Those Things We Say

People always have the same look on their face when they know they’re letting you down, she
thought to herself. Then she took her purse, grabbed a cigarette, and walked towards the balcony.
Glancing at a few passersby, she lit it up. His apartment was on the second floor of a fairly tall
building.


            “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said, joining her on the balcony.
            “Who said anything about hurt.”
            It was snowing outside, yet her breath was crystalline, invisible.
            “You disappointed me, which is worse," she said.

            “I’m glad I didn’t hurt you.”
            “You said you’d text me. But if you knew you didn’t want to, why would you say it?
            “I don’t know.”
            “Words, right?”
            “Well…facts are more important.”
            She threw down her cigarette, aiming for his front door, but dropping it on a car roof.
            “So much for apologising.”


            At home, she picked up her notebook from her bedroom floor. It was hard-covered, black, with a
subtle ‘Night thoughts’ printed on its cover. She wrote:
I want to have two lives. One in heaven. One
in hell.

            Writing in it at only six in the afternoon felt almost revolutionary. Then she pondered on whether to
order takeout for dinner, opting for a trip to the supermarket instead. Getting the blood flowing
stimulates clever thoughts — she craved them as much as cold beer.
            In the frozen food department, she carefully examined a see-through pack of king prawns, and
decided to put it in the cart. Providing there will be fries on the side, comfort food can’t get better
than that for a scouser. And she had extra stock in the freezer. While heading for the register she
picked up a mouthful of candy bars from a case of sweets — it looked like a wicked rainbow had
just fallen from the sky above.


            Falling for someone who told her he was gay just a year ago hadn’t been her brightest move.
They had been friends for over ten years, but nothing had ever happened until then. “It was special
with you, but my mind’s made up, and I want to go through with it.” That’s what he had said. She
understood him, she really did. But in her defence, nothing was just one way or another in her life.
Her name was Emma Ruth, but she referred to herself as Emma, the diligent, Ruth, the negligent.
She could wake up before dawn with no effort  but loved to sleep in in the morning. She found
men just as intriguing as women. She aimed at being a translator in New York, but she would
have accepted a cleaning job to spend her whole life in Moscow. Her constant attempts to tolerate
her doubleness drained her sometimes. There were only two things that she firmly despised: pears
and endings. The firsts were doughy, the seconds were definite.


            Putting the king prawns and fries in two separate pots, she started frying them absentmindedly.
She was too focused on the podcast she was listening to — the journalist talked about masturbation
in children books, dwelling on the importance of breaking taboos and talking freely about sex, from
a very young age. She found herself agreeing with most of it, which wasn’t surprising, being herself
a fan of extreme stances. Though she wouldn’t have known what to do with that knowledge at, say,
eight years old, the knowledge that if you touch yourself in certain places, you can make yourself
feel good in a way no one else ever will.
            Anna called an hour later, asking how she was coping. “I’m not,” she said. This got her an
invitation to her book club meeting the next day.
            “I haven’t read the book.”
            “Just pretend.”
            “That’s so high school.”
            “You’ll feel young again.”
            “OK. Only because I’m dead inside.”
            “Sounds great, don’t be late.”


            Before entering the bookstore the next day, Anna told her she had forgotten her glasses in the car.
            “I’ll come with,” she said.
            “Don’t make a fuss.”
            That was her go-to expression — it always made it so hard to argue with her.
            Getting inside, she saw book pages floating around the space. They were tied to thin red strings that
hung off a myriad of corks, that had been glued to the ceiling. It looked more Halloweenie than
Christmassy. Someone read them while waiting for the event to start. When a tall, gloomy-looking
guy asked her if he could sit next to her, she politely said no. At the end of it, it was the same guy
who waited for them at the door.
            “Are you joining us for dinner?” Anna greeted him.
            He stared at Emma.
            “You didn’t read
Barney’s Version, did you?”
            She sighed casually.
            “Where?”
            “My house, it’s almost empty tonight.”
           

            Anna had four flatmates. Wiola from Poland, Victor from France, Henrique from Portugal, and
Yue from Beijing. No one was from Berlin. Henrique and Wiola had flown back home for the
holidays, so only Yue and Victor were there. They managed to overcook a big bowl of pasta with
heavy cream and spinach. Then they started playing
Dixit, sipping cheap wine. Everyone was
having a good time, except for Victor, who kept checking the score and asking: “why don’t you
people get me?”
            “We can’t, if you make it impossible,” said Lukas, Anna’s friend.
            “Where’s the challenge if I make it too obvious?”
            “I don’t know. You just lose at these kind of games.”

            Dixit was the only board game she could bare. It involved daydreaming and coming up with the oddest
relationships between images and words. Played with very rational people, it was also damn funny.


            At around one, Emma grabbed her violet coat and headed for the door. Anna asked Lukas to
walk her home. She did so in her slightly pushy way, that made it clear she wouldn’t take no for an
answer.
            “I’m fine by myself,” Emma said.
            “I don’t kill people for not reading
Barney’s Version.”
            “Good for me.”
            “Where do you live?”
            “I’m fine really, I’ll be there in two stops.”
            “If you hurry. It shuts in ten minutes,” he said. “But good news: we take the same one.”


            Lukas’ flat was just a few streets from hers, so they ended up walking home together.
They had almost reached his place when a man ran after them shouting “Go home you idiots! The
apocalypse is coming!”
            “At what time, sir?” she shouted.
            Lukas grabbed her hand and said: “Walk faster.”
            “He might be right,” she said, nervously letting go of his hand.
            That made it crystal clear she didn’t want him to take her home.
            When they reached his place, he invited her to come up for a drink.
            “Now that’s bold. But bold often doesn’t work with me.”
            “Goodnight then,” he said.
            “Goodnight,” she said, attempting a smile.


            Lebensmüde. She didn’t know how anyone could go through a lifetime without speaking German. It
was the only language she knew that made her feel understood in the most unsatisfying of times.


            In the morning she woke up with a call from Anna, asking if Lukas had walked her home.
            “Do you really need to fix me up with someone?”
            “Did he?”
            “Yes. I walked him home.”
            “Shit.”
            “What?”
            “Shit shit shit.”
            “I thought that was quite empowering.”
            “He didn’t come home last night.”
            “What?”
            “It’s his sister’s funeral this afternoon.”

            “Did you know?”
            “No.” She sighed nervously. “His friend just called me.”
            “I’m sure everything is fine.”
            “He should have told me.”
            “I’m sorry.”
            “I’m so mad right now.”
            “You’re worried.”
            “I’ll go looking for him.”
            “What? Where?”
            “I’m hanging up now.”
            “Wait, where are you going?”
            “Shit Emma, I’m hanging up!”
            “I’ll come with you.”
            “Don’t. You have that thing.”
            “I didn’t pay for it, it’s fine. Be there in 20’.”
            “Make it 10’.”


            They checked Friedrichstraße, Spreepark, and the Literaturhaus, his favourite book shop. He still
wasn’t answering his phone. Anna told her to go home, but she didn’t. They drove to the Historical
Museum. “Why would he be there?” she asked.
            “His sister worked there.”
            “What happened to her?”
            “I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”


            When they entered a pub and got something to eat, it was past ten. They had been to every place
Anna could think of, but couldn’t keep looking with an empty stomach. Emma wanted to get a beer,
but also didn’t want Anna to think she wasn’t worried or something. Then Anna got one herself. She
said it’d calm her down.
            Why do people always assume the worst when they don’t know something, she wondered. Once
they lack a certain piece of information, they promptly assume that the only explanation for it must
be an unbearable catastrophe.


            At midnight she asked Anna if she wanted to sleep at hers.
            “If anything happens, we’re right next to his house.”
            “You’re right, thank you.”


            The phone rang when it was almost five in the morning. It was Lukas’ friend. Anna looked
relieved when she hung up.
            “We should have checked
Mano.”
            “What?”
            “He was there. He came back a few minutes ago, feverish.”
            “But he’s fine right?”
            “I don’t know.”
            “Get some sleep, we’ll talk in the morning.”


            Three weeks later, they met again at another bookclub’s meeting. When Lukas asked her if he
could sit next to her, she smiled. “Sure,” she said. This time she was well acquainted with
The Book
of Disquiet: The Complete Edition
. She even participated in the discussion when a whiskered
librarian commented on how Pessoa died alone, without any recognition for his masterpiece. “An
author’s fame has nothing to do with his work,” she said, with a confidence that startled her a bit.
“Take Dracula, for instance. Even kids have read it, but no one remembers who wrote it.”
            “You’re so different from last time,” Lukas whispered in her ear.
            “Am I?”
            “I can’t figure you out.”
            “It’s the second time you’ve seen me.”
            “It doesn’t take me more than once, usually.”


            They were both holding a glass of whiskey when she said: “do you mind if I ask you what
happened to your sister?”
            “Does it matter?” He took a sip. “She died.”
            “I just…”
            “I know.”


            They walked home together.
            “Can I come up for a drink?” she heard herself say, when they got to his place.
            “Now that’s bold. But bold doesn’t work with me…very often.”
            “I understand.”
            He smiled.
            Not right away, but after a minute or so.


            They lay on his bed and watched “The Mysterious Monsters” on Youtube, with his laptop
leaning on his thighs. Peter Graves went on and on about Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster. But
they fell asleep in a heartbeat. Someone kept shouting something about an apocalypse, it sounded
looming. But it didn’t wake them up.

Sara Marzana grew up in Italy, lived in the US and the UK, where she received her M.A. in Literature from the University of Essex. She teaches English, writes and breaks free on the trapeze. Her stories have appeared in Storgy Magazine and In Parentheses. Her literary articles have appeared in the Durham Postgraduate English Journal and Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Research Journal.