"This is a spring of open doors and windows", he wrote, "to throw out all that is dusty and rotten. Maybe some things that could still be used are thrown out too. But this will come out only later. Between us, dear Ruth, a lot of things are worn out. That's it. Now something else is coming. Good bye! Paul."
The letter was six pages long. Ruth read it at 9.30 on a bright sunny morning in March. She called the dog and went outside, choosing a path she hadn't walked for a long time.
Nature looked pretty battered - it had been a cold winter, too long, too much snow, heavy storms. Most of the older pines just broke right in half. Trees were lying across the path; the ground was deeply furrowed. Ruth had been wanting to leave this rural area for a long time already. To experience the characters of the seasons so distinctly somehow frightened her. She preferred the constant grey and dim days of the city.
The dog dragged along sticks she was expected to throw. Ruth flung them as far as she could. Alright, my Dear, she thought. I am not going to fall into every black hole that presents itself anymore. Why don't you write whatever you want!
The sun was warm upon her skin and the air was soft and mild. Water was dripping from the trees and the path was a muddy mess. Ruth had to walk carefully not to slip. Right in the middle of the beaten up landscape the first wood anemones were growing. A landscape for Little Red Riding Hood, she thought, but without the wolf.
Ruth had just recently spent an entire night discussing Little Red Riding Hood with someone called Thomas, Veronika's latest discovery. Veronika was Ruth's friend - no, of course she wasn't, she was a pest that Ruth had met seven or eight years ago, and who had pinned on Ruth a stubborn and sticky friendship with countless letters and telephone calls.
During the last few years, Ruth had actually used Veronika as just an excuse when she didn't want to see Paul (My God, she thought, it has always been me who decided whether we saw each other or not, it has always been me who was in control; why am I so affected by his good bye then?).
Veronika and Thomas. Little Red Riding Hood. Until four in the morning they had discussed whether the story was something sexual or not; what 'eating up' meant and who was the wolf and who was the huntsman, a) in the story, b) in life.
Thomas had used such expressions as 'identity design', 'pattern of suffering statutes' and 'lust neurosis', and when he went peeing for the third time, Ruth had asked "What kind of an asshole did you dig up there, Veronika?"
Veronika had met Thomas at the university - he was a psychologist with a part-time lectureship, and she had always been wild about these unhealthy looking little jerks. Veronika loved ugly, inhibited men who were much younger than she was, who carried her bags and burst into tears while having sex because they were overwhelmed by something from their early childhood.
The only reason why Ruth had spent that night with them was that she didn't want to see Paul at the time. If she had gone to her bar, which she would have actually preferred, she was sure she'd have met Paul anyway and she didn't want to see him just then.
Rather a viscious evening with Veronika, she had thought and had already called her from the train. Veronika, of course, immediately had answered and said ,"Yes, come and meet Thomas! Things between us are still pretty reserved, you know, cause I'm still shaken from that thing with Frank...regards from Frank, by the way, we meet every now and then in the Bhagwan disco... as friends of course, though Thomas musn't know about that, he's so incredibly sensitive...."
At this point at the latest, Ruth should have said, 'Veronika, kiss my ass with fucking Frank and incredibly sensitive Thomas, I can't stand any of you people anymore', and she should have gone straight to the bar, right from the train station. But instead, Veronika had met her at the platform, brown baggy sweater, red lips, earrings too big. Paul, Paul, Paul, Ruth had thought, Paul, where are you, more beauty, more love please!
They drank wine in the kitchen and Veronika spooned vegetable soup and said "Tell me about your work."
And Ruth had invented a few exciting conflicts and regretted it immediately when she saw how stunned with thrill Veronika listened, her mouth open, soup dripping down her chin. "Great", Veronika said, "all those things that always happen to you!", and Ruth thought: why, the hell, can't I just bore people enough so they leave me in peace?
Thomas came in and they immediately started to argue. Somebody said something about Little Red Riding Hood and Ruth drove the discussion into more and more absurd terms - sexual? Man - wolf, penetrating? Bullshit. Red Hood! Marx! It was all about the fringes of society, all political, devouring communists!
The dog scratched and sniffed at a mousehole, wagging its tail. Ruth realized she had picked some flowers. A meager bunch. She laid them aside and breathed deeply. Veronika. Thomas. Off with them. She should write a letter, dear Veronika, this is a spring of open doors and windows....
My God, how much that hurt! Had she been such a nuisance for Paul as Veronika was for her? Off with her to the finished files? Cleared away? Over and done? Good bye! Paul. This year had been a disaster from the beginning! And it was only March yet.
The dog barked and boisterously jumped around her. The sun was glaring and the wind blew slightly. A beautiful day. Ruth stepped out vigorously. No, she wouldn't fool herself: things had never been alright between Paul and her, not even in the beginning. Even the night they met for that first time had been a sick matter.
It had been one of those days on which Ruth had been taking a train ride to Cologne, not because she had anything to do there but because standstill would have meant death at that time. The train moved through the beautiful landscape along the Rhine where she grew up - tree-houses, morning milk, piano lessons, peace marches, love letters - and she already felt pretty strange and out of time when she arrived at the main station then.
In the taxi, Jimi Hendrix was playing on the radio, 'Burning of the midnight lamp', and she had told the driver to stop at her favourite hangout and then everything was like it always was.
The small fat poet, dressed all in black, stood at the bar and they immediately started to argue, yelled at each other, drank vodka and felt good. Rita came over, ravishing as always, showing her beautiful breasts, smelling of a hundred different men, and Ruth wished all men to hell and herself into Rita's arms, but she wasn't drunk enough yet.
The two musicians came in, the egocentric and the experimental one. The egocentric had just been to Brazil and was ranting about how he taught the Brazilians the tango. "Argentina", Ruth murmured, "Tango, that's Argentina", and he yelled at her "who's been there, me or you?", and then he started to discuss Nicaragua and the meaning of the solidarity coffee agreement with the small poet.
The experimental musician had eaten something bad and threw up right across the table and Rita had gone away with this guy who had all these scars on his arms and was always wearing short-sleeved shirts so everybody could see them. Ruth loved him for that, for it made things so clear and simple, and besides he couldn't speak one coherent sentence. The Old Man had come and two hollow-eyes girls with him. Suddenly someone had said "Oh, there's Paul", and she had seen him for the first time.
Ruth ran up the hill, panting and sweating in the sun even though the wind was still chilly. On the top, she sat down on a trunk, breathless and exhausted.
They had looked at each other, and then he had said "Come on, we both should go away from here."
She had pretended not to hear, for if a sentence like that, which is such a cliché, is really said, well, that's simply too stupid. Instead, she had gone back to the bar where Lisa had mixed something for her that was called 'Good Mother'.
"What's so good about it?", Lisa had said, and "You look muddled", and Ruth had known that she would nowhere and never feel as good as she felt in that wretched bar with its dim light, the badly rinsed glasses, the small poet, who was just hitting the ashtray onto the head of the egocentric musician, Rita, Lisa, and the music that was played here, right now it was Nick Cave and he sang 'Papa won't leave you, Henry'. Paul had followed her to the bar and said "Got to get out of here. I'll meet you later in the 'Tunnel.'"
Ruth tried to remember if he had kissed her then, maybe, possible, right now all she knew was that her heart stood still with affection for his tired and bitter face.
She got up and walked on, and the dog didn't know why she was crying.
It is not true that it is the great cataclysms like war, blaze or cancer that finish you off. The heart breaks quietly between breakfast and lunch on a bright day in March. Good bye! Paul. No remedy for that. Nothing that soothes.
"Fuck you!", Ruth screamed, "Fuck you, you bastard, fuck you, fuck you!", and she kicked a tree until her foot hurt. She sniffed and wiped off the tears with her sleeve. "Damned asshole", she cried and kicked the tree again before she walked on.
They had been to the 'Tunnel', and it had been terrible. An artist was doing a performance, an incredible aggressive thing - 'The Day After' was on three huge screens and the noise of bombs was roaring out of several speakers. In the middle of the room was a wire netting cage with men in olive uniforms inside that hit men in blue overalls onto their heads. Broken glass was on the floor and in a second cage, a naked couple was dancing. Everything Ruth was horrified of was happening in this room, within a few square meters, and suddenly Paul had been there putting an arm around her.
Eventually it got to be too much and Ruth had run out and entered this old little church on the other side of the street where she blew out all of the sacrificial candles on the side altar, and the church had been cool and quiet, and full of the cynical absence of god.
Ruth didn't return to the 'Tunnel', but instead went back to the bar. It was already closed, but she knew the way through the back door, through the kitchen. Lisa sniffed some coke, Rita and the scarred guy drank champagne, the small poet had fallen asleep on the floor. Tom Waits sang 'I never heard the melody till I needed the song', and the Old Man played pool with the two hollow-eyed girls in the back room.
The Sick sat in the corner, drinking tea with his eyes closed, his crutches leaned against the wall. Lisa made another vodka for Ruth, they all were silent for a while and suddenly Rita started to talk about her fears and lost dreams. The small poet woke up and drunkenly drew a dark scenario of the world into the air and the Sick said "Hey, what's it all about? I've got three or four more years to live and am just happy to eat my soup without spilling it all over myself", and they all started to laugh, they laughed so hard they almost fell off their chairs, and the Sick laughed too, gasping, asking "what's so funny about it, hey, stop it, stop, I can't laugh, all my bones hurt when I laugh".
And Paul came in and sat on the piano and played, and everything was very quiet and peaceful, and a joint was passed around, just like in old times, when all you wanted to be was to be a little stoned.
Ruth's breathlessness faded and she became soft and calm and thought "I've never loved like I do in this moment before, though I don't even know, whom."
The dog finally got tired and crawled at her side as she now took the path back to the valley. After all, she couldn't run away from facing the letter forever.
It was the last of a vast amount of letters, for both of them were manic writers.
Every second day during the last years they had been writing each other, talking about books and films, music, thoughts, people, about dreams and fears, plans and desires, about what was happening inside and outside, and whenever a letter from Paul had arrived, her husband had smiled and said: "You and your Paul."
Sometimes they had been for a walk in the forest, talking about things they wouldn't tell any body else; they had looked up into the trees and felt light and strong.
Yes, it had been a love story. A love story without a bed. But now he had written this letter. Good bye.
Back home, Ruth gave the dog its food and laid down her head onto the letter that was laying in front of her on the table. Her husband came in. "Sick?", he asked, "Fever?"
"No", Ruth replied, and opened up the window widely , letting her love fly out. "This is a spring of open doors and windows", she said to her husband, but he had left the room already.
Half a year later there was a letter in the post box. She recognized his beautiful handwriting at once.
"Ruth", he wrote, "you know how I am, always too fast, always too yeasty, too final: of course nothing is over. Write quickly. Paul."
That very same evening she wrote a letter to Veronika, saying that this was a time of open doors and windows, to throw out all that was dusty and rotten. "like our friendship, dear Veronika, that has never been a friendship at all. Good bye! Ruth."
It was not until two or three years later that she dared to go back to the bar, and Lisa said: "You could have come a lot earlier, Paul isn't frequenting this place anymore. He got married and grew pretty fat, and he's got two kids as well." She drew a beer on tap for Ruth and there was Tom Waits singing 'Heartattack and Vine'. And Lisa told Ruth that the Sick was now sitting in a wheelchair, getting Meals-On-Wheels and was not even able to get out of the bed by himself. The small poet had finally undergone a withdrawal treatment and Rita had moved to Ibiza with some guy; they said she got Aids, but no one knew for sure. The experimental musician was now playing with Brian Eno and was successful at last and the Old Man was still coming here every night.
The egocentric musician sat in the corner and said "Hey Ruth, did I ever tell you how I taught the Brazilians the tango?", and Ruth sat down and said "No, tell me about it."