Issue 223, Winter 2017
The party was a failure. I can’t even tell you what a failure it was. There are no words. Only a great pain in my chest when I wake up. On the veranda. It’s better when I sit in the chair. Oh, but then I can see around. The gauzy curtains, pushed by the breeze! The glasses on the floor. Little ghosts! Last night the American walked around sniffing at them like a dog. He said, Who would leave all these dead soldiers behind? I couldn’t say. I am American as well, of course, but lately I haven’t been feeling quite myself.
It isn’t the sort of thing I do, host parties. The last time I hosted anyone but Ann? It must have been months and months ago. It would have been Ann and her sister and her sister’s friend. We ate schnitzels with kartoffelsalat and plenty of pilsner, of course. The sister’s friend was experiencing confusion over the nature of his relationship to Ann. There was an ambiguity there. It ended in disaster. There’s always an ambiguity with Ann—he should have known. I lost a perfectly nice vase that night and afterward I said to myself, Never again will I host even the smallest of parties, I couldn’t bear it. So who knows where it came from. The sudden urge. To invite everyone I know for drinks.
What a mistake! I was out here on the veranda, by the basil plant, as I often am when caprice arrives. I was by the basil plant having a smoke and thinking of the people in my life, specifically of Sylvia and the way she lights up a room in her light-blue dress. The bluebell sleeves that drape petal thin over the styles of her arms. The way she holds a glass. With Sylvia it’s always elegance. When she stands in a Berlin apartment, by a window, it is as if the world has traveled back in time. The bourgeoisie—they would feel right at home at her wonderful soirees, where the light is always kind of blue and the rooms reverberate with rumors. The low murmurs of a great many people drift fashionably through the floor. They are predicting the future, maybe. The future is happening now. The future is happening and here you are, right in the middle of it: a bit of ash falls richly to the carpet and then a great work of art has been achieved. Or will be soon. Someday. No matter that tomorrow, on the street, we are hardly artists at all. In T-shirts and jeans. Not up to much good. Freelancers. We work at flat-screen monitors, designing advertisements at hotel desks, because it doesn’t belong to you, the desk, it isn’t yours. The following week it could belong to someone else. Hence, “hotel.” Dead soldiers. Hotel desks. As phrases they conjure a kind of elegance, though not quite as well as Sylvia can, every time she hosts a party. And it’s quite possible it was Sylvia I was channeling out there by the basil plant last Friday when I resolved to throw a party myself. To feel, for a moment, as if my name were Sylvia. Or maybe Carlotta would suit. I tapped ash into the basil plant. If my name were Carlotta, I wouldn’t have done that, you see. I would have had a proper ashtray I picked up at some street market in southern Turkey, through whose haphazard aisles I had ventured on my own (so I’d tell my friends over cocktails) without even a scarf on my head. Because if my name were Carlotta, I wouldn’t have to follow other people’s rules. And my ashtray would be most divine. The basil plant seemed to wilt a little. I caressed its leaves. I tamped the black ash into the soil. Then I set to work on my party, and I blame Carlotta for that. The liar. She should have dissuaded me. Sweetheart, she should have said, we’re not the same.
Email—the way all modern tragedies begin! I copied the list from the last party Sylvia had thrown. Then I made a butter sandwich. Liebe Freunde, I wrote, You are invited to the following celebration. Tomorrow at 20:00! I reviewed the list of invitees. I made a second sandwich. Siri, I said. What’s the email for the Staatsbibliothek man? She didn’t know. What’s the email for the American? For the Swede? I was really quite swept up in the Swede, though he was slowly breaking my heart by speaking of Sylvia all the time. And of course I added Ann. She was first on the list. Oh, Ann. Even Sylvia dims a little by comparison. That’s Ann’s special talent—she dulls all the luster and leaves you groping about in the dark. We can sit for hours on the veranda, not talking, Ann and I. Chewing basil leaves. She says to me, You know Yugoslavia isn’t a country anymore? Quite right. She keeps it folded up inside her like a flag.
I went to make myself a third butter sandwich, but halfway through I lost my appetite, and then I was out of bread.
Really there’s no need for parties anymore. There never was. I can go for weeks without speaking to anyone but Ann and the cashiers at the BioMarkt. And occasionally my phone. Siri—she lives in a cloud. What a stupid woman, she must think, who has to ask for directions all the time. I followed her across Maybachufer Straße, through the Türkischer Markt, where I bought a bag of almonds. One can always trust an almond, especially the Turkish type. Though the BioMarkt is another story altogether—I never know what to buy. I stood in the aisles and stared at the German labels for maultaschen. And apfelsaft. For egg nudeln. What does a party need? But you can only be so ridiculous in public, asking your phone for answers all the time. I bought bread and chocolate. I bought a large bag of grapes. Twelve apples. And popcorn! I hadn’t seen it in a while. The kind you make in a pot. Not long ago I had attended a Futurist dinner party some other girls had thrown featuring deconstructed spaghetti spilling over tables and onto brown paper on the floor: here a pile of limpid noodles, here a red lake of sauce. Well-dressed people crouched for fistfuls, hand to mouth. People only just stopped talking about that party. It’s still on everyone’s mind. I imagined my bedroom filling with bowls and bowls of popcorn. Like snow. Like scatter art. I bought vodka and gin and plenty of apple juice, plus a liter of Club-Mate Cola. Then it was back to my apartment where I lit a cigarette and opened my email. No one had responded to my invitation but Ann.