Planck’s Constant

“Come back to take me, quickly, lead me far away.  You are all soul when you want to be, when you feel it – now take me away. . . . Catherine”

There seemed to be a refrain in those lines, something that left him awake and wondering.  They’d been written, words scribbled out quickly, and slipped into his lap. He’d assumed it would be her contact information, so he hadn’t read it until now.  Though, after the last time, he berated himself for not knowing better.

So he’d agreed to meet her last night after finishing his talk, though he wasn’t sure why.  He’d been lecturing on the social implications of global economics in the former East, and had currently been presenting a paper at the international summit, meeting now in Tangiers, which is where she’d found him, caught him after he’d finished, on his way out, catching him in the crowd, a definite surprise.  Smiling, she’d asked that he meet her at the bar, down two streets, and to the right of their hotel.  And so, he’d gone.

Both were originally from Texas, he and Catherine; they’d come together before, though previously on foreign soil too.  He thought back to that year, an entire year, they’d spent living together in his tiny apartment, both studying at the Max Planck Institute in BerlinShe’d been a student of his back then, had come along with him.  They were supposed to return home together.  Though on the morning they were to leave, he’d gone alone, left only with a few words she’d sent in her place; those he’d found particularly cruel.  Haunting really, nothing but “I love you, Goodbye” on the back of a 3x5 note card.  And now, three years later, nothing but another note, and still no way to catch her.

Women.  He’d learned from her that women played with words, and that’s what allowed them to play with men.  Men, much more logical, always took what women said at face value, even though many times what they said had nothing to do with what they meant.  Meaning, the meaning behind what a woman said could be translated through her body.  A woman’s body never lied.  He remembered that the last few weeks before returning home, she’d cried.  She’d turned herself around, crying silently after their being together.  She’d said it was nothing.  Nothing he could understand anyway, nothing he could do.  And that nothing meant something, and that something was her already self imposed separation from him. 

Nathan thought back to that many times over the past few years, and figured now he should have known.  Catherine was telling him then that she no longer wanted him, all through a silence he refused to hear.  Nathan and Catherine didn’t speak the same language.  Nathan felt now he’d probably lost his understanding of her as he’d learned to speak.  His ability to connect to her existed somewhere outside of language, beyond words.  It remained more deeply rooted, grounded in his ability to make her laugh, smile.

And so she’d smiled at him again, which is why he’d followed her to the bar.  Nathan took that as a good sign, unwilling to assume much more.  And yet, the conversation had gone well.  Neither of them mentioning their previous departure, nor did either inquire about their present meeting.  Nathan was afraid that the mention of either might fade her smile, and so he kept his thoughts to himself, trying to read her now instead.

She’d sat with her legs crossed towards him, using the straw that came with her drink.  It held something with vodka in it, though he didn’t remember her liking vodka, nor did he remember her using straws.  He would have remembered that; it drew attention to her mouth.  When they’d lived together in Berlin, then she’d had nothing but beer, that drawing attention instead to her lips.  He was curious as to what other changes he might find. He himself was married now, though he’d left his wife back in Texas.  The marriage was one in which his love had faded, but he believed in fidelity and so he reminded himself of Sadie sitting at home.  He reminded himself of her, though only mentioned Sadie once during their passing conversation.  He thought Catherine would remember Sadie, though, the plump secretary who’d answered phones in the department, and he was slightly embarrassed.  She was younger like Catherine, so it wasn’t that he was embarrassed by her age

Luckily, he reminded himself that Sadie was simple, at least by comparison, as she’d had never mastered the art of forcing words that contradicted with her self.  He reminded himself again that this was a good thing.  He preferred it.  She was simpler, leaving Nathan in charge.  In fact, he’d fallen for Sadie after returning alone, marrying her a year almost to the date of his rejection.  Though now, as he’d watched Catherine sitting across from him, lean in build, leaning into his gaze, he felt something he hadn’t since she’d left.  These feelings for her, they were something he’d hoped time would fade.  Isn’t that what people always said?  Feelings fade with time.  He thought bitterly that it was another cliché that held true only for the simple and stupid in society, which left him in the shock of living its opposite.  He wasn’t above elitism, though like many things it was something he’d never voice.  And so here he was, back with Catherine, left with this increase, an avalanche smothering him, exponential in terms of the time he’d been left to think, multiplied again by his memories of her, all manifested now in the time it took to drink a beer, and listen to her sigh

He awoke late the next morning, just in time to make it down for breakfast.  A buffet, nothing exciting, not much he recognized, so he ate toast with something that resembled jelly.  The conference was over, having ended yesterday.   But yesterday he’d planned on leaving immediately to return back to his office in Berlin; today, however, he’d changed his mind.  Tangiers held him there, transfixed.  The musty, narrow streets that had repulsed him now beckoned him out, drawling him into their winding, circling, maze.  He wondered where she was, where she was staying.  Catherine couldn’t have left just yet, as she’d told him she’d only just arrived yesterday.   From where she’d come, he wasn’t sure, though.  He’d never asked.

Uncertainty wasn’t something Nathan enjoyed; uncertainty made him nervous.  So, he threw on a pair of tennis shoes, booked another two nights at his hotel, grabbed a guide book, and stepped outside.  He told himself he was staying for the culture.  Even though he’d never had any interest in Morocco, he decided it was maybe just that he didn’t know enough about it.  He walked halfway down the street, before passing the bar he’d been at the night before.  During the day it transformed itself into a café.  He noticed a group of men smoking the hookah, playing a game with what looked like dominos.  He didn’t really know where he was going, so he took a table beside them, ordering a coffee. 

He fingered the note she’d written him.  For some reason, he’d brought it along.  He took it out, read it again, folded, unfolded, and refolded it, before placing it back, pushing her words down deep into his pocket.  What good were they, these words, to him; Nathan shook his head, now at himselfHe was married.  Shouldn’t that break any spell she’d once held over him.  He hated her.  Hated himself.  Hated that he’d booked another two nights in Tangiers.  He’d left before though, and he couldn’t bring himself to do so again, not just yet.

Anyway, he reminded himself that she was the one who had left him.  The waiter brought him his coffee and Nathan scowled.  Turkish coffee.  He hated Turkish coffee, thick and grainy.  He guessed it wasn’t really Turkish coffee.  But then Turkish, Moroccan, it was all the same to him.  It was contained in a tiny porcelain cup, the soupy, bitter substance, guaranteed only to give him a stomach ache. Still Nathan slogged it back, taking it like medicine, a caffeine shot, something he needed to get him going. 

He watched as one of the old men beside him puffed out fruity rings, apricot maybe, pure tobacco.  Nathan observed the old man adjusting the coal at the hookah’s top, blowing on it to increase the heat.  This irritated him too, he wanted to smoke, but preferred his toxic, cancer causing, Marlboros.  But, he was out now.  He’d given Catherine his last one.  He remembered he was the one who’d introduced her to them, however many years ago.  He’d enjoyed last night watching the red lipstick rings she left on the butt, the familiar way she ground it down into the ashtray.  They’d touched briefly, a reward for his last cigarette, as she’d allowed him to cup his hands around her own holding it steady, helping her with a light.  That was the first time he’d felt her, since the night before they’d parted.  Him returning home, her, where she’d gone he never knew. 

Nathan threw a couple coins on the table and decided to make his way, weaving through the side streets, following them down into the city’s center, a teeming open air market.  He knew Catherine liked to shop, so he thought, maybe, he might catch her there.  Plus, it would be nice of him to find something for Sadie.  He thought of Sadie.  She’d never been outside of Texas, never wanted to go.  But, she was always so sweet to him. She put up with all his complaining, his idiosyncrasies.  He told himself that he didn’t deserve her, as he sought out a blonde in a sea of black. 

Because of this difference, Nathan figured Catherine wouldn’t be too hard to spot.  Plus, she would have been about the same height as most of the little men he watched hawking their wares.  After being bumped a couple of times, he decided to keep his hands in his pockets, so as to hang onto his wallet, passport, and the note.  He felt the note, a constant reminder, and wondered again what she’d meant. “Come back, quickly, lead me far away.  You’re all soul, when you want to be, when you feel it – now take me away;” he’d memorized her words, singsong, playing, bouncing around his head.  Nathan tried not to be so literal, tried to think like a woman.  It wasn’t working.  Where did she want him to take her, and away from what?  Nathan reminded himself he couldn’t take her anywhere, and continued looking at purses for Sadie. 

For a moment he thought he saw her, far off, a blonde head in the distance.  He started towards his vision, but had forgotten he was holding the purse he meant to buy for Sadie, and was grabbed by the merchant, who jerking his arm continued muttering something in a language Nathan didn’t understand.  ‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said, thrusting his money at the man, probably three times the cost of the purse, now trying to wade through the crowd, making his way to where he’d seen the head turn, down a street to the left, and then, now nothing.

As late afternoon turned into early evening, Nathan began to make his way home.  He smelled like Tangiers, musty, a hint of curry, covered in dust.  He looked at his white tennis shoes, now a shade of brown.  This was exactly why he’d planned on returning today, he didn’t like dust, or dirt, or poverty, or the smells that now latched themselves onto his clothes, shoes, body.  He could feel the grit of the city, in his hair, scratchy against his five o’clock shadow, even in his mouth.  Disgusting, he disgusted himself.  As he entered the hotel, he heard his name.  Nathan.  He’d heard it twice, before it occurred to him to turn around.

Catherine sat at the hotel bar, clean, wearing a white dress, and drinking something with vodka.  He stood still, for a second, looking at her.   He blinked, now watching her stand.  A mirage.  As Catherine came towards him, heels clicking, he watched her closing the distance between them.  Nathan could smell her now, wearing something exotic, jasmine maybe; this made him think, perhaps, she could smell Tangiers on him.  Before he could think of anything else, Nathan heard himself telling Catherine that he needed to go upstairs, up to take a shower.   Immediately, he imagined losing her again.  So he invited her up, insisted upon it.  I’ll only be a minute, and we can talk while I get ready. 

Catherine asked him what he planned on getting ready for, and Nathan answered he didn’t know, maybe dinner.  Would she be up for dinner?  She had to eat sometime, and the two of them could catch up.  He watched her, looking for an answer, and she smiled. 

Upon reaching his room, Nathan was glad he’d originally planned on returning to Berlin today.  This meant everything would be neat, all his clothes and papers packed away, placed just so inside his suitcase.  The green light flashed, and as Nathan opened the door, Catherine walked in ahead of him.  Nathan was relieved, watching Catherine sprawl herself across the width of his bed, kicking off her heels.  For a moment he watched her, blonde ringlets spreading across his pillow, and it reminded him of home. Or at least of a home they’d shared, just a couple of years ago.  This memory, it was because Nathan had always woken up earlier than Catherine, especially on days when it was cold.  Sometimes he woke up to do work first, but always to make coffee, before returning to her.  It was nothing he needed or preferred, so much as it was something for Catherine.  It was his way of whispering good morning.  It was also an easy excuse for him to return to their bed, hoping to rouse her happily to him, since Nathan knew Catherine disliked mornings.  And so it was this, usually upon returning with two cups, Nathan would find nothing more than a mass of curls sticking out from beneath the sheets, spread across his pillow

Nathan shook his head at this memory, reminding himself that it was Sadie who brought him pancakes in the morning.  And anyway his home wasn’t here; he’d left his house and his wife down in Texas.  And with that he hurried into the bathroom.  Nathan was glad to have the span of a shower, time enough to think.  Washing away Tangiers, the red dirt fell off him, clinging now to the rim of the tub.  He grabbed the little white towel, and dried himself vigorously.   Then Nathan began to dig through his shaving kit.  He hoped he had a new razor, but more so he prayed for something other than Sadie’s deodorant.  Really, he didn’t think anyone would get close enough to notice the Baby Fresh scent, but he wasn’t too sure now.   He remembered Catherine hated anything with Baby Powder.  But then, this was Baby Fresh; was that the same as Baby Powder?  It was probably close enough, so he decided not to chance it.  No new razor, so he shaved anyway using his old one, glad he hadn’t already thrown it out.  He considered not shaving at all, but he’d remembered how much Catherine complained before about getting ‘beard burn.’  The first weekend they’d spent together back in Berlin, back when Catherine was still a student of his, Nathan had realized her sensitivity.  After enduring those first few nights in close proximity with his stubble, her left cheek, chin, and the end of her nose had been scraped red.  Secretly he’d found the abrasions amusing, but Catherine had been mad, especially when her face began to peel.  He normally shaved each morning before work.  But for her, he’d changed his schedule, remembering from that point on always to shave before going to bed.

Not that he was planning on going to bed with her now.  Nathan promised himself, he was only shaving for dinner.  He wanted to eat some place nice.  Though as he cracked open the door, ready to go, he noticed Catherine had fallen asleep.  She’d pulled the covers up around her chin, in his bed, and was completely out.  Nathan remembered she was a heavy sleeper.

So he sighed, and shook his head.  He wondered why she was so tired, maybe it was the heat.   Nathan thought he’d just order room service.  He sat down at the edge of the bed.  Then he decided to lie down beside her.  He told himself that this was only to remember what it had been like.  Catherine was so small in comparison to Sadie.  He could wrap himself around her completely and sleep comfortably.  He remembered he’d had to do this in Germany, sleep like that all through the night, keeping her warm.  Catherine couldn’t sleep when she was cold.  So, this position, her folding into him, it was how they lay now; he thought about how it had been necessary that spring, since he never could get the apartments to turn on the heat after February.  It had been a particularly cold year, but he felt now it had made them closer

Catherine made Nathan feel strong.  Him wrapped around her, so completely now.  He wished Sadie were smaller, wished he had this feeling with her.  Nathan was 5’8,” and Catherine barely above 5.” Sadie towered above them both, though she was really only an inch or two taller than Nathan.  He thought it probably depended on the shoes she was wearing, and while he’d found her model like height sexy, he missed this.  The two of them, Nathan and Sadie wouldn’t have been able to fit in this full size comfortably – he just assumed that European beds were smaller; back at his house in Texas, they had a king size bed.  Back home in Berlin, he and Catherine had shared one just like this

And so it was like this that Nathan closed his eyes.  He thought maybe he should get up, put on something other than his boxers, or move away, in case Catherine awoke.  Instead he felt her breathing, now slipping, falling into sync with his own breath, his own body.  Nathan thought he shouldn’t go to sleep like this. It probably wasn’t appropriate, him a married man and everything that entailed.  And then he felt himself drifting.  The words from Catherine’s note playing in the background, he heard her whisper “Come back to take me, lead me far away . . .”  But when Nathan awoke, it was only to find himself holding a pillow.   And so he stared now into the darkness, and heard the silence in a way he hadn’t before.  It rang loudly in his ears, playing out the sounds and the songs of what he’d hoped for, all that came rushing back to him from the moments of the days before that now played out in sirens songs, calling madly in his ears tempting him, drawing him into their silence.