We go to Berlin for a long weekend. It is February, snowing.
We visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Afterwards, I return to the hotel to rest. My brain is full of numbers, starting with 2,711 grey concrete slabs.
He pulls the curtains closed. “We shouldn’t have started with the memorial,” he says. “We should have eased ourselves in.”
“How do you ease yourself into an apocalypse?”
“We should have gone to a pub first,” he says, leaving.
I stir at the sound of the hotel door opening. He has bought bread, cheese and wine.
“I figured you didn’t want to go out,” he says.
He leans down and kisses my cheek. The evening cold comes off him. He smells of beer.
My toes are numb from walking through the snow, but that can’t be possible when I have been in bed for hours. He sits on the bed and shows me photos on his phone from his walk. Snowflakes fall white and blurry past the screen, the camera capturing their fast descent, like comets with long tails.
We go to the Neue Wache to see the pietà sculpture Mother with her Dead Son.
“Is there anything sadder?” I say.
He looks at me. “Would you rather go shopping?”
I hear the irony but I say, “Yes.”
We walk to Wittenberg Square and go to Kaufhaus des Westens, the “Department Store of the West”. It is warm, white, clean. Bowie sings “Heroes” and even Bowie has died.
He buys me a woollen blue scarf that is cashmere, beyond soft and far too expensive. While we wait in line for the cashier, he winds the scarf around and around my neck.
“You don’t have to buy this for me,” I say.
“I know. I want to. Okay?”
He pulls the ends tight, tighter still. I feel the pressure on my throat and I want him to pull tighter again.
The blue scarf is flecked with green and lilac. It makes me think of gardens, lakes, “Waterlilies”, of the world in 1920 when Monet painted, rather than here in 1939-1945, or 1961-1989.
We eat currywurst and he tells me this is Berlin’s street food. I know he’d rather we were sitting in a gutter in some tiny village in Vietnam eating wow-I-didn’t-know-you-could-eat-this-species food, but we are here with chopped Bratwurst, curry powder, ketchup and a side of fries.
The lights at the top of the Fernsehturm flicker red, white, red, white.
“I love television towers,” I say.
He laughs. He takes my hands, blows on them and rubs them between his gloved hands.
“Where are your gloves?” he says.
Sometimes I don’t wear them when we walk because of this.
We go to a bar that is underground, like most cool places in Berlin. But then I think of bunkers and small, glass vials of cyanide.
“Do you think we could just have a drink?” he says.
My purple, silk dress rustles when I move. His hand on my shoulder and his hip against mine, he heats the silk until it is hot, electric.
I touch my fingers to the window in our hotel room and it is frozen, the snow falling on the other side of the glass. He slides the zipper of my dress down slowly, all the way down my spine, and I hear it, tooth by tooth.
One wall of our hotel room is painted deepest, darkest red.
“I know what you’re doing,” he says. “You have to stop thinking about death.”
I laugh. “What an extraordinary thing to say. How can I not think about it?”
“You’re depressed,” he says.
“Of course I fucking am. Are you living on this planet too?”
I stick out my tongue to taste the snow as it falls.
“How many metres do you think it fell to reach me?” I say.
“Why do you wonder about things like that?” he says.
In bed, I shake and shake.
He holds me. “What’s wrong? I’ll call an ambulance?”
My spine, my limbs, all of me moves. I cannot stop.
He puts me in the shower and I sit on the floor, my legs unsteady, hollow. My stomach is empty. He searches on his phone while holding the showerhead over me and makes the water cool, then hot, then lukewarm, then tepid.
“Everyone says something different,” he says, still looking at his phone.
“What are you searching for?” I say.
“Convulsions. Fitting. Seizures. Epilepsy.”
I push my face into the stream of water. It hurts — icy needles. My teeth bite and grind against each other.
“Make it hot,” I say.
He dresses me in a T-shirt, pyjama pants. He bends down in front of me, on his knees, and pulls on my socks for me. I put on his hoodie and smell him, the plane, home. I wind the scarf around my neck and my hands. He asks me in ten different ways to go to the hospital and I say no, each time.
We approach a church, St Anthony’s. I don’t tell him that St Anthony is the patron saint of lost things.
“I want to go inside,” I say.
He looks at me. “What? Why? Is this one supposed to be good?”
He tips his head back to survey the church and I know he is evaluating architectural merit, cultural significance, relevance.
I step inside and it is quiet. There are only a few people in the pews, each with hands joined and head bowed. They are islands.
I pay one Euro into the old, wooden box, and light a candle. I don’t know who or what to pray for. Other candles gutter there, bright, beneath the statue of St Mary. She is too white, Caucasian, not historically accurate. I know that. But she watches me above the sea of candles and she is the expression of everything I want and cannot say.
Melissa Goode’s work has recently appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Whiskey Paper, New World Writing, Split Lip Magazine, Atticus Review, Blue Fifth Review, and (b)OINK, among others. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter
(Next story: Breeding by Lucinda Kempe)
(Previous story: Fried Breakfast by Rozz Lewis)
Feel like submitting? Check out our submission guidelines
Image: Crazy Zoc