Suddenly back on the street, Ferdinand was at a loss for where to go. The Metropolitan Police had begun to disperse the crowds, so that the density of citizens was not what it had been an hour before. Up and down the avenues, he could make out the shapes of overturned cars and other debris. The dust from a hundred thousand shoes, so foreign in that manicured city, hung above them in the air. The vista of Kaiser Straße opened before him like the specter of an ancient cathedral: the motes swirling in its abandoned vault, sampling the updrafts and down-swells before settling on the backs of the masses huddled below.
Even with the revellers driven from the street, their cries reverberated through the neighborhood like an echo chamber. So loud was the rumble, Ferdinand felt he might turn a corner and be confronted by the sea, eating away the facades of Kambrücke as easily as it had the cliffs of Rügen. He pushed through the outer edge of the loitering crowd and stumbled into the white noise of that emptiness. The release of pressure on his sweat-dampened skin felt like falling into cold water. The air was thin; it bit his lungs, like stepping through the Barrier into the Wild. His stomach lurched and his head swam, as if he had just taken a dose of sunshield.
Even at his best, Kambrücke was unfamiliar to him; so detached was it from the city in which he’d been raised. To his horror, he realized he did not know the way back to Jordan’s family’s apartment. He pressed North instead, hoping to cross a rail line he could ride to Quartier des Jouettes. Once he was there, he might collect his thoughts. In the meantime, he just kept walking.
He slipped through the ceremony like a huntsman, lost among the silver groves of an enchanted forest. Each trail and gully of his mind seemed familiar, but the great towering trees bent and gnarled in weird, faerie shapes. They cast shifting shadows in the moonlight and transformed the mental landscape beyond his recognition. He wandered for what seemed a hundred night-times through the dream world, sung to sleep at long last by the low breathing of the wind through the pipes of honeysuckle and cat-tail that grew by the river. When, in his vision, he awoke, he lay on the bank of a deep, black lake, glossy and still beneath the starlit maw of the arching heavens. Helena stood across from him, at the edge of the lapping pool. She was cloaked in white, with ribbons the pale blue of the Madonna tied through her hair. Curling her bare toes in the carpet of grass beneath her feet, she fed a flock of thrush nestled on the bank. Ferdinand took a step toward her, but as his arm reached out, the vision faded. He stood once more at the foot of the altar, the trill of lark’s song lingering in his ears.
With the desolation of one so late revived from a pleasant dream, the Vice Chairman plodded with hollow obedience through the ancient rituals. He sipped from the cup of Christ, repeated the father’s vows, and slid his grandmother’s ring upon Madame Vice Chairman’s outstretched finger. He felt as pale and gaunt as if he’d loitered a thousand years in the demon wood, with all the weight of all the days since the Fall passing over him. With the last of his plundered courage, he leaned his mouth in close to hers, and surrendered with a kiss. Helena’s lips were as ripe and tart as summer cherries. He savored the uncharted swell of their topography.
Franz von Lenbach - Crown Prince Rudolf (1873)
by Amelie Andrezel
The night was still flushed with pressure from the summer heat when Jordan stepped in off the balcony. As she slid the door closed behind her, she hardly noticed Ferdinand in the dark corner of the library, illuminated only by a pale finger of man-made moonlight across his lap. She startled to find she was not alone, only to laugh when she recognized the figure in the shadows.
“Oh,” she said, “It’s you.”
Ferdinand set down the drink he was holding.
“Yes,” he said, “It’s me.”
Jordan groped in the darkness for a second chair. Framed from behind by the festival lights, she seemed like a gauzy insect, frail and transparent, circling a flame. She sat down beside him. The music on the balcony filtered in as if up from the bottom of the ocean.Read more
Ferdinand smoothed the edges of his collar. The music from the ballroom on the floor below shook the mirror ever so slightly. Or maybe it was only his hands. The Vice Chairman closed his eyes and felt for the envelope in his jacket pocket. He would have liked to open it, but there wasn’t the time.
He took a cigar from the case on the dressing table, then thought the better of it. Out the window, he could see the lights of the automobiles on the street below. They blurred together through the thick glass, which occurred to him, for the first time in a long time, was bullet proof. Maybe the cigar would be a good idea after all. Maybe it would keep his hands from shaking.Read more
Helena stood on the open balcony of the highest tower of the house. Far below, on the other side of the clear barrier, the sea glimmered like an emerald in the rocky setting of the bay. Her hands shaded her eyes. Ferdinand came up beside her. He leaned on the rail and gazed out toward the water.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked.
“What is it?” Helena wondered aloud. “It seems large for a lake.”
Ferdinand was astonished, but remained kind. “The sea,” he informed her.
“It’s not how I’d imagined it,” she declared. Suddenly, she turned away, realizing that perhaps she should have been embarrassed by her naiveté. After composing herself, she looked back at her husband.
The Vice Chairman was interested. “Well, go on,” he insisted.
“Didn’t men go mad with love for the sea?”
“You don’t believe it?” he challenged.
Helena looked back at the glistening water. “It’s nothing but a looking glass!” she exclaimed.
“What were you expecting?” Ferdinand asked light-heartedly.
“I thought,” Helena began, then paused, collecting her disorganized impression, “It would be crueler. Less forgiving.”
“Is that what love is?” Ferdinand wondered, bringing his hand to his eyes, squinting at his wife through the broken canvas of daylight.
Konrad pulled a book from the shelf and carefully turned its pages. It was a copy of East of Eden. He lay on his back, looking up at the yellowed paper with the same devotion he might have given the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A stamp on the faded cover read:
A Gift to the New York City Public Library, July, 2051.
Across the room, Ferdinand looked toward his friend.
“Quite the collection,” Konrad said, gesturing to the books on the shelves. “When you leave, what happens to them?”
Ferdinand smiled sadly, but his voice maintained a mischievous air. “They gather dust,” he told him.
Konrad handed his friend the book.
“Give them to a museum, I say. Put them on display for the people to see.”
Ferdinand took the book and, lovingly, turned the pages. He spoke with his eyes still fixed on the codex.
“All the books the people care to see are already on display,” he noted, “Say the museums.”
“I don’t know how to do this,” Ferdinand said. The books looked up at him from the floor, gruesome and gawking. He wanted more than anything to shut them.
“Approach me with joy,” Jordan said, looking pale on the bed, “Or not at all.”
“Is it that simple?” Ferdinand asked.
“Then I envy you,” Ferdinand continued. He took off his shirt and set it down on the divan.
“Life isn’t simple,” Jordan told him. “But this is.”
Ferdinand sat down beside her and put his hands on her bare shoulders. He thought about her elbows and her collar bones and the arch of her ribs. He thought of them in blue silk; he thought of them in charcoal tweed. She was always the same, underneath. It occurred to him then that he had only ever seen her naked.
“It isn’t simple,” he said at last. ”I am not simple. I will approach you with my anger and cowardice and fear and awe because they are mine. But I have never known a thing like joy and I won’t offer an imitation. Joy is yours. I won’t touch it.”
“You’re cleverer than I am,” Jordan said, looking up at him. ”Truer and more steadfast. Which of us will prevail?”
“I’ve already lost,” Ferdinand told her. ”Consider me an offering of supplication.”
“I won’t accept a concession,” she insisted.
He kissed her. Her lips were cool. They tasted more of questions than answers.
“We’re both conceding,” he said at last.
“Yes,” Jordan agreed. ”Those of us who are about to die salute you.”
“It’s madness,” Ferdinand said, seeing the way her eyes laughed at their own joke, “How beauty survives in a world like this.”
He kissed her again, then: her neck, her collar bones, the flat space between her breasts. Each motion of his lips was like a breath. He took her in through his nostrils, felt her go red in his lungs, pumped her out into his fingers and through the folds of his wrinkled brain. A feeling followed the wave in its wake. It was a rounded sensation, warm and wet and mild and pleasant.
Perhaps this was happiness. Perhaps this was joy.
“Thank you,” Ferdinand said, half asleep. Already the pain was reviving in itching shoots at the tips of his fingers.
“Heaven help us,” Constanz said.
“There’s no such thing,” Ferdinand replied, his voice very soft in spite of its conviction. “We’re going to have to help ourselves.”
“All the more reason,” the doctor said sadly, “To pray for a little providence.”