It could not be a dream.
Claire realised as she reflected on her day. She was up close and personal with her friend playing music. She herself was allowed to press some of the black keys when she was given permission. Like a veil, this joyful hope settled over both of them.
The next surprise came the next morning. Determined, Daphne travelled with Claire to the Cor district in the centre of the city. Once again, she was allowed to be impressed by the immense power of the underground trains. Claire showed this by chattering away to Daphne.
Pawnshop Gunther Haid was a bizarre house in Gustav-Neuberg-Street. Untidy shelves and furniture did not make life easier for the employees. Objects of daily use stood, hung, or lay everywhere, forgotten in antique chests of drawers or entrenched in wardrobes among moths and paintings. Just as a young gentleman was about to pawn seven or eight candlesticks, Claire guessed what they had come here for.
It smiled at her.
A white violin, made of spruce and maple, hung from the ceiling next to a funny-looking stuffed monkey with one missing eye. There was no price tag for either. The instrument caught Claire's eye as soon as she arrived and pretended not to have seen it.
On request, there would be bows with horsehair and a violin case, in addition, said the shopkeeper with a white moustache and a big belly. He needed a helper to get the violin from above and explained construction and procurement. The response was reflected in the quality. A poor family from Brückenwald gave it away after their great-grandfather died. Daphne had cared little about that, she said.
Claire didn't put any thought into how Daphne knew a violin was going to be sold. She was amazed and touched by the altruistic goodness on her part. There was no wild fuss; Daphne bought the fiddle.
Claire did not even think that her own violin, a gift from her father, remained at home in Regenschloss and was probably already dust-covered in an empty room.
It was a day where practice was needed.
Performing a duet was something unprecedented for Claire. After a hearty breakfast in the writer's quarter, it was going straight home. Never in her life had she thought she would have a partner. This serendipity demanded her attention. Concentrated, she had to pay attention to the other person and keep her own beat.
The fast game at the beginning combined sweat and pride.
This rapid rise in pitch as the melody followed a puzzle reminded her of Daphne's name. The emerald sheen was heard in the duet. The silent agreement between violin and grand piano completed the performance. It was a gift only the Goddess had longed for. Daphne's missing parts were filled in and turned around by Claire. The swinging rhythm developed an overbearing, almost screeching song that told of euphoria and cohesion.
It was only in Berlyne that Daphne learned to play this kind of music. Forgotten were the bleak, melancholy pieces that evoked gloom in the pit of her stomach. These helped her build a life without being happy. Now Claire followed her own real vein, taking the centre stage together with Daphne, without getting lost in the dream world.
The suffering expressions on their faces sometimes made Daphne grin as she stared over. The strings flew to Claire's platinum blonde hair and back. In between, a piano interlude. A heavenly mixture provided the crowning touch to an incredibly special suite.
With all these hours together, Claire was never sad when the vibrations of her bow came to an end. She was glad to have experienced it.
Daily plays were held.
Claire lived for these moments of unity. This musical conversation continued to evolve. It became part of a flow of liberated joie de vivre. With each melody, she added a line to a farewell letter to her old life. It was as if she had been locking this feeling in her body for many years and was now finally able to release it. With Daphne, she finally had a reason to get up in the morning and smile.
The days all had their regular times. It was strangely monotonous, but not for Claire. She felt the freedom in each of her individual steps. There was sleeping in. Arrangements were made about where to have breakfast and what they were going to do.
Mostly Claire sat on the balcony and watched the courtyard with all its inhabitants while Daphne bathed. With that breeze, she was given the strength to shout and show the world that she had arrived. With every breath, her enthusiasm grew, and a wave of joy gave Claire the goosebumps she otherwise only got when she was caught in a wonderful dream.
In the morning, they explored the city. Almost like tourists, Daphne said, they browsed the museums, the city parks, and monuments. Once they dined in a real luxury hotel and acted as if they owned the most expensive suite. Laughing, they walked past snooty people and imitated their movements.
Lunch was always somewhere else. Every place was visited that was somehow worth trying. Culinary specialties that Claire only knew from hearsay gave her new favourites where she wished she had them in Regenschloss.
At noon, the music-making began.
Several times Mrs. Schneider jumped in about being too loud, with Daphne rebuffing her. Even after a visit from the HePo for allegedly disturbing the peace, they did not stop. Rather, they turned it into a new play and told their story with violin and piano.
Afterward, they had tea and a late afternoon stroll along the Boar arcades. Passing the workers and employees, they squeezed into the front row when a parade of performers made the streets unsafe. On the fourth evening, they went to Vena - Cava to the washing fountain square, a very cultured place where the wine was enjoyed, and the food consumed with relish.
In the evening, Lang Street came to life.
The Charlotte Palace Cinema was the largest and most important in the whole of Berlyne. Even the head of the Empire, Baron von Federstein, visited it more than a year ago.
They were always watching a different film, sometimes the news, where an egomaniac murderer was making a city unsafe, or the news about the war. Sometimes they watched a cartoon, sometimes a thriller, and once they were at a premiere by a well-known director where Daphne had somehow got tickets. With new dresses and pretty hairstyles, she and Claire were the magnets that night. At least that's how Claire felt when they closed the front door behind them.
On one occasion, Claire ran into Duchamp again, whom she had seen at Léonard's birthday. He immediately invited her and Daphne to his café and told them all about Dadaism. His abstract artworks were so hard for Claire to interpret that she couldn't really see why people paid money to see it, while Daphne was almost torn by the masterpieces. That evening they talked so much about art that Daphne took her to the art gallery the next day to show her paintings by Gustav Baumgarten and Arnold Weiser. Her favourite painting had to have been Weiser's self-portrait, which she raved about. When Claire saw the painting, she realised that it was the one that hung in Daphne's flat and that had fascinated Claire from the first day. When Daphne talked about getting a skull too, like Weiser, to stand in front of the mirror with violin and skull, Claire shuddered.
Claire learned so many new things with Daphne. Not only in art. It was as if she had lived her entire life only on the things she knew, without ever knowing what else was out there. Daphne spoke of personalities that Claire would never have guessed and could only diminish herself the more she realised how educated Daphne was. To Claire, Daphne was the most intelligent and accomplished woman there was in the world.
On another day, Daphne thought of going to the opera; something she had never done herself. Claire was ready for it. She didn't really know what to expect and was shocked when they left the opera house after four hours. The music was all right, but Claire realised that she didn't understand anything about the whole plot. Daphne was also convinced that she never wanted to see an opera again. Instead, she took Claire to a dance club where they danced all night long. The next day Daphne dragged the girl to a jazz club and one day she even allowed herself to go with Claire to a smoking lounge. But they couldn't stay long before they were thrown out. Claire didn't mind. As long as she could do something with Daphne, she would even start making plans with her to rob a bank.
It was almost an addiction to make the next day even more grandiose than the day before. When they were stuck for music, they used the record player, dusty and hidden next to the bookshelf, to find inspiration. Daphne gave Claire notebooks where she hummed and dictated a melody they practised.
When they weren't tired, they made the city unsafe. They got to know the second face of the metropolis, sneaked into the industrial zone well after midnight, or explored the shop windows when no one was standing in front of them. The streets and alleys of Berlyne were transformed as soon as the curtain fell.
Claire loved these moonlit walks where she could talk to Daphne about anything. It was as if time slowed down as soon as it got dark. As if a bell covered everything and made it shrink. Nothing stopped their fascination, the tingling increased with every step they took. They passed neon signs, ran across the street as soon as a patrol passed, or climbed through secret passages into the tunnels and followed the tracks of the sleeping subways. On cloudless nights they followed a zeppelin as it hovered menacingly over the city, Daphne had the strange habit of pilfering a flat stone from fountains every night to bounce it at the river. Once Claire managed nine bounces in a row after they had spent two hours practising the previous night.
As soon as they were in bed, Claire's chest shrank and could burst from all the joy. Yet it was usually already sunrise. With silent conversations, they listened to the stairwell as Mrs. Schneider made noise at five in the morning. The first time Daphne had warned the old woman to go to sleep, the second morning it was Claire, in her nightgown, who stopped her and asked to walk slowly down the creaking stairs.
It was the most beautiful week of her life.
Claire had never dreamed of finding someone who loved everything she loved. Together they did things that she had never thought of in her head or had never dared to say out of fear. They could talk about anything; social morality was out as soon as socially critical topics came up for shouting. Music was still the most beautiful thing they could talk about and keep quiet about.
Almost enviously, Claire emulated Daphne. She had money. From somewhere and she lived her own will. Immersed in many hours of togetherness, she had to realise how good it was that a good-for-nothing had turned up not so long ago. He had still given her the most beautiful gift.
Daphne was a genius; Claire remarked several times. She had taught herself to play the piano, had an immense knowledge of the world, and spoke fluent Weißbergish. Almost fearfully, Claire flinched when Daphne spoke only Weißbergish for a few minutes. It sounded perfect and accent-free.
Daphne was a delight to watch, to listen to, to be like. She dared to do everything Claire didn't, was radically against being relegated to a 2nd class because she was a woman and spoke out in the open when listening to any conservative men. Claire usually defended her with rather petty arguments and merely supported her. The insignificant life of Claire Silberlilie was not mentioned in all those hours. She didn't see herself as a bad thing. Rather, as coming a little too late. Born too late, Daphne was in her mid-thirties or so, born in the last century and seeing the world in all its facets. Claire knew that one day she could be a Daphne Gessner.
She wanted to have exactly the same flat and play the violin every day. Read every day, go to the Charlotte Palace every day, annoy strangers, and go for long night walks. Whether it was a ride along the riverbank or a bumpy evening in a pub with groovy modern music, Claire was up for anything.
Claire had no idea how she had managed to live like this all these years. This reclusiveness, this emptiness that she now felt when she thought of the past, was combined with a muzzle. Back then she listened to her aunt, to her teachers, to her father, to Emma, to anyone but herself. Now she did because she was with Daphne. It was the absolute freedom she could attain, and she still wouldn't have cared if her father were suddenly standing by the road.
Claire almost wished it; every time Daphne interfered in a discussion. He had to be somewhere and one day she was going to give him a piece of her mind. No longer by letter or phone call. Just then when he was standing in front of her.
Life at Oriel Alley 21 was understanding and harmonious. After a few days, even Mrs. Schneider began to welcome Claire and no longer curse her. For Claire, Berlyne had become her home. This city was her freedom.
It was before Sunday when Claire and Daphne climbed the steps out of the Boar arcades station. The sun had already departed; few people were loitering in the streets. An automobile drove leisurely past them as a HePo pursued a suspicious person.
"I didn't know the underground was above ground at some places," Claire blurted out.
"If you drive those to the outskirts, you'll stay above ground all the time," she laughed, "The original idea was to put the frequent traffic underground. But that doesn't mean you can't drive above. We're welcome to go out for a ride later and then spend the night somewhere. “
"I'd love to! But I think the name is a bit wrong," Claire babbled, "Lower and Upper Rail would be more correct."
The pendant lights in the Oriel Alley were fainter than the lonely lights of the surrounding houses. She didn't like the creaking stairs of the apartment building at all in the beginning. Especially when one came back late in the evening, the entire tenants probably heard it. Now she wanted to come up jumping to show everyone that she was alive. That she shared an address with them.
The large floor lamp was burning.
A sturdy suitcase stood next to the sofa. Humming, a youthful man read a document. The worktable had little free space; documents and a box of chocolates lay ready.
"Ernst! You're back!"
With an expectant movement, Daphne rushed to the standing man. Full of rapture, he took her and almost knelt before her.
"You're out so late? Welcome home, Daphne."
Claire closed the door behind her. Whoever he was, he must be Daphne's husband. Yet she had never spoken of him.
Daphne came back to her and pulled her towards him.
"Ernst, this is Claire. She is a friend and lives with us."
There was a difference in this world. There were tall people and short people. At that very moment, Claire looked up at both of them as if they were giants. The obvious friendly hand she had received was placed aside as he blinked. In the flicker of a second, she realised how she was growing to be one of the tall people.
"I didn't realise you'd be here so early," Daphne said, turning to Claire, "He also works for Seelenherz Inc. and has been away on business for the last three weeks."
He smiled briefly.
"I brought you something from Wasserrund."
He handed her a casket.
"There was no need for that."
It was a brooch with a pebble malachite added. Small rusty red jasper chips had been added around it.
"Thank you very much."
They sat down in the living room. Claire followed them tensely.
"How was the trip?"
"More or less good. Business is as usual, and everything is fine."
He yawned strangely. Claire couldn't see it well from the side. Daphne was in her way.
"One more nightcap before bed?" she asked warmly, noticing Claire, "We need to bring in some blankets and pillows for you. Will that be all right for the next few days?"
"I'm leaving again around the middle of next month," Ernst said kindly, "You must tell me how you met. But not now. I'm glad to find sleep. Out early again tomorrow..."
"All right. But what about a final drink?" interjected Daphne.
"A little bit. Not too much."
"And you Claire?"
"Nothing, no thanks," she admitted meekly.
The reserved attitude changed little.
She was glad when the light was turned off and silence returned home. She lay on the sofa. Daphne gave her a blanket and three pillows. With her eyes out of the window, she paid no attention to the red curtains that closed off the bedroom. It was always Claire who drew them. Now it was Ernst.
Did she only bring me to her because he is so rarely at home? Now I have become superfluous.
That means you can leave tomorrow.