It was Friday November 30th and I awoke to the diffused light through the high windows of the bunk room indicating another cloudy day. Because of all the physical exertion yesterday afternoon in the snow I had finally fallen asleep and slept pretty well, even though my mind had buzzed for a couple of hours with so many thoughts about the experiences I had had here in Grindelwald over the past three days. Pondering the little temporary community we had built here. Feeling like this had been the climax to my European odyssey of sorts, high in this winter wonderland, and that now I was starting my long journey home down from the real and proverbial heights.
Our evening at the tavern had been more low key last night. There were no less pitchers of beer, but the old German guys had not been there on the bar stools to sing their song and inspire us to sing ours in response, replaced by trendier tourist couples. I had talked more with Schuman and others about music, and with Beth about the details of her own European odyssey, which in ways paralleled my own. She had lost her own travel partner Christine, who while they were traveling in Spain had decided to return to Australia, Beth deciding to continue on, a doubly challenging venture for a young woman alone.
It felt cold in the bunkroom, in fact a lot colder than previous mornings, and I stayed in my sleeping bag as long as I could, keeping an eye on the clock on the wall so I would not miss my precious breakfast of granola and yogurt, breakfast ending promptly, oh so promptly, at nine. I knew I’d be leaving the hostel and Grindelwald this morning, such a sad thought, and getting up would mean fully facing that sadness, along with the cold. I made a tactical decision not to take a shower, since I had had three straight mornings previous with a long hot one. When I finally opened up my toasty down sleeping bag, and exposed myself to the chill, I scrambled quickly to put on my clothes, including my thermal undershirt. I was the last one out of the bunk room. Cold or no cold, endings or endless, life went on!
Derrick, Malc and Dred were in the common room sitting on the raised hearth of the fireplace with their backs to a roaring fire. Derrick saw me and shouted out, “It’s friggin cold in here this morning!” like that was somehow my doing.
Playfully upping the ante, Malc sitting next to Derrick, feigning a shiver and rolling his eyes in his best mock look of high anxiety, shouted out, “It’s fucking freezing in here!” Dred chuckled, always playing off Malc, often with the opposite reaction, wrinkled his nose and said, “Bit nippy!”
Beth was sitting across from Michael in the dining room, with Matt by Michael’s side. They were all grasping big mugs with both hands
of what I guessed was hot coffee. I thought about those various adult types who had told me that they started drinking coffee when they went off to college. Well I had gone ‘off to college’ for a year and had not drunk a drop of the stuff. I was actually sort of proud of not drinking any of that ‘adult’ beverage, idolized in its way by the older generation, their little socially acceptable ‘upper’ to get them through another day in the dysfunctional world they had created. But this morning in the chill air it looked and smelled pretty good. I got my yogurt and granola, plus a mug of my own and filled it with the hot dark brown fragrant liquid from the big percolator, adding lots of sugar and fresh cream.
The obvious spot to sit was across from Matt next to Beth, which I did, though my shyness might previously have had me sitting on the other side of the table instead. I did leave a couple inches of space between my arm and hers, but once I sat she kind of theatrically shivered and snuggled up against me, consistent with the running theme this morning that it was fucking cold in the hostel.
As had struck me last night, Beth was becoming our new Monika, and Michael, Matt and I had found our close orbits around her. From the more temperate Australia, she was no polar bear like our sadly departed Swede, and her average sized breasts looked sheathed in some sort of a bra under what looked like a thick flannel shirt covering a thermal long sleeve t-shirt. Though I had managed to relieve some of my libido in the shower stall last night, it was sure going again this morning and insisting that I notice these sorts of things.
But unlike Monika, Beth was way more approachable. Monika had the physical stature, movie star looks and body, charisma, that made her intimidating. Though again, I had never found her full of herself or stuck up in any way, Monika exuded an obvious alpha female confidence and comfort in her own skin. Beth was relatively more diminutive, maybe five foot eight, round even a bit babyish face, long thick curly brown hair coming down to her wide shoulders, slender but with broad shoulders and with a nice body, but not head turning striking or charismatic like Monika.
What was most endearing about her, in my opinion, was her attitude, both tough and friendly. Yeah she was a fighter, but you felt like she would fight for others she cared about too. Not so much an obvious alpha like Monika, but always a contender, always a determined wannabe. If she and Monika had had some sort of brief thing yesterday, either in a shower stall the previous night, or up in the glacier caves under the Sphinx observatory yesterday, I got why Monika was taken with her. That is, now that I was coming to grips with the reality of women being sexually attracted to other women and guys to guys. The whole ‘homosexuality’ thing, that awkward to say seven syllable word, was certainly a big deal to our parents generation, but maybe it didn’t need to be so for ours.
But beyond that, I think it was particularly true of people like Beth and I, backpackers traveling alone, that you learned to quickly assess the people you met, judge their character, and connect fairly deeply with those that you felt safe and comfortable with. Everything and everyone was so transient, in a few days you would be off in your own direction and your new acquaintance in theirs, most likely never to meet again. But with that human need always for connection and community, at a minimum for someone each day to have more than a cursory conversation with, a conversation without too much of a language barrier, people you met just a couple days ago could feel like old friends.
So you could imagine I was more than pleased when Beth announced that she was taking the midday train down to Interlaken, the same train I was planning to be on. She of course was headed southeast from there to Venice, chasing Monika perhaps. I was ‘chasing home’, headed west to Bern and then from there catching the train north to Munich, the first leg of my long journey back to Ann Arbor. Beth seemed pleased as well that we’d be sharing the train ride.
Beth actually looked the worse for wear this morning, her eyes drooping and puffy as she sucked down a second mug of sugary coffee, saying she had not slept well last night, a lot on her mind though she did not share what. Again I thought about Monika and what might have kindled between the two of them. I mean male or female, who wouldn’t want to get physically intimate with the charismatic young sex goddess!
Aware that both Beth and I were leaving this morning, leaving our little shared snowy paradise, Malc, Dred, Derrick, Matt and Michael decided to walk down to the station with us. After seeing us off, they had all decided to fork out the 60 Swiss Francs to take the special cog railway from the station up to the Jungfraujoch, based on the rave reviews from Beth, Monika and Ragna yesterday. The day was becoming only partly cloudy, so the views from the various venues along their journey ought to be pretty spectacular.
I wistfully rolled up and secured my sleeping bag to the bottom of my pack frame and repacked the few stray items into their various compartments within my pack. And convening back in the common room, Beth and I were now the ones with the big colorful packs on our backs, mine a bright red and hers a shiny lavender. Schuman was nowhere to be seen, someone saying he had left on the train this morning, and I was disappointed I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye, particularly after connecting with him down at the tavern last night in our big discussion about music. So Beth and I, and the five members of our entourage exited the very chilly hostel into a bitter cold (Monika probably even maybe zipping up her jacket if she’d been there) morning.
As our new Monika, Beth led the way, though not by anybody’s conscious decision, but by that sort of gravitational effect, the rest of us forming around and behind her as we headed down the snowy road to the village and the station. She looked a bit of the bedraggled zombie as she trudged down the hill with her glazed eyeballs with bags underneath, though riding for the moment a serious caffeine and sugar buzz, from three big mugs of coffee.
Employing the technique to spur conversation again, I asked Malc and Dred about deciding to head east from Grindelwald with Derrick, Matt and Michael to Vienna. They said they were both big theater types, having done musical comedy, like me, in high school. Besides a fondness for the contemporary glam rock music, they had a thing for opera, and were looking forward to hopefully taking in a couple performances there. This of course led to Malc, Dred and I sharing parts we had played in various musicals, and even singing bits from the favorite songs we had performed in character. For me, it was a rendition of the beginning of “Bored”, from the musical Celebration, as sung by my character Mr. Rich…
If you could see the inside of my stomach
I think it might just take your breath away
But no matter how I diet
It simply won’t stay quiet
It’s like some sort of riot
Or like a fiery blast on judgement day
My blood pressure
You ask me about my blood pressure
My cardiograph reads like some comic opera plot
I cannot sleep
I cannot eat
And none of those stupid goddamn doctors
Has the slightest idea what I’ve got
Finally at the station, Beth and I unshouldered our big heavy packs and said our separate goodbyes to the five of them. Derrick, Matt and Michael giving me more conventional male to male hardy handshakes, though Michael made a little humorous show of wagging a finger in my face and saying that he “owed me one” for the facefull of snow I had given him, Monika style, yesterday in our Bulldog game in the snowy gully. Malc, riffing on our theater connection perhaps, opened his arms wide to give me a big hug. He put his stubbly cheek against mine and said softly in my ear, “Be well mate! Keep singing!” The two of them endlessly playing off each other, Dred gave me a very mock formal salute and a handshake, then grabbed my chin between a thumb and forefinger, finally smacking me gently on the cheek with that hand. Beth demanded and got hugs from everyone.
As Beth and I boarded the train, I felt a moment in time ending, with its particular dynamic and web of connections, never to be again. I recalled all the moments of different sorts of intimacy I had had with my group of comrades. Playing cards with Ragna, sharing the luck of the draw or the tactics of a particular card play, with a sign or a grimace or catching of the other’s gaze. Monika taking my arm at the base of the glacier to tell me she admired my feminism, plus our final hug with her breasts and hair and scent and words about my mom, obviously referencing the loss of her own. Derrick and I drunk and boisterously singing “Yellow Submarine” together, eyes on each other. Matt’s quiet thoughtfulness. That moment playfully on top of Michael in the snow, roughhousing, the only socially acceptable way for men to get physical with each other. Malc and Dred’s theatrical goodbyes at the station. Oh yeah, and Ragna translating the lyrics of a German love song to clueless me. Ugh!
At least I had Beth as a buffer for the next hour on the train down to Interlaken, so I wouldn’t be completely alone. She in the lead down the narrow coach car hallway, we quickly found an empty compartment and entered, unshouldering our packs in preparation to hoist them into the luggage racks above the seats. There was a physicality you developed carrying a big pack like that, and watching a young woman demonstrate that physicality right next to me was a moment of intimacy that thrilled my libido.
In that moment I was tempted to ask her if she wanted me to hoist her big pack up onto the rack. I thought about my mom last summer when I opened a door for her entering a restaurant, her saying, “Are you doing that to be thoughtful or are you patronizing me?”. I was a bit taken aback by her provocative query, coming out presumably from her own budding feminist reframing of social conventions. I said nothing, and pondered for a while after that, wrestling with what my truthful answer would have been. It had led me to really look at all these social conventions between men and women, and which ones might really be appropriate or not if we believed in a true equal partnership between the sexes.
I was experimenting with a rule of thumb that went like this: I wouldn’t do something for a woman, like open a door, if I wouldn’t do the same for a man of similar age and ability and in a similar circumstance. As a kind of corollary, I would do something for a man if I would do it for a woman. So if I got to a door first before a man, I would open it and let him go through first before going through myself. And if a woman got to a door before me, I would let her open it, rather than quickly move in front of her to open it for her, something I would never do with a man.
I hoisted my own fifty pound pack up onto the luggage rack and did nothing further. Beth, exhibiting her low energy with a sigh, picked up her big pack, hoisting it to shoulder level then pausing to take a breath called out to me, “Help me mate!” Together we maneuvered it up on the rack next to mine. She slumped into the bench under the luggage rack and said “ta”, that great British slang utterance for thank you. Like a good no nonsense Aussie, she smacked the leather cushion next to her several times inviting me to sit next to her, which I did.
Sighing again, she confessed, “Damn… I’m knackered mate! All that coffee this morning should have kept me going.” She shook her head to try to release the grip of enveloping fatigue, despite what must have been a serious caffeine buzz.
We sat quietly next to each other as the train lurched forward and gathered speed, falling into its wonderful slightly jostling clickity clack rhythm as it did. Beth’s shoulder gently bumped against mine with each rhythmic shake, but she made no effort to inch farther away from me so it wouldn’t keep happening, and there was no way I was going to. There was a nice sort of intimacy in our shared silence in such close physical proximity to each other in an otherwise empty compartment. I wrestled with whether to just let it be or to try to start a conversation. She finally broke the silence, eyes squinting out the window at the beautiful snowy evergreens and mountains behind, tilting her head toward me.
“Tell me again where you’re headed mate?” Her words came out a bit tentative, like she was laboring a bit to form a sentence, but in that nice Aussie drawl I never got tired of listening to.
“From Interlaken to Bern”, I said, looking out the window and enjoying that our shoulders were still touching, “And from there on to Munich, where hopefully my German friends will be able to put me up again for a night or two before I head on to Amsterdam.”
“You’ll love Amsterdam”, she said, perking up a bit. “I had a smashing time. Make sure you do the tour of the Heineken brewery. It’s just an hour or so then you can drink lots of free beer. You can go every day, they don’t seem to care.” She quieted for a minute, but I could tell she was thinking. “Oh and stay at the Christian Youth Hostel.”
“Really?” I said, incredulous.
“Really!” She replied emphatically. “Trust me on that one mate.”
“Okay”, I replied, still unsure.
“Christian youth hostel”, she repeated nodding, still looking out the window, eyes squinting from the glare off the snow outside. “Know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, not religious at all. Hell, these regular youth hostels are way more strict and buttoned down. It’s a very cool place.”
I decided to keep our conversation alive with a new topic. “So you headed to Greece?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m not much for all this cold weather, more of a coldblooded lizard than a warm blooded mammal like our Monika.”
She paused and I could tell she was processing some thoughts in her head she wasn’t sharing, but then continued.
“Loved Grindelwald in the snow, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve had one too many cold rainy cities. The weather should be milder in Greece. I want to see all the ancient stuff in Athens, take a boat out to the Greek islands. I’d also like to get to Israel to see all that biblical stuff and Egypt to see the pyramids, that is if the bloody war gets settled. One way or another, have a flight from Athens back to Sidney.”
“How long you been travelling?”
“Forever”, she replied, chuckling kind of darkly. “Seems like. Coming up on three months.”
“Wow”, I said, then remembering what she’d said before about losing her travel partner, “So what happened with your travel partner?”
“Yeah well that’s the story isn’t it”, she noted. “Christine and I had done six weeks together on the road, but then she decided she’d had enough, so she flew home and I soldiered on.” She looked out the window and scoffed, then flashing her puffy squinty brown eyes at me. “Gotta get my money’s worth! Right? Who knows if I’ll ever get back here.”
“I came with a friend too”, I said, trying to commiserate, “She only lasted a week.”
“No, just a friend”, I said, but then feeling our growing intimacy and easy candor, “But…”, pausing, though committed to finish the sentence somehow.
“But?” she said.
I puffed out my cheeks and blew air out of my mouth. “I guess I was hoping that maybe it would turn into more of a romantic relationship.”
A bit of a both plaintive and derisive chuckle kind of burst out of her mouth, but immediately she put her hand on my knee and spoke. “Forgive me mate, I didn’t mean to laugh at your situation. It’s just…”. I could feel her struggling to finish the sentence.
“Just?” I said, mimicking her ‘but’ question.
She exhaled loudly and let her head fall back against the seat cushion, then turning it towards me, straining to open her heavy eyelids and look at me full on she said, “You seem like a really sweet bloke that I can be honest with!”
I felt trepidation, but this was the kind of intimacy I craved, and I nodded vigorously and said, “Of course”, she doing her best to look through my eyes to see into my soul for more confirmation that it was okay to proceed.
“No judgement”, she said, “We all have our deep dark secrets, right?” She kind of glared at me, showing that tough side, like she’d exact revenge as necessary if I judged her badly.
I knew I needed a clear unambiguous response, so I both nodded and said, “No judgement”, while thinking about all my own secrets that qualified as deep and dark.
Still examining my eyes for some sort of additional assurance to continue, or deciding to proceed anyway without it, she started to relate the story of her and Christine, looking mostly straight ahead as she did while only occasionally hazarding a quick look in my direction.
“So this Christine and I have been best mates as far back as I can remember.” She gesticulated with her arms and hands as if she were speaking to an audience in front of her, rather than me at her side.
She continued, still with the hand gestures like she was presenting a case to a jury. “Her family lived next door to mine in Macquarie Park where we grew up. College town. As kids we were inseparable, always pretending, dressing up as sailors, pirates, explorers, mum and dad. Some of our little fantasies got pretty involved. We were always sleeping over at each other’s houses when one set of parents were going to be out late at a party or a movie or some such. So on those nights, still immersed in our pretend worlds, we’d take baths together, sleep in the same bed, and dress each other in the morning, you know, two inseparable girls, how fucking cute! We were totally comfortable with each other, washed each other in the tub, no big deal.”
She scoffed then continued.
“Well. When we got to be about ten and we were still into all that imagination play, including the baths, sleeping in the same bed, and dressing each other, it became a big deal. Our parents made us stop, said it was ‘not appropriate’, time we ‘grow up and act like big girls’. Separate baths, separate beds, dress ourselves. We weren’t happy about it but we stopped.
“So we continued to be best mates into our teens and got into the whole boy-girl and dating scene at school. Christine went boy crazy and had several serious boyfriends. Not so much me. I was never comfortable on a ‘date’, didn’t know what to say, didn’t like it when he wanted to hold my hand or kiss me or feel me up. But when she’d tell me about making out with her latest toey bloke, I’d get insanely jealous.” She squeezed her fists together for emphasis. “She said I shouldn’t feel that way, but I think she kind of liked how devoted I was to her. Eventually I learned to hide those feelings, and pretend I didn’t have them.”
She glanced at me briefly, faced forward again and continued.
“So all our lives we had gone on pretend adventures together and fantasized about going on real ones once we were old enough. We talked about this trip to Europe together for several years, and our parents finally agreed to let us go after we graduated from high school.”
Beth chuckled again, with a note of irony that I guessed was still to come in her story. “I think Christine’s parents saw it as a kind of bribe to keep her focused on school and graduating. Thought ol’ best mate Beth would be a good influence on her. Take her off to Europe and away from all those blokes she couldn’t resist letting in her knickers.”
Her face formed a tight smile, and she briefly looked out the window, squinting against the glare.
“So Christine and I worked all summer waiting table at a nice restaurant owned by her dad’s friend. Big tips. Made some good money to help pay for our trip. Parents chipped in too. We flew to London at the end of August. Did England and northern Europe. Stayed at youth hostels. Saw the sights, you know, usual stuff.”
She turned to me with her bleary eyes as if to make a conspiratorial sidebar before returning to her speech to that nonexistent audience in front of her. “Then we went down to Spain.”
She paused, gathering her thoughts, closing her eyes for relief from the glare of now snow reflected sunlight coming in the train window, then continued.
“In Spain the hotel rooms were cheap enough for our budget, so we stayed in those. They had bathrooms with tubs, and though not totally private, you could lock the door. One night we came home rather drunk and got it in our heads that we’d take a bath together, like when we were kids. No one to tell us otherwise, so we did. We got pretty intimate.”
I could see her increasing discomfort and trepidation as she shared her narrative, yet something compelling her to continue. It was like when you feel like you have to throw up but you keep resisting because the whole process is so uncomfortable, until finally you just can’t hold it in any more. I wanted to let her know that I understood, so I broke in with a little of my own story with Steve in Spain. I didn’t look at her but spoke to that imaginary audience in front of us.
“When I was in Spain traveling with this guy Steve, we had our own hotel room in Granada with separate beds and he asked if he could get in bed with me. I said no, but then we argued about it for an hour and I almost said yes. I was tempted, you know, sex starved, I mean I had played around naked with other boys when I was nine.” I made a quick decision to spill the beans. “But I was a total virgin and wanted my first real time to be with a female type.”
She chuckled sympathetically.
“I know”, she said, her shoulders relaxing, “I let some random bloke fuck me in high school thinking it would cure my obsession with Christine.” She scoffed. “Didn’t work.”
A bit more relaxed now and kind of snuggled up next to me on the bench seat of our otherwise empty compartment, she finished her story.
“During our second time playing around in the bathtub, drunk again, we started kissing each other, which we’d never done before. We went back to our room, got in bed and ended up having some serious sex together. Nothing like all that uncomfortable stuff when I’d been with that bloke.” She shook her head with disgust, then her puffy eyes glanced at me. “No offence!”
I did a quiet chuckle and shook my head, to indicate none taken.
She took a deep breath and blew it out as she looked up at the ceiling of our compartment, before continuing.
“When I woke up that next morning, after the most awesome night of my life, Christine had loaded all her stuff in her pack, was all dressed and sitting in a chair by the door across the room. I asked her what was going on and she said she was not comfortable with what had happened last night and she wanted to get a flight home as soon as possible and get a separate room to sleep in in the meantime. So I managed to talk her down from the separate rooms, and we agreed to take separate baths or showers and not to touch each other in bed. But I couldn’t convince her to continue our travels together, and she got a flight home from Barcelona and we parted company there.
“I wrote her several letters and finally got a letter back saying she still wanted to be friends, and looked forward to my return home, but did not want our relationship to go beyond friendship. I was ready to let the whole thing go, figuring it had just been some childish obsession on my part, and glad she still wanted to be friends. I was fine now and would get interested in blokes like a ‘normal’ young woman.”
She scoffed again, “Then I got to Grindelwald and I met Monika!” She ran her fingers through her long wiry hair, finally grasping and massaging her shoulders and closing her eyes completely for a moment of respite.
She looked at me, eyes pried wide briefly for effect. “Is she like the hottest chick in the whole fucking world?”
“Pretty much”, I replied.
She scoffed, and said with an underplayed voice, like an aside, “Don’t you just want to take her clothes off and do stuff to her.”
“Pretty much”, I repeated, delivering the words exactly the same for hopefully some comic effect.
She chuckled at my repetition and its attempt at humor. “Yeah but YOU’RE a bloke, I’M not!” She continued to chuckle and it turned into more of a cough.
She shook her head. “I never met a ‘lesbian’”, she wiggled her fingers in the air as she said the word, “And now I think I fucking am one!” She turned a glare on me that seemed to have a hundred complicated thoughts behind it.
But I was totally consumed by our conversational intimacy and ‘no judgement’ ground rules. I felt such love and caring for her and the words just burst out of me.
“Well at least you’re not a timid chickenshit virgin like me who has never been able to tell a woman that I had a thing for her or acknowledge that she had one for me!”
“Awww”, she made a sad face looking like she was holding back a laugh to honor our ‘no judgement’ ground rules, “Poor kid!” She tousled my hair just over my forehead. “Don’t worry mate, you’re a sweet bloke and some lucky lady is soon going to have the distinct pleasure of being your first, I’m sure! If I wasn’t otherwise inclined I’d be all over you.”
“Thanks!” I said, my ego nicely stroked.
She thought about what I’d said and asked, “Did you have a ‘thing’ for Monika too?”
I opened my eyes wide and said, “God yes”, then continuing, “Monika’s a fucking sex goddess. She’s THE GODDESS!” Then deciding to spill more, “But I also developed a thing for Ragna actually! Back in the mortal realm.”
“Ragna? Really!” She looked skeptical, “The goddess’ card shark chaperone!”
“Yeah”, I replied, “I got to play cards with her, even teach the ‘shark’ a new game. We chatted walking down to the hill one evening after dinner. I think she was even hitting on me down in the tavern that time she got kind of drunk.”
“That’s the night Monika and I had our first encounter in the ladies room”, Beth noted.
“Ragna’s kind of cerebral”, I continued, “But I liked that about her.”
“Regardless”, I said, “I was so fucking jealous of Michael.” Beth and I were both totally overusing that expletive, but once a young woman introduces it in conversation, the more you both sprinkle it in, like spice, the tastier and more intimate the conversation seems to become.
“Monika sure was taken with that bloke.” Then her brow furrowed, “Did they hook up somehow?”
“Well, I was told they had sex in one of the men’s shower stalls.”
Despite all her fatigue, Beth let her head fall back and she laughed full throttle. It was a sight to see and hear. As always, there was nothing I enjoyed more than to watch a woman let loose with an unrestrained laugh.
Beth finally noted, shaking her head, “That girl’s got bollocks… along with all her awesome female naughty bits!”
Remembering that scene on the couch after their return from the whole cog railway thing, I dared to ask, “Did you hook up with her too?”
“Well that’s the other story”, she responded, grinning now sheepishly with her cute sleepy eyes and babyish face.
She said that back two nights ago at the tavern in Grindelwald, after drinking a lot of beer, she and Monika had happened to encounter each other in the bathroom, had “a moment” and kissed. Following up on that first encounter, at Monika’s suggestion, Beth had surreptitiously followed her into the hostel women’s bathroom in the middle of the night and Monika had invited her to take a shower with her. The two had just gotten naked together in the shower stall only to be interrupted by someone else coming into the bathroom, who they at first thought was Ragna, causing both of them to freak out. They finally figured out it was not Ragna, waited for that other person to leave, but Monika had gotten flustered and decided it was unwise to continue.
“Monika actually got flustered?” I delivered the question with all theatrical incredulity, “I didn’t know that was even possible!”
“Yeah, I know”, she responded, making a silly face herself, “Just when we were about to get hot and heavy. Bloody bad luck, eh?” Then putting on a look of childlike self satisfaction and a cutesy face, “At least I got to see her naked!” Then changing to an exaggerated wide eyed look, “OH MY GOD mate!” Then slower and with emphasis, “OH… MY… GOD”.
I chuckled, imagining Monika’s gorgeous naked body once again, like I had any number of times since I’d first seen her.
Beth continued, compelled now to finish her story, or at least bring it up to the present.
“The next morning I figured after that scare in the shower and her getting cold feet that that would be it. But when we got to the Jungfraujoch, I got another chance to be alone with her briefly in the ice caverns. She totally came on to me, not that I resisted. She said being with another woman was new for her, she had only been with ‘guys’”, Beth mimicked Monika’s pronunciation, “That funny way she says it.”
“Yeah”, I replied, smiling.
The two of them had another “moment” and kiss in the ice caverns. What I had witnessed between the three of them after their return to the hostel yesterday, Ragna’s displeasure and Monika’s provocative hand on Beth’s thigh, now made total sense.
Beth exhaled heavily. “So that’s my story. Thanks for listening.” She squinted in my direction. “You’re all right mate. Not like these regular blokes.”
“Thanks”, I said, nodding. All but swooning in her compliment and the intimacy of our conversation, I tried to keep our exchange going. “So you said you’re going to stop in Venice?”
“Yeah”, she drawled out the word with a kind of resignation. “Chasing Monika.” She rolled her puffy eyes and grinned sheepishly. “Even if they make me confess that it was just a ‘phase’ when I get home, at least I will have taken my best shot at shagging ‘the goddess’.”
Completely unburdened now, spent, she sat quietly next to me and I didn’t know what else to say after all that, other than to just enjoy our physical closeness after sharing our ‘dark secrets’, and enjoy the train’s pleasant rhythmic shaking and rattling. So much so that soon she was asleep and snoring, and her head slowly fell onto my shoulder and without waking, she moved to get more comfortable sleeping against me, including unconsciously putting her hand on my thigh just below my crotch, something intensely pleasurable that I had never experienced before. Her big mane of hair against my face smelled like strawberry scented shampoo.
At one of our stops before Interlaken, with Beth still cuddled asleep against me with her hand still on my upper thigh, two forty-something couples came into the compartment and seeing us together said “Scusi”, and other words in Italian that I did not understand, but probably having to do with this being the only compartment in the coach with four open seats. As they settled into the remaining seats around us they smiled at us like we were such a cute young couple. Beth roused a moment from pleasant unconsciousness, and barely opening her eyes, looked at them and said “Ciao” and closed her eyes again, still nestled against me.
That hour train ride with Beth, sharing intimate secrets for the first part, then her cuddling up next to me asleep for the rest of the way until our train pulled into the station in Interlaken, was probably the most pleasant hour of my entire trip. But the train finally halted, the Italian couples exited, wishing us well. Beth and I shouldered our packs like troopers and made our way off the train to the platform. We looked at the departure board and my train to Bern was due in thirty minutes on this same platform. Hers to Venice not for a couple hours.
We were both hungry, and we scavenged our packs and found various squirreled away remnants of food, crackers and cookies, a candy bar, that we shared sitting in the terminal. I told her about the train ride from here to Venice, and particularly about the long tunnel under the southern Alps. I explained to her about how to get from the Venice train station to the boat “bus” that would take her out in the lagoon to the youth hostel.
She went off to find a bathroom, leaving her big lavender backpack standing up next to mine on the bench facing the one we were sitting on. I appreciated that she trusted me enough to leave her precious ‘kit’ in my care, someone she’d met just three days ago. It was a sacred trust, I knew that.
I pulled out my journal and started an entry for today. I noted that I had written very little since getting to Grindelwald. As I flipped back through the most recent pages, it struck me that I hadn’t really written anyone’s name down that I’d met at my various recent stops in Italy either. I pondered what that was all about, how I kind of saw the journal just as something to spur my memory when I told my parents the tale of my journey, since all my memories tended to jumble up together in my head otherwise. The stories I would tell them triumphantly were all about where I’d been and what I’d done, not the people I had met from my own generation, my mom and dad would not be interested in them. Sure my mom would want to know about the Clays, Giselle and Angelica and Helmut, the people she’d met before. But Jen, Sarah, Morgan, Trix, Monica, Ragna, Beth and the rest, I held them inside me more intimately than the scratched words in my journal allowed.
I looked at the two packs, the ‘baggage’ our two souls carried, living this life’s adventure on this amazing and troubled planet of ours. We both longed to be in love, but she certainly was the one with the harder path forward. She at least was going for it, trying to grab that ‘brass ring’ as it were. Mine felt so much farther out there, beyond my grasp. It was my old comrades The Beatles, and the plaintive voice of John Lennon, that came into my mind’s jukebox, a song I had heard a hundred times on my brother’s stereo, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”…
How can I even try
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I’m in
How could she say to me
Love will find a way
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say
Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away
Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away
When Beth returned I was still writing that current entry in my journal.
“So keeping a journal of your travels?” I nodded, as she plopped her butt down on the bench next to me and made a sad face. “I should be doing that too!”
She looked at me sceptically. “If you write a memoir some day of your travels through Europe I hope I rate at least a few lines.” She paused to think then continued. “Though you better change my name just in case, I’ll know which one is me.” She laughed.
“I don’t know if that’ll ever happen”, I said, wrinkling my nose and making a sour face, “I’ve started a bunch of stories but I rarely finish any. Putting a few words down in here to jog my memory later is one thing, but trying to write a real story that someone else might find worth reading is another.”
“Why’s that?” she said.
“Well, for one thing, I have trouble thinking in a straight line. Ya gotta think in a straight line to really write. I start to write my thoughts down longhand or with a typewriter and after a few sentences my mind is going off in five directions at once and the words can only go one and what I’ve written seems so inadequate. So I try to write it again, but once I have a few paragraphs, then I want to move them all around. My pages get all full of cross outs and arrows moving things from one place to another. The page gets so messy I don’t like even looking at it anymore!”
“I get it”, she said nodding, “It’s like we need to invent something where you always have a clean page in front of you and you can move stuff around really easy. Like a typewriter, but it doesn’t put the letters and words on paper, where they’re stuck where they are.”
“Yeah”, I nodded, “We need to do that. Hope we do someday. I got a lot in my head.”
It was then that my train came up to the platform, it would be just a quick stop before continuing to Bern. We both stood and faced each other. We hugged, and she kissed me on the cheek and whispered in my ear, “Thanks for being such a good listener mate. You’re a sweetheart. Too bad you’re a bloke.” Then she looked at me with her fierce eyes but with a big grin. “If you tell anyone what I told you, I’ll deny everything, track you down, and kill you!” Her eyes twinkled.
Overwhelmed, I couldn’t think of anything different to do in response than follow suit, turning my head to kiss her warm cheek back, thinking this was such a nice intimate way to say goodbye. I struggled with what to say in response to her words.
Finally I said, “Our secret kiddo. I loved our train ride together. And good luck with Monika, give her a kiss for me.” I couldn’t recall ever calling someone ‘kiddo’ before.
She nodded with still sleepy eyes. We shouldered our big colorful packs and headed off in opposite directions, pretty much knowing we would never see each other again.