The scene is, ostensibly: three and elegance (the train car, accompanied by his cufflinks, the rose in her hair, and—maybe—my long fingers). Its meaning is: two (her, him), my pattern of muscle and bone across from them, and one laborious effort to remember the space of the lung. The last task is difficult, because I am told things speak to me with their lips closed, and that in truth, even silence orates through entire casts of mouths.
All of this began with—and soon became in its totality—the pair on the train. A gyre of light from a lamp swirling with the rumblings atop the tracks had encircled them in the station as I was set to mark the reversal of my round trip. We mounted; what was left of Berlin was pining now for Salzburg in the form of shadows stretched long over flat fields stripped, by the rails’ advance, of name. (And what had been that choral echo in the station? The pair and their recognitions: “Could it be you?” “So, I see you again!”)
They were so beautiful, this couple. Everything about them mimicked. Even the shy and yawning motions they exhibited as they ate their breakfast—precisions of fingers grappling with Styrofoam cups—ached to articulate like sound and cleave the ambit of what might be voiced. Yet would that I could have turned away from them! If only for a third plane of the body, perhaps I could have joined this pair, in something akin to reflection, but as it stood there was no room for a third, and the ecstasy of their coordination was straining my own gestures to the point of petrifaction!
Her lips curled round; she seemed to speak to him. “Let me tell you—yesterday I recognized you on the train to Alexanderplatz, someone just like you. He got off with me, at the same time, and I locked onto his bright blue hat to follow him. I followed him all the way into the Pergamon Museum. He overshot by one block, and as he covered the final yards perpendicular to the museum, he wrapped his hand across the back of his neck and hunched, like one who has just lost his chance—‘taken the wrong direction.’ He seemed to have been looking for me, too…”
Her partner flattened a smirk and then, eyeing me, spoke: “I received a phone-call last week from a woman who’d locked her oxygen in the car. She was saying ‘Lukas, can you please, before you leave, just make the one extra trip’… A wrong number, which I didn’t bother to correct. I only fear some may call it ‘homicide!’ The criminals, to be sure, would all be at my heels for this ‘technique’…” As he said this he began itching himself frantically, marring the ease of their choreography. One might have suspected there was some extraordinary alibi tucked there, a culpable residue not stamped out. His body promptly settled, and the two resumed their pas de deux. An odd new fluency formed between them.
Each took out a notebook, and they began to write. Whatever words they’d started making quickly yielded to dashes—I could see it was the motion that they wanted from it—the little arcs of the hand, the loose wrists. They continued like this for a while in silence, then mimed a difficult passage.
“Something to say”—“you first”—“I was traveling abroad”—“as was I”—“tell yours!”—“please, you!”—“alright—we were away, two of us, me and another one, away & stayed there & stayed &… alone…. despairing & so—” “together?” “That’s it. Yours too? Together?” “…No! I would never!”
It all suggested some banal betrayal of one by the other. They would say later, it was only a single mote in their bright union, the small allegiance of one to a shadowing third—but, as their new lethargy put to me next: “this is not really a secure thing anymore, is it?”
After this breach, they directed both their eyes at mine. In union, now straining to speak and huffing in miniscule and inarticulate strains, they began to whisper. “Why, you’ve been so good to me! Sitting here, listening!” A kind of incantation—repeating, “Here is a…” (appending by turns “verse,” “tune,” “reel”…). Here—which I felt not as the mark of a place, but as the extent of a palm. “Here! Here!”—giving not space, but alms.
They could have flooded the train with any nonsense—“caverns!” “monograms!” “wreathes!”—and all would have been inundated, so it seemed to me, with the qualities of these soundings. The world was attendant on them—they did not bother about their correspondence with it, yet it waited, inexplicably subdued.
But then what in fact was it that all that time had been occurring between them—speech? Was a body drawn out of her? Out of him? I noticed at that moment that the repetition of that sound in their mouths—here, here—seemed intonated out of its lettering, the word to flicker about, from to the tracery of the window frame to the rose by her ear to the fold of his left eye. I mean: the world was speaking itself, to them. (How, indeed, could the world resist?)
The afternoon they disembarked I struggled to dislodge phlegm from my throat—the ventilation had been changing around them, the air currents afterword traced a route that seemed to trail their absent bodies like slackened puppet strings. I don’t remember a fever or chill, but I coughed almost incessantly. I imagine that for a long time that exquisite pair will live not looking, not looking, not looking—and then suddenly one day, amidst the rush of transit: “So it’s you!” “At last—again!”
—Graphic by Julia Kittle-Kamp