This story segment contains strong language.
44th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Nocht Federation, Republic of Rhinea — City of Junzien, Hotel Reich
“I barely ever get to see you anymore. I don’t even have a copy of your current schedule!”
Agatha was shouting into the phone. It was hard not to. She felt as though shouting would make her more real to him — that it would remind him that she was a flesh and blood human being, his wife, that she was not just another voice on the phone that Cecilia patched through to him. She was not just a signal crawling through wires from the Presidential Suite of the luxurious Reich hotel. She was the real woman laying on the double bed, her light pink flesh and fluffy white bath robes a sharp contrast on the red sheets, like a lone polkadot in a vast expanse. There was space enough for two of him in that bed, but she was alone.
He provided little comfort. “Honey, honey, it’s been hard, okay? This is hard too. I want to be with you. I was planning to be with you, but things are just turning out complicated, I’m having to be involved a lot. This has taken me by complete surprise, and I’m trying to–”
“Only because you’re a control freak who can’t delegate anything! You need to leave these matters to the people you hired and appointed! You’re not as perfect as you think you are Achim. For all you know, you could be making things worse for Cecilia and the others.”
“I’m trying to make time, okay? You know how I am, but I am making time for you.”
“On my end you don’t look to be making an effort at all to be brutally honest!”
She felt frustrated with his voice. He was doing that “pitching voice” of his — he would talk fast, he would add an affect like a salesman trying to sound more excited about a new children’s toy so that the bored parents on the line might perk up and buy it. She was not one of his customers. She was his goddamned wife. She reminded him by becoming ever more irate — the stronger her voice, the more threatening her own affect, the less he could keep pretending to be happy and perky. He would look ridiculous; he was ridiculous. Neglecting her, Agatha Lubitsch, who just today had a spot on the paper as the prettiest face in cinema!
“There’s some mountains even I can’t move!” He replied, trying to placate her with a sweet voice. “To win in Ayvarta we’re all gonna have to make some sacrifices.”
“Why did you even start this war? I can’t understand what we gain from this!”
She knew his reasons but she didn’t want to admit them. She felt that they could not be.
His tone of voice changed very slightly. He was becoming aggravated.
“Hey, how’s this sound; I want to win so your hotel doesn’t get fucking bombed by communists. So we don’t live in fear. You remember that day in the limo when the bombs went off? That was good times wasn’t it? I don’t know about you but I don’t want to experience that again!”
“Stop being so fucking sarcastic!” She shouted back at him. “I didn’t want to remember that.”
There was a heavy sigh on the line. “I’m sorry, doll, okay, I’m sorry. I’m really stressed out. I think I might have been given some real bad advice throughout all this and I promise you a few heads will roll, and then we can be together more, ok? Dietrich is already heading out there.”
She had to admit, that made her feel a little calmer. He was always serious when he sent Dietrich somewhere — it meant he was going to personally keep away from it and entrust everything to him. She felt both relieved and foolish. He had promised so many things. He was always promising. And yet she kept listening. Sometimes his promises came through, and it was almost like magic. These past four years with him certainly had more highs than lows. She’d remember all the beautiful things, and it seemed like his mistakes were mostly clustered in the recent past and could still be changed. They weren’t set into stone.
“Alright.” She replied. “Alright Achim. I believe you. I’ve got to hang up. I miss you.”
“You’ll see me on TV and the radio tomorrow, if you tune in. Wish me luck.”
“Goodbye, Achim.” She hung up. He didn’t even say ‘i miss you too.”
It didn’t even cross his mind.
She threw away the telephone receiver and lay back on the bed, stretching her arms.
Agatha Lehner pulled away her bright gold hair band and her wavy locks of blond hair fell over her face. Her whole body was still weary, her feet hurt from the pumps she wore, her eyes were cloudy without the spectacles she never wore while filming. When she closed her eyes she could see dancing lights from the cameras and the studio lighting, and hear the whining of the audio equipment, a tinnitus. She started turning Achim over in her head again, trying to probe him like a distant phantom, trying to find the driving force behind him. She still didn’t get it.
From the time she met him to the time she married him to the present; what was the end of his ambitions? What was it that kept him from just being by her side? What made a lawyer from Junzien college who had picked her up and bedded her on the first date after a bad pickup line and a completely sober evening become the president of the country? What made him lock himself in that office and dream of planes bombing another country into pieces?
And then, what drew her to him? Why did she want him so much back then; why did she still want him so badly? Where they just married on a whim? Did he just see her as a trophy?
She rolled over on her side and reached for a small, open bottle of wine, 2007 vintage, that was set on the dresser next to her bed. She thought of his betrayals and her own betrayals. She thought about need and want; about drive. Was there a point where everything went awry?
She raised the bottle of her red lips and drank right out of it. After a long pull of her lips on the end of the bottle, so much that it burned her throat, she fell on her back again.
Staring helplessly at the roof she turned over the question, turned it over and over and over. Agatha was bright, but the real answers to her questions were too raw to contemplate.