By Harrison Abbott
Ron still thinks about her often in dreams. If indeed thought can be pure within the magical arena of dreamland. It is only when asleep then that a full grief for her can be felt. She plagues his sleep with that sadness, and it’s been over two years since she left. That Berlin is so intertwined with her visions makes it unbearable. He wishes that he’d never gone to Berlin, that mighty city. Or that he’d taken her there, for now he dreams of her spliced under the domes and statues, whirling through train windows. He knows now that he will never go back to Berlin. Claudia was her name.
Claudia had enormous eyes and she wore a green felt coat whereupon her gold hair would dangle down. Wisps of her gold would lift in the wind. Beauty has a rare power to it. It wrangled Ron’s heart. He holidayed with her around the Mediterranean. Claudia was Greek. She took him to visit her parents in Athens and they drove through the dazed hills under the simmering skies. He drew oil pastel pictures of her face. She would walk nude on the remote beaches. He learned the confusing awe of sex alongside her body. She was a wonderful model to paint, pencil, charcoal, anything. That was their first holiday.
They were back in Scotland after the trip, where they both studied. One morning, they were lying in bed having been drinking the night before. She asked him what he had planned for the day. He said he might do a painting. “Yeah,” she said, “do it. Then put it on your blog, and then only you will see it.” Ron didn’t say anything. Claudia quickly dressed and left the flat. Ron did not paint that day. There was something articulate in her insult which made him think in a new way. He’d always thought of himself as talented. He was a prolific artist, and was doing well in Art School. But Claudia was right. His work was not popular. Why was it not? Isn’t good art vastly known? Perhaps Ron was not talented. Arrogance had shielded him naively. Claudia apologised for the insult the next day.
Later in the week they were watching a film together. Claudia was in a low mood and was acting aggressively. She looked at Ron with thin eyes whenever he spoke. At one point she said he had a “fat face”. The film was about a psychopathic killer. He was played by a handsome actor. When the actor appeared on the screen Claudia kept exclaiming how attractive she found him. There was a scene in the film where the actor kills another man by breaking his neck, and Claudia cried, “Oh! So hot!” She asked Ron why he looked so sad. He couldn’t understand why she was being like this. There was a silenced rage in him. He left after the film finished and she shut the front door in his face. He messaged her whence home to say he was angry with her. She apologised.
He tried to sleep but he couldn’t as he kept remembering the violence in the film and Claudia’s sexual thrill from it. In the darkness of his room, Rom cut his leg lightly with a Bic Razor blade. The cuts weren’t enough to need medical attention but enough to leave a mark.
Claudia had a habit of talking about Ron’s elder brother William admiringly. William was a successful musician, the lead singer in one of Scotland’s top bands. She called him “Your famous brother” when she spoke to Ron. Ron had taken her to one of William’s gigs on a date. During this period, Ron’s Art School exams were approaching and he was chronically stressed. He was drinking every night to cope with it. There came an evening when he was messaging Claudia. She was being kind and it was a good conversation.
She texted him about the time when Ron had taken her to William’s gig. Then, Ron had pointed at William on the stage and said jokingly, “Don’t fall in love with him: fall in love with me.” Claudia recalled this line, and said that she’d found William handsome, then said, “But I already was falling in love.” What Claudia meant was that she was already falling in love with Ron. But her English wasn’t so good, and Ron was drunk. He misread the words. He read it as that Claudia was in love with his handsome famous brother. He asked her if she was serious. Yes. He texted her, “That is it.”
There was a pen knife on Ron’s desk. He picked it up and pulled his sleeves down and slashed as hard as he could on both wrists. He cut vertically. It felt like nothing. Blood zoomed up and flew over the walls. He rushed to his door and ran into the corridor, screaming for his flatmate. When she saw the blood spray she said, “Oh, God.” She asked him what he wanted her to do. “Call an ambulance!” he cried. When he was in the hospital he’d never felt so numb and dry. His cuts were not life threatening. His flatmate had come with him and was sitting by his bed. She was quietly furious with him.
He looked over the message from Claudia and realised he’d misunderstood what she’d said. He called her and told her what happened. She sobbed hysterically and told him she would come to the hospital. The nurses came in to stich his wrists up. The scars were huge but they did it skilfully. When he was free to go, he found Claudia in the waiting area. She was the only person there as it was four in the morning. She was wearing the pretty green coat and was pacing around. When she saw him she hugged him and her face was teary. His top was soaked dark red. She took him home and told him never to do this again.
And Ron never has done this again. He has not harmed himself in any way since the wrist slashing. He has a history of self harm and there are lots of scars on his body. The wrist scars are by far his largest, but his last. People notice the scars and they ask him how he got them. He always answers, “Just old scars,” and they ask no more. Most people just spot the scars then look away and don’t say anything. Regardless, there is more to the story of Ron and Claudia.
After the incident Ron was referred to a therapist to discuss it. It was determined that he showed no signs of mental illness. Claudia stayed with Ron and was sweet and sympathetic. They became closer than they had been. Ron completed his exams. Claudia studied at the other university and her exams were a few weeks after Ron’s. So he had a holiday when she needed to revise. They agreed on a plan. Ron would fly to Berlin for a week, then he would head to Prague the next week where he’d meet Claudia. Claudia liked Prague as she had a best friend who lived there and it was a great city. Perfect. Ron stayed with Claudia the night before his Berlin flight and he missed her as soon as they parted, such was the strength of their love.
Berlin. From the airport the train flumed into the city. Through the windows he beheld the handsome limbs and innards of the metropolis, delving from the outskirts into the centre. Then the lofty streets and calm bars, the shadows of foliage from the trees that centred the roads. The clever graffiti, the beer, the flurry of young women. Ron took bike rides by the Spree and as he ventured stopped and drew pictures of the architecture he admired. He felt he was drawing freely, like he used to. People came up to him to see his work and their compliments stunned him. He made fleeting friends with other travellers and tried a bit of German with the locals. Berlin was dazzling. He felt like an artist again, that his talent and confidence were restored.
He left Berlin knowing he would return one day. He met Claudia in Prague and she grinned gleefully when she saw him. They explored the city, revelling in its medieval brilliance and the religious power of the buildings. He sat welded by Claudia’s eyelashes in restaurants, grew hazy by the piano-trill of her Greek accent. He would draw her as she lay naked on the hotel bed, combining eroticism with his art. He could not remember ever feeling as happy. He was ashamed that he’d tried to kill himself, but was glad that he was still alive.
Claudia’s best friend who stayed in Prague was named Maria. Claudia was excited about seeing her. They went to meet up with her on the third night in a place by the Vltava. The evening sun doused the river. They got some drinks and went outside to sit by the water. There were a few standard questions between Ron and Maria, as to where they were from, what they studied, etc., and then Maria asked:
“Are you in a band?”
“No,” Ron said.
“No,” Claudia jumped in. “Ron has a famous brother who’s in a band. And two other brothers who are not famous.”
“Oh, right,” Maria said, “Does he play the guitar?”
“And Ron is jealous of his famous brother!” Claudia said.
“Oh, ho,” Maria trying to deescalate things. “You will be famous one day too.”
Claudia had silenced Ron once again. He hadn’t enough aggression to reply with his tongue. Claudia and Maria, unaware of his fury, moved onto other topics and spoke casually. By staying silent he disguised his rage, churned by those feelings of envy which he’d developed for his brother ever since Claudia had started talking about him. Claudia was speaking the truth: William was famous and Ron was not. He managed to enter the conversation when it came to him. Maria was a simple, nice girl. The night was otherwise uneventful and as they drank more Ron tried to forget Claudia’s words. He couldn’t. As the beer straddled his mind he became self-loathing until he was feeling destructive.
Late in the night, they parted from Maria and went back to the hotel. Ron deepened his silence. Claudia searched him with her bulbous eyes. He wouldn’t respond to her feeble questions. Before they got home he bought more beer and in the hotel room persevered his binge. She kept asking if something was wrong. He deflected her by talking about art. She went to sleep and invited him to come and lie by her. He did for five minutes, left, and when she went to sleep he continued to drink. By around three he’d finished the beer. He walked over to the window and opened it. Their room was eight storeys up and if he jumped from here it would kill him easily. He wanted to hurt Claudia by ending himself without an explanation. She would never know what was wrong with him.
Claudia awoke and asked him what he was doing. He closed the window. Then he lay down on the floor to sleep. She threw a pillow at him and wailed, “Why don’t you want to sleep next to me?” Eventually he got tired of the hard floor and joined her in the bed. In the morning they spoke and he explained why he’d been so angry. She said what she said about her brother was just a joke.
They stayed together. Both passed their exams and a summer, autumn and winter went by wherein their love remained. Then in the spring, Ron suddenly had to move out of his flat. The landlord had to sell the flat and gave him a month to find a new place. Claudia invited Ron to move in with her. And their relationship deteriorated rapidly within less than three months, so much that it was as if the halcyon days of the previous year had involved two different people.
She hated his untidiness and the constant smell of alcohol on him. He argued against her pedantic orders, yet had to follow them as it was her flat. His drinking worsened. Because he knew she didn’t like it, he would leave the flat and go to the park to drink. She caught him buying beer from the shop one time. When they got home, she asked him, “Would you hurt yourself if I left?” Ron started crying. He was drunk and he knew that after she said this that some day they were going to break up. She stroked his hair and told him that she wasn’t going to leave him. She would never leave him. She was just being dramatical.
As they continued cohabitation, her dislike of his ways turned into physical rage. When he tried to chat to her it looked as if she’d tasted off food. She stopped asking him anything and when he began to start a conversation she would just say things like, “Sorry, I don’t have anything just now.” Ron was hanging on nothing yet still hovering in the air, waiting to fall but still flying. One time she got wrathful when she smelled beer on his breath and she said to him: “I think of you more like a little brother than a boyfriend.” But he still loved her.
He decided he should do something about it. The summer was approaching and he had a few hundred saved up in his account. An idea came. What if he were to take Claudia to Berlin? It had been such an exquisite place for him. She might find it so as well. He was drunk when he bought the tickets for both of them and paid for the hotel. He showed it to her as a surprise and she said, “Oh, that’s nice Ron.” She was already going back to see her parents in Greece for a week and she hadn’t invited Ron this time. But yes, she would come to Berlin the week after that.
Ron dreams of Claudia in reels of fiction, all set in the roving streets of Berlin. The howling trams mix with her golden hair. Her piano words mingle with the rush of German commerce. She plays the games in the East-Germany museum, making fun of the Russian names. Then mocks the Nazis when they get to the Holocaust Memorial. She rides in front of him on her bike and he watches her terrific backside. She takes photos of him unawares and laughs witchingly. She boo-frights him when he comes out the toilet. The visions come in a sad, unreal light. Just as the texture of her breasts or the perfume by her neck are faint. And yet her scowling and her mockery are fresh. The timing of her insults perfected in her evergreen coat. The brightness of her long teeth in night train window reflections. All of it jumbled in a discord of myth, stolen from a past which he should have left behind. Ron wakes with that incredible sadness, knowing she is gone, back in reality.
The final memory he has of her happened in Berlin. Nothing mythical. Not a dream.
He woke up in the hotel room and Claudia had her green coat and bag on. She was approaching the door. He looked at the clock and it was six in the morning. When he said her name she jumped.
“Where are you going Claudia?”
“I’m just going to the shop,” her voice was light.
“Yes. I thought I’d get us some food. I’ll be back soon. Bye.”
He lay naked in bed. Claudia never awoke this early, she always slept till late. All her things were gone from the room, even her toiletries when he went into the bathroom. He got dressed and he left the hotel. When he got into the street he started to run. There was the metro at the end of the street. Just as he got to the turn in the road, he saw the U-Bahn sign and then Claudia disappearing under it down the stairs.
He yelled her name but she was too far away to hear. He pursued. When downstairs he didn’t know which platform she’d taken. He went down the tunnel for the trains which led further into the city. She wasn’t on the platform. Then he saw her the other side of the tracks, and he waved to her wildly. She didn’t see him, instead looking up at the Departures screen for trains to the airport. Ron ran back through the tunnel and over to Claudia’s platform.
The train flew into the station as Ron reached the bottom of the stairs. One old man and Claudia were the only waiting passengers. She was at the distant end of the platform, her back turned. With full might Ron called “Claudia!” Her shoulders flinched, but she didn’t turn around. He watched as the train stopped and she got into it. He went closer to the train. The electric doors were still open and hovering. There was a manic impulse not to give up, to get on her train. But he hesitated. And never did anything. The doors shut and the train drove toward him. He neared to see into the carried she was in. Then she appeared. She was the prettiest thing in the carriage. Though her face had changed. She knew Ron was there. The flick down of her eyes told him so. And her expression was strewn in ugly discomfort, as if her skin was being pulled by either cheek. She never looked up and the window passed and the train vanished, leaving Ron standing there. And he never saw Claudia again in his life.
Why still dream of a person who has harmed one so? Dreams can be wild and exhilarating. Many times they are only insidious and wan, just as memories of European cities no longer own real colours or emit real sound. Ron will never return to Berlin, yet it’s likely that Claudia will sadden his sleep for some time yet. Perhaps it is a comfort that his pure grief for her only comes to him in dreams, and that, in real consciousness she hasn’t the same power over him. But he must sleep every night, and thus must chance the pain of dreaming about her and Europe every time. Berlin and Claudia. Claudia, Berlin.