The Cafe Exile

by Grace Andreacchi

I had a rendezvous with my friend, Dr. Rosenberg for three o’clock at the Cafe Exile. It was a few days before Christmas and the streets of Berlin were covered with sheets of glassy ice that made walking nearly impossible. A thick white fog hung over the canal where a pair of white swans were cruising among the dirty ice floes. I stood for a while in the cold, waiting for the good doctor to turn up. No one on the quay, everyone off for the holidays, only the swans here in this afternoon gloom. When the Doctor showed up he was wearing his dangerous smile. We exchanged cold kisses, went into the deserted cafe, ordered coffee in the brown and white room with old posters of vanished Resistance fighters and long forgotten music-makers on the walls. The waiter looked at us as if he recognised the Doctor but not me, and I saw him scribble something down on his order pad which might have been for the Stasi. The Doctor leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I didn’t think you’d come...” I didn’t like the way he was smiling at me. “Why did you think that?” I said. “I thought you might be dead. You said you would be. Or would you have come anyway?” The wind blew open the door with a bang, bringing in a gust of newly fallen snow. A gypsy boy with his arms full of roses came in, holding out a rose, begging the Doctor to buy a rose. The Doctor took the rose and gave it to me with a gesture of mock — or was it real? devotion. “For a lady,” he said. “I’m glad you’re still around, anyway.” “How’s the violin coming?” I said. “It’s right here,” he said. Confidently, he patted the case on the chair beside him. “Are you giving a concert after all, then?” I said. The doctor held a finger to his lips, looked around for the waiter, then nodded. “Sunday night at ten,” he whispered. “Will you come, if you don’t decide to kill yourself first?” I said I would come. I said I definitely would not kill myself first. When we had finished the coffee I reached in my bag and took out a small package wrapped in silver paper. “It’s your Christmas present,” I said to the Doctor. He held it carefully, weighing it, trying to guess. “You can open it now if you like,” I said, so he did. Inside was a small brass object in the shape of a crab with tiny claws that waved, feeble but sharp, in the dim light from the cafe lanterns. “You got that one right,” the Doctor said. He was not smiling now, but gazing appreciatively at the small, lively creature as it clung to his thumb. When we had finished our coffee we went out into the cold and walked for a while along the canal. There were more swans now, wheeling in great broken rings, beating their wings against the swirling snow, there were more than I could count, there may have been nine-and-fifty, I couldn’t be sure. Twilight was settling over the canal, the air was lavender blue, smoky white and cold as death. “Where do they all come from?” I said. The Doctor suddenly put his arms around me, holding me from behind, squeezing hard so that all the breath went out of me. I could feel his long, sharp bones pressing into me. “They’ve wandered off course,” he said. “They’re completely lost. They’ll never find their way back home.”


Grace Andreacchi is an American-born novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Elysian Sonnets. Her work appears in Horizon Review, Eclectica, Word Riot and many other places. Grace is also managing editor at Andromache Books and writes the literary blog AMAZING GRACE. She lives in London.