A friend, whom I shall call N., not a female friend this time, but, to his credit, a homosexual (i.e. we’re not erotically invested in our relationship), and black, poor and a Christian (all of which, being white, entitled, inveterately heterosexual, and a fanatical hater of religion, creeds and, generally, anything that isn’t proven fact or cannot be falsified, I merely mention to show off my humanity), this person, N., who I’ve let in on this blog, asked me yesterday, point blank: “Ding, can’t you write a single story which has a beginning and an end to overarch a plot?“
“N.,” I said, “most assuredly I can. I’m a writer. A writer can do such things. But bear with me. First, I’m going to republish a short story. It is called Widerhall Meister. It’s the first that I got published. You may find it boring. You’re a man.”
I wrote this because, at the time, you asked me to, rather imperatively as I’m sure you will remember. I think you meant it as therapy, although I knew even then you didn’t think I had a mind to deliberately ski into a ravine. I’m not much of a skier. Aiming for a ravine I might miss it. I started too late in life to allow for hope of becoming anywhere near accomplished.
I broke off less than halfway through the day yesterday, feeling cold and miserable. I returned to the hotel. I wrote, I read, I slept. I woke up feeling hungry. I went out. I’m in a little town, at a one and a half hour drive from the capital. I ordered a coffee and pastry in a bakery. A section was fitted out as a café. A man walked into the shop. Our eyes locked. He walked up to my table. We had been travelling up the slopes in the same cable car this morning. I had been struck with the beauty of his face. His hair, I had noticed, was not thick. It would be very easy to comb through. But it was planted densely in places men are most worried about. It had occurred to me that he would probably not start losing his hair at the age most men do, if ever.
– I saw you in the cable car this morning.
A foreigner looks it. The signs may be subtle, but they are always multiple and unmistakable. Of course he would address me in English.
– Ich Sie auch. He smiled. He extended his hand. I shook it, careful not to press. Widerhall Meister, he said. The strangest of names.
– Dingenom Potter. Playfulness on my father’s part, the family name a given.
Sie waren mit einer Frau. Ihr Weib?
– Freundin, he said. Your German is good.
– I get by. You speak English well.
– I use it in my work often. Where did you pick up German?
– What work do you do?, I asked him, not allowing the moment for the obvious question to pass unused.
– Balls, he said.
– I dance at balls.
– You dance at balls?
– Professionally. I’m a professional ballroom dancer. I get paid to dance at balls, in the capital mainly.
– Who do you dance with?
– Women, obviously, ladies.”
– Women pay you to dance with them at balls?
– No, the organizer of a ball pays me. I appear as a guest. I invite ladies for a dance… ladies who look like they need a dancing partner… In fact, I am often the one to kick-start a ball, or prevent it from collapsing halfway, or to resurrect it. There have been instances when I was hurried into a car and taken to a ball at high speed, like an emergency doctor, to revive it. I dance in shows, too, sometimes. But they’re not my main line of business. I thought this over for a while. If I didn’t suspect him of engaging in anything unseemly I cannot deny I was rather disappointed.
– That is interesting. How does it involve you speaking English a lot? Even if he danced with English speaking ladies mostly, he surely would not dance with them every night, even during the ballroom season?
– Contracts and contacts are usually in English. I’m managed by an agency. They’re British. And, then, somehow, it’s mostly women visiting from abroad who find themselves stranded at balls they thought would be interesting to attend… as a tourist attraction… Balls are that in our capital, you know? Plus, I travel a lot. Would that be enough for an explanation? He smiled again.
– It seems I should have praised you for still having command of your native tongue.
– You just did. Thank you. So, your German? Where did you learn it, or how?
– Oh, nothing bohemian, I’m afraid. Junior high, books, visits, and love of language.
– Language? The language, German? Or languages? I had deliberately left out the article and yet not used the plural. If I was already impressed with the fluency of his English, I was quite surprised that this had not escaped his attention and that he had rightly surmised that I must have had a reason to express myself the way I had.
– No, not German in particular, or languages in general. I love language, not any particular tongue. Because I love language so much I want to make the most of what I have learned of a language, too.
– By extending and deepening what you’ve been taught of a language? I nodded. I was much too impatient to allow a question I could not have thrown in earlier to be brought at the risk of being interfered with by a further exchange on the topic.
– Widerhall Meister… is that your artist’s name?
– I’m not an artist… No, my parents gave me Widerhall as a first name. I don’t know why, or whose idea it was. It’s hardly likely they thought of it both at the same time. A smile had passed over his face again. It doesn’t run in my family; as a matter of fact, it’s not a first name that a research I carried out has established to have been given to anyone else, ever. I would have been much surprised if a result to the contrary should have turned up.
– But it must have occurred to you, surely, that the reason that name was given to you is because of its absolute beauty in combination with your family name? Absolute, I mean, as opposed to in relation to a meaning, motive or reason?
– You’re very kind. But the person growing up with a name is the last to whom the beauty of it might occur. I liked his unimposing brightness. He would not easily allow mere words to force a conversation off the mooring of its substance.
– I am a tourist, you know?
– I do, now… I guessed as much before… Do you dance?
– Only if I would be stranded at a ball that sees you produced as a guest by your agency. Is there a ball you would recommend my getting stranded at? My words having facetiously abstracted some of the information which our conversation had yielded, this could, to the embarrassment of neither of us, still pass off as a joke if he chose to blind-eye the obvious flirtation. I didn’t really care which direction my words would take me to. In my situation, I would resign to either.
– Don’t you agree that it would be very impolite of me to make a suggestion to you?
– For a ball?
– Oh, I would be honored to suggest a ball to you! I would just hate to advise you getting stranded at even the best.
– But if you would show up and save me from that predicament?
– I’m here now. I would rather prevent the predicament from occurring. He produced a pen, then took a coaster from the table, tore it to pieces and scribbled something on one of them. He handed it to me.
– For tomorrow night. An address and a time. If you wish. Don’t say. I will be there anyway.
My hand resting in the hand he had extended, his fingers folded over it, we said goodbye. He walked up to the counter, bought something and left. That night I danced with him. During our second dance I clasped my arm around his waist a little harder. Then I allowed my head to rest itself against his chest.
Widerhall Meister. Liebe Freundin, ich war sprachlos.