…Nathaniel opened his eyes and stared blankly at the wooden beams above. Memory flooded back as he swung his legs out and dismounted from the hammock. Ah yes, opening night at the House of V, formerly known as Fiendish Pleasures. Champagne, good company and confused images of ebony thighs and a shiny red pole. He hauled himself out on deck and stretched luxuriously, inhaling deeply, out of habit more than any need. The breath brought him the smell of wood and coal smoke from the nearby buildings, overlaying the more familiar scents of the sea. Hanging on to the rigging, he leaned out over the water, taking it all in, the rank of seaweed and savouring the salt tang of the seawater itself. The ropes and timbers creaked pleasantly as the water lapped against the hull, his seaman’s senses telling him, unconsciously, of the turning of the tide. He gazed out, past the mouth of the cove, to the open sea beyond, the horizon seeming to call to him, more so than it had ever done before…
… He clambered up on deck and battened down the hatches to the hold. Above him, the sky seemed a strange and worrying colour. Even more disconcerting, in a way, was the absence of smoke from chimneys, or lights from the windows of the houses nearby. He shuddered involuntarily and headed down into his cabin, where he poured himself a large measure of rum and then filled a silver hip-flask. Sitting down for a moment, his spare hand briefly caressed the pad of writing paper on the desk. There was nothing more he could do now. The farewell letters had been written and delivered to wherever he could think they might reach their destinations. He raised the glass in the direction of the city, toasting soon-to-be-absent friends. “To Giada, toValene, to Helene and to all the friends I am leaving. May your journeys be safe ones and take you to where you need to be.” He took a mouthful, and then raised the glass again. “And to those who have already gone, Brigitte, Justine, Artur & Katarina, Catt, Winter, Valik, Elizabeth, and many more. Wherever you are, I wish you good cheer. Perhaps some day, I will find some of you again.” He downed the last of the measure and set the glass carefully in its place on the desk. Even without looking outside, he could tell it was time.
Up on deck again, he hopped over the side, onto the shore, and untied the last of the mooring ropes that secured the ship in the cove, leaving just the two looped around the bollards that he could release from on deck. He trotted up the short plank and hauled it on board, noting the flow of the water around the hull. He untied the last two ropes and slowly let them slip, as the ebb of the tide and the slight breeze move the ship gently away from the shore. Satisfied at last, he pulled the ropes on board, coiling them properly in place. He tugged on a couple more ropes he had previously set up to let out more sail, then jumped up to the ships wheel, watching carefully as the sails began to fill, taking the weight of the ship and moving her further off shore. He spun the wheel to give the ship her head, aiming towards the mouth of the cove, out towards the estuary and the open sea beyond. He turned one last time to look at the dwindling shore. “Farewell London,” he said, calling out above the sound of the wind and the sails. “Until I fetch up on these shores again, farewell.” He swallowed, an unexpected lump coming to his throat and wiped away a bloodshot tear from one eye. Turning his face forward again, he inhaled deeply, revelling in the scent of the sea. Ahead lay the Thames Estuary, the North Sea, and then Bremerhaven. Beyond that, he didn’t know, but he knew it was a journey he had to take. Katharina was out there somewhere. “I’ll find you,” he called out to the open sea, “Somewhere, somehow.” He secured the wheel for a moment and let out more sail. The ship responded, surging forward. Checking the compass once more, he adjusted course and set his face towards the horizon…
… The guesthouse in Grazerstrasse did not seem to have changed much. It still had that air of faded gentility. Maybe some of the paint had peeled some more and the windows were dustier, but otherwise it was as he remembered it. He gazed up at the once imposing frontage, remembering that Katharina’s windows had faced out to one side. He laughed as he realised that her windows were overshadowed by the taller building next door, and, as he now knew, for good reason. He adjusted the position of the bag on his shoulder, let himself into the communal hallway and trotted up the stairs to the first floor apartment where it had all begun. Out of habit, he took a deep breath to steady himself before knocking at the door. There was the sound of movement, then the door opened a few inches and the face of a young woman looked out. She showed no signs of recognition.
„Hallo, ja?“ she said, looking him up and down and beginning to smile. Nathaniel hesitated for a moment, trying to remember his German.
„Ich bedaure, Sie zu stören. Ich war für Frau Mößbauer suchen,“ he said, apologising for disturbing her and asking about Katharina.
„Frau Mößbauer?“ She said, shaking her head. „Ich fürchte, ich kenne sie nicht. Ich glaube, sie lebten hier vor mir, aber das war zumindest vor drei Jahren. Sie sollten die Hausmeister.“ Nathaniel struggled for a moment, trying to translate. It sounded like Katharina had lived there before, but the young lady had been there for three years and was suggesting he speak to the supervisor.
„Danke,“ he said with a smile. „Ich entschuldige mich für Sie zu stören.“ He thanked her and apologised for disturbing her. She looked him up and down once more, licking her lips and smiling.
„Sie brauchen nicht zu bereuen,“ she said, opening the door a little wider and revealing that she was wearing only a very short nightgown. „Möchten Sie kommen in überhaupt“ He needn’t be sorry, he translated silently, and would he like to come in anyway. He smiled back at her, but shook his head…
… The faint sound of accordion music drifted down the street as Nathaniel approached the Blumengarten. He smiled, remembering the first time in Bremerhaven, when his shipmates had brought him here. It’s part of your initiation, they had told him. It had certainly been a memorable evening; at least, he reflected, the parts he could remember. He was fairly sure that two blonde girls and a large jug of schnapps had been involved, but beyond that, he wasn’t sure. He stopped in the street and looked up at the façade of the building while the street life surged around him. This wasn’t the seediest part of the city by any means, and the Blumengarten was one of the classier establishments, even in this area. It was the only one in these parts that could boast an actual garden to justify its name. The scents of beer and cigar smoke mingled with the faint smell of opium from the den a few doors down, punctuated here and there by brief whiffs of perfume as the ladies of the night went about their business along the street. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the small, silver medallion that marked him as a favoured customer – at least, he hoped it still did after all these years. The face of the medallion showed the silhouette of a naked woman sitting in a rose-covered bower, the model for which was a prominent feature of the garden. The obverse merely had the name of the establishment and his initials. He stepped up to the doorway and showed the medallion to the heavily-built man guarding the entrance. That worthy greeted him with a gruff „Willkommen im Blumengarten“, and opened the door. Nathaniel squared his shoulders and stepped inside.
“Nat’aniel!” cried a female voice as he walked in, his eyes adjusting to the light inside. The cry was echoed by a second voice, then, a second later, he found his arms filled with two young ladies giving him an enthusiastic welcome. Blushing slightly, he grinned and allowed himself to be dragged over to the bar, where one of them instructed the barman to pour a large measure of Nathaniel’s favourite rum.
„Gudrun, Ilse. Wie geht es Ihnen? Es ist so gut, dich wiederzusehen,“ he said, looking them over. „Sie sind beide gut aus.“ Gudrun laughed and kissed him as Ilse passed him the glass of rum…
Sometimes, a dream can be so detailed, so intense, so real, that you have a hard time believing it was a dream. And when you wake, it is a wrench, as though you had been dragged away from somewhere you wanted to be. Such was the quality of my dreams last night and yesterday. Once again, a whole day and night slipped by without bothering consciousness, except that this time, I dreamed.
The early parts of the dreams I could understand. I dreamed of my last days in London, of deciding to leave that dark and mysterious city, writing farewell letters to all those I cared for and then taking my ship, heading out to sea, bound for Bremerhaven. That much made sense, for those were my memories, just as I remember it happening. I did wake up after going to the opening night of House of V. I did write letters to Helene, Val and others. I did go out and get supplies for the journey. I did cast off, drinking a toast to all those friends, and I did sail out of the estuary and into the North Sea.
It was the latter part of the dream, such as I can recall, that was strange. It was just as real as the first part, except there was no storm. Instead of being lost at sea, I anchored off the Frisian Islands before heading into Bremerhaven. There was a cat on board, who brought me a message from Valene, my dear, dear friend. And then I was in Bremerhaven, greeting Jurgen at the docks, then making my way down to Katharina’s house. I met a girl there who lived in what had been Katharina’s apartment. The building supervisor saw me and gave me some papers and other belongings from Katharina. And then I was back in the Blumengarten, with Gudrun & Ilse, until I was summoned by somebody who claimed to be Prince there. It was very strange, as though I had somehow been transported to a different reality, a reality in which I survived the storm, or it didn’t happen, and made it to Bremerhaven. That was, after all, what I intended, when I set out from London. And when I woke, I had a hard time telling which was real and which was the dream and, for a few seconds, it seemed as if this, my time in Jasper Cove, was the dream, and in reality, I was sitting, talking to the Prince of Bremerhaven. I could not tell, for a moment. Perhaps, in a way, both are true. Maybe there are lots of realities, diverging each time one makes a choice, heads down a different path. Perhaps, somewhere, there is a Nathaniel who did not go crying to his mistress at all, or did so, but did so at night, and did not get taken. Maybe that also is true, yet, I do not regret the choices I have made. Yes, I do miss my friends from London, and have been thinking of them more these last few days, when this island has seemed so empty and lonely. It could be that loneliness that prompted the dreams, at least, the first parts. What prompted the latter parts, I do not know. Unless some part of me yearns to complete that quest, to find my Katharina.
On the subject of friends and especially my kindred friends, Sophia wrote me a note, and left me a small gift in a bottle. I hope she did not harm herself in making said gift. I have not tasted human blood, not since the attack of the cŵn, but I think I will save this for a special occasion. Should such a thing arrive in the near future. If not, I shall have to make one.