Wir jagen die Monotonie

fiction by Georgia Zouganeli

Wir jagen die Monotonie

          I look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. My hair is disheveled and all curls, hiding part of my face, and I think of taking a selfie to post it on Instagram with the caption “The hedge witch is back in town #Imback.” But when I try to capture it, it doesn’t feel the same. The look in my eyes is all wrong and with every snapshot my hair goes from looking purposefully ruffled to self-abandon. I fall on my bed and snap a shot of the view from my window with #backintown in the description, using a black and white filter before posting it.

          The apartment above mine is alight with footsteps and muffled conversation. I hear someone walk past my door and continue onto the floor above, which immediately triggers my neighbor’s dog to bark, his paws clicking and clacking on the wood. After a month away, I really missed all this.

          I was sent to a small town on the banks of a river I wasn’t even aware existed, doing an on-site appraisal and cataloguing an eighteenth century dining table for my boss. The assignment should have only taken about a week. It turned out the Craigslist poster’s mother had passed away, leaving behind a house filled with antiquities. After hearing about this, my boss couldn’t wait to get her hands on anything she could. So one week turned into a whole month.

          I look back at my phone and see a message notification. For a moment, I just stare at the little envelope icon and think back to a show I went to with Karo about two months ago. I’d met a girl there and we danced until she walked away, then came back and slipped a note in my hand between songs. She had beautiful silver eyes that shone with the blue laser lights from the stage.

          Meet me where no one is looking, it read. Karo giggled and wouldn’t drop the subject until I promised I would meet the girl at the only place I could think of: the back of the club, opposite the bathrooms. But halfway there, I chickened out and got a drink instead. She didn’t come looking for me.

          I reach for my jeans and pull out the crumpled, worn out note from the side pocket. As far as things that I regret go, this one is up there on my list.

          My phone lights up again.  

          I saw your insta post. Get dressed loser, we’re going to be up to no good tonight. Shake that country living out of you.

          I laugh and ask her what her definition of ‘up to no good’ is, which she promptly responds to with a link for an art exhibit and follows it with drinks and a dancing emoji. The tango dance emoji. The event in and of itself has little to do with dancing and more to do with her partner celebrating the new exhibit at the Art in the Underpass museum she curates for.

          I could use a distraction.

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          Built inside one of the few abandoned subway tunnels remaining from the nineteenth century, this art gallery is by far one of my favorite places. The tracks were cemented over, the walls left bare and its labyrinthine nature left intact. Art in the Underpass is home for the weird, the avant-garde and free-expression. For the political and socio-political commentators. For the experimental. Essentially, a thirst trap for sub-culture adherents like me. I never say that last comment out loud. It’s what Pierce, my ex, used to call the things I liked and it has nestled deep in my sub-conscious. The low-key insulting nature of it gnawing at me even though I haven’t spoken to him in months.

          I walk to the bar area and pick a glass of wine. I am feeling classy tonight, with my black bell pants, matching high heels and a tucked-in white blouse. Fitting outfit for my return from quiet hills and dark nights. Standing in front of a metal scrap sculpture of a model arched like a bridge over a gold chair, I swirl my wine and drink it without being able to tell if it’s good or not.

          “There she is,” Karo says, it’s still early enough for her voice to echo across the empty spaces. We hug and I am extra careful not spill a drop of wine on her white dress.

          “You look snazzy,” she says. “Glad to see you still have it in you after a month of cow country.”

          “I don’t think a month is enough to turn me into an Ingall from The Little House on the Prairie,” I say with a wink.

I think of Karo and I waking up early on Saturday mornings to go to the Farmer’s Market, buying locally grown organic anything we could and yet gagging at the mere idea of moving close to anything resembling a field. As if the city begets nature, but only if it comes in a Home Sense weaved basket resting on cement.

          “What do you think of the exposition? Cool or?”

          I look around and take a sip of my wine. “Very cool,” I say.

          “Oh come on, give me more. Give me your fresh take. Give me copywriter Di trying to sell me an idea of furniture!”

          “Is that what you think I do?”

          “That is exactly what you do,” she says, taking my glass. “Now, out with it. No more of this let-me-keep-to-myself-because-Pierce-thought shindig.”

          I put my hands up in surrender and take another swooping look around. “Disco stew, silhouettes and a desire to be noticed by ones’ irrelevance and blasé approach to the world.”

          “Well Di,” she says smiling over the rim of the wine glass. “That’s much better. Maybe you’ll meet someone cute tonight. Boy, girl, anything within and beyond. Impress them with that smart mouth of yours. Maybe another cutie will slip you a note, remember?”

          I remember.

          “I’m just stringing words together, Karo.”

          “Isn’t that what we all do?” We turn as one, but who ever said that has blended back into the crowd, and suddenly I notice that a crowd has actually gathered inside the tunnel.

          “Weird,” Karo says, taking another sip of wine. She looks over my shoulder and I see Bard waving her over. Karo hands me the glass back. “That’s our queue to socialize. Coming?”

          “In a bit,” I say, gesturing vaguely towards the rest of the gallery.

          “Don’t get lost, Alice,” she says before walking away.

          I make my way towards a series of broody self-portraits. They all have writing on them, but there’s only one in English that reads “city is my church” in bleeding read paint. The rest are in, what I assume, German.

          City is my church, how on topic.

          “What do you think?” I turn to see a girl about my age standing a foot away. She is looking at me with such intensity that I forget to breathe. Her gray eyes are all I can think about.

          “It’s fine if you don’t have an opinion,” she says with a shrug after I fail to respond. She is about to walk away when I finally manage to get my tongue working.

          “I can’t read,” I say.

          Brilliant.

          She cocks an eyebrow at me. “German I mean. I can’t read German.” Her dark bob brushes against the nape of her neck as she nods and makes eye contact again. The look in her eyes give the impression that she is frowning, but the lack of brow movement is unsettling.  

          It becomes painfully clear to me why my heart is pounding in my throat. Even though the likelihood is slim, slimmer than all those fantasies I had of her discovering my social media platforms through thorough research and desire, it looks like her. The girl from the club.

          I think about asking for her name, but even the thought of formulating the question makes me afraid I’ll burst. As if this weren’t a regular meeting but a moment suspended in midair.

          She comes closer, our hands almost touching as she points to one of the paintings. My heart seizes.

          “Wir jagen die monotonie,” she says.

          “Excuse me?” I say, my voice pitched high.

          “We are fighting against monotony,” she says.

          My mind is fizzling away with so many possible reactions, I can’t pick one. The longer I stare, the surer I am. I wonder if she recognizes me. She must have. Right?

          “Are you German?” I ask.

          “Partly.”

          It’s only when someone calls her over and she’s about to leave that I gather all my courage.

          “Frieda,” she replies with a smile. “Nice to meet you, Diana.”

          And then she’s gone, the moment crashing into the noise of the now.

          I think about Pierce, I think about telling myself months ago to take this year to not fall into anyone else’s orbit until I can gather back the pieces of who I was.

          Plus, wouldn’t she have said something if she’d remembered me? My heart is sinking.  

          “You going to drink that?” Karo asks, reappearing next to me. I hand it to her in silence. The tunnel is full now, but I still keep track of Frieda.

          “Earth to Di,” Karo says, rapping her knuckles against my head. “What are you staring at?”

She follows my gaze before I can look away.

          “Nothing,” I say, but it’s too late.

          “Lady Di, are you crushing on one of our artists?” she says with a smile.

          “Yeah.” And I don’t need her to tell me which paintings are hers. I can already guess.

          “You definitely have a shot if you know what I mean.”

          “No, Karo…”

          “Don’t say his bloody name,” she says, silencing me. “Pierce is so last year.”

          Pierce is the reason I missed Pride this year and Karo never forgave him for that. I never forgave him for it, or myself for that matter. “You’re not ‘not straight’ if you’re dating me, Di” was what he’d said. And that meant I had no place in Pride.

          “To hell with Pierce,” I say, feeling bold all of a sudden. “Karo, remember the girl with the note from the club?”

Karo nods. “Well, I lied. I never met with her that night.”

          “You lied! Why would you even lie about that?”

          “I didn’t want you to think I was gutless or still under the influence of Pierce.” She is frowning at me without heat. “That’s the girl.”  

          I pull the note out of my pocket. “You still have that?” she asks in complete shock. Then she composes herself. “Why am I surprised? You know what? I’m not even surprised. I told you you would regret not meeting her and look,” she says, pointing at the sad note. “You do.”

          I try to get back on topic. “I think it’s her.”

          “Well then go talk to her!”

          “I have a better idea, do you have a pen?”

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          Meet me where no one is looking is a bit too ambiguous when you are in an underground gallery made of tunnels. Three tunnels are not currently in use, and they are thankfully numbered.

          I scribbled ‘tunnel 4’ on the note before swallowing my doubts and handing it to her twenty minutes ago, when she went to get a drink.

          Now, I am waiting at the mouth of tunnel four, afraid she won’t come.

          But someone who didn’t shy away from suggesting a meeting with a note in a bar wouldn’t turn this down. That’s what I am thinking when I see her walking towards me.

          “I thought of not coming,” she says. “As retribution.”

          “So you remember?”

          “I do.”

          I smile. She takes a step closer and so do I.

          “No one’s looking,” I say, taking her face in my hands.

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Georgia Zouganeli

Georgia Zouganeli was born in the U.S. but raised in France. She works as a freelance editor and translator from her home in Germany. She loves, in no particular order, books, sci-fi/fantasy, binge watching series, food and music. You can contact her on Twitter @thebrainypeach