I left London, not without regret, and flew to Frankfurt, via Stockholm, to take up Nathan’s offer of somewhere to stay for a while. It was not a short cut, and the day was a long one.
I hadn’t slept well the night before. The things I’d learned about my family when I was in London had set me back, further than I’d ever hoped to go. I didn’t, and still don’t, understand why they were treating me the way they had. Perhaps, if, in their minds, they could think of me as some sort of monster they could justify behaving so cruelly.
Nathan was waiting for me at the flat, looking out of the top floor window, and it was good to see him again, a month since the last time, in Tel Aviv. His apartment was smart, large, expensive and warm. We drank beer and ate French fries and talked and talked, and laughed, too, of course. They did what..? he said, but who wouldn’t say that?
He’d left for Palma by the time I woke up the next morning. Frankfurt was grey and damp, but also reassuring. The buildings have straight lines and right angles, and were a sort of visual reliability that I needed. I walked around, exploring, trying to remember my way back, but it wasn’t so difficult.
Those six weeks in Germany were some of the hardest I’ve known. I tried to live on €15 a day. I bought bread and butter, made vegetable soups, drank German red wine, (surprisingly delicious), lived very quietly. I applied for jobs in London, and sent my book about my year in Tel Aviv – this blog, rearranged chronologically and renamed Playboy of the Western Wall – to literary agents. But no luck, so far, with either. I should think I’m too old to even get an interview, and it may be that Israel is too difficult a subject for publishers. Maybe I’m not a good enough writer. Still, it’s something that I’ve written a book, all 60,000 words of it. I lived in Tel Aviv for a year, two blocks from the beach, and that feels like some sort of achievement.
I e-mailed Denise, my solicitor and friend in London, asking questions about my mother’s estate and the best way to deal with my brothers. She took three days to reply, and excused herself on grounds of clash of conflict as she’s known my family all her life. She didn’t have such quibbles before she learned how nasty my brothers can be. I have never felt as low as I did when I read her e-mail. Camilla called and I couldn’t talk to her. I felt abandoned and alone. I was standing at the edge, looking into the abyss.
Slowly, I pulled myself together. I went to the tiny gay bar, charmingly over-decorated, like Ali Baba’s cave at Christmas. I was surprised that people smoked indoors. I went to the brilliant covered market, walked around the sprawling Christmas markets. I’ve been to many art galleries throughout my life, and I could pretend my life was normal again while I was in them.
Nathan’s rules were, No orgies, no meat. He keeps a kosher house and, I don’t know, worries about everything. So, no cock, no comfort.
But on the first snowy day of winter I went to meet a man. On my way the Christmas market looked just so, with a veil of snow falling about it. I arrived at the apartment and was greeted by a dark, handsome Italian called Mario, who had lived in Frankfurt for over ten years. He is a long distance train conductor, and I tried on his conductor’s cap. I’m kinky, it seems, for non-military uniforms, or trains, maybe. Something, anyway.
He gave my tummy a thousand kitten kisses and talked about finding me a job so I could stay in Germany. This was less than two hours after we’d met. I know there are many people who would be excited by this instant closeness, but I’m not one of them. It was all too much, all too soon.
Anyway, two days later he discovered he’d caught crabs and decided that they came from me, although I hadn’t known about the infestation. I went to the pharmacy. The man behind the counter looked at me in a very specific way, his lips pursed, and said I needed a doctor’s prescription. You don’t need one in London, I said. You’re not in London now, he answered, unnecessarily. I didn’t know how much it would all cost, so I bided my time, refrained from meeting anyone else, until I returned to London six weeks later. I paid £6 for a small bottle of ointment in a chemist on my first morning back and it was all sorted by the next day. Such are the trials of life. David Attenborough could make a programme about that, maybe.
Then, a year and a day after my mother died, her lawyer called to say her flat had been sold, he would release some of my inheritance the next day. I felt like a prisoner released. My shoulders were no longer slumped, I felt… inflated. I had another lonely Christmas by myself, but it was ok, I could step back from the brink. I booked an air b’n’b in Islington and my flight home.
Nathan returned for my last two days. We went out for dinner, we talked, about his problems, about mine, and, of course, we laughed. We watched Cabaret dubbed into German. He took me to Heidelberg for the day in his sleek, smart, dark-grey Jag and the day after walked with me to the station, and I was on my way back to London.