postcard

  A Postcard From Berlin,

X

Her hand is in the air, empty. She picks up the phone, dials, and finds herself listening to a machine.

The machine records her silence, a brief clearing of the throat, the sound of the receiver returning to its recess.

Minutes later, she dials again. She cannot wait.

A longer silence this time, her breathe audible, heavy.

So many travesties she has endured in her search - Fur Elise, the Moonlight Sonata, Pachabel - synthetic fingerless toons hyperventilating in her ear, hell-bent on placating the one who waits.

Oh for a hand with fingers and thumb. It is the body she is after, the vibrato, the hard grip on plastic.

She locates a postcard from a man she barely knew, who left long ago.

Postmarked Berlin, it came out of nowhere.

She dials directories, 'international please'.

She is transferred to an operator, a woman, who dials somewhere in Germany. They are together briefly, the operator and her, en route to a land she associates with finely calibrated instruments, precision tools, guns and Steinways.

'City please?'

Clipped accent, strains of her father. She is glad her inquiry yields results. A voice, and a foreign body.

She listens in, glad she is the subject of discussion. Invoked, she fleshs out, like a genie from a bottle.

A hand punches, clicks, scrolls, but finds no trace of the sender, her missing man. X.Berlin, Munich, Koln. Nothing.

'The operator has found no listing, Madam'. As if she had not heard the whole thing.

She is ether, a whiff of smoke, a vortex. Sealed tight. Bottled up.

She replaces the receiver.

Clutching plastic, breathing down a cable.

She puts her hand on her chest, thinks about the man. Blue-black hair.

She would like to get married.

Well wouldn't you?

She tells anyone who will listen that her body is sending out signals like a lighthouse in the storm.

She finds husbands everywhere - in counters behind delis, under the watchful eyes of wives and girlfriends. On street corners, at bus stops, stepping out of cars in petrol stations. They light cigarettes, sip coffee, turn over the pages of books. Too often the betrothed are joined by friends, women, and the knot is broken.

She is engaged, married and divorced in minutes.

Her failures pile up, like one car careering into another, and another, until her life is a concertina, a compressed series of pleats.

She calls people she has not seen in years. They sound small, as if they were standing in small cardboard boxes speaking little muffled words.

None of these voices can tell her about the man, about why he might have sent a card of a crack in a wall, about what it might mean.

'I know you will think I'm mad', she says, laughing. At the other end they hold the phone away from their ears and shiver.

She has fallen out, this much they know. She has scared them one by one, with her breathe. Her expectancy.

She tries Berlin again, spells the name carefully, and like invisible ink before a flame his number appears in a string of exact consonants and vowels.

She calls.

He answers.

She does not know his voice.

'Is that you?' she says. 'Well hello stranger.'

Thin and shiny, his voice has arrived in her ear stripped of soft edges and bumps. Cold like wire.

'You sound like a machine,' she says.

He asks about people she no longer knows.

'They sound small on the phone,' she reports, 'like they are in boxes'.

She thinks, he is more interested in these little people than me.

She says 'Excuse me, I have been sick.'

He is interested in sickness. Knows about pills, has taken them himself. He is interested in his sickness, but not in hers.

'I found you in the phone book', he says,'on the Net. I might be coming back. Briefly.'

'Briefly?, she answers, 'I am not on the Net'.

Then, 'How is it over there?' Wondering if her questions might appeal.

Wondering how it is, over there.

'I'd like to travel', she tells the woman next door,

'I think I'd go to Asia first, then Europe.'

He laughs. 'Better than there. I have to go.' It is late. Goodbye.

She waits five minutes, drumming her fingers on the table, listening to the tone, then calls him back.

'What do you mean,' she says, 'better than here?'

He tells her what he means. Culture. Art. History. Music. She tells him not to call. And no more postcards, please. Slams down the phone.

Afterwards, she waits for him to call back. She finds anger does that, invites response.

Silence.

The clock ticks.

A car passes.

The fridge rattles.

Night falls.

She waits.