She registered his shadow, a passing cloud bringing inclement weather.

“Clare?”

She was not even sure she heard her name, but she watched his mouth form the shape. The stereo was turned up loud, his voice lost in drums and double bass. He ducked his face to hers, kissed her on the forehead, then crossed the room to the stereo and lifted the needle from the turntable.

“How was your day?”

She stayed lying on the couch, did not turn to face him. “It was pretty boring, Andi.”

He didn’t say anything, and she pulled herself into a sitting position, waited for his response. And when there was none, her words flew out, angrier than she expected.

“You didn’t leave me a key! I’ve been here all day again.” She could not help their force, her fury as pent up as herself.

“But I did leave you a key! It’s in the drawer of the bedside table.”

The immediacy of his words stunned her into action, forced her to her feet. “What?”

“I left a key in the table by the bed.”

But she checked, she was sure of it. She marched to the bedroom, opened the drawer. A silver key sat amongst its contents. “I’m sure I checked there.”

She remembered pulling open the drawer, lifting the papers to see if there was anything beneath. Didn’t she? But there was the key. She faced him, embarrassment rising.

Andi leaned against the doorjamb, his top lip curled into the slightest of smirks. Pushing himself from the doorway, he lifted his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug as he walked towards her. “Maybe you did not look hard enough.”

They spent the evening in bed, Andi occasionally going to the living room to change the record. When he did, she slid open the bedside-table drawer, checked to see that the key was there, and closed it again. She did this three times before she forced herself to stop, tucked her hands under her body to bar them from reaching for the handle.

***

Andi was in the shower when she woke. She pulled on one of his shirts, took the key from the drawer and slipped it into the chest pocket. In the kitchen she began making coffee; she could hear him singing in the shower.

“Hey, what are you doing up so early?”

“I just wanted to see you in the daylight.” She handed him a cup of coffee, hoisted herself up onto the kitchen bench.

“You will see me all day tomorrow. It’s Saturday.”

“I know.”

Sliding off the bench, she tried to ignore the wave of loneliness that threatened to engulf her. Perhaps sticking around in Berlin had been a bad idea; she wasn’t looking for this kind of dependency.”

He slurped some coffee before shrugging apologetically and pouring the rest of it down the sink. “Sorry, I’m running late. I’ve got to go.” He rinsed out his cup, the drops sounding dull pings against the metal sink. “Now, the key is in the drawer, okay? Make sure you lock the door from the outside after you leave – it’s better that way.”

He pulled her towards him, placed her legs about his waist. She could feel the sharp edges of the key digging into her breast as he kissed her goodbye. She hoped he could not feel the same. His tongue jutted into the corners of her mouth, and desire darted between her legs.

“I will see you tonight. Have fun exploring the city.” And he was out the door, key turning in the lock, and his footsteps ringing down the stairs.

Curzon Artificial Eye

Sliding off the bench, she tried to ignore the wave of loneliness that threatened to engulf her. Perhaps sticking around in Berlin had been a bad idea; she wasn’t looking for this kind of dependency.

She slowly made the bed, picked clothes up from the floor. She should do some washing, contemplated lugging her clothes down to the nearest laundromat. But life had slipped too far into domesticity already, so she took off Andi’s shirt, pulled on clothes of her own, and headed to the front door.

The key did not fit in the lock. She tried it again. Not even the tip would go in. Maybe it was just stiff because it was newly cut. She manoeuvred the key every possible way. It was the wrong key.

She let her bag fall to the ground and ran back to the bedroom and wrenched open the drawer. No key. She pulled the drawer out from the table and upended it on the bed. Nothing.

Shit.

She ran back to the front door, tried the key again, but it did not fit. Why didn’t she leave with him this morning? She knew something was not right, she just knew. Back in the bedroom she picked up each item from the drawer and shook it as though the proper key might appear, the rabbit from the hat, but there was no magic there.

“Fuck!” She threw herself back on the bed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

As her excuses got more convoluted, the facts stubbornly refused to change. He had left her the wrong key. He had taken her SIM card. She was locked in an apartment, and nobody knew she was there.”

This could not be happening. It must have been a mistake. Andi had just left the wrong key: there was no need to panic. But it was more than that, she knew it was. She needed to speak to him but she didn’t have his number. Why hadn’t they swapped numbers? Maybe she could call him at his school. What was the name of it? She was sure he’d mentioned it; there must be a telephone directory she could look it up in – she would recognise the name when she saw it. This thought propelled Clare from the bed, and she grabbed her phone from her backpack. It was still flat, so she rummaged in her pack for the charger, pulling it out through the tangled mess of clothes. She plugged it into the socket, impatient for the screen to light up with its welcoming note, its friendly chimes and helping hands reaching across to each other. With soothing familiarity it did all of those things – then flashed a stop sign at her. Insert SIM card. Shit. She flipped the phone over, pulled its casing apart. The slot was empty.

Surely he had not taken her SIM card? There must be some explanation. She removed the battery, took out the memory card, shook the phone as though to force sense into it. Maybe the card had just fallen out somewhere. Maybe she had taken it out. Maybe he took the card because he wanted to swap it for a German one, wanted to be able to call her more cheaply. But as her excuses got more convoluted, the facts stubbornly refused to change. He had left her the wrong key. He had taken her SIM card. She was locked in an apartment, and nobody knew she was there.

She sat on the floor and dropped her head in her hands. What the fuck was she going to do? She thought back over the last couple of days, sifted through her memories for some kind of sign, something to say she was warned, that Andi was not all he seemed. But the more she thought about it, the more ludicrous the situation became. Andi would not do this! It could not be deliberate. There must be some kind of misunderstanding. It was just the wrong key. She needed to calm down. Yesterday she must not have looked hard enough; she must not have opened that drawer. She had only herself to blame.

She felt like she had spent a lifetime in the apartment. She had slept all of the day before yesterday. And the door was locked the day before that. Three days she had spent here alone: it was too many for coincidences.

Curzon Artificial Eye

Her head was thumping, and she lifted it from her hands, looked about the room, wanted it to melt away. As she stood up from the floor, her vision blacked and she swayed, tried not to fall. Sweat broke out in the small of her back and at the nape of her neck, and her stomach twisted and rollicked as the thoughts swarmed unhindered through her mind. He saw her reading and he offered her those strawberries. He was there in the bookshop reading the book she had looked at the day before. He found her at the station and he wouldn’t let her leave. But even as she made this list, she knew that it was not the whole truth. This was Andi! She had come willingly. She had left and come back again; she had not been forced to do anything. And she liked him – she was a good judge of these things. But the facts would not leave her alone. She had slept with someone she barely knew and now she was stuck.

Fuck this. She ran to the front door and banged on it with her fists. “Andi! Let me out! Can anybody hear me? Let me out! Please!”

What was it in German? Did it matter? Was ‘help’ universal? It should be. Like Control-Z. Undo. She wanted to go back a level to a time when flirting with an attractive stranger on a street corner was okay. Because it still felt like a game. Surely it was some kind of game?

“Fuck you, Andi! Let me out of here! Let me out!”

When she stopped pounding, she heard the silence. There were no shuddering pipes, no footsteps above. No television or radio murmurs from the neighbouring apartments. Up five flights of stairs and not a sign of life. No open doors, no blue television light, no music, no neighbours. Nothing.

Shit. She leaned back against the hallway wall, its cool plaster surface held her up for a moment before she fell in an ungainly heap on the floor, and it was here the tears overtook her.

“Why me?” The question bobbed, a lone duck amongst the sobs pooling in her mouth. She was pathetic. She was the most hopeless she had ever been. She gulped down her sob, wishing Andi was there to comfort her. This was why this could not be happening. It was just a series of weird coincidences. This was Andi; he was not that type of man. And she was not that kind of woman.

In the living room she crossed to the window. Leaves huddled along the courtyard walls, too tentative to venture into the expanse of the yard. One of the windows, no, two of the windows of the apartments opposite were broken. The building was falling apart. What the fuck had she gotten herself into?

From Berlin Syndrome

 

Melanie_Joosten_290 Melanie Joosten’s 2011 debut novel Berlin Syndrome saw her named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist and receive the Kathleen Mitchell Award; it has now been made into a motion picture directed by Cate Shortland and starring Teresa Palmer. Her fiction and essays have appeared in various publications, including Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Best Australian Stories 2014, and Going Down Swinging. A paperback tie-in edition of Berlin Syndrome is out now from Scribe. Read more.
melaniejoosten.com
@melaniejoosten


In cinemas  and Curzon Home Cinema from Friday 9 June
More info and showtimes from Curzon Artificial Eye

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