Heike was the most difficult case I’ve ever had, which is probably why I fell in love with her, though she would have claimed even that had been orchestrated by Kanz.
My mother called me Constantine.
Kanz…bringing the waters of destiny swirling around Heike and me in the pool of strangers that is humankind.
Destiny. I had spoken of it in my book, Illusions, Perceptions, and Gods, and not in a favorable light.
Light: what Heike had brought out of the obscurity of existence. It was easy to leave the Klinik in Wolf’s charge and accompany her when she returned to Trier.
* * *
We arrived on a windy fall midday jammed with tourists. Our hotel overlooked the two-thousand-year-old Roman bridge, which we admired from our balcony as we stuffed ourselves on Bratwurst and Pommes. When we were finished Heike wanted to walk around the old city. I knew from the endless hours of interviewing my patient, then listening to the idle talk of the lover she had become, that she had lived near the Hauptmarkt, in an upper floor, looking down on cobblestones and tourists. During the two-hour drive from Heidelberg, she had shown a giddiness that I had not previously observed in her. She missed her home. It had been two years since she had known anything but walls, grass, and my face, which eventually she came to trust.
As we approached the Porta Nigra, mighty weather-blackened gate of the ancient walled city, a face looked down on us from one of the windows of the sentry paths. It might have belonged to a tourist but for the young man’s toga, and the suggestion of a crimson band caught brightly in the September sun. We joined a few gatherers in wondering over him, but he did nothing of interest except suck on grapes, spitting the seeds out on the court below. As Heike and I passed under the gate’s arches, his eyes followed.
I looked at her but she had shifted her attention to the shop windows along the cobblestone way. I realized the footsteps behind me were the echoes of my own. A glance back revealed only the massive scarred gate, which somehow did not stand in contradiction to the bustling modernization surrounding it. In the shop windows the togas were silk and velvet and all the fall fashion. A strangely cooperative melting of elegance, power and decadence occurred in this city, its product a voluptuous bouquet.
A trio of Chinese men passed by on hurried feet, one name emerging out of their native chatter: Karl Marx. Heike had told me one could visit the eighteenth-century town house where the philosopher had been born. No doubt these men were on their way there now. The name hovered for a moment in their wake, then was gone on the breeze, replaced by the hint of fish. Early for that, but people were moving about in gradually increasing numbers, gravitating towards the square and even more particular aromas. We went to the booth that emitted the sweetest odor, where Heike left me while she wrestled her way through the crowd to the mobile Toilette.
When the man serving realized I wasn’t a native, he invited me to try a mug of Glühwein. “Glow wine,” he said in his wielded English. Off the rich Mosel slopes and into your cup, heated to perfection. As I put my hand around the plastic mug, choosing not to tell him I’d had many a cup of Glühwein during the eight years I’d lived in Germany, a toga bumped into me, causing me to spill some of the blood-hot fluid.
“Entschuldigen,” laughed the one standing there, crimson band on his cuff.
I looked at the deeply colored saturation in my own shirt sleeve, then at the curls pristinely arranged on his head. “No harm done.”
“Cheers!” he said.
I raised my mug and its diminished contents in a half salute.
“That building over there…” Heavy accent bleeding in. “The Red House, yes. The inscription, do you know what it says?”
The words were visible enough: ANTE ROMAM TREVIRIS STETIT ANNIS MILLE TRECENTIS PERSTET ET AETERNA PACE FRUATUR.
“No,” I said, fresh off my Latin.
“It says, ‘Trier existed thirteen hundred years before Rome. May it continue to exist and to enjoy an eternal peace.’ Do you realize that makes this city more than two thousand years older than me?”
I drank the rest of my Glühwein by way of answer. What could I say to such logic?
It didn’t occur to me until after he had dissolved into the crowd, to be replaced by a British couple ordering two cups of the mulled red wine, that we had been speaking in English.
“I tell you that boy is the statue of the young Constantine.”
I stared at the woman, who was looking in the direction the toga had gone.
Her husband shook his head at me. “Don’t mind my Marge. She has her fantasies.”
* * *
Heike had often spoken to me in English during her possession, as Wolf and I referred to it. Schizophrenia. Split personality. These were archaic terms when it came to Heike. Her invader was a consciousness of its own. The only even remotely similar case I had encountered had involved a reincarnation delusion.
As Kanz she spoke routinely in my tongue…
When I was a boy living in Trier, my father worked in a shoe factory. I remember, one time he brought a pair home. I was about nine at the time. I nearly cried for joy when I saw the shoes, I was so happy. But my father said they weren’t my size. He had brought them home for Hexenmeister, our shepherd pup. He placed a piece of bloodliver in each shoe and whistled for the dog, then went off to smoke cigarettes and read the Trier Morgen. My mother was dead by then…I think. As I’ve said, during the time I knew her she was always in bed.
Hexenmeister licked up his meal, had some fun burying his snout as far as he could inside the shoes, then went off somewhere to have happy dreams. I found myself alone with the shoes. They weren’t all that stylish really, plain with a square toe, but I hadn’t had a new pair since I could remember. I peeked into the living room to make sure my father’s cigarette had mutated into a bottle of pear schnapps, then I stuck my feet into those new specimens. They fit as if God Himself had fashioned them for me. I gave it lots of thought but as usual refrained from killing my father. Hexenmeister wasn’t so lucky.
I hung him out on the line with the laundry, tongue sticking out of his mouth, still dark from the bloodliver. He looked like that dog from the big billboard over on the viaduct by the Southside.
The viaduct? Southside?
I lived not far from there as a boy, in Birmingham, Alabama. Little Pittsburg. There was this big advertisement for pet food. It kind of scared me as a youngster, lording over the traffic, tail wagging endlessly. It spoke more about the future than all the religious trap I had been fed since the moment I reared my head out of the baptismal font.
Baptism wasn’t for me.
Yes, Kanz routinely spoke in English, and on occasion he spoke through the filter of my own memories, which he had presumably gleaned from one of the interviews following the success of my book ten years before.
Tell me, doctor, how significant was your father’s hand in shaping your perceptions? Did you ever probe your father for answers to the existential questions?
“We all do, I suppose.”
Only you weren’t asking for philosophy, were you? You simply wanted to know where people came from. It should have been a biological question. And what did he tell you? What did he tell you about the origin of people?
“That they came from God.”
And your young impressionable mind took this as meaning that people materialized on this Earth in the exact form that your eyes saw around you. God made them little and big, young and old right off his wand. You still have dreams about it, don’t you? About a giant people factory. I know you, doctor. I know your illusions, I know your perceptions, and I know your gods.
“Tell me about Kanz’s gods.”
Do you know why my mother called me Constantine? Not because it was a natural elongation of my name. Nor even because Constantine the Great built an imperial palace here in Trier, which was to be Rome’s northern capital. It was more ironic than that. Constantine, she said, had brought the light of Christianity to Rome. I had brought a light of my own into her house.
Ironic because of what I am.
“Do you think you are God, Kanz?”
I am as close to it as your perception allows.
“I don’t know what that means.”
If you don’t know what that means, then who? It was God perhaps Who invented reality, but you invented perception. It was only a matter of time before I came to you, the one person on Earth who enjoys the same plane of thought as I do.
We found ourselves at the hotel before the sun had properly hidden from view. Sol. That’s what the Romans had called it. As we watched the river transport its ghosts towards a faraway rendezvous with the Rhine, I asked Heike if she was okay. I’m more than okay, she said, taking my hand and leading me inside. As we made love on the stiff bed, the effortless communion of our bodies reaffirmed that she had indeed been exorcised.
We ate in, sharing our plates, talking about the cathedral and the basilica and all the other places we had seen today. When we came around to the Roman baths and the service tunnels underneath them, where we had teased each other behind every corner, we grew aroused again. We took a shower together in the little cubicle before abandoning the room to our wafting secrets.
As we walked out into the slightly crisp September night, all I could see was the lit-up bridge beneath the stark Roman token that was the moon. I asked Heike if she wanted to walk across and she told me without hesitation that she did, though I suspected she had done so a hundred times. We bought a bottle of wine from a merchant capitalizing on the weekend class, and opened it with the complimentary corkscrew before we reached the bridge. As we stepped onto the pedestrian walk, a man appeared out of nowhere, peering at me with shining eyes, grinning as Germans simply are not wont to do. He was gone before I could react, the perfume of him lingering, like a misplaced warning.
“Do you smell that?” Heike said, looking behind us.
“It smells like blood.”
I scanned the street, but he had disappeared among the shadows, the tourists.
“I’m sure it’s nothing, Heike. The guy probably works at the Imbiss we passed. I noticed they were selling that disgusting bloodliver.”
“I happen to like bloodliver.”
I looked at her and she responded by handing me the wine. She seemed as light as air as we proceeded, even strange evening encounters failing to perturb the relief she had found since the illness had departed. I consumed at least three healthy swallows before she repossessed the bottle. By then we were nearing the center of the span, the surface of the river shimmering under the clear night sky. As we stood under the tall stone crucifix looking upriver, Heike seemed to have forgotten entirely about the man. We kissed and drank our wine and let the troubles of the world melt away.
“Divers still find Roman coins down there,” she told me, pointing at the water below.
“Do they,” I said, expressing too much interest in the disinterested night.
She failed to stifle her laugh. It felt good to be laughed at in that way, by her.
Not like the man who had passed us, smelling of blood and purpose.
* * *
I thought I heard her sometime during the night, but it was too close to my dreams.
Featureless buildings, silos, smokestacks in the night. A factory silhouetted severely within the blossoming mushroom of its silvery exhaust. Metallic sounds, motor sounds, the regular chugs of generators, conveyer belts, the irregular screeches and clangs associated with heavy industrial production. An emerging shape, life-sized cardboard cutout; then a second, and a third, Ingmar Bergman characters skipping hand in hand along a medieval hillside…
Stone temple, marble columns shining, bodies writhing in a Caligulan ecstasy. Fingers on strings producing music, breasts swelling beneath dark wine spilling from mouths and tongues and the fruit of the vine…
A youthful body rising to stature. Hands extending as if to offer oblivion, but instead unfurling a papyrus manuscript…
Sound: as of some dry, crackling passage. Leaves swirling in the dead words inscribed upon them.
I reach, but the funnel escapes my grasp, it’s echo sandpaper on my fingertips as my hand falls to the vacancy in the bed beside me.
I call hers or some other name; rise to chase the words, the ghosts. I think I hear a response, but it is only the Roman sheet in which she is so elegantly, so lightly wrapped.
Light: as the air.
Air: in whose caress the garment stirs, wine murmuring on her breast. Goddess that she is, draped over the balcony railing against the backdrop of the bridge and the river and the Roman moon laughing down on all.
I am awake but I can’t remember what is illusion. Perception. Who are the gods.
If Heike could answer, she would. But this was never her story.
If you are feeling generous after reading this story, please give a little, however much you wish. Thank you—your friendly FM staff.