She begins speaking to me. Excellent English with a slight German accent. A few sentences in, I ask if I could record her.
“It was cloudy like this when I first met him,” she says. “Walls of rain will come down later, by the way.”
She asks if I’d like to relocate to some kind of shelter. I tell her I don’t mind the rain, I prefer it actually.
She continues: “I don’t know where the beginning of this story is. But would you like to hear it?”
“Only if you want to tell it.” I hear thunder in the distance. A breeze picks up and swirls dead leaves in a tiny cyclone a few meters away.
“He is Austrian, I am German. I suppose it would be right to begin that way. We met in my small town, four hours west of Munich by bus. My father hired him to paint our house.
She smiles and says: “He did lovely work.”
“I was only a teenager. I would scrape away at the paint with my mother’s garden tools so that it would look terrible and my father would ask him to come back.
“We began dating a few months later. I was 18 and he was 28. He asked if I’d like to join him on a Sunday morning walk. I accepted immediately. I was so thrilled; I remember my heart racing. I remember the warmth bubbling over, releasing itself with a large grin. My face turned beet red! He always liked to tease me about it.
“He was living in Germany, working for a friend. He was there for two months when he said it was time to move back to Austria. His aunt – his childhood caretaker – grew ill and he had to return to Vienna for her.
“The day he was scheduled to leave, I did all that I could to stop the separation.
“Don’t leave me!” I begged; “I love you, I love you more than anything!”
She says this so desperately. She says this to me as if I’m the one she’s begging to stay. My eyes begin to water.
“I wanted to leave with him; I could care for his aunt, and he could work. Was it naive of me to think that I could be happy with that arrangement?”
I hesitate: “I don’t know.”
She laughs and says: “I’m sorry, dear. I shouldn’t ask you such things.
“But he refused, saying that he didn’t want that kind of life for me. He disappeared onto the bus wearing a black hat and an old, worn gray coat.
“Time heals all things, my friend Agnes told me. But look at me! I’m stuck in a place and a time like a fish in ice! I sit here now because he loved walks around this garden. I sit and wait for an old black hat.”
She smiles and asks about my age. I tell her.
“You’re kind for indulging an old woman in such a way.”
“May I take your picture?”
“Only from far away. And I won’t look at you.”
I take it and sit back down.
Then, just as she predicted, the rain begins to fall. Slowly at first, but the water drops grow and grow in number and size. The sky morphs from a smooth light gray canvas to a mountainous black one. The crowd of tourists in the distance blossoms into a herd of colorful ponchos and umbrellas. They flee towards the garden’s palace as one large group. The storm becomes stronger; I lose sight of the tourists in the thick fog and rain. The heavy wall of water forces the small pebbles on the ground to jump.
And then the woman yells at me over the thunder, “goodbye!” in German; she disappears, too. She doesn’t go towards the palace, though. She vanishes deeper into the garden.