Brewster Chamberlin is an historian, essayist, poet and novelist. This extract is from Ursula’s Triumph, the fourth and final volume of his “Berlin book”, the previous volumes being Schade’s Passage, Schadow’s Meditations and Peregrine’s Island.
The author has provided the following introduction to “Rainstorm on Peacock Island”:
The characters in this excerpt, Ursula Wittvogel (German, 50ish, a painter) and John Schade (born Johannes Schadlerberg, a German-American writer with his 30th birthday just behind him, his name pronounced Schahduh) have become lovers in the winter 1948-49. Having submitted his second novel to his publisher, Schade has returned to Berlin from the United States to write about the Soviet blockade of the city for a cultural journal in New York (Openings) and write, in German, short commentaries on daily events for the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS). He had been stationed as a cultural affairs officer in the American sector of the city during the period July 1945-December 1946 (narrated in Schade’s Passage). Ursula had been married to the well-known and talented Matisse-influenced painter Heinrich Opladen, whose works the Nazis banned. They lost their son Werner during the war from malnutrition and pneumonia. Opladen committed suicide in late 1947 following the loss of his ability to paint. In his last years she painted the canvases he signed. She now works on her own under her maiden name and is beginning to sell her work for increasingly high prices. Under the tensions and insecurities of the blockaded city she and Schade both know deep down that their affair cannot last and he will leave the city once again, but for the present they find each other infectiously attractive, sexually and intellectually.
On a warm June early afternoon Ursula and Schade dressed in their light summer clothes, ignored the threat of the thunderstorm gathering east of the city, and rode the streetcar to the Havel River ferry dock where they crossed the river to the Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island). They walked along the narrow paths among the trees, skirting the Frigate Shelter on the shoreline with the now closed and locked red rear door. Built in 1832 to the protect sail boats of the rich from inclement weather damage, the structure had somehow survived the war.
“Not sure how that happened,” she murmured as they walked past the pale wood structure.
They also avoided the now nearly empty American military’s Public Welfare Branch facilities of summer camps for refugees and Berliners who could not afford vacations and juvenile delinquents the well-meaning staff attempted to redirect to more socially acceptable forms of entertainment. They followed the paths created by and for wanderers who sought some relief from the city’s tensions and frustrations, if not the pernicious and seemingly eternal roar of the airlift planes until the blockade ended a month earlier. Occasionally they entered the foliage to make their own way into the forest of pine, ash trees and a new growth of green and brown bracken and brambles. As yet no flowers blossomed on the island, and the dank odour of damp foliage invaded their nostrils as slow gusts of breeze shifted and wanted across the island.
She turned to him and said, “You know, there used to be a statue here somewhere of a French actress, a Jew, Rachel-Félix. It was quite attractive in white marble.”
“Why was it made here?”
“I don’t know, perhaps she played on the stage here on a tour and some aristo or royal liked her. Perhaps the king or one of the sons. I remember seeing it once before the war.”
“Where is it now?” Schade wondered.
She replied abruptly, “It’s gone. The nazis destroyed it in 1935 or so.”
“Surprised it took them so long.”
“Yes, one wonders. She must have been a great actress. I know she played all over Europe, perhaps in the States and Russia. A fabulous talent, or so we are told. A shame really.”
“There must be a photograph of the statue.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. Probably destroyed by the war if there was one.”
“Watch out for that branch. Let’s go down by the river.”
She ignored the scratch on her left calf and shook the plant stem from under her short skirt as they made their way to the other shore. Schade left a bramble thorn rip a small tear in his left cuff which he also ignored. Silently their excitement with each other’s presence rose.
She said, “I wonder if there are any fish?”
They saw no fish and no peacocks, but a large white swan incongruously sailed by them as they lingered for a moment by the river just beyond the frigate house the bare warmth of the pale sun, eyeing the threatening storm heads in the light blue sky in the east. The imperious swan cruised by them on the surface of the dark blue-gray river dipping its beak in the shimmering water and shaking its head and neck at regular intervals scattering crystals into the air.
“All we need now is Leda,” Schade said with a crooked smile.
“Not me, thank you. I’ve no swan desire.”
Schade ran his fingers through her hair. ”You’d make a beautiful Leda.”
“Not unless the swan became a prince. Perhaps I could be Leda if you were the prince.” She ruffled his hair above his ears.
Schade adjusted his glasses and took her hand. “I’d like to paint you, but you’ll have to make a self-portrait.”
“In the nude, of course.”
“Of course. The height of realism.”
“Never to be shown, of course.”
“No public viewing.”
“You could describe me in words.”
“That would require a Goethe or Heine or Schiller.”
She laughed deep in her throat. “How nice of you to say so. I would like to paint that tree in all its treeness, perhaps mirrored in the river.”
He slipped his hand beneath her thin blouse and gently caressed her unhaltered breast softly squeezing her nipple until it stood rigid.
“Ah you devil,” she smiled lasciviously and hummed while she rubbed his crotch.
The storm head now hovered above the island and shades of darkness descended over the river. Wisps of light grey mist began to rise from the vegetation at their knees.
“Come, under the trees. We’ll be soaked.” She moved his hand from under her blouse and led him away from the water into the coppice and foliage where she leaned back against the bark of an ash tree as the storm cloud broke and the rains came gently at first, then with an increasing fury from which the trees did little to protect them. The storm accumulated a roar as it whipped through the trees across the island entering into a paradoxical competition with the slashing rain. The downpour obscured his spectacles so he took them off and put them in his pants’ front pocket.
If asked later they would not have been able to answer questions about why they didn’t run to find more protective shelter, why they just stopped in the dense coppice and raised their heads to the sheets of rain pouring through the swaying canopy of leaves, letting the careening drops soak their hair and thin clothing onto their bodies, laughing at the absurdity of the situation. He could not control his erection which rose without thought but with clear intent. Her breasts pressed against his chest, the wet blouse perfectly outlined her now hard pointed nipples. “Oh, yes,” she murmured.
Gradually their laughter changed into grins of anticipation as a lusting desire grew with increasing intensity and they vigorously embraced, madly working their tongues in each other’s mouths, pressing their bodies against each other, her body against the tree, his against her, she ignored the pain the tree’s bark caused her back as she unzipped his flies, pulled out and stroked his erection. Awkwardly he jerked her skirt up to her waist and slipped his fingers under her knickers and rubbed her hairy Venus Delta and into her damp vagina rubbing upward against her clitoris. They grunted indeterminate sounds simultaneously as their feverish excitement rose. He reached down and grabbed her thick thighs lifting her legs as she yanked her knickers to the side and pushed her legs further apart in his hands and guided his erection into her. She moaned and thrust her pelvis forward feeling the tightness of her extended nipples. He met her thrust and quivered with the vast sense of exhilaration that swept through his torso. For a few seconds they stood still softly gurgling and breathing heavily in the downpour plastering their hair to their heads. They chuckled quietly at their awkward position then continued the slow mutual thrust until the frisson could no longer be withheld and with his cock deep inside her they shuddered and both groaned loudly as the orgasm consumed first his then her body and they shivered with exhaustion. The intensity of their mutual paroxysmal climax momentarily frightened both of them.
Slowly he lowered her legs to the earth and they leaned against each other in a drenched embrace neither wanted to end as they allowed their breathing to slow from the ragged panting to a semblance of regular in and exhaling, exhausted with pleasure and depletion. Her back hurt where the tree bark had scraped her skin.
She sighed and in a burst of words exclaimed, “Mein Gott dat war wat nischt?”
“O yes, our own little orgy.” He shook his head. “An orgasmic hurricane in the storm. But where did you pick up that Berlinerish talk?”
She laughed. “I’ve been in the city too long. And you’re running out into my underwear. We’re all soaked anyway.”
He gave her his minimally dry handkerchief which she pushed between her thighs under the faded blue linen and sighed. “It’s a good thing I don’t bleed anymore. Who knows what might have happened.” She shivered again. “Oh, that was wonderful, but can’t we get out of this rain and dry off.”
He replaced his eye glasses on his nose. “Not so easily done, but entirely possible if you don’t mind people staring at us on the ferry.”
“And in the streetcar but let them. I don’t care but I would like to be dry.”
“And drink a warming glass of brandy.”
“Which I just happen to have at the studio.”
“Andiamo, mon amour.”
On their way to the ferry, just as the rain ceased, he slipped and fell into the bushes on the side of the pathway. She could not help but giggle, an arm across the stomach and a hand covering her mouth. He staggered awkwardly to his feet and said incredulously, “Not very funny.”
“But you got no wetter, just muddier.” She added a bit of sympathy to her smile.
“Not very funny,” he repeated but could not help grinning. “Ludicrous situation. But la Commedia è finita, I hope. And my cigarettes are soaked.”
“Not the follow up to our making love in the wilderness we would have preferred, my love, but who cares? Anyway, where did you get all this Italian?”
“I know lots of Italians in New York.”
“Ja, I’ll bet.”
“Sure, the same way you learned Berlinerisch.”
The ferry arrived shortly after they reached the dock and neither there or in the streetcar were they the only figures soaked from the torrent so no one paid any particular attention to them, though some would say that a post-coital aura attaches itself to those who have just enjoyed the adventure. Her damp blouse outlined her ample breasts and nipples and his rather vacant smile might have given them away, but no one noticed except the dwarf in a new grey suit and black fedora low on his forehead sitting in the seat across from them and he only smiled to himself and kept his opinion, if he had one, also to himself.
They walked slowly from the streetcar stop through the wet streets in the wan but warm city sunlight, their arms around each other’s waists. When they arrived at her studio-apartment their clothes had dried to some extent but their hair remained damp and pressed against their heads. They removed their clothes and began drying themselves with thin towels. He watched her rubbing and fluffing her hair swaying her full breasts with their middle-age sag and large nipples. The hair under her arms and bushy triangle as usual stimulated his blood and brain and filled his mind and his penis reacted in its usual manner and rose to make its demands known. She shook her head with some incredulity and laughed. “My, my, what have we here I wonder and so soon.” He wanted to say something like, “You are so beautifully fuckable”, but his German failed and he thought she wouldn’t understand the English, so grinned and said, “It’s your fault, you know, all yours. How can I resist the temptation of such a beautiful nymph, an erotic Calypso in the flesh?”
“Full of Greek myths today, aren’t we?” She laughed. “So, tempting am I? Well then let us do something about the situation.” And with that, not being herself desirous of another round of coitus, she bent, her long brown-grey tresses falling about her head and took him into her wide mouth alternating hand stroking with bobbing up and down until he groaned in bliss and gasped and spurted gobs into her mouth and on her face and hair. She swallowed and smiling said, “Now I’ll have to wash my hair again.” Then with a grin, “Fun wasn’t it. I hope it was worth the effort.” He could do no more in response than grasp her head and kiss her, plunging his tongue into the remnants of his coming, licking her cheeks and forehead, humming softly.
They never did then drink the brandy or smoke one of her cigarettes, but fell into a deep but still restless sleep filled with satiation and exhaustion. As she drifted off the thought floated lazily through her fading consciousness, “Am I really this lucky now after all that’s gone by can still feel like this do this O yes now …” His thought as his mind closed into sleep: “How can this be the excitement the thrilling music of almost pain how can I be so fortunate she’s so voluptuous yes and so …”
Later he thought how much more complex it would have been if his trousers had been closed with buttons rather than a zipper. And she found that in their frenzied behaviour her underwear had been relentlessly torn to the stage of uselessness and dropped the torn linen into the trash bucket. The scratches on her back and leg healed quickly with narrow scabbing but no infection.