It was an unusually cold and rainy day in June when I sat with N and M and their friend, R, on the balcony talking about opera. R was talking about opera, actually, and we were listening. Three floors up, exposed to the unpleasant wind, and smoking.
"I really shouldn't be doing this," R said, waving her cigarette. "It's awful for your throat and I want to be a singer. But it's been a bad day and I deserve that."
She went on. "I've wanted to be an opera singer since I was little. I know it's weird that an eighteen-year old would want to be an opera singer, but it's my dream. Two years ago my parents, got me tickets to see X in Rome and I got to see her after the show. She sang for the people in the lobby and I knew that's what I wanted to do -- fill people with my voice down to their bones and make them shiver."
R was short and dressed all in black. Her hair and fingernails were black, too. She looked like she'd fit in better at a goth club than an opera house, but there she was, telling everyone who would listen all about her dream to cut all of us through the flesh and marrow with her voice.
Later, we went to Cafe Europa only a few blocks away. Their basement looks like an old bomb shelter and may have been during the war. Now it is a cozy cellar of mortar and stone. M and N spoke in German and I tried to keep up. Every time I said something, M covered her mouth, eyes wide and said, "Awe..."
Later, C arrived with a cohort of writers. It was a group of freshman exchange students from some New York college doing a two week writing program. C was their guide. We agreed to meet them for drinks.
Most of them ordered beer. The one teetotaler had water and we talked about this at great length. I had absinthe. It's a fun drink because it requires fire. When it works, you feel like the most interesting person in the room, especially if you light your cigarette off the flaming sugar.
After a few rounds, we talked about the Presidency.
"Worst job in the world," someone said.
"Who would want to be President?" someone else added.
"It takes years off your life."
"But what about the fact that you're the most powerful person in the world for a bit? Isn't that worth something?"
"But you'd have no privacy, ever. You're the most powerful person in the world and the Secret Service can't leave you alone for a minute. I mean, what if you just wanted to masturbate? You'd have to, knowing that one of the people responsible for your life knew what you were doing..."
Everyone agreed that this would be problematic.
Someone mentioned that there was a dance floor at Vauban and a decision was somehow made. We were there, at the tiny dorm dance floor, shortly after. Most of us were tossed by then -- C in particular. M, N, and I watched as he danced with one of the boys in the New York group, one we all knew was straight, closing the distance gradually every few steps.
N said, without looking away from the scene, "Sam, do you know the German word, 'Mitschuld?'"
"It means 'sympathetic guilt' or 'embarrassment.'"
"That's very German."
We spoke with the teetotaler. He explained, "I believe in the purity of the body and it's against my faith."
"And you came to Germany?"
"Just for two weeks."
Note: My short story, "Where You End and the World Begins," was just published with Daily Science Fiction. I've been pleasantly surprised by the positive reviews on Facebook. Will post a link when DSF publishes the story for non-subscribers on their website.