One of the many images snapped by Marianne Papineau on her trips behind the iron curtain in the mid-1980s accompanying Novak's club for away cup ties.
South Derry, Vermont
“I love Julius.”
Marianne clutched an embroidered pillow and sank into one of the plush Papineau love seats, surrounded by shelves of Papineau non-fiction not having to do with Papineaus. The fireplace held the whitened remains of log and ash from the previous evening. Ben Hampton sat opposite her in mid-morning sipping a cup of Coffee People Black Tiger.
“I’ve been saying that to everyone I know more than half my life. For some of that time I’ve been overheard to say ‘I hate him.’ Eventually I came to learn and accept that the person I hated was myself for not helping him become the man I needed. I know now that a woman can do that.”
Ben nodded, acknowledging feminine power to alter the course of human events.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she quickly pointed out. “He was a shit. And I hated him. Still do sometimes.”
“Weren’t you just kids, yourselves, when you had Isabel?” he asked.
“In many ways, oh yes, absolutely. But you couldn’t tell us that then. ‘How can you call me a kid?’ I’d say to my parents – who were apart themselves once again. ‘What do you mean, we don’t know anything?’”
Ben smiled at the memory of himself in his early twenties. Not a pretty sight.
“That would be me, all indignant, to our older, wiser friends and other of my relatives. The two of us, in our minds, had every right to believe we were grownups.”
“You had careers.”
“Fabulously modern European careers. Though in my mind Julius was always uneasy about what he’d committed to do.”
“The spectacular, mostly brute nature of it.”
“Our hero had doubts?”
“Yes, well, whatever doubts he had certainly never swayed him from his course.”
Sitting and listening, the novelist imagined a splash of narrative.
That path he chose to follow changed him in important ways. In spite of the mundane, existentialist aspects of getting through each day, Julius and Marianne did consider themselves as elite. And the mere fact of being part of the intelligentsia meant that whatever they did -- and whatever they thought -- was deemed correct due to their sophistication and intellect and the idea that people like them were more considerate of their decisions and actions than others.
“If you’d tried to explain to me in 1988, or thereabouts,” Marianne returned to the charade of their sophistication, “about how my attitude was egotism bordering on narcissism – in other words, fucking bullshit, then you wouldn’t have gotten very far. I thought I knew everything and how I was to live and later what was the best thing for my baby. If Julius Novak wasn’t inclined to be absolutely everything I believed he should be for me, then he wasn’t going to have me. I became certain I’d gone and fallen in love with someone who wasn’t going to be there for me, like my mother seemed to have done with the likewise irresistible Roger Papineau.”
Ben had no idea. She continued.
“I didn’t appreciate showing up in third place behind his academics and his sport. In the end, being a distant third left me half-crazed with … rage and … misery.”
“You honestly felt a link between you and Julius and your mum and dad’s experience?”
“My mother and I were convenient for my dad, or so I believed. I was not going to be something similar for Mr. Renaissance Man. I told him so. He never took me seriously until it was too late. By then, I had moved on in my heart. I was not going to play his games. I was honest with him. He couldn’t even be honest with himself.”
Once more, Ben’s fiction twin shaped Marianne’s words into prose of a different color.
The repressed Midwesterner, from the family that never spoke about their problems, drained his lover of all her energy. Marianne Papineau’s happiness was gone, and her love for Novak went away. Or he kicked it away like one would welly a football away from goal. Marianne refused to tolerate one more cold shower, which her consciousness of their love had become.
“I was slightly more … demonstrative in my twenties than I am now in my … not thirties. The misogynist term, not to mention inaccurate, would be ‘hysterical.’ I was a little crazy, but it had nothing to do with lack of sex or stimulation. That was never one of our problems.”
Ben avoided her eyes, while making a mental note to look up the word ‘hysterical.’ He thought he knew it, but now he guessed not.
“By the way, Ben, unless we lay down some parameters, the others are going to keep sticking their heads in here every fifteen minutes to ask us if we’re done. I’m going to tell mom to shuttle everyone who’s interested over to Stratton. You and I’ll meet them when we meet them. That’s what cell phones are for, right?”
Ben’s thoughts shifted to the ski mountain and his failure to prepare for the likelihood of having to demonstrate machismo or even baseline coordination. What was the protocol in a place such as this filled with god knows what kind of people? He’d seen those North Face adverts with grandparents swinging from rock ledges. Does everyone go hell for leather? Are the skis just maple planks torn from the trees? Marianne detected his mood.
“Don’t worry. We have skis and gear in every size and style. And I’m a trained eye, right? I know the human form. Julius says we should hook you up with a grunge look in honor of your new novel.”
Ben laughed lightly.
“How does it feel to have a new BFF to help look out for you?” Marianne, mother of a texter, smiled. “Seriously, one of my nephews kits himself out exclusively from Syd & Dusty’s.”
“Right,” Ben said. Sidon what? “Now were I to attempt the snowboard, would this not be the ideal venue?”
“Snowboarding?” She shook her head and pursed her lips. “If you’ve never done it, then I wouldn’t. Unless you want to hobble painfully through the remainder of your book tour.”
“Must you use ‘book’ and ‘remainder’ in the same sentence?”
“Gotcha,” she laughed. “At least Julius wasn’t around.”
“Oh, Marianne. Really. That’s not cricket.”
“Sorry. Actually, he’s shown an admirable sense of humor about his little publishing setbacks. Have you ever heard him sing, “Tears of a Clown?”
Ben shook his head, blushing a bit. ‘These people,’ he thought.
“You seem to know a fair bit about the book business.”
“Those are the circles we move in, I’m afraid. And pretty exciting for you, these past few years. I think it’s brilliant. We’ve all followed your journey. It’s refreshing to see nice things happen to one of the good guys, as I think my parents made clear with their toast at dinner last night.”
“That was Julius throwing his wit around, then, when he said, ‘You must be chuffed.’”
“I would file that envious offering under the ‘more than one pint and straight into the red wine’ column. Well, where were we?”
“Your youthful exuberance.”
“Right. Oh … my god. I have regrets about some of the ways I acted. How can I not? I imagine I was a handful.”
“I threw a few things around. It got to the point where I thought, if I stay with this man, then I’ll never have any work to sell because I’m hurling so much material against the wall and sometimes at the poor boy’s head.”
“Are we not just talking wet globs of clay?”
“Marble and bronze.”
Ben winced. “Some very expensive tantrums.”
“Not to mention painful … if the stone or metal connects with your target. Luckily, although I’m spatial as far as drawing and shaping and perspective, I have terrible aim. And he had amazing reflexes. And I knew that, so I would really fling it.
“He would jump out of the way and say, all breathless, ‘What am I going to tell my manager if you crack my head open?’
Ben shrank at the thought of this woman’s response and that she was a potentially dangerous man slaughteress.
“I would spit, ‘Tell him you’re a fucking selfish loser asshole!’ If you can picture me saying something that appalling, then please keep it to yourself. Don’t tell me.”
“I know when to keep my mouth shut.”
“Thanks, because I really don’t think I can change anymore. I was hoping just to cruise, in my current composition, right into old age.”
The sounds of a large number of people leaving the house echoed through the Frank Lloyd Wright-style chambers of Villa Papineau.
“I guess you could say I was unhealthy,” Marianne offered as an excuse. “Unhealthy is the organic, therapeutic description someone came up with back then. My friends and I have been ‘what you would call’ dining out on it ever since. So that’s what we say to excuse or explain away any bad personal behavior – whether it’s alcohol or drugs or fucking around or …”
“Any variety of unsafe practices.”
“Or shoplifting,” Marianne said, sighing.
“Vandalism. Chronic dishonesty. Leaving a dog in a hot car. Parking a Bentley in a handicapped spot.” Ben could have continued all day, particularly when it came to the discretions of Chelsea players.
“You’ve got it. Whatever kind of destructive, deceitful habits one could imagine. ‘Don’t forget, honey. You were unhealthy then,’ we still say to each other.”
“Were you a screamer – during arguments, I mean?” Ben was getting the knack of this journalistic interviewer thing.
“No, but I sobbed a great deal. You know what a heave sob is?”
“Mm, well, I was a heave sobber. Not an attractive thing to witness if how I looked in the mirror afterward was any indication.”
Poor Novak, Ben thought. What did she expect? He was just a kid, after all, in spite of how together he must have seemed to everyone else and how responsible. Studies. Pressures. Scrutiny. The football. Marianne was intent on eliminating any sympathy the author might possess for his subject.
“He put his schoolwork and his researching and teaching -- then me -- to the side more and more as his team climbed the ladder. Being fit became everything to him, because his confidence in his actual ability was nonexistent. I think he was mildly psychotic about how he was viewed by others, perfect strangers. I told him that too, how his sense of self was the most important thing to him, but that his was still in a childlike state.”
“That must have been attractive,” Ben quipped, perhaps going over the line. “That must have made him want to light candles and rub you with perfumed oils.”
But Marianne had talked herself beyond dialogue.
“Over and over he said, ‘I’ve no talent and the least amount of experience. I’m American. They’re looking for any excuse to leave me out. If I can’t run my ass off for ninety-plus minutes every match, then I’m less than useless.’
“He always said he’d be on the next train to Palookaville … Palooka-berg. I would have moved to Palookaville or Palookaberg or Palookagrad with him in a minute, even if we had to live in a shed. I had absolutely no interest in football other than watching his sexy legs. He grew obsessive about his performance. I began to resent everything having to do with the obnoxious game because his involvement meant he had less time for us.
“As he’d kiss me goodbye, he’d say, ‘Gotta go, Mar. Quarterfinal. Second leg. Nil-nil.’ I didn’t even know what that meant.”
Her beautiful brown eyes misted. All she knew was they weren’t going to lie in bed and make love and read the paper and wander down the street for a coffee and browse a few shops. They weren’t going to do all the normal things she imagined young lovers did.
“I used to walk over to the studio I shared and watch all the couples holding hands, embracing, making out, walking their puppy, feeding each other little tortes. I would usually be in tears by the time I arrived at work.”
Ben shifted in his seat. Is this what it meant to do historical research for a book project? If so, he didn’t like it. Well, he liked being in a beautiful home in a beautiful part of the world with a beautiful woman.
“At least I had a kind of inspiration. My lover was cheating on me with ten other guys and 20,000 spectators. I slowly began to leave his thoughts altogether. How can you be with someone, stay with someone who never thinks about you? How can you have a lover who never considers his love for you?”
She paused. That had been a real question.
“Erm … yeah. I know … erm … y-you can’t, can you … really.”
Marianne screwed her eyes at him. She was in that middle space like when you’re at therapy and you forget why you’re there. But she forged ahead.
“He would leave my birthday till the last minute every time. He remembered Valentine’s Day probably once or twice. He was better with Christmas, I must say.”
This past Christmas Ben had bought Kate a trip to Thailand. He thought he’d really nailed it. He put all sorts of Thai things into a bloody big box. Silk scarf; some rice; sand; resort photos; a little Buddha. From her, he had received seven or eight exquisitely thoughtful and personal gifts that took forever to unwrap. Hers had been over in a moment. Afterward, and now again, he wondered if he mightn’t have done better. All he’d really done was click on a few Travelocity options and toss some rubbish in a sack.
“After a couple of years, my mother finally sat me down and told me, “It’s up to you to remind him. He’s a man. Do you want presents and flowers and poetry and a romantic dinner on your birthday, or would you rather be sad and cry and bitch at him afterward and be mad and disappointed in him all the time and have a miserable life where you never get anything you want? Would you rather be a victim or get what you want? How can we get what we want if we don’t ask for what we want?
“Of course, every few months, during our constant phone calls, I would sniffle, ‘Mommy, tell me what you said about reminding that idiot how to behave.’
“I started and stopped and started the process of improving him, but his forgetting my birthday was just one … tangible symbol of the ways Julius withheld his love. That’s what I believed he was doing. I still believe it. I forgave him long ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was a withholding sack of shit. He denies it in his donnish way. He still can’t face what he is.
“Now that I think about it, there were long periods where our mutual resentment and hurt feelings and anger would impact our sex life. And you know how that goes once the snowball starts rolling downhill. I was always the one who had to point it out.”
She acted out a bygone conversation for Ben.
“Do you know how many men would kill for a woman who was so willing, whenever you wanted? Have I ever once said ‘No’ in five years? Think about it. Three times a day, you should stop what you’re doing and picture yourself making love with me. If you think about it, then you’ll do it. Don’t you imagine your team winning the stupid game? Don’t you picture stealing the little ball away from … Beckenbauer? Of course you do.”
“Beckenbauer retired several years ago,” he said. “But, yes, I have imagined it.”
“So he made you laugh instead of looking at it or taking you seriously?”
“Yes, like always, and I would immediately want him again and be unable to imagine existing without him. But he could never speak honestly about intimacy. He would say what he thought I wanted to hear just to shut me up and … make it to halftime, I suppose. Jesus Christ, I’m just serving you asenine football metaphors.”
“On a gilt-edged plate. Thank you. If only all my subjects were as accommodating.”
“Why don’t we have a mid-morning tea? Julius showed us all how to do it properly.”
“Surely you already knew.” Ben was beginning to understand.
“Yes, of course, we already knew.”
So Marianne couldn’t imagine being without him. But in her opinion Novak could imagine being without her. For starters, he chose a lifestyle that effectively shut his seemingly entrancing companion out. There was football training; football matches; classes as a grad student and teaching. And don’t forget going to the library and studying and writing papers and meeting with professors and students. Where could she fit?
“The exact ratio, within his split personality, differed from year-to-year. But generally he was dividing, I would say, 90-100 hours a week between soccer and school. Let’s say sleep makes up between 40-50 hours a week. Several times we made love, and I’m not even sure if he woke up for it. That leaves between, what … 20-40 hours a week for everything else in your life that you have to take care of.”
“You’re able to recall the calculations and the itinerary.”
“I jotted them down for him from time to time. Let’s see: grocery shopping, commuting, laundry, social obligations, leisure, Marianne Papineau. Remember her? Nice ass? Always in the mood?”
Ben laughed at the joke but stopped after a moment when he saw that Marianne girded up her jaw.
“For a few years, I couldn’t stand the sight of newspaper headlines with photos of stupid soccer. Sport stores with replica kits in the windows caused me to walk very fast. Bars or restaurants, showing a game on the television, I would avoid. I mean, it’s nothing like it is now. So they tell me. Still, it was Germany after all.”
“Adi Dassler, eh?”
“I wanted to kill him.”
Ben assumed she meant the football boot manufacturing icon but couldn’t be sure.
“As his involvement in that world grew in intensity, I have to say my grief and despair and anger became more acute. I loved him with all my heart. At the same time, I felt deceived or that I had deceived myself. I thought I’d found a handsome, funny, smart teacher or writer who loved me more completely and made me laugh more than anyone I could ever hope for. Don’t forget, I was young too … and obviously too romantic for my own good.”
“Let me get this straight,” Ben attempted some housekeeping. “He was like, ‘Oh, by the way, darling, I play at some soccer in my free time. Amateur -- like hundreds of thousands of men all through Europe every Monday night.’ Is that accurate? Did you think he played five-a-side on a tennis court with a bunch of duffers?”
“Are you purposely missing the point?”
“I’m trying to understand.”
“All right. How about this? His allegiance to his teammates and to Herr Ribbeck and to competing against all those great players swelled until it all began choking me and choking us and eventually killing what we’d meant to each other. To say it simply, as Wüppertal went up, our relationship went down.”
Ben let that sink in.
“They shocked everyone by winning their first and only league championship one day in the spring. I had shocked him the previous summer by kicking him out. We had been together five years and six months. Isabel came the following February. It’s still very crushing.”
“Do you want to stop? I wasn’t intending this … erm … not sure what I was intending, actually.”
“Not at all. Those five years were the most intensely thrilling of my life. At the same time the most miserable of my life.” Marianne rose to stretch her legs. “We were a grotesque of passion.”
A grotesque of passion. I’ll have to think about that, Ben mused. It might be nonsense.
“Any happy moments?” Ben asked, causing Marianne to laugh – finally. “Ever share a box of donuts?”
“In fact, we did. We fed each other Berliners during Carnival.”
“That could be taken a variety of ways.”
“A Berliner is a jelly donut, Ben.”
“Ich bin ein jelly donut?”
“Not exactly. Let’s see -- happy moments. Well, we used to go to the Subway Club with friends to listen to music.”
“That’s the kind of thing we want,” Ben sat up straight.
“We saw Chet Baker there many times. Julius toyed with writing a book about him and even interviewed him. You should have seen how happy … this was very early in our relationship … I would have to say he was uncharacteristically animated. He burst into my studio holding the new Elvis Costello album. ‘Chet Baker plays on one of the songs,’ he said. ‘Look. Elvis and Chet. Together at last. Let’s put it on.’ He grabbed me and kissed me and got clay dust all over his face and his blazer. I had bought him a tweed jacket with the elbow patches so he could look like a professor.
“The song was beautiful but kind of a downer, similar to the way Chet Baker was actually. Sometimes, listening to him play in the club and looking at his face and his hands and the way he sat and knowing his story, I would have Julius take me outside because the experience of the man was just too sad and overwhelming. Julius could listen to him all night.
“I made a bust of him from Maltese limestone and sold it to the owner of the Club Salt Peanuts, another of the places we heard Chet.”
Marianne began to beam.
“Back then when we were in love, he would call me ‘Kiki.’ A few people in Cologne actually knew me by that name – Kiki Papineau. Do you like it?”
“I do, very much. It fits you. I’m definitely picking up a sort of Kiki side to you.”
“Kiki was the icon of Montparnasse in the 20s – my old neighborhood. The Queen of Montparnasse. She was the artist’s model and lover of the American photographer, Man Ray.”
“Kiki was an independent woman who posed for Cocteau and Fujita as well. She was a nightclub singer, cabaret owner, an actress, a painter and wrote a banned autobiography. His calling me that was one of the many things that caused me to fall in love with him.”
“That’s lovely, actually.”
“After the ‘drawing class’ episode, we went through a phase of flirting. His was measured. Mine was full bore. But very soon after that, he first introduced me to someone as Kiki. They had no idea it was a joke. I couldn’t believe a boy from the Midwest would be familiar with her. He told me he heard about her through the writings of Hemingway. I supposed that was true.”
“What else attracted you to him?”
“He loved his mother and his grandmother. He spoke of them constantly. He had nothing but warm feelings for them. That, to me, made him a good man.”
“We flew to the states several times together, once all the way to St. Louis. Very exhausting. But I got to meet his mom, and I got to know his grandmother. We compared notes on how best to raise him.”
“That could be of value. Did they have any ideas?”
“Not really, but that didn’t stop them from talking a blue streak. The last time I saw them was around … well, Isabel was pre-school age. The encounter was, I felt, awkward, because, of course, Julius and I were never married. So no one from his family quite knew how to describe me.”
“I know what you mean. That’s quite important to some people.”
“Yes, well, I once heard his mother say, ‘Julius’ ex-wife,’ which, at first, pissed me off. But after I thought about it and let it sink in, I experienced a rare moment of grace and put it off to her genuine attempt to get to grips with something from outside her frame of reference and definitely lying beyond her comfort zone.
“Honestly, I had only lived in hippie Vermont, progressive Northampton, Paris and Cologne. I didn’t know for this corn belt, Ozzie and Harriet fixation -- not to mention all that frightening, Midwestern-style Catholic bosh.”
Good word, Ben thought. He wrote it down.
“They’re only OK with you when they’re drunk. Then they laugh and slap you on the back and tell you what made them so uncomfortable about you before they’d had a few and how, ‘Hell, you’re not so bad after all.’”
Ben laughed. “Did you learn how to bowl?”
“I already knew how to bowl. Thank you.”
“Cheers.” Ben raised his cup of tea. “What kind of impression did Isabel make on the Novak family?”
“Rather an out-of-world experience really. First of all, she looked just like Julius as well as the perfect double of pictures they showed me of Julius’ mum when she was a girl during the Depression. So here’s this little grown-up angel, whom they feel like they should know, in her little hat, and she speaks a mixture of English and French.”
“Heavily leaning toward the fourteenth arrondissement, I would imagine.”
“Yes, and all the way there, we told her, ‘Isabel, please, speak normal English like you do with daddy.’
“Julius’ French was rubbish, as it is today. Isabel had grown up hearing mostly French but also a lot of English from me and my mom and sometimes my dad and from my grandparents who both came to Paris pretty often for their age. Of course, Roger drilled her in proper French every possible moment and spoke predominantly French with her when they were alone like at the playground or going out for ice cream or something.”
“So what happened?”
“She was a very mature girl and sophisticated. She knew precisely what she was doing and what she sounded like and what was required in different circumstances. But, Isabel being Isabel, probably she knew she could have some fun by winding them up and making her daddy squirm by throwing around all these uniquely Montparnasse phrases that she hears in some of the grittier sections of the neighborhood.”
This is a fantastic little story, Ben thought. I wonder if it’s true?
“She held Grandma Anastasia’s broom …”
“Anastasia Kaplinka,” Marianne grinned. “How’s that for a name?”
“And she pounds the tip of the broom handle on the floor and shouts in a man’s voice, “Déplacer cette merde hors de mon magasin avant j'appelle la police!”
Ben was working it out but must have looked confused.
“Do you understand? Roughly translated, ‘Move this shit away from my shop before I call the cops.’
“Almost poetic,” Ben laughed. “The little minx.”
“Well, lots of nervous laughter from the Novak/Kaplinkas. None of them had any idea what to make of her. Who did Julius want to strangle? Guess.”
“Oh, well,” Ben said. “We reminisce.”
Marianne Papineau was selling her art and, through contacts, picking up outrageous commissions for public and private works. Teams of sculptors and other beaux artists created statuary and other beautifying landscape objects for parks and playgrounds and platzes all over Germany – even into East Germany as unification became a certainty. Marianne preferred likening these projects to what Rodin was doing when he created the Burghers of Calais. It helped her get through those moments when everywhere she looked she saw communist bloc high-rises or insipid steel and glass crap from the Cold War. And she wore the same shoes every day.
Novak had become respected by his peers in the most popular sport in the country. His was not the star name, but fans of German soccer were aware he existed and that he was important to a phenomenal upstart of a team, so everyone told Marianne. The couple had a bit of money so they could live normally, and they handled their money responsibly. Novak drove the same little car the whole time he lived in Germany. He even brought it to London when he moved. But he kept it up in Thaxted. He got sick of averaging ten miles per hour snaking around the capital.
“He was so proud in his car,” Marianne let slip a smile. “He put in a fantastic sound system for all his cassettes.”
“You just can’t hide these American characteristics no matter how continental you fancy yourself,” Ben said.
“It was an Opel sedan he had bought from someone we both knew from a café where I worked. A mutual friend arranged it.”
The couple were marginally better off financially than many of their peers in the old Cologne neighborhood, but with their friends they were like anyone else. They were Marianne and Julius. Footballers were not the ridiculous rock stars they’ve become today. They were, to Marianne Papineau and to most Germans, men with jobs that were respectable and that provided an important outlet for people in the society. Maybe that sounds too philosophical, too socialist, but that’s how it was before 1990. From Marianne’s perspective and from that of people in her circle, professional athletes such as footballers were comparable to people who were actors in the theatre or musicians in an orchestra. We like them. We admire them if they’re good and honest and hard working, or if they have a special quality that appeals to us. But they’re not gods. The attention paid to them was not skewed out of proportion as it is now.
“Today it makes me laugh or else it makes me sick,” Marianne confided. “David Beckham? Are you kidding me? Why does anyone care? You’re going to have to explain that one to me sometime.”
“When did you feel that things began slipping away?”
“The first date.”
“I could point to dozens of possibilities,” she said. “But probably around the time when we could only travel alone in the summers and at the holidays.
“Julius’ team, starting around 1985, I think, began playing all over Europe in one of those cups. So, often I would arrange to meet him in not only the wonderful, romantic cities but also the strange and mysterious and dark and volatile and out-of-the way hornet’s nests like Tatabanya and Craiova and Tirana and …”
“But, you know, ‘Behind the Iron Curtain’ had a true meaning, almost like a different planet. Any drawings I made from some of those places were never happy images to regard. Not much came from any of those trips sculpturally. I really just wanted more time with Julius, to talk, to watch him step out of the shower, to hear him sing along with the radio, to laugh at the things he said, to rub his legs and to have him ravage me.”
The novelist and the sculptor both looked weary.
“The relationship ended. That’s all. I wanted so badly not to speak to him or see him, but the baby was ours together. So I had to immediately get over my selfishness and pain. Julius seemed brokenhearted. I moved back to Paris with Isabel. Julius’ team were winning every week. We were selfish. I was selfish. So was he. I don’t know what he’s told you.”
Ben glanced away then reconnected his gaze on Marianne before she spoke.
“What has he told you?”