Every echo hefts my heart,
-Tears and joy renewed-
As I balance bliss and pain
In your solitude.
— Goethe

— Goethe

There was a full moon on the day when I first lay eyes on Polina. A delicate presence sat beside me on the bus, so close I could feel her heat; her beige trench coat tickling my elbow. The feeling of it lingered long after it was gone. What beautiful texture, what perfect bare fingernails wrapped around the yellow coffee mug she placed on the floor. What elegance, what delicacy! I traced her features with the corners of my eye; her shiny hair a shade of light brown untouched by the sun. With what gracefulness she took out that small book and pencil and placed it on her lap, with what gracefulness she highlighted phrases of Goethe’s poetry. The book cover resembled that of a collection of baby lullabies; light, soft colours on a white background, comforting to my eyes. A purple, curved engraving read; Polina. Oh how I wished I could have read her thoughts, felt the weight of the words and her sweet suffering! She closed her eyes sometimes, absorbing the tenderness of her imagination as she pressed her long eyelashes upon her pale skin. In her mind I pictured faceless, weightless pink figures dancing in the moonlight absorbed by the ecstasy of love, surrounded by a myriad of white flowers, as pure as she. Her skin as bare as a baby’s bottom, as if kissed by feathers to reveal a voluptuous mouth, too big for her face. I could picture the tremor of those lips as she whispered.

         That was it for me; I was infatuated, obsessed. I said her name in my sleep and chanted Goethe’s poetry till every word was a part of me. I envisioned his words in my past, in my memory; the feelings evoked a peculiar sense of recognition and validity. I remembered writing each and every word, remembered the enlightment as each overpowering thought was released into the world on paper. I sang and suffered and screamed. Who was this witch? Or was she an angel, a swan? Did she exist at all? She was as naked as a virgin, as light as a petal as she floated in my imagination. The enslaving perversion and obsession binding me to her appeared hardly releasable; unquenchable. Could I ever possess such holy fragility?

I took the bus at all hours, followed her to the library, to the cleaners, knew her address better than my own, her every movement and gesture, the natural spontaneous pouting of her lips, her soft but sharp glare. She was cruel, naturally so, for a beauty like hers, so young and frail was only strengthened by vile indifference. Several days later all my attempts and desires were rewarded, and I finally met her.

It was a rainy morning, so dull and dark that my soul was almost discouraged. I was the first person there that morning, pacing in front of the closed glass doors like a dog waiting to be let in. The Library had become my home, my only place of comfort. I found solace in hearing the turning of pages, the flickering light which would add sunshine to her hair, and the silence which gave the space a majestic romance. Polina was always meticulous in everything she did. Her day was planned before it even began, and her punctuality only added to the severity in her beauty. Had she been in any way unpredictable she would have most likely killed me. My poor destructive mind was happy at the triumph of just knowing where she was, and the power to see her whenever I wanted to. That in itself was a victory I could not take for granted; one that almost made me feel like she was mine.

As soon as the clock struck 8 a.m. there she was entering the library with her usual air of insouciance. She carried two books under her left arm and her yellow coffee mug in her right hand. What was in her left hand? She headed towards the desk to return her books and a strange determination led me to follow. I wanted to be close to her, I wanted to find out what was in her left hand. The desk was empty and it dawned on me that we were alone, standing side by side for the first time. I looked down shamefully like a child. I could only see her knuckles tapping against the desk, and something shiny peering through her fingers. Clinck. A silver key fell out of her grip and landed on the table in front of us. It was so sudden that it made me shudder, seeing an item so personal and valuable like the entrance in to her space was so strong that it almost made me uncomfortable. “The Sorrows of Young Werther?” a voice asked. Was she speaking to me? I turned in horror towards my only purpose in life, the only creature I had ever loved, who was now speaking directly to me. I fumbled with the books in my hand. “Y-yes,” I stammered. “Have you read it?” She eyed me suspiciously, with an air of both approval and judgement. The only way she could have strengthened her demeanour was if she had had a cigarette in her fingers. I could picture her speaking to me, looking down on me as thick smoke flowed from her lips. “Many times,” she said. “It is one of those books that never gets old. Nothing captures Love as accurately as unrequited love in the end.” Her tone fell with every word uttered, as though the conversation was bound to come to an end. I could not allow that. How could she speak so freely to me about Love?

“I agree wholeheartedly. Funny to hear you utter my same thoughts. I am a big admirer of Goethe’s work. His Love taunts me, to the point that I suffer. This is how much I value him.” She listened to my words attentively, and then turned towards the Librarian who was now taking the books from her hand, as well as my hope. She then turned to me before leaving. “Charles Bukowski once said ‘Find what you love and let it kill you’. I think that is precisely what life is about. Goethe knew it well.” I let the words sink in as she walked away from me not looking back. It felt like the best or worst day of my life at that moment. I instantly left the library, unable to take any more for the day. How mysterious and mystical it was to be a part of her thoughts, of her life, even if painstakingly ephemeral. From that day onwards I spoke to her regularly. We had coffee, tea, discussed books, shared opinions, shared sugar and wine. She would often comment on my rich knowledge of Literature, particularly Goethe which she idealized. She never praised me; No, Polina was not one to praise. If anything, she would raise her eyebrows and admire, absorb. The sound of her voice, low and throaty, mildly resembling a French accent was the same one I had so often heard in my dreams, in my nightmares. She never revealed too much, or too little. What was left unsaid I would later analyse; repeating words and phrases in my head, scribbling on creased paper in my room, on my bed.

         I learned she was from Moscow but had spent her childhood in Paris. She had therefore taken on the French elegance, the charm and the diligence. She was ambitious, moderately so, the kind of ambition that comes from growing up in a wealthy family of workers. A rationalist at best, a feminist at worst. I pictured her as a Russian princess in 19th century Paris, in gowns and dresses, hats and wigs. She seemed to belong to another époque, a past life she had selfishly escaped from. I would point this out on many occasions and she would smile, flashing her large gap- spaced teeth. Laughing was not habitual of her, and I could never envision the sound of her laughter as hard as I tried. It soon became clear between late nights of intellectual chatter- about books, fashion and politics- that I was merely a distraction to her; an effective productive way to pass the time; a source of conversation. I was simply a contact in between the myriad of insignificant others that would cover different topics I was futile to discuss. My adoration of her grew enough to surrender to this position as her accessory; I would read every novel she would mention, watch out for every article which might be of interest to her, and continued to engage in early mornings of coffee, or late nights of wine. Sometimes I would watch her from a distance as she sat in the library and read; even engrossed in her silent presence created music to my ears. My Polina, my unattainable immortal Polina! If only you loved me too, if only your skin was not made of porcelain!

         Her strength and air of arrogant confidence was what I admired the most about her, since it was so far from my insecure and pathetic being. I longed to absorb so much from her, to learn her superiority and dissolve it into my masculinity.

I had been brought up in a wealthy French family in Lille; a classy, elegant housewife mother and a powerful successful father, CEO of a huge company and in charge of many, including me and my three siblings. I always lived in luxury, good food, money and an exaggerated sense of fashion, transmitted by ambitious parents and grandparents, eager to live up to our position. I also felt required to abide to a certain posture and a feigned arrogance which only concealed a weak and bitter insecurity. I did all I could to feed and bolster my masculinity; did impossibly long hours of sports, ate only the best unprocessed food, wore expensive clothes, attended all the most fashionably popular nightclubs and drank as much alcohol as my body allowed. I was a snob, clearly, and this label only satisfied my dignity all the more. I entered a Business course at college to follow conventions and aspire to achieve something great; somehow, sometime.

         My enlightenment had definitely arrived, as promised, in form of a wonderful angel, present only to enrich my life with extreme insanity; tease and tickle my fantasies, make me notice the moon, the number of stars, learn to live through a myriad of sleepless nights, to scream out of the most beautiful excruciating ache, and leave me unsatisfied; completely and irrevocably unquenched. This unfulfillment only fuelled stronger and more violent determination and fixation on her. I knew I was to adore her eternally, ardently, and as fervently as I would love her, I would be her slave; her protector.

         The smell of her honey breath and the sound of her fingers as she tapped her index on the wooden table haunted my dreams through several nights of sweaty temples and trembling hands.

         On one cold, dark night of thunder and lightning I had been made to attend yet another night of heavy drinking, deafening music and new friends I would never remember by dawn. Nothing could be heard but the incessant pouring of the rain, violently and insolently beating on my head, punishing me for some unspoken words. I stumbled around the nightclub, the sticky floor gluing to my wet boots. Suddenly, I spotted her. Impossible not to notice; the black swan! Was she Polina? No, I knew it could not be. I knew very well that Polina would never attend such vulgar places. No, Polina was romantic, elegant and chic; hardly the type to be seen here. Polina would have been sitting on her green couch; dry, legs folded adroitly underneath her, reading poetry and clearing her throat from time to time accompanied by a courteous gesture of her hand to cover her mouth. What glamorous grace! No, this swan was not Polina- and yet the resemblance was striking. Her body swayed with such agility, such dexterity that I wondered whether she was breakable, made of glass. How exposed she looked in her tight white dress, like a bride! Was she as pure as snow? Her hands caressed her body; her long slim arms swaying over her head, passing her long, long brown hair like a gypsy’s. She was floating, flying!   Her skin was light, so light that she might have been a doll. Her dress clung tightly to her elastic skin, revealing a voluptuous cleavage adorned with droplets of sweat; perfectly round breasts like apples, too large for her slim figure. But her lips- oh her lips! A dark shade of red they were daring and plump. What big lips, what curves; how flashy she was! Polina’s devil for sure! Her eyes like marbles, an unconceivable and undefinable shade of green- or was it light brown? Thick black lashes decorated them, so soft and delicate. I wondered how many tears she might have cried; how perfect it would be to watch those lashes engorged with sweet tears. She appeared so young, so exposed, so impulsive. How naïve, how fragile! Was she a swan or a flower? Her movements were so slow and gentle that she appeared to be almost immobile, captured in a painting. I wanted so desperately to touch her skin, to feel the texture, to possess Polina at last!

         “What is your name?” I asked, approaching her. Is it Polina? Can you pretend? Do you exist? Why are you so sinful! “Luna,” her lips parted, breaking into a smile to reveal crooked, yellow teeth. She smiled again, then a giggle; a laugh. No doubt this is not Polina. Dear beloved Polina who never laughs! Not naïve, not a dreamer; a rationalist! No lipstick ever covered Polina’s lips; they were as innocent and bare as an infants. But this girl, this swan was so sinful, so poisonous. If only she did not have such similar lips to my love! And then at last I kissed her, tasted her lips; bit them, devoured them. All the hunger I had accumulated over the months, all the ache and tension was almost being quenched. Her lips were soft, sweet and daring. Her breath was warm and tasted of liquorice- or was it just liquor? In an instant we were walking, running, rushing out into the thick rain which was as vengeful as ever, and into my flat. Her grace had been replaced by a voracious and ravenous greed; she caressed me, held me, kissed me, sucked me, scratched me. Her white dress fell to the floor like a feather. She was naked now; bare, exposed, vulnerable. I devoured her sugar skin and her bubble-gum hair which stuck to her wet forehead, tangling in my fingers. She almost looked cheap and weak lying there on my bed; the only source of light from the moon filtering through my window and reflecting on her pale skin. She was shining, she was a star about to fade. What a victim she was as she covered a scar on her stomach; her faded yellow nail polish now a vulgar shade. I became very angry then, disappointed and deluded. What a useless copy of my loved one! How shameful of me, of her. I grabbed her and entered inside of her; what tenderness, what warmth, what comfort. One would never guess from such an unrefined, boisterous sinner. I turned her around, hit her, slapped her, pulled her hair. My Polina! For the few instances that she and I were one, that our bodies were intertwined so intimately, I had never felt closer to Polina. When it was over I cherished the touch of her skin of glass, absorbed her sweet smell of sugar and listened to the soothing sound of her lullaby breath. In my mind I chanted Goethe.

          I was awoken by the sound of impertinent, audacious laughter. In the sobriety of the morning the girl looked jolly and young. I instantly realized she had the naïve enthusiasm of a schoolgirl. Optimistic women had always frustrated me. She told me how she was a dreamer, following her goal of becoming an artist, observing life, concentrating on beauty. She also aspired to write a novel, travel the world and learn how to fly. She spoke through giggles and one hiccup. I could not take my eyes away from her yellow teeth. She insisted I tell her about me, about my life, my passions.  All I wanted was to be alone in my room, to make her vanish. When she finally walked out of the door I felt a peculiar sense of guilt and sorrow. I pitied her as I watched her disappear in the mist.

         I returned frequently to that nightclub, almost hoping to see Polina. What a pathetic, candid girl I had met- and yet I was drawn to her. Every corner of the nightclub spoke of Polina, her smell intoxicated the rooms. I began sleeping with the girl often; once a week and then two and three. With every passing night of fire I was more convinced of her unfamiliarity. Each night became increasingly uncomfortable in her sober presence. She sat on my bed, legs ajar, ardently devouring a takeaway pizza as I watched her, judged her. With what savage passion she bit into it! The grease of the pizza stuck to her lips, making them shine. Polina was the opposite. I had never seen Polina eat; surrendering to urges was something she did not do, adding to her immortality.

         I always pretended to have forgotten the girl’s name, feigning indifference. She should have understood just how useless she was; how terribly weak. What a futile replacement for my goddess! On one particular night as we lay in bed I observed the scars on her skin, the bruises I had done to her. Her skin was so vulnerable, so surrendered. I traced them with the tip of my finger in hope of making them disappear. The moonlight caressed her skin, adding a tender romanticism to her features. Her eyes were soft and hopeful. She held me, twirled her fingers into mine, softly kissed my back, my neck, my face, my eyes. Her kisses fell like petals. She held onto me with a force she had never had before; possessively, jealously; as if I would at any moment slip away. It was the longest night of my life, waiting for the ominous alarm to ring, saving me from her Love. I lay in thunderous silence, uncomfortable to the core of my toes listening to the serenity of her breath. In that instant even Goethe failed me. Why could I not remember the words? What spell was I under? Had I been drugged, or worse, bewitched?

         As dawn finally approached I escorted her out, eager for the sound of the slamming door. This time her moon vaporous eyes stared into mine and I instantly recognized the ardent and fervent love I knew so well. Her love meant so little to me; it was not rational or mature, but the love of a child. She would love me as passionately as she lived; obliviously. Like a lion I watched it on her features, in her gestures, in her laughter. She held my face in her hands, in her arms, burying her face in my chest; long strands of hair sticking to my jumper. “Please call me, write to me!” she cried, a little too keen and vulnerable. I pitied her, pitied her love and her foolish hope. Her red lipstick was smudged and her eyes were watery. Had she wanted to cry? She hurried out and I did not wait to watch her walk away.

         After that day the girl was nowhere to be seen. The nightclub offered faces that were all identical, but she was nowhere. I saw her weeks after on the street. I could not approach her, just watched her from afar. She walked slowly, bent slightly to the front. How angelic she was at that instant! Like a dancer she floated and blended with the swaying leaves on the trees; she was weightless. She was paler than usual; fake, plastic. For the first time she wore no lipstick. What was this tender melancholy in her eyes? Her neon yellow shirt the same colour as Polina’s coffee mug! I felt an unnatural urge to hold her, to hurt her. Goethe would have known how to describe her; he would have found the perfect words that I could not conceive! Her eyes of deer locked onto mine; shame? Insouciance? Where was the joy in her eyes? She passed me by without another look, gliding like an untouchable ballerina.             I rushed to the nightclub that night. Had I imagined her all along? As rapidly as I entered, I spotted her. How could I not, amongst the myriad of insignificant faces? Yet this time her eyes pointed at others, scrutinized a different surface. White long fingers entangled with hers; shiny lips, tender kisses. Her marble eyes bore into her prey. Who was this other man who had stolen my possession, my fantasy? Tall and slender his face was just as insignificant as the rest. He devoured her with his glare, loving her. Had he seen it too? Did he understand? There it was again, that beautiful melancholy in her eyes! She had never looked more like Polina. I stood immobile, concentrating on the tremor of my lips and the spear in my heart. Excruciating pain, virulent spear. Oh Polina! What have you done to me? What have you done to me dearest Polina?