Thinned blood gushed from the wound. His stomach a mash-tun, his head spun madly. God fucking…shit Ruined! That was the only thing from Berlin A drink, a drink, a drink. A little bit of the easiness to slide down, a little bit of the emptiness to wash away. The floor was littered with empty bottles. Gregor’s hand dashed from bottle to bottle; each one meeting the wall upon the discovery of futility. My mind is a no good fucking never a no good never a useful Searching, seeking, wanting and waning. Supremely destitute are the poor in libation. Gregor latched to the full bottle of wine tucked between the bed and the night stand. The corkscrew nowhere in sight he grimaced and smashed the neck on the edge of the stand and began to drink savagely. Small fragments of glass embedded themselves into his tongue, wine mixed with blood (on his chest and in his mouth) as it spilled furiously around. Gregor, satisfied, flicked the lamp off.
The nights had continued on in this way. Gregor spent them in a tiny dwelling outside of an unimportant town in the West. The domicile was situated on a small portion of land granted to him by his grandfather. The pungent scent of decay and dried blood permeated the cottage. In Gregor’s mind it was the imperial palace of a declining empire: antiquated and stale with a fragrance like that of broken dreams. It was in fact the house of an immigrant. His grandfather had erected it in the late forties while working in the mines outside of town. Jacek Zemstę arrived in America in the summer of nineteen forty four. Most had assumed he left his country because of the war. When confronted with the question his face would contort with a seething mania. Noticing the conversation had gone sour most would let the question lie. It was not the oppression of the Nazis or the brutality of Stalinists that lead Jacek to flee his homeland, as he was not in Poland during the war. He had instead lived lavishly under the Soviets as a petrol chemist. Shortly before the invasion of Poland he had arrived in Moscow. Hearing word of the Blitzkrieg on his homeland he shrugged and said “I’ll stay where the vodka is fresher.” During the winter Gregor would take it upon himself to dwell in the house. The nostalgia of the place had dimmed and the memories hollowed by bouts of overindulgence. The longing desire to come home had never settled in him for this was not his true home but merely a place of decadence he could shelter himself in.
During the days when the sun would sly through the clouds Gregor would walk the property. Like the surrounding town, all signs of civilization had slowly eroded. There was no road to the property. Abandoning all thoughts of infrastructure the town had all but given up decades ago. During the middle half of the century it had been robust in coal and oil but had bloomed prematurely. Ephemerality was the case for all Western settlements built on opulence. The streets had all but worn away, aside from the main artery leading from the jail to the bar. When the walks could not be taken Gregor wrote letters to Berlin. Her face gleamed in his head like the emergence of Zeus to Leda; his thoughts forcefully impregnated with demigod-like zeal.
Letters to her were muddled with drunken ramblings: long and lavish often cryptic and dispiriting.
I think of two people: one as the captain, one as the ship. In a time of need, in the inevitable crisis of sinking, the ship begs and pleads the captain to stay. Life is made up of these people. A captain without a ship is merely a man in a strange hat. With a ship he is whole, he is with purpose. The ship without a captain is a relic of a forgotten time; properly crewed it is an icon of motion. When the ship wrecks the captain goes down with it. When the captain dies the ship re-crews.
— Gregor Wohlwollen Zemstę, that’s a strange name for an American, don’t you think? Berlin jokingly inquired.
— It’s German, I suppose. My father came up with it. He named me after my grandfather’s archenemy. He stated with modesty.
— That’s a strange thing to do, why did he do that?
— Probably to be a bastard I’d imagine. I’ve never met my father, I don’t even know his name. Only that he exists… or existed… to spite my grandfather. Gregor hesitated for a moment mulling over what he had just declared. He began again: What about Berlin, that isn’t exactly a normal name either?
—My mother gave it to me.
—Did she have an affinity for shitty cities or for bears?
Berlin, in all actuality, did not know why her mother had chosen the name for her, but had deduced long ago that she was named not after the city but after the wall.
—Because she wanted a separation between herself and my father. . . I don’t think she had ever left the country.
Silence had been cast on the two of them; they sat ill at ease, beacons of the cryptic meanings they embodied. Berlin broke before she had to explain herself any further.
—And what of your mother, I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned her? She asked.
—I. I’m. I’m unaware. I don’t know her; in fact she does not exist . . .
Gregor once spent six months in a Norwegian cabin. The whole time he was morbidly depressed because he knew eventually he would have to leave. His fondness for isolation stemmed from a childhood surrounded in it. The house of Jacek Zemstę was a forty square foot shack with two floors divided into twenty each. The main floor contained the living room and the kitchen, sectioned off by a single piece of sheet rock pinned to three two by fours. The living room contained a single chair, the chimney and a battery operated radio. The upstairs was partitioned by the same design except it contained two bedrooms of ten foot space each. This was the house Jacek had raised his first family in. He and his wife had lived here and had raised their only son, Gregor’s father. Gregor knew fundamentally nothing about his father other than he had one. Jacek, in his old age, had lost the essence of his youth and had become a hollow husk of the man he once was. This left him prone to bouts of silence coupled with the heat of his alcoholism. Gregor was raised in a quiet fortitude drenched in gin.
Gregor was forty minutes late. He did not bother with the front desk, bypassing it and the one employee. Asking for her served no purpose as she would have signed a false name. The deception of a fake name was another part of Berlin’s amusement; she found virtue in all things false, which Gregor assumed was one of the reasons she enjoyed him. Swaggering past the front office Gregor ascended the stairs to room sixty nine, on an assumption based on her juvenile qualities. The door was unlocked, as always.
He reached into the inside pocket of his overcoat and presented a bottle of wine. With a beam of elation Berlin fell back onto the bed, face toward the ceiling. The memory of Munich flourished in her mind. Neither of them portrayed any real usefulness to each other than the distribution of their emptiness. The second time they had met, years ago, was in a German beer garden. After Jacek’s death Gregor decided to leave the country, promising himself to never again return home. He found himself in Germany, to Gregor a good place to begin: the foundation for all of Jacek’s suffering. He took this time to sit alone, to survey the locals, to do absolutely nothing. This being their second meeting, Berlin insisted she pick where to convene. She chose the beer garden due to its high traffic of people on the supposition that Gregor may despise it. They sat out in the cool April night; the hanging lights glimmering like false fire flies. Off in the distance the whistling of a train, a wraithlike moan sent a shudder through Gregor.
— Are you cold? You look sick; maybe you should go inside or get something to eat, she said.
—No, I’m fine.
He was in fact sick, and he had not eaten in two days, but it was the train that made him anxious. The death of his grandfather did not truly disturb him, he grieved, in the standard sense of what it is to lament but it did not bother him. Jacek may as well have been dead when he was alive. It was the realization that he was, in all ways of the word, alone. The solitude Gregor had always craved, the actual solitude of a single person and not that of a callous old man, he now had. What he came to recognize was that, in the nothingness, there was still nothingness. Berlin fit into the pit of his chest like a heart shaped block.
— Every time I hear that— the train— it reminds me of home, he lamented.
She took a gulp of beer. He lit a cigarette. Her eyes wandered around the crowd. Picking apart faces with her eyes, distinguishing character in one glance and casting them off instantly. The inner works of Berlin’s mind were, in all ways, like a tunnel in which the light was always visible but never attainable. Her spite had worn off; she, feeling a sense of warmth in Gregor’s remark, fixed her eyes on him. He was curious to her, like a child spying a jellyfish out of water.
—Everywhere has a train; every city has one, especially American cities, she said.
—That they do. Every city is the same then, which makes travel sort of nullifying. I’m beginning to understand it this way.
—How do you mean?
Gregor inhaled deeply through his nostrils, taking in that pungently sweet spring air wish I never had to breathe common to all German cities out. He exhaled and spoke:
—All places are inherently the same; they contain the same conditions, the same habits, the same silence. All people are naturally the same: waking, eating, sleeping, thinking, not thinking.
—I don’t believe that in the slightest, are you to say Hanoi is anything like Prague, that Reykjavík resembles Beijing? Or that you and I are identical when clearly we have different views? Maybe it would be better to say that traveling is inherent in all humans, that we find purpose in the migratory patterns of knowledge and the search for culture?
—Consider this, the only thing you truly own is your mind, not even your body. You have no control of anything outside of what happens to the body. You at any moment may become ill, someone could break your arms, you may trip and fall and your legs could no longer work. However, your mind is the only thing you can access and control. If this is the case, then, wherever you go your take your mind, you take your problems. If you seek travel to change your life then look no further than your mind. Wherever you go you will be miserable unless you first confront your problems, scene does not change that.
—Is that why you’re miserable? I’m positive that thinking like that would make anyone miserable.
Gregor moved to the window and drew the shade.
—I’m without a cork screw, he said.
Berlin sat up on the bed and removed one heel with her foot.
—Here, she kicked a stiletto toward him.
Gregor began to pound the bottom of the wine bottle with the stiletto. Berlin moved to the window and opened the shades. The dim light of a Western winter marked her face with a glow, a glow that moved the dregs inside Gregor’s stomach. He found in her a sense of longing, the sort of which loneliness feigns but can never deliver. The type of which has the heat of alcohol but a hangover of an arcane quality. The cork slid out; Gregor observing Berlin did not realize. His gin soaked shirt now bore the mark of a martyr drenched in the obscure spirit of conviction, silently taking his punishment.
At noon the church bell rang. Gregor stood slumping against the window. The beer in his hand had warmed. On the tongue it became the consistency of honey. He stood as he had through the dawn and into the morning. His body had numbed, his legs became posts embedded into the floor; he, the post that held the house upright. Though the window, perched upon a line of barbed wire, a meadowlark could be seen. Its tiny head fidgeting into the underside of its wings, belting out warbled chirrups between the waning chimes. The little V-neck bird summoned a breeze through Gregor’s body. The more he gazed the more the wind scattered the documents of thought. The chirrups through the boom of the bells moved him; he swayed standing completely still. The scape of his mind swelled with tide of his thoughts, thrown and tossed in a familiar surge. Never mind what the French call it, it’s that sensation, that vibration of the body, no control, the living dream of an unknown memory. A voice like that of an old blues musician murmured unintelligible things into the wake of his thoughts. The bells tolled bursting in the tempest; the birds warble a siren’s call, and the voice of the great god Skip James groaning. At the moment of disconnection, the moment of drowning, Gregor was pulled from the waves back to the house. The bells had ceased and the bird sang on.
Walking along the edges of the dirt road Gregor caught sight of a boy from town. He was a simpleton with a lazy eye who wandered the outskirts of town till sundown. Gregor watched as he crept slowly through the dried tall grass on the side of the road. Slung over the boy’s back was a .22 rifle. When the boy was nearly fifty yards from the bird he stopped and lied down belly flat in the tall grass. When the bird sang the boy crawled forward. When it stopped the boy lay still. Gregor gazed at the bird, letting it wash over him, losing interest in the simpleton. The bird sang intermittently flickering and warbling. The pop of the .22 could be heard, the lever-hand flying, tiny pea sized shells whipping through the air, no care. The bird twitched, warbled. The bullets whizzed by. No cares. The honey like liquid slid down. No cares. A bullet plinked the wood post, the wire vibrated. No cares. Gregor laughed, meaning finished the bottle, and left his post.
She was not the fresh air craved, but that pallid odor of an old folks home. Familiar, decadent. And he, for her, was a sunny day over a forest fire. each word like a wave lapping against the shore creating a foamy spittle Berlin had been gone a month. In that month she sent a series of letters which she explained nothing. Gregor watched the spring roll in. He continued by the window. Her last letter contained drawings of flowers. There were no words. She would not be back. The alcohol warmed over him like a blanket. The bed was nice and cold.