Unter den Linden

The Word: Map

Helena opened her map of Europe, spread it before her on the kitchen table, sipped her coffee. Her next trip would be northern, she decided. Yes. In late spring. Germany, Denmark, Sweden. Maybe even Helsinki–their design was so good. Textiles, furniture, glass. Marimekko, Alvar Aalto. Curved birch. All right, Stockholm with its canals, the stony Swedish coastline. Though in winter, gas lanterns warmed the night down the major Stockholm boulevards. But Berlin in winter? She shuddered. No, it must be spring. Spring Unter den Linden, and the Zoo district where Shklovsky and the old exiles from Russia had lived… Koln, with its Carnival, when was Carnival? She checked her Lonely Planet Germany guide. Oh, it was early. February. She would have to choose between budding lindens and the wild street festival of Rosenmontag.

She traced the rugged northern coastline of Germany, the island-dotted Danelands. It would be an easier drive in spring. If she rented a car, she could hit the little villages, ferry between the islands. By train she could cover more territory. Warsaw? Or stay to the west, Netherlands, Bruges, Cologne, then across, Marburg, Leipzig, the university towns. Gottingen, Heidelberg, Tubingen… Freiburg too far south. But there was Prague and Vienna–Klimt, the Vienna Secession. The cafés–the pastries! She went to her files and pulled out her old Germany/Austria/Czechoslovakia Michelin road map–but really, it was too old, Iron curtain stuff. She would need a new one if she were to do it by car again.

She sighed. How much it had changed since she was there last. No more shuddering as a uniformed guard peered into the car, checked the passports. She wondered if she would like it as much.

Every year she went somewhere, a big trip, two months, she used to do it with Roger, but now that he was gone it took a great deal of planning. Roger used to attend to all these details, all she had to do was pack. But she was up to it. Last year she had gone to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador–oh the damp, and the headaches in that final ascent to Cuzco! The furniture shops of Buenos Aires–the value of the dollar was at least good somewhere–Europe hadn’t been worth it.

But now, the dollar seemed to have sorted itself out and Europe was possible again.

Her son, Bart, knocked on the kitchen door, came in, kissed her, set a bag of groceries down on the counter. “Planning another trip?” he asked. He was getting old himself, she could see the worry lines in his face, the silver threads in his dark hair.

“Germany. The university towns, Berlin, maybe Rothenberg. then Vienna and Prague.” She gazed at him owlishly through her large glasses.

He sighed and began unpacking her groceries into her refrigerator. Such a good boy, so thoughtful. But he really needed to travel more. Have more a sense of adventure. She had given him Travels with my Aunt for his birthday, ordered it online.

“Well, you know you won’t have to worry about dysentery this time,” he said.

She didn’t like his tone. Not one bit.

“I went to get your prescriptions,” he said, looking up from loading the crisper drawer–he’d gotten romaine again, instead of the redleaf she liked. “They closed that Walgreens. We’ll have to go over to CVS now, on Glendale Blvd. We’ll call Dr. Thomas to change the pharmacy.

“They closed the Walgreens?” she said. The Walgreens had always been there. It disturbed her that it was no longer where it had been. She didn’t like to have to recalibrate her image of her neighborhood.

“At least you could go out and get your newspapers, they’re piling up. On your way to the airport.”

“I’m not leaving until April.” Yes. It was decided. Unter den Linden.

“It’s six steps off the front porch,” he said. “It’s broad daylight. I’ll come with you.”

He was such a noodge! “I’ll get them when I get them.”

He kissed her then, and fished the trash out from under the sink, and carried it out to the cans, which she could see from the window. April in Berlin, that was just about right.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: NOSE

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7 Responses to “Unter den Linden”

  1. Except to get into bars, she’d never lied about her age before. It was tacky. Pathetic. Something old hags did in dive bars. But she wasn’t nineteen anymore. Now she smiled defensively when men asked, answered vaguely. Old enough, doll.

    Was it her imagination, or had everything on her body already begun the slow southern migration towards her tennis shoes? The idea was incentive enough to renew a lapsed gym membership, buy a push-up bra.

    Age was showing in her hands, a map of the years. Faint laughlines along her mouth. Her mother’s reflection crowded the mirror. She could see it coming through just behind her skin like a watermark on old money. In a few years, she’d be thirty. That marker had seemed so far off and now she could see it looming around the corner like a cartoon thief ready to steal her last shred of self-respect –this birthday bandit would hit her over the head with a thirty pound anvil and she’d fall on her big thirty year old ass in front of everyone she knew.

    No, that wouldn’t happen. She’d start saving now, then sneak off on a trip to Bermuda. Alone. It would be better to spend it privately, like a period –personal, feminine, socially unacceptable. The dreaded day would pass with out witnesses and she’d get a tan. She’d still be fat and unmarried, but she’d look younger with a tan. It was like her mother always said, sometimes a girl has to take what she can get.

    It had taken over twenty years to let those words sink in, but once they did she couldn’t wash them away. They were everywhere, small wrinkly reminders that her youth was fleeting and she’d better straighten up and settle down. Her mother didn’t care so much with whom, as long as he had decent genes, a willingness to reproduce.

    She’d lost sleep over this, bought fourth and fifth rounds of tequila while talking it over with bartenders on the Westside of the city. The theory went like this: good girls settle, because better girls get all the great guys. It was simple math: age, weight, bust. 26 + 110 + 34D = Lawyer/Doctor. 32 + 180 + embarrassingly large = Floundering Entrepreneur.

    It wasn’t exactly scientific or anything, but it seemed true enough. It wouldn’t be so bad. After the second kid, they’d probably stop having sex, and she wouldn’t have to worry about shaving anymore. After ten years, they’d trade in the mini-van for a Lexus and by fifty, they’d get divorced like any other decent suburban stick-it-out-for-the-kids kind of couple.

    At least she could say she was married.

  2. Thanks For This post, was added to my bookmarks.

  3. Powerful and poignant.
    Will that be me in 20 years? Oops, no, I don’t have a son.

  4. gaseki Says:

    Every time I hear the name of this street I hear this song

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