Playing Stories — Chapter 40: Bitter Sweet Symphony

Chapter 40: Bitter Sweet Symphony
from the 1997 album “Urban Myths” by The Verve
left on Quentin’s pillow at 9:23, 12 July 2019

I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me

Steps leading down onto the Martinaplatz, twelve in total. Fourth is a bit cracked, then the bray of a young child laughing down across at the Oper. Stand for eight seconds on bottom step, eyes gazing at the shadows underneath on the cobblestones, then turn to watch the shape coming down the steps, what’s-her-name-again –– oh yes Morgan, what a day we’ve had, the two of us — brown hair, little crinkly eyes, little crinkly green-grey eyes now that I can see them much better even with all the shadows dancing around. Put my hand in my pocket, grasp at phone, good it’s still there so squeeze, she shrugs, “I don’t think there’s much else we have to do now that we’ve done with the police, shall we go?” Yes of course we should go, left foot onto the cobblestones, tap-tap-tapping on the streets ahead of us, let’s not turn down that street shall we — yeah her shoulder tensed up, next street seems better idea.

God it’s quiet here in Munich tonight, you’d have thought that the capital of Bavaria would have had so much more people in it, but maybe the people here know better than to walk out after dark and not head into dark alleyways, obviously we shouldn’t have done that but seriously who knew that those dark streets would be so dangerous? Tram stop sign, two iron tracks, westbound for Nymphenburg Palace, eastbound for the Isartor and Deutsches Museum and beyond, single-carriageway for only one vehicular direction at a time, six people at tram stop. Tram coming, squeal and creak of steel on steel, 18, 1-8, for Effnerplatz, blue all the way around but black around the doors, Siemens-built bodywork… yes? No. Mo says no. Pass by stocky woman, man in business suit slightly red in the face (“und ich wohne… ich wohne…”), look at the highlights of that girl — Laura liked to do that as well but probably don’t mention it to her. Why do we always fail to admit that we loved somebody? We try so hard to find our way around in modern love and then everything just passes us by.

Anyway. Gelato store, H&M, crystal and glass, left hand turn. Munich U-Bahn ahead, Marienplatz station. First train 4:18 in the morning, last train 0:59, just under two hours before last train. Chamois back in uni used to love trains didn’t he, he’d love Munich’s system, wonder where he is now… but where’s she going? “Mo…” No response from her, no need for talking from me. We keep walking, past the yellow-green-yellow-green of the lights, wonder where she’s going — haven’t we had enough today? But she keeps walking, and our footsteps are the only thing around here echoing on the cobblestones now, thumping, thumping, thumping together. Fountain on the right hand side but no longer flowing with water, Neues Rathaus on the left, haunting horrifying giant black shadows, Mo chooses the right. Sit down on the grey granite, one, two feet onto the stone. My legs are crossed on the patio, her fingers are in the water, swirling, bubbles glistening in her wake. Water turns sluggish, fluid, then sluggish again, and a sigh from Morgan.

“Don’t you want to go back to our hostel now, we need rest and —”
“I’m not sleepy, do you wanna walk or just talk here?”
“What’ve we got to talk about?”
“Just everything. Anything. Don’t think I can sleep.”
“Is this about the money or the fall?”
“Of course not, stop beating yourself up for it, there was a knife at your throat.”
“Yeah but you know. Guilt.”
“I’m not angry.”

Quiet, the wind whistling through the square — isn’t it cool, those pinpricks of coolness, wafting through the soft little whiskers on your face. The sky’s black with a tinge of yellow, strong lights flashing into the sky — perhaps they’re doing dress rehearsals for the Oktoberfest somewhere out there. Closer now: clock on the Rathaus strikes quarter past, a single bong into the night, then silence once more. Look closer at the water at the fountain: brown paper napkins, the yellow of streetlamps reflected, leaves in various states of decay down there, one of those gaudy tinfoil thingies that you get on individually wrapped candies. Makes you shiver, doesn’t it, thinking about all the other rubbish that we create, our spit and our germs dumped onto the general public. Perhaps we should have been somewhere else by now. Wonder what Mo thinks? She’s sitting directly opposite me, her feet — sneakers stained with dirt — sticking towards me, looking up her legs for the socks and then the skirt, hemline with stitches, 23 before I lose count, deep red, almost purple, colour of red wine, Merlot, Cabernet, complete abstinence, maybe still got a few droplets on them — the river gorge still ringing now, remixed with her screams, right in my ears. Then her arms, chestnut brown draped across their crossed form like little streams, ending in four still ones and a fifth — the ring one — gently scratching her leg, probably just touching it really. Hypnotic, up down, up down. So much power hidden in those five fingers. At the top, only the streams folding into each other, converging into an alleyway of yellowish white; no sign of her green-grey eyes or her slight buckteeth.

Must have been five minutes, maybe ten. Then a voice from underneath the brown. “Isn’t Munich beautiful at night?”
“Mo, we JUST got robbed.”
“I don’t know, I don’t remember everything. Place is still bearable.”
“You can say that of any city in the dark. Can’t see their defects.”
“That’s why everyone comes out to play at night. Everything’s more perfect.”
“You pretend it’s perfect.”
“Good enough. Isn’t that why you came out here? To find impossible purity?”

Is it safe to talk to her? She’ll never tell anyone, or anyone I know, obviously. But still there’s something… tell her anyway, you coward. “Nah. I think it was something to do with mourning Layla, actually…”
“How does that work? Didn’t you still have hope for her when you got on the train?”

Quiet once more. Breathe, Thomas Richmond, breathe.

“I’m not sure, really. Maybe I already knew that Layla and I were actually doomed. Like… she said it at the time, of course, and I was pretending that we could still be friends when actually I really wanted us to get back together, but…” Some kind of shadow in front of us? Clam up, a sudden rush on the cobbles — just a pigeon. Her eyes are on my back, and I feel the warmth underneath my T-shirt. Back towards her, pretend nothing has happened.

“… yeah, like I said. Maybe I was trying to get past all that already. Maybe I knew that she wasn’t worth it. I’d just gotten used to having her around that I never really thought about what I was doing.” A sigh escapes me. I feel her backbone against my arm, sharp, tense, all those angles. She’s sighing too. She looks off into the distance, her thoughts far away. Another long quiet. Her heart beats next to me, and I count them, slowly, one by one.

It’s she who breaks the silence again. “Why are you guys always so dense.”
“What do you mean, dense.”
“You all just can’t be honest with yourselves.”
“Look who’s talking.”

The pigeon flies off, grey against yellow against black. My left arm suddenly hurts, the jagged edges of her back so uncomfortable. She dips her hand in the water, swirls it around again. Water flies into the air, and I feel the phantom breeze before they land on my face. She waves her hand, and a frozen diagonal streak forms across the air. The streetlight breaks into a million little pieces through them, sparkling amber in the sky. Reach out to grab some of them before they disappear. Another of her tricks she used to do at school, but had they ever been this beautiful?

If not her, who do you tell? “Do you want to know why I got together with Layla? I have no idea how it happened. It was all very spontaneous, all very comedic, really. We saw each other across a room, and then that night we were at the pub and then we were staring at her bedroom ceiling. It was — it was all so quick. And I don’t really know why we did it. Maybe, maybe I’d been cold turkey for nine months, just sitting there moping around and knowing that I was only there for the languages and that I really was just a walking translator who could pop over to China or Japan at a moment’s notice and nothing else. Nobody liked me at work, or at least nobody came up to me and said ‘well done Thomas’ or ‘do you want to join us for drinks’. I just sat there day after day after day hoping something would change or that they’d start treating me as part of their cliques or whatever. The Foreign Office is boring enough as it is. Maybe they were trying to help me. Who cares, they didn’t do that until Layla brought me in or something. So maybe I clung to Layla. I clung to her because I knew that if I stopped clinging I’d die and nobody would really care about me. I’d thought about resigning in the days she left because who the hell would still accept me? We’ve got three other teleporters in the Asia Office alone, who’d give me a second glance? We got physical a lot, Layla and I, basically because I was up for it. God knows how much I was up for it. Maybe she got tired of it all, like everyone who came before. Maybe I’m just not interesting enough deep down, and maybe I’ll just spend my life going from person to person without ever being nice enough for anyone to stay.”

“Stop saying that.” Voice from under, eyes looking towards the skies. Her head tilted on my shoulder, crane your head out just a little, see the brown falling over the smoothness of the forehead and down into her face.

“Why not? It’s the truth.”
“I don’t know. But it’s so annoying.”
“What is.”
“Just. All that self-pity — it’s useless. When has moping ever worked in getting you anyone?”
“… and there I was thinking that you’d be able to help me out.”
“What am I, your therapist? Just cause I’m around when you’re crying over Layla doesn’t mean I have the answer to everything. I’d like to know the answer myself.”
“Don’t you already? You got stuff worked out. This is all just a blip.”
“If only it was,” she whispers. “If only I was.”

Mo leans back onto my shoulder, she lets her breath out, softly brushing on my cheeks on its way to the sky. Then a loud ring from the heavens. Her muscles tense at the noise, but it’s just the clock at the Rathaus pealing, one, two, three. We’ve been talking here for almost an hour. A new day is dawning, and her hair and her ears I can feel touching me, touching my neck… but then the next line of the song. She leaves suddenly all the time. It’s so easy for her to leave me without a second’s notice, and I would have nothing to hold her back with, no promises of further adventures or revelations about my plain old self, and I would have to cut her off like I’ve done Layla oh so many years ago, and right now, suddenly, I just can’t do that.

Five, six, seven. She moves closer. Two inches of spine meets two inches of forearm. I don’t want her to go. I don’t want her to leave me without her telling me more about her own self, about the nebulous web of stories that she’s weaved around herself all these years, whether by accident or by design, but I know she’s here right next to me right now, and she has so much inside her.

Nine, ten, eleven. “I’ve told you all my stories. Now tell me yours.”

She smiles, eyes half-closed, voice dreamy, flowing on the waves. “Yes.”


Thanks for last night. I really feel like — I don’t know, it did clear up a lot of facts. I never knew that you didn’t like where we were in the lighthouse as well, I always thought that you were just a loner. I wish I could help. And like, yeah, think of what Mo says as what I’m telling you right now. We all like you. Don’t shut yourself off.


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