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From: Rainer Schmidt: LOVEDANCES

Poison

Felix emptied his glass in a oner, looked at the woman at the end of the bar again, and asked himself why he’d married, of all people, her. He checked her slender hips out, her long, slim legs and dainty ankles, and liked the look of her. He’d no objections, either, to her big dark eyes, the small firm breasts he reckoned were beneath her t-shirt. And yet… She glanced across at him, he nodded, she didn’t react, though. Felix shrugged and ordered another Jägermeister. His wife gave a mocking smile. The schnapps burned sharply in his throat.

A forced marriage was what it was, he thought, she caught me completely on the hop and ruthlessly exploited my weakness, my euphoria. There must be something you can do about that. As soon as I get up, I’ll get myself a lawyer, and he can investigate.

He’d just wanted to make an evening of it, together with his friends, back on his home turf in Düsseldorf. They’d planned to get totally wrecked, Felix thought, but not to wreck his life quite like this. Everything had happened very quickly, he couldn’t remember the ceremony properly, even, and where could the official papers be? There was nothing on the bar so he nervously frisked his pockets, a quick glance was enough to check the floor around his stool – the documents that sealed his fate had to be somewhere.

How was he going to explain this spontaneous marriage to the others? He didn’t know himself, even, how it could ever have come to this.

Felix felt a vibration, heard the heavy bass tones start to come in, and turned round. Hundreds of arms were stretching towards the DJ, shrieks and roars went through the place in waves, wherever he looked in the huge room were radiant faces, he could feel their heartbeats pounding, their excitement, and almost allowed himself to get caught up in it, but no, Felix thought, I’ve no reason to want to dance, me with my ball-and-chain on – all because of a sudden need to get hitched. At least everyone’s enjoying my wedding reception, – everyone except me, that is.

Ohlsen nudged him.

‘Say aah!’

Felix did what he was told mechanically. Feeling the little pill, its roughness, on his tongue, he crushed it between his molars and, as he couldn’t stand the bitter taste, quickly downed the water offered to him. ‘You can all count on your mate, Ohlsen,’ his friend said and laughed out loud. Their mate Ohlsen, who liked nothing better than to be called ‘Gröraz’, – short for ‘der Größte Raver aller Zeiten’ or ‘the biggest raver of all time’, as he once labelled himself – was clapping Felix and Mike on the shoulder. When he laughs like that, Felix thought, looking, completely fascinated, at the huge Ohlsen mouth, and simultaneously, therefore, at the mad proportions of the Ohlsen face, he looks like Jack Nicholson playing The Joker in Batman.

Drenched with sweat, his two friends’ faces beamed at him. They didn’t suspect anything. Things had indeed happened so quickly that not even they’d realised.

‘Mike,’ Felix said quietly, ‘do you see the girl at the far end of the bar?’

‘Course I do. She’s cute. Take it you fancy her?’

Mike waved over to her, raised his glass to her.

Felix blocked his arm.

‘No, don’t. I’ve a problem, Mike.’

‘What kind of problem?’

‘No, keep your voice down, mate. You’re too loud.’

Mike, moving closer still, repeated his question, this time in a stage whisper.

‘What kind of problem?’

Mike found what he’d just done so funny he was struggling to keep his face straight. The guy doesn’t begin to understand how serious the situation is, Felix thought, he’s no idea what kind of awful dead-end I’ve got myself into.

‘I’ve just got married to her over there, Mike.’

‘What?’

‘I’ve just got married to her over there. I don’t even know how it happened.’

‘In that case – congratulations, mate!’

Mike wanted to turn back to Ohlsen but Felix stopped him.

‘Mike, please, believe me, this isn’t a joke. I’m at the end of my tether – the victim of a forced marriage. You’ve got to help me.’

His friend looked at him seriously.

‘Forced marriage, you say?’

‘Exactly.’

‘To her over there at the bar, yeah?’

‘Precisely!’

Mike was at last taking him seriously. Felix felt better right away.

‘Ohlsen?’

Mike pulled Ohlsen towards him.

‘What?’

‘What exactly have you been popping into Felix all night, tell me?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘He thinks he’s just wed that babe straight ahead of you.’

Ohlsen laughed and suddenly kissed Felix on the forehead. Mike was hugging him.

‘Ohlsen, Felix really thinks he’s married to her.’

‘Oh boy! Howzabout you just drink some water from time to time, mate?’

‘Mike, I … !’

‘It’s okay, Felix, no need to panic. We’ll sort it all out. What’s your wife’s name, anyway?’

Felix could see the corners of their mouths twitching, that they were biting their cheeks. Right now, he needed these two friends, though. He’d no other choice.

‘I, ehm, I’ve forgotten, I haven’t a clue, not that that means anything, I … ‘

With a single leap, Mike was over at the girl, gesticulating for all he was worth, and pointing back over at him. Felix, stuck to his stool, it felt like, could see she was staring at him. Next, the two of them were laughing: Mike and his wife were having fun, that much was clear. Now, she was shaking her head and giving him the crazy sign: she thought he was an idiot, that much was also clear. Newly married – and already she was treating him like a nutter. Bingo! I’ve got myself a cracker here, Felix thought, some marriage this is going to be. He wished he could’ve vanished on the spot. He just didn’t know how to, and where to.

‘It’s alright, you’ve got the all-clear, mate,’ a giddy Mike was now saying, ‘there was never any wedding, there’s no problem at all, she’s called Yvonne and doesn’t know you from Adam. She’s never spoken to you in her life, but you’ve been staring over at her for hours, it seems. She thinks you’re quite cute, actually, you could’ve gone up and spoken to her all right, but now she’s thinking you’re a bit too over the top for her, maybe.’

And now she’s denying me, into the bargain – my own wife! was Felix’s take on the situation. Unbelievable, it is.

The problems had already started earlier in the evening. After his last interview at a bank on the famous Königsallee, he’d met up with his old friends in a fish restaurant – to celebrate his imminent return from London, where he’d been working, since graduating, at the stock exchange. Even in the restaurant, Ohlsen had dished out pills – his ‘hosts’, as he called them – time and time again. The others had wanted to carry on drinking, but Mike had urged Felix to make sure he went on with Ohlsen to Poison, at the main station.

‘Forget the others,’ Mike had said, again and again, ‘they haven’t a clue about anything, haven’t a scoobie’ and Felix, right away, had to admit he was right. Roloff and Tom, his old companions, just turned their noses up when Techno or House music were mentioned, and they did so with such fervour and such hatred – there was no other word for it – any discussion was pointless. They were still only into the Punk/Wave music of the 80s, just as the old-before-their-time old hippies of the late 60s stuck to drastic rock, Felix thought, so there was absolutely no point.

Shortly after they’d arrived at Poison, Felix had lost the other two and wandered through the club. Thanks to Ohlsen’s lavish gifts, he’d been on more and more of a high. For a while, he’d not even known where he was any more – and had just danced. He’d started to feel better and better, little by little the swaying masses had begun to seem very familiar, and suddenly he knew again where he was, and what it all meant: of course, this was the interview dance organised by the bank he’d been at today, he thought, full of enthusiasm for the idea. To get the job, you have to be able to keep up. And somewhere up there, the managing directors are sitting, watching, and it’s brilliant, that they organise the likes of this. He felt himself laughing and throwing his arms higher into the air. What gorgeous women have applied too, he’d found himself thinking – and was even more pleased.

One was dancing next to him, all wrapped up in her own little world, her eyes half shut. Her moves had a casual seriousness about them, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her body as it snuggled elegantly up to the sounds. Her blond hair lay on her head like a golden veil, and the more he looked at her, the more powerfully he could sense their togetherness, the magic of it. Her moves were in synch with his, he could totally feel the harmony, the high poetry, it was, of dancing together apart.

At a quieter point in the music, he asked: ‘And when did you send your application in?’

She opened her eyes wide and backed off a little.

Maybe she didn’t catch me right, Felix thought, and positioned his mouth even closer to her ear: ‘Maybe we’ll be colleagues soon. That would be great!’

At that, she pushed him on the chest and said something that sounded like: ‘What do you think you’re after?’ or ‘What’s got into you?’

Confused, he’d hurried to the bar – and stumbled straight into the forced-marriage trap.

‘Felix, do you understand what I’m saying? You’re not married, that’s all rubbish, just. The woman’s not interested in you. Loosen up, will you – and, for the last time, drink some more water!’

‘Are you sure about all that?’

‘Completely. Trust me!’

‘Really?’

‘Oh man – yes, of course!’

Mike and Ohlsen were up for it, were laughing. Felix joined in, laughed too, hugged them both to his chest. Rescued him, they had. They’d saved his future – in a word: everything. He’d never felt closer to them. Didn’t wanted to let go of them ever again.

‘Felix?!’

‘What?’

‘Know something? You’re completely over-worked. The whole stock exchange thing’s wearing you out.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Forget applying in Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. What’s the point of being there if you’re going to be alone? This is the world here – the way we really want it!’

Mike’s arm swept round the room – an expansive gesture – over the heads of the screaming dancers.

‘Great words, Mike – but unlike you, I’m not a student any more, I’ve got to work.’

‘So join us in Berlin, at least. Ohlsen’s already there, and I’m moving over next month. Here, there’s only the Poison. There, we have a hundred Poisons. You can’t imagine what’s going on there at this very moment. The city’s jumping, bouncing, new clubs are opening everywhere, the Love Parade, amazing venues, people partying night and day – we’ve got to get ourselves over there before it’s too late.’

‘But there are no jobs in Berlin, and there’s no money there!’

‘Come on, man! You’ll find a bank job of some sort there, too. One that’s less stressful, above all.’

‘And you’re moving there also? Really?’

‘Of course! What’s there here for me? First you go, and then Ohlsen? Think about it!’

Before Felix could reply, Mike and Ohlsen had rushed off to the dance floor, not that there was such a thing, still, as a separate dance floor. People were dancing everywhere and anywhere now. A few had jumped up onto the bar. Dozens had pushed their way up onto the stages in different parts of the room – and were holding onto each other so as not to fall off again. Noone was standing still on the balustrades any more either. No, a high-voltage energy had taken hold of everyone, incredibly so, and Felix soon realised why: a familiar high sound reached his ears, he could hear it clearly, hear it pulsating, followed by the beat that would push the track forward, a beat that threatened to be drowned out as it came in, almost, by the screams of the hall going wild as the entire place cheered the DJ’s selection: ‘The Age of Love’, a classic.

Felix jumped up automatically. There was no chance of ordering at the bar any more, anyway: the staff behind the bar were throwing their arms into the air as high as him, were surrendering to the track that, with its vaguely spherical Trance tones, immediately reminded Felix of the sound of the big clubs in London – that, like the places in the Rhineland – knew no fear of pathos in music.

Felix stumbled to the toilet, Ladies or Gents didn’t matter any more, there was one big free-for-all, just, wherever you went. Couples and groups of friends crowded outside the cubicles, there was no queue for the wash-hand basins. Through a half-open door, as he passed, he saw Mike bent over a semi-naked back, a face that reminded Felix of his wife at the bar, her skirt down at her knees, or maybe it was jeans she was wearing, Mike laughed, cackled, and knocked the door shut. Ohlsen came rushing out of another cubicle with two boys, inhaling air – or something-or-other – loudly, his fingers holding one nostril shut. Felix saw himself in a mirror, his face sweaty, red patches everywhere, his hair all over the place. Without warning, a girl kissed him firmly on the lips. They both had to laugh.

In the hall, the crowd swallowed Felix up, he let himself be pushed in whatever direction. Sweating, rapturous, he saw shining bodies everywhere, lit from within by the music, its bright, all-penetrating glow.

He loved the nervous energy that arose each time the bass stopped, couldn’t get enough of the complete bewilderment in the faces – the DJ’s taken our bass away! – followed by the knowing smiles of the dancing throng, by the eager anticipation of the expected effect, their gentle rage at the DJ for keeping them in suspense, for stopping their blood-supply for the fun of it. Then, how they all start to shout, louder and louder, more and more energetically, demanding the bass. How their individual desires grow into a collective outcry. How the DJ delays the highpoint more and more until they beg him to give them what they want at long last, the incredible fraction-of-a-second-silence, yes, please, give it back to us, our bass, give it back! And, finally, the DJ lets the bass power through them again, like a happy message, a message heralding further happiness and distraction, Felix thought, that has to be hammered mercilessly into us, if we are really, and fully, to understand it.

Not far from where he was, he could see Mike and Ohlsen on a stage, their t-shirts off, their torsos shining, the lights flickering over their open faces, their fingers stabbing the air. They tried to wave him over, but he shook his head and laughed, just. If only it could be like this all of the time!

‘This is the world the way we really want it!’ Mike’s right, Felix thought, overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound and – surrounded by the many others – overwhelmed by a magic physicality.

For too long already, he’d been unable to stand London any more, the filth and the stench, the incredible rush there always was there, no matter where you went and what time of day it was, the money madness in the City and in every single head, however clear-headed the person might otherwise seem, the invisible walls at every corner – that was why he was applying now anywhere he could in Germany. In the beginning, like a man possessed, he’d burrowed himself into the financial district. From the LSE he’d gone straight to one of the leading banks, taking his energy from any nerves in the financial world, internationally, that was what had spurred him. To be part of the global game, whatever the cost, to be as efficient and analytical as the others in the Trade Rooms at Barclays, the major British bank, that had been his goal, Felix recalled, noticing he was being swept away from the edge, and into the centre of the room. And as the sums involved became greater and greater, and the rings round his eyes darker and darker, suddenly – from one day to the next – he no longer knew why he was doing all this. Suddenly, the columns of figures on his screen were just long and dull, the magic had gone, all that remained was some great coldness, an undefined yearning that, only less and less often, he was able to drink away before last orders were called in the pub round the corner. Prices going up, prices coming down, who was interested in that, really? Soon, he could take his colleagues’ empty jabbering as little as the annoying pilgrimages his visitors from Germany undertook in search of a London that, for him, no longer existed.

Maybe Mike was right. If he was to go back to Frankfurt or Düsseldorf now, and alone, what would be any different? In Berlin, there’d at least be something else for him alongside the figures – a better world.

He’d have to have a serious think about it tomorrow.

At some point, the music completely stopped. The silence resounded in their ears, the crowd couldn’t believe it, surely such a thing couldn’t still exist, – closing time?!

Disappointed, they were carried by the flow, a sluggish lava-like flow, out onto the forecourt, where the light seemed grey and diffuse. Who’s going on where? Is it okay to tag along? What about the Tribehouse in Neuss, or the Ratinger Hof ? Outside the station, Ohlsen was still dancing, to the music in his head just, his arms flying through the air. He was laughing, his Joker laugh. Then, he kissed a petite blonde, they grinned at each other – and suddenly they were gone.

Silent, Felix went in the taxi back to Mike’s, their latest experiences reverberating still.

As soon as they got to the apartment, Felix lay down on the sofa. His friend wanted to listen to his phone messages.

‘Shit, Tom called, asking where we’d got to, we were supposed to meet him at seven.’

‘When did he call?’

‘Quarter past.’

‘Time is it now?’

‘Eight, just about.’

Felix sat up again.

‘Why’s he calling at this hour of the morning? Is he mad?’

‘Felix?’

‘What?’

‘It’s eight in the evening – we were supposed to meet him an hour ago.’

‘What? You just said…’

‘Felix, it’s Saturday evening, not Saturday morning, we went to Poison last night, do you get what I’m saying? i.e. twenty-four hours ago.’

Felix stared at him.

‘Didn’t I tell you you have to wind down. Think about what I said about Berlin. Karla’s still there too, by the way. She’s a really famous DJ now!’

‘Karla? My Karla?’

Mike laughed.

‘That’s right – your Karla. Right, I’m calling it a night. Goodnight!’

Felix closed his eyes to see mini-lightning flashes explode behind his eyelids. A bass was thumping somewhere in the distance.

Karla, he thought, how long is it since I last heard that name? He’d managed almost successfully to suppress any thought of her.

Maybe Berlin was a good idea, after all.

***

From: Rainer Schmidt: Liebestänze (KiWi 2009)

© English translation of the above chapter: Donal McLaughlin 2009

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