could make their move, Silke fixed them with an angry start and a stern,
“Ja ? Was ?” (Yes ? what ?) which, quite understandably, deterred them.
Silke continued her post mortem of her relationship with Andreas. He didn’t know yet, but she was about to end it. She had made a lot of allowances and had carried him, financially, for just too long.
“Can you believe it ? I told him not to worry about Weihnachten (Christmas), we’ll have a little celebration when I get back. And what ? He fucks off to Turkey. With what money ? He’d been saving up. All the time I was paying for him, drinks and food and cinema. Scheiße ! Arschloch !”(shit, asshole).
Gabi was talked out about Sebastian, punctuating her tale of misery with shots of Voudini, and, as there had been a lot of misery, there had been a lot of shots.
Lorelei had joined in lamenting about not having a man, there seemingly being none around, while Monika had felt disturbingly empathetic as she listened to Silke’s catalogue of complaints.
Monika was known to have continual on-off affairs, so it was no surprise to her friends that she had broken up, than got back together, with Chris.
Tonight, inspired by vodka and the general mood, she let rip about Chris. There was no progress there. There had been such magic at the beginning, but, half a year later, there were in the same place. It felt like a holiday romance, that Chris could leave at any time and feel no remorse. It was this obsession that was keeping her from really committing, as well as her conviction that he was interested in other women and it would only be a matter of time before he cheated on her.
At another time, Gabi would have explained that maybe he sensed her not being fully open, and would encourage her to give more of herself, but now she was just making soft noises of distress.
Silke appreciated the solidarity, women who deserve better than the no-hopers they has wasted time on.
Lorelei mainly remained quiet. She was also glad that this bar had red lighting, because when she heard that Andreas may soon be available, she felt herself blush.
Back in Prenzlauer Berg, Richard had just come home and found Chris standing by the CD player. A tape of flat, plodding keyboard music, with some unmelodious attempt at singing, was playing.
They looked at each other.
Richard raised his eyebrows.
Chris let out a desperate sigh.
They both shrugged their shoulders.
“I just thought it’ld be more like Beefheart, or Ry Cooder, or some wild desert music. Not that I’ve heard Beefheart or Ry Cooder, or wild desert music, but . . .”
“I know,” agreed Chris. “So. What do we do ?”
“We could say the tape got mangled.”
“Yeah. I’d quite happily mangle it. No, need something better. We have to see the fucker. Live. In concert. This . . . cack !”
“Oh, shit, I’d forgotten. Man, this is awful.”
“Tell me about it, I’ve been listening to it for half an hour. Waiting for ‘the good song’. It never came.”
“No,” Richard clarified, “I mean the situation. How do you tell someone that you hate their stuff. It’s his whole life, whole identity.”
“How can a guy look so fucking cool, and make . . . this ?”
“Did Monika hear it ?”
“Not for long. She turned it straight off. ‘That music is depressing and unnecessary.’ Absolutely right.”
“So . . . what do we do ?”
“Drink, obviously,” suggested Chris. There were four beers in the fridge but even they couldn’t help. They talked over the music, and before long, had quite forgotten it was even there.
“A brothel,” said Richard, out of the blue.
“OK. What ?”
“Remember that shop next to Rigaer 16 ? All that junk in the window, none of it making sense ?”
“I’ve been here nearly two years, but less and less about this city makes sense.”
“There’s a joke, a New York joke. You know what a Mohel is ? He’s the guy that performs the circumcision. OK, there’s this man, walking along Fifth Avenue, and he’s looking for a jewellers, to get his watch repaired. Suddenly he sees a shop window with a large, elegant clock, so he goes in, up to the counter and takes off his watch. ‘Can you fix this ?’ he asks. The shop owner says, ‘No, I’m a mohel, not a watchmaker.’ The first man then asks, ‘If you’re a mohel, why do you have a clock in the window ?’ to which the mohel replies, ‘Nu, what should I have in the window ?’ So, it must be a brothel, because . . . ”
“Yeah, what should they have in a window, yeah. Maybe it’s a mohel’s ?”
“In Berlin ? I somehow doubt it.”
Chris stifled a laugh and mulled over some thoughts.
“So, or nu, this circumcision lark . . . you, er . . . “
“Hhhmm. Still hurt ?”
“A little, but I can always tell when it’s going to rain.”
Several hours later, Alan Francis was on the London Tube, heading for a job interview.
Just before Christmas, he had had his first preliminary assessment.
He felt that he had done a good job and was expecting a pay rise, or promotion, or at least an offer for him to go on an executive trainee course, which he would have to refuse, as he would soon be making films.
Instead, he got a character assassination. Everything from his attitude to his appearance was brought up and found wanting.
He took it all with barely a word in his defence, secretly planning a new job. As soon as possible.
Richard knocked the worst of the snow from his boots and entered the bar immediately seeing, and hearing, Chris and Arizona Al at a far table.
He ordered a coffee as he walked over to them, and began the process of taking off the layers of clothing.
It was only mid afternoon, but all lights were on. The day, seen through the large glass panes, was gray and bitter, people walked along quickly, heads down and wrapped up against the cold.
“Look what I got,” he said, opening his bag and taking out three second hand paperbacks. He put them on the table, Chris taking them straight up,
“Let’s see . . . ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, hhmmm, ‘The Trial’, Kafka, and, ah, Dickens, ‘Tale of Two Cities’. Which one you gonna read first ?”
“Think I’ll have a bash at Kafka. Everyone’s always talking about it. You read it ?”
“Long time ago. Al ?”
“Err, what’s that ? Kafka ? No, who’s he ?”
Richard explained about the Czech writer, as best he could, only knowing what he had read in the introduction on the U-Bahn ride.
“Oh, yeah, cool, could give that a go, yeah, something different. Been meaning to ask you guys about books. Like to maybe borrow some, if that’s no biggie ?”
“Here,” said Richard, offering the Memoirs. “Thought it was something German, name like Siegfried Sassoon, but turns out he’s as English as can be.”
“Yeah, the fox hunting bit may have been a clue, what ?” said Chris with a wink at Al, before asking him, “You read Generation X ?”
“Err, no, no, don’t think so.”
Richard had brought it from London, and they had read and reread it many times between them. Chris was all for going home and getting it immediately, but Al told him that later would be OK.
“It legitimizes our whole existence,” continued Richard, “for example, I’m no longer a hopeless loser, I’m a McJober. We,” indicating Chris and himself, “are occupational slummers. You, Al, are retro, neo, rock star, throwback . . . something.”
“Actually,” corrected Chris, “I’m taking an occupational sabbatical.”
“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going ?” asked Arizona, trying to get the conversation back to something he could understand.
Richard laughed to himself, having heard all of Chris’ descriptions of sordid, Dickensian working conditions.
“I’ve got an interview, meeting thing tomorrow at some pasta restaurant in Yorckstrasse, so at least I’ll get some decent grub. But, fucking hell, some of the places . . . I went to one, out past Dahlem and there was no sink in the kitchen. They were showing me how to take the plates and shit out to a big barrel in the yard, and wash them with a hose. Then I went to a brewery bar on the Ku’ Damm. Took one fucking look and thought fuck that. Enormous kitchen and about ten chefs, all screaming at each other and at the Spülers, who just stood there, heads down, as frying pans were flying around, fat was flying, food was flying, bottles . . . lucky not to be decapitated. Lucky not to be employed there.”
Richard enjoyed the embellishments Chris had made since he first heard that anecdote, when it had featured a mere four chefs. He then spoke up, as much to clear his name as anything.
“Of course, I offered to let him go back to Biberkopf . . . “
“Yes, but then what ? I have a much better chance of finding something than you. Besides . . . Monika’s not happy with me being just a . . . “
Arizona waited for the completion of the sentence, but was forced to ask,
“You and Monika not so tight ? I thought you were solid.”
Chris let out a whistle,
“No, sir, not by a long chalk. Trouble at mill.”
He knew that Arizona would have no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified.
“I don’t know, Al. You should know, you’re been around women. What should I do ? First, every thing’s fine, great, she’s the love of my life, next thing, she’s a bloody Tasmanian Devil, a force of destruction. Hurricane Monika. Not a house left standing.”
“Hey, man, can I ask you something ?” then without waiting for permission, Arizona continued, “what was the deal with that Melanie chick ?”
Richard sat up, hoping that at last, he may know the full story.
Chris did in fact look at him as he began, but now didn’t care and was happy to get it all out in the open.
“I don’t know. As you can see, when it comes to women, I’m at a bit of a loss.”
“She was into you like a train, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. Hate in them there eyes. Queen of death.”
“Yeah ! That’s her. ‘Queen of Death’”
“All that black doesn’t help,” added Richard.
“She some kind of Antichrist or something ?” asked Arizona.
“Atheist,” said Richard, presuming Al has used the wrong word. “We had a discussion about her beliefs one morning. She told me there was no God. But atheists are like joggers; you never see a happy one.”
“And you couldn’t argue with her. She’s always right.” said Chris.
“Especially when she’s wrong,” concluded Richard. Arizona was more interesting in the background than the word games.
“But did you ever like, date or fool around ?”
“Yeah, you ever take her out to second base ?” asked Richard.
“Get to second base, asshole. If you’re gonna go Yankee on my arse, at least get it right !”
Arizona tried to get the answer. Chris refocused.
“No, no, well, yeah, OK, kinda kissed and shit, but I wasn’t really into it. Breaks down like this; I was working in a café, bussing tables ‘n’ shit. OK, I was pouring coffee and working the till, whatever, and Melanie also worked there.”
“And Will was a regular customer ?” interrupted Richard.
“I’ll get to that bloody old nuisance in a moment.” Chris shook his head and took a strong hit of caffeine. “So, we’re both students, Mel and me, but never meet on campus, because I’m doing heavy macho stuff and she’s into waste of time, book reading or flower arranging, I dunno, chick subjects. But, you know, there ain’t much a-happ’ning on the home front, and we get on, and one night we go to the movies. Then, afterwards, as we’re saying ‘goodbye’ she comes up to me and gives me a massive hug, really hung in there, got her moneys worth. That should have been a sign.”
“Oh, I get it. A clingy-thingy.” Said Arizona.
“I hear you, Man.”
“But you were never together ?” clarified Richard.
“No, course not. So we kissed a bit, well, you know, vodka will do that to ya. But then I pulled down the portcullis. Told her I wasn’t into anything physical. Childhood trauma and all. I expected her to run like the clappers, but, oh no, she has to add her own Freudian fuckups. Unable to . . . you know.”
Arizona nodded, slowly, sagely. He knew.
“But she was coming on like you were soul mates an’ all,” Richard explained, “such talk, like you have the best hands in history. Let me see. Hold up those Germans.”
Chris wasn’t exactly sure of that Cockney slang, but held out his hands for inspection.
Richard made a dismissive snort,
“They’re nothing to write home about. Now, Will; what’s his problem.”
“Where do I start ? He’s just some old fart who’d come in, buy one coffee and stay all day. Couldn’t shift the fucker. The sort that works out how much he’s saving on electricity. Sniffing around young students.”
“Male or female ?”
“I don’t think he was even bothered. In fact . . . Yes, sonofabitch, he came on to me. Few times. Cheeky bugger. Thought he was just being . . . ”
“HEY !” exclaimed Arizona, who had been looking at some flyers on the table, “whatdoyaknow ? ‘The Wiggling Kellys’.”
There were a few seconds of silence, as Chris’s story had been prematurely hacked, and they would have to adjust to the verbal jet-lag, as a new, wholly unrelated tale was going to unfold.
“Ha, those girls. They were my backing band.”
Neither Chris nor Richard were willing to delay the story, so they indicated with their eyes that he should continue, without pause, with Richard holding up his coffee cup, and three fingers, to the waitress, whom he naturally found cute. He had already checked her left hand and noticed the absence of a ring.
“Yeah, they were backing me at the ‘So Was ?’ (So what ?) club in Kreutzberg. Ya been there ? It’s got this long kinda walkway catwalk stage, so it’s great for rocking out on. I’d met these two girls some time before and they’re real hot, groupie types, and they’re asking about venues and how to go about getting a band together, and I’m all, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, just trying to decide which one I wanna connect with, ya dig ? So I told them about this gig and they were asking do I need backing singers, and I’m thinking, well, no, but, hang on here, what better way to turn ’em on, play the rock star card, so I say, well, I don’t know, maybe, let’s see what ya got.”
Laughter and claps of approval.
“Yeah, I’m one one cool motherfucker when it calls for it, I know, so they do a number, in the bar, and, what can I say ? OK, can hold a tune, just, but they start dancing to it.”
“Wiggling ?” asked Richard, with excitement.
“Oh, yeah, they had the moves, you know what I’m saying ? So I thought, hang back, if they sing, they’ll fuck up the songs, but if they dance …”
“Fucking genius ! I’ve got a lot to learn from you,” Chris gushed.
“Sure ’nuff, Grasshopper. So comes the gig, I’m playing, and doing my stuff, I just had guitar and drum machine, and I start to walk up the stage. The girls see this, and next time, they walk with me, one each side, dancing away. So it goes. Every time I move up the stage, they come with me, and the audience are going crazy. I thought it’ld be a tough crowd, lot of biker leather in there. So I play another, and another, each time, loud screams. Then I go over to change a rhythm track and strum a few chords, but the audience are still going wild, even more so, then I look up and see the girls still dancing. Then the fucking PA motherfucka cuts my amp line and starts playing Techno shit, and the girls keep dancing, the audience going even crazier.”
“So . . . what did you do ?” Richard was forced to inquire.
“Just packed up my equipment, took a beer and watched the show. Gave them the name, too. From 90210. You guys get that in England ?”
They both denied knowledge of it. Arizona continued,
“Yeah, I had a lot of afternoons at home in the early Nineties. So there’s this character called Kelly, and in the opening credits, she wiggles off. Man, you gotta see it. OK, gotta split. Oh, shit, Man, nearly forgot. Got a few gigs coming up.”
“Cool !” from Richard
“Rock on !” from Chris.
“Yeah, you’ll be there, right ? ‘Cause ain’t nothing worse than playing to an empty hall.”
“Of course. Even take the night off, if I have to. Chris ?”
“Absolutely. I’m so there. One question . . . “
“No, The Wiggling Kellys will not be there. Got their own gigs. Playing the, hey, check it out, they’ve got another gig at the ‘So Was ?’. Hah. Never asked me back. OK, out of here. Tschüs.”
After he left, Richard turned to Chris,
“I’m glad we know him. Oh, shit, he’s coming back.”
Arizona returned, holding out a cassette.
“You guys still play tapes, right ? Here’s a copy of some of my old stuff. Yeah, you may be into it. Give it a listen.”
He left again. Chris put the tape in his bag and Richard checked his watch.
“OK, gotta split soon, myself. You back at the flat tonight ?”
“Yeah, gotta stay sober for the interview, meeting thing.”
“Why you sweating it ? You’re a sure thing because, one, they really need a Spüler, and, two, they really need a Spüler. Another coffee ? Then I’ll have to go.”
Left alone, Chris read a bit of Dickens, starting in on the introduction, but couldn’t really concentrate. It was only an unskilled job, paying a basic wage, but money went a long way. A full week’s work would cover his rent and travel for the month, and there would be free food, as well.
But the job meant so much more. He still hadn’t told Monika about the studio closing and was terrified of her running into Al and him telling her. He had to get something, or he would certainly get something from his girlfriend who would instantly become his ex-girlfriend.
“Yeah, I was in bed when The Wall came down. I’d been out the night before, didn’t get back until seven or eight, and just crashed the whole day.
“Finally got up late at night and went to make some coffee and what do you know ? Got no milk. So I’m thinking, ‘Scheisse ! Gotta go out.’ And I’m feeling like day-old shit, and I’m looking like shit and I smell like shit, but, you know, just go to the store and get some milk, no biggie.
“Now, I didn’t put the TV on, or the radio, I’m just focused on my little world which has a serious milk crises going on.
“I’m on the streets, and yeah, I hear all this noise and cars beeping and shouting, but I just think that a football team’s won, don’t really think too much about anything, but, as I get to the main road, it’s full of people, and flags and banners and these … I don’t know what, cars, there’s all these fucking Trabi’s (Trabants) and it’s true, they only came in two colours; sky blue or spermy white. Sorry, but it’s true, these fuckin’ cum-mobiles crawling along the street.
“Then I’m in the store and it’s usually pretty quiet, but tonight, it’s full, full of people picking up tins of soup, or bananas, and waving them around. But these people … it wasn’t like they were from another country, it was like they were from another planet.
“So, I get my milk, but I have to queue to pay for it, and the queue just isn’t moving, everyone’s talking and shouting, and I’m thinking what the fuck’s this ? It was more like we had been invaded by them, and now we’re going have to spend all day queueing for bread and potatoes.
“OK, I know history can’t stop, just so as I can get some milk, but come on, wait until I’m sober.
“Then at home I put on the TV for background, and it’s on every channel. I was a part of history, the streets of Berlin, November ‘89, and just wished they’d all fuck off back over The Wall. Come back tomorrow.”
Richard took over directing the car, along Karl Marx Allee, then up into the western part of Rigaer Str.
Café Kinski was full and they got the only free table. Tommy held court, shouting loudly, easily projecting over Rage Against The Machine (Philipp was working and gave Richard a cursory nod).
There was an asymmetrical dynamic to the group, two girls and three boys and Anna appeared to be pulling towards Richard. Karin and Tommy had already staked their claims on each other.
However, Richard was in love with someone else, and stepped aside for Andreas, who wasn’t sure where he was with Silke, and within an hour, the two Germans had gone back with the two Danes. Richard had more beer, then made his way home, alone.
Two weeks later, he wished he had chased Anna, as one night of pleasure may have saved him months of pain.
The yellow Toyota sped around the twisting, turning slalom of roadworks and diversions of Potsdammer Platz, once the busiest intersection in all Europe, now a giant wasteland, a massive construction site of cranes, wire fences and wooden walkways, constantly changing passages with temporary traffic lights and signs whose location seemed to alter weekly.
Monika and Chris were in the front, Chris back to his hyper-active self, holding conversations with Richard in the back, Monika to his left and Sabrina, next to Richard. She was a Viennese friend of Monika’s, in Berlin for the weekend.
They drove to an address off Kantstr, in West Berlin. It was dark when they got there, but the affluence of the area was apparent. The houses were elegant and well kept, each house with a well-lit doorway, giving the street a charming, old-world feel. The streets all looked clean, no debris or litter of any kind.
There was a brass panel with the tenants names inscribed, on the intercom, but it was obvious where the party was.
All three rooms, of the ground floor flat, had their windows wide open, and many people could be seen in shadowplay through the thin curtains. The street door was open, as was the flat door, and people came and went, sat on the immaculately carpeted stairs or smoked on the street, their discarded butts the only garbage on the once spotless pavement.
Monika entered first, waving and smiling. Sabrina followed, embracing Gabi and Andreas. Chris noticed Nice Guy Kai and Richard caught a glimpse of Gert and they exchanged some brief comments before Gert disappeared for the night.
The four newcomers all gravitated to the kitchen, which was the bar area, and bought white wines. Richard had no sooner taken his first sip, when he felt a stubbly kiss on his cheek. He turned and saw Tommy wearing a very smart suit, four days growth of beard and a hat covering his newly shaved head.
“Ah, you’re still here ? I thought you’d gone back to London.”
Tommy had lived some time in The States and spoke very good English, with a Transatlantic accent. He was busy making the rounds, greeting and kissing everyone he knew and trying his luck with a few girls, he didn’t.
“Have you seen the art ?” he asked. “Come on, you may as well.”
Tommy led Richard and Chris to the last room, the smallest of the three, which was covered in paintings. The artists, predominantly young women between eighteen and twenty, stood around, in front of their work, happy to discuss it, happier still to sell any of it.
Nothing particularly grabbed the attention of Richard or Chris. Tommy swaggered around, looking left and right and winking at some of the artists. Nice Guy Kai took his time, casting a critical eye over the work on display. He was joined by Andreas, who merely laughed at everything.
Most of the paintings were abstractions, some being little more than masses of colour, others featuring various large shapes, super-imposed on indistinct backgrounds. One woman had a series of shapes that vaguely resembled female genitalia, all with different colour schemes.
Back in the kitchen, over the next glass of wine, Tommy proclaimed, making sure everyone could hear him,
“I liked the colour pussies. Might get one for my wall.”
Most of the guests were of student age, being either artists or friends of the artists. Richard continued looking around, while Monika came over and explained:
“In the second room is going to be some poetry and reading and performance, then in the big room, there is going to be music and poetry.”
Richard and Chris stood by the door of the second room, which had a stage area and some chairs laid out, giving it a theatrical look.
A very tall and thin, obvious-student man got up and after introducing himself very quietly, launched into a recitation of an original piece. Neither Richard nor Chris understood the text, so they went back to the bar. Shortly after, Gabi came over, rolling her eyes disapprovingly at the rendition. She leant on Richard’s shoulder so as to whisper in his ear,
“It is lucky you do not speak the good German.”
He smiled at her, and offered her a refill. She accepted and then continued,
“Lorelei says, ‘Hello’. She could not come tonight because … “ and then she was lost for words, so turned to Chris for translation.
“Ah, alles klar. Lorelei is still unpacking, but she sends greetings. There you go. More cheap, nasty plonk ?”
After half an hour, the poetry / readings were over, and more people came into the kitchen. Richard asked Sabrina what she thought of it,
“Ach, it was shit. Real student, ‘nobody loves me’ shit.”
The second room was cleared of its chairs and the space opened up for people to dance in. Meanwhile, the third room was being made ready for the live music. Chris, expecting a band of sorts, grabbed Richard to show him the peculiar preparations being carried out.
The stage area had a cello on its side and two chairs. To the left of the stage was a type of sandbox, only filled with gravel. A tall, young man, with an enormous eagle-like head and full, black beard, was meticulously scraping and re-scraping the tiny stones with a wooden fork, appearing very unhappy with the results. He began shouting to the corner of the room, then back to his scrapping, then back shouting. Nothing seemed to alter, nothing seemed to please him, and they left him to his endeavours, to watch girls dance.
Tommy came up behind them and put an arm around each of their shoulders, smiling as he watched Gabi move. Monika reached out her hand and Chris was only too happy to oblige, deliberately dancing out of time to the innocuous Euro-pop that was being played.
Tommy looked at Gabi, then at Richard.
“That, my friend, is one great piece of arse. Got yourself a German girl, yet ?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
“How about Gabi ?”
“Out of my league. Just look at her.”
“I am, I am. Have you seen her boyfriend ? A real zero, nothing. He must have been born in the Chinese Year of the Boar. Doesn’t even fuck her, can you believe it ? Has that next to him in bed and all he wants to do is read fishing magazines. She’s desperate.”
“Desperate enough for you ?” joked Richard.
“Hey, I could have her if I wanted to. Probably. Maybe.”
“If she were drunk enough.”
“Oh, English humour, so very funny. Well, wanna make it interesting ?”
“What do you have in mind ?”
“A bet; who can get inside Gabi’s panties first. Hey, to hell with it, who can get inside Gabi, first.”
Richard burst out laughing; just the idea of either of them with someone like Gabi. But he played along.
“OK. And the winner takes the other out to dinner. And drinks. Lots of drinks.”
“No, the loser has to pay.”
“No, man, in this case, the winner! Only right that he has to pay.”
Tommy starred him in the eye, thinking intensely. Finally,
“All right. I can dig that. Put it there.” He spat on his hand, rather more than he anticipated, and Richard begrudgingly shook. At that point, Chris joined them.
“What’s going on here ?”
Tommy answered in a pure, matter-of-fact voice, “Oh, we’re having a bet who can fuck Gabi first.”
Chris stuck out his hand.
“Count me in,” quickly checking behind him, to make sure Monika was well out of earshot.
Both Tommy and Richard protested and shook their heads.
“You’re with Monika. Gabi would never go with you.” argued Richard.
Over the discussion, Tommy brought them to silence.
“He’s right, you’ll have to wait six months before you can go from one member of The Gang to the other. That’s what happened when I left Sabrina for her friend, and when Silke went from Kai to Andreas. Didn’t think Andreas would last the course. Must have more between his legs than between his ears.”
Kai walked over, thinking he had heard his name. Richard and Chris turned to look at each other. Chris spoke first, addressing Tommy, Richard with the follow up.
“You were with Silke ?”
“And … how is she ? Bet she’s into some real kinky stuff ?”
“No, not so much. Kinda placid, actually. Lies back and takes it. Which is all right, you know, don’t have to put too much energy into it, or thought, just get the auto-pilot up and running.”
“Well,” began Chris, “that does surprise me.”
“Yeah, my whole scale of balance is shifted.”
“Maybe … “ said Chris, building tension, “and don’t take this the wrong way, but, maybe, just maybe … it was you. Like, you know … you just ain’t no good ?”
“What ? Are you nuts ?” asked Richard, but it was too late. Tommy called out to her on the dance floor,
“Hello, Sabi … aren’t I a sex-god in bed ? These two don’t believe me.”
Sabrina, not missing a beat of the music, answered,
“Ach, you’re OK, nothing special. Too sweaty for me. And your orgasm cry is weird.”
Instead of being embarrassed, Tommy stood there, proudly, arms outstretched, as if to say, ‘see, didn’t I tell you ?’.
“Why did Sabrina dump you ?” inquired Chris.
“Well … she’s very business minded. Got her own five-year plan. One of those ‘work hard, play hard’ types. When she dumped me, it was like a hostile take-over; ‘I’m going to have to let you go’. I was dumped by the board of Sabrina GmbH.”
“Did you at least get a golden handjob ?” asked Chris with a misleadingly serious face.
Andreas joined them and Chris and Richard regarded him in a new light. Tommy smiled at him and Andreas smiled back, not knowing what was going on.
“And ? What’s happening ?”
A blonde student moved up to Kai, attaching herself to his arm, and whispered something to him. Kai explained,
“The music’s going to start soon, we should go if we want to see it.”
“Do we want to see it ?” asked Andreas.
“Shouldn’t that be ‘hear it ?’” replied Tommy with a smug, alcohol grin.
“No, Einstein, it’s also another verdammte (bloody, fucking) performance.” Kai clarified.
“Stefan is really good. On cello,” added the blonde. Kai looked down at her, as if seeing her for the first time, then seemed to remember,
“I liked her paintings,” he said by way of explanation, then moved into the other room.
The music stopped as an announcement was made, and people began crowding into the largest room, for what was rumoured to be the main event of the night.
When all space was taken, the lights dimmed and a tall and slightly overweight man dressed in dark trousers and tails walked onto the stage and took up the cello. A woman with long auburn hair and evening dress sat next to him, a folio on her lap. She nervously altered the position of it in her hands. Then the eagle-headed man from before reappeared, with wooden fork, and took up his position in the gravel box. He looked around, commanding silence and was about to commence, when there was a giggle. Andreas turned to those around him, and made a gesture of apology.
Eagle-head started again, raising his fork as a baton. The cellist looked over, an expression of earnest concentration, eyebrows furrowed, eyes squinting behind round lenses. He slowly drew his bow across the instrument and played a gentle passage of quite unexpected beauty.
The room was silent. Monika and Gabi rested their heads against each other. Sabrina looked at Tommy with an ambiguous glimmer in the eye. Kai, standing at the back, had begun softly stroking the hair of the young artist at his side. Richard and Chris desisted drinking. Andreas went to find the toilet.
Softly, almost inaudibly, the woman in the evening dress began speaking, her head facing down into the folio before her.
Above the music and voice, there was an excruciating nails on blackboard shrill. The speaker gained in volume, though people still had to strain to understand. The cello continued, then suddenly made some savage scrapes across the strings, as the woman jumped up, an unexpected occurrence and not altogether easy in such an outfit, and began shrieking, answered by more metallic scrapping.
The woman began screaming, unaccompanied, then more scrapping. Chris stood on tip-toes, and could see the hunched, eagle-headed figure, bent double, holding his fork above the gravel, then bringing it down at an exact spot and dragging it back and forth.
As suddenly as she has jumped to life, the woman sat down. There followed a conversation between cello and fork, though they didn’t seem to be speaking the same language.
The performance dragged on and people began trickling out, all drawn to the bar.
The woman actually seemed relieved, the cellist angry, and Eagle-head oblivious to the loss of audience.
By the time they had finished, there was barely half a dozen people left. The woman immediately jumped down and ran to a couple of friends. The cellist took inordinate care of his cello, as if not sure what to do and Eagle-head starting complaining about something to do with the box, or the gravel, or both, or neither.
Kai’s young friend said that she had to say hello to Stefan, the cellist, who she explained was in his last year of music studies, and was going to be a great conductor.
Meanwhile, the cultural appetites of The Gang having been assuaged, they began making plans for escape.
Chris was going to stay with Monika, who was going to drive Sabrina to Gabi’s flat.
Tommy had found two Danish girls who had a car and wanted to see some of the underground bars that Tommy had told them about. He conferred with Richard. Andreas came over and asked what the plan was. Tommy decided. He, the two Danes, Andreas and Richard would go to Friedrichshain, Richard suggesting Café Kinski.
The Gang said their farewells, hugs and kisses all around, except Gert whom no one had seen for hours, and Kai who was occupied with a kissing thing of his own.
Tommy walked between Anna and Karin, the Danish girls, while Richard and Andreas followed to the car parked a few streets away.
There was a little skirmish as Tommy claimed shot gun but Andreas, who had taken a fancy to Anna, the driver, said that as Tommy was so short, he should get in the back.
He was about to object, then noticed that Karin had a great, healthy, Scandinavian body, and orchestrated himself into the middle seat, keeping her away from Richard, with a sickly grin at his opponent.
Andreas gave directions, suggesting they drive up to Bismarkstrasse and then a straight run, past the Siegessäule, through the Brandenburger Tor, and on to Alexanderplatz, an easy journey and sight-seeing tour combined.
The car was full of screaming and joking and laughing, everyone speaking the lingua franca of English.
As they passed through the arch of the Brandenburger Tor, Richard remarked about the amazing turn of events, that less than five years previously, this wouldn’t have been possible, that The Wall had been there, watchtowers and armed guards and dogs and tanks and the might of Moscow.
They began speaking about when The Wall had fallen. It, of course, made the day’s news in Denmark and England. Andreas said he was stoned in Bavaria and more concerned about being busted by the local police (“Bavarian paranoia” a complaint shared by all the Bavarian members of The Gang.)
Tommy allowed the conversation to flag, before speaking up.
“I was living in Berlin, West Berlin. And I’ve got a story. Who wants to hear it ?”
“So I met this guy at Café Radetzky and we’re having a good talk, and he’s, you know, cool an’ all, digs the right music, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve met him before. So we’re talking and I say where I’m from and, you know, the usual, what I’m doing in Berlin an’ all, when he stops me and says, ‘Hey it’s so cool to meet another dude from Arizona, because I met a real crazy shithead from there a coupla weeks back, and he was just out of it, talking non stop about nothing, and he had all this hair and beard and shit’. And I suddenly realized; he was talking about me ! Yeah, I hadn’t cut my hair, and I had this Fu Manchu thing going on, and that’s where I knew him from … some bar I’d been to, totally out of it. I’m gonna have to stop doin’ that kinda shit.“
Chris turned his head away, so as to wink at Richard. They were meeting in a Café on a late Summer afternoon.
“But, you know, so much of Berlin is hidden, it’s like I can see tourists coming here and going to the usual sights …”
“Which won’t take long,” interrupted Chris.
“… right, an Arch, an old sports stadium, a bit of old Wall, the Death Star.”
Both Richard and Chris laughed at Al’s description of the T.V. Tower, a giant, glass globe surmounting a tall, fluted concrete tower.
“Then going home and wondering why Berlin’s got such a reputation, when nothing appears to be happening. But you know what ? It’s not that things happen in Hinterhof’s, things happen in the hinter of Hinterhof’s. In basements, behind closed doors, over disused shops. When I was first here and didn’t know where to go, I’d just look for cool people and follow them, see where they’re going. Found some great bars that way.”
Richard glanced over at Chris, who waved him in.
“But … didn’t you ever end up just following people home, sometimes ?”
Chris followed through,
“And they didn’t mind ?”
“Well, they thought it was a little odd, guess, but … no, not really. Oh, I did ask one guy where the hip bars were and he told me to ‘piss off!’ ”
Chris thought for a minute.
“Are you sure ? Could he have been saying, ‘Pass auf ‘ ?”
“Well, it was a ways back. But … yeah, ‘spose. Why ?”
“It means listen, pay attention, watch out. He was probably about to give you directions …”
“Oh, man ! I ask him to get some place, he says, ‘OK, dude, listen up’ and I just walk away. What must he’d a thought of me ?”
“That you were a crazy shithead ?” joked Richard.
The subject moved from general rubbish to women, Al approving of Lorelei, describing her as ‘bodacious’, then onto work, which was why Al had requested this get together.
“OK, just a heads-up, there’s gonna be some changes at the studio. They’ll gonna be laying a lot of people off, making some big changes.”
“No ! Shit. I like it there.”
“You should be all right, but they’re changing the schedule, the whole ‘come as you are, go whenever the fuck’ routine. Good thing, too, ‘sa crazy way to runa business. They want people putting in minimum twenty hours a week, and booking in. Get these guys coming in, hour or two, costs more to keep track of them. There’s at least one big project coming up, and they’re gonna need staff they can rely on. I mean, costs are still low in Berlin, but there’s always talk of shipping the work to some Third World place, and pay ‘em Jack shit. And there getting heavy on the paperwork, too, no more casual work, everyone’s gotta have their Lohnsteurkarte’s and Angemälden … you got those yet, Richy ?”
Al was the only person who could say ‘Richy’ and not make it sound like an insult.
“No. Got nothing yet.”
“Wait. I’ve got an idea,” said Chris. “They need full timers; cool. And I’ve got all the bloody German paperwork. But I can’t do both jobs. If I do the Studio, forty hours, I won’t need the washing-up shit. Then Richy, er, Richard can have it. No paperwork, no questions, cash in hand, free beer, cute waitresses … “
“What, like Ully ?”
“With the thing, yes, I know, but there are others.”
Al followed the conversation as if it were a tennis match, but with the players hitting some unusual, suspect backhanders.
“Yeah, like, whatever happened to Hannah ? She was gorgeous.”
“Left. Got a proper job. Never saw her again.”
“I know. To think … I almost got her to come out with us. I think Melanie scared her off.”
“I think so, too. Marina’s leaving. Did I tell you ? Leaving Berlin.”
“Yeah, that Arschloch Ross is doing some building project in Köln. Maybe just for six months, but … we won’t see her again, either.”
“What about Claudia ?”
“Hardly ever see her. She comes in when I’m not there, or … I think she has other jobs.” Chris sought to bring Al back into the conversation. “You know her, Al, Claudia. I stayed with her when I first got here.”
“Claudia … nope, don’t think so.”
“Yes, German girl, really foxy, Irish accent, walks like a cat, looks like she’s just woke up. I introduced you to her. A few times.”
“No, pullin’ a blank. What about her ?”
“I don’t know. Richard, what about her ?”
“That’s what I asked you ?”
“I don’t know. Al, what about Claudia ?”
“Which one’s Claudia … ?”
And so the afternoon wore on. Chris left for work, promising to ask Walter if Richard could take his job, knowing that not only would they not care, they probably wouldn’t even notice, one Spüler being pretty much like any other.
Al and Richard went to get some cheap food, then Al promised to take him to some bars around the southern end of Schönhauser Allee that he had discovered by the ‘follow the cool guy’ method.
At the same time as Chris got to work, Ross entered a bar in Köln, along with some new colleagues. He spoke about the job opportunities in Berlin, but said that he wanted both a new challenge and to live in a city that had a higher standard of living.
The next day, one of his new colleagues told some Irish friends over lunch break about Berlin. One of these was leaving soon for London, where he would work on a building site and tell his new mates about Germany. One of these left to go to another site, where he told his new mates on tea break. One of these workers was a young man called Daniel Roth who had left school with three low grade qualifications, much to the chagrin of his teachers who couldn’t understand how so intelligent a boy would refuse to study. Daniel had been working around building sites for five years, making a living, but finally waking up to the fact that the only person he was hurting by his rebellion was himself.
Throughout the afternoon, Daniel pumped the new man for information, making him repeat all he had heard, about work, paperwork, the practicalities about living in Berlin and how to actually go about finding a job there.
At the end of the shift, Daniel was invited to the pub and was expected to accept. Instead, he told his mates that he had a hot bird that he wanted to shag before he lost interest, and he was excused.
Instead, he went directly to his small, local library, and though the stock was limited, he managed to pick up a history of modern Germany, a guide book to Berlin and a basic German language course.
Before he went to sleep, he had taught himself the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ in German and had started to conjugate them. Then he began inventing a story about the woman he had spent the night with, because his work mates would be expecting it and would want to hear all the details.
It was the last Saturday in August, and after warming up in a few bars on the Prenzlauer Berg – Mitte border, The Gang headed down in two cars to The Imer club.
As to be expected, there was absolutely no sign that one of the hottest underground scenes of east Berlin was behind the semi-derelict, four storey building that, defiantly, stood solitary on wasteland. Tilted wooden fences and wire meshing lay to one side, suggesting a long gone, unsuccessful used-car lot. The other side faded away into nothingness, bland, nondescript empty buildings.
The pavement in front was barely adequate for two slim people to walk side by side, and most cars, heading to or from Rosenthaler Platz, sped by, oblivious.
Monika, in her car, and Gabi, punishing the suspension in hers, found parking spaces not too far away and The Gang walked to the only beacon of light on the otherwise dark street, in the slightly surreal shadow of the TV Tower.
The small, single door was open and threw out yellow nicotine-stained light. A couple of young guys worked the door, one taking the money, the other stamping people’s hands. Immediately inside, there was a staircase leading up to one dance floor at the top of the building, and some steps leading down to the basement.
Chris and Richard merely followed Monika and the girls up, looking around at the crumbling paint, exposed wires, flyers, peeling posters and young and not so young people, giving random ‘Hey, how ya doing ?’ s to those who caught their eye.
At the first landing, Chris smiled broadly, put his arm around Richard and said,
“Look at this joint; it’s a temple of slack.” Richard had to smile and agree. Upstairs, Monika had her favourite place. It was a large very comfortable sofa that sat four of five people, and was placed on the top landing, outside the blue-lit dance floor. Often, several people were accommodated on it, with girls sitting on boys’ laps, often a precursor to more intimate unions.
Tonight, however, it was occupied by a shabby-looking bunch of teenagers. Silke went up to them and, pointing to Richard, got them all to get up and offer the sofa over.
A small guy, already with a receding hairline, and round glasses, smiled and apologized and proffered the seat with a long bow. Richard played along, striding calmly to the chair, then clicking his fingers and demanding, ‘Beer !’.
Chris explained; Silke had said the sofa was reserved, and that Richard was a V.I.P.
“Typical Deutsch. Speak to them in a stern voice, preferably in a uniform, and they’ll do anything. It’s a regular Captain of Köpenick.”
Richard took the cue, and, shouting about the music, asked the story.
“Man, what a blast. There was this unemployed Dude, tailor or shoemaker, I don’t fucking know, candlestick maker, who gets hold of a uniform, an old, army uniform. He sees a group of soldiers marching up and down, Unter Den Linden, I think, and calls out, ‘Yo, GI’s, get yer arses over here. Follow me’, and he marches them down to Köpenick.”
“Oh, somewhere in the eastern suburbs. So, they get there, he goes up to the Town hall, where the lolly was stashed, and demands that they hand it over. Which they did.”
“Hey, maybe we should try it.”
“We got the seats. Let’s not push our luck.”
Monika and Gabi returned, managing to clasp several beer bottles between them. Richard, as V.I.P. got his first and made the toast, smiling. But it was all image. Inside he was feeling awful and just saw the night ending in an alcoholic blackout. It would be preferable.
It had been two weeks since The Gang had gone out, following the minor melt-down of last weekend. He sensed a coldness on Lorelei’s part, when they met and this was amplified at the first café. Richard had entered and had taken a seat at the bar. Lorelei came in after, but took the stool furthest away from him. There was playing hard to get and there was blatant message and he knew exactly what she was saying to him. He just wasn’t able to accept it.
After the first beer, the girls all went into the dance room and began their moves. Again, Monika smiled and waved to people, some she knew, others she just recognized from the scene.
The DJ was a Black American in his early forties, and he carried real authority in his voice. When he told people not to sit on the stairs, they moved, when he demanded people dance, they danced.
Monika shouted in Chris’ ear and he then beckoned Richard over. They were heading downstairs, to check out the smaller Red Room.
This basement room was packed as people danced to heavy Techno. Chris and Richard simply moved to the incessant beat, in between sips of beer. Silke had found Andreas, who was dancing with Lorelei. Gabi ran into some friends from university and called Monika over. They were introduced, but the names vaporized in the noise. Nice Guy Kai turned up, standing in a doorway, looking cool, along with Gert and his new American girlfriend.
Monika later showed Richard the ‘Chill Out’ Room, a short distance along a corridor, whose thick, carpeted walls dampened the pounding, thumping rhythm. There were some armchairs and another, smaller sofa arranged in a semi circle, with a Seventies-style projection of coloured oil discs rotating on a wall, which reminded Richard of his local cinema which had used them in his childhood … a world away.
They spent the evening, into the early hours, alternating between floors. Monika asked Richard if he would dance with Gabi, as she was too shy to dance alone, so a small group formed and Richard did his best to impress her with his steps and to ignore Lorelei, which was hard as she was in his every thought, and the beer was only making him more maudlin.
Soon after, Gabi wanted to leave and took Lorelei with her. Instead of the usual hugs and kisses that occurred with every greeting or departure, Lorelei barely waved to him. Then she was gone.
Later, Monika wanted to leave, and Andreas and Silke had long since vanished. Gert’s girlfriend was looking for Gert, who had disappeared.
Chris and Richard went back upstairs, where the music had shifted away from pure dance, to Sixties and Classic R ‘n’ B, the DJ now strutting his stuff around the dance floor. The room was barely a third full, plenty of space at the bar, which is exactly where Richard went, ordering two large Jack Daniels.
He went off into a corner and sat, starring at the floor, slowing sipping the whisky. Then, as if on cue, the DJ played ‘I Want You’ by The Beatles. It was such an incongruous song for a Berlin Techno club, that Richard couldn’t help but take it personally. He continued looking down, almost unable to deal with the rejection that was all he ever got from women.
Then something caught his eye, a sight so peculiar that he was dragged out of his self-loathing and depression and, after he had realized just what this extraordinary performance was, actually smiled. And then laughed. Then began to feel better. A little.
There was some dog-like creature, ‘walking’ around the dance floor, tracing a circle and occasionally stopping to sniff people. In intimate places. Except, as Richard saw, it wasn’t a dog. It was Chris. Even more strange was the reaction he got. Everyone laughed and played along. One man scratched behind Chris’ ear, a young party girl rubbed his belly, to which he demonstrated approval by shaking his right leg in the air. Then he continued on his tour of duty. It wasn’t long before someone fell over him and crashed to the floor. The innocent, totally confused raver got up with an aggressive stance and seemed prepared to hit the culprit, but his friends pointed to the lunatic who carried on walking and sniffing, and he ended up laughing and shaking his head. When Chris was directly in front of Richard he stopped, absolutely motionless, petrified on the floor just inches away. Suddenly, the head turned, he looked him in the eye, winked, and continued, now an accepted part of the dance floor, whose arrival was anticipated and applauded.
The Black DJ looked dumbfounded, and stood, open-mouthed, a ‘now I’ve seen everything in this kooky place’ expression, and seemed about to remonstrate, loudly, but evidently couldn’t think of anything, and just went back to his glass of vodka tonic, knowing when he was beaten. He played the original Rufus Thomas version of ‘Walking The Dog’, joining in by whistling into the Mic. Afterwards, he could be seen gesturing to the bar staff, pointing at his depleted cocktail.
It was over an hour later that they began the long walk home, the sun also risen. Richard was far from feeling good; the hang-over already building up, the exhaustion, then the indescribable pain of loving someone that doesn’t love back, a constant weight on the chest obstructing breathing, and so much more. But he hadn’t said a word about how he felt to Chris and Chris hadn’t asked. Obviously, he hadn’t needed to. And instead of making sympathetic sounds and clichéd words of support, he had got down on all fours, like a dog, and made a complete arse of himself, and Richard knew exactly why.
He would never thank Chris for this, but he wouldn’t forget it either.
They walked up the sloping Kastanienallee, the full length, the elevated U 2 line cutting across the horizon, an occasional early morning trains passed, either helping people start the day, or end the previous one.
It had been a great month, in many ways, but perhaps now it was time to go home. The money was running out and unless he found a job, he wouldn’t even have a choice.
But only three days later, he had a complete change of mind. And it was Arizona Al who was the catalyst.
Silke was quite fond of Chris. Despite thinking him a little immature and attention-grabbing, not to mention hard work when he began his drunken monologues in English, she knew how good he was for Monika. At least in the short term.
Gabi thought he was very cute, though had certain reservations, namely the way that he looked at her, usually after they’ve been drinking, appearing very interested in what was under her clothes. But Monika was happy, when, that is, she was happy.
Lorelei was convinced that Chris would be true to Moni, but was rather upset that he didn’t seem as attracted to her, as he clearly was to Gabi and Silke. Not that she was at all interested, but it does a girl’s vanity no harm to have admirers. The ideal situation would be for Chris to pay her more notice, Richard to pay her far, far less and for Andreas to break up with Silke. At this moment, none of the above seemed likely.
Silke brought the discussion to a conclusion, as they had so many other matters on the agenda.
“Oh, so, he has contact with an old girlfriend. I have old boyfriends I sometimes see.”
“What does Andreas think about that ?” Asked Lorelei.
“Doesn’t care. How could he ? He has hundreds of ex-girlfriends crawling around.”
That answer made Lorelei go very quiet. Gabi agreed with Silke, reminding Monika of a incident last Christmas.
“When we went home. And who did you see at the club ? Ralf ? Ex-boyfriend. And what happened ?”
“OK, a Christmas fuck. It was nice. And ? It was cold, and at least I knew him, knew what to expect. Saves going through all that time talking to a new guy, just to find out he’s an idiot.”
“All guys are idiots unless proven otherwise.” Advice from Silke.
“But would you do it again ? I mean, this year, if you went back home ?” Lorelei returned to the conversation.
“You mean would she let tourists into her Vienna Woods ?”
Gabi screamed in embarrassed laughter, not sure where Silke got her sewer-mouth from, but enjoying it, nevertheless.
“No, not if I’m still together with Chris. No, no way.”
“Yeah, you say that, but see what happened after two Jägermeister’s, and Ralf comes up, ‘Hey baby, want a piece of prime, Austrian …’ “
Lorelei then turned to her and asked,
“And you ? Would you ever cheat on Andreas ?”
“What makes you think I haven’t ?” she replied with a wink. Gabi lowered her eyes and drank her cocktail through its straw. Monika also recalled an occasion, or two, when Silke had strayed.
“Yes, so, Monika, the trick now is to get back with Chris, but to make him apologize. For everything.”
“Oh, that,” said Monika, “is going to be easy.”
The girls went on to talk about several other related or tangent subjects, but the conversation had reminded Monika of Ralf, and how she came to meet him.
At eighteen, she became acquainted with a man who used to travel around on business, and regularly stayed over in Vienna, her hometown. She was drawn to older men, the local boys holding no interest for her, and even liked the fact that he was married and lived in Linz. They would meet, usually on Fridays at her favorite club and either go to his hotel, or her small place. And it worked fine, she got the excitement but none of the domestic boredom. All the time, she told herself that it was just for fun, no deeper emotions, and she continued telling herself this while she waited for his call or letters and deterred other men from asking her out. And she continued telling herself that it was only fun, as they began to discuss his getting a flat in the city where she could stay and he could visit, and she promised not to see anybody else, and he told about how his marriage was over and that he was, since meeting her, thinking of divorce, and she continued the illusion as she prepared to move in with him, and began telling her close friends that she was not only moving in with, but probably going to marry him when his divorce became final. Then she finally conceded and realized how lucky she was, to fall in love with her first serious boyfriend, who loved her so much that he would end his marriage.
And then came the letter.
The man had been offered promotion and was taking a position in Hannover. His wife would be joining him, and it was a chance for him to save his marriage.
Monika had a hard time believing men after that.
Several weeks later, in desperation, Gabi had insisted that they go to a new club, just for a drink or two. Monika turned that one or two into seven or eight and woke up next to a stranger whose name she didn’t even bother to ask.
Some weeks later, at another bar, she ran into him again, and he remembered the effect tequila had on her.
That was the scope of their relationship. Random meetings in bars and drunken sex. Monika had no chance of being hurt, because she didn’t care about him and didn’t care if she hurt him.
She told herself that she was cold, but Gabi refused to accept that, pointing out that no one who was such a true friend could be frigid. She was just defensive. But Gabi did agree about something. Vienna was way too small for them, and when Gabi was accepted at a Berlin university, Monika planned to leave, too. She would just stay away from married men.
Towards the end of August, Gabi had her birthday and this year it fell on a Saturday. On the same day, there was a street festival in Kreutzberg, so they planned to meet at Monika’s flat for a birthday brunch.
It was Richard’s first time at Monika’s and he also realized that since he had been back, Chris had spent most nights at his own flat. He began to think about Melanie’s revelation in that Soho pub.
Monika had placed a large table at the centre of the room. The windows were open letting sunlight in and helping waft the cigarette smoke out.
Silke was already there, impatiently waiting for Gabi before she started drinking. Chris went into the kitchen to greet Monika, while Richard bummed a cigarette from Silke. Andreas turned up with beers, saying that Nice Guy Kai would be at the Fest, as would Gert, possibly Tommy and some other names unknown to Richard.
“Gert’s girlfriend’s gone back to England, hasn’t she ?” asked Silke.
“Yeah, but he’s OK. He was seeing an American girl on the side,” answered Andreas.
Gabi, meanwhile, was cursing and thumping the steering wheel, driving around the block looking for a parking space. She eventually found one and backed into it, almost smashing the exhaust on the curb.
Lorelei had driven with Gabi so often that she thought nothing of it. They walked the short distance to the flat, both dressed in light blouses and short skirts.
Inside, Monika gave Gabi a bouquet of flowers and Andreas opened the Sekt and poured. There was cold meat and smoked salmon, fresh rolls and salad, cheeses and Quark. And cake.
Gabi was allowed to choose the music, which were high-energy dance numbers and extended remixes.
Monika decided to change, seeing how Gabi and Lorelei were dressed, and Silke also decided she had to rethink her outfit and asked to borrow some of Monika’s clothes.
Inspired by the party atmosphere and the Sekt, Richard asked if he could watch her change.
“Ten Marks. Fifteen and I smile.”
“Honey, it won’t be your smile I’ll be looking at.”
Soon after, the men were sent out and walked to the Fest, while the girls got ready. Two long streets in between Kottbusser Damm and Urbanstr were closed off. All the bars along the roads were open and had set up extra benches and tables, already over-crowded. Vendors sold soft drinks and beers, as well as Brotchen and Wurst (bread rolls and sausage).
There were public tables set up for people to bring their own food and drink, and some people brought along guitars.
Music was everywhere, either from portable CD players, from bars, from the buskers or from a stage where local bands had been invited to play.
Chris looked around, hoping to spot Arizona Al. Andreas saw Nice Guy Kai, standing on a bench, waving frantically. They made their way over, and got seats, ordering beers all around.
Back at the flat, the girls had opened another bottle of Sekt and were finishing their make-up.
“Today we find you a man, Gabi. You, too, Lorelei,” predicted Silke.
“Good idea !” the Birthday Girl agreed and Lorelei also smiled, looking forward to the party.
The girls all looked great, individually, but collectively, every male head turned, in lust, every female, in envy.
It amazed Richard; Berlin was still so new and mysterious to him. The girls managed to find them without any trouble. As they arrived, some people left, so there were seats available. He found himself talking to Gert, about England and London, which he compared unfavourably with his new home.
“Oh, the Tubes, so many people, crammed in, and you can’t look at anyone, just stand there and find a corner of floor to stare at. And you can’t leave anything, it’ll be stolen. London – love thy neighbour, but lock thy doors.”
Chris was talking with Monika, stroking her hair, and sharing private jokes. Gabi was on the look out for men and Lorelei seemed quite happy next to Andreas and Kai.
After more drinking and smoking, the party went off into small groups. The girls went looking at some hand-made jewellery stalls, Andreas and Kai found some friends, Gert went to the bathroom and vanished, so Chris wandered around with Richard.
People stood around in small groups, dogs ran around, children laughed and looked to make new friends. There were women with piercings and tattoos, some wearing their hair in dreadlocks, some wearing old dungarees. There were men of all ages, some in shirts, some in tie-dye T-shirts, some topless in the Berlin sun. No one was without either a drink, a cigarette, or a joint. People were free and easy, knowing that they were not being judged for being themselves, but were allowed to be as they wanted.
Suddenly Chris put his hands around his mouth and bellowed out. Up ahead, a startled Arizona Al stopped in his tracks, and appeared to jump with fright. Next to him was another man, tall and thin, with a cowboy hat and string tie. Al saw Chris and went up to him.
“Yo, man, you’re here, cool. Hey, Richard, what’s happening ? This is my buddy, Bill.”
“Ah, Boston Bill,” proclaimed Chris.
“Buffalo Bill ?” suggested Richard
“No, I’m from Nebraska”
“See, man, no one knows where the fuck Nebraska is, you should go with Boston Bill, it’s way cool. He’s a drummer, we’ve gigged together, messed around on a couplea tracks.”
“Cool,” echoed Chris, “Right, this way, more drinks !”
Monika had run into some neighbours and Andreas was feeling rather affectionate towards Silke. Without doing anything, Kai had a swarm of teenage girls around him, jokingly asking for his autograph, but just as a pretext to speak to him. Gabi and Lorelei had found a quiet, shaded bench and were talking and smoking.
The Fest was getting busier, more and more people turned up, more and more beers were thrown down. An all-girl band took the stage and Chris went to investigate and check them out. He was quite impressed, not a patch on the idealized quartet of Monika and the girls, but still cute. He looked for the others, and laughed as he saw Richard and Al standing next to each other, twisting away to the music, clicking fingers and smoking.
Evening came and what was left of The Gang met up, newcomers being introduced. Gabi wanted to go into Mitte, to a quiet restaurant, then to a club. The girls were going with, Andreas going home because he had to get up early for work, (at which point Silke let out a loud, ironic laugh)and Kai had to get back to be with his latest ‘fan’.
Chris decided to stay with Al and Richard at the Street Party, as Bill had mentioned there was a vintage comedy double bill at the cinema on the Kottbusser Damm.
Until the movies started, the four men stood around, slowing down their drinking, just people watching, talking and smoking.
Chris had managed to involve himself in conversation with some strangers and was repeating his Harpo Marx routine, grabbing their hands and putting it under his raised leg. It was unlikely that anyone understood the reference, but it looked so unusual, if not downright weird, even by Berlin standards, that it got a great laugh, and soon, Al predicted, people would be doing it all over Berlin.
Richard found himself talking to a very attractive woman with a short blond bob, and found himself desperately inventing details to impress her, and couldn’t believe that she was still listening to him and hadn’t just run away. When she finally left, together with her boyfriend, Bill came over and gave a ‘oh, well’ shrug of the shoulders.
“Couldn’t help over-hearing. You were laying it on real thick, Dude.”
“I know. And she was listening to me. Why, oh why, didn’t I move here before ?”
Bill wasn’t used to rhetorical questions and asked back,
“I don’t know. Why ?”
Slowly, it darkened and the Fest had been losing people since late afternoon. Chris and Richard went to get a quick bite at an Imbiss, while Al went with Bill to pick up his bike which he’d left chained to a post somewhere in Kreutzberg. After their Currywurst and chips, they went to the Moviemento cinema, and saw there was a collection of miscellaneous shorts followed by Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’.
They bought tickets and sat through two Laurel & Hardy movies, which they deemed the funniest films ever made. In one, the two play removal men, transporting a piano up a mountain, across a high, rope bridge and into a house that has a white horse running loose inside it. The day’s drinking was taking its toll and they floated in and out of consciousness. Both were awake to see Oliver Hardy on all fours with a piano on his back and then the horse jumping on, too. They almost choked with laughter.
The lights came on for a short break before the next short film, so they left to buy beers at the desk.
In the foyer, they saw Al and Bill and insisted that they walk in with them, when the lights dimmed, and forego the formality of buying tickets. It wasn’t as if the staff couldn’t see what was happening, but they, too, were having a party of their own, and they simply didn’t care.
The next film was about a man about to get married. He has just been falsely informed that his bride to be had a wooden leg. The actor had a priceless silent-movie comedy face; beady, close-set eyes, a squashed cauliflower of a nose and thin strands of hair, combed any which way.
In the film, someone, somehow, has placed a cane between the bride and groom. When the groom reaches over, during the prayer, to feel his bride’s leg, he feels the wooden stick. Back to the face, with an expression of shock that caused a universal outburst of laughter, and Bill to spill half his beer down his light blue shirt.
During the main intermission, the two Americans left.
The two Englishmen lasted about fifteen minutes of ‘Modern Times’ before falling asleep and snoring, waking up when the film ended and the house lights suddenly came on.
Chris led Richard to Schönleinstr. U-Bahn and, changing to the U2 at Alex, they rode home along with all the other drinkers and ravers and shouters and laughers.
They had fleeting images of fat men and horses and wooden legs, but mostly of a tall, thin American in cowboy hat and string tie, wearing a shirt with a massive beer puddle.
At the same time, in a club in Mitte, Gabi was having a kissing thing with a man from Munich, Monika was flirting with some men from Wedding and Lorelei was talking to Tommy, but thinking about Andreas and wondering if there was any possibility of being with him and remaining friends with Silke.
It was at the end of the day that they were first seen. The farm hands, their pitches and scythes, were gathering. Animals into their pens, herded. Backs were rubbed, and arms stretched. If only the day’s hardships and troubles could so easily alleviated, be. The House of Religion began it’s bells to chime and to its evening service, the villagers drew.
Little Lotte claimed it was her. Her brother asserted no, falsehood, it was he. The scrofulous old maid, desperate for recognition, said it was she, the crippled tinker, till his dying die, would brook no argument, for he was the one, the one who, on that cold, windy evening, did first, the strangers, see.
They appeared, no matter who first spied them, on the southern hill, overlooking the settlement, four curious figures, encumbered by implements ill defined.
First one, then two, then more and more, the villages, their tasks abandoned, looked towards the hill, following the little finger of Lotte and the crooked staff of the tinker.
A vision for the eyes, strange indeed, but now other senses assaulted, were. As if by accord, both common and rare, they took up their singular burdens and did, by bow and breathe, sounds quite unknown, make.
The entire village, motionless, were. Enraptured, captivated, held by forces both mysterious and mystic. All faced south, and tried to make rational, sounds so obscure. A melody at times hauntingly beautiful, at others, beautifully haunting, did the entire vale, fill, a music of such power, that even the beasts of the field were tamed into submission.
Then, with a solitary low note hanging in the air, the music faded.
But nobody dare move.
Slowly, did heads turn and the grey, bearded leader of religion his way to the hill, made. The younger men did their leader follow, picking up their tools as arms, because nothing inspires fear more than the unknown.
There they stood, four figures, framed against the greying clouds, holding shapes unearthly in appearance and sound.
Now they walked, as one creature, down the hill, in line, with calmness divine. Down they walked, showing no ill will, and discerning who was held in highest esteem, to the bearded one, words of introduction were made.
But mistrust was still in the air, their strange appearance did their strange sound, match.
Disconcerting were these concert makers, when as a quartet, taken, though, when up close, viewed, not one of the four was particularly abject to the eye.
The first, it was true, was of a height taller than most, the second was rotund, the third showing advance in years and the fourth, a leg impaired.
But, though disguised by accent harsh, the language was the same, and the hand proffered in good faith, was heartily, by the leader shook.
Weapons fell as smiles rose, as the men, as men do, clasped hands and patted shoulders, and the young maidens as maidens do, coyly peeked, then blushed and hid, only to return and peek once more.
To the House of Religion, did they move, where their story would be made known to all.
As could be told by their voices, without words, travelled long and far, these strangers had. The tall one began their tale.
When young, no taller than Little Lotte (who smiled so brightly at being singled out) they were summoned, from poor country homes, to the court of a cultured nobleman, with varied tastes and experience, but music, paramount to him, was.
From his distant journeys, he brought back masters of music of esoteric origin. It was his command that this music be reproduced at his court, for the glory of all, and due to the technical virtuosity involved, the only way was to find minds untainted and fresh, to instruct.
But, how cruel can Fate be ? Having spent their youth in study and practise, having acquired skill and ingenuity far beyond their years, having performed but a score of times, the nobleman did pass away and with him, was his court divided and impoverished. There was no place for the musicians who, to earn their bread, from town to town, village to village, forced to wander, were.
Though unsaid, all felt the cold winds of winter and the scorching heat of summer, the days of empty stomachs, the nights bereft of love. The whole village, by a wave of melancholy, infected, were.
Then the second man, of proud girth, did comment make, and all laughed as joy was restored. The Leader proclaimed, they were here and here they must stay. No ! No objections, harvest was good, water pure, houses warm and women … were they not the embodiment of all things Heavenly ? And, though he could not for certain say, if the Duke was made aware and approved of their art, then their future was surely safe.
That happy note struck, a feast was arranged, and though poor in substance, did in good spirit and cheer, abound.
And, indeed, it was within the passing of only three days, that messenger did appear, demanding acquaintance with the strangers of whom rumour did resound.
They needed no forced command, but with pleasure did take up instruments and begin to play. Performance proved, nay, surpassed all expectation, and back to court did messenger speed. Before nightfall, he did return, requesting their company by the grace of The Duke.
A quick farewell with shakes and pats and waves, and a tear or two from Little Lotte.
Then almost as quickly and suddenly as they had appeared, where they gone.
The court was no great distance hence, and to it did they travel by coach and liveried horse. Thundering across arched bridge, they raced to the castle, high on the hill, a commanding presence whose power was felt further than could even be seen from its summit on a clear day.
But no time to stop and admire, to work were they immediately put. A banquet, this time the genuine article, was taking place, and divers coaches filled the yard. Servants in rich attire lined corridors, rich, intricate tapestries hung off every wall, and laughter and talking rippled from the central room.
Tables of exquisite design were over-flowing with food and drink of every description, men and women dressed in such garments as defied all imagination. The poor itinerant musicians were ashamed to look up, dazed by such splendour. But their appearance provoked the same reaction. An immediate silence. All eyes upon the newcomers, unique.
From the top table, the grandest chair, the most elaborately dressed man, The Duke, himself, summoned them closer.
They walked, eyes still lowered, but, like all men, couldn’t help but be drawn towards the lady next to The Duke. She was young, with hair of honey gold, eyes of deepest, purest blue and lips like roses. She was perhaps, them most beautiful women any man had seen.
The Duke need merely clap, and the musicians knew their duty. With no consultation, the tall man took up his bow and played a note, then the others joined in.
And while they played, nobody spoke. And when they had finished, there was silence.
Everyone looked towards The Duke. He rose, majestically, raised his hands and with all magnanimity, did cause thunderous applause to echo around the stately room. His example followed and exceeded, all rose and cheered approval before The Duke spoke. By decree, the musicians will be staying as guests, then enter his service, where, for providing music for entertainment, they would be lavishly rewarded.
Cheers went up, applause, shouts and they even allowed themselves to raise their eyes from the ground and look at the eyes of all the young women devouring them, and even, though fleetingly, cast a furtive glance at the lady by The Duke, for she was the most beautiful of all.
So they lived, playing for parties and composing music in The Duke’s honour.
One day they were ordered to appear before him. They looked at each other, each one feeling the same palpitations, the cold sweet of pure fear. Slowly, to the chamber did they go, announced by court guard.
Within seconds did their fear subside. The Duke, in fact, did appear nervous and searched in vain for words correct. His wife, he explained, had decided she would like to add music to her list of accomplishments. Though he was an educated and sophisticated man, and knew that such talents came not overnight, but by lifetime of practise and devotion, loved his young wife more than life, so had consented to her wish, as he did to everything she, of him, asked.
The musicians, took no time to confer, the elder of them saying it would be a honour for them, and that they would do their best to instruct the young lady in all the skills she should desire.
The lady being young and impatient, the lessons began that very day.
But the lady, by her entourage of maidens, accompanied was. In the chamber, away from the guidance of the men, did give way to the foibles of their youth, giggling, whispering, pointing and, before end of lesson, in normal tones did speak.
Of progress was there but little. Nor was any made on subsequent days.
Back into the presence of The Duke, were the musicians ordered.
Now the elder virtuoso did venture to speak. ‘Twas such a pity that talent so evident should remain undeveloped. When asked to expand, the fourth, lame and bent, did make known the distracting influence of the young ladies who, not being of the same elegance, were not able to appreciate the art.
The tall and the rotund were forced to agree, and bemoan the waste of a gift so rare.
Then did The Duke think. With respect, did his cast his eye over the four. One tall and lean, awkward in co-ordination and protruding teeth. One over-weight and bearded, shining from sweet. Another old and toothless, perhaps lacking both desire and ability, and one who dragged a useless leg around. He could risk breaking court protocol, in the service of his wife’s advancement.
So it was arranged, the four would have the honour of private audience with the beautiful and gifted wife.
But The Duke, other troubles, did face. On the council of his young bride, who saw weakness and possibility in a neighbouring duchy, did The Duke an army raise.
Success came swift, until first one, then another setback experienced were. Now both armies were entrenched with gain on neither side.
But rumour moved fast, and told of succour asked and received, another army marching forth and defeat looking certain. The Duke must, to other lands go, requesting help and offering spoil.
Thus, after but a week of private tutoring, The Duke, with retinue, left the castle, but the lessons did continue.
The young bride was in centre, sat, the Sun around which the satellites did wander. Hair of honey-gold, eyes blue as ocean, lips as red roses.
As honey is from bees who sting, oceans swallow and drown and roses have thorns that pierce flesh, so the young lady did shout at and berate her instructors.
Then did change occur. First one, then another, did their garments discard, and appearance alter. Protruding teeth were plucked, revealing a healthy set, padding around another’s middle part removed was, another shook off signs of his advanced years, the last stretched a leg and demonstrated an agility quite unsuspected.
Despite such a metamorphosis, still the young lady had no idea who they were or why they were here, but a cry, heart-rending did she let out. Yet, on the strict orders of The Duke, they was no one to hear it.
Then did cloudy fear and terror cross the sunny countenance, as colour drained from wilted lips.
She turned to the second of the group, a healthy man, fit and lean, no longer constrained by fat, but clean.
And she remembered.
It had begun, many years before, in a small, poor collection of huts, too small to be village, too poor to be of importance. The low-lying ditch seemed always covered in fog, to be. Out of the mist, one discernible sight, one distant beacon of hope. The Castle so far away, on the hill.
The girl had to get there, but how ? No background, no attributes except a radiant beauty that would all too soon, lost be, working the land, and giving birth.
She must cultivate skills and learning to get her out of her hopelessness. There, in her birthplace, was a man famed for his culinary skill. No matter what scant source, he could turn all into a feast, with flavour abundant. He had knowledge of plants and herbs and knew how the taste to extract.
To him, the girl went, wanting to learn, but sensed a reticence on his part. The secrets came from and must go to, his family. So, an easy answer, she would be his, offer herself, be his wife, if he would first divulge.
So he did, secrets old and new, the knowledge of the fields was hers. But, before they could be for eternity joined, did the girl disappear.
The man, lost his skill, his will and sickness could he not escape. No longer able to provide for the people, was he by them, chased out, like an animal, to roam the lands.
The girl, meanwhile, had moved on to the next settlement.
The people here were plentiful and able to hunt in all weathers, for one knew the secret of turning animal hide into warm, protective garment.
Now the lady turned to one before her, formerly old and withered, now young and with renewed energy, filled. A second recognition beheld her.
To this large settlement, did her services in food preparation, offer.
Received was she, well by one and all, promising to impart her knowledge, but looking for a partner, she made it known.
By now, had she start to bloom, and many an eye in her direction turned. With such a choice, she told the one gifted with material that it was he, she desired.
The man was overcome, emotions he had never known. But first, all she asked was a show of trust. How did he make clothes so fine and grand out of such base material ?
The answers gushed forth, as he thought of his new life, he clothing, his wife feeding the settlement, starting a family and making it into a village for the betterment of all.
Yet, once more, after learning all that she could, she vanished, destroying a heart so true. As the heart suffered, so did the fingers, no more able to sew and stitch, and his worth being no more, was forced to find abode anew.
The Lady now turned to a man who before could barely walk, but was reminded of a man who had rode as if he and animal were one.
The Girl was now able to progress to a small village where her skills were of such high value, that she had to turn suitors away. She made it clear that her virtue was of importance utmost, and could not be even seen with a man, unchaperoned. How awkward, therefore, to find herself come across a young man, whilst out in the field gathering herbs. Awkward enough that she felt compelled to flee, but, in so doing, did twist an ankle so pretty and delicate, that the youth gladly offered her his mount to carry her back.
Oh, how proudly he rode, such a skill would serve any lucky young lady in good stead. With his command over the animals, surely this was a sign, divine, that he was to be her master. If only he would teach her, then could they together, ride. But, of course, such a secret would surely be reserved for one who would share life and bed.
Upon that spot, did Youth propose and Girl accept. Lessons began at once, how to tame, to ride, to sport.
But, once again, after she had learned all she could, into the very air did she disappear. The poor Youth, refusing all food and kind word, lay himself down to die. ‘Twas only the sound of his grieving horse that restored him, but no better would he get. No riding now, to deliver news, but to towns to procure alcohol and drink himself into stupor. So his life continued, till he was replaced and forced to leave the village, never to return.
Finally, The Lady, to the last one, looked.
A girl, so talented in providing food, warmth and riding was now able to have her choice among the bachelors of the town she had come to. But he heart was still in one place; The Castle whose shadow now extended over her new home, a town so close, that The Duke frequently passed through, and who would surely notice one so new and fair.
Yet her manners were not up to court standard, nor could she yet read. But there was a young teacher.
Once more, she chanced advances that advanced her chances. First, did she learn to read and with the tall young man, whose shyness was quite painful to see, did great progress make.
Now to other purposes. He was special adviser to the court, in matters of translation. She decided she would be his secretary. She asked, over and over, adjusting her dress, shaking out her hair, but could not break down his defences. A fortress around his heart, had he constructed, unable to believe that any woman, let alone a beauty, could ever want him.
The Castle was a hallowed building, admittance through it’s doors, a rare privilege. But not to a wife ? The Girl asked, reaching for a volume of romance verse, suggesting they read together, and their fingers touched, underlining words of love. One more fortress down.
Promising to be his and his alone, for evermore, she made him make her a lover’s promise: to bring her along to the next Castle visit. It would be the correct move, for The Duke to be informed of any changes in the life of so valued a servant.
The visit followed shortly after, some vernacular text needing translation. The Girl went along and The Youth listened to his assignment. No suspicions were aroused when he was allowed to retire to a study and his bride to be asked to remain, only pride that The Duke approved of his choice.
The unfortunate Youth had no idea what transpired between them, only that The Girl remained in The Castle after he was sent home, and that the next morning, scarcely after sunrise, was he awoken by armed guard and banished. No books was he allowed, just the clothes he wore, some bread, and a warning was he given that dare he ever to show his face again, it would be removed from the rest of his body.
Now that face was before her, hatred in his and all the other eyes.
And she had brought her downfall on herself.
She was aware that there was a Prince allied to the next Duchy. Any conflict there would bring The Prince into the fray, a Prince with such an army at his command, that he could not but help prove victorious. A Prince, as of yet, unwed. A Prince, destined to become King of a great land, in need of a Queen with knowledge of cooking, sewing, sportsmanship, reading, writing and his special weakness, music.
But as she mused on these thwarted plans, the Musicians began, in one movement, to disassemble their singular instruments, and reveal sharp knives, blades that glistened in the sunlight that poured through the stained glass windows which were soon to be stained with the blood of the treacherous Lady.
Although she was powerless, not once did she ask for mercy, but, they said, with a sly smile accepted her fate. It was over very quickly. None of the four had the heart for the kill, nor considered her death justifying damnation. Instead, four slashes across her face were traced, not fatal, but causing permanent scar and rendering a once beautiful face, hideous.
As she covered her wounds, she had another memory. She recalled the first man, the one with the art of cooking. He also could create music, from the finely worked bone of an animal, from blades of grass between his lips, from a piece of string, pulled taut, from horse hair over tight wire.
She let out a scream, but it was covered by a general Pandemonium. Trumpets blasted, messengers screamed, The Castle was in uproar. There had been a terrible battle, forces of another Prince had entered the fray. It was slaughter. The beloved Duke had fallen on the field. All was lost.
In such confusion, the Musicians could their escape, easily make. They simply vanished, as mysteriously as they had arrived. There are no records of any of them ever being seen again.
As for The Lady ? She was imprisoned in a remote tower in the north of the country, prey to the elements of that harsh climate, freezing in winter, burning in summer, empty of belly and alone both night and day.
After a time, she was forgotten completely, and it wasn’t until some years later that her skeleton was discovered. It is said that the skull appeared to be smiling, as if planning one final scheme …