Sariah and Snowfall

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The English language is a suspiciously poor tool when it comes to giving life to anything but the bluntest evocations of romantic love and I can’t help wondering if that isn’t a pathological limitation…an echo of something cold in the hearts of the tribes that claim the language. I’m thinking of North America, the United Kingdom and the frostbitten bards who were the mead-drinking uncles of the tongue. I’m a cultural descendant of Shakespeare but still there’s a large part of me, an interior territory of fevers and visions, ignorant of the serenity of complete expression. That is, I’m not quite convinced that the English language is equal to my capacity to love. Is it possible that I would not have suffered this terrible sense of shortfall between my feelings and the voice whose duty it is to free them if I’d been born into another skin, or other circumstances?

1.

The first thing I think of, when I think of Her, is snowfall.

I’m getting dream-like impressions of village life in a cold climate, a place where a meal of runty potatoes and a bit of pigeon would have been considered a feast, eaten in the dark of the light from the flame that boils a huge old rusty pot. I see long low lodges, like barracks. Things of branch and hide arranged in a rough circle around a central well.

I can’t insist that these impressions are anything more than a fantasy, a fiction so vivid that it convinces me somehow, but in a Universe of infinite possibilities and in the possibility of Infinite Universes, all of this, just as I’m describing it, must have happened somewhere, at some time and to reject this assertion would reveal a nasty fact about the skeptic. An active prejudice against the writer’s imagination.

So. My father is dead, but my mother clings on, white-eyed and toothless, wheezing in a corner of the lodge, bundled and stacked in a heap with old cousins and aunts and three hounds we hunt with. My father had a sense of humor, so the hounds aren’t named properly, but were only given numbers instead: The First One; The Next One; and Too Many.

It’s a communal bed in the part of the lodge where the roof slants lowest, so low that I have to stoop when I’m talking to anyone in that corner, or when I’m making my preparations for sleep. The communal bed is a vast quilt of old furs on a mulchy cushion of twigs and leaves, upon which better furs as blankets are laid and the word for the smell of the mulch and furs and sweat together is the same as our word for sleep. Every lodge has its sleep odor and every village a dozen or so lodges and the territory of every village is described by the radius of its smell. On foot, on the wintry hills between settlements, the hounds begin whimpering and yelping at us when a new scent is traced and this means we’re crossing the border into the next village. Village boundaries contract in winter and expand effusively in the broader air of summer.

I’m happy in this world, which stretches no further than as far as I can walk, on a full stomach, in any direction and comprises a handful of these ramshackle villages. I’m known as a warrior here, which means that I’m argumentative and a good wrestler and nothing worse, generally, except for the awful fact that I killed a crazy teen-ager, ten years ago, when I was merely middle-aged. I had to kill him with a club. My punishment for this justifiable homicide was simple: I had to bury him in my own backyard, in a plot behind my lodge and I have to face his people fairly often, when they visit him for various reasons.

(Right in the middle of writing this, I ran out of ideas…or are they memories?…and this story languished for a day and a half until a coincidence rescued it. I received a call from a friend who invited me to lunch. Being as I write this in January, it’s cold out and so I wore a winter coat to her apartment. After lunch, she noticed that the buttons on this coat were loose and offered to tighten them. I helped her get a sewing basket down from a high shelf and, rummaging around in it for a needle and the proper shade of thread, she pulled out a strange object and held it up for my perusal. “This,” she announced, “is a forty-thousand year old flint axe,” and she went on to explain that as a child she’d walk carefully across a farmer’s field immediately after he’d plowed it and would come up with these artifacts, many of which were so important that she donated them to the University of Leipzig. Holding the axe in my hand and thinking of the forty-thousand year old hands that had first shaped it, I began to receive the vivid impressions that are necessary in order to continue this part of the story.)

A half a day’s walk in the direction from which the Sun comes every morning lies Her village. On sunny days, which are rare in winter, I walk there, lugging a gift of potatoes and whatever tools (fish hooks; axes) I’ve managed to craft since the last time I’ve been. I hand the gifts over to Her father, who is a year younger than I am, squatting on a bench beside the pot’s fire and I’m allowed to have a bowl of something and climb in the communal bed, because it’s always dark by the time I get there and the sleepers make room for us to be together.

The berry soup is tart and hot and makes me feel potent.

We’ve made four children over the years, three of which still live and it happens from time to time that all five of us manage to assemble in a little herd on the blankets, along with whatever hound I’ve brought (I usually bring Too Many) and we feel wealthy in our little family mass, although the firm legal concept doesn’t yet exist to distinguish, technically, between our children and their cousins, especially with time.

It’s easier for them to identify us as parents than for us to identify them as children, because while on the one hand we caused them to exist, on the other hand they don’t remain the children that we created for very long. By the time the girls get their periods and the boys are whimpering through wet dreams, their adult parents can barely recognize them. The part that adults as progenitors have contributed to…the original thoughts and gestures and even the original cells…are by then almost entirely gone, replaced by the materials and influences of the lodge in general. In this way, your parents are your parents forever, but your children are no more permanent than childhood itself.

She reclines, humming, and gestures for me to approach Her. I squirm out of my robes and climb on top of Her and Her eyes are pale discs in the lodge’s darkness and our children giggle. Her skull is at the same time delicate and heavy in the cradle of my hands and I lick the soot off Her cheeks…the soot of wood smoke and sweat…and I say I love you, a particular kind of I love you, one of thousands of variations possible, which in this case translates as: I came this far to be with you, and I will never stop doing this, unless prevented by something awful.

She says, I love you, back, whispering it hoarsely and her particular I love you translates as: I’m glad that it’s you here and nobody else and I hope it stays that way, until something awful happens.

Our word for death, translated literally, means: something awful.

Her hair is thick and black, Her breath is pretty from the cloves that she chews and before I know it I’ve ejaculated in Her. I roll off to let Her rub Herself, which is where we believe that children come from, and the children and I stare, through the coal-dust dark of the lodge, striated with rusty luminance from the crackling fire that her father cultivates under the pot, as she gasps through her pleasure. One of our more poetic words for “women”, in fact, means: they alone can give themselves pleasure. She’s on Her back, Her knees are wide apart and Her breasts jiggle with Her spasms. She looks like She’s trying to scratch an itch between Her shoulder blades by rubbing Her back on the furs.

“I think we just made another one,” She says, sitting up, pulling a blanket around Her shoulders. We happen to be a little famous, between our two lodges…between our two villages, even…for being so fertile. And also famous because we always make girls, highly valuable, which included that missing fourth, the first one we made, who disappeared years ago. We believe the poor daughter drowned.

“Yes,” She says, seeming to look down in Herself, “Someone new just showed up.”

“That’s funny!” says one of the children.

I put my layers and layers of robes back on; I lace my boots. Too Many perks up, tail wagging, ready to leave with me, but leaving Her is always so hard: our time together is rare. I look with great tenderness at Her while patting the head of one of our daughters, who is hugging my leg, and I say, shyly, “Do you really think we made one, another one, this time?”

“Stop bragging!” someone grunts, from under a blanket, nearby.

I squat and crawl over to speak to Her quietly, moving her hair from in front of her ear to do so. “Do you really think we’ve made another one?”

She pulls back and looks at me a long moment, chewing her upper lip. Her father has fed more sticks to the pot fire in the center of the lodge, and her face is suddenly very clear, illuminated in yellow from the left like a Rembrandt (to use a futuristic simile), and she nods. Her eyes are just a little wet with emotion. She’s twenty-seven. I’m even older. It’s incredible. She’s almost an old woman and I should already be dead and we’re still making children.

I say the “I love you” that means we do such good work together and she says that she agrees and I finally leave, pushing back the flap in the lodge wall, taking Too Many with me back over the hill and down the ravine that the stream carved and on and on across a terrain I know even in the dark, with Too Many yapping and prancing ahead of me, because it’s unthinkable to sleep anywhere other than one’s own lodge. It’s impossible to sleep outside of the powerful soporific of the odor of the lodge you were born into. But what thrills my heart as I walk along under the heavy black ice of the lid of the star-embedded sky is Her smell that I carry on me, still moist on my cock and thighs and belly, humidly preserved in the layers of my robes, the odor of conjugal bliss that will sustain me in a state of romantic grace, unwashed, for a week or two hence.

When I can’t stand not smelling Her anymore, I’ll risk the trip again.

This is what I’m happily reflecting on as I cross the frozen lake…the pond, really…that glimmers at the midpoint between our villages, the pond that She and I believe our first daughter drowned in during the fourth summer after her birth. I’m crossing with the sliding shuffle that’s the precursor to skiing, the frosted glass of the lake is blue with cloud-bearded-moon light and I’m so busy inventing a constellation in the outline of Her bountiful body that I break the first rule of lake-walking, especially at night, which is never look up. And sure enough, someone has been ice fishing that day. Just one person, judging from the size of the serrated hole. It’s almost too small for me to fall into.

I cut my fingers snatching at the sharp edge of the hole; I beat and kick the water. I hear Too Many’s barking anguish as though from a great distance; she’s hopping around the hole with a futile impulse to attack it. My dense baklava of woolen robes, which is at the cutting edge of winter-clothing technology…the wool was imported from very far east…soaks up the icy water that stings me under the solid roof of the pond with fatal efficiency. I suddenly weigh about three hundred pounds. It occurs to me that I will never bring Her father a sack of potatoes again. This makes me sad.

I see our first daughter, floating pretty and naked in the cloudy cold water beside me, her vagina a sexless fold, offering me a bundle of corn flowers. I see not only my dead daughter, but also a few other lost children I recognize who had slipped into the pond during my time on earth, forced to sleep with their toes lightly grazing the silt, dissolving like pills. I see a few children and a fully grown man who tried to cross the frozen pond two winters ago with several skins of rainwater with which to woo a lover. He’s as naked as the children, with a purple cock and long red hair with little green fish darting in and out of it and I can’t believe what a prankster my mind is, inventing these sweet jokes for me in my last few moments on earth.

Then I see Her, from a lofty vantage point, as though I’m a concerned sparrow and She’s running in howling tears away from the pond when they fish my robes out of it next spring. Her hair is flying long and black and I notice, for the first time, because I haven’t seen Her in daylight in years, the strands of gray in it. I’m so touched by the gray that I want to cry. But I’m underwater, I’m drowning, I can’t!

I surrender my last big bubble of air gulping an I love you that means you made living as long as I did entirely worth it for me and then my sense of self shrinks, contracting rapidly from my extremities, which feel as though they’ve burned off like candles in a blast furnace and I centralize into a hot white point the size of a single thought. The hot white point flares by impossible magnitudes hotter, burns a hole in Time. I fall through it, a newly minted coin through a slot.

2.

Berlin had changed so little in the ten years since he’d first arrived there, and especially in the four years that he’d been gone, that it gave him a smirk of satisfaction, which gradually faded into what looked like an insincere smile, as he pushed through the crowds at the Weinachtsmarkt at Breitsheidtplatz. A few futuristic buildings had popped up here and there, and it cost a bit more to ride the U-Bahn these days, but otherwise, the Café ‘M’ was still the Café ‘M’, women were still spitting on the street in Kreuzberg, and one out of every three billboards, except along the Ku’Damm, which had been purged of whores and was being Disneyfied for American tourists…bulged with a gargantuan pair of burnished nipples.

The Weinachtsmarkt was another eternal condition; he’d decided to divert his walk, at the last minute, right through the center of it, through the maze of portable selling stalls. It was Christmas Eve and people were buying up kitsch with ant-like urgency. They were buying kitchen clocks and comic ashtrays to bestow upon less-loved relatives and second-tier colleagues at work in that joyless reflex of giving that gave each year its endpoint and strengthened the contrarian spirit behind his own rather monkish life.

The shoppers were lugging sacks and inching from quaint wooden stall to quaint wooden stall, munching sugared nuts or sooty sausages, drinking gluhwein from plastic cups and he was quite certain that an identically dressed crowd would be in the same place, buying the same unlovable attic fodder, twenty years in the future, just as they had for the entirety of that exhilarating curfew that the Americans had called The Cold War.

He bought a little bag of cashews from a braided woman in a striped smock at a stall that was made up to look like a gigantic cuckoo clock. He was starving and didn’t want to make a pig of himself, later on, at the café at which he had a very important date scheduled, so a snack was in order. He handed the woman a twenty Deutschmark bill and she politely deposited his change on the hygienic plastic tray on the stall’s counter and he remembered the first time that had happened to him…the shop girl avoiding his palm with a kind of antiseptic horror. And yet, he thought, these people have been pissing openly in public for over 700 years, and they let dogs in their restaurants! He scooped up the change and said, “Merry Christmas!” to the woman in braids and she blushed, for some reason, at the English. As though at an undercurrent of Eros that snaked through the language. He moved on, chewing his handful of nuts, thinking, That’s the same as it ever was, too.

What World Capitol was as resistant to change as Berlin? Just the day before, he’d come out of the U-Bahn at Moritzplatz and been confronted with the impossibly 19th century image of a chimney sweep, on a wobbly black bicycle, top hat and sooty face and all, peddling his frizzy brooms and Dickensian paraphernalia towards Kreuzberg. He’d squeezed the top button on his coat as the bike rattled by, remembering that to do so when you see a chimney sweep is good luck.

Snow was falling lightly on the Christmas market, but he didn’t notice it until it presented itself to him as an accessory to feminine beauty. Lost in the crowd of red-nosed Germans, an elegantly dressed, black-haired woman moved along…the snowflakes arranged with perfect taste on her lustrous hair like an affectation…and she was even smaller than the lanky school kids whom she squeezed by where they jostled in front of a little arcade. He hurried to catch up and his heart raced, although he knew it wasn’t her.

Why was he so moved by the sight of those dozen or so snowflakes arranged on the black silk of that woman’s hair like jewels on display in a vitrine? Why was he pushing through the crowd to get a closer look at the image, the back of this woman’s snow-flaked head?

Digging through the layers of his own feelings like an archaeologist, he came across a buried memory. Now he remembered. He remembered the memory of this memory, the way he’d carried it around in himself as a Central Image of Beauty for the longest time. Remembering this caused him also to remember that he had been that kind of person, once, a person whose mind was always built around some Central Image of Beauty or another, a person who lived for golden moments and lyrical coincidences…a person who lived like a poem.

It pained him to realize that he no longer lived with a Central Image of Beauty. What had his mind become, after all…a mere word-processor? Is this what ‘maturity’ does to you…rob you of your central images of beauty, or your belief in the significance of lyrical coincidences, or the rightness of living life as a poem, as opposed to in the form of an accountant’s ledger?

The memory that he once again remembered, that he had long-ago treasured as his defining Central Image of Beauty: he had just spent a perfect evening, listening to Leonard Cohen while making love and his body was still flush with the chemical flood of that orgasm and he could still smell her on his lips and he was walking home, the long walk from Steglitz, a walk so long that only he would think to do it, at that hour. She hadn’t understood his need to leave at that dramatic time of the night and he couldn’t have adequately explained the paradox, but what he wanted was time to have his thoughts of her to himself. A selfishly loving urge. He didn’t want to share her, not even with her.

He was strolling along a stately tree-lined street, warm in his leather jacket and the street was empty of all life but his own…it must have been nearly three in the morning. The quilted clouds were high and pale blue and prism-edged, pasted tight to the vault of heaven, and the moon shone through a spot over the black roofs of a converging perspective of apartment buildings ahead of him, and it suddenly began to snow. Huge flakes. The street went from hard to soft in a matter of minutes, and then disappeared entirely. The trees became tall crystals, the row of parked cars inflated into a neat collection of huge white puffy toys. No one else was there on the street to see it and he felt that it concerned only him and maybe even that the radiant force of his happiness had somehow triggered it and he stretched his arms out and claimed the snowfall, walking that long walk home in his pleasure-drenched body, certain of the fact that he would never die.

And now he was staring at the back of this tiny black-haired stranger’s head, counting the snow flakes on it, feeling sentimentally mortal. It was as though Fate was teasing him, with affection this time, since he was due to meet Sariah, after four long years, in less than an hour anyway.

He followed the lovely ausländer out of the market and her boots clack-clack-clacked across the street and she disappeared somewhere on the other side of the Ku’damm and he continued along his own way to the café Hardenberg.

He didn’t even have to look at the menu; he knew what he wanted…

And then he was there, in front of her. He couldn’t believe it. He watched her study her menu with touching seriousness, as though she expected to be given a quiz on it. He said, when she folded it shut and placed it on the table, “I love that color on you,” and then he had to laugh, but wouldn’t explain the laughter when she quizzed him about it with her playful squint.

But he had laughed to realize that that was already the fourth time he’d used the word “love” since she’d walked into the café only fifteen minutes before. He’d said, first of all, I love that perfume you’re wearing, what’s the name of it? And then Listen, they’re playing Satie, I love this piece, and immediately after that: I love that blouse; I love that color on you. Four “loves” already and they hadn’t even ordered their drinks yet! Slow down, he counseled himself. Slow down.

He’d very nearly gasped when she’d first breezed in from under the thickening snowfall through that tall glass door: as beautiful as ever, if not slightly more so, but how could she be more beautiful than the first time he’d ever seen her, nearly ten years ago to that day, in a nightclub long-since closed?

But she was more beautiful: thinner, more poised, and dressed with a unity of effect that she’d never bothered with in those days. After all, he admitted to himself with a decent, but not destructive, amount of guilt: she’d been a teenager back then, and I was already thirty. Ten years later, she was still young, and he was now nicely handsome for his age. He never thought he’d see her again, but all it took was a simple phone call, and there she was, right in front of him! Destiny, these days, was simply a matter of picking up little devices with antennae on them, and punching in a few numbers.

Seated alone at a nearby table, kicking his legs while drinking an Eis Schokolade, was a black-haired child of six or seven, a little boy staring at them with his huge brown eyes. Sariah noticed him first and he followed her eyes and they both sat there smiling vacuously at the boy, doing, simultaneously, the simple arithmetic of subtracting the year of their shared abortion from the year of the present moment and coming up with six.

This thought caused the familiar pain to well up in him, the pain that had plagued him for most of their time together those years ago. The frustration of never finding the words…the exact combination of subject and verb and object and intonation…to properly express his feelings for her. Even now, sitting there with her after it was all too late, he blamed the loss…the loss of them to each other…on the emotional inadequacies of his mother tongue.

It struck him that he’d inherited his culture from sophisticated barbarians, people who could smelt iron and design cantilevered bridges and build three-stage rockets, but who didn’t have the linguistic ability to definitively separate lust from sentimental affection. It was all about fucking and doting in English…how could “I love you” mean much of anything to anyone when it was as likely to be uttered to a child as to a mistress or a co-worker, or even an inanimate object? He couldn’t help thinking that in another language…even if they’d been able to speak Persian to each other…they’d still be together. They’d be a family, with that beautiful black-eyed six year old kicking her legs on a chair between them.

But what was the point of suffering over all that again?

“Look,” he redirected her gaze to a framed poster for a Picasso exhibit that had happened before her birth, hung on the wall behind her, “Dora Maar is still crying!” Nothing about the café had changed in all those years. They even recognized one of the waitresses from that era: deeper frown, heavier hips, but balancing the same dark-as-blood beers on her tray. Was it only coincidence that this particular waitress was the least attractive of all the waitresses who had ever worked there, and there she was, trapped, still doing it? That was Berlin: as mercilessly Darwinian as Manhattan, but at a far slower pace, so that even the people not strong or fast or beautiful enough to thrive in the New World were able to live a little before extinction.

He signaled the waitress and looked at Sariah and said, “How are the Montagues?”, using his code name for her family.

“Fine. Well, not entirely fine, but nothing drastic,” she said. “Sonja just bought a new car and some skinhead used a nail to scratch ausländer ‘raus all over it; Zaffar had his heart broken by some German bitch who accused him of being harmless. But you wouldn’t believe he’s only sixteen, he’s taking it so well. Better than I could at that age, inch’allah.” She winked. “And the Capulets?”

He cleared his throat and put a finger on it, and said, apologetically, “Up until this moment I was debating with myself whether or not I should tell you, but my mother is very sick. She’s recovering from breast cancer.”

Sariah looked so stricken by his news that he wanted to sweep her up in his arms and never stop kissing her. How much of this impulse was sentimental; how much was lust? But the compound was a powerful one, including as it did a third factor, which was his purely objective vulnerability to fine art. He couldn’t stop staring at the painting she was: her graphite-black hair, terra cotta skin and lacquer-red lips. A Persian miniature. His mother had been that beautiful once, but now she was old and withered and bald, rooted to a spot in front of a television set in Chicago, slipping out of the last golden shackle of what had been her beauty. Becoming ugly had freed her to be alone.

He ordered his drink and waited for the waitress to leave before saying something daring, emboldened by the strength of Sariah’s grip, but Sariah, too, was waiting for the waitress to leave in order to say something, because you can only dwell on a sorrow for so long before you feel the urge to clean your heart with either anger or mirth, so when the waitress left with their orders, Sariah retracted her hand and said bluntly, just as he was opening his mouth in order to say I love you, “And how is your wife?”

He closed his mouth and shrugged, blinking. She softened immediately, and reached for his hand again, squeezing it. “Sorry. Sorry.”

He realized that he’d never have the nerve to say “I love you” to her again, and that holding her hand across this table would have to be enough and he treasured and committed to memory the experience.

3.

That black-haired seven-year old, seated at that nearby table, relishing his Eis Schokolade, was me. And the child they would have had, were supposed to have had, that I reminded them of…was my soulmate, incarnated briefly as their (aborted) offspring as the result of an intricate plan the two of us had worked out in a non-material state between births. I was to be born in Minnesota and She in Berlin and our paths were destined to intersect when my parents, both of them being Software Specialists, moved to Berlin in order to capitalize on the rapidly expanding market of the capitalist tabula rasa called Europe.

What went wrong?

Pollution. Microwaves, mostly. Because of the super-saturation of local space with all kinds of man-made pollution, Destiny…Fate, Kismet, Shiksal…is no longer a finely calibrated mechanism. It’s like an expensive Swiss watch that some idiot has left on the gigantic face of a powerful magnet…it’s increasingly off.

Deals, plans, agreements, plots and schemes that are carefully designed and ratified in Limbo are less and less likely to be carried through to completion on The Other Side (Life, that is)…with the result that the perception of certain sensitive souls on earth that existence seems to be lapsing into a territory of chaos is perfectly accurate.

My mother had trotted off to the unisex toilet of the café, relishing her freedom to do there in Berlin what she never would have dared to do in America…not even in Minnesota…which is to leave a child unattended in a public space. When she returned from her adventure (after waiting at the locked door of the toilet for a burly bearded man in a corduroy jacket, puffing a pipe, to come out), she found me talking to a couple at a nearby table. That is, I was shrugging a lot, staring down into my ice cream drink and they were asking me questions.

“Your boy is so beautiful,” said Sariah, to my mother. “We were asking him where he’s from.”

My mother Betty, a tall blonde with the broad shoulders of a Swedish farmer’s wife, and a matter-of-fact manner to go with her looks, said, “We’re from Minnesota, he’s a plain old every day American kid who likes video games and thinks that girls are revolting. Very shy, though. Aren’t you, Sander?”

Betty, who hadn’t yet taken her seat, then ruffled my curly black hair in transit to her chair, which she then proceeded to sit in backwards, like software engineers all over the world, flipping the chair-back around to face her interlocutors. Her legs spread out comfortably and she folded her arms and rested them on the top edge of the chair-back, then settled her chin on her crossed wrists, twiddling her fingers.

“He’s quite thoughtful, and acutely sensitive to his surroundings,” she said.

Being discussed in the third person in front of that beautiful woman at the other table humiliated me, but not so much that it discouraged my flirtations with her. She looked like a princess in a video game…a member of one of those seductively ambiguous fantasy races designed to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible. She was sand-colored, and sharp-featured and wasp-waisted and lush of breast.

All the female creatures…villainesses, and princesses alike…in my video games were wasp-waisted and lush of breast. So I found this feature attractive, though I had absolutely no idea what was really underneath all that swelling in the upper torso. Breasts weren’t even body parts, as far as I could tell, but an aspect of the architecture of female attire…I considered flat-chested women to be poorly dressed. My doomed mother, with her basketball player’s body, was just such a poorly-dressed woman in my mind, as much as I loved her. I was ashamed of those flat shirts she wore; her boyishly short blonde hair; her weathered red nose.

“We’re moving to Berlin this spring,” she continued, in her American way, telling her life story with only the slightest encouragement, “as freelance software consultants, because the job market is so wide open here. My husband is back in Minneapolis, selling the house, while little Sander and I check out Berlin. I really like the neighborhood of Steglitz the most, so far. Schoneberg, which everyone recommended, is a bit run down, in my opinion. And Kreuzberg!” She shuddered theatrically. “Out of the question! I’d rather live in Brooklyn, for god’s sake!”

“Yes, I live in Steglitz,” said Sariah, “It’s nice. It’s a good place to raise a child, I think.”

“What a coincidence!” exclaimed my mother. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we ended up being neighbors?”

Sariah dug in her purse for an ink pen, and scribbled on a napkin. “Here’s my number. You can call me, and perhaps I can be of some help.” She smiled slyly at me, winking. “You’ll probably need a baby sitter from time to time.” Then, reading my mind, she amended, “Though ‘baby’ isn’t the proper word, is it? Sander is a handsome young man.”

“Oh my God,” shouted my flat-chested mother, “You don’t even know my name! I’m Betty Lawson, ” she said, shaking the hands of that beautiful black-haired woman, and then the black-haired woman’s morose companion, introducing herself separately to each of them. She took Sariah’s curry-colored fingers in her hand as though they were fragile gifts. She gave the man, conversely, one of her competitive handshakes…I could tell because he winced.

“Sariah Dizadji,” said the beauty, who would one day be my mother’s closest friend, and then, in a few years, her bitterest enemy.

“Where are you staying in Berlin, Betty?” asked Sariah. “Not in a hotel, I hope.”

4.

Dreams are serious transactions and only take on their apparently defining attributes of non-sequitur and symbol in the waking recollection of them. That is, the conscious mind doesn’t store a vocabulary of concepts and images equal to the task of describing a dream’s business, so what comes out, in the remembering, is nonsense.

That night, kicking and muttering in my double bed, right next to my mother’s double bed in our room in a hotel on Budapester strasse in Berlin, I was very busy, triangulating my Soul between a lodge in a village in antediluvian America and a spot outside of Time with my Beloved and a moment in Berlin, eight years hence.

In the lodge, which was humid with breath and body odor and pungent with woodsmoke, I was a muscular old man, astraddle a light-eyed, black haired woman. The pleasure of my penis moving in her…the incipient orgasm…powered the connection, the three-way call between that moment and the moment beyond Time in which I communed unphysically with Her and that future event I was monitoring, as it was happening in Berlin in the year 2009, the conception of my baby sister. My half-sister.

My Beloved, as I mingled with Her in that unmomented placelessness, was a spectacular vision. She was many miles long and fluid-like, but of perfect flatness…sharper than a knife of one atom’s thickness. I saw Her as some kind of supercolor, a green so rich I could both smell and taste Her. She was vivid in the gray of Un-Nothing which is outside of Time, the sticky paste of dead moments that glues consecutive Universes together. She was Thought, unbound by skull.

She was still befuddled over the accident…the abortion. There wasn’t supposed to be an abortion. No sooner had She slipped into the little envelope of the body than She’d been emptied out of it again, dispatched from the Universe in a clinic in Steglitz on Alymerstrasse. We had so carefully worked it out…that She would gush into the world in Berlin, the daughter of this Persian…this beauty named Sariah. And I, born in America a year earlier, was supposed to join Her in Berlin at the age of seven.

But I had arrived in Berlin at the appointed time, only to find her missing…it was like standing alone on the platform as the last passenger has emptied from the train and the train has pulled out of the station and the face you were expecting to see…searching the crowd for it with joy and longing…has never appeared.

In the lodge in the village, where the old fellow (me) was tenderly fucking his mate (Her), the orgasm I was having…the little window of possibility that was connecting all three Realities in this complicated conference call…was arcing towards its peak, jumping in exponents towards the mind-blanking climax that would send my Soul back to the child’s body on that double bed in that hotel room on Budapester strasse in Berlin and shut the window of access on the future event of my half-sister’s conception eight years hence and sign off on my connection with the essence of Her spirit in that Un-Nothing place beyond Time.

We had to hurry.

“Slip in! Slip in, Love! Force your way in!” I urged Her. She was confused…murky still, as I say…from the shock of the abortion. What I was urging Her to do was unethical, but hardly unheard of. The Soul that I was urging Her to displace would just, in turn, have to displace some other Soul that was poised to slip into some other body, a domino-effect, or cosmic game of musical chairs, that would leave some Soul at the end of Time without the body they’d planned on. But so what? It was hardly a tragedy. Life itself…in the biological, space-taking, Time-bound sense…was only a game, or a trick, that some of us had learned to do. It’s a neat trick, and a funny one too…there are only a few hundred of us, really, and yet on Earth we manage the illusion that there are six billion people.

“Now!” I shouted with all of my thoughts. “Please, My Heart! Please! Now!”

And She managed it, slipping in at the last instant, just as that old warrior in that prehistoric lodge was groaning and coming, and I was spiraling back towards my little body in that hotel room on Budapester strasse and the American Steve Lawson was ejaculating between the legs of his Persian mistress in Berlin in the spring of 2009, crying with pleasure and guilt and love afterwards, soaking her rich black hair with his tears, knowing somehow that he’d gotten her pregnant and frustrated above all that there wasn’t an adequate way of expressing his love for her at that moment.

5.

S.L.: At some point you stop calling these things coincidences, because they just keep happening, and the word ‘coincidence’, to me, implies something random. And these things can’t all be random. They seem like part of some kind of plan. Laugh if you want to. Also, what do you call two related coincidences in a row…a coincidence of coincidences? A multincidence?

K.P: Well, all I can say to that is…well…I mean, what, are you going to tell me next… that you read your horoscope every morning now too?

S.L.: But Kurt, look, doesn’t it occur to you that two hundred years ago, people would have laughed snidely at the idea of sending magic pictures through the air…

K.P: I know, I know…into a little box called a television. The difference is, radio waves existed before we theorized about them, so it was only a matter of discovering them, and then developing the technology to make use of the principle. But what you’re proposing is the exact opposite…that you hope that all of this mumbo jumbo is real, and maybe it will turn out to be real one day because you hope so hard that it is. Your hope that the phenomenon is real precedes any empirical, or even theoretical, evidence of it. I therefore have to question your motives in formulating the hypothesis in the first place.

S.L.: Bullshit. I’m just saying that I have an open mind, man, and you don’t. In my opinion, to be such a rabid skeptic is exactly the same as being a dyed-in-the-wool believer…both positions are neurotically extreme, in my opinion, and evade the truth for personal reasons.

K.P: Steve, look. This is what I think happened to you: you fell in love, retired early, and have a baby on the way for the first time in fifteen years, and on top of everything else, you’re almost fifty, which has got you brooding on the topic of your own mortality. I mean, on the one hand, you’re experiencing the sexy magical bliss of imminent parenthood with your brand new foreign-born wife. Shit, Sariah is just about the most stunning chick that you’ve ever been with! No disrespect to your first wife, who happens to be one of my oldest friends, but Sariah makes Betty look like…er…an ex-wife named Betty.

S.L.: No comment.

K.P: But, on the other hand, you have to deal with the fact that, statistically speaking, a little more than half of your life is over. Hey, listen, I’m a year older than you are, so I have the same thoughts, Buddy, late at night when I’m sitting alone in my office and staring out across that spooky backyard of mine and wondering what the point of it all is. But I’m not going to start believing in Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Life After Death all of a sudden just because I don’t want to die. I need evidence. Proof. And you should too, with your background.

S.L.: Evidence is what I’ve been talking about! Evidence is what I’ve been giving you.

K.P: Coincidences are evidence? Where’d you learn your science…in Trinidad? Look: on a planet of almost nine billion people, a little over a billion of them own camcorders, or polaroid cameras, or a pair of those tacky sunglasses with a wireless e-cam in the frame…not to mention the fact that for the past twenty five years there hasn’t been a cubic centimeter in the Western World, or much of the Eastern World, for that matter, that isn’t monitored twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, by some kind of global surveillance system. After all these billions of hours of steady data recording, why isn’t there one fucking inch of credible footage of a poltergeist, or a UFO, or Santa Claus, or Madame Blavatsky, or Michael Jackson’s ghost, or…

S.L.: Hey! Hey! Excuse me…there isn’t any K-Mart security cam footage of neutrinos, quarks, super-quarks, gluons, k-muons, or sweet or sour fermi’s either, man…are you going to deduce from that narrow band of negative proof that sub-atomic particles aren’t real?

K.P: Apples and oranges.

S.L.: Bullshit. Apples and apples.

K.P: We’re going around in circles.

S.L.: When did you become such a stick-in-the-mud square, Kurt Powel? Have you always been such a quasi-Newtonian motherfucker?

K.P: Hey, at the risk of showing my age, let’s just say that maybe it’s a racial thing, Buddy! Maybe I’m just an uptight, fucked-up, low-sexed Wasp who never had the good fortune of taking his mother’s milk from a magic black tit. Maybe it’s that groovy Afro-Native American thing you’ve got going…maybe you’re in tune with the fucking infinite and all that shit. Maybe your great-great-great-great grandfather was a Hopi Shaman, or a Bantu Witchdoctor, and you’ve inherited the family mojo. But, see, my great-great-great-great grandfather was nothing more glamorous than a boring old chemical engineer in Edinburgh, and you know what I inherited from him?

S.L.: No lips and red hair and the world’s smallest dick?

K.P: The world’s hardest smallest dick. Why should I go around believing in ESP, Reincarnation, and Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Box? Why should I subscribe to the Oh Wow Times? What’s in it for me? Look…

S.L.: I know what you’re going to say…

K.P: No, you don’t, fuckface. What I’m going to say is that maybe my recalcitrance on the subject is an understandably touchy over-reaction to life in The States these days. You wouldn’t believe how bad it’s gotten in the eight years you’ve been gone. We’re two months shy of 2010 AD, Nato is sending a manned mission to Mars, the Japs are experimenting with anti-gravity, and yet the fastest growing religion in America is a mixture of Voodoo, Catholocism, and comic books! It’s like living in a hi-tech Mediaeval village! Excorcists run full page ads in the local newspapers, for chrissakes! Just last week, in Kentucky, they threw some chick in prison for casting a spell on her ex-boyfriend that made him lose his hair…

S.L.: You’re shitting me.

K.P: Shit you would I never.

S.L.: Okay, anyway, listen, Kurt. I’m not trying to turn myself into a kaftan-wearing missionary for the church of woodsprites and fairies or anything, man. It’s just that…I don’t know. The longer I live, the more things…happen. Things I can’t explain as a retired software engineer with an associate degree in particle physics. Maybe I’m turning into a Hippie in my old age. Or maybe it’s just because I see God every time I fuck my wife…

K.P: Don’t rub it in.

S.L.: Are you hungry?

K.P: Good question. Am I hungry. What are you thinking? Some Persian delicacy?

S.L.: No, I mean here. Eat something here. They’ve got these disgusting little ham sandwiches with butter on them, if you’re interested. Or I can ask for a menu from that flaxen-haired bartender who’s been staring at you off and on for the past hour.

K.P: I don’t need your charity-flattery, stud: I know she’s been staring at you. Shouldn’t we be heading back to your place before too long, in any case?

S.L.: No rush. I like to give Sariah her space. It’s good to let us miss each other a little sometimes. It’s a tricky transition…

K.P: From the illicit thrill of adultery to the sanctified boredom of marriage.

S.L.: Well, I wouldn’t have put it exactly that way, but that’s the gist of it.

K.P: Yup. Apropos ‘the gist of it’ : how is Betty holding up?

S.L.: She isn’t. It doesn’t help that we’re next door neighbors, and she can hear Sariah and me banging the headboard every night. She keeps slipping these single-spaced tiny-font ten page letters in the mailbox. And all of her e-mails to Sariah are in ALL CAPS.

K.P: What about Sander?

S.L.: That’s the weird thing! He’s never been a happier kid. It’s like…can a fifteen year old boy be ‘serene’ ? Isn’t he supposed to be going through his arsonist, or glue-sniffing, phase? His parents got divorced, his father is expecting a baby with the woman that stole daddy from mommy…his godmother, by the way…and all he can talk about is the stuff he wants to do with his baby sister when she’s old enough

K.P: Sweet.

S.L.: It’s almost too sweet! Do you know what he did the other day?

K.P: What?

S.L.: He thanked me for getting Sariah pregnant! There were tears in his eyes, Kurt! Tears!

-September 1997

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