The Spaces Between Our Fingers
The only proof Luke had of his accident was the scar on his left knee where a shard of metal had gashed through his skin. He usually forgot it was there, but today he was reminded as Annabelle ran her fingers over it. Girls liked scars. He had come to understand that over the years with each new relationship he found himself in. They thought it was a way into his heart, a way to understand him better as a person and the pain he had been through. They’d always do the same thing: touch his scar, ask him what it was from, and when he’d tell them about the day he almost died they would gasp, kiss him, and tell him how brave and strong he was. And then they usually had sex. At first he liked it. Then he realized it wasn’t really him they admired, but it was the idea of being with someone who’d been through some shit. People liked to feel close to almost-death, as though it made them feel important in some way.
Annabelle made her way down to the scar and kissed his skin around it. Playfully, her lips danced up his thigh, stomach, chest until they met his. He ran his fingers through her dark hair, touched the side of her face and smiled. Annabelle smiled back but pulled away and said, “let’s go. I want to see the city.”
Berlin was the city of scars. You could see it on the ash stained columns from the bombings during the war. You could see it in the ruins of the Wall, in the manmade tombs of the Holocaust Museum, in the graffiti down alleyways and on giant public buildings that screamed the scars were there. For the most part, the Germans he’d met were humble people. But the effects of their past was evident in the way they were careful how they talked about and memorialized the war. There were no pretty girls to kiss away the pain. There was only memory, discussion, and a determination to never let history repeat itself. He liked Germany because history was entrenched into the landscape. This was a country who had been through some shit, and here it was, still standing.
They decided to explore the area near their Airbnb and extend to the less touristy areas beyond that. They were in Mitte, known as both the most central borough of Berlin and also the most popular for tourists. Today, they walked down Oranienburger Straβe and through Hackescher Markt, which was bustling with people and chatter and the smells of roasting sausages. They didn’t have a particular destination in mind, and it had worked out well that both Annabelle and Luke were easy-going travellers. This trip had felt like a test of their relationship. They had been just six months in and feeling spontaneous when they sat, drunk, with Annabelle’s computer balanced on her lap looking up flight deals to Europe. Berlin round trip for $789.
“How about we just don’t go home, ever.” Annabelle said. They squeezed through the crowd of people on the streets, their English voices unheard amidst the mass of German being spoken around them.
“Sounds like a great plan to me.”
“I mean, when you think about it, if there’s a time to ditch real life it’s now. We don’t have families or real careers or anything tying us down.”
“What would you actually do if I proposed that to you right now?”
“I'd say let's do it baby.”
“I think you're talking out of your ass.”
Annabelle nudged him and he knocked into a tall, burly man who glared down at him. It was the first bright day in Berlin that they’d had since their arrival just a few days before. When they got there, they spent the day jetlagged in the Airbnb, making it outside for a quick check of the area and Currywurst for dinner. It had rained the second day so they tackled Museum Island, but got bored after three hours of looking at art and statues even though they knew they should be more interested. That was the problem with travel; you’re often torn between the things you feel like you should do and what you really want to do. They got drunk that evening on cheap wine from the grocery store and wandered into a bar near where they were staying. Annabelle befriended a German couple who both had blonde hair and deep, belting laughs that made the whole night feel more exciting than it actually was. They came home and fucked against the kitchen cabinets. There was something so different about the Annabelle between the sheets and the Annabelle he was looking at then, walking slightly in front of him with her hair pulled back in an elastic, wearing black jeans and a Dylan t-shirt she’d got from a vintage shop in Kensington Market, back in Toronto. He liked both versions; and the one between the sheets made him like the one walking in front of him now a whole lot more.
They walked for a while longer until they reached the famous Prater Beer Garden. Luke had remembered it was here but hadn’t known exactly where it was. They were trying to use as little phone data as possible on this trip. They wanted to learn to navigate, a skill Luke was already decent at and one that Annabelle insisted she had, despite already getting them lost three times since the two days they’d been here. It was 4:00 PM as they entered the garden, and it was already packed with people. Annabelle found a seat on one of the yellow benches as Luke got them both beer. He joined her a few moments later, double fisting with two steins. The garden was decorated with stringed bulbs dangling from the trees, and as the sun began to set the lights sparkled like stars against the evening sky.
Luke watched as Annabelle chugged back a few sips and slammed the stein on the table, beer sloshing from side to side.
It was in these moments, as Luke looked around at all the people drinking and laughing, that Germany’s scars were almost invisible. He wondered what it would be like to come to this country and avoid all historical landmarks, avoid all talk about the war, and take part in only day-to-day activities like going to the bars, cafes, on jogs. What would be his experience of Germany then?
“Do you ever think about it?” Annabelle asked after another sip of beer.
“About the day you almost died.”
She had asked him once before, the first time she discovered the gash on his leg and felt its jagged edges that extended from the top of his knee to midway down his shin.
“Sometimes. I mean, I think I used to a lot more like right after, and now it’s sort of just something that happened, a part of who I am.”
She nodded. “You must think about it though. As in if there are things you do differently now, knowing how quick it can all just end.”
Luke took a large gulp of beer and, for a moment, he saw himself there on the pavement, blood pooling around him. For a moment, he felt like he was drowning. He was looking up at the world, seeing the shape of a man approach him with a cell phone and crowds of people hovering over him, hands clasped over their mouths and he couldn’t seem to get himself to the surface of the water. He knew, then, that this was it. This was how he was going to die. He suddenly felt someone’s hand grab his own, plunging below the surface and holding onto him, tight.
He was jolted away from that moment and back into the beer garden in Germany. Annabelle was looking right at him, holding his hand from across the table.
“Do you know why we have spaces between our fingers?” She asked.
“So someone can fill them.”
She had a coy smile on her face, pursed lips holding back a grin.
“Wow, you did not just say that.” Luke said. “You’re so lame. And also really cute. Come here.”
She let go of his hand to clamber across to his side of the bench and he pulled her into him and hugged her close.
By 9 o’clock they’d had countless drinks, four sausages in a bun, two giant pretzels and decided it was time to call it a day. They stumbled out onto the dark Berlin streets. A man with an accordion was playing outside a populated, open patio but the crowd wasn’t really listening. Luke dropped a euro into his open case on the ground and the man nodded in thanks in his direction. Despite the obvious difference in years between Germany and Canada, Luke thought about how he could easily be walking home from dinner in downtown Toronto right now. The people were all doing the same thing they would after any regular evening back home: couples arm in arm, a mother holding her child’s hand, an elderly pair walking slowly beside each other, bicycles passing on the road, cars honking at them. But they didn’t pay 789 dollars to come see another Toronto. They came to see Berlin, and all that it encompassed.
They walked the same route back that they had come earlier that day. The city was different at night: they say you only really see 50% of a place if you only do day activities, the other 50% comes alive as soon as the sun goes down. They jogged across the intersection before the light switched and a man behind them pushed passed to also dart onto the sidewalk just as the cars began to cross. Annabelle tripped as he nudged her, her shoelace had come undone somewhere along their walk.
“Oh shit,” She said as she lost her footing and stumbled onto the pavement. The man stopped, apologetic, but when he saw she wasn’t terribly hurt, and that they didn’t speak German, he continued on his way.
“You okay?” Luke helped her up.
“Fuck. Ow. That hurt. I think I’m bleeding.”
She held up her elbow for him to inspect and sure enough she had a large scrape on her arm.
“Hopefully it doesn’t scar,” Luke said, half teasing.
Annabelle brushed her knees off and pulled down her Dylan shirt which had ridden up.
“I hope it does. Battle wound, right?”
She grinned and grabbed onto his hand again, pulling him forward down the street with a new-found determination to keep walking. A strange feeling overcame him just then, as her fingers filled the spaces between his, holding on tight, and he squeezed back, his fingers nestled in the spaces between hers too.