It was a mistake. But anyone can say that, looking back.
I was sitting on a bench by a canal in Vienna, trying to read to read a novel. As usual I got stuck looking at the words and wondering how they might have been strung together differently, instead of following the plot. I read a couple of pages and looked up at the bats that flew out from under the bridge. When it got dark I finished my beer and went back to S.
She’d got a job in Vienna and found a beautiful flat in the Orthodox Jewish quarter, near a big temple that had been bombed by the Nazis. She’d ordered IKEA furniture that I assembled while she was at work.
The flat was owned by a world-weary painter around my age who told us, Do whatever you want, just don’t trash the place. There still seemed to be people like that around Vienna. Rent was cheap, I guess because there were so many big buildings left from the days of the empire. The big apartments had been split up. There were brass signs on the pavements listing the people who’d been brought to the camps. There were parks too, and the Danube, palaces on every corner of the Altstadt.
On the façade of the building opposite, above a supermarket, workers on scaffolding were putting up a plaque that said Strauss lived there. Who cares, I said. That was when I felt something finally break between us. She wanted to see some enthusiasm in me that I could no longer give her. She’d already met V. in any case. It didn’t help that I’d quoted Kafka to her the day before: ‘Today I looked at a map of Vienna. For a moment it seemed incomprehensible to me that they would build such a huge city when you only need one room.’