@germanforayear: Travel and social media won’t change you

Transitory, on ice and breath, a sweeping movement of a coffee-stained Frankfurter Allgemeine. The check-in announcement screams at me as I exit arrivals, stone faces, no signs. Where is my welcoming party?

Thirty hours of cracking your bones in seat 32F and this is what you get, though it might be what you deserve. Nobody’s going to come to get you in GMT+1 except the stipple dreams that you coloured for yourself when you thought it was OK to exchange everything that defined you for a one-way ticket.

@germanforayeaTaxi smells like pretzels. How do u say ‘I need a f**king smoke’ auf Deutsch? #jetlagged

Continue reading @germanforayear: Travel and social media won’t change you

Immer 88

Immer88

Chic (adj.): a half-refurbished ground floor space in a former East German apartment block.

Austere plaster swimming with granite and silver adornments; dub music playing softly from speaker cones; retro phones converted into candle holders and pink shag in the toilets – Irving hated this restaurant. The food was overpriced and unexciting, the cocktails nauseatingly pretentious (anyone for a Strawbunny Chokehold?), and the patrons were invariably overdressed proles with huge teeth, or chihuahua hugging metro sexuals with their dress pants on backwards. That’s why, out of all the upmarket promi-troughs, it was Charlotte’s favourite. Continue reading Immer 88

Reflections on Berlin

It’s 8:30 in the morning — a summer morning if you want to be all chipper about it.  I’m strolling up the main street in my neighbourhood, sunlight filters through the elms onto the newly laid cobblestones.

I notice a man in paint-splattered boots enjoying a breakfast beer on the park bench. His arms are covered with faded dragon tattoos — the kind that indicate age and lack of foresight. Around him, a flock of sparrows bounce to and fro like popcorn on a grill, suggesting that he or someone else occupying that bench before him had started the day with a flaky mound of dough from the bakery across the street.

Whether he has just finished work or is on his way isn’t clear, but when he rises to leave, he places his bottle neatly underneath the rubbish bin at the end of a row of empties. Someone will be along shortly to collect them for recycling money. Continue reading Reflections on Berlin

A Year of Compliance

“Gentlemen-”

“And ladies!”

Herr Nussbaum looked over his rimless glasses at the stout woman sitting across from him and licked his lips. The taste of his morning Bloody Mary scuttled to the back of his throat.  “Gentlemen and Frau Bauer,” he continued, spitting out the name. “You all knew this day was coming, but no one knew it would be as bad as this.” He threw the report into the centre of the table and it landed with a clap. “Months of scouring the footpaths, dragging up and down the streets of outer suburbs, camping out at traffic lights, lobbying for tighter, more exact laws—”

“And the overtime!” Continue reading A Year of Compliance

A turn of events

I had seen glimpses of this suburb by train. Never from the saddle of a red racer.

From behind the protective glass of the carriage the yawning streets and grey tiles had looked like parts of an abandoned movie set; but now, as I shuttled over the uneven footpath in the cool margarine air, it didn’t feel so alien.  Continue reading A turn of events

The director

Gunther’s feet curled in his snow boots. How long had he been waiting? How long had he been listening to that screaming?

That crying that gashed at his nerves like a chainsaw through a sheet of tin? With a twitching eye he regarded the woman in the cobalt fur coat: she was rocking an all-terrain stroller backwards and forwards, cocked-headed and cooing at the woollen cocoon inside. But the baby only replied by screaming more loudly. Continue reading The director

The café of small victories

Midsummer
fickle and restless
in an area café of note
I sit upon a beercrate made fashionable by mediocre means,
a frothy beverage floats to my upper lip, tilts with fine agreement, twisting velvet steam.
A baby buggy beats a rightuous path beside my quarter
and strikes, colliding glass and concrete
milky shower, everything
sticky.
Vapid stares, enough
to fill an undiscovered vinyl store
halt their one-lined arguments, smoke ironically and regard my dilemma.
The baby too looks down from his fetid chariot, dropping his passionless diversions it sees
how his mother, tall and graceful, holds an effortless smile, hands me some paper and sits with me among the hipsters.

Upstairs lives a writer

David Slipper was never there, and then he was. I hadn’t expected him to appear, but when he did, it seemed to make perfect sense.

I met him in the first week of May, when it had just turned warm. I was on my way home after school, struggling with three books and trying to keep distance between me and the Boczek brothers, who had once again followed me from the bus stop. The Boczek brothers were flat-nosed and had fat arms and I despised them. I never knew why they picked on me: they didn’t know my secret and I had never done or said anything to cross them. I suspect their motives would have confused them just as much had they themselves had the intelligence to question them. But bullies never reflect on who or what they are until Sweet Justice sees them working as bottle collectors, or in Aldi for the rest of their lives.

As usual, the brothers started on me as soon as I turned the corner into my street. They sniggered and jeered that I was a trespasser in “their area” and, as punishment, planned to tear up my books and “wipe their asses with them”.  I ran, but even with my long legs didn’t get very far. They caught up with me and one of them shoved me forwards. The books slid out of my arms and skated over the footpath.

“Hey, freckle head, you dropped your books!” the older one bayed.

“What are they anyway? Books about dresses?” said the other.

Arms outstretched I scrambled after the books, ready to scoop them up and flee, when my foot caught the edge of something and I fell to my hands and knees. I remained there for a few seconds; the concrete only centimetres away from my face and hoping that the brothers would get bored and move on. I felt a wave of tears froth up inside of me but I breathed it back in to my stomach.

And then David was there.

“Get lost before I beat your heads in, you little dickheads!”

The brothers’ faces sagged. David stamped once on the ground and they sprinted in the other direction.

Sweet Justice.

David gathered up my books and helped me to my feet.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You alright?”

“Yes.”

“Sure?”

“It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well, I just moved into that building there, so you just tell me if they pull that sort of nonsense again.”

“Okay.”

“Where do you live?”

“I live there too, on the second floor. With Mother.”

“That makes us neighbours! I’m David.”

He smiled and we shook hands. David’s grip was strong but he didn’t crush me. His arms were long and tanned and were covered with blonde hairs. He had a broad face with dimples on each cheek and two silver earrings hanging from his left earlobe.

“What are you reading?”

“Just history books. I wanted to take them back to the bookshop.”

“I can help you if it’s not too far away.”

My eyes bulged. “No, it’s on this road. Just down there. Another Country.” I made sure to stick out my tongue to make the ‘th’ sound.

“That’s the name of my favourite play.”

It was pleasant to walk with David. He was still carrying my books. I walked beside him matching his slow pace and I didn’t feel awkward at all with empty hands.

“Are you from Germany?” I asked him.

“Nope. You have to guess where I’m from.”

“I don’t know. America?”

“Not even close. I’ll give you a hint.” He pulled his arms towards his chest and started jumping on the spot.

I shook my head.

“That was supposed to be a kangaroo. Not a very good one, I admit. I’m from Australia, near the beach, you know?”

I knew that Australia was far away but it didn’t mean anything else to me.

“I had to get out for a while,” David continued. “So I thought Berlin would be the perfect spot to hang out. I’ve been here about a month or two now. My father has a friend who knows the owner of the apartment I’m in and I get to stay there for free. But don’t tell anyone about it, okay?”

“Do they speak German in Australia?”

“Not a bit. We have our own version of English. But I learnt German at school. Man, you’re lucky you don’t have to learn it, it’s not the easiest language in the world. Fortunately for me I don’t really need it much. The creative writing course I’m doing is all in English.”

“I think you speak German fine,” I said.

As we spoke David laughed a lot and thumped me softly on the arm every time he made joke; this made me feel glad.

“I want to be a writer too,” I told him.

“You know, I’m happy to hear that,” he said “There are lots of writers out there and like me, most of them aren’t very good. But I bet you’re going to be great.”

It was incredible. In the space of ten minutes I’d come from being pushed to the ground by the Boczek brothers to being saved by a stranger, who was a writer and from a faraway place. It was an impossible scenario: one that could only have been meant to happen. I had to get closer to him.

I told Mother about my encounter with David and it turned out that she had already seen him. It was the day the final patches of snow had melted, and he’d come trampling down the street under the weight of two backpacks “like a monkey carrying its babies”.

“He looked like a backpacker.”

“Yes,” I said nodding. “But he is really clever. And his German is fine too. He always uses ‘das’ for everything but he doesn’t have an American or English accent or anything.”

“Oh good, I find those people appalling to listen to.”

“He’s from Australia.”

“Is that so?”

“Do you know where that is?”

“Yes.”

“He wants to be a writer too.”

Mother rolled her eyes. She hated talking about reading and writing and bookshops.

In the days that followed I was feeling positive. The Boczek brothers no longer bothered me, which helped, and I was looking forward to seeing David again. I ended up going up to his floor every day, sometimes three or four times, just to see if he was there. The first time I tapped on his door, only twice and quietly, because I didn’t want to disturb him if he was sleeping or reading. But I soon lost my courage and reduced my efforts to loitering in the staircase waiting for the chance that he might come by. On one occasion, it was in the morning before school, I tip-toed up the stairs and put my ear to his door. I thought I heard voices and kitchen sounds, but couldn’t tell for sure if they were coming from his flat. When Mrs Koch from the top floor came down and nearly caught me in the act, (I told her I was collecting a parcel) I decided it was too risky and moved my operation outside.

It would have appeared a little strange just to sit out front: it was hot and there were no seats or trees, and besides, the essential factor in my plan was that our meeting be one of coincidence. So I rolled Mother’s scooter out of the courtyard and into the street. She had wanted to take it to a garage for a service. I protested saying that we could save money if I did it myself.

“You? Fixing motorbikes? This I have to see!” she said laughing.

I cleaned the body and polished the various parts, careful not to get too much grease on my hands. I knew nothing about machines and loathed motor racing of any kind, but I was able to take my time and observe the comings and goings into our house without looking suspicious. After three days David finally turned up. I saw him exit the building and coast towards me. He was wearing oversized sunglasses with gold-coloured arms. He hadn’t shaved and was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Game over’’. I instantly wanted one.

“Hey, Sebastian” he said. “Having fun?”

“Hi,” I said wiping my hands against my shirt. “Not really.”

“Did you leave that battery in over winter?” A question I hadn’t expected.

“Yes.”

“It’s probably dead.”

I looked around helplessly at the tools lying on the ground.

“Let’s take a look,” he said crouching down. He fiddled with the wires for a few minutes checked some other pieces, the names of which he didn’t know in German and I didn’t know at all. I stared at him as he worked. His t-shirt had come up revealing the skin of his lower back and bottom. I desperately wanted to say something intelligent.

“How far away is Australia? I mean, I’ve never met anyone from Australia before. Isn’t it on the other side of the planet?”

“That’s right.” He laughed and I noticed that his teeth looked unnaturally white against his skin. “I think if you started digging right here, you might make it all the way down to Sydney.”

“Really?” I asked, astonished.

“Maybe. Anyway, you probably wouldn’t want to. It’s faster to take a plane.”

David said that my battery was indeed dead, which was a relief since Mother would have gone crazy if I hadn’t discovered this vital piece of information after three days of tinkering. He wrote down the battery number on a piece of paper for me and we put away the tools.

“I’d kill for a coffee,” he said. “Shall we go to that Turkish place around the corner? My shout.”

At the cafe we ordered a cola for me and an espresso and two croissants for David. When we sat down he leaned towards me and raised his tiny cup.

“Prost,” he said and drank the coffee in one gulp. With a mouthful of croissant he asked: “Are you and your Mother from Berlin?”

“No, we’re from Dresden. We only came to Berlin a few years ago.”

“Oh, I see. Well, Berlin is a nice place. I haven’t seen much outside of the city yet. But I might take a tour of the country later if I can afford it. I might have to sell off a kidney or two first.” I found this marvellously funny and laughed so hard that cola nearly came out my nose.

David lit a cigarette and then offered me one. I took it and put it unsteadily in my mouth. The butt tasted bitter. David lit it and I sucked hard with my cheeks, trying not to inhale the smoke.

“So, who do you read?” he asked.

“I like everything. Schleiermacher, Tieck even modern stuff like Charlotte Link and Elias Canetti. They are fine writers.”

“Hmmm… never heard of any of them. I’m reading John Steinbeck and Patrick White at the moment. Have you ever heard of Tim Winton? Another Australian author. No? Well, him too. I can lend you all these if you like.”

“Oh, yes please! Do you read in German?” I was on the edge of my chair.

“Not as much as I should. But you can read in English right?’

“A little.” I didn’t want David to ask me if I actually spoke the language so I went to the bathroom. I didn’t need to go so I just washed my hands and checked for facial spots.

When I returned, I was surprised to see that my Mother was there. She was sitting in my chair and laughing. Thank God I’d put the cigarette out.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her.

“I was just on my way back from the hairdresser,” she said.

David grinned and raised an eyebrow as if to show me he was as surprised to see her as I was.

“David,” Mother said placing her hand on David’s. “Why don’t you come over for dinner soon? I want to learn more about Australia and I’m sure that David would love to talk to you about writing and books.”

“I’d love to,” David said.

“Come on, Sebastian,” Mother said. I shrugged and followed her out the door and we walked home in silence.

“When were going to tell me that you’d started smoking?” she asked when we got in the door.

“I haven’t.”

“Oh please.”

“David gave me some of his, that’s all. I just wanted to try it. I didn’t like it anyway. And besides, what do you care? You smoke all the time!”

“I was just asking, Sebastian. David should know better. I’ll talk with him.”

“No! Don’t! I mean, I won’t do it again.” I was still angry at her for interrupting my time with David in the bakery just as it had started to go so well. We were already on the subject of reading and writing and I was probably going to invite him over to read some of my stories eventually. I didn’t see why she had to bring it up, especially since she’d never taken any interest in it before.

“David is studying literature at Humbolt.”

“Uh huh.”

“Did he tell you?”

“Maybe, or you told me. I can’t remember.”

“I should also like to study something like that one day,” I said. “Don’t you think it would be good? David says he’ll lend me some books. I can’t wait to find out what types of books they read in Australia.”

“Books about Kangaroos, I expect.”

“I want to study writing too,” I said and felt my face flush.

Mother threw her keys onto the table. “We’ve already been through this a million times! How do you intend to support yourself? Money doesn’t fall out of the sky. ”

“I’ll ask Father.”

“Well, good luck with that, my boy. He’s probably already spent everything he has on that whore.”

“On Aunty Dörte, you mean.”

Mother pursed her lips and glared at me. I could see her mouth filling up with words but she swallowed whatever she wanted to say and went into her bedroom.

The next day at school I told my friends and teachers at school about David and they all were very impressed that I had met an Australian author and that he was going to help me with my writing. On the way home I even promised the guys at the bookshop that I would invite David in to give a reading or recommend areas of acquisition. They agreed it would be a good idea. It was stupid of me to embellish, but it was gratifying to have a foreign friend, particularly one who was studying at a university. That I actually knew someone who was smart and from another country and who talked to me as an equal was a grand thing indeed; especially for a fifteen year-old.

“David is coming to dinner tonight,” Mother said as I came home.

“What? When?”

“At seven. I’m cooking soup.”

“How do you know? I mean, did you see him?”

“I ran into him this morning. He mentioned he had the day off today so… I said it would mean a lot to you if he came around.”

“Mother!”

“What? I’m right aren’t I?”

It was already five-thirty so I immediately showered and began tidying the house. My bedroom was in its usual state: littered with books and magazines and unwashed clothes, and Mother had left her ashtray under the tap again, leaving a black pool in the sink. While I worked Mother sat on the sofa plucking her eyebrows.

“Just leave that, Sebastian,” she said every so often. “Everything is ready.”

Just after seven the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” I ran out of the kitchen.

Mother adjusted her hair, put the tweezers under the sofa cushion and did one of her practice smiles as I opened the door. David had a buttoned-up black jacket and white jeans on, which made him look like the handsome cop from Miami Vice; not the other one. He removed his shoes and took a quick glance around. I felt relieved that I had started to clean early. Mother lept from the sofa holding out her hand.

“David! Nice to see you again.”

“Good evening, Mrs Dietermann,” David said showing his straight teeth.

“Oh, please call me Helena. Would you like something to drink?”

“Yes, a beer would be good, thanks. Here, Sebastian. I brought over some books for you. The play I told you about is in there.”

We all sat on the sofa. Mother had a glass of vodka with ice, David was drinking a beer and I sat between them with a cola.

“Tell me about Australia,” Mother said. “Are the animals really so dangerous? Every time we hear about it it seems that someone or other has been attacked by a shark or crocodile.” Mother laughed and placed her hand on my shoulder as if confirming that I too shared this belief.

“It depends where you live. I’m from Sydney, which is the biggest city-”

“That’s on the east coast, isn’t it?” I already knew the answer.

“Exactly. In the cities there are not so many nasties as in the outback. Although, I was surfing once or twice when they let off the shark alarm.”

“How frightening!” Mother declared and appeared so anxious she had to put down her vodka.

Over dinner the conversation continued much in the same way: David recounted anecdotes about his homeland, Mother whooped with pleasure and, in between, I interjected with previously researched facts, all of which David politely confirmed.

I made sure to memorise everything about what he liked and disliked.

Did he like cars?

No.

What was his favourite country in Europe?

Italy.

Did he like German food?

Yes.

Mother unwittingly did me a favour and asked if he had a girlfriend. I pretended to be absorbed in my food but secretly rejoiced at the answer.

Auf keinen Fall.” No way.

After a several drinks, Mother and David started talking more loudly.

“Oh Sebastian, don’t you think David looks like Steve McQueen?”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

She ignored me and went on talking. “When we came to Berlin we had nothing, didn’t we, Sebastian? The wall had just come down and after my trainwreck of a marriage I just wanted something new. New experiences, new people and a new life, especially after living with all those dull people in Dresden. Have you been there? Those people don’t know the meaning of the word fun. I mean, we Germans may have a bad reputation, but I know how to have fun, believe me, David!” Mother roared. I put my head in my hands and wished for Sweet Justice to see that she spilled her vodka or choked on her bread; anything to stop her tattling on like a fool. But David didn’t seem to mind. He was obviously too polite.

After Dinner I showed David my bedroom and my piles of books, which I’d stacked neatly on the floor grouped by genre, then author.

“Wow! You really have an impressive collection! It’s going to take me forever to read all of these.”

“You can borrow them whenever you like. This pile is science fiction, which I don’t really like anymore, this one is history, there are some fine German history books there and that pile has the ones I couldn’t sort.”

“Great. I’ll have a good look at them next time I’m around.”

“Sorry about Mother,” I said. “I guess she’s excited because we don’t get many visitors.”

“Not at all. I think she’s very nice. She can cook a mean asparagus soup.”

Mother came in holding a cigarette.

“Sebastian, you have school in the morning,” she said. “Off to bed.”

“But-”

“Come now. You can talk to David tomorrow, can’t he David?”

“Sure thing. I have to go anyway. Lots to do tomorrow. Sleep tight, kiddo and enjoy those books,” he said and left the room. Mother looked around my room and just nodded. She was obviously pleased at how well I’d clean it.

I locked the door and pulled out David’s copy of the play, Another Country. It looked new. There were no torn or folded pages and nothing was written on the inside. I began translating it line by line with my poor English skills and pocket dictionary, and it didn’t take long for me to work out the overall setting and the characters. It was the story of an English spy who was a student at an upper class boys school. However it was the theme that made me sit up on my bed. I had never before read any book in which the hero was gay. Moreover, in one of the first scenes two boys were caught by a teacher making love! The details of what they were actually doing weren’t there, but I knew well enough. I looked around to check if my door and curtains were closed and read the page again. The revelation made my mind whirl with exhilaration. Was this the answer to why David had insisted that, out of all the material he could have given me, I have this play? I felt a new energy and read on making sure to absorb every word and write down themes and questions I thought David would find interesting. I couldn’t wait to see him again. I read as much as I could and then lay in bed, tired but fulfilled like never before. It was clear to me that David also had a secret and I wondered if he wanted to talk about it. It didn’t matter. I would be there for him regardless. I would reveal my secret to him and tell him that I understood.

That night he was in my dreams. I dreamt I was passing the bookshop and he was walking on the other side of the street wearing a black hat, which I thought looked good on him. He was speaking to a boy with frizzy, blond hair. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I was angry and wanted to run over and punch the other boy. I hesitated, unable to cross the street. I watched them talking and laughing . And then suddenly the boy disappeared and I was in his place. David asked me what I thought about Australian literature. “I think it is mature and sophisticated,” I replied. Then he held my chin and kissed me. Not like a kiss one would give a friend or aunt, but a real kiss that lasted for minutes. Our open mouths moved like the way fish breathe out of water. I woke up, masturbated and then drifted off again into an easy sleep.

The next morning, I got up early. I went into the kitchen, drank straight from the tap and looked around for something to eat. We’d eaten all the bread the night before. I opened the refrigerator and was staring at the emtpy shelves, when I heard a series of whispers and then hushing. I stopped and listened. More hushing. I went back into the living room and this time noticed the black bra and white t-shirt which were draped over the arm of the sofa. The t-shirt was reversed but I could still recognise the words inside, printed in capital letters on the front, like the flashing warnings of a neon sign: “Game over”.

Mother’s bedroom door was ajar. Peering through I saw that the bed was still made, but the pillows were on the floor. I moved soundlessly towards the door to get a better view. I couldn’t see Mother’s face, but I saw her legs and painted toenails. Her feet were splayed and were pointing at each corner of the room. She let out a horrible moan that made me flinch. David was on top of her facing the wall. A tattoo of a barbed wire just below his neck writhed over his shoulders; with each slap of his stroke, Mother’s legs stretched further out towards the outer edges of her bedroom. I swallowed hard and retreated back into the living room.

There was silence.

“Sebastian? Is that you?” I heard Mother call.

I didn’t move.

“Hello?”

I stood in the middle of the room not daring to move or breath. I picked up David’s t-shirt and for a reason I cannot explain, put it on. I waited for something to happen: the door to open, thunder to boom or even a song to start playing. I waited and I waited, shaking my head. I can still feel the same stillness of that room today when I think back. When I wait for Sweet Justice to come.

At a bustop in Berlin

From this accusatory stance she mimes
a script that’s read innumerous:
Eyes screwed hard on a rush-hour slew
headphones in, a pirate playlist
(warms the surface of her eardrum)
thoughtful not of ancient mew
but yellow capsules caught and missed
she hums the tune through chewing gum
and with it sings the city’s rhymes. Continue reading At a bustop in Berlin

The doppelgänger’s advice

And then blackness.

Simon found himself in a dream. He didn’t know how he’d arrived there or that he’d even fallen asleep. His last impression of the real world was just a pair of worn blue sneakers walking away from him, their black laces whipping at the cobblestone road. Now he was walking up the stairs in what he thought was his apartment building, but there was no graffiti on the walls and no apartment doors at the landings. Through the door frames he could see directly into each apartment, each of which was dark and empty.

He reached what he judged to be the third floor and stood outside his own apartment. He felt the urge to cry out. Even if he didn’t much care for her, perhaps Mrs Stefano, his neighbour and the house’s unofficial source of inside information, would be there to tell him what was going on.

Clump!

Something heavy moved and Simon heard the echo of shuffling footsteps. He peered upwards through the gap in the staircase but saw no-one. Something told him to turn back, that climbing the stairs had been a mistake. He looked back down the stairs he’d already climbed and was about to retreat when he heard someone clear their throat directly behind him.

“There’s nothing up there,” the voice said.

Simon felt a light thrum in his chest. It was him! “What did you say?”

“I said there’s nothing at the end of these stairs. I already looked so I really wouldn’t bother exerting yourself.” The man’s hands were in his pockets and, although he was smiling, he had a tired, phlegmatic expression, like he was waiting for an answer that he already knew. He was much leaner than Simon, not from any malnourishment or sickness, but rather molded in that sleek symmetry of a swimmer. There was no doubt however: every line, every angle of his frame, even the arrangement of his teeth revealed to Simon that was standing face to face with his doppelgänger.

Simon stepped in closer to study the man’s face. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m not sure to be honest. I wondered if perhaps you might be able to fill me in since it’s your dream we’re standing in.”

“You… you were there at the accident, weren’t you? I saw you. You came and you looked over me. I felt you touch my face.”

“Don’t worry, it wasn’t the hand of fucking God or anything. Nothing of the sort. You just looked so… so pathetic there in the street under that garbage truck, blood seeping from your arm as if you were caught in a still frame of some modern dance step. And I know you can’t dance.”

“Am I dead?” Simon inspected his arm and the back of his hands for blood and scratches.

“Do you feel deceased?”

“How should I know? I’ve not been dead before.”

The doppelgänger rolled his eyes and walked over to the open apartment and seemed to inspect the floorboards.

“So you and I, we’re the same person though, aren’t we?  But you’re from the future or another dimension or something similarly transcendental.”

“I don’t know. Nothing has changed for me. It’s not as if I’ve travelled through time. I mean, I’m just here. I live my life, write my books, I have money and I’m having quite a a splendid time of it, if I must say. I do admit though you look awfully like me, only more… lifeless.”

“Splendid? I don’t talk like that.”

“Well, I just said it, didn’t I? So I do talk like that. Anyway, there’s really nothing wrong with the word. I am, if you’d like to know, of the conviction that people should use it more often. Optimism can be misguided, but -”

“Wait a minute. You said books. I’ve only written one and am not even close to finishing the next. In fact I don’t even think I’m going to manage it.”

“Oh yes, the ‘Tongan prince project’,” Simon’s double said, like he was referring to a bad odour. ‘That particular experiment never got off the ground, did it? Not a bad idea though, and there were some novel angles and, yes, some fines lines of poetry in there, but was never going to be a seller. Stick to what you know for a while before experimenting with lofty abstractions.”

“Ross thought it was a good idea.”

“Hiring Ross as an agent was probably the best and worst thing you’ve ever done. Best because he picked you up when you were a nobody. Worst because he’s a grade A arsehole. Get rid of him.”

“We’ll obviously. It seems as if you’ve decided that for me and already shown him the door.”

“Has he said to you yet, that your ‘meter is out of reach for most poetry readers’?”

“No, not yet.”

“Don’t let him. Lose him.”

“If I ever wake up from thi-”

“When appraising poetry, counting syllables is about as useful as totalling the number the brush strokes in a painting.”

“Yes, thanks. I may have already said that.”

“Oh fuck off. Are you going to accuse me now of plagiarism?”

Simon looked down at the doppelgänger’s black laces. Unlike during their encounter at the scene of the accident, they were tied in a neat bow. “Ok, if you are me. Prove it. Tell me how I met Carla.”

The doppelgänger sighed. “Dear Carla. Carla, the lovely, caramel-skinned Sicilian who holds your hand like it were a fragile parchment. Who knew far better than I the courage it takes to love a-”

“Oh please. Really?”

“Look, I could tell you that I met her in that ratty bookshop run by that walking pork knuckle of a woman, but it’d be far more interesting to say that immediately before I asked her out, I was very much nearly standing in a pool of my own urine.” The doppelgänger raised an eyebrow.

“A bit exaggerated don’t you think? I was scared but I didn’t bloody piss myself!”

“It wasn’t exactly a triumphant moment of ours. A bumbling tool with one week of Italian under his belt, asking out a girl like that?”

“Your Italian seemed fine at the accident.” Simon said and then hesitated. “She left me you know.”

“Yes.”

“What should I do?”

“Let me mull over it. I can’t remember what I was thinking at the time.”

“This is too weird.”

The doppelgänger shook his head and then rolled up the left sleeve of his t-shirt. On his shoulder was a pink, fleshy scar shaped like the head of an arrow. “Tell me about it,” he said.

Simon looked at his own shoulder and winced. Blood was trickling out from a gash and spreading through the fabric of his shirt. He reeled and stepped back against the wall clutching his injured arm. Shit, shit, shit was all he could think to say. He didn’t want to go back. There were too many questions and he had to learn the rest of the story: what he had to do to become a better writer, to win Carla back and, most importantly, why his doppelgänger had appeared in the first place. But from somewhere beneath the third floor a low hum chimed ringing throughout the stairwell like church bells sounding under water and began pulling him back down into the depths.

“Looks like it’s time to wake up,” the doppelgänger shouted from above as David sank deeper. “By the way, your phone is ringing. Don’t you want to answer it?”

And then brightness.