by Jesse Falzoi
We need water for important things. It was here that we shared a bottle of sweet champagne after passing my mid-exams. It was here that we killed a six-pack of Beck’s after granny died. And it was here that I told my brother Mika.
You must be kidding me, he said and May had only just begun but the grass was dry already and the straws pierced me through my T-shirt and I said, I don’t want to go there on my own.
Mika took off his hat. He looked at it as if he were calculating the sum of the tiny squares. Then he said, Who was it?
Maybe I should have begun when you stepped on stage with your guitar and you looked lost and most of the guests were gone. Or maybe when you showed up next to me at the bar and ordered a beer. And another one for me. But I didn’t tell my brother any of it, grabbed my stuff, and said, It’s over there.
He didn’t move. The water carried a plastic bottle past us and a mother duck and her ducklings were following close and I pulled at my brother’s arm and said, Come on.
He said, Don’t you have a best friend?
I hadn’t told anybody. Never mind, I said, letting go of him.
He got up and walked to the bridge to get his bike. He wrapped the lock around his hips and said, Did you talk to the parents?
I shook my head. You’d understand if you knew them.
Jesus, my brother said.
Boats glided by and people lay in the sun and I heard them talking and laughing. I waited for Mika to ask about you again and maybe I would have told him that we walked along the deserted streets, you carrying your guitar, and that we listened to music in your tiny room, until I realized that I would be late for my poetry class with everybody waiting for my talk.
But Mika said, Why don’t you ask the guy who got you into this mess?
I would have liked to tell him that my teacher looked at me and the students looked at me and I didn’t remember anything I’d read in the uncountable books at Staatsbibliothek, just Emily Dickinson walking around in her garden.
But my brother would have said, Give it a rest.
We continued along the channel for a while and after another while we arrived at the house on Lausitzerstrasse and Mika locked his bike to a lamppost and said, What if they think that it was me?
An assistant sent us to the waiting area where several women with big bellies looked as if they would burst open any moment. Mika picked up one of the magazines and browsed through it. Then he put it back on the table and said, I booked us train tickets.
I said, Why?
He grinned and I shrugged and he asked if I’d forgotten our mother’s birthday and I was happy about changing the subject. Mika picked up another magazine and said, Couldn’t you be careful? Couldn’t you just be careful, just for once?
And I remembered how certain I was that nothing had happened until the cross turned pink. Promise you say nothing at home, I said.
The last time we met you didn’t say that you were leaving and I didn’t ask why there were suitcases in the hall. When you took me to the subway in the morning I turned around once more and you stood there again like that first night, looking lost, and around us there were all the people going to work.
Mika put his arm around me and said, Who is it? I’ll beat the shit out of him.
The other women smiled.
I remembered how we sneaked out of the house at night to take our bikes to the beach, when we were kids, my brother and I. It was just us and the wind and the moon. We were like newborn turtles, hurrying toward the water, by instinct.
Are you sure? Mika said and I said, How are things in the lab?
He let go of me and reached into the inner pocket of his jacket for his tobacco. Ask again when I’m on Nobel’s list, he said.
One woman after the other got up and moved toward the doctor’s room as if they had rheumatism. Some were going gray. Some were followed by men. Mika started rolling a cigarette. I watched a movie about Townes van Zandt yesterday, he said.
You said that it wasn’t going well with the music. That the few gigs here and there barely paid your rent.
Mika said, His son’s our age. He licked the paper, rolled again, and put the cigarette behind his ear. He listens to his father’s records when he goes to sleep.
Mika started rolling another cigarette and then unrolled it again and shoved the tobacco back into his pocket. Musicians, he said. Always on the run. Always walking along some deserted street with their instrument.
Soon I would be sitting on the sofa and mom would bring me a cup of tea and I would browse through old TV guides, regretting that I missed good movies.
Mika said, You’re okay?
When are we going?
I leaned back but made sure that my hand wasn’t on my belly. I didn’t want to look like the other women.
Then I had to wait in a narrow hall. Opposite to photographs of naked babies. Next to which there was a name and a date and a time and something like, Introducing, or Hello World!
Mika said, How’s college?
I met you eleven times. I checked my filofax. How about having a falafel later? I said. My treat.
Mika took out his cell and put it back into his rucksack. Back to the papers and books filled with numbers and columns and calculations. Suzanne’s waiting for me, he said.
Suzanne has a similar rucksack. Everything’s predictable there. That’s okay, I said. I’d throw it all up anyway.
What do you care?
He stood up and walked to the window and opened it. Look, a cherry tree.
Once I came by in the afternoon and you were standing at the open window too but it was February and the branches of the tree in front of your house were bare and you swept up the snow from your windowsill and formed a snowball.
Mika’s hand reappeared with a bunch of blossoms and he said, They trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms and they passed it on to their children and grandchildren.
They landed on my lap and I dumped them in the trash. Then a door was opened. What’s that noise? I said.
Mika laughed. How many times did your heart beat since you were born?
One blossom stuck to my palm.
Math exam first semester, Mika said. Most forgot that fetal heartbeats are about twice as fast as ours.
I wiped my hand clean on my skirt.
In the end I stood in the room with the chair. I was glad that I wasn’t alone but it had been a while since Mika and I undressed in front of each other. He turned around, looked at the books on the shelf, took one out, and laughed.
What is it?
I heard the doctor speaking to somebody on the phone in the next room. The first time I was here he asked me about my studies while examining me. There were many photographs of his own children on his desk but he was nice, even after I’d told him.
Mika was still standing there holding the book.
Read to me, I said.
He looked up. What?
When he was done I took off my skirt and discovered the blossom: the soft pink of the petals and the dark red spot in the middle, out of which tiny hairs with orange heads were reaching out for me, like the tentacles of a snail.