Last stop: Walthamstow Central (short stories)


“In this castle I will await my death!” said the man to the woman in front of the grey building of Gneisenau castle, under the gate egngraved with the year 1611. She could feel her throat tightening. Await my death. In the old people’s home of Kleinzell im Mühlkreis.

The door opened automatically and their eyes scanned a sadly deserted courtyard. Pairs of grey eyes were peeping out behind the curtains. She glanced at her cheerful companion with unexpected sadness. The hill east of Linz was bleak and isolated.

“For fuck's sake, my brain has never been so sharp and it never processed information so quickly…” he said comforting himself.

She was walking behind him in silence absorbing the unexpected chill of late July. The white Volksschule building was exuding calm. Everything in Upper Austria appeared absolutely silent and still. People were quiet and invisible. They worked somewhere else, only coming back here to sleep, and spent the weekends meticulously arranging the baskets of flowers hanging from their balconies and terraces. The hill was covered with numerous apple trees, a couple of cypresses and wooden benches.

He grabbed her arm and directed her towards a tiny chapel on the junction downhill from the castle. A crucified Jesus in between two white lilies. Thick smoke was rising from the farm with orange and red flower arrangements and the cows were mooing loudly from that direction. They followed the narrowest path.

The sun was peeping timidly through rambling clouds. As they turned towards Kleinzell a church came into sight. On the very top of the hill, its tower displayed a golden crucifix and the bells were calling for the evening mass. Suddenly they were assaulted by the smells of humidity and wet ground impregnated with forgotten sawdust and the stench of animal feed. They were in front of a deserted farm with decrepit wooden doors. A gust of sudden wind gave her goosebumps all up her neck

“You are just fantastic!”

He said. She smiled.

In front of the Gasthof Scharinger white plastic chairs were pretending it was summer. The chubby landlady Helga greeted them with her high pitched voice and a tasty wiener schnitzel with chips and sweet ketchup.

He spoke fluent German and even understood some of the local dialect of this area, where the Austrian, German and Czech borders met. And he charmed. He wanted to drink home-made sweetcorn schnapps and was raising the glass to everyone. His cheers were full of childish excitement. He looked at her with the last of his youthful impulsiveness.

When she accepted the job of the gallery assistant she hadn’t expected she’d be following an excentric painter around. Still – it was more fun than sitting behind the desk editing the catalogue...

Next morning’s rain dropped the temperature by several degrees. Grey, humid asphalt gave off a sense of sadness and grief.


“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

He remained silent and the pasta with tuna and tomatoes became uneatable. He always behaved like that when he was not happy with something and would not, as any other civilised man would, begin a conversation, explain what was wrong and suggest solutions to overcome the crisis. Instead he gave her the silent treatment; just like a spiteful and above all spoiled child.

He only said I fancy some pasta. On a wooden cutting board she peeled and diced an onion. Sharp needles in her eyes turned into tears. She splashed some olive oil at the bottom of the red saucepan and lit the gas cooker. The distinctive voice of the evening news was coming from the other room. Something about the Croatian media monopoly; something about the sale of a daily paper; something about Dubrovnik.

She did not know whether he was really interested in the statistical and meteorological analysis of this year’s tourist season or if he was just using it as a justification for the agonising silence.


“My arse it’s nothing!”

Even with extra parmesan on top, the fusilli pasta was indigestible.

“You went to Linz with that old man?”


“You said you were going to help a friend!”

“Well yes…I’ve been helping him out with the exhibition…and yes he is a kind of friend!”

“He also has a dick!”

“You are disgusting, so fucking disgusting!”

And the fire started, followed by the explanations that should have been abandoned a long time before and turned either into THE END or something proper and real. Into a cohabitation. Maybe into something more serious. A relationship with a future. Not this, this circus of mental distrust through which they continued to filter their insecurities and frustrations.

“I’m not ready yet for what you want!”

“And what the fuck do you want? Amorous encounters in my rented flat? When your grandmother has her own flat which she cannot look after any longer and your parents a large house with an unused basement? Don’t you care at least a little bit about us?”

“I do…but not yet… I need more time…!

After five years, HE still needs time. He needs to mature. His thirty years are just a meaningless number on the greeting cards and on the forms that he occasionally fills in. He still needs his mother to whisper early in the morning son, have you got an ironed shirt? He needs the security of the parental home. And she needs to understand that. Understand what? His mental slowness. Do not push me into the responsibilities I don’t want to have. Which, to be honest, you are not capable of.

The fried onion was giving off the pleasant smell of a tasty dinner, postponing the tensions. She added diced tomatoes, a little parsley, some salt and stirred it. She put pasta into the boiling water. He was sitting silently in front of the TV screen. She knew that sooner or later either he or she would explode and start the questioning. Ok, the worst thing was that she did lie to him. Actually, she just did not tell him the whole truth. She said she was going with a friend from the gallery. And then the daily paper Novi list published an article called “The retrospective exhibition of Carlo Strozzi in Linz” and he knew. That their work-related intellectual friendship or as he called it intellectual masturbation was not over. She was just an assistant in the gallery and she did not need to hang around artists.

It is difficult to overcome the stale coldness that almost imperceptibly moves into the relationship of two people. And then it stretches over days, evenings, nights, mornings and every moment becomes a deceptive cry in desperate need of release and dispersal, creating a feeling of helplessness.

She couldn’t recognise him any longer. They were together out of habit. Maybe she did not need to go to Linz. Or she should have told him the whole truth. But he would still have made a fuss. A monologue shot through with jealousy would just have been a proof of his true love, his claim that I’m serious but need more time - and she would have dropped out of the trip to Linz. Simple as that.

Maybe the end was nearer than she thought.

Kristijan was still there. Omnipresent. She was replaying the movies of their joint memories. The human brain is so foolish – when you need to break up with someone or something, instead of submitting to the court of consciousness just negative memories, it concentrates on the most beautiful things, sowing doubts in your heart.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry…It’s all because I love you!”

“I love you too, Kristijan…but…”

He pulled her towards him in the kitchen smelling of pasta and tuna. Just like in a cheap paperback.
“You know I cannot imagine my life without you?”
He whispered in her ear squeezing his groin onto her thighs with his obvious excitement inviting her to a ceasefire. To the conclusion that “we’ll sort it out, no worries”. Everything else became irrelevant. She put her hands under her shirt and dragged him into the room. Her crotch betrayed her and her muscles relaxed after the argument. A pleasant heat started in her low abdomen and rised up her spine creating intermittent sighs.

He would fall asleep in no time and he would wake up equally suddenly in the morning, pick up his fancy mobile phone and briefcase and run into the financial engineering factory.