- Berlin Coffee Shop – A six-part digital novel / The Author
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- Episode 4 · Better Half
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Berlin Coffee Shop – A six-part digital novel
Follow Sandra and friends as they navigate life, love, and their late-twenties in Germany’s hip Berlin.
The best office in the world is in the Coffee Shop – a cozy cafe in Berlin. From here, Sandra plies her trade as a thing-finder. Her customers are people who have lost or want to find something which will make their life happier. But on her quest for other people’s desires, Sandra suddenly finds herself in search of her own happiness – and of herself. And a dead goose further aggravates her emotional turmoil …
Gerlis Zillgens lives and works as a freelance writer in Cologne, Germany. Throughout the years she has written many successful novels and screenplays, as well as developed television series and toured as a cabaret artist. She also enjoys organizing readings, enjoying the view from her office, salsa dancing, and Berlin
Sandra is a professional “seeker of things.” She serves customers who are looking for something they themselves can’t find. Sandra’s “office” is a table in the Coffee Shop – a cozy cafe in central Berlin, run by her friend Captain.
Captain owns a cafe, the Coffee Shop, which is the hub of Sandra and her friends’ lives. Captain is always looking for new male waiters who by no coincidence just happen to be stunningly attractive. For the sake of simplifying things, he calls them all “Sweetie,” since he replaces them as quickly as he does the daily special at the Coffee Shop.
Nils studies veterinary medicine, but he is actually occupied full-time as Sandra’s seeker assistant. On Sandra’s missions, the two end up in situations that bring them closer together. But they are really just best friends … Really …
Claudi is Sandra’s best girlfriend. In addition to Sandra, Claudi has about 7,112 friends – on Facebook – who get to hear about everything that happens in her life, as well as those of her friends Sandra, Captain, and Nils.
Episode 4: Better Half
Translated by Sharmila Cohen
“I seek, therefore I am …”
(loosely adapted from a French philosopher)
“I am a jelly doughnut …”
(loosely adapted from an American president)
The church is bathed in the flickering light of a hundred large white candles. Crimson cloths cover the altar. The priest is wearing floor-length vestments with golden brocade ornamentation. A number of young alter boys with pale skin and dark eyes swing incense burners and so much scented smoke comes out that I have trouble breathing.
Things are not going well for me anyway. Nils is getting married. The man that I should be with is marrying a young woman who paid me for bringing the two of them together. He’s marrying Simone who – for the first time in her life – has a man who loves her for who she is and not because of her appearance. Simone, who is more beautiful than a clone of Lady Di and Princess Kate. And whose wedding dress effortlessly outclasses that of either of the monarchs: a high-waisted white designer dress with a flared skirt, one-of-a-kind neckline and an impressive train that’s at least 50 feet long.
The wedding guests hold their breath as the bride clutches my father’s arm and they walk down the aisle. My mother, who is sitting in the front pew beside me, begins to cry. “She’s so beautiful,” she says, sobbing loudly. “How wonderful, how happy this wedding makes me, oh, so happy, as my own daughter never could make me.”
I throw my mother an irritated glance, which she immediately and aggressively returns. “You had your chance and you didn’t take it, now you see what could’ve had.”
My father delivers the bride to her future husband at the altar. Around Nils’s head, there is a bright shining light and he is extraordinarily beautiful.
My father quietly walks back and joins us in the pew.
“Oh, dad,” my mother says, smiling through her tears, “this is the greatest day of my life.”
“And I hope the daughter will give us lots of grandkids.” Even my father is wiping small tears away from the corner of his eye.
I have the feeling that I’ve somehow missed something. “Simone isn’t your daughter,” I explain to my father, who gives me a pitiful look.
“Didn’t you know that we adopted Simone?”
“Because we wanted to have a daughter we could really love for once,” my mother adds. She directs her attention to the altar, where the priest is now preaching about the lasting bonds of marriage and how no man shall separate what god has joined together. “’Till death do you part is more than a promise, it’s a message, a law. God loves and protects the sacrament of marriage in particular.”
“How does he know god’s preferences? Do they meet every Sunday and chat about the things he does and doesn’t like and that he thinks are cool in particular?”
“Shush!” My mother gives me a hard shove in the side.
“Shush!” My father looks at me reproachfully.
It’s getting serious up front. “Do you, Simone Kohl, take this man to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part? Yes, I do”
Nils opens his mouth.
But the shrill cry that echoes through the church doesn’t come from him. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I shout. “You can’t marry her, you’re in love with me! I’m the one you’re meant to be with!”
I push past my mother, who is outraged and gasping for air, and my father, with his horrified expression, so I can run to the altar, tearing the bride’s veil from her head. Simone gives me a firm slap across the face, and I hit her right back. In no time at all, this leads to a violent wrestling match with us scratching, biting, and hitting each other.
Nils pulls us apart at some point as my mother jumps over the church pew, running toward us. The priest also throws himself into the turmoil, and the adolescent altar boys similarly go all in. In all the wild chaos, shoes fly, clothes are torn, people fall, candles tip over, altar cloths burn, the fire extinguishers are pulled from the walls, and white foam is sprayed. My mother suddenly wrestles me to the ground, closes her hands around my throat and starts choking me: “The seeker is to blame, down with the seeker!”
I pull at my mother’s hands: “Mom! You’re killing me! Mom, please, stop it!”
My father leans forward and reassures us. “It’s all just virtual!” he explains. “Martin and I, now we’re also friends on Facebook.”
Panicked and gasping for air, I wake up. All of the muscles in my body are tense. It takes fifteen minutes before every one of my cells is convinced that I survived it, that I’m out of danger, and that the nightmare is over.
I stagger to the bathroom, drink at least a gallon of tap water, and carefully examine my neck in the mirror. No traces of strangling, no bruises – although, I can still distinctly feel my mother’s fingers. I look horrible in other ways. This is the third night in a row that I’ve been tormented with nightmares. And they’re getting worse. In the first one, Nils and Simone have a wonderful trip on The Love Boat, where the captain has offered me a job as a waitress for the first dinner shift. In the second, they both move into my apartment and hire me as a cleaning lady because I have nowhere else to turn. I don’t want to think about what can happen next. And I don’t dare to sleep again tonight anyway.
I take a cold shower, prepare myself a strong cup of coffee, flip open my laptop, and wait for it to get light out. Have I already mentioned today that I hate my life?
Captain serves me my third cup of coffee, even though the coffee shop hasn’t even opened yet.