Playing Stories — Chapter 45: Atomic

Chapter 45: Atomic
from the 1979 album “Eat to the Beat” by Blondie
handed to Emily at 20:58, 31 July 2019


Make me tonight, make it magnificent
Oh, your hair is beautiful tonight…

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

SCENE 1: the Reichstag Dome

Her hair tickles. I’ve felt her hair so many times in the past week, on my neck and on my arms, yet the slightest touch of it tonight and I am fully awake. We stand at the top, gazing out on a slumbering city, gazing at the glass, gazing at each other’s reflections. Slightly out of breath, but it’s not just the weird little dancing spree that we’ve been on just now. The mild shock of that electric hair, so close to mine, and Berlin suddenly brightens up before us. Wide-eyed. Joyous. Teeming with life.

She shudders and glances at me. “Should we be going down? That batty old guard’s going to shoo us out anytime. No respect for Bowie, I ask you…”

Option A: give her your coat –> scene 2
Option B: give her the damn coat you moron she’s freezing –> scene 2

SCENE 2: Platz der Republik

Back down in the cool night, the smell of freshly cut grass heavy in the air. Do they cut the grass here with a lawnmower, or does somebody come over and just magic all the grass away? The clock says it’s already one in the morning: the two of us have been shuffling up there in the glass for much longer than we thought. But still the night feels young: traces of a smile, born so long ago in Munich, hanging on Morgan’s lips. The spotlights are still up and running, showing the way to a thousand different attractions, machines and cafes and oyster shells, only larger than life and glowing in the dark.

I read her upturned lips, the gleam of her eyes. Does she want to stay? Maybe we should get out of here, ASAP. Stay here too long, and the dream might just break apart. “Berlin is so beautiful,” she whispers…

Option A: continue to explore Berlin –> scene 3
Option B: get back to Munich –> scene 13

SCENE 3: the Brandenburg Gate

And yes, Berlin is really beautiful. Even though so many of the Berliners are in bed now, working their way through restful dreamscapes, this place still feels like it’s humming. Mo walks ahead, almost skipping as we walk down a tree-lined boulevard, her feet barely crunching on the gravel. How can she have changed so quickly? We were barely speaking just two weeks ago…

The trees clear, and suddenly we’re there: the Brandenburg Gate. Berlin’s greatest symbol. Columns of marble, pillars of stone. Why didn’t I think to bring a real camera out here? Perhaps Mo would have loved her picture with the roaring chariot at the top. But then she turns and smiles. How much you would pay to see that joy on her face.

But where to then? Through the gate, Berlin continues to hum; a couple of cars fly along the streets behind us. Anywhere feels possible, says Mo. She looks through the gate, her mind miles away once more.

Option A: turn around and just walk –> scene 4
Option B: turn around and head for the Hauptbahnhof –> scene 5
Option C: go through the gate –> scene 7

SCENE 4: Ebertstrasse

So on we walk. Maybe the fatigue of euphoria was beginning to get to Mo, whose shoulders even now sag a little. Or maybe it was the sight of the Holocaust Memorial, or maybe it was all just because of the really late hours and the fact that neither of us have slept for quite some time. But the wonder is still in her eyes, that wide-eyed amazement at being in her favourite city in the world, and she continues to grin.

A few flecks of water land on my cheeks. God, is it going to rain? I look sideways at Morgan. She looks at the sky too, open-mouthed. For a moment I wonder if she’s going to do that thing with her hands again, but she just sighs and walks on. “Aren’t you gonna do something about that?” I zip up my windbreaker. “You’ll get wet if it comes down hard.”

She shrugs. “What’s wrong with a little rain?” Her voice sounds tired, too. “I actually like it like this, you know. Just walking through the rain, not having to care about whether I have to use my powers or not. This is nice. And besides,” she says, looking at the sky, “it won’t develop. Too wispy.”

She’s right. The asphalt glistens in the dark, but nothing more than that happens as we near Potsdamer Platz.

Option A: enter the Tiergarten –> scene 6
Option B: walk into the Sony Centre –> scene 8

SCENE 5: Berlin Hauptbahnhof

The bridges across the Spree are quiet, darkened. Berlin still makes the effort to pretend that it respects the night, as does most of its people: there’s so little light from the streets and the park as we make our way down to the banks and across the waters.

I can just about see the contours of her nose, her lips, her hair, as she walks along the bridge to Moabit. I realize that my heart is pounding, each beat like a jackhammer trying to smash its way out of my throat. She turns, and for a moment all I can see is her silhouette, thrown into stark relief by the lights of the Hauptbahnhof as it comes into view, the harsh glare of the white lights softened by the glass it passes through. It’s almost as if there’s an aura around her, though I don’t really believe in that kind of stuff anyway, but seriously there has never been anyone closer to looking like an angel than Morgan Adams in that moment.

She radiates warmth too — that little smile she has when she sees me looking, that way she waits for me when I stop to gawp. That loud laugh, full of life like I’ve never heard from her in the past seven years. She seems happy now. I know she is.

There aren’t any trains at the Hauptbahnhof now. There’d be loads in the daytime, but in the dead of night the departure board is a desolate field. We walk to the top, where a glass canopy expands and stretches above us for miles. A rumble down the tracks, a S-Bahn train in view. We sit down on a bench and look on, scrutinising the faces inside that lonely carriage. Who would get off here now, in the middle of the night?

She looks towards the sky. “God this place is brilliant,” she breathes. “Everything in Berlin comes together here, people coming in and out…”

“Not many people here now though, just you and me.” Should I say it now, or later?

“I like it empty, remember,” she says softly. “I like it when someone sits with me just to watch the world turn.” She turns her head and we’re looking at each other now. She reaches up to brush my fringe aside. “I like it when you’re here.”

“I like it when you’re here too,” I whisper. Our faces are a whisker apart, then she closes her eyes, and I feel the electric charge, the touch of her lips on mine as we finally give in and throw ourselves into the void, and dear God I could have stayed there for an eternity even if we never did another thing.

She breaks it off first. Smiles at me, and somewhere inside me that tension is still there, but it’s faint, a separate me I can recognize right now. It is just her and me, hovering in our own elation right now. Beyond her is the night, the blackness. Signs saying weird things like “U-Bahn”. “Futurium”. “Love Me Tonight.”

“Christ,” she says. “I missed that.” Our eyes remain locked, fastened to each others’ by some superhuman force. She tears her gaze away first, sees the signs behind her.

“That’s new. Shall we go in?” she asks.

Option A: take the U-Bahn –> scene 9
Option B: enter the Futurium –> scene 12

SCENE 6: the Tiergarten

Shrubs and forestry, endless yards of it. It’s quiet here. Traffic roars down the Strasse des 17 Juni behind us, yet the trees soundproof like magic — only the crickets are making a noise. Every now and then we come across a grizzled figure slumbering in the benches, or couples getting it on in the dark. Morgan looks at me as we walk past quickly, as if to say: don’t you dare get any ideas. Or maybe it’s just my imagination running away with me.

Shadows everywhere else. We walk around in the dark, trying hard not to make sudden noises or freak out. There’s not much to see in the dark, and when the signs ahead point to the exit via Luiseninsel — Louisa Island — Mo says nothing when I suggest we leave. But then I hear a rustle in the leaves behind me.

“Did you hear that?” I ask Mo.

“What?”

“That snapping noise.”

“Is this another of those cases where — oh wait. Yes. What the hell is that?”

We glance, as one, quickly at the bushes behind us. We can’t see anything in the shadows, but the shape looks huge. As if there’s someone behind us.

“You… you sure he’s not just another of those gentle giants? We already had enough of a fright yesterday at the Deutsches Museum.”

“Don’t look at him Morgan. Just go. Oh God he’s getting closer… go go go go go.”

Option A: run for the shadows –> scene 10
Option B: teleport back to Munich –> scene 13

SCENE 7: Unter den Linden

“This street is usually much more bustling. There’d be cars, tourists, buskers all around Pariser Platz… it always looks so crowded in pictures.”

“We can always come back here in the morning, if you find it a little spooky…”

“Nah. I love it even more like this, you know? I mean, it’s not as if I hate tourists, but I want to see what it’s like when everyone’s gone and you have this place to yourself. Seriously, there’s nobody here on this street. Nothing but history and the greats looking at us from above.”

“Sounds poetic.”

“It is. How many times do you think I’ve dreamed of coming here?”

“Because of all the things that have happened here?”

“That. And you know, the Brandenburg Gate behind you, the Berliner Dom and the Museums and all that stuff? How is one even supposed to remain calm when she sees all this?”

“Good for you, liking all of it.”

“Ha. Thanks for bringing me here by the way. At such short notice too. I know it’s kind of late, but if you want to go back first…”

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world, Mo. Never. I like it when you geek out over stuff, you know? You look more adorkable that way.”

“Get ready for a load of adorkability then, we’re here for a long night.” I looked at her astonished, but there was no snark there, just the moonbeams shining down on her grinning face.

Continue to scene 11

SCENE 8: Potsdamer Platz

As we near the lights of Potsdamer Platz, the traffic begins to get loud. Before long it’s almost like we’re in New York or back at Charing Cross. Only there’s nobody here: it’s all machines and buildings, neon lights and honking horns, no human language except for the signs on the walls.

Not my kind of thing, but Morgan is loving it, as always. Does that woman love everything? This isn’t the Morgan Adams I met in uni. Yet she’s drinking it all in, the city lights, the night skies, even the steel on the DB entrance down the road. Her eyes are hungry, searching for everything cool.

Every so often she looks back at me, as if to say, this place is unbeatable. Of course, I’m already there, gazing at her every time. Who wouldn’t do that?

“Laura would have loved this,” she sighs.

Oh no. Not again. We just spent a week trying to get out of that living hell. She does not need to get into that groove again. “Laura?” I ask tentatively. Tread carefully here, Thomas, tread carefully.

“She loved seeing these cityscapes. And she told me that she always loved Berlin…”

“Oh I don’t know, she doesn’t seem like the sort of person who would like this kind of scene…”

She looks at me. “Are you jealous?”

“I’m worried about you, Mo. You just got over her, didn’t you? You… like… don’t have to…”

“Hey. That was then. She comes here all the time anyway, all the free sex. And I chose to come here with you, after all,” she smiles.

I gently kiss her forehead, lace my fingers within hers. Just like that. And for a moment we just stand there, looking at all the buildings, all the lights. What she said all those moments ago still ring within me, repeating over and over. And in amongst those repetitions, one fact stands out. Morgan is here — and she chose me!

Before us, the lights of the U-Bahn glow, inviting us in. “Shall we go in?” she asks.

Option A: stay –> scene 14
Option B: take the U-Bahn –> scene 9
Option C: go into the darkness –> scene 6

SCENE 9: Berlin U-Bahn

What is it with us and tube networks, I wonder as we descend the stairs, that we keep running into them on this journey?

Perhaps it’s just that they’re an inseparable part of our lives nowadays — instead of being bound by above-ground geography, we can cut right through the ground, go where we want to go in mere minutes without having to navigate the troubling labyrinth of what’s above ground. We want to find someone as quick as we can, get to them so we can spend time with company.

We hold hands without speaking, waiting for the first train to come. The feel of her palms on mine, the warmth that spreads from them. I suddenly wonder about the power within them: is this the hand which, just two or three hours ago, was sending fireworks over Munich to a psychedelic halt? And yet she’s here, her hand in mine. How did we get from then to now?

To our mild annoyance, we’re not the only people who’ve had the genius idea of running the rails late at night. We’re not even the only couple — at Möckernbrücke a second, a THIRD couple come on, holding hands. Maybe the Berlin U-Bahn is just this romantic/erotic place where everybody gets together. All of us sitting around here, speeding nowhere in particular, content to live in our own miniscule worlds. No travelling required here, we already have a direct line to each other’s hearts.

Option A: get out at Alexanderplatz –> scene 11
Option B: ride around till the early morning –> scene 16

SCENE 10: Luiseninsel

The gate feels cold, clammy. Strange that that’s the first thing that runs through my mind, but we have no time: Morgan rushes in behind me, and I close the door. Then everything becomes a blur once more: we’re running for the other side of the park, towards the street and the Philharmonic Hall. Then Morgan pulls me to a halt.

Our eyes meet, and she tries hard to contain her own panic. She shushes me, and then we tiptoe slowly to a dark corner of the small park. The lake next to us stirs — our rushing footsteps must have disturbed the wildlife in there. I look every two seconds at the land bridge that separates us from the Tiergarten: any second now, someone’s going to burst through, looking for us. He probably won’t spot us, but what if he does?

Nothing happens. The dark shadow never materializes — then a crack from underneath my feet. My legs are high up in the air faster than you can say “just a twig”, an inhuman yelp that sounds a world away from my voice swelling from my throat.

A brief pause. Then Mo bursts into laughter, and I can’t help but join her after a while. My embarrassment keeps my laughter in check after a while. Mo, sadly, has no such hindrance.

“Good Lord, what were we even doing,” she says, breathless from all the laughter. “Did you actually think that there was going to be a murderer on your heels?”

“IT SOUNDED LIKE A THREAT,” I said, realizing at that same instant just how idiotic my defence is.

“Yes, a dead piece of tree is DEFINITELY the sort of enemy we should all be scared about.”

“SHUT UP. I’m getting fed up with the Tiergarten, let’s walk.”

“Give me a second.” And we just sit there on that bench, slowly trying to breathe. After a while, I shift towards her. She doesn’t stiffen or move herself. Instead, she turns towards me, her face inches from mine.

And at that moment, the stars shift into place, and she knows, just as I know.

Option A: wander around Berlin –> scene 11
Option B: go somewhere else –> scene 12

SCENE 11: Alexanderplatz

All roads in Berlin lead here. The Hauptbahnhof might call itself the main station these days, but it’s here where everything happens, the busy central junction in Berlin. I’ve said that Berlin seems to teem with life even when it’s deep in the night. Nowhere is this more evident than here, where everybody seems to be working no matter the time of day. The restaurants are still up and running, doing booming business even with eaters and drinkers going in and out. The hotel above us is still entertaining BASE jumpers, for those poor bastards who can’t levitate on their own. And at the centre of it all, a large stone turret where numbers slowly revolve around and tell nosy people like us what time it is in faraway places.

It’s impossible to sit down in the Alex, as the locals call it. It’s constantly overrun by everything, buses, trams, people rushing from one end to another. Maybe it’s my tired brain, but it looks so much like somebody’s pressed the fast-forward button on my vision, and life is now running at double time. The only thing that’s leisurely tonight is the World Clock, and Morgan and me as we stand underneath the stone rotunda and kiss.

I’m not even sure how it happened, or if this is even the first time we’ve done it tonight. Maybe she leans in first, maybe I close my eyes. But when our lips meet, the world does not darken and disappear this time. Instead everything enhances in colour, all pointing me towards her — and all I can see is her hair, her silky hair, and the dark eyes which have captivated me for weeks, maybe even years without me knowing it. I feel her hands on my neck, wonderfully warm almost as if the heat from the fireworks earlier on are still pulsing underneath the skin, waiting to be set free. For a moment I fancy that I’m floating with her too, that my feet have left the ground somehow like hers have since Munich. How else can you explain the lightness of my feet, the way she seems to stand so much higher now?

“I never thought that meeting up on the Eurostar would lead to this,” I say at last, lacing her fingers through mine.

“All the time you were in Paris, you could have said something. I mean, City of Love and all that…”

“Yes, but where’s the fun in that? So cliched. Berlin’s better for this kind of thing.”

She giggles a bit, the creases from her smile showing in her eyes. “I think so too,” she says, turning to look at everything else. “It’s easier to fall in love when not everyone else around you is doing it.” She throws an arm around me, pulls me closer.

We stand there, watching and kissing, as the world continues to turn.

Option A: head back to Munich –> scene 13
Option B: wander around –> scene 16

SCENE 12: Futurium

“Welcome to the Futurium, guys. We don’t get tourist at this hour a lot,” says the receptionist, trying very hard to stifle a yawn. Her English was impeccable. “We’ve toned down the lighting for the night, but feel free to explore, and if you have any problems just call and our staff will be coming along.” Is that a slightly raised eyebrow I spy? Ignore it — she knows nothing about what’s just happened.

We look at the map and make a beeline for a side room showcasing past technology. It’s dark in there, despite the many screens and power sources everywhere: they have indeed quietened down everything tonight. The flat monitors emit a dim glow, painting our faces with faint shades of garish colour. Soft jazz plays in the background — just that tiny bit sleazy. A single bright orb hangs in the centre of the room, but there’s not much else to see, which means nobody will walk in on us here. Perfect.

There’s a padded bench in the far corner. As soon as we’ve settled down in the dark, we reach for each other and continue to kiss. She shrugs out of the coat I’ve given her and I reach under her T-shirt. There’s nobody here, nobody to see what we’re doing…

“Excuse me,” says a voice from the darkness. Morgan lets out a little gasp — which probably doesn’t help our case — and we disentangle from each other. There’s nobody there — maybe it’s just a security guard who can’t see us clearly — but the mood is already gone. We sit in the dark, trying to get our breath back, giggling slightly over the whole thing.

“Why do we always get blocked from doing what we want to,” I grumble as we walk out of the museum.

“Beats me. Let’s go somewhere else.”

Option A: take the U-Bahn –> scene 9
Option B: get back to your hostel –> scene 15

SCENE 13: Georg-Brauchle-Ring, Munich

I open my eyes. The hustle and bustle of Berlin is gone. It’s just the two of us in front of the hostel. The sudden quiet is shocking, almost disturbing — the people shouting, the laughter, all of that still ringing in my ears.

She’s still hugging me. “Mo,” I say softly, and she disentangles herself from me. It’s just enough for me to discern the wetness in her eyes — from fear? Exhaustion? Longing? Then in a split second, her face is close to mine, her head bends back slightly, and then we’re kissing — our mouths meeting in a fraction of a second, and I can taste the slightest hint of sugar in her mouth — maybe the juice she had for dinner. Propped up against the wall, she’s kissing me with — with determination, that’s what it is. I can feel myself opening up now, the feeling of love blossoming within me as I reciprocate the touch of her lips with mine.

We head upstairs without saying a word, our fingers linked together. At the top is a corridor, a reminder that we have to leave each other somehow, sometime. She slowly extricates her fingers from mine. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten used to it over the past minutes and hours, but her hands seem lonely and naked without something else in them. Stop it, Thomas, you’re overthinking this.

“See you tomorrow then?” I say, after a very, very long silence.

“God, I hope so,” she says. “Lots to see again.”

I nod. Yet neither of us makes a move. An eternity passes in between us.

Option A: say goodnight (END)
Option B: stay in the corridor –> scene 15

SCENE 14: Sony Centre

It cannot be any more surreal. We’re sitting in the middle of the Sony Centre, and there’s a giant fan above us, watching our every move. Well, maybe it couldn’t care less about what we were doing, but it still feels weird to have something hovering right above us.

“Why are we even here?” I ask her.

“This is a beautiful place! Look at that canopy! It’s amazing!”

“It’s that canopy that bugs me, Morgan,” I sigh. “I mean I appreciate good architecture as much as the next man, but seriously. You can go anywhere, and you visit a shopping mall?”

She looks at me and grins. “It’s not just any shopping mall,” she says. “This is where film history, ANY history of Berlin happens.”

“You say that about every place.”

“Oh yes, and that’s because every bit of Berlin is filled with history and politics! Next we’re going to the Europa Centre, one of the first shopping malls —”

“Okay, you’re just trolling right now aren’t you.”

“A bit.” I can’t help noticing the way her lips crease when she’s feeling mischievous. So damn sexy. “But you have got to admit, this place is brilliant! There’s so much that’s interesting about Berlin and the Sony Centre, this lovely expanse of space —“

“My GOD, Morgan, do we have to go through this every single time? We came here to see the sights, not the interiors of shopping malls! Retail therapy? At this time of night?” She’s narrowed her eyes, but she’s smiling even wider now. I’m struggling to keep my own in check. “And if you don’t even think there’s anything wrong with it, then by God I’m gonna have to knock you out and take you back to —”

She doesn’t let me finish, for just then she leans in with the widest grin I’ve ever seen on her, and she kisses me full on the mouth. Her lips feel soft, like the marshmallow clouds hanging way above us right now, and the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted in all these years. My arms wrap around her, and I find myself positively singing with joy. Finally she lets go.

“How about now?” she says. Her smile, goddamn it.

I think about it for a while. “I’m still not convinced,” I mumble. “I think I need a little more —”

She leans back in again grinning, and this time we don’t even bother holding back, searching for each other’s lips, almost like it’s our first taste of passion.

Option A: go back to the hostel –> scene 15
Option B: continue wandering –> scene 16

SCENE 15: Munich hostel

I can feel her hands under my shirt, exploring my chest and torso even as I open the door. This time I feel the storm raging within them, and the weirdest thought flashes through me: what kind of kinky stuff does she get up to when she’s making love? Does she summon a hailstorm, freeze the raindrops on the windowpane? Then the door opens and we’re bustling in, lips locked together, hungry for each other. I can feel her warmth, the shape of her arms and hips and breasts as we disrobe, each fragment stripped away another step closer, we think, to one another’s naked hearts.

I can still remember that image of her, standing tall in front of me as I kiss her gently, kiss her slender neck and her shoulders. With my hands on her wrists, I can feel the rhythm of her heartbeat, pulsating like an express train. She reads my mind, feels my anxiety. “Penny for your thoughts, Thomas.”

“Just one question,” I breathed quietly.

“Say it.”

“Exactly what do you do with those hands in bed?”

She laughed, a loud one this time. “Just trust me,” she says with a sly smile. She tips over slightly, and we fall on each other, hungry like the wolf.

END

SCENE 16: Oberbaum Bridge

I lost track of time. You do that when you’re in a world of your own, forgetting everything but the person next to you. Plus you can’t really just look at the sky during the night, nod your head knowingly, and go, “ah yes, it’s four in the morning now”. It just doesn’t happen.

So when we step out into the banks of the Spree, I’m caught slightly off guard by the colour of the sky — no longer jet-black and inscrutable, but a lightening shade of blue. I look at the clock: almost half past six. We’ve been here for quite a while. The city is waking up, there are people walking about on the streets. I can hear the drillwork going on. Mo grimaces and pulls me forward. “Come on,” she says. “We have better stuff to do.”

I’m tempted to feel that this is all a dream, that Mo is still back in her Munich hostel room moping and crying her eyes out about Laura, but the feel of her hand on mine banishes it away immediately. On the way to the Bridge, she puts her head on my shoulders, we kiss God knows how many times, and she skips back and forth — but we never let go of each other’s hands. Not now.

At last, Oberbaum Bridge. Red brick, massive arches, spiky turrets on top. Even in the dimness of the dawn, it looks positively stunning — but then, mere seconds after we’ve found a seat at the foot of the brickwork, the Sun comes up, an inch at a time, shyly creeping up over the horizon. We watch as everything turns grey, orange, golden yellow. The Spree seems to kick into another gear, life seems to start anew. Berlin is waking up slowly, rousing itself for another new day. It’s the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen — “it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen,” I tell Morgan. “Thanks for bringing me here.”

She only smiles and huddles closer. It’s still a bit parky with her coat on, so I put my arms around her, try to warm her up. After a while, I look at her. “How are your hands still this warm?” I ask, feeling her fingertips round my shoulders. She merely grins.

“Shhhhh,” she says. “Don’t spoil it.”

END


Emily, I hope this reaches you fine. I spent a lot of time on this one — didn’t even sleep last night. I closed the café, just so that I could write this and deliver it to you first thing tonight. Maybe it’s just cause I’m excited. Maybe it’s because I know that the feeling is mutual. Cause my God, Emily, the moment you told me that you loved me, I could have jumped out of the lighthouse, hugged the blinding lights with my own two hands.

Because I love you too, Emily Fielding. I love the way you smile, the way you can pull off a prank and still come out looking like a champ, the smell of your hair in the morning when I find you beside me, and almost everything and everywhere that we’ve been to. How many words can there be for me to say it? I only wish I could have used them all.

Well, you know everything about me now. Hope you have a good night. Feel free to call me up if there’s anything you need or I can do.

Q


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