[quote] I staggered into a sleek express train at Zoo Station, like a clean eagle among the dirty pigeons of the Berlin subways. I was drunk as sin already, and I drank more on the train. I slept through the night, having nightmares. In the early morning hours, I heard the bells and the conductor announcing our arrival in Munich. I stumbled off the train, and on to another. I went from the mountains of Bavaria, to the mountains of the Black Forest, and to the old city, Freiburg.
I took a cab at the Freiburg train station, dirty and hungover like death walking, to Tomas’ little hideaway flat in a building his father owned for years, in the old part of the city where the cobblestone and the cathedral and the late-medieval buildings had attracted tourists looking to walk through history.
Tomas was fabulously wealthier than us, his friends, and he always seemed guilty about it. We never held it against him. It’s not his fault he was born into obscene luxury and not into blue collar squalor like the rest of us. We would have loved him poor because he was an amazing painter and a good friend. His art was fantastic, and his heart was generous. He converted three of his family’s old buildings into gallery space, and he’d let us use them to show our stuff. He let us borrow his little hideaways – like this one in Freiburg – when we had to slough off a filmy skin collected over the soul: bad relationships, too many drugs, or a rut of too many late nights with no work done.
I had accumulated a veil of all three. I had shown up at Tomas’ house to get a ride to his latest exhibition of his brilliant canvases. I reeked of absinthe. My hands trembled from the heartbreak all over my face. He let me in. He fed me Tandoori chicken. He poured espresso into me until I seemed human enough to take a shower. When I came out, he told me I should go to Freiburg for a while. He’d meet me there when his exhibition was over and check up on me. He never asked me what happened to the woman that was supposed to come with me that night. He didn’t need to.
I borrowed some of his clothes – mine were filthy – and together we went to his gallery opening. Tomas was a fabulous painter. He was better than me, I’ll admit it. He sold four canvases in an hour at a price my work would never match. All of the canvases were bright and vibrant celebrations of life, just like the graffiti you could find all over the Berlin wall at the time. I basked in his bright shadow while everyone congratulated him for his work. Afterward, he couldn’t help but smile all the time, even while I was miserable, and I couldn’t help but smile for him, too. We went to a bar near Zoo Station where you could see the Wall spreading off left and right from the windows of the bar, and the other nation beyond it. Tomas matched me beer for beer. He dragged me to the station. He placed an envelope in my pocket with the address and keys of his place in Freiburg. He helped me stumble onto the train, and placed my ticket visible in my lapel pocket so the conductor wouldn’t have to wake me up to punch my card.
I fell into the trains, to Freiburg.
I slept for a day as best I could with the cathedral bells thundering the hours a hundred yards from the window. I had drunk too much alcohol to enjoy the bells tearing through my skull.
After the second day, I had drank all the sodas and eaten all the canned and dried goods. I had to either leave the flat to find food, or starve.
I called Tomas from a payphone first, to tell him I was starving to death. Tomas said he was watching the news. A shopkeeper had died trying to cross over the wall. A sniper had shot the an from the sky out of a homemade hang-glider. The dead body in the glider crashed into West Berlin, and the brave man bled to death, smiling because he had made it across and he would die a free man with four bullet holes in his chest and neck, but free. Tomas said that I should have been there, to paint all that blood splattered over the Wall’s graffiti.
“Tomas, I’m not going to lie to you,” I said. “Things are getting dire over here, too. I think I’m about to starve to death. I’ve eaten all the food, and nothing is left. Soon, I will have to eat my own arm.”
“My old canvases are all in the closet. Strip them if you need them. Nothing I ever painted there was any good. Use anything you find. There isn’t a decent museum for miles, but the cathedral has some lovely, hideous stuff to steal in a pinch, and the Black Forest is straight up the mountain and goes for miles. Hike around. It’s good for your health. I’ll see you next month. I’ll bring Carlos and Theodora with me, and anyone else that can come. We’ll investigate your latest canvases. We’ll have a big party. You’d better paint something good, my friend. We’re all coming for you and we’ll kick your ass if your paintings are shit.”
“Do you think I could eat your old canvases if I boiled them long enough? You didn’t use any lead paint or metals, did you?”
“Be good, Johann. Don’t anger the neighbours with the sound of screaming.”
“Tomas, I love you like a brother. I want you to come visit me as soon as you can. Bring Tandoori chicken because I’m going to starve to death. Abandon art. Open a Tandoori chicken restaurant. You’ll make another fortune. Then, the rest of us can sell some paintings for a change and we’ll never starve.”
“Call me anytime, Johann. I hope you feel better soon.”
“Tomas, your gallery show was fucking incredible. I fucking love your paintings. I mean it. I can’t believe how many you sold in only one night.”
“Good-bye, Tomas. I’m going to paint a nice picture of the hang gliding man, for his family in East Berlin, in a Romantic style. He was so brave, but he should have picked a windier day. He should have waited for winter when the snipers get drunk to keep warm and can’t shoot for shit.”
“Good-bye, Tomas. I don’t know if I will paint anything. I have been cursed, you know, and everything I paint will be destroyed by the time I finish the canvas. That’s what she did to me, you know. She placed a curse on me.”
But Tomas didn’t hear that. He had already hung up the phone.
I gathered food and drink. I returned to the apartment. I sat in the darkness, listening to the bells of the night. I felt numb.
I considered painting Zoe. I wondered if it is what she wanted me to do when she cursed me. She wanted me to destroy her completely.
Cathedral bells tolled late morning like an invasion of angels. I woke up on the couch. Sunlight blurred against the gauzy white curtains that veiled the room. I covered my ears with my hands and two pillows. It wasn’t enough.
An untold number of drafts later – more than usual even for me – and I am determined to write about the Berlin Wall and the beautiful lake at Titisee.
So much abandoned prose, and all of it not quite right…