Around six they started getting ready. Duncan whistled as he dressed in a yellow linen suit that he’d gotten before they left Zurich. He hadn’t brought many clothes with him on the trip, preferring to travel light, picking up what he needed as they went. Gina put on a blue dress, then searched for the silk satchel that contained her jewelry.
Inside, there wasn’t much: a pair of diamond earrings that she’d received from her grandparents at her high school graduation, an anklet she’d bought in college, on a trip into the city with her best friend, Violet. Her most cherished piece was a ring she’d been given by her mother, a yellow stone, not precious, but exotic: it had functioned as an engagement ring until Duncan could afford a proper one—what little money they had they’d spent on simple bands. Hers hung a little loosely on her finger, she’d noticed; apparently she’d lost some weight from the stress her injury had caused her.
Feeling around in the satchel for her mother’s ring, she found a chain caught among some threads at the bottom. She pulled it out: a silver bracelet with a turquoise stone at the center. It must be from her father or other family in Santa Fe, she thought, but when she turned the piece over, she noticed an inscription on the back: For My Love.
“Did you give this to me?” she asked Duncan, thinking that he knew her taste too well to choose a piece that was so bland.
He laid the bracelet in his palm and took note of the inscription. “It’s from an aunt of yours. Some sort of family heirloom.”
Could she have forgotten such a thing? She felt a moment of unease at her failure to recall, but told herself not to dwell on such details. Did she really need to know the story behind every small object in her possession—the countless bits of information that we all carry with us and let shape, in some cluttered and arbitrary way, our sense of who we are? There was something freeing in forgetting, she’d discovered, as if all these tiny accretions were like layers of clothing that kept you from feeling the air, the night, the life that was cloaked around you.
She looked over at Duncan, seeing him almost freshly then, with the years together stripped away, revealing the qualities she loved in him: his gentleness, his intelligence, his delicate dark features and the green eyes that always had a slightly distracted look about them, like he was listening to some inner song only he could hear.
He turned to take her arm then, and she stepped out into the cool Swiss evening, with the sounds of crickets and lapping water and a man beside her with a mild voice and smiling face who’d stood by her and loved her since she was nineteen.
The drive to the restaurant wasn’t an easy one. The roads were dark and curving, the signs difficult to spot. She and Duncan had to pull over twice to consult a map before locating the simple stone building with a restaurant in the back. The room was rustic but elegant, with exposed wooden beams, red tablecloths, and candles. Duncan pulled out Gina’s seat for her and, as she thanked him, she almost called him by the wrong name. “Graham—” she began, and stopped herself, puzzling.
Before she could remark on it, Duncan rushed to speak. “Supposed to be classic Swiss cooking, this place.”
“I don’t think I know what that is.”
“Well, the guidebook says we need to get the cholera.”
“Like the disease?”
“Exactly.” He described for her what he’d read: “During the epidemic, since people were afraid to leave their homes, they’d throw everything into a pie.”
“Desperation casserole.” She laughed, and she could see how much it pleased him, since the accident, to see her having fun.
They turned to study the menu and Gina noted the prices. “Duncan, it’s too expensive.”
“Oh, it’s fine. One plate of cholera won’t kill us.”
“I’m serious. The way we’ve been spending, and we’ve still got months ahead—”
“We’re fine,” he insisted, and reached across for her hand, just as the waiter stepped up to pour their water and describe the evening’s specials. Gina tried to listen, to let her concerns go, though she couldn’t quite believe that Duncan, who’d worked sometimes for free as a composer, had suddenly been paid enough to afford all this. As she wondered, she became aware of another distraction: a man was watching her from across the room. She looked away, concentrating on her order, but when the waiter left, the man was still staring. He was heavyset, with receding white hair and a pink face.
Meanwhile, Duncan had begun to speak about their itinerary. “Plus, later in the summer it will be packed, which is another reason to start there.”
“The South of France.”
“Sorry, I wasn’t listening,” she admitted, and, leaning forward, added more softly, “There’s a man over there who keeps looking at me. Do we know him? In the corner, with the white hair.”
Duncan turned in his chair to check, and Gina saw the man lower his eyes.
“Never seen him. But he looks pretty harmless to me.”
After a moment, the man went back to staring, and Gina began to fidget in her seat. She’d been out in public so little since her accident, and some of the effects of her injury had made her self-conscious. She felt a sudden urge to study herself in a mirror, so she stood and told Duncan she was heading to the bathroom.
In the mirror above the sink, she confronted a woman of twenty-five, her curly auburn hair cut shorter than she recalled wearing it, which made her look younger than she was. Nothing showed of her injury but the remnants of a scrape across one cheekbone. She smiled, just to make sure her smile was even, as it had not been in the first days at the hospital. This small change, temporary as it proved to be, had terrified her. She’d found herself thinking of her mother—after her stroke, her smile had never been the one in the pictures from before.
When Gina stepped out into the dining room again, Duncan wasn’t at their table. She spotted him in the corner, speaking with the man who’d been staring at her. Catching her eye, Duncan abruptly excused himself to meet her back at their table, settling into his seat just as she settled into hers.
“Did you find out who he is?” she asked him.
“A German tourist. He said he’d seen you performing in Vienna.”
“Really?” She supposed it was possible: she had spent two summers in Vienna, dancing for an international festival, though her parts hadn’t been large ones. “I’m surprised anyone would notice a single dancer in a group.”
“I’d have noticed you,” said Duncan, smiling.
The food arrived. Gina had ordered the pastetli, a meat pie, which she no longer felt like eating. She was agitated, suddenly, restless in her chair. Her first Vienna tour, as magical as it had been, had also directly preceded her mother’s death. She’d had the call from her father about her mother’s final, fatal stroke a week before she was due to return home.
She felt a sudden pang—homesickness, she thought. Now and then she’d had the impulse to call her father, though Duncan had reminded her of the risks involved in that. Her father was bound to panic at the news of the accident. After his wife’s stroke, Mr. Reinhold never remarried. Gina became his everything. It would terrify him to learn his only child, so far from home, had suffered a brain injury of all things, and, even if her not calling might cause him worry too, nothing could be worse than his reliving some version of her mother’s decline, noting minor gaps in Gina’s awareness, or some way in which she might fail to be the person that she’d been before.
“Are you all right?” Duncan asked, peering up from his plate. “I’m fine.” She saw no point in spoiling things with her grim thoughts. “Go on with what you were saying.”
“Our itinerary.” Duncan hesitated but, after a short pause, went on. “I’d been thinking France, I guess, along the Riviera. There are some quieter spots, and better to visit now than in July or August, when the whole region is packed. Plus I speak French, so we can navigate more easily. What do you think?”
She hadn’t given much thought to their travels, though now that Vienna had been mentioned, she felt she’d like to go there again. And she’d intended to drop in too on her friend Violet, in Prague. “If we’re heading west, doesn’t it make sense to visit Vienna and Prague first? I’d like to visit Violet for a day or two at least.” Duncan raised his glass quickly, and wine spilled onto his upper lip. “You don’t remember what happened with you two?
That argument you had?”
No, she didn’t have the slightest recollection of any fight with her best friend, though it wasn’t inconceivable that it could happen. She and Violet both had strong opinions, about their work and about Duncan—whom Violet had never liked—and it was a function of their loyalty to one another that they hadn’t butted heads more often. “When did we fight?”
“It was after she’d moved to Prague. Over the phone. I guess she’d been dismissive about a piece I’d written. Nothing new, but this time she’d gone too far and you were really shouting, said you’d had it, you were done with her.”
Violet putting down Duncan was plausible enough, though Gina didn’t see much point in staying angry when she’d forgotten why she was.
“In that case, I think I should definitely call her. Take the chance to repair things while I’m here.”
Duncan took a bite of his casserole and chewed it before responding. “Right, sure you should. Though I don’t see any reason to put yourself under pressure right away. Plus, Prague isn’t a simple place to get around, so maybe better to start with Vienna?”
She pictured Vienna then, recalled the nights she’d spent there on her first visit. She and her fellow dancers had performed at the Volkstheater, a grand building on the corner of Arthur-Schnitzler-Platz, stretching out backward, like a crouching animal. There were two tiers of columns at the entrance, but the relative modesty of the exterior gave little hint of what lay inside: red velvet seats and curtains, crystal chandeliers, a fresco on the ceiling. Perhaps it was the sheer beauty of the place that caused her to put more into her dancing in Vienna than she ever had before. Her limbs felt more powerful, her instincts freer. She’d had the thought that this was her apotheosis, the moment when her talent as a dancer reached its peak, and she would look back on those nights, years later, and recall that fleeting bliss.
“Yes, right. I think Vienna would do me good.”
“Great, then we’re decided.”
Duncan clinked his glass against hers and Gina took a sip of wine. Soon she began to relax, to enjoy the food, the cozy room—until the man who’d been staring at her before rose from his table. She watched him lay his napkin down, squeeze by another diner, and make his way toward her. For a moment, she thought the stranger might say something, but when she looked up he turned away, disappearing out the door into the darkness.
The next morning, a vision struck Gina as she woke from sleep. She was in a gallery, in a white and airy space, with paintings on the walls. She crossed the room and came to stand in front of a portrait of Duncan and herself. This was a painting her father had done of them for their wedding. She stood there, facing the portrait, in an atmosphere of sadness, and then a tall, sandy-haired man stepped up alongside her. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear that made her start.
She sat up sharply, there in the bed she shared with Duncan.
He was awake, looking at her.
“A bad dream?” he asked her, rubbing her back.
“No, just a thought . . . nothing.” She lay back down beside him and felt his hand stroke her thigh under the sheet.
He’d been especially hungry for sex since the accident, and she’d been too, maybe for the connection it gave her to him, or the grounding in her own body. She was young and healthy, alive, his touch reminded her, and she curled under him as he began to kiss her, her cheeks, her neck, lifting up her top to bare her stomach.
She looked down at him, at his smooth shoulders, that transfixed expression he always wore when he was aroused, moving in a daze but deliberately, a mood of sex he’d absorbed from her, years ago, but which had since become a state evolved together— their style of movement, their patient tangles. Arching up over her, he reached for the nightstand drawer. She drew him back to her.
He hesitated, about to say something, until she reached for him by the hips and drew him inside her. She looked him in the eyes so he could read her desire, then pulled him closer so that his face was at her ear and she could hear the sounds he made, deep and adult one moment and in the next just like the eager boy who’d been almost a virgin when she first led him to her bed.
“I love you,” he told her after, dropping behind her and pressing her up against him so she could feel his heart going fast.
“I love you too.”
They lay there like that, in the quiet morning light, until Duncan finally stood and announced he’d take a shower.
“Want to join me?”
She did, really; he looked sweetly boyish standing there, with his face flushed, naked before her. But then she recalled her vision that morning and felt an urge to write it down. Had it been a dream? Or a flash of memory, like she sometimes had now? She wanted to collect these impressions that came to her, usually when she wasn’t hoping to have them, when she wasn’t trying to remember anything at all.
“You go ahead. I’ll have a last dip in the lake before we go.”
He nodded, disappointed, but she rose and kissed him again before he turned toward the bathroom and she moved to the desk. As the shower ran, she jotted down what parts of the image she could recall—large gallery, Dad’s show—Santa Fe? Stranger with blond hair. She supposed she might ask her father to tell her if such a show had taken place, but these were just the sorts of questions that would make him worry. How frustrating it was not to be able to simply pick up the phone and have some answers.
Their room seemed smaller and more confining now. Crossing to the suitcase, she rummaged for her swimsuit. As she did, she came across the pad of stationery she’d brought with her, along with matching envelopes.
If she couldn’t call her father, why not at least write him a letter? In a letter she could craft precisely what she wished to say. Crossing back to the desk and pulling out a fresh page, she began:
I’m writing to you from the countryside not too far from Zurich where Duncan and I have been resting up after Berlin. Berlin was thrilling and exhausting. I’m sure you’d be inspired by it.
Everywhere the past is being smashed and rebuilt. Imagine a whole city intent on erasing history, reinventing itself according to new possibilities. It’s like an art studio twenty miles wide.
From The End of Getting Lost by Robin Kirman. Used with the permission of the publisher, Simon and Schuster. Copyright © 2020 by Robin Kirman.