“You waited as much as I did. You just haven’t stopped living”
“Yeah… I was thinking about you”
“I know I’ve been gone a long time, but I realized something: I don’t need you to live, but I don’t want to without you”
I leaned back. The waitress finally came to me. With a sad look she mumbled “Sorry” and cleared her throat while trying to avoid my eyes “The same as always?” she asked me.
“No, with milk and sugar, please” I forced a smile out of me that the waitress returned, before she turned around and left. My attention belonged to her again and even if I wanted her to sit there quietly, I allowed her to speak, but swore not to listen to her words.
“You can’t blame yourself for this. She didn’t die because of you” In my head, I had to blame someone. I wondered what the last thing I said to Martina was, “don’t throw your life away with him” or “don’t throw your life away with him”. I didn’t know anymore, but her voice said: “You know that, and does it really make a difference?
Did Martina go out of guilt or rejection? I couldn’t remember, and I couldn’t understand why. She didn’t say anything when she left. I hadn’t even looked her in the eyes. I just put out the cigarette and then I left.
“What difference does it make? Gone is gone. You didn’t send anyone away”
KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.
It was so loud in my head, I would have loved to scream it, so all the other guests would have turned to me. My pain wouldn’t have been invisible anymore, but then again, I would have been declared mad. She grabbed my hand, put hers on mine.
“It’s much nicer than your mouth”
I felt it and I knew that I should not be able to do it, which meant for me that I had gone crazy, and because I knew, therefore could be reassured that I was fine and not fully gone. It was only a mourning process, and mourning could cause such a thing.
“You can close the lid of a coffin, let the body rot under the earth, but escape no memory you hunt”
“I know. I will face you” I whispered to her and laid my other hand on my own. Then I laughed at myself. She wasn’t there anymore, and I kept drinking my coffee. There was still work to be done.
To draw a line, I had once read, would only be possible if one faced things head on. There was also a footnote: you shouldn’t expect a perfect ending. I never like to follow advice if it doesn’t already agree with a course of action, on which I with myself had already agreed on. After three unsuccessful attempts, I caught him on the phone.
“At my place in 15 minutes. I know you got something to say to me”
I let him in. He looked calm. I sat down in my father’s chair. I asked him if he wanted to drink a glass of tap water. He didn’t waste no time.
“For four years you were gone, and yet, as soon as you were back, she was different. She didn’t smile that much anymore. She didn’t talk to me anymore. She locked up, and I knew it could only be because of you”
“It was a mistake to come back, I know that now too”
“I never understood why she cared, let alone cried for you. Did you know I didn’t talk to her until six months after you left?”
“No, I didn’t”
“The day after you left, she just sat there, staring sadly out the window. When I finally found the courage to talk to her, I didn’t know what to say”
His voice fell off towards the end into a sad tone. He stopped for a moment, pulled himself together.
“You let her down”
I showed no reaction. The widower noticed that the words that arrived, they hit upon nothing within me. In a calm tone I recited the formula that had been practicing in my head: “I’m sorry I destroyed your happiness. The years with you must have been Martina’s most beautiful”.
I paused to emphasize my words.
“I’m sorry. I apologize. When I came back, I had no idea you two were married”
And then it became quiet, the words reverberated in the widower. The vibrations collided from side to side and in his head the echoes began to vibrate and spread into every corner. I could see it on his face. When the point was reached where the space for his thought became too small, the widower said to me “Did you think she would wait forever?”
His words broke a crack in my mask and the first time I could look him in the face. I had toyed with the possibility in my mind, but I thought he was too weak to pronounce it.
“No, but… I don’t know what I was thinking. I had to get away from there – the city is full of voices”
He caught me.
“And your father dying was the ideal excuse, right? I was understanding at first when she told me. That your father died of cancer, and you haven’t been here in so long. She said she wanted to help you deal with the fact that you let him down”
“Damn it… I didn’t let him down. I left him to rot. For his God was with him, how could the presence of his mortal Son comfort him when god’s son spoke through him?”
“I’ve heard the rumors. It was just trunkless talks at school. Things you don’t say to someone. Somehow, I knew it was true. He messed you up, didn’t he?”
The widower smiled, waiting for a reaction. He expected anger but got only indifference. He had drilled in the wrong place and my mask was whole again. He had missed the opportunity. Nevertheless, he wanted an answer, because that was the only reason why he had come and that was the only reason why I had called him to me.
“You can take a lot. I thought your father had to be the reason. I understand why you left, but if it’s not repentance that brought you back, then what was it?”
“It was remorse, but not what you think. I would have regretted not seeing him die”
“That’s the kind of thing you dare to say?” he asked me and laughed, “Why you? I was hoping to come here and understand it, but instead I understand it even less. What man wants someone dead?”
“An honest man”
“A cowardly man, that’s what you are”
No, I am strong enough to lie to you.
“You’re angry, I get that. Blame me if you want me to” I reached into my pocket and gave him the photo, “It’s yours. It had always belonged to you”
“Where’d you get this?”
“Martina had forgotten. I wanted to give it back to her”
“That’s why you tore me down? You’re a bad liar. I know you were in our house”
“Believe me or don’t believe me. Take it or don’t take it. I don’t care”
I finished the glass of whiskey. I poured myself another one. His eyes got wet when he looked at the photo, but he buried the sadness before it could swell out of him. He wanted to be strong. He’d only come here to blame me, but he realized I wasn’t as attached to her as he expected.
“She looks beautiful” he stroked her face, “The photo was taken just before we got married”
“Martina had told me about it”
His gaze was lost in the photo. His thoughts were lost in his memories. For a moment he was not in this life. A moment of silence that belonged only to the past and that I saw so often in myself.
“I really loved her”
“I know” I stammered out, wishing I could tell the widower whose wife he buried, but he had not come to clear up a mistake.
The man wiped his eyes before the tears came out.
“Keep it” he said, “you destroyed my memory of her” he pushed the photo back to me and left my house without a word.
I’ve lost my mind. With a memory, I talked about the dead. Instead of talking to the living about the dead. But corpses have no place in everyday life; you don’t talk about the dead. She also seemed more alive to me in my head than the ones out there. I was so alone, even though there were so many around. I just packed my things and drove away. Get out, I just wanted out. I was like a sugar crystal in a can or a cube. It made sense to me that I couldn’t go on like this any longer. I suffered without shedding tears and it didn’t help that, I let some of my brain cells cross the river Tequila. My mind, I felt, has left me.
No one heard the music except me and those who heard it were afraid of it and did not talk about it.
“I can’t talk to you” I said in the cab in the back of my room. The taxi driver turned around.
He turned forward and shook his head. In my life, I had often been mumbled about by “madmen”, but nobody except me had bothered so little to keep to the volume.
“It doesn’t matter now, he thinks I’m crazy”
“That’s why you have to cement his picture of yourself” Martina asked me.
“He’s already looking at me in the rearview mirror, I think it’s late to save my image from something”
“You’re just deliberately talking out loud with the dead girl in your head because you want to have a laugh. You feel sad”
“You know me too well”
“If you think this might lead not paying the cab, I wouldn’t be surprised if it works”
I laughed so hit my fist against the back seat. When we arrived, I paid for the trip and gave him a tip. I went up to my hotel room. In the hallway I met an old, frail lady. She looked at me.
“What are you looking at, old bag?” I asked her snappishly. She increased her speed from Mach 1 to Mach 1 point 2. I sat down on the bed, took off my shoes and stretched out on the blanket and looked at the ceiling.
“I know I haven’t gone so crazy yet. You’re dead and I still have to live with living”
“Ever heard of ghosts?”
“So, there are ghosts?”
“And what’s death like?”
“It’s a long wait”
“Is the administration in heaven as bad as here?”
“Bureaucracies in heaven? You’re kidding. We’re all going to hell. You are going too”.
“And I thought I could escape the masses like this”
We laughed together. I stopped, and she kept giggling for a long time. It scared me, and then her laughter started screaming.
“AHHhhh COME ON” I screamed, and she was gone. There was a knock on my door. I let it knock a little. I didn’t want to see anyone. Besides, I knew who it was and why he was there. The knock became a knock and the man screamed:
“MR. RADETZKY. I SAW YOU COMING THROUGH THE DOOR. OPEN RIGHT NOW OR I JUST COME IN”
I went to the door and opened it. I left the bar inside.
“You’re behind on your rent, you know that as well as I do”
“I’ll bring it to you tomorrow”
“That I promised you, that you could pay cash was a mistake”
“Everybody makes mistakes. Besides are there any other guests?1”
“Oh, shut your mouth, you smartass. Tomorrow there’ll be money, or I’ll call the police and you’ll be kicked out on the streets”
“All right, you have it at 6:00pm, when I come home. I will stop at the bank at lunch”
I closed the door again. I went to the closet. Put all the stuff I had taken in the suitcase. That was mostly change clothes. I waited until night fell, and then disappeared with the suitcase out into the darkness. I knew he wouldn’t get me. When I stood on the doorstep of this house three months ago, I claimed to run away from my father and in a hurry to carry neither passport nor any other kind of photo ID with me. The landlord was skeptical and of course insisted at first on some sort of ID, but I cooked him soft with my story and paid the first month in advance. I didn’t pay the others. Last month he received a promise that I was just waiting to find a job, but this month he seemed to have had enough of my appeasements.
Now I didn’t know where to go. My capital became scarce, my expenses devour the reserves. The second time that day, I sat down in a taxi. It was time to say goodbye.
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