American Girlfriend (fiction) | Rebecca Harris

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The tram was slowing outside Hauptbahnhof, Munich’s central train station. Betsy grabbed her shopping bags, hitched up her long skirt so it didn’t cling and pulled herself closer to the doors, taking care not to step on Gertie’s outstretched paw. They had ridden from Pasing (the suburb, just west of the center of Munich, where Karl’s family had lived since he was a baby) in the hinge of the big thing, watching and feeling the creaking accordion gut pull around the curves. The tram had to curl like a drainpipe at turning from Landsbergerstrasse onto that other street (Agnes-Bernaurstrasse?) and back again and these were the turns that made Gertie shiver.

Karl had lobbied to bring Gertie, insisting that she was so well trained and easy to carry and, besides, they could take her everywhere in this dog-mad city. “Gertie wants to check out Munich, too,” he’d said. Karl was selling Munich to Betsy with the tenacity of an Amway devotee.

The day before, Marienplatz had been a circus. Determined to see and hear the Rathaus-Glockenspiel and to meander the narrow ribbon streets and alleys that had been preserved for centuries, they arrived at the outset of some municipal awards ceremony. The square was crawling with friends and family who had trundled in to watch their beloved Burgermeister or Deutsche Post carrier get pinned. The ancient emergency-vehicle-only cobblestone was crowded with police cars and news vans and a brass oom-pa-pa band was tuning up their gleaming instruments. A Benji-esque terrier weighing all of fourteen pounds, Gertie was overwhelmed and sat down whenever they stopped moving. She looked so small and frail that afternoon and didn’t touch her kibble that night. Gertie missed Baltimore.

Betsy hopped off the tram, taking care to leave Gertie space to bound across the gap between the tram and the sidewalk. They moved quickly with the crowd and she steered the little dog toward Café Beethoven. The casino lounges, sex shops and tchotchke vendors lining the street across from the Hauptbahnhoff station distracted her and she hurried across the street ahead of the Munich-beige taxis. She had dreamt of going back to that little patio at Café Beethoven and having more of that house-made berry preserves on the warm, fresh bread.

They weren’t exactly late, but Karl was always early and she would probably find him flirting with the waitresses by now. She welcomed the break from the pain of trying to use her few German phrases and the frustration of Karl’s slow, begrudging translations.

She heard the laughter at the corner, nearly a block away. Then she saw the LIVE CATCH!sticker on the bike helmets. Before last night she would have welcomed another breakfast with Heinrich and his sister. Gertie started growling as they stepped onto the patio.

Heinrich and Ulla were smoking Gitanes and they all had coffee. Ulla was leaning across the table and grabbing at Karl’s wrist. There had been some joke about his Swiss watch not keeping time. “Ja, ja, ich weiss es!” he exclaimed – which, if she understood correctly, meant, “Yeah, yeah, I know this!”

“Looks like I’m missing out on all the fun,” Betsy said, smiling and watching Ulla retract her hand.

“Ah, mein schatz, perfect, perfect timing! Ulla and Heinrich were just telling me about the gig they have tonight in Schwabing, their release party for the new LP—we have to go.” Karl had stood and taken the shopping bags from her, setting them aside.

Heinrich stared at her tits and smiled, pinching his already narrow eyes down to tiny slits. Even Karl had lost track of Heinrich’s meandering career. Truth was, the only thing Heinrich ever took seriously was music. Hip hop in particular.

“This cool fucking guy,” began Heinrich, “–you know, this guy has only three nights in Bavaria and he will spend one of them at our Koole Sheisse show. I love this fucking guy!”

“Here, Betsy, sit,” Ulla patted the rickety chair to her left.

“Thanks, I just need to run Gertie over to the park.”

“Pretty puppy, aren’t you a pretty puppy,” cooed Heinrich at Gertie, drawing a low growl.

“You want me to come with you?” Karl asked in that way he had of asking for permission not to do something.

“No, sweetie, we’ll just be a minute. Think you could order me a latte?”

“They don’t have any soy juice here, I promise you this!” Ulla delighted in another of her jokes about Betsy’s penchant for health food and soy products in particular.

“Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?” Karl jumped in, giving Ulla a look. “I’ll see what they have – do you want an omelette?”

Betsy was really hungry. “No, just coffee. Thanks.”

Ulla jumped up, “Hey, I want to come along, okay?”

“Ah, there it is now, the girls don’t need us anymore,” Heinrich got in another one of his favorite jokes, licking his lips and smiling that pinched smile.

“Hey, you girls should decide about dinner, okay?” Karl was leaning back in his chair, arms propped behind his head as he asked his non-question.

Betsy and Gertie walked across the street into a verdant esplanade separating Goethestrasse toward Beethovenplatz to find a cluster of green plants lovely green plants that suited her. The little dog would not go just anywhere and she did seem to prefer a rather posh poop path. Ulla watched and lit yet another of her Gitanes.

“You know, Heinrich really likes you, I think.”


“Nein, Nein– there is no need to say anything, I just thought I should give you this understanding, you know? I mean, okay, I see the way you are not comfortable and I just think it would be better if you know everything is cool.

“Everything is cool? Really? Is that right?”

“From where I can see, ja, alles gut.” Ulla was stretching her arms above her head, pulling her tight wool sweater up, revealing her cat’s eye belly-button ring. Betsy was glad it was winter, glad she didn’t have to see what would surely have been dark, frizzy patches of armpit hair winking in a cliché of German womanhood.

“Ulla, from my point of view, things are not cool in the least. How do you say, alles verreuckt?”

Ulla laughed. “Americans are so dramatic!”

“Fuck you!”

“Ach, ja! Now we are hearing your feelings!”

Gertie started to bark past Ulla at the pair of Schnauzers approaching.

“Look, more doggies – and these are like small people, with their little shirts.”

“Guten tag,” everyone seemed to say at once.

Gertie barked until the neatly groomed, nattily dressed dogs were out of sight.

“Betsy, I am wondering if you could try to think about Karl for now,” she had started rubbing the back of her hand against Betsy’s shoulder. Betsy had a vivid image of literally crushing Ulla’s fingers.

“Get your hand off me, Ulla.”

“I think maybe you should let Karl come on his own the next time he’s in Munich.” Ulla crossed her arms, swaying a bit from side to side.

Gertie had started sniffing at the overflowing trash container – a rarity in Munich, such a tidy place. Schnell und sauber!”Fast and clean! Bavarians seemed to pride themselves on this. But it was Three Kings Day and the sausage vendors had outdone themselves. Gertie was nosing a crusty piece of what looked like Weissbraten and Betsy tugged at the leash, calling her away.

The evening began to unfold in Betsy’s mind’s eye — they would end up at Heinrich’s post-show thing at some 2,000 year-old bar or beer garden for hand-to-the-chest testimonials and tearful toasts to how far they’ve come with the Koole Scheisse LP and she would spend yet another night listening to them shout their phlegmy, Teutonic humor back and forth at each other. Perhaps this was her penance for her dragging Karl to that Baptist wedding in Mesquite, Texas, last summer – not only was it hot and full of fire and brimstone to boot, there was, of course, not a drop of booze served from noon until the final hugs goodbye at dusk.

Betsy watched Ulla smoke her cigarette, fascinated at how aggressive she was, even with something as basic as inhalation. She also crunched the filter between her teeth – she punished the cigarette as she consumed it. Betsy pulled Gertie’s leash and click-clicked for her to heel.

“Yes, you know, I think it is the best plan,” Ulla cemented.

Betsy scooped Gertie into her arms, cradling her against her chest and winding up the leash. She wished she had an empty bottle to crack over Ulla’s head.

“Ulla I—“

Ulla gestured to her ears and shook her head as an ambulance wailed past on it’s way to the University Hospital a few blocks away. Betsy took a deep breath and stared past the traffic at the taxi stand across the street, knowing she wasn’t so much making a big decision as making up her mind to at last act.

Rebecca H. Harris received her BA in Psychology from Austin College in Sherman, Texas and her MA in Writing from The John’s Hopkins University. She is a former Instructional Designer and marketing specialist, is the Poetry Editor for Baltimore-based literary zine, Seltzer, and works on a consulting basis as a writer and editor.  

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