January 26th, 2012, 3pm

When he saw the way the afternoon light reflected off the Spree, Robert knew he had to take a picture for her. Never mind that she had told him this morning that enough was enough. Yes, her sentences had been shorter than usual, less cluttered with excuses and explanations, no relative clauses or inverted verb phrases to unravel and ponder, but if all these years of pragmatics had taught him anything, it’s that people rarely say what they mean.

So he was trying not to consider that she had said, “Tschau, Arschloch,” rather than “Auf Wiedersehen,” which would have at least left the semantic promise of another meeting. She knew him well, he reflected, and he couldn’t help but smile as he remembered the way her clear blue eyes had squinted in fury when she had hurled his Foundations of Illocutionary Logic down the stairs of their Kreuzberg apartment building.

And right now, at two o’clock in the afternoon with the winter sun already descending, the Spree was the exact color of her angry eyes, and if only he could capture that reflection and show it to her on the small screen of his Canon, it would mean more to her than any sentences—English or German, apologetic or pleading—that he could craft.

He knew her well, too.

Robert didn’t fall in love easily, and, to be honest, he wasn’t even in love now. That was one of the things that made her angry. “Achtundzwanzig Jahre, and you never love anybody!” she had screamed before she threw his Austin down after the Searle. That one, a small paperback, had whispered in protest as the air in the stairwell fluttered its pages. Then she had stared at him, arms crossed, on the fourth-floor landing, with those eyes wide and wet and uncomprehending. Cerulean, he had thought to himself, what a stumbling Latinate word for blue.

He had shrugged at her outburst, wanting to give her more than ambivalence but lacking the emotional vocabulary. And, though it made him feel slightly guilty, in the back of his mind he was already parsing her half-English, half-German tirade, storing the crude data to analyze later.

You couldn’t really fault his underwhelmed reaction. Robert had already explained to her, in all the languages he knew, that when you play with words all day, moving them around the page, measuring their weight, modeling their influence and their origins, that they grow calcified in your mouth. When you can’t speak without dissecting your morphemes and phonemes, the connection that words have between your tongue and that nonverbal, emotional part of your mind gets strained. And when you try to discover everything that a word means through serial hypotheses and empirical evidence, the words themselves start to mean less.

Robert knelt down on the pavilion and started digging through his backpack for the camera. It was here, somewhere, buried under the Austin and his precious Searle, now with a diagonal crease across the cover from its four-story crash landing. He started emptying the contents of his bag onto the small cobblestones—pens with congealed ink at the ballpoint, a crumpled Berlin metro plan, his Langenscheidt, a stray beer cap.

Did he care about her? Yes, no question. But he wanted love to feel like something bigger than words, and as long as he could still say whether the pain in his chest was a throb or a pang or an emptiness, that heavy Germanic syllable didn’t quite feel right in his mouth.

This was the problem, that he already knew all the words for the ways he felt about her: confusion, lust, tenderness sometimes, protectiveness, frustration. And after he sorted all of his thoughts and impulses and memories with her into these categories, there was nothing left unnamed.

The battery light on his Canon was blinking red, but Robert knew from experience that it would linger for up to an hour before it finally died. He stood and took a picture of the blue.

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Kalli Angel

Writer and storytelling of many persuasions. Also find me on: http://isthereaword.tumblr.com/ and @kalli_elizabeth

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