Elodie A. Roy ~ Petra’s Date

Before the first date Petra already knows how futile it all is. She is aware of how inad­e­quate she looks, stand­ing half-undressed in the mid­dle of her room, three or four dis­card­ed dress­es at her feet. Last night, unable to sleep, she visu­alised her­self sit­ting oppo­site Hans. She could pic­ture every­thing. The Café Olympia in the late after­noon. The cold lemon­ade they’d drink from tall, old-fash­ioned tum­blers. Their knees casu­al­ly touch­ing beneath the mar­ble table – as if by acci­dent. The bit­ter­sweet taste of sour cher­ry cake. And again: her­self sit­ting with Hans. It was a flat, qui­et­ly impen­e­tra­ble vision, like a page torn from a for­eign mag­a­zine. They don’t know each oth­er so well. What would they say? Picking up a green dress from the floor, Petra is over­come by a feel­ing of great weari­ness. She knows all is hope­less in this world, unques­tion­ably doomed from the very start. Yet she still wants to go – to find out what being in the world is like.

The place is west Berlin, the year 1971.

Petra has lived alone in her grandmother’s flat for three months now – long enough to cram the tiny ice­box with cream cakes and jars of mar­malade and pre­tend the place is her very own. Her grand­moth­er is dying and Petra dreams of love. When Petra dreams she for­gets her grandma’s wast­ed body, her thin hands lying so still and unfa­mil­iar on the hos­pi­tal cov­er­let, so tiny in Petra’s plump, strong hands. Sometimes one whole week pass­es with­out her vis­it­ing the ward. Her exams are over now. The sum­mer vaca­tion has begun and Petra lives in some sort of per­pet­u­al stu­por. She can bare­ly tell the nights from the days. The sun seems to hard­ly ever set on the city. She absent­ly pets the cat, reads inane detec­tive sto­ries she imme­di­ate­ly for­gets, and stuffs her­self with sug­ary, heavy things. She thinks of Hans in abstract terms. His name has become a sym­bol for some­thing else, for anoth­er real­i­ty – a promise of escape.

During the uni­ver­si­ty year Hans and Petra hard­ly spoke. When they hap­pened to cross paths in the nar­row cor­ri­dors of the Institute they made sure their bod­ies wouldn’t brush. They were so attract­ed to one anoth­er that they intu­itive­ly stayed far apart. It is a well-known chem­i­cal phe­nom­e­non: attrac­tion cre­ates repulsion.

When Hans asked Petra for a date he wasn’t expect­ing her to accept – yet she did. She remem­bered the Café Olympia from her child­hood. The soft ban­quettes, the aura of unre­al­i­ty cling­ing to the heavy fur­ni­ture, the uneven, dusty mir­rors where one’s reflec­tion appears blurred, soft­ly dis­tort­ed. Something about the café made her think of the hazy years before the war. Of course, Petra is far too young to remem­ber the war. Yet she heard so much about it that some­times she can almost feel its taste, cold and metal­lic, in her mouth.

Petra loves her grand­ma. She loves her infi­nite­ly more than any of the stu­dents of the Institute, any of her friends. She loves her more even than the par­ents and the younger sis­ter she left behind in the coun­try­side. Yet Petra needs to for­get how much she loves her grand­ma. She has to try and bury the knowl­edge of their spe­cial bond. She goes and sees her less and less often. This way she can pre­tend her grand­moth­er is not real­ly dying, not lying almost com­plete­ly paral­ysed on her hos­pi­tal bed – grow­ing increas­ing­ly faint and trans­par­ent as the days go by, disappearing.

At the chemist’s Petra has pur­chased a small bot­tle of rose-scent­ed cologne and a tube of pink lip­stick. She owns very few cos­met­ics. For her sev­en­teenth birth­day a friend gave her a palette of eye­shad­ow colours – all the shades neat­ly arranged in a rain­bow. Sometimes she opens the box and gazes at the colours, nev­er think­ing of apply­ing them to her skin.

Hans noticed months ago how intent­ly she’d lis­ten to the professor’s words, how dili­gent­ly she vis­it­ed the library straight after the lec­ture was over. He often sat behind her dur­ing class­es – day­dream­ing, star­ing at her milky white neck, imag­in­ing the soft­ness of her skin. What it would be like to hold her.

He’s been half in love with her for months. But he’s hard­ly giv­en to sen­ti­men­tal­ism. Hans is a dark-eyed, hand­some stu­dent of twen­ty, filled with the petu­lant cal­lous­ness, arro­gance and misog­y­ny so com­mon amongst young men, in those years. He has decid­ed he want­ed to make love to as many beau­ti­ful women as pos­si­ble: he thinks it is what life is for. He coarse­ly thinks of sex as some kind of supe­ri­or goal.

Petra doesn’t know any of this. She unsus­pect­ed­ly wash­es her hair in the bath­room sink and gath­ers it in one long thick braid. She often wears it that way. Now she is think­ing – should she per­haps let it down? Isn’t the braid too for­bid­ding­ly aus­tere, or too much like a schoolgirl’s com­pul­so­ry plait? She looks at her­self doubt­ful­ly, dis­ap­prov­ing­ly, in the mir­ror of the med­i­cine cabinet.

She won­ders whether Hans will kiss her. Whether she should wear the new­ly acquired lip­stick. She vague­ly won­ders, too, what she will say if he asks her back to his lodg­ings. She can­not invite him to her grandma’s apart­ment. It is impos­si­ble. Physical love is still unre­al to Petra. She has had so few expe­ri­ences of sex – most of them furtive and unpleasant.

Her grand­ma has often warned her against the bru­tal­i­ty of men. How they were pigs – all of them.

Petra holds up the crum­pled green dress to her chest. Somewhere in anoth­er part of the city her grand­ma is dying but Petra is get­ting ready for her date. She puts on the dress with gen­tle, unhur­ried deter­mi­na­tion – as one slips into a fate. Petra is irre­sistibly sink­ing, or per­haps some­thing – she doesn’t know what exact­ly – is slow­ly sink­ing or giv­ing way with­in her. The girl she has been is soon to disappear.


Elodie A. Roy is a French-born writer liv­ing in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Her short sto­ries and essays have appeared in jour­nals includ­ing The Stinging Fly, The Oxonian Review, The Drouth, and Scrawl Place. As a cul­tur­al the­o­rist, she’s the author of two non­fic­tion aca­d­e­m­ic books.