Descending into Dusseldorf
Once the street lamps flickered on, I realized I had been sitting here for four hours. The chill fog of the Rhine river began to wrap itself along the banks, and I became sore afraid. Perhaps stooping on these steps had been in vain, but I will not be deterred. I arise to knock on the door. “Arthur, let me in!” no reply. I bang on the door once more, he replies with nothing but a deep groan. “Don’t make me come through the window again!” After a pause of silence, I promptly walk in the alley between his apartment and it neighboring one. I always leave it partially open just in case of scenarios like this. He hears the creaking of the window and rushes in a hurry, crying “Please don’t!” His face is unshaven and his eyes are deepened with worry. The face I had sought to know so long ago is no longer there. I move without thought, a mechanism of instinct and float into his kitchen. He slams the window shut, and the noise startles me out of our stare.
“Pardon me, things are uhhh, a bit unorganized” he stutters.
I feel like a moth coming into the light, entering his kitchen. The mysterious luminescence of a bulb strapped with a crooked lampshade hangs low from the ceiling. I take in the whole breadth of the room, and see the individual vignettes, inconsistent in lighting or organization, but the room rather an assimilation of scenes. It’s as though splotches of images were melted out of the dark by the harsh, naked light. They remind me greatly of his paintings, and I struggle to take it all in. A mound of naked clay rests on the kitchen table, while stacks of paperwork lining it lead one to wonder if he eats here at all. I find my answer: he eats over the sink, which is overflowing with piles of plates and bowls. In fact the whole room consists of piles: clothes, paint, papers, foods, garbage, wallpaper etc. I feel as if I am defying his art simply be standing here. And I feel a tinge of guilt.
“Should I go start some tea?” he asks after a seemingly long period of silence.
“Oh, sure. Please do!” I reply and begin taking my coat off. I seek a place to rest, but his house has no room for me. Everything is occupied with his art.
“I hope you don’t mind I’ve, ehhh, acquired a British sensibility when it comes to the drinking of Tea”
I cringed hearing his statement. I know he loves the leading countries in the allied world. He adored pictures of Moscow, and even hung several panoramas of New York City along his walls. But what really tipped him over was his collegiate trip to London, during which he fully immersed himself as some kind of Anglophile. Sometimes I think he’s forgotten that he’s German. His floors are covered with English. His ceiling hangs low with English. The walls buckle down under the weight of English. I can barely pick out some of the words and phrases he circled with his assortment of colored markers.
God bless us, everyone
Whatever happened to Fontane, Mann and Kafka? The great German minds have no place in his house. There is no space for anything other than English and Art, I believe those are the only things he loves. I shudder with doubt and wring my clammy hands. He sets a cup of English tea next to my seat on the cluttered table and asks,
“So what do you need?”
“Oh. Ahem,” I pull out the wrinkled papers from within my coat and hand them promptly
“Ah, yes. You’re moving. Quite sad.”
“Well, uh, I didn’t come here just for that.”
“I want you to come with me.”
“Arthur,” I set my hands on his and continue, “it’s not safe. My, my father comes home
everyday and his face is more miserable than the last. Cities are turning into craters one
by one, and Dusseldorf will be no different. We must leave.”
He looks at me earnestly for a moment, and then exhales deeply.
“Do you understand how hard it would be to move all this?” He asks.
I reply, “Yes, I do. I’m willing to help in any way!”
“No no no Amelia, it’s...it’s much more than just items! This is my home! My father and
My father’s father were all raised here!”
“And they were arrested for treason.”
“I said get out. You spit upon the Schaumbach name. You know nothing. Now get out!”
He crumples up some pages laying on the desk, thrusts them to my chest, and throws my coat over me. I only try to resist for a moment before I realize my efforts have been in vain. I must return home. Once I step outside, the clouds have lightened. Instead, rain muddles my vision all the way home.
I have long since destroyed the pages he gave me that night. They were written by Joseph Roth, the famed Jewish writer. It disgusts me that he would even associate with such poisonous literature. Regardless, they weighed heavily on me, and on today’s cloudless afternoon I opted for a low-brimmed sunhat. Hopefully now he will understand the depth of my agony. I lie awake every night ceaselessly imagining a future with Arthur. With the one who understood and inspired me as a schoolgirl. When everyone else vainly mocked me for my arms, heavy laden with books, I would rest at his doorsteps. He, of course, was always brilliant and had a series of tutors teaching him sculpting and painting. I would unload my books and my troubles to him, and we would spend the afternoons talking about whatever came to mind. His line was always “What’s wrong, Amelia?” Then school ended, the war begun, and everything drifted into oblivion ever since. His parents, who filled his apartment with warm songs and smells were gone, and he grew ever dimmer. I started to stop by only once every other day. Then once a week. It rescinded into a monthly occurrence, then to an almost nonexistant one. Only now do I return in hopes of salvaging his life. I have done much self-investigation, and have found that he is the one approving voice I have been missing in my own.
We stand on the porch of his apartment and talk about the briefcase in my hand. He blows smoke in my face. “Well, it was nice knowing you.” he says dismissively. “Yeah, likewise”. I look at him intently and begin to imagine where I would find affirmation elsewhere. It’s something hard to come by, and when you find approval you don’t even acknowledge it’s there. How I longed for a bittersweet farewell. How I longed to express my love and he reflect it back. My mind buzzes with an infinitude of scenarios:
“I love you more than my brother. Your happiness is my happiness. My heart is set on yours and it will not be moved.”
“The same goes for you, Arthur. You are the subject of my prayers. My dreams are of your joy.”
But nonesuch exchange happens. We just look at each other as he says remissively, “I imagine your father didn’t like those papers I gave you, eh? Sorry about that. Wanna come in my place one more time?” I shake my head resolutely and look down. Something about my demeanor catches his interest for once. A miracle. “Wait, you’re hiding something.” he says. Beads of sweat begin percolating on my forehead. I clutch my briefcase in fear. “What’s wrong?” he asks. I shake my head once more, then he grasps my shoulders and in a fright, my hat topples to the floor.
He sees my black eye. “My father said...we’re leaving today. Goodbye Arthur.” The life deadens in his eyes, and he returns his cigarette to his lips. “That’s all there is to it, then” he replies. I never saw him again. My city was destroyed a week after, and I stared at the mountain of ashes rising as though to the heavens. For what felt like a segment of eternity I mired at this strange emotion it aroused at me and wondered what it could be. The only word I have is loss.
Descending into Dusseldorf
Descending into Dusseldorf