(Copyright belongs to the author, saninian. Neither this story nor any extract of it can be reproduced in anyway without the author's consent.)
Jessica sat at the bistro window and sipped her coffee. Outside, the street was almost deserted and the road gutters were running like little rivers as the drizzling rain gusted against the wooden screen guarding the Herbertstrasse.
It was so different from the last time. 'God!', she thought, "that was only two weeks ago.'
Her brow furrowed as she recalled the event from that holiday week-end that had brought her back here. She pushed a strand of her blonde hair from her face as once more she tried to make some kind of sense of why she was doing this.
'I don't behave like this, ' she thought.
Of course it had been Dorothy's idea to go off on a jaunt to the continent to celebrate the end of their twenties. 'We have to mark it', Dorothy had protested, 'it's a milestone. It'll be the BIG 4-O next!'
The choice of Hamburg had been Dorothy's as well - and the walk down the Reiperbann that Sunday afternoon: 'It'd be better at night, though, ' she had pleaded - but even Marjorie was not persuaded that that was a good idea!
'Three women on their own? We'd be likely to finish up in white slavery', she had prophesied.
'Great! Great!' Dorothy had yelped, 'sex six times a day!' And even she, - some-what staid, some-what solemn Jessica - had laughed at that.
The plans for the three day trip had gone surprisingly well: Reginald, her own husband - aged forty- going-on-sixty - had approved, after some thought, sucking on his pipe and shifting his large body deeper into the chair, ' Fine with me, old girl. I can manage. Do you good!'
'Reggie gives 'some thought' to everything', she mused. 'Nothing is spontaneous with him, not even sex once a week!'
The others of course, had had to use much more persuasion, as well as doing all the planning for their children during their absence. Jessica, the non-mother, had no such concerns. And so, on a lovely Thursday, they had set off for the ferry, in high spirits.
Back now in the Reiperbann for the second time in a fortnight, Jessica recalled, with wry amusement, Reggie's parting words on the morning of that first departure: 'Have a nice time, dear'. Then, leaning forward in a confidential way - although the nearest human beings were Marjorie and Dorothy in the car twenty-five yards away - he had whispered, 'you'll be a steadying influence, old girl. Marjorie's too easily led - and that Dorothy, well I ask you... ' But he didn't. He never did!
They had enjoyed themselves immensely, the three of them. Jessica had felt swept along with the others' sense of fun and adventure. Not that they had been very adventurous at the start, as they did all the tourist stuff, and on Saturday afternoon they had had a shopping binge. But they had found lots to laugh at, and all three were imbued with a wonderful sense of freedom: Freedom from home with its daily chores, freedom from children, freedom from husbands. They had revelled in the light-headed sense of it. The sheer relief and release of it. They were free!
And so it had been that during their Saturday night 'midnight' feast, after a few brandies, Dorothy had brought up a visit to the notorious Reiperbann on the following day.
Marjorie, as usual, had agreed at once, and Jessica, against her instincts, had acquiesced - as always.
'I've never had much spark', she thought now, two weeks later, as she drained her coffee cup and prepared to risk her umbrella against the German rain. 'At least not till now. But I did this one myself. This is my adventure. For me.' And she slowly made for the door. It was ten to four...
... The walk down the Reiperbann that earlier Sunday was one thing, but the idea of entering the Herbertstrasse, with its reputation, was something else. They had argued in the street. Even Marjorie was dubious, " What if someone sees us?" Jessica and Dorothy had stared at her for a moment then resumed their argument.
'What for?' Jessica had asked, 'I can't see any pleasure in walking down a street, shop-window-gazing at poor exploited women putting themselves up for sale. Besides, the street will be full dirty sex-starved men with their tongues hanging out!'
'Oh, Jessica!' Dorothy had snapped, 'You're are such a stick-in-the-mud. Where would we be without your steadying influence?'
It was those words - Reggie's words on Dorothy's lips - that sealed it of course. Jessica had an image of herself as others - including her two best friends - must see her : a twenty-nine year-old barren woman, going on fifty in her attitudes. Sensible old Jessica. Trusty old dear that she is.
... 'Not true though', she said to herself, as she sheltered now in the bistro doorway, 'No! I look a lot better than they do, and I dress more fashionably, however girly-like they pretend to be! Thank God for the gym! And Mum's money ! And I've done this! I'm here again - myself!'...
And so at about three-thirty on that sunny Sunday afternoon they had rounded the barrier, Dorothy in the lead of course, with Marjorie holding her hand and reaching behind in turn to clasp Jessica.
'In case I took fright and ran away, I suppose', Jessica now smiled to herself, as for the second time in fifteen days she entered the Herbertstrasse.
The secret pedestrian street, bathed by the autumn sun, had been busy that Sunday, but not crowded, and as the friends had stood just inside the barrier, a couple entered and the eyes of all three women women had widened in surprise.
The man was a dapper middle-aged distinguished-looking man with greying hair, visible as he raised his black Homburg to them and beamed through his gold-rimmed spectacles. His black cashmere overcoat and his general air of fashionable male elegance, spoke of easy-resting wealth. His partner was equally elegantly dressed. She was slightly taller than her partner and wore a full-length exquisitely tailored coat with matching hat. Her black kid gloves and stylish high-heeled shoes rounded off an outfit that must have cost a lot of deutschmarks. She had smiled warmly at them from an aristocratic face as she passed arm-in arm with her husband.
'Gut en Hahn', she had murmured to them as they strolled past and went over to one of the windows. They had stammered some kind of response but it went unheard by the couple.
'See!", Dorothy had said fiercely, to no -one in particular, "I told you it would be O.K. Look there's another couple down there. And there's two women together. Come on! Let's have a look round. It'll be a laugh!'
And she had taken Marjorie's arm and strolled off in the direction of the elegant man and his very elegant wife. And Jessica had trailed along in their wake. As usual.
The trio had gone less than half-way up the street when they came to a place where two little side-streets opened up, one on each side of the main road. The elegant couple paused at one of these and stood chatting for a moment before turning off into one of the side streets.
'Let's leave them to it and do some exploring on our own', Dorothy had said. And she had set off arm-in-arm with Marjorie.
Jessica had stood for a minute then called out, ' I'm going down the other way. I'll meet you back here.' Marjorie turned and waved, nearly falling over, as Dorothy, holding her hand, marched on.
Left to herself, Jane took stock. The elegant couple was standing a few yards down the side street, just where it turned off into what appeared to be a courtyard. Just as in the main Herbertstrasse, the houses there had large windows with women sitting or lying on couches. Jessica walked slowly into the side street. As she passed quite close to the elegant couple, the gentleman nodded and once more raised his hat,.His partner, it seemed to Jessica, gazed at her somewhat appraisingly then smiled and Jessica had been held for a long moment by a beautiful pair of grey eyes before she stammered a greeting then lowering her gaze and walking on.
She had turned into what was a quaint little courtyard where the houses were of an older style. The women here were more elegantly dressed than their colleagues on the main street; some wore evening dresses, while others were simply smartly dressed as if going for a walk, while others, clad in a blouse and fitting pencil skirt, could have been at work in any large office. All of them smiled at her as she passed, and she, feeling less self-conscious than she had with the others, smiled back and, a bit hesitantly, returned a wave when one was given.
Near the end of the street, one of the windows was set back from the uniform alignment of the others, and she was almost directly in front of it before she saw the figure inside. What she did see stopped her in her tracks.
.... There is more of this story ...