ON OUR SECOND DAY in Vienna, I ﬁnd the Kaffeehaus where Trotsky used to play chess. We sit in bentwood chairs, drink black coffee and eat Sachertorte. This is what we are supposed to do in a cafe in Austria. Outside, rain.
“I didn’t expect it to be like this.” You grimace into your cup, a sour stomach pestering you since the airplane.
Three months after the wedding, you said the same thing to me. You were peeling an orange. The spray got in your eye and we both winced at the same moment.
“Saint Kitts would have been predictable.”
You pushed for Vienna, but in the early days of October, I was hoping for sun. Still, I owed you whatever you wanted, so I bought the tourist books, the walking maps, to make the best of it. “Why don’t we walk on the Ringstrasse?”
But the sky hangs low and grey, and I step in a puddle of puke. They are just streets after all.
We got married on the ﬁrst Saturday in June, in the barn at your dad’s farm. My pea-green silk dress tickled against my knees as I walked up the haystack aisles to meet you—slumped shoulders but still ﬁne and tall, bolo tie worn sardonically. Even with all the doors wide open, and the clean cool air of dusk blowing through, I sniffed hesitantly, searching for that nervous animal smell I’d noticed in the barn before.
“I promise,” we said to each other, and to the judge, to our parents, families, and twenty friends.
Afterward, burgers and beans and corn on the cob, domestic beer because we’re not fussy. My mom made a money cake, and the guests wished on their nickels for us before they threw them in the pond. I tucked a piece of the lemony cake in your mouth and you licked my ﬁngers.
On a bright green bridge over the Danube, we decide to blame Freud for our problems. We’ve just come from his apartment-museum.
“Self-analysis is overrated.”
You slide your ring up and down your ﬁnger, still not used to it. “You’d rather be stupid?”
“Look. We’ve been talking about us for three weeks straight, and I don’t think it’s helping.”
So instead, we ﬁll time, taking turns choosing what to see.
I choose ﬁrst—Klimt, very golden at the Belvedere museum—then you ﬁnd the aquarium in Esterházypark, in a Flak tower left over from the war and the Nazis. The tower echoes with the screaming of school children as they race up and down the stairs, a class trip. I watch a blood red snake coil and uncoil itself around a branch.
“Elaphe guttata guttata,” I read and then announce, enjoying the rhythmic Latin name. You tap on the glass box. The snake ﬂicks his tongue out at the noise and seems to kiss your ﬁnger. The next day, at the war museum, we ﬁnd another glass box, and in that, a faded blue uniform, brownish stains on it like spilled coffee. Blood. Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s dried blood.
We try hard to like this place. Still, by the middle of the week, we want to leave. We walk out of the city, to Döbling where Beethoven and Strauss once lived and then through the vineyards. I take a picture of you with Vienna in the background, and then you take the same picture of me. Later, I might ﬁddle with the pictures to make it look like we were standing beside each other.
We walk back into the city with the Danube beside us, not blue, not beautiful, but grey-green, industrial.
“Do you think it was a mistake?” You lean over a railing and spit into the river.
And because you always ask your most important questions as if you weren’t interested in the answer, I know you mean our marriage, and not this trip.
“Maybe.” I don’t say this to hurt you, only because I can’t remember why we thought we needed to be married. We already owned a house, a Siamese cat, a compact car. The idea of kids without the piece of paper wasn’t a big deal. Our parents didn’t nag. “But didn’t it seem like the next step?”
“Tick in the box.” Which might have been petty, but you say it softly, glumly.
We didn’t take a honeymoon. We wanted to wait until winter, when we’d need a vacation from the weather, and go some place hot and all-inclusive. So, after eggs Florentine and country ham at the post-wedding brunch, we drove back to the city, put our wedding clothes on again, and got drunk at the Irish pub where we met. We sat close on the vinyl bench seat with our pints, calling each other Mister and Missus. On the way home in the cab, you ran your hand up the inside of my thigh.
On Thursday, we walk through Augarten Park, past the baroque palace where the Vienna Choir boys live, under the arched lanes of chestnut trees. The crows yell.
Most of the rides are closed for the season at the Prater fairground, but the Ferris wheel still turns in slow circles. We buy tickets and climb into one of the gondolas.
I read from the guide book. “The Weiner Riesenrad was erected in 1897 and, at a height of almost sixty-ﬁve metres, offers one of the best views of the city.”
We sit together on a hard wooden bench in the middle of the gondola. Through the window, there is only the whiteness of dense mist. It has been nothing but rain and fog for three days. I lean on your shoulder. Your coat smells like dirty sheep.
“This is hopeless.”
“We should have gone to Saint Kitts like you wanted.”
On the verge of tears, I press my knuckles into my closed eyes, and the sharp pain sobers
“That’s not what I meant.”
“No, but we tried, right? Maybe it’s time to go somewhere new.” You take the map out of your back pocket. “We still have a week. We could go to Budapest. Munich. Prague. Warsaw.” Your eyes scan down. “Rome. Let’s go to Rome.”
At Westbanhof station, a woman with a face as long and melancholy as a horse books us onto the overnight train. We have two hours to wait, so we sit on our suitcases and stare up at the Departures board. Four trains leave—Prague, Mödling, Munich, Budapest—and I grow tired of the silence.
“I’m getting a drink. You want anything?”
“No. Wait, yeah. I want to know why.”
I sit back down, expecting this since that Saturday morning, expecting it every night we climbed into bed, in every line we waited on, in every coffee shop, on the plane ride over, in every moment when we ran out of things to listen to, when silence took over.
I’m embarrassed to say it out loud. “I wanted to shock you, I guess, and myself too.”
This is the answer I’ve come up with and I’m pretty sure it’s the truth, or as close as I can get to it. “I wanted to feel again what it was like to not know what might happen.”
“So, all of this mess is just because of some weird experiment? That is such bullshit.”
There is an announcement for the Rome train. I follow you at a distance; your sloped shoulders, your concentrated glare at the tickets in your hand, these things say you don’t want me walking beside you right now. Boarding the train, you hold out your hand for my bag, and then hold out your hand for me, but when we ﬁnd our compartment it is too small and quiet for all of your frustration.
“I can’t be with you right now.” You give me my ticket and the compartment door glides
shut behind you.
That Saturday when you told me, I didn’t expect it to be like this, I was up early. I’d been having trouble sleeping, every noise would wake me. I got out of bed carefully, not wanting to disturb you, and bundled up in your grey cardigan. A window left open overnight brought the chilled earth smell of fall into the house for the ﬁrst time and the linoleum in the kitchen was cold on my bare feet. Water hissed through the coffeemaker. In the sink, an oily ﬁlm on the water and a pot with burned-on gruyere that you had soaked overnight. The night before, our three-month anniversary. Fondue and the champagne your stepmother gave us as a wedding gift. I reached into the cold greasy water and pulled the plug, a soft whirling and then a churning down the drain.
I made toast and found oranges and eggs on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
And then I crossed through the living room. I should have stayed in the kitchen. I should have set the water boiling, dropped in the eggs, and waited seven minutes for them to be ready. You would have been up by then. I wouldn’t have done anything stupid.
I dialed the number I knew by muscle-memory. It rang twice before I hung up. I heard your alarm buzz and the pipes clank as you opened the taps in the bathroom. I put my shoes and coat on. I walked slowly to the corner store and bought the paper.
You were sitting at the table when I came back. I brought you a cup of coffee and an egg and you told me that James had phoned.
“Oh.” I handed you the butter and salt.!
“He said he was calling you back.” You jabbed the tip of your knife into the egg and ﬂipped
back the white cap. “Busy morning?”
I meant to say No, just a misdial. Because that could have been the truth. But instead. “It’s
You nodded, and set your jaw, looking ready for a ﬁght, but all you said was, “I didn’t expect it to be like this.”
And here we are—on an all-night train to Rome and I haven’t seen you since Vienna. Vienna was supposed to save us.
The train stops every hour or so, and people get on and off in what seems to be the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Where are they going, and why?
The sun is beginning to rise now, ﬁnally. You slide the compartment door open, and I can feel you watching me as I watch the scenery go by. The train runs through Tuscany, over the soft slopes of its landscape. The light on the hills, the cypress trees, the wide open land; it all says the same thing. This is a new place.
Erin Bedford lives in Toronto. She attended and won a Certificate of Distinction for her completed manuscript from the Humber School for Writers for what became her debut novel, Fathom Lines. Find more of her writing at erinbedford.ca