As I developed my characters from the War against Boris series, stories began to emerge. Here’s one of them.
THE CHOICE: MINNA
One of those summer days doused in grey…I ride my bike to the beach to collect shells. As I comb the surf-soaked sands, a man’s voice snaps me out of the zone.
‘Found anyone interesting?’
‘Nup, no bodies,’ I murmur.
‘That’s a shame, a nice looking lady like you.’’
I fix my sight on shards of shell and ignore him. Hate those pickup lines.
‘Oh, what’s your problem? I’m not going to bite.’
I glance at him—had to see what creep I’m dealing with. Pale, pock-marked face, thirties and just a little taller than me at 165cm. In a grubby white t-shirt and brown trousers. “Never trust a man who wears brown trousers,” my school friend Liesel always said.
‘Come on, dear, just a little conversation. Tell me, what do you want more than anything in the world.’
I shrug. ‘To leave me alone.’
‘Tell you what, you tell me and I’ll leave you alone. Deal?’
I push my bike faster trying to escape this man, but he follows me.
‘I promise, I’ll leave you alone—just tell me.’
Hopping on my bike I announce, ‘I don’t talk to strangers.’
‘I’m not going to hurt you. I bet, I bet you’re one of those girls who wants to get married, have a family. That’s what you want more than anything.’
‘If you say so, now leave me alone,’ I say and then speed from the creepy little man with his creepy questions.
‘Your desire will be arranged,’ he says as I splash my wheels through the water. He then shouts, ‘But, I might add, there will be a price.’
‘Sure, sour grapes,’ I mumble. Then pumping the pedals, I sail along the damp-packed sand where the waves meet the shore.
Then, near the ramp and having to cross sand too soft for bike wheels, I glance behind before alighting.
Friedrich was sure it was his fault. He was always getting smacks or the belt from his father—usually for not polishing his boots perfectly. Or for spilling milk on the floor. But when he saw the blue line in the air, the urge to escape, was too great. This was not the first time he’d ventured beyond the thin blue line under the outhouse. He just had to go through the light—for Wilma…
Then bang. Everything went black…
Friedrich put out his hands and shuffled forward. He groped for a wall, a surface, anything to orient himself.
He tripped over some bulk. He fell onto it. It groaned.
Friedrich scrambled to his feet. His mouth went dry. It was like his heart, lungs and guts were in his mouth. Oh, no! I’m on an alien world without light and with groaning monsters.
The thing at his feet moaned. It sounded like a man.
Friedrich gulped. He knelt down. He held out his shaking hand. He touched something soft and greasy. Was that hair under his fingertips?
‘Who are you?’ he asked in his Silesian language. ‘What’s your name?’
The man-thing with hair moaned again and then mumbled what sounded like forbidden words in another language. He’d heard Joseph use such words when angry.
‘My name’s Friedrich,’ the boy said. ‘And you?’
‘Oh, the pain! The pain!’ the man-thing said in that strange language. It did sound like the tongue Joseph and Amie used. They spoke using similar sounds when they were together.
Friedrich presumed the man spoke English. But he knew few English words, so he still hoped the man understood his native language. ‘How are you?’
‘Oh, the pain! My stomach! My head!’
Friedrich traced the head, the shoulders, arms and distended stomach. ‘You’re a man, aren’t you?’ He patted the spongy surface in the middle.
The man groaned and squirmed.
‘You’re a sick man,’ Friedrich said using the word in his language “krank”.
‘Too right, I’m cranky!’ the man straightened up. He grabbed Friedrich’s wrist. ‘And who the heck are you?’
Friedrich shook his hand free from the man. How was he to make sense of this man in the dark? How was he to make this man understand him? Joseph and Amie could speak his native tongue, Silesian, but this man couldn’t, apparently. Friedrich rubbed his hand.
‘Who are you?’ the man asked. ‘Where the frick are we?’
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…Now, being a project of sorts, over the summer holidays, I have pieced together the story from beginning to end, and then revised it. A main thread has evolved. Something to do with murder and Letitia’s unfortunate involvement in it.
This episode, (14.4) around the time-honoured tradition of the Aussie barbeque Gunter learns of a change of plan and having to travel with people he doesn’t particularly like…]
BBQ time with Mrs. C
Out in the backyard Mrs. C tended the sizzling Bratwurst sausages. She wore a smug expression, as well as her pink floral apron. To Gunter’s mind, except for extra lines on her face, and her leaner build, she reminded him of one of the women folk in the Schwabian village he had come from. He mused whether she was some sort of Melbourne descendant of such a woman.
‘Ah, there you are! I was wondering where you got to.’ Mrs. C wiped her hands on her apron. ‘I hope you haven’t been gallivanting around town with some girl. You know I don’t like it when you do that.’
‘No, Mrs. C.’
Gunter loped up to Mrs. C and gave her a hug and then kissed her on the cheek. ‘You are the only one for me, Mrs. C.’
‘Flattery will get you nowhere.’
‘Mmm, the wursts look delicious; just like the ones we have in Bavaria.’ Gunter reached for one dark golden sausage. ‘I just can’t resist.’
Mrs. C slapped his hand. ‘Not until you wash your hands and set the table.’
Wilhelm strode out from the back verandah with the tossed green salad. As Mrs. C stared at him, her eyes narrowed, Gunter gestured and said, ‘Oh, Mrs. C this is my um, friend, from Tasmania, Wilhelm Thumm.’
Mrs. C placed her hands on her hips. ‘Oh, so this is who you’ve been gallivanting around town with. Hmmm?’
‘Yes, Mrs. C.’ Gunter grinned. ‘I’ve been showing him this fair city before he heads off to Canberra, was it?’
‘Adelaide, actually,’ Wilhelm cleared his throat. ‘Change of plans, mate. I thought we might take the Great Ocean Road, I mean coast and all that. Sailing in my sailboat, the fair ship, Minna, I mean. We could stay in Port Fairy along the way.’
Wilhelm nodded. ‘Oh, didn’t I make that clear? You’re coming with us. Boss’s orders. Anyway, you’ll enjoy the company; your dear mutti, my son Johnny and my wife…’
‘What? But I…’
‘Not negotiable, Gunter.’
‘Not going to happen, M-mate. Your wife, Frieda and I do not get along.’ Gunter shoved his hands in his trouser pockets and marched into the kitchen. There between the bright yellow painted cupboards, he paced. ‘No, I have to stay here. Letitia, she’s…’
‘Aber, mein Gans, Boris is there.’ His mother stood by the lace-topped table. ‘We need you in Adelaide where Boris is.’
‘No!’ Gunter raced out of the kitchen, pushing his mutti aside in his escape to the outdoors. Reaching the barbeque, he picked off a sausage and bit into it.
His mother followed, rubbing her shoulder. ‘Sorry about Gunter, Ethel. He just has these urges to eat Bratwurst sausages. It’s like he hasn’t had a decent fatty meal in centuries.’
‘No worries, Ella, dear. So glad you brought the sausages. Such a lovely idea.’
Gunter glanced from Mrs. C to his mutti.
Mrs. C dipped her head and then raised it. ‘Oh, Gunter, didn’t you know; your mother and I have been friends for, what, centuries. Haven’t we dear?’
Wilhelm glanced at his watch and then looked with raised eyebrows at Mrs. C.
‘What’s happening? Are we waiting?’ Mrs. C asked.
Wilhelm checked his Rolex watch. ‘Just a few more minutes. Maybe she’ll come to her senses and join us.’
Gunter snorted. ‘I do not think so. She will not come while I am here.’
‘Oh, Gans, do not be so hard on yourself. Why would Frieda miss meeting her mother after so many years?’ his mama said.
‘Frieda…that woman, hates me. Is not that obvious?’
‘But why?’ Mrs. C asked. ‘She hardly knows you.’
‘She knows that I worked for Boris; she blames me for all that has happened to her.’
‘How can she, son?’ his mutti said. ‘You weren’t there when she was kidnapped.’
Gunter wiped his face, with eyes glazed and red he looked at his mother. ‘But I was. Boris…he made me…and she remembers. I am sure.’ He breathed out, and trembling, looked away. ‘It is not just what happened to Letitia.’
‘Oh, Gans, do not let that cockroach spoil our sausages.’ His mother stood up. ‘Come, let us eat, drink and enjoy what Mrs. C has prepared. We will put a plate aside for Frieda when she returns to join us.’
Once Mutti had served the rest of the family in a more civilized fashion, and their host had given thanks to God for the meal, the four sat at the timber outdoor setting and ate their Bratwurst, bread and salad with a glass of Claret from the Barossa Valley.
‘We will be going to Adelaide,’ his mother said. ‘And we will be getting those precious boys back to their mother and at the right time. No matter what it takes, we will do this.’
‘I thought the IGSF were going to do that,’ Gunter said.
‘Pff! The IGSF, they are hopeless,’ his mother said.
‘Wouldn’t know how to organize a chicken meat raffle,’ Mrs. C added.
Mutti placed her hand on Gunter’s. ‘We will give the whole plan an element of surprise.’
‘Like you will put a bomb under the kidnappers, Mutti?’
‘Better than that.’ Mrs. C leaned back in her deck chair. ‘We have some resources. Let’s just say, from a recent war or two.’
Gunter sucked air between his teeth. ‘I’m not sure about this.’
‘It’ll be fine, you’ll see,’ Wilhelm said. ‘I dare say, we’ll fill in a few gaps. We’ll make sure the job gets done. Right, ladies?’
Both women exchanged glances, smiled, and nodded.
‘After all,’ Wilhelm chuckled, ‘that’s why we needed your brother Johann’s hard-earned cash.’
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…Now, being a project of sorts, over the summer holidays, I have pieced together the story from beginning to end, and then revised it. A main thread has evolved. Something to do with murder and Letitia’s unfortunate involvement in it. I have worked on developing some of the other characters. In this episode (14.2), we obtain some character insights with the interaction between Gunter and his mother.]
Change of Plan
Gunter sat bolt upright in his bed. He was determined and focused on what he must do. He tiptoed into his absent brother’s room to “borrow” some of his money, hidden in a jar behind his H.G. Wells collection in the bookshelf. Mrs. C down the hallway, was asleep; he could hear her snoring like a band saw as he passed by her room. He gritted his teeth and hoped that the door would not creak. It did.
With a fist full of dollars, Gunter slipped out of the boarding house and then pelted across the road, the solitary streetlight witness to his race. He paused as he reached the solid wooden doors of the local church. The suburb had paused to sleep at three in the morning, but Gunter’s heart was thumping. He decided that this front entrance was too risky, so edged around the side of the church until he found a side door. Actually, a metal gate.
He fumbled with lock. It was not budging. He groped around in his trouser pocket for old faithful, his mama’s hair pin. Mama’s pin had not let him down yet. With the pin, he poked around the keyhole until the click and the gate sprang open. In the moonlight, another door, challenged him.
Nervously he maneuvered the pin around the wooden door lock and hoped that it wasn’t a deadbolt. As if a mantra for luck, he chanted under his breath, ‘Dumkopf! Open!’ The words made him feel less anxious if nothing else.
The door fell away from him, and he lurched, then tripped, sprawling on the rug covering the jarrah floor. ‘Sheisse!’ he cried. He was sure that he had been found out and that his life was over.
‘I thought you would never make it.’ A woman’s voice floated over his head.
He recognised that voice. ‘Mutti?’
‘Ah, Gans, immer spaet! (Ah, Goose, always late).’
‘What are you doing here?’
A slight woman, aged somewhere in her thirties, flaxen hair tied in a bun, locked eyes with him. ‘To rescue my future grandsons, naturally. Why else would I ask you to come here?’
‘Yes, I know.’ Gunter pulled himself from the floor, dusted himself and sneezed. ‘But, I was expecting someone else…’
‘Have you got the chocolate box? You know, the time travel bon bons? I left it here last time.’
‘Oh, Mutti! Always leaving your stuff wherever you go! We could trace you through time and space the trail of chocolate you leave.’
‘Just as well I did, or I’d be lost forever.’
‘Ja, natuerlich.’ Gunter paced down the hall. ‘Let’s do it!’
‘Hoi, not so fast.’ His mother caught his sleeve. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘Saving the boys.’
‘Aber, I have the matches and the bomb is all set up.’
‘Bomb? What bomb?’
‘The one to blow Boris to little pieces. You know, kaboom.’
‘But, but you can’t just go around killing people. I mean, look what happened to Letitia because of you.’
‘Hmph! What’s she? Your papa’s second child? With that woman? Hmmm? How could he do that to me? Tossing me aside because I’m…I’m…’
‘I’m sorry, Mama, but we thought you were…’
Gunter shrugged. ‘So, then how’s the bomb going to work?’
‘Oh, the bomb will work very well, indeed.’ She grabbed her son’s hand and dragged him out to a courtyard and onto a patch of lawn.
‘But, but, how are we going to save the boys, then? I cannot believe I will be the father of boys.’
‘Simple.’ She struck a match and tossed it onto the porch. The flame flared and then fizzled.
‘Ja! And your point is?’
‘The point is, Gans, that the flame is a signal.’
Gunter stood scratching his head. ‘For what?’
‘Come on.’ His mother sighed and tugged at her son’s shirt. ‘You must get back to the house before they notice you are missing. I think Mrs. C is cooking you Bratwurst and fried onions on her outdoor barbeque.’
Gunter gazed back at the house. The weatherboard with its untamed cottage garden. The driveway, concreted but cracked. He realized that since the flame throwing, the night had morphed into midday. A fine summer’s day. An afternoon southerly breeze cooled the air slightly. The smell of BBQ sausages wafted, making Gunter’s stomach growl.
‘How did that happen?’ Gunter asked.
‘Come,’ Wilhelm Thumm nudged him. ‘You can introduce me to the famous Mrs. C.’
‘How did? Where’s my…?’
‘Don’t ask. By the way, do you have the money?’
Gunter nodded and handed Wilhelm the wad of notes. ‘I don’t see why you need so much.’ He clocked the Aston Martin parked in front of the boarding house. ‘You look like you are…’
‘All for a good cause. Besides, that greedy brother of yours can do with a bit less. So, I hear.’
As they approached the house, a slender blonde leapt from the car, slammed the door and marched down the street, away from the house.
‘Who is that?’ Gunter asked.
‘My wife,’ Wilhelm replied. ‘Remember Frieda?’
‘She has not changed.’ Gunter stared at the gravel on the footpath. ‘She saw me, and she does not like me.’
‘Don’t be so hard on yourself.’
‘She blames me for what happened to Letitia.’
‘She’ll get over it.’ Wilhelm patted his back. ‘You’ll be friends, one day.’
Gunter locked eyes with Wilhelm. ‘Yeah, sure. Pigs fly, as they say here in Australia.’
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…In this episode (12.4) Once her most annoying visitor has gone, Letitia gets down to work…]
A Time to Work
With Monica absent, Letitia trawled over the mess, room by room, section by section in the vain hope of finding the elusive keys; the ones that worked. As she hunted, she systematically dusted, wiped, sorted and cleaned. She was sure that the owner would not recognise the place when he returned. ‘I hope they don’t curse me,’ she mumbled.
Three o’clock and Letitia had progressed to scrubbing the shower alcove, followed by hospital grade disinfection regime on the toilet. The tiles in the shower were so coated with mould that their original white was no longer visible to the naked eye. She used a full bottle of Ajax toilet powder on the toilet bowl before she was satisfied that the brown streak down the back of the bowl was scrubbed away.
At four in the morning, with the home unit sorted and sparkling, and the bathroom overloaded with the smell of bleach, Letitia flopped onto the main bed of renewed clean and ironed sheets, to sleep. She still had not found the keys. With a cool breeze flowing from a slightly open window, she sank into a satisfying dreamless slumber. After all, she figured, If worse comes to worse, I will be able to climb out the window.
Rest only lasted a few micro-seconds, however. As soon as Letitia was still, she became cold, very cold. Groaning from stiff joints and aching back, she hoisted herself from the bed and edged past the bed end to close the window. The wind howled. Moments later, a flash of lightening and a loud bone jarring bang of thunder. She peered outside through the curtains. A bolt of lightning hit the unit at the end of the driveway and accompanying that was the clap of thunder.
Letitia jumped. Heart thumping. Goosebumps rose on her skin. ‘Goodness, it’s like an Antarctic blast,’ she said. ‘Need to find more blankets.’
She tried the lights. They wouldn’t work. In semi-darkness, with the first shades of morning light beginning to seep through the cracks of deep-purple brooding clouds, she could see just enough to stand on the bed and reach for the top shelf of the built-in robe. ‘I hope there’s a blanket there, maybe a torch.’
Success! Letitia touched something soft but scratchy; something very blanekety. With a sense of achievement, she pulled the blanket from the shelf and onto the bed. A thin piece of paper fluttered to the floor. She picked it up and tried to scrutinize it in the non-existent light. A brief lightening flash lit up the images. They appeared strangely familiar. But all too soon, the light was gone, and the picture became indistinguishable. She placed the photo on the bedside table and nestled under the itchy woollen rug. The sky was putting on a show, but she was too weary to enjoy it. Comfortable at last, Letitia fell sound asleep to flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder as the storm travelled over Melbourne.
Meanwhile in Tasmania, the grass was dry and the weather about to heat up for the start of school.
The rooster crowed. Amie yawned and stretched her hand slapping against Wilma’s pillow. ‘Oops! Sorry,’ Amie mumbled. Wilma did not stir; she slept like the proverbial babe.
Amie peered at the window.
The rooster crowed again.
Amie eased her way out from under the doona, and then tottered over to the window. The landscape was cloaked in shades of violet, the black blocks of village buildings barely discernible against the nightscape. Standing at the window so long she shivered, Amie studied the stars, trying to make sense of them. Stars sparkled through a cloud shaped like the hand of God. She thought it must be a cloud. Why do the stars all look so different? She examined the clusters but couldn’t make sense of any constellations. None seemed familiar. ‘Must be I’m tired or perhaps dreaming,’ she murmured.
The rooster crowed yet again.
‘Oh, go on, you! It’s the middle of the night,’ Amie said. She returned to her bed and crept under the quilt.
The rooster continued to herald the dawn. Cockle-doodle-doo! Cockle-doodle-doo. Amie lay awake. Cockle-doodle-doo. Cockle-doodle-screech! Squawk! Squawk! Screech!
‘Don’t tell me—foxes.’ Amie turned over and tried to steal a few more hours’ sleep. But sleep eluded her.
The hens clucked. The rooster squawked. A gate squeaked and then clunked. Then the noise of chooks in the chook yard sounded like a party with a cacophony of squawking, clucking, cockle-doodling and footsteps scrunching.
Amie heard a thud. Shrieks and the sound of wings flapping followed.
Must save the poor rooster. Wearing only her nightdress that Frau Biar had lent her, she raced out of the bedroom. She stumbled in the darkened living area as she made her way to the door. The squawking spurred her on. She fumbled for the knob. No knob. She groped at a long metal thing—a latch. She worked the latch, tugging it, pulling at it, wiggling and waggling trying to open the door.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia… In this episode (10.4) Gunter drives Letitia in his old (even for 1967) Austin …]
By the time they had reached the part of the street where the human traffic had thinned, Gunter had pulled out a key for his car and was muttering. A few steps behind him, Letitia could not catch a word, let alone the thread of his monologue. By the time she caught up to Gunter, he had stopped by an ancient, even for 1967, mottled green, Austin sedan. The talk had ended, and Gunter having opened the car and seated in the driver’s seat, was reaching over to unlock the passenger’s door.
As Letitia waited to climb in this almost classic car, he tossed a few books, junk food wrappers and greasy spare tee-shirts from the front passenger’s seat. He then jerked the door open and urged, ‘Come, I’ve got just the place for you.’
She crept into the Austin with a cursory, “thank you” and adjusted her seated body around the vinyl cracks in the worn bench seat. Before she had a chance to survey the damage of years of neglect, Gunter apologised, ‘Sorry about the mess. I must clean out the car sometime.’ He inserted the key in the ignition slot and muttered, ‘I hope I don’t have to crank it. She can be cranky when she wants to be.’ He laughed at his own joke, and repeated, ‘Cranky.’
‘You’ve obviously never been in Trigger after a Flinder’s trip.’ Letitia jested in an attempt to ease Gunter’s embarrassment. ‘Actually, neither have I, but my friends on Mirror World told me all about that machine.’
‘Come on baby,’ Gunter coaxed the old girl as he turned the ignition. The Austin squeaked and then roared to life. ‘That’s the girl!’
‘Are you old enough to drive?’ Letitia asked.
‘I’m seventeen!’ Gunter replied. ‘I pilot spacecraft, what is the difference?’
‘How did you get the car?’
‘Don’t ask.’ Gunter paused as he brought the old car to a literally grinding halt at the lights. Four lanes of cars, headlights blazing attacked the highway intersection in a seemingly seamless stampede of rubber tyres grunting over bitumen. As the traffic light suddenly turned green, Gunter lurched the Austin over the wide highway, and continued the conversation. ‘I suppose I should clean up the car and take it to a car wash. You can get it free with a service. They even polish the hub caps. Cool hey? Don’t worry about the car, Lettie, this one has got a new engine and the body is solid. Although there are few rust spots, and the paint is peeling. But it is not a bad car really.’
‘Pff! Don’t worry, Gunter, Jemima’s been in worse. I mean, her father never had a car. Caught the tram everywhere in Sydney.’
‘Oh, Ja, Jemima’s father; was that Nathan?’ Gunter slammed on the brakes and the car jerked to another stop, catapulting Letitia forward into the dusty dashboard. ‘You need to put your seat belt on. If we had one. They say they save lives. I know that is true for spaceships, but a car? I hate to think it is taking away people’s freedoms.’
‘Seatbelt,’ Letitia murmured while feeling for that life-saving device, ‘that’s what’s missing.’
‘What is it like in future? In this Mirror World? Do they have seatbelts? And must everyone wear one in a car?’
‘But of course. And it does save lives. Actually, in my time, fifty years from this time, cars have airbags, and computers that sense objects and stop before you hit them. Oh, and we have driverless cars as well.’
‘Driverless? Take all the fun out of driving? I would not like that.’
The Austin roared and grumbled along the dark empty main road. Letitia caught the black letters on a white sign that read, “North Road”. In this part of town, the recently built cream brick houses were falling asleep, while episodes of sparsely lit shop strips remained singularly uninspiring. As she was swept along the quiet roads of suburbia, her thoughts became numbed with exhaustion. She watched dumbly as the houses changed from brick to weather board, and as the dark expanse of some high rise or factory rose and then sank on the roadside.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia… In this episode (10.3) Letitia tries to get to the bottom of Gunter’s baggage …]
‘Hmm!’ Letitia persevered on the box track. That this was what Jemima used to transport them back in time. ‘That black box was precious to her. It’s very valuable. Did you ever happen to see it?’
Gunter shook his head. ‘Nein! She had this big black bag though. I used to call it the black hole. She was always losing things in it. Yet, she always had everything — everything she needed. It is amazing what she had in that bag.’ He gave a short snort of amusement. ‘I half expected her to pull out a kitchen sink. I mean she had everything!’ He looked directly at Letitia. ‘Hey, where is your bag? Don’t women always have a bag with them?’
‘Yeah, usually. I travel light.’ Letitia was rather pleased with herself for the clever play of words. ‘Anyway, mine got stolen after I got off the boat.’
‘Oh, that is a shame. Were you on a boat? You get around!’
‘Oh, just a bit of Tassie actually. That’s where I disappeared to if you have been wondering. Top Secret IGSF Mission business. Then after completing the mission, I stayed with her name which I won’t mention and husband. They’re the ones who have sent me on this mission to Adelaide.’ Letitia leant forward and whispered, ‘I have to pretend to be Maggie, Tail’s wife, can you believe it?’
‘That won’t work.’
‘How so? I thought I could say I’m Maggie in disguise.’
Letitia reclined on her seat. ‘How do you know it won’t?’
‘I just know.’ Gunter puffed out his chest. ‘Besides, I saw Maggie this morning. Dressed like a Hippie. And Bo…’
Letitia grinned and bobbed her head. ‘I see. And you were saying?’
‘Nothing,’ Gunter flushed, ‘it is nothing. I am making it up. Like you make up time travel backwards.’
‘No, I don’t think so, love. Is this a trap, my brother?’
Gunter looked away. Mute. Caught in his own trap of pride.
‘Is Boris going to walk into this café and abduct me?’
Gunter wrung his hands.
‘Or is he hiding outside, waiting to catch me?’ Letitia slapped the table making Gunter jump. ‘Come on! I know he’s around. I can smell him. And I know you are working for him. You reek of him, brother!’
‘No, you are wrong,’ Gunter whimpered.
‘O-o-oh, I do hope I am,’ Letitia said while glancing at the darked bun-haired woman who glared at them in a “I’m-about-to-close-shop” fashion. ‘I hope, for your sake, Jemima’s safe. Or you and that bleeding Boris will pay!’
‘See what I mean? Nobody understands me.’ Gunter looked up. ‘I can’t just—can’t just…you would not understand. Nobody gets it.’
‘Get it? Understand? I get and understand only too well. Two bomb blasts well. Exile in another universe well. Over twenty-five years well. I’ve seen my friends suffer.’ Letitia served her half-brother a withering look. ‘Do you think what happened in the last war was a Sunday School picnic? What happened to my friend, Frieda? Hmmm?’
‘You have no idea!’ Gunter ground his teeth before continuing. ‘That woman—that girl who waltzed into our lives, our family, like it was hers, which it was not. Nothing happened to her. Not compared to my mother.’
Now, we’re getting somewhere, Letitia thought. ‘Your mother? What did Boris do to your mother? Tell me. I’m listening.’
Gunter waved the air between them. ‘It’s complicated.’
‘Let’s just say, she is who I owe my debt to.’ He laughed, a bitter kind of laugh. ‘And Frieda? She has no idea who she is married to.’
‘Now, you have my full attention. I always thought Wilhelm was a little strange.’ She reached over again and took hold of his hand. ‘I’m sorry for my outburst. Look, if you can keep me from, you know, the cockroach, I think I can help you. And I get the feeling that Jemima is already doing just that too.’
Gunter and Letitia thanked the vendor before stepping out onto the steaming pavement. Gunter hung back from a passing Friday night crowd. He seemed uncertain which way to go. He looked at Letitia for inspiration. ‘So, where’s your hotel? I’ll give you a lift.’
‘Hotel? My bag was stolen. I have no money. I have no hotel. I have no place to stay, actually.’
‘You are homeless, then.’
‘That’s convenient,’ Gunter remarked. He looked about him as if Letitia were a stray in search of a home. He then dug his hands in his pockets and scuffed the pavement with his shoe.
‘I’m sorry. Have I put you out?’ Letitia said.
Gunter began to stride towards the highway away from the beach. ‘This way, I have an idea.’ Half-turning, he said, ‘You sure you don’t know where your daughter lives?’
‘Nah. ‘fraid not,’ Letitia answered while breaking into a jog to keep up with Gunter’s accelerating pace.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia… In this episode (10.2) Letitia discusses family matters while Gunter comes to terms with his embarrassing discovery about Jemima…]
Turkish Coffee Time
They found a café still open and churning out Turkish coffees in tiny golden cups. The aroma lingered in the air surrounding the café, the same one in which Letitia had partaken of vanilla slice and coffee eight maybe nine hours earlier. The same dark eyed woman black hair rolled up in a bun, stared at her. The vendor kept her surveillance as Gunter organised the drinks while Letitia waited at the table that had crammed itself against the wall.
‘Trev won’t trouble us here, Lettie.’ Gunter set down the miniature cups on the laminated table that had the distinct smell of disinfectant.
‘I’m sure that he will be too busy dancing his way to fame and fortune.’
‘He’ll get sick of that.’ Gunter dismissed her suggestion with the wave of one hand. ‘Always does. Same every week. Then he comes looking for me. Every week! I cannot get rid of him.’ He leaned back on the wooden chair, crossed his lanky legs, and continued, ‘When I need a break, I come here.’ He indicated a subtle thumb towards the proprietor. ‘Trev’s afraid of her. Thinks she’s the FBI. No kidding! He’s paranoid.’ Gunter chuckled and then confided, ‘I take Jemima here.’ More sniggers. ‘It’s the only way we get privacy.’
‘Oh, I see.’ Letitia shifted uncomfortably in her seat and glanced briefly at the Greek lady busily polishing the benches. The languid staring from her was beginning to make sense. ‘She’s a bit old for you, though. I mean Jemima – why’s she interested in you, pet?’ Jemima, after all, was still her daughter and she had trouble reconciling that in another time and world, Gunter and Minna were a constant item.
Gunter locked eyes with Letitia. ‘We’re just friends. I did not know she was my niece and involved with the IGSF. She never…’
‘Is that why you reacted, like you…’
Gunter bent his head and nodded.
‘She found you, then. And you know she will go to Papa and…’
‘I must admit, I suspected, but hoped…I mean, she talked about finding her father.’ He grabbed Letitia’s arm and met her eyes. ‘Look, don’t tell them. I want to be left alone. Find my own way.’
‘But why, Gunter? We’re family.’
‘You can’t begin to understand.’ Gunter looked away and sipped some coffee. ‘I’ll always be the lesser. The black sheep. And now that Johann has…’
‘Johann? Your older brother?’
Gunter stared into his coffee cup. ‘Yes.’
‘But why? What’s so bad that…?’
‘You don’t understand. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of.’
‘What have you done, Gunter? Don’t you think I don’t know what Boris is like? What has he got over you? What has he asked you to do?’ Letitia searched for his evading gaze. ‘Nothing is too bad that you have to sell your soul to that creep.’
‘Just last night, I saw her. Jemima. She comes and goes a bit. I never know when I am going to see her.’ Gunter’s gaze wandered out into the street. The atmosphere was still bustling and electric as summer nights in Melbourne usually are. ‘You don’t have an address for her?’ His voice sounded concerned, with a thin reedy tenor to it.
‘No, she went away and never really gave one, I’m afraid.’ Letitia continued this line of enquiry without further mention of Boris. No need to trigger Gunter. Trigger, there’s that word again. ‘Say, does she still carry around that little black treasure box?’ The transportation device materialised in Letitia’s mind. She remembered that black box. Remembered distinctly what the box could do. Hot beads of sweat rolled slowly down from her temples and over her cheeks.
Gunter peered at her. ‘Are you alright?’
She fanned her face with a menu. ‘Yeah! Not used to the Melbourne heat. It’s getting to me.’
‘But, Sydney is hotter and more humid. Remember? We used to sleep out in the back yard on our foam mattresses. I remember Papa used to snore so loud that it would keep us awake.’
‘Yep, those were the days! Wouldn’t dream about doing that now.’ Letitia forgetting what era she was in. All time, all years were embraced by the immediacy of “now”.
‘Ja, must not do that these days. Not in Melbourne. There was that serial killer in Perth.’ All that remained in Gunter’s cup was a pug of silty coffee grounds. ‘The night caller. Other end of the country, but it could happen here.’