Vienna Stories

The Traveller

for

Silvan Possa

and dedicated to

all those lovely cafés in Vienna

where I spend so much time

sipping coffee and writing my stories

 

 

Dicono che ogni fine è sempre anche un inizio e che questo inizio contiene una magia. Forse hanno ragione. In ogni caso è sempre una porta che si apre, una porta in un altro mondo, tutto da scoprire, una storia che vuol’ essere scritta, un’avventura che ti aspetta. Ci vuole soltanto il coraggio di fare l’ultimo passo e varcare la soglia.

(They say that each end is always a new beginning. And that in each beginning a magic dwells. Maybe they are right. In any case it is a door that opens for you, the door to another world which has to be explored, a story that wants to be written, an adventure that awaits you. All you need is courage to darken that door.)

 

Quando la vita chiama, il cuore

sia pronto a partire ed a ricominciare,

per offrirsi sereno e valoroso

ad altri, nuovi vincoli e legami.

Ogni inizio contiene una magia

che ci protegge e a vivere ci aiuta.

 

(As every blossom fades
and all youth sinks into old age,
so every life’s design, each flower of wisdom,
attains its prime and cannot last forever.
The heart must submit itself courageously
to life’s call without a hint of grief,
A magic dwells in each beginning,
protecting us, telling us how to live.
)

(Hermann Hesse)

 

The café had two entrances. One was right in one of the busiest shopping streets of the city, the other in a narrow side street that snaked towards the Duomo. She always entered the café through the side entrance. Always at the same time. Always sat at the same table.

The clientele was subject to constant change. Most of the other guests were tourists who were staying in the city for only a short period. Their comings and goings didn’t follow any rhythm. They were just travellers who were here for business or to visit the place and sights. They were guided by their moods and moved with the crowd.

Therefore, they always entered the café through the front door. From the shopping street which the city was famous for, among other things. But it was only one of the numerous attractions it offered. Attractions that were mainly of cultural nature. One of the reasons she had returned here again and again, although she had so often been abroad and each time had promised to herself to definitely turn her back on the city.

She just found the town as attractive as many others who came to the café, she was not a tourist though, that was what distinguished her from nearly all other guests. And she put emphasis on this difference, that was why she always came in through the side entrance. Even if her way would have led her directly to the main entrance. She gladly accepted this little detour. Just for the diffence’s sake.

She always headed for the same table in the back corner of the café from where she had a direct view onto the goings-on in the famous shopping street, but was simultanously shielded from the other guests on two sides. She wanted to enjoy the vibrant life around her without becoming a part of it. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the company of others, on the contrary, but the only reason she came here was to write. Story after story.

Amidst the anonymous crowd of tourists, combined with the ambience of the old-established, old-fashioned café, she found the perfect conditions for her work. Here in this place, where she had met him nearly one year ago, she became feverishly active, felt closest to him when he was not with her. She was no longer able to write in any other place. Not even in her own study, because it seemed empty and isolated when he wasn’t there, but neither in any other of the many cafés in town. It had to be this particular one. Because they had met here.

It had become a ritual. An obsession, if she had wanted to be honest with herself. Just as he had become an obsession. But she didn’t want to be honest with herself.

She came here every afternoon between two and three o’clock, sat down at the table in the back corner, took out her notebooks and pen and began to write.

As soon as she was seated, the waiter came and served her the first cappuccino. She always drank cappuccino. Since her first time here, almost a year ago now. The only time they had been here together. But since then it felt like he was always with her.

After she had come to the café again and again for some days and had repeatedly ordered cappuccino, the waiter had no longer asked her what to serve and had made her habit a ritual. Why not, she had never objected. And it even seemed that she had been relieved that ordering had become a wordless process. In that way, she didn’t have to talk to the waiter and it allowed her to reduce communication to a good afternoon and good night, she never had to make any effort to get his attention to place an order. And she, therefore, was never forced to let her eyes roam. Whenever her cup was empty, the waiter served another cappuccino, until she asked for the bill. Sometimes she let her eyes roam anyway, because she was curious to find out what other guests had taken seat at the various tables and if anyone was among them whose character and personality were interesting enough to be reanimated as protagonist in one of her stories, but most of the time she kept her eyes on the sheet of paper in front of her.

Sometimes, she wished he was here with her, at this table. She just wanted him to keep her company, drink a cup of coffee with her. Maybe watch her writing, as a silent observer. Or advise her and contribute some new ideas that she would then capture enthusiastically, like she always did. When he was at home with her. When they had dinner together, drank wine or lay in bed.

She wished they could have a normal relationship, desperately wished that he would come to the café with her again. But since their first time, when they had met here and had fallen for each other, they had never been seen in public together again.

She had asked him why, had urged him to give her an explanation why they never met anywhere else than in her house, and he had answered that she was a precious treasure for him, one that he wanted to keep all to himself and not share with others.

At the beginning, she had felt flattered and had perceived this exclusiveness as pleasant, it had given her the feeling of being something special for him, that their relationship was a precious thing, like he, as a person, was precious for her. Not only because he inspired her, but because for him she felt like she had never felt for anyone else before, he was someone she trusted completely and she shared all her secrets with him.

Therefore, she had accepted that their relationship took place only within her own four walls for a long time, but recently she had started to become dissatisfied with this arrangement. It made her restless. And unhappy.

She wanted nothing more than a normal relationship. And if she had been honest with herself, she would long have accepted that he would never be willing to grant her this normality. But she wanted nothing less than be honest with herself. That was why she came here every afternoon. To write. And sometimes to observe all the other people, leading their normal lives, laughing, loving and being happy, while she had seemed to have reconciled herself with her unjoyous felicity.

 

The traveller sat at his table at the café and watched her. He had arrived in the early morning. He was staying at a hotel nearby and had looked for a place where he might drink a cup of coffee away from all the ado and plan the activities for the rest of the day. He was a stranger here, a tourist, it was his first time in town and he was looking forward to the things it had to offer.

In the morning, he had already visited the Museum of Fine Arts, then had taken his lunch in a nice little restaurant and had gone for a walk around the Opera. While promenading, he had come across this small café which seemed very inviting to him.

He had noticed her as soon as she had entered the café and had purposefully headed for the table in the corner at the window. She was different from all the other guests, she seemed to be a local who obviously came here habitually, because as soon as she had taken seat on the red leather bench, the waiter had come and had served her a cup of cappuccino that she now sipped thoughtfully while watching the crowd passing in front of the window.

After she had enjoyed the spectacle long enough, she took a pen, opened a notebook and began to write. For hours, ceaselessly, without letting herself be distracted by what was going on around her.

He wondered what her job was, but after he had observed her for some time, he decided that she must have been a writer. Not many others would have dedicated themselves to writing that passionately. And it was exactly that passionate devotion that fascinated and attracted him. Her devotion and the aura of loneliness and sadness that surrounded her.

He had intended to stay at the café, that he had discovered by pure accident, for only a short time. To recover from the morning’s visit at the museum and to consider what to do after dinner, if to enjoy some cultural event or to go partying. But then she had entered the room and had sat down at the table in the corner, only a few metres away from him, and he had stayed where he was, watching her writing, until she had emptied her third cup of cappuccino, had put her pen and notebook into her bag and had left the café.

When he subsequently had taken a look at his watch, he was surprised to find out that five hours had passed and that he had had five cups of espresso during that time. He didn’t know what it had been that had kept him for so many hours, just observing her, her looks, the passion she showed when writing, word after word, hour after hour, or that aura of sadness that captured his imagination and made her even more mysterious and attractive to him.

But what he knew exactly, was that he had not seen enough of her, yet, and so he decided to come here again the next day, to sit down at the same table and to wait for her to enter the café. He didn’t have the slightest idea if the odds would be in his favour and if she would show up on two consecutive days, but he knew that he had to see her again, at all cost, and that he would leave no stone unturned to meet her a second time.

 

She lay in her bed and watched him as he dressed. It was three o’clock in the morning, and she asked herself why he always acted that way. Why, each time after they had made love, he got up, grabbed his clothes, put on his jewellery and his watch, gave her one last kiss and got into his car to drive back to his place.

There was no need to do so, he lived alone, just as she did, he could have stayed until the morning. They could have fallen asleep hugging, wake up next to each other the following morning and have breakfast together. Like all lovers normally did.

And even if she was aware of the fact that they were probably not a normal couple, she again longed for normality, wanted nothing more from him than to give her just one night, to fall asleep beside her.

But she only knew too well that he would never do her this favour. No matter for how long their liaison might have gone on. No matter how wonderful their relationship and their lovemaking in particular were. He would always get up after they had made love, would always get dressed, drive back to his apartment and leave her alone in her bed.

She didn’t know why he acted that way. Maybe to punish her for the fact that he liked her too much. Maybe because she was more to him than just a playmate, but did not want to admit that, not to her and much less to himself. To stay would probably have meant to concede that he was affected to her, and that was what he had not wanted to happen. As much as she tried to slip into his shoes, his behaviour hurt her anyway. And just like any other time when he had closed the gate behind him and she saw him getting into his car, she cried a few silent tears.

 

The traveller had been lucky, the table at which he had been sitting the previous day, was free again. He took a seat and ordered a double espresso while he was waiting for her to enter the café and hopefully sit down at the same table in the corner in front of the window again, too, like she had done the day before.

He was in high spirits without knowing the exact reason. He just had woken up like that, high-spirited and optimistic, and had decided not to spend the day going sight-seeing, but to do some shopping. Therefore, in the morning, he had headed for one of the numerous department stores in the area and had bought some nice things to wear. He felt like he needed something new, something colourful, some variation. That maybe was because of spring or the first warming sunbeams of the year. Or simply due to his brilliant mood.

On the way back to his hotel, he had passed a small drugstore and had decided to buy himself a perfume as well. He never wore perfume, but why not do something he normally wouldn’t do? He was a stranger in a city far away from home and he was in an exceptional mood.

So he had entered the drugstore and had been advised by a young, attractive clerk who had put on far too much makeup for his taste. She had sized him up for a while considering his type and style of clothing and had then shown him a small bottle containing an oriental, yet light fragrance. He had tried it and had been enthusiastic about her choice. He had paid, had returned to his hotel room, had changed, had put on some of the perfume that he had just bought and had then headed towards the café.

Now he drank his espresso. And he was confident. He just knew that she would show up, sooner or later. All he needed was a little patience. And he was ready to be patient. For some reason. Because he wanted to see her writing and find out more about her maybe.

After his second cup of coffee his patience was rewarded. She entered the café and directly headed towards the table near the window in the far corner.

As soon as she had taken off her jacket and had draped it over the back of the chair, she reached for her bag to fetch her notebook and pen. She just sat there until the waiter had served the cappuccino, added two lumps of sugar, stirred and lit a cigarette, which she smoked while she interestedly watched the crowd passing in front of the window.

It was only when she had finished smoking her cigarette, that she took a sip of her coffee. Some milk foam remained on her upper lip. She didn’t notice that, opened her notebook and began to write.

He stared at her mouth. The way she had smoked her cigarette, had brought the cup to her lips, the way she dressed and moved, she now was sitting there, cross-legged and totally focused on her work, not deigning to look at anyone in the room, excited him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, stared at the milk foam on her upper lip, and suddenly felt the irresistible desire to approach her, wipe off that foam with his finger, then lick it. He just wanted to touch her lips and be close to her, for only a short moment, find out how she smelled, look into her eyes.

He would have liked to find out what colour her eyes were, would have liked to force her to look at him, to take notice of him. But she did not even realise he was there, she was absorbed in her work that she only interrupted once in a while to take a sip of her cappuccino.

When she leaned forward, one of her blonde curls fell into her face, and she put her pen aside to remove it and fix it behind her ear. When doing so, she slightly turned her head into his direction, and he hoped that she would finally take a look at him, that he could catch her eyes maybe, but he hoped in vain. Her gaze never touched him. And if it had, he would not have known how to get her attention anyway, let alone to engage her in conversation.

Nevertheless, he enjoyed sitting here letting his imagination run wild, fantasising about how he would approach her and then bring her to his hotel room to seduce her, but he knew that those fantasies would not satisfy him for long. He was not a man that was made for daydreaming, he was a man of action. On the other hand, he was aware of the fact that she was not the kind of woman that could easily be impressed with conventional methods and empty words. He had to come up with something exceptional, become part of her world. Well, he was an artist, too. He would come up with something exceptional. He called for the waiter and ordered another espresso.

She sat at the table in the far corner at the window and watched the crowd passing by. She tried to find inspiration for her work in their behaviour, inspiration for the story she was writing, but she was not able to concentrate. Her head was buzzing with too many thoughts, mainly things that she did not want to think about but that could no longer be pushed aside, things that took more and more room in her head and almost forced her to finally cope with them.

She was unhappy. Incredibly unhappy. But that infelicity made her flourish in some way, and so she simply was not prepared to trade it off for any uncertain happiness. She was fully aware of the fact that she was obsessed. Obsessed with the little he was willing to grant and that he took away from her each time again as soon as she had started to enjoy it. But up to now, she had always been willing to accept that little as a present, as long as it meant that she could be close to him.

But she felt that the intimacy was becoming hollower and hollower, was nothing more than an illusion. Most of the time, she felt lonely, because he was not with her, and since recently she even felt that loneliness when they were in the same room, sat at the same table, eating, talking about her latest work, even when they were lying in bed together, side by side.

She enjoyed spending time with him, even more when they made love, but the price she had to pay, all that loneliness, that feeling, that she was being punished for something that was not her fault, weighed on her more and more heavily. She felt that she was trapped in a vicious circle and had to break free soon, but she had no idea how. She knew that she was too weak, that he dominated over her as soon as he entered her house and approached her.

Absorbed in thought, she leaned back and sipped her csppuccino. She loved the smell of hot coffee. It put some life into her and at the same time gave her the feeling of comfort and familiarity.

One of the waiters had just passed her with a cup of freshly brewed espresso, and the scent that arose from the cup now slowly moved in her direction. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply and instantly felt relaxed.

Contemporarily, she noticed a second scent that slowly mingled with that of the espresso. There was a touch of perfume in the air, a fragrance for men, that probably came from one of the waiters, or more probably from one of the guests.

At first, that mixing of scents irritated her, but the more the perfume dominated, the more she liked it.

It was a sweet scent, but not intrusive. It whetted her appetite for the summer to come. For which she was not prepared though. Summer meant sun, warmth, joy, carelessness, intimacy. Things that she loved so much, but that she would not enjoy, because she was trapped in her own little cold world.

He held the key to this world. But he would never set her free willingly. And while all the others would enjoy the sun, she would be condemned to sit in her cold room waiting for him to come. To go to bed with her. Day after day. Until he finally decided to give her that little attention she so desperately longed for.

It would be summer for everyone, but not for her. She would persist in an eternal winter. But now that she was sitting here, smelling the fragrance, she sensed that warmth, too, got an idea of how it felt to turn towards the sun, soak up the warming rays. She wished that the scent would linger over her head forever, that this feeling would last endlessly, wished to meet the man who was wearing it to find out more about him.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine him. She saw a tall, slender, dark-haired guy, young, dynamic and self-confident. A guy who knew what he wanted and would leave no stone unturned to get it. Someone who thought that life was one big adventure, an eternal traveller, constantly on the move, but knowing exactly where he belonged to. One who loved to live freely, but at the same time was able to give warmth and shelter. One that had never seen any winter.

She kept her eyes closed and let her mind wander. In her fantasy she saw him enter the café and take seat at the table next to hers, smiling, confident, determined. He would observe her for a while, then would try to get her attention. She would act like she was not interested, but then would give him the eye. He would understand, would pay his bill and would wait for her in front of the café. Together, they would move on to a bar, have a few glasses of wine and get to know each other better.

At a certain point the young man would approach her, would brush her hair out of her face and would start to kiss her. She would not resist, she had been waiting for that kiss for hours. Appreciating it the more, because she knew it was a forbidden kiss. Because she would betray him, bring some warmth into her winter.

Eventually, they would leave the bar and go to his hotel room. The stranger would slowly undress her, then make himself comfortable on the bed and pull her closer to him. He would start to caress her gently. First on her neck, then along her back. He would then start to lick her with his warm tongue, from her neck downwards, playing with her nipples while he would stroke her thighs.

She shuddered with lust, felt a thrill of excitement, for which she could not find any reasonable explanation. All those scenes, they had just been a daydream, an erotic fantasy with a man that did not even exist, caused by a vague odour that had been lying in the air. And yet, those fantasies had excited her and had given her a few moments of freedom. She wished that her daydream would become reality, wished that there had been a real person behind that scent. A man who would show her how summer felt, just for a few hours, so that she could withstand the eternal winter better. But she was a writer and knew only too well that fantasies never became reality. Thus, she opened her eyes again, grabbed her pen and went on writing, word after word.

 

He lay beside her in bed, his arms folded behind his neck, his gaze was fixed on the ceiling. He was completely naked, he had even taken off all his jewellery again and had put it on the glass table beside the bed. Not that he had a lot of jewellery. Just a wrist watch, a necklace with a pendant and the silver ring that she had given him as a present some weeks ago and that he had always been wearing since then.

She watched him, and from the expression on his face she tried to divine what he was thinking about, but his gaze was entirely blank, his body comletely relaxed.

It had been great, as it always was. The moment he lay down beside her, she felt that he was everything that she needed, he seemed to make her happy and satisfied. When he kissed her, she felt so close to him, as if, through his eyes, she could directly look into his soul, and she was convinced that he needed her as much as she needed him, even if he would never have admitted that he did. Making love to him was pure lust and joy, the fulfilment of all her physical and mental needs. Since their very first time. Each time anew.

But apart from that, nothing was like it had been at the beginning. Not anymore. Their relationship that once had been based on so much intimacy and warmth, it had cooled down, day by day. More and more, little by little. And each time they had spent a particularly great night together, he had moved a step further away from her. She knew that he wanted to punish her for the good feeling she gave him, but she did not understand why he acted that way.

Since she had told him how much she enjoyed receiving his daily text messages in which he wished her a good morning, he had stopped sending them. Since she had confided to him how much affection she felt when he held her in his arms, he had ceased to touch her. And he had brought that non-embracing to such a perfection, that he was able to make love to her without touching her with his hands by now.

He gave her orgasm after orgasm, but he was not willing to give the smallest bit of himself. As if she were the devil, eager to take his soul away from him and throw it into hellfire.´

She looked at him as he was lying next to her, with his arms folded behind his neck. He had sent her into ecstasy, had set her body on fire again, but never before had she felt the coldness as distinctly as this time.

And now she caught herself thinking of what she had felt this afternoon. She closed her eyes and tried to recall the scent that she had smelled, that sweet and warm scent. And together with the scent the image that she had created of the man who was wearing it. Her erotic daydream continued exactly where she had made it end in the afternoon, consciously, she thought to feel the stranger’s tongue wandering along her belly while his hands were caressing her thighs, saw his head disappear between her legs in her imagination, felt that she was becoming more and more excited.

When she also caught herself breathing heavily for lust, she forced herself to snap out of her thoughts. She was lying here with the man that meant everything to her and let herself be carried away by the memory of a scent. How absurd.

She tried to feel foolish or ashamed, but she did not succeed. It had felt too good, too perfect. She would not feel ashamed for her thoughts Never. But she had to stop fantasising. Once and for all.

Anxiously, she looked at him, but he was still lying beside her without moving, his eyes were closed now. He seemed to have fallen asleep.

Hopefully, she moved closer to him and huddled her head against his chest. Careful not to wake him. It was the first time that he had relaxed and fallen asleep after they had made love. She remained lying on his chest, motionless, enjoying the silence. If he had fallen into a deep sleep, he might have remained lying here until morning, might have spent the first entire night at her side, might have stayed until sunrise, until the first warm sunbeams would have woken them up. For the first time since she knew him. To wish her a good morning and have coffee with her. And once he had stayed one night, it might have become a habit.

She watched him for some time, and after a while she could not resist the temptation to kiss his lips. He woke up and looked around confused. He rudely pushed her aside and glanced at his watch. When he saw how late it had become and how long he had been asleep, he jumped up and looked for his clothes. Hastily, he dressed and grabbed his watch and necklace. He gave her a quick kiss on her mouth and then rushed out of the door, without looking back, down the path towards the garden gate. He left the door open. He was sure that she would follow him to lock the gate and door behind him as she usually did.

But this time she did not. This time she remained in bed staring at the ring that he had left on the glass table. The ring that she had given him as a present a few weeks ago and that he had said meant so much to him.

Through the open door she could hear that it had started to rain. A cold draught had crept into the room and made her shiver. It had turned cold. So cold again.

 

The traveller sat at the café watching her. It was the third day in a row that he had come here, had taken seat at the same table again and still had not seen enough of her.

Today, her aura was particularly sad, and he thought that this sadness made her even more attractive. She was deeply lost in reverie, so unapproachable and distant, and yet, he wanted nothing more than feel her close to him. He knew that she was caught up to her own world, where there was no place for him, but he was tempted to fetch her from there and show her his world, just for a few hours. Show her that there was no reason to be sad, that life was wonderful if you allowed it to be.

He would have liked to hear her voice, to kiss those lips to which she was bringing her second cup of cappuccino. He had an idea of how warm and soft she must have felt. He would have liked to touch her long hair, to whisper into her ear, tell her about the things that he would do to her. In his hotel room, lights low, drinking red wine. In the double bed in which he slept all alone, or in the exceedingly spacious bathtub.

After the bath, he would wrap her up in one of those huge and soft towels that the hotel provided. He would order more wine. And strawberries. The idea to feed her with strawberries excited him. To put one into her mouth and watch her eating it slowly. Take another one and caress her lips with it until they were tasting like strawberry.

He would put one into his mouth and shove it into hers while kissing her softly with his tongue. Then maybe take another strawberry and squeeze it over her mouth, watching the red, sweet juice run down her chin and neck, finding its way between her breasts to her navel from where he would delightfully lick it up, watching her become more and more excited.

The voice of the waiter, who meanwhile had come to his table to ask him if he wanted anything else, brought him back to reality.

He ordered another espresso and glanced at the piece of paper which had been lying on the table in front of him all the time and on which he unconsciously had drawn something. It was the receipt from the drugstore where he had bought the perfume the day before. He had taken it out of his pocket when checking how much cash he was still carrying with him, had then put it on the table, blank side up, and obviously had started to scribble something.

He took an inquisitive look at the scribbling. He had drawn a cup of cappuccino from which steam in the form of hearts evaporated.

He had to smile to himself, but was not overly surprised, the drawing only showed to well how much he wished to start conversation with her and to win her heart. He was spending his third afternoon in this café, only a few metres from her, but she was still as far away from him as she had been on the first day. So far, he had not had any good idea how to approach her without getting the brush-off. This night would be his last night in town, he would return to Zurich the following day and probably not come back here for a very long time. He had to risk an attempt. What did he have to lose?

 

She sat in her bedroom where there was also her desk. The desk at which she liked sitting so much, because she had placed it in front of the east window that looked out on the rock garden that her mother had laid out with so much love and care a few years ago. The weather had been cloudy all day and she had not been able to concentrate on her work.

Her eyes fell on the pile of books that she had neatly arranged on the edge of her desk. Copies of her latest novel that had been delivered the day before and that were now waiting to be signed and distributed to friends and unknown readers.

It had meant so much to her to write this novel, because it had been him who had inspired her to write it. Each line had been a pleasure, and she hoped that her readers would sense how much passion she had put into each single word, but at the moment she did not even want to touch one of the copies. Did not want to look at them, read them, not even be reminded of the fact that she had written this book.

She glanced at her watch. It was almost midnight. She got up and went to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of red wine. On her way back to the bedroom she passed her handbag which she had left in the antechamber. She took out a small piece of paper that she had found on her table at the café in the afternoon, after she had come back to it from the lavatory.

Surprised, she had picked it up. On the upper side there was a drawing of a cup of cappuccino from which steam in the form of hearts evaporated. In addition to the drawing, someone had scribbled a few words. They were were tiny, otherwise they would have found hardly any space on the small piece of paper.

You look so sad, give me one night to make you happy!, was written there. Together with a telephone number. The dialling code told her that it was a foreign number.

Puzzled, she had stared at the drawing and the words. Then she had turned the piece of paper to find out if there was more information, and she saw that it was a receipt, issued the day before by a drugstore a few steps from the café, where she had been a few times herself, too, to buy things she had needed.

The author of the words had bought a perfume, a fragrance for men. She had taken the note and had smelled at it. The paper smelled of perfume. It was a pretty sweet fragrance, Mediterranean-oriental, but rather decent and radiating so much warmth at the same time.

She knew that scent. She had already smelled it. Not so long ago. The day before. At her table at the café. When it had mixed with the smell of freshly brewed espresso. That sweet, warm, promising scent …

She had looked around to find out who might have been the author of those words, but nobody qualified. There were almost only elderly ladies or small groups of tourists. In the opposite corner, there had been a man sitting alone at a table, but he hadn’t in the least matched with the picture that she had created in her head. The author of those lines surely was completely different. The man at the table had been much too boring and serious to write such words or draw a picture like that, and he surely would never have worn such a fragrance.

She had quite quickly come to the conclusion that her secret admirer had already left the café, probably when she had not been at her table. And he had probably put the note there and had left a moment later.

She sat down on her bed and took a sip of the red wine while staring at the small piece of paper in her hand.

She considered what to do. She had no intention to call the author of the note. That would have been too personal and he could misinterpret it as an invitation that she did not want to issue. She was just curious to find out who was behind this number. She did not want to hear his voice or see him. Because she feared that the stranger could not come up to the picture that she had painted of him in her head. Or did she rather fear that the contrary was the case?

She looked at the ring that he had forgotten on the glass table the night before. He had not even noticed that he had forgotten it. But she knew that he would come back. He always came back. And he often forgot things at her place. She had already been wondering for a long time, if he did that intentionally, to have a reason to come back. But why should he need a reason? Was she not reason enough?

She emptied her glass in one gulp, put it back on the table and took her cell phone. She saved the number in her directory. No, she would not call the stranger, but she could send him a text message and find out who would answer her.

She paused for a moment to reflect, then typed.

– I found your note on my table.

She put the phone aside and lit a cigarette. She wondered if she would get any answer at all.

To shorten the time, she poured herself another glass of wine. When she came back from the kitchen, she saw that she had received a text message.

– I am glad you did. I was afraid the waiter might have thrown it away. He cut me a look when I bended over your table to place it there.

She smiled and typed again.

– Well, the staff is very attentive there. That’s one of the reasons I like staying at that place.

– And I am glad they are. And that they keep eye on you.

– Wherefrom do you know me?

– From the café.

– I am afraid I don’t understand.

– I am not a local. I am just a traveller. The café is next to my hotel. I went there to have a cup of coffee. And then I saw you.

– Oh.

– I had to write you that note.

– Why?

– It’s my last night in town. Tomorrow I am flying back home.

– Where is your home?

– Switzerland.

– So, you live far away from here.

– Precisely.

– You wrote me that I look sad and that you want to make me happy.

– Yes, I would like to.

– How?

– Well, I’ll show you when you’ll be in bed with me.

– Oh. You aren’t the type who says things in a roundabout way.

– No. Why should I do so? We only have this one night. And no time to waste it with words. So, what do you think? Will you give me the chance to make you happy?

– Why do you think I am sad?

– Aren’t you?

– I don’t think so.

– Well, I do. You look sad. Lonely. Come to my hotel room. It’s nice here. We can have a drink, listen to some music. I know some good methods to make you relax.

– I am not going to meet a stranger in his hotel room. No way.

– Why not? We can meet at the bar. Get to know each other. And if you don’t like what you see, you just turn around and go back to your place.

– And if I like you?

– Well, then we’ll go to my room and I’ll give you a great night.

– You are still convinced that I am unhappy then.

– I am. So, what do we have to lose? I am leaving tomorrow, we’ll never meet again, each of us living life as if nothing had happened.

– I’m tempted.

– Then come to my hotel!

– I am not cruising around town in the middle of the night to meet a complete stranger in his hotel room!

– Then let me come to your place.

– To my place? My house?

– Yes.

– But you have an advantage over me. You know me, know what I look like, have apparently decided that you like me.

– I do. I spent three afternoons in that café and I have had enough time to be sure that I want you.

– But I know nothing about you, not even what you look like.

– Then let’s do it like we would have done at the hotel. We meet somewhere not too far from your house. And if there is anything about me that you don’t like, you just turn around and go back home, and I’ll go back to my hotel. Deal?

– I am not sure. Give me some time to think things over!

She put her cell phone aside and stretched out on her bed.

 

It had not taken her long to make a decision. She had seen the ring that was still lying on the table and that he evidently was not missing. In addition, she had become curious now. She wanted to meet the stranger that had spent three days in a row at the café, right beside her. So close, but unnoticed by her. Mainly, because she wanted to find out if he came up to the picture she had painted of him in her mind. Induced by a fragrance that she had just smelled for a short time and that had aroused so many desires.

The whole situation was bizarre and absurd. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning, and she was going to meet a perfect stranger. A foreigner living in another city, another country. She should have showed some fear, alarm bells should have started to ring in her head, but did not. Some inner voice told her that she should get herself into this, that it would be good for her for some reason. And up to now her inner voice had always been trustworthy.

They had arranged that she would pick him up from the metro station that was only a few steps away from her place. She put on her shoes and jacket and left the house. The street in which she lived was deserted. It was Saturday night but this was a residential area at the edge of town, everyone was sleeping at this time. And nobody would therefore witness what she was about to do. And better it was, she wanted to keep her little adventure a secret.

She tried to get rid of the picture she had made of the stranger in her head and told herself that she had to accept that he probably was completely different from what she had imagined him. But they had agreed that she would turn around and go back home if she did not like what she saw. And he would not be angry, or even offended, he would just turn around, too, and return to his hotel. Still, she was nervous when she descended the stairs that led to the station.

The hall was neon-lit and deserted. At first, she could not see him, because he was hidden behind a large pillar, but when he heard her footsteps on the stairs he emerged and came to meet her.

When she saw him, her heart stood still for a short moment, then continued beating twice as fast as it had before. He looked almost exactly as she had imagined him: tall, young, dark-haired. He was dressed in a modern, individualistic way, making him look as vibrant and self-confident as she had known he would be before they had met. The traveller really looked like someone for whom life was just one big adventure, savouring everything it had to offer to him. Just as she had seen life before he had become part of it almost a year ago. And now that she was facing this stranger who smiled at her, slightly embarassed, she knew that she wanted her old life back.

The whole situation, the two of them standing here, looking at each other, complete strangers meeting up in the middle of the night at a deserted metro station with the aim to experience an exciting erotic adventure, was incredibly bizarre and surreal. But that was the reason why they could both give themselves up to it and let things go. This adventure was not part of their realities, it took place somewhere outside it. They would have experienced this exotic adventure, maybe even enjoyed it, and then would have encased their memories in a soap bubble that they could place somewhere in their heads, to take it out again as often as they wanted or to just let it burst.

They looked into each other’s eyes and knew that they would like what was about to happen between them, therefore she returned his smile and together they went back to her house. The night was so quiet, so completely silent as she had never experienced before.

She unlocked the door and led him to her bedroom which was only very dimly lit. She loved the darkness, even if this house sometimes was very scary. It was an old house where the strangest noises were to be heard, at all times of the day, but mainly during night time.

Even the traveller seemed to feel a little uncomfortable in the darkness. He winced at the slightest sound and looked around anxiously, his big brown eyes searching every dark corner of the room.

„You don’t have to be afraid“, she tried to calm him, tenderly stroking his arm. „It’s an old house, terribly old, with wooden floors that creak. The furniture is quite old, too, and the gas heater makes a hell of a row when it starts heating. And that happens very often, because it is always cold in this house and it needs a lot of heating to make it cosy. Sometimes, I feel uncomfortable here, too, so you are not the only one, and some nights I even wake up because of those strange noises. But I can assure you that there is no place more boring and less dangerous on this planet than this house.

He took her hand and began to laugh.

„I’m sorry, I didn’t want to be such a coward. It’s just that I have never been in such a situation before. To be honest, usually I don’t go to strangers’ houses in the middle of the night. I am a traveller in a city far away from home. You never know what to expect when travelling.“

She looked into his eyes and believed every word he said. He had probably really never been in such a situation before, like she had never been, and all that insecurity and inexperience made him all the more attractive to her. She moved closer and caressed his right cheek with her finger, then arrived at his lips. He let her do as she liked for a while, then he pulled her towards him and kissed her.

Within seconds, their encounter, that had been rather timid and awkward at the beginning, turned into pure passion and lust. She had intended not to go too far and to take it slowly, but now she was ready to abandon all her concerns and taboos and cast caution to the winds. The night was almost over, sun would rise soon, and she did not want to waste a single minute of the time thinking, but focus on just enjoying what she was feeling.

And he made enjoying easy to her. He acted in such a naive, genuine way, everything was so uncomplicated, there was no reason to question anything that might have happened between them. It was a game, one big game, whose only aim was to explore the other one’s body inch by inch. To find out what excited them most and to enjoy the fact that it caused them so much joy and lust.

They were two strangers, two travellers, who had met by chance at the station of life and had decided to spend some time together until their trains arrived to bring them back to where they belonged, back to their daily routines. Two travellers who were getting to know each other and were finding out so much about themselves at the same time.

At least that was how she felt. She had already forgotten what freedom and carelessness were, had had to obey so many rules and had been restricted by so many taboos. All those restrictions had weighed so heavily upon her and had killed all her joie de vivre, until the fire that had always burnt so ardently inside of her had gradually been extinguished and only a piercing cold had remained.

Tonight, the traveller had arrived in her life, and he did not care what had been before. He had insisted and convinced her to spend a night with him. He had wanted to make her happy and wipe away her sadness, and now they were lying in bed together and he took everything he wanted, without asking her, and he had re-ignited this fire, with his first kiss, his first timid touch. And each further touch made the flame burn higher and higher, and when he lay her on the table and penetrated her with a passion that she had not felt for a very long time, he had set her whole body on fire, and all the ice melted away in just a few seconds.

He seemed to have a million hands. Hands that touched her neck and simultaneously massaged her breasts. Hands that grasped her waist firmly to pull her lower body closer to his, but at the same time caressed her tenderly.

She enjoyed every single orgasm that he gave her. But what she enjoyed most were all those little caresses that she felt all over her body and burned her skin. And it were those caresses that made this night a night to remember, a night she would probably never forget. And she was glad that each of his caresses turned into a brand on her skin, she did not want to forget a single one. Those brands would always remember her of the traveller and this very special night, and she would always think back to this encounter with a smile on her lips and a shiver of excitement and lust, would always think back to this surreal night which in their realities had never taken place and which she therefore would keep in the back of her mind as the most colourful soap bubble of all.

When the sun rose shortly afterwards, they still knew nothing about each other but also everything at the same time. The traveller would have taken his plane back to Zurich in a few hours and never know how much he had changed her life. And he did not have to know.

He got dressed and let his eyes wander through her bedroom for a last time. He saw the pile of books that she had neatly arranged on her desk. He took a copy of her latest novel, leafed through the pages and finally asked her to sign it for him.

„I’ll take this one home with me and I’ll read it“, he told her. „And when reading it, I hope to find out more about you. It’s a shame there isn’t more time left to get to know you better in real life.“

She took her pen and signed the novel for him without using many words. He thanked her and kissed her one last time. Then he opened the door and went towards the gate. Just before he had reached it, he turned around and darted a glance at her that was not easy to read. There seemed to be sadness and regret in it, even a little longing. But that surely had only been her imagination, it had not been real, like the entire night had never happened, or only in a surreal world that did not exist.

When the traveller had left her house and disappeared from her life, she went back to her bedroom and sat on her bed. Her eyes fell on the ring again.

She thought back to all the many times that he had been lying in bed with her, all the many times he had made love to her without touching her, while every single touch of the traveller was still burning on her skin. She knew that she would never see the traveller again, knew neither his name nor where he lived, she only had his number. And the memory of a night and a pledge. He had promised to take away her sadness and to make her happy. He had kept his promise.

She got up, walked over to her desk and opened the bottom drawer. She took out a small jewellery box, put the ring into it and returned the box into the bottom drawer. She had made a decision. She no longer wanted to be unhappy. And finally be honest with herself.

 

The traveller did not directly go back to his hotel, he was much too agitated, his head was buzzing with too many thoughts.

He once more went to the café where he had met and observed her for three days. He would never have expected that his wish would have come true. He knew that he would never see her again, that he had to file this memory of a great night somewhere in his head to bring it back out as often as he wanted. When his longing for her would have overwhelmed him again. But he didn’t want last night to become a memory, not yet.

He ordered a double espresso and lit a cigarette. On his table he found a piece of paper. It was a receipt that the one occupying this table before him had obviously left here. He took a pen from his jacket pocket and began to draw something on the blank side of the paper …

 

The café had two entrances. One was right in one of the busiest shopping streets of the city, the other in a narrow side street that snaked towards the Duomo.

Today, she had entered the café through the front entrance for the first time. An Italian tourist had opened the door for her, smiling, and she had smiled back at him, then had thrustingly headed towards her table at the window from where she could watch the crowd passing by, incessantly, every day, back and forth.

And she had, against her habit, come here much earlier than usually. It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but she had not been able to get a wink of sleep after what had happened the night before, but had not wanted to stay alone in her big house either.

And she also had left all her notebooks at home. She did not fancy writing. She just wanted to sit here, be part of the crowd, let her thoughts wander.

She knew that she would never see the traveller again and that it was time to encase her memories in a soap bubble, an exceptionally colourful one, and find a very special place in her head for it. But for some reason she did not succeed.

She sat down at her table and soon afterwards the waiter arrived. Like always he served her a cup of cappuccino and a glass of water. But today he took a second cup from his tray. A double espresso.

He put it on her table, right next to the cappuccino. Bewildered, she wanted to ask him why he had brought her an espresso, but then she saw the note that had been clamped beetween cup and saucer. She took it in her hand and looked at it curiously. It was a small piece of paper. Someone had drawn something on it. It was a cup of cappuccino from which steam in the form of hearts evaporated. Next to the drawing, in tiny letters, an address in Switzerland. And below the letters a few simple words that made her smile.

She took the espresso and smelled at the cup. The scent of coffee immediatly revived her spirits and gave her a feeling of cosiness and familiarity. In her imagination it mingled with the smell of a men’s perfume. A Mediterranean-oriental fragrance, sweet, and yet decent. So light, so carefree, so full of warmth. A scent that gave an idea of the summer to come, that promised sun, fun and, above all, a whole lot of adventures.

She read the five words that the traveller had written at the bottom of the small piece of paper again. Come and make me happy!

She smiled once more, then put the cup of espresso to her lips and emptied it in one gulp.

© Cara Roth, Vienna, 06/06/2017 (26/09/2015)

CoverTheTraveller

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Sweet Spring

for Jakob

(and the whole Chestnut team)

She entered the Chestnut, her favourite bar in the very heart of Vienna. She knew that it was a bad idea, but she did it anyway. There were a lot of nice bars in Vienna, but she liked this one best. She always had. Because it was small and cosy, with a familiar touch and a unique interior decoration. She appreciated all those little details: the vases with flowers in bright colours, the shelves with the bottles, the candles on the tables, the empty nut crates they had nailed onto the ceiling. Everything was special here. The waiters and barkeepers made you feel welcome and – last but not least – the cocktails were the best in town. At least that was what she thought.

She particularly appreciated a cocktail called Sweet Spring. She would never ever have ordered it, but that day, when she had met him for the first time, the waitress had served it erroneously, she had misunderstood her. She had wanted that other cocktail, the Squirrel, but then the waitress had brought that Sweet Spring thing. First, she had complained, but it had looked delicious, so in the end she had told the waitress that it was okay, that she liked surprises.

And, gosh, she had been surprised. She had never drunk a cocktail better than that before. It had tasted of chestnuts, and she went crazy for chestnuts and chestnut dishes, sweet or salty, and now she was crazy for that cocktail, too. Sweet Spring. What a name! It had been love at first sip.

But that was the problem. That was the reason why she should not have come here today. She loved that cocktail too much. Like she had immediately loved him too much. From the moment she had met him for the first time and had spent that evening with him here, from the moment she had taken her first sip of Sweet Spring and had looked into his blue eyes.

That night, after they had said good-bye at the underground station and each of them had gone their own ways, she had decided that it was better not to meet him anymore. She knew too well how those things went in her life: sympathy, love, drama. But then he had texted her again, and she had thought oh, hell, why not a second time, there was nothing wrong about that. Meeting him a second time at the Chestnut would have been innocuous. So she had accepted his invitation, and he had already waited for her at the station, where they had only parted from each other two days before.

It had been a mild April night, the first warm night of spring. The waiters had arranged a few tables outside the bar and they had found a sofa on which they could sit next to each other, close, the closer the later the evening, too close.

She had ordered a Sweet Spring again. It had tasted even better the second time, as had done his company. It had been long after midnight, but they had still been there. He had been embracing her by then, giving her shelter, since it had become a little cold outside.

They had not wanted to leave the bar, as they had not wanted to leave each other, but at some point they had had to. When they had returned to the underground station they both had decided that they did not wand to end the night that way.

When the sun had risen, she had still been lying in his arms, in her bed, he had still been holding her tight, had never stopped embracing her throughout the whole night. All the things he had told her, all those sweet little words, they had been sweeter than the Sweet Spring and the way he had smiled at her as soon as he had opened his eyes in the morning had been warmer than the rays of sun that had been shining into her bed.

She had known she should not have fallen for him, she had known that it would not have been any good, but she had decided to do it anyway. It was spring, and she had so much wanted it to be a sweet spring.

Now she was sitting at the counter in the Chestnut again and hated herself for having entered the bar. She could not bear all those sweet spring emotions, being already memories, but spring not even being over, yet. Could not bear thinking of him, but knew that she would always do, forever, every time she would be entering this bar. And as it was her favourite bar, she had to find a way to get along with the situation.

She ordered a Sweet Spring, she could not help doing so. The waiter served it together with a warm smile and a small bowl filled with different nuts: almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecan nuts, pistachios, walnuts. That was to be expected in a bar called Chestnut, but she appreciated that ritual nonetheless. She loved eating nuts, any kind of nuts, but chestnuts best of course. That was why she had also ordered a Sweet Spring again. She had become addicted to Sweet Spring, she had to confess that to herself. As she had become addicted to the sweet spring and his sweet words, embraces and kisses. Well, she could not have any more of those, but she could still drink as many Sweet Springs as she wanted. And so she decided to do so until Sweet Spring would make her forget him.

The nuts in the small bowl agreed with her. At least some of them. A fat pecan nut jumped out and planted itself in front of her with its hands on its hips.

„You are right, darling“, it said. „Drinking is good. Forget the past, live the moment!“

„No, she shouldn’t!“, she could hear an almond say. „She’ll have a terrible headache tomorrow.“

„Headaches are a good thing. She will hate him for having caused her pain“, replied the pecan nut stubbornly.

„What else was there to be expected from a weirdo like you!“

„Well, I may be a weirdo, but at least my life isn’t as boring as yours. The weirdest thing you ever did was licking the salt from a peanut!“

„We are not talking about me or you now, though, we are talking about her“, said the almond and jumped out of the bowl as well.

„And that’s why I am saying drinking is good, it will make her forget sweet spring, so that she might be ready for a hot summer.“

„She will never forget him, though!“

„She will, I am sure.“

„You are only sure, because you have no idea what love is.“

„What do you know about love, almond!?“, said the pecan nut and laughed.

„Well, I once dated that pistachio. He was a little introverted, but he was the hell of a guy!“

„So that makes you an expert in love matters now!“

„I didn’t say it does, but at least I know what I am talking about. She will never ever be able to erase the memories.“

„Why should she want to erase memories of something that good?“, asked a walnut from out of the bowl.

„Oh, dear, Mr I-Know-It-Better again“, sighed the pecan nut. „Because it isn’t a good thing anymore. You should have informed yourself about the status quo before talking, old man!“

„But it was a good thing once. She seems to have been really, really happy with that guy. So the memories will always be good ones.“

„Only bad memories are good memories. Bad memories make you sad, so you avoid them, whereas good memories make you smile, and smiling about something that isn’t good any longer causes heartaches.“

„Headaches are a good thing, but heartaches a bad thing, is that what you want to tell us?“, asked the walnut.

„You got it, dude!“

„What went wrong with them, by the way?“, requested a pistachio from out of its shell.

„The zoo thing“, replied the walnut.

„The zoo thing?“, asked the pistachio.

„They had been to the zoo together.“

„What happened there?“

„Nobody knows, but something went wrong there“, said the pecan nut.

„It surely was because of the monkeys. Monkeys are no good, they are weirdos“, the almond tossed in.

„For you everybody is a weirdo!“, sighed the pecan nut and rolled its eyes.

„Well, something did go wrong there, I am sure about that!“

„But certainly not because of the monkeys!“

„I think, he is a monkey!“, said a peanut from out of nowhere. „Look at her sad blue eyes! How can someone make such pretty blue eyes so sad!“

„Well, I agree that he is behaving like a monkey, but what does sadness have to do with the colour of somebody’s eyes?“

„I knew you wouldn’t understand!“

„So, shoot!“

„Because blue is my favourite colour, it’s the colour of the sky and the sea. And his eyes are blue, too. So, if her blue eyes are blue, his blue eyes are probably blue, too.“

„Too much blue here“, sighed the pecan nut and rolled its eyes again.

„She should throw herself into the sea. So she will drown and that will wash away her memories.“

„Might be an option“, conceded the pecan nut.

„It’s easier to drown oneself in a cocktail“, said the pistachio.

„That’s what she already is trying to do“, replied the almond.

„Must be paradise to end up in a cocktail together with chestnuts!“, fancied the pecan nut.

„Chestnuts are at least real nuts“, said the walnut.

„You want to tell me I am not a real nut?!“, shouted the pecan nut.

„You got the point!“

„Well, stop arguing, guys! That won’t help!“, the pistachio tried to calm them down. „And maybe it wasn’t real love. That would be a good thing then. She would recognise that sooner or later and would sooner or later stop being sad.“

„It was real love.“, said the almond.

„So, what went wrong, then?“, asked the pistachio again.

„The zoo thing“, replied the pecan nut.

„I hate monkeys. They eat nuts“, said the almond.

„But only real nuts“, responded the walnut.

„They also eat pecan nuts. I’ve seen them eating pecan nuts once“, said the peanut.

„Why don’t you just shut the hell up!“, sighed the pecan nut and rolled its eyes once again.

„It was real love, I am sure about that“, said the almond. „Because that is a real tear in her left eye.“

„Blue eyes are beautiful“, said the peanut.

„We know that already!“, the others cried out in unison.

„Stop fooling around, guys!“, said the walnut. „She needs our advice now!“

„So, what do we know?“, asked the pecan nut.

„We know that it was real love“, replied the pistachio.

„And that he is a monkey“, said the walnut.

„And that he has blue eyes“, said the peanut.

„And that something went wrong at the zoo when they had been there together“, said the almond.

„Well, then we know everything that we need to know now“, the pecan nut summerised and approached her.

„Hey, sad little lady!“, it said and waved to her. „We cannot stand seeing your blue blue eyes any longer. We have the solution to your problem! Just listen to what we have to tell you, and everything will be fine!“

„You have to drown yourself in blue water, that will wash away your sad memories“, said the peanut. „There is that river they call Blue Danube. I think that suits best.“

„No, you have to take him to the zoo, where everything started to go wrong“, suggested the pecan nut. „In the middle of the zoo there is a blue pond. Take the monkey with you, take him by the hand and jump from the bridge. That will wash away the memories from both of you.“

„You better feed him to the lions, they like to have monkeys for dinner“, said the walnut. „You’ll feel much better then!“

„You also could just forget about him and find another guy with blue eyes. There are so many other blue-eyed guys running around in town“, suggested another peanut that had not said a single word throughout the whole evening.

„But don’t take that other guy to the zoo then“, said the pistachio. „He might turn into a monkey, too.“

„Good point“, said the pecan nut.

„I hate monkeys“, said the almond.

„We know that already!“, the others cried out in unison.

„So, sad little lady, do whatever you want“, the pecan nut said and smiled to her. „Drown yourself, take him by the hand and drown yourselves together, feed him to the lions or forget about him and find yourself another blue-eyed guy. But no matter which decision you take: Come back tomorrow night, have a Sweet Spring and tell us about it!“

The waiter came and touched her arm.

„Are you okay?“, he asked her.

„I am fine“, she said and smiled to him. „Did I fall aspleep?“

„You did.“

„Sorry for that.“

„Don’t have to be sorry! It’s just that we are about to close.“

„Well, sure …“

After she had paid her dues, she left the Chestnut, still smiling, because she knew exactly what she had to do now.

© Cara Roth, Vienna, 22/05/2017

WP_20170401_21_07_33_Pro

A cocktail called Sweet Spring.

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