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Bitter Sweet, 1986

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Gillian Barnett

In Vienna, the trams are chatty. The monologue begins as they start to move.

All Claire can understand is Strasse.  Mandeltort Strasse, she muses, that would mean ‘Almond Cake Street’, and Linzertorte Strasse for ‘Plum Cake Street’. In addition to please and thank you, this is pretty much all the German she has. Among other things, she and Max are having a cake shop tour of Europe. Coffee and cakes help to lighten their pilgrimage. She fears such gastronomic interludes have not lightened her. Before they arrived here, she promised herself there would not be more than one cake per day. But the tartness of plums in butter-rich cake have undone her. After all, this is their big trip from Australia, their consolation prize for final failure at IVF.

An old man climbs into the tram. When it moves off, he starts talking to himself loudly in competition to the recorded commentary. At each stop, both he and the tram fall silent.

In transit, Claire leans into Max and whispers, “What’s he saying?”

“Ah … it’s German, but it’s just gibberish.”

“Funny how he only does it when we’re going along.” After a moment she adds, “Like Bran. Imagine it, Bran in Vienna!”

They look away from the old man and try to stifle their laughter. Bran is their blue-heeler, bull-terrier and greyhound mix, the ugly dud no-one else wanted. Once he was secure in their love, Bran revealed a strange form of travel sickness. Whenever the car was in motion, he leapt from window to window, shrieking with excitement. Tail working at brush-cutter velocity, he chewed through seat belts and upholstery. 

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