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Bitter Sweet, 1986

Page 7

Gillian Barnett

Max reappears at the axis. Among uneven mazes of the dead, he has found it. He takes her hand and leads her there. Unlike Max, who is blond, the tombstone of his grandfather is dark. Gold lettering gleams from black marble. The grave is clipped and swept clean. His father sends money for this. Max will do the same when the time comes.

Claire looks up at her husband and her eyes fill to match his. They blink at the grave of the grandfather he was named for but never met. He murmurs, “I shouldn’t be upset, our family were lucky really.”

Max’s father was tall like his son. That, together with blondish hair and hazel eyes saved Josef when he marched into Nazi headquarters to support a non-Jewish employee accused of theft. Claire feels a spotlight of sun on the back of her bowed head. Josef has told her how in nineteen thirty-eight, the back of his neck burned as he forced himself to walk slowly after he left the courthouse. What if they realized who he was and sent bullets after him? From England he signed away the family’s possessions for the lives of his mother, sister and niece and they fled to Australia, the farthest place. Thanks to tallness and blondness, Max stands beside her now.

They draw closer together and lean forward to stroke black marble.  Claire clears her throat. “When the Austrian government said they’d return your dad’s factories, why didn’t he take them up on it?”

“It was on condition he came back here to run them. He says he wasn’t going back to live among people so willing to murder him.” Max smiles. “And by then, he’d met Mum and had us. I reckon he felt his life in Australia was better than owning a house and three factories in Austria.”


These days the doughnut shop at the base of Oliver’s Hill is a real estate office, but the toilet and sea are much the same. Claire and Max will continue their families’ ritual of holidaying on the Peninsula. They swoop up the hill with plenty of gas. Instead of children eating and laughing in the back seat, they carry a manic old dog in the boot, barking and gnawing his chain.


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