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Bitter Sweet, 1986

Page 3

Gillian Barnett

It is still illegal to carry a dog that way. Dogs have been forgotten in the trunks of cars. On sunny days, they have died of heatstroke. Concerned citizens reported Max and Claire several times. But when Claire drove the RSPCA officer around the block with Bran in the car, he left her his card with a special exemption noted on it. No-one could forget Bran was in the boot.


Viennese architecture catches Claire’s eye. Again she is attuned to the duet of tram-and-old-man commentary. The street to the cemetery is a desert of cement. No Ringstrasse palaces here, no spreading trees and horse-drawn carriages. But the road is still wide enough to accommodate an army. Their B&B hostess has plied them with home-baked strudel while regaling them with her memories of cheering the German troops in nineteen thirty-eight. “Ve vere so 'appy, everybody so 'appy!”

Claire and Max have watched footage of crowds waving swastika flags as Panzer tanks rumbled along the Ringstrasse during the Anschluss. They nod in cowardly fashion and make no comment. After all, this is nineteen eighty-six. What would be the point? Now Claire pictures a triumphal progress here led by sleek black Mafia cars, swastikas rippling, red, white and black. How thickly did welcoming crowds line this thoroughfare?

They alight from the tram, cross the desert and enter a grand gate. Broken Jewish tombs and smashed headstones line the main avenue. They have been left that way, lest we forget. Was the damage done by Panzer tanks or local yokels, freed from Thou Shalt Not?

They walk on. Trees meet overhead and their eyes must adjust to a green underworld. Max points out Johann Strauss’s grave. Other musical graves and statues commemorate a massive orchestra of the dead. 

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