Let the Drums Keep on Playing
Because somehow she always ended up back with him, older and wiser and with a broken heart.
Sally Bowles, the Emcee, pg13, stage version.
the lover, the singer, the poet
asleep in the shadows.
- A Note Left On The Door - Mary Oliver
He pulled this joke about twice a week, and every time it got a great laugh from the crowd, but for some reason she never found it all that funny.
Once, some time ago, when they'd both been drunk off their tits on gin, he'd jokingly said, if he ever asked, would she have him?
For a split second she knew, with a clarity that scared her, that she would say yes, always. If he asked, she'd be his and all that romantic bullshit nonsense. But then reality slammed back into her head and she looked at him with a frown. "We're not really the marrying kind, are we, darling?" she said with a tingling laughter.
He wiggled his eyebrows, as if to differ, and took a long drag from his cigarette. But he was only joking, of course.
"And besides, if you ever married me, you'd have to tell me your name, and then all your allure would be gone, and I'd lose interest in you." She shrugged, but knew deep down that might just be the downright cruel truth.
...But maybe not. He was a special case. He was the only person she could tolerate over longer periods of time. She never had any urge to run away from him in search of new adventures. Maybe because he was a whole new adventure everyday.
His eyes were unreadable. And they silently agreed to keep on drinking and not speak of this again.
"Only yesterday I said to her, 'I want you for my wife' and she said, 'Your wife? What would she want with me?'"
Yes, what indeed?
He was lounging on the bed when she walked in.
"Max kicked me out," she said by a way of greeting.
He barely looked up, but raised an eyebrow as if to say, "So bloody what?"
Sally ignored him and let her bags fall to the already cluttered floor. That made him move. "You're not staying here." There wasn't much emotion in his voice, he must be high, but it was still very clear to Sally that there was no room for negotiations today.
She sighed theatrically. "I know that, Em. Just let me get my bearings together and I'll be out of your way."
"Good," he said and sank back against the wall.
After all these years he was still a mystery to her. They'd known each other for a couple of years now, and still she couldn't throw the feeling that he knew her so much better than she knew him. Maybe it was because she never could stop talking? And he was a very good listener. He was, after all, the Master of Ceremonies of the Kit Kat Klub, that saw everyone, and knew everything. He knew everyone but no one really knew him.
When she was new in Berlin and he'd picked her up to work at the club, she'd asked this strange man what she should call him? He'd winked at her then, and said with a wide smirk, "Just call me Em," like it was a joke only he knew. So she did. He was the most fascinating person she knew, and possibly the only real friend she had. She would never grow tired of him. If anything she was more afraid that he would grow tired of her.
Rumour said that he owned most of the club, but he never let on either way if it was true or not. And why should he? Inside that club everyone belonged to him anyway. They knew it and he knew it, and it was as it should be. They worshipped him and he let them.
She looked around, not sure what to do now. She looked at him, the beautiful man who lied immobile on the bed, except for the occasional sip of a bottle. Since he hadn't asked her to leave, she sat down beside him and asked, "What are you drinking?"
Turning his head a bit, he looked at her with emotionless eyes. "Gin. What else?" He handed her the bottle. It must be a very bad day. He had these dark days from time to time where he got drunk, high and didn't speak much. She'd asked him once, what brought these days on? "The world is a horrible place," was the answer. "And sometimes I can't forget it."
A companionable silence filled the room, and neither spoke for a while. As the room got darker, more life crept into him. He was a creature of the night and was only half alive in the sunlight hours. When the sun had gone down, he straightened and turned to her, ready to talk. His eyes was so piercing, when he looked at her like that it was like no one else mattered.
"What are you going to do now?" he finally asked.
They both knew that when Max kicked her out of his bed, he was also kicking her out of the club. Sally also knew perfectly well that Em wasn't going to fight any battles to keep her at the club. His philosophy was that there was a dime a dozen starving cabaret-singers, and she was very replaceable.
Sally sighed and then shrugged. "I'm not sure yet. Maybe I'll go to that American I met last night... Do you remember him?"
He looked at her like she was stupid. "Of course."
Laughing, she pulled out a piece of paper. "Well, he gave me his address. And since it's basically his fault that Max kicked me out..." She let the sentence hang. Em wiggled his eyebrows, showing that he understood her meaning.
He rose from the bed, and she could see his clothes hanging from his skinny frame. His trousers low on his hips, with the braces hanging limp down his legs. Stretching, his wiry muscles still as mesmerizing as always. "So," he said, looking at her searchingly. "You are running after yet another man expecting him to hold the key to your happiness?"
Rolling her eyes, Sally drained the gin bottle and stood, straighting out the wrinkles in her dress. "Don't get all philosophical on me now, dear. I hate it when you analyze me. Nothing good can possibly come of it." She patted his cheek, and he followed her with his eyes as she gathered her things to leave.
Turning in the doorway, she blew him a kiss and said, "Goodbye, darling."
Neither said see you soon. The way they lived nothing was certain.
When his face was sweaty, and his carefully applied make-up was running, and he came off the stage grinning, happy with another night well done, that was when she liked him the best. He was on his best then. Running high on the energy from the club, he was witty and he could be rather crass as well, but it was never aimed at her.
They never had many of these moments, mostly because at this hour Sally had usually found someone to give her a roof over her head for the night. But on the occasional night where she was around, this was her favorite time to hang out with him.
On these nights he was such a marvellous mix of himself, that she got to enjoy all the sides of him, both the flamboyant master of ceremonies and her witty, but quiet friend.
Then they could sit and talk until the night turned into morning and they'd drunk all the gin and smoked all the cigarettes, and the only thing left to do was to crawl into bed. His bed was narrow, but for two skinny humans like them with no sense of personal space there really wasn't a problem.
It had been months, months!, since she had been here last. In this club, in the apartments upstairs, outside his door. She prayed that he was alone, something that hadn't always been the case the many times she'd barged in here before. Slowly opening the door, it seemed like luck was on her side, because the room was silent. Sally walked in, expecting to see him lounging somewhere. But the room was empty, there was no one there, and she was overwhelmed with the irrational urge to cry. Since she simply couldn't go home right now, she poured herself a drink and made herself comfortable on his bed.
When she woke, possibly several hours later, she wasn't sure, the room was dark, there was low music playing and Em was sitting beside her smoking.
"Sooo, Sally Bowles," he said, stressing the L's. "What can I do you for?" He was clearly in a much better mood than he'd been last time she'd seen him, months ago. She sat up beside him, and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Have you been kicked out again?" he asked while resting his head on top of hers. "This one lasted remarkably long." He took a drag of the cigarette.
She shook her head. "No, Cliff would never kick me out. But," she sniffled, "I might have to leave him."
He chuckled, but then sighed. "And whyyy, is that Sally Bowles?" he asked and drew out her name the way he was so fond of.
She reached over him, and grabbed the bottle of gin on the night-stand. She took a long drag as if it would give her courage and then she said, "I'm pregnant."
He raised both his eyebrows and decidedly took the alcohol out of her hands, and put it back on the table. "Why are you here, and not at home?" He asked looking at her with those all consuming eyes.
Deciding to tell the truth, she met his eyes, and said, "You are... safe, and I don't know what Cliff will say. I don't even know who the father is!"
"Well, it's certainly not me," he said with a seductive wink.
This got a laugh out of her. "No, not this time," she said and snuggled closer to his bony frame. "Let me just stay here for a few hours." It was more of a command than a question.
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Ja, sure. But after a while you have to go home and talk to your boyfriend or roommate or whatever the fuck he is."
He was safe and she probably relied too much on him. But as long as she had him, as long as he loved her, and she really did think that he loved her at times, the rest of her life would sort itself out.
They fucked each other when they were bored, restless or drunk. Only for fun and just because there wasn't anything else to do. It was nice and fun and Sally never let her mind think too much of it, because she knew that could be dangerous. He was a mystery and she knew well not to hang any expectations on him. She'd seen how he treated the girls and boys who outstayed their welcome. He could be so cruel. And she never wanted to be on the other side of that stare, the cold, empty stare he gave those who didn't take the hint and leave when he wanted them to.
But somehow she felt like she was different to him. First of all, she was his friend and not some romantic entanglement, and she didn't expect anything from him, except that he listened to her when she needed an ear, and shared his gin and bed when she needed a distraction.
She was different because he always gave her his full attention the minute she asked for it. Once, she'd come barging into his room in tears, and he came to her immediately at the sound of her distress. It had taken her a few minutes to realise that he was barely wearing any clothes and she looked up and sniffled, "Is there someone in your bed?"
He nodded. "Yes, do you want me to ask him to leave?"
The word yes was on the tip of her tongue, but then she hesitated. What a selfish creature she was! But she didn't even need to say it, because he saw her face and nodded.
The next thing she knew, he turned on his heel and walked into his bedroom and simply said, "You need to leave now."
A scrambling sound reached her ears and soon a blond man came out carrying his clothes in his arms. He walked past her, and gave her a look of pure hate. If looks could kill, she would've lied dead on the floor.
Whenever she came around no one else seemed to matter more. And it was the best feeling in the world.
He told her once that it was all her fault that they were friends. Because while he had friends everywhere, he didn't have any friends situated so close to his heart. She'd fought her way in with tooth and nail and now there was a corner there only devoted to her. His words. He could be quite poetic if the mood struck him.
He said that if she hadn't simply decided that they should be the best of friends, they wouldn't. He never saw the draw in making an effort. People usually flocked to him, no matter what. He said it with a whirl of his hand, and it was so very him that she didn't doubt he was telling the truth.
She'd giggled at that, called him conceited. He'd lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, not looking very sorry.
He was so many persons rolled into one. He was master of ceremonies; he was her quiet friend; a calculating club owner; philosopher; careless drug addict; and someone determent to make every day fun and to make life a party. Life was too short to be sad, he said. Which got really ironic when he fell into one of his moods.
Sometimes, in her more thoughtful moments Sally wondered if she really knew him at all. Or if he was constantly playing a role, if she only knew the character he presented her with, if the real him was somewhere in there judging her. Then she'd get drunk and forget all about her musings.
Did it really matter, anyway? He was her friend and she loved him.
In the Kit Kat Klub he was the king, queen, court and fool all rolled up into one. An ever constant presence that made the club what it was. He was everyone, and no one, the ghost that was nowhere and everywhere at the same time. He knew everything, knew everyone and his job was to cheer them up when life was disappointing. His job was to make them forget about the terrible world, and he did it so well.
She longed to be back there, with him and among people who understood her, people like her, who lived one day at a time. Not like Cliff who wanted an organized little life with a wife and a child. Not really her cup of tea, was it?
So when he sent Bobby and Victor, she jumped at the chance. The chance to go home, and away from the cage that Cliff had slowly been building around her. Cliff didn't mean it like that, of course. But after all, he wasn't like her, like ithem./i Even though he loved it here, and loved her people, no matter what he did he would never be like them. And that was okay, but the life he wanted would be absolutely torture for her. A little family in a little cottage would be like a prison keeping her trapped in a life that didn't suit her. She would run away at the first exciting thing coming her way.
So really, the choice was easy.
If she was going to get really self-searching, the reason why she always kept running after one man after the other, it was because... because she was looking for someone who could make her feel like he could. She couldn't have him, because of the way he was and the way she was, and the way they were together. It was impossible, so she needed to find that kind of happiness somewhere else. It became an obsession, the need to find the person who held her happiness. Sally knew he was out there somewhere.
This would always be the story of the wonderful man who saved her from the cold streets of Berlin and gave her a job, a life and a love to live for. And while some had gotten really close, and while she loved them all, nothing could ever measure up to that. To him. And maybe it was time to come to terms with that.
Because somehow she always ended up back with him, older and wiser and with a broken heart.
The club was smokey and smell was seductive. It smelled like home. Cliff's heart was broken, and so was hers. But she knew herself well enough that it would soon pass. Her memory was never very long. What was the point of remembering the bad things? Standing in the wings of the stage, waiting to go on, she was far too elated to think of Cliff on his way back to America. She was back and she was going to sing, and the rest of the world could go to hell, because nothing existed outside the Kit Kat Klub.
Someone came up behind her, and she knew immediately who it was. He kissed her neck and whispered in her ear, "Have you been saved?"
She smiled and arched her back into him. "Yes, you have saved me. Thank you."
there was a cabaret
and there was a master of ceremonies
in a city called Berlin
in a country called Germany
and it was the end of the world
- Finale - Cabaret