It was the happiest time of my life. The saddest time, too. I
I had arrived from England to work for eight months in a grand
Viennese hotel. I was excited. I would at last see the world.
Get away from Turnham Green. Go farther than London.
It was early May when the train puffed into the grey hangar of
the Westbahnhof. The other passengers bustled by me as I lugged
my knapsack down the high steps of the train and stood lost on
the platform. Suddenly, a large hand clamped on my shoulder.
I almost jumped, turned and saw a tall stout man with red shiny
I nodded. "Kenneth," I said.
"I am Herr Klain," the man said. "Velcome to Wienna."
He picked up my knapsack in an easy swing. The knapsack dangled
and his arm directed me outside. His other hand held my shoulder.
The spring sun almost blinded me as Herr Klain hurried to the
black hooded taxis gleaming in a line. Then he tucked me and my
knapsack into the back seat of the first car and took his place
beside the driver.
"Elisabethstrasse. Goesserhof," he said.
Herr Klain’s head scraped the car’s ceiling. I could hardly see
between him and the driver, so I looked out of my window at the
road rushing past.
"Do you speak some German?" Herr Klain asked and turned
his balding head towards me.
I shook my head.
"Ah," he said. "That will be good practice for
my Harald then."
"My son. He has your age." Then he settled back in his
seat and looked straight ahead until we pulled up in front of
a hotel. A man in shirtsleeves and a black bow tie, a long dark
green apron over his black trousers, pulled at the shining brass
handle of the heavy glass door.
"Gruess Gott, Herr Klain," he said.
Herr Klain nodded and ushered me in past the oak-beamed foyer
to stairs curving upwards.
"Our apartments are upstairs. You shall have your own room,"
he said. "You shall share Harald’s bathroom," he added.
Lugging my rucksack, I followed in Herr Klain’s long shadow.
At the top of the stairs a young fair-haired man lounged against
the banister. He greeted us with a half smile.
"Gruess Gott, Papa."
"Harald! This is Kennes," Herr Klain said and caught
"Come, boy," Herr Klain said to Harald. "Prove
your English. You must learn something in that expensive school
I send you."
"Welcome to … the Goesserhof," Harald said as we reached
the landing. He held out his hand.
I almost lost my balance as my rucksack slid to the floor. Disengaged,
I grasped Harald’s hand. "Good to meet you," I said.
Harald smiled that half smile again.
"Show Kennes to his room," Herr Klain said. "Get
The room was long and narrow. The width of a cupboard and a bed.
The door opened outward. There was one window on the opposite
side. Looking out on the cobbled street, I dropped my rucksack
under the sill. Harald leant in the doorway.
"One needs not much more in this house," Harald said.
"It is enough to be able to come back."
I thought it was a strange thing to say, but I nodded.
"The bathroom is next door. I have made place."
"Thanks," I said. Then I smiled. Harald smiled back,
but still stood in the doorway. And he stood as I unpacked my
two shirts, my three singlets, my underpants. He watched me unfold
them and flatten them out in the cupboard. I didn’t know what
to say so I didn’t say anything, hoping that he’d leave me a moment
to adapt. When I had nothing more to put away, I faced him.
"And now?" I said
"Now I show you my town," Harald said. "Come."
Harald took the stairs two by two and I ran after him.
"What’s the hurry?" I said.
"You must make the hay while the sun is still shining,"
Harald winked, then laughed.
We raced out the door, past the man in the green apron. I had
a strange and wild feeling of freedom. Suddenly Harald stopped.
"Take a deep breath," he said.
We both stood with our hands on our hips and filled our lungs.
Then we both buckled over with laughter, but I didn’t know why.
"Come," Harald said and raced ahead.
A group of four or five boys in dark blue shorts and shirts with
kerchiefs around their necks, the ends held together in a leather
toggle, swaggered towards us. They must have been about ten or
twelve years old.
"Your cub scouts?" I said.
Harald raised his eyebrows.
"You know. Camping. Hiking. Hiking in the Vienna Woods?"
Harald nodded. "Yes. Cub scouts," he said. "Of
As the boys drew abreast Harald quickened his gait. I was almost
out of breath when we stopped at a fountain in the middle of a
crossing. Cathedral spires threw long shadows down upon us. I
shivered. Harald splashed his hands in the water and then splashed
"It’s cold," I said.
"But good." Then he stared at me. "Are you a Jew?"
I splashed my hands and wet my face as he had done.
"You have a big nose."
"So do you."
We both laughed out loud. "Come on," he said and slapped
me on the back. "Race you back to the hotel."
He was off and me behind him, trying to keep up. At a block away
from the Goesserhof, Harald stopped.
"Walk now. We must be serious."
My friendship with Harald grew with the weeks. On Mondays, when
I had my day off, he would dash in from school to show me new
places. One day we sneaked into Saint Stephen’s cathedral and
hid in an empty confessional booth off the main altar.
"Tell me, my son," Harald said. "Have you sinned?"
"Sshhh," he said.
"How can I tell you if you say ‘Sshhh’? No," I said
and stifled my mouth. "Have you, …my son?" I tried
not to laugh.
"Not yet," Harald said. "Not really." His
voice was earnest. Then he nudged me. "Let’s go."
Daytime in the hotel was spent learning as the head waiter surveyed
me. The other waiters watched silently.
"Take a carp," the headwaiter said.
"How?" I said.
"Just put your hand in the tank and … take a carp. Catch
I rolled up my sleeves and grabbed for the slithery form. I managed
to catch it. Pulled it out. The fish thrashed, slipped from my
hands and landed on the sawdust strewn floor. The waiters roared.
"Pick it up," the headwaiter said drily. "Rinse
it and give it to the chef."
Behind my back I heard snickering.
The hotel waiters had set up a soccer team. I burned to join in.
"Why don’t you play?" I asked Harald.
"They’re rough. You should keep away."
"But it’s a game," I said.
When I asked Herr Klain if I could play on the staff team his
face grew sad.
"I do not think you should," he said. "They are
I wanted to play badly.
"Let’s go once, Harald. Just once," I said.
The next Monday afternoon we changed into shorts and jerseys and
went down to the field a few blocks from the Danube Canal. Six
of the seven waiters were already there. Three against three.
"Koennen wir mitspielen?" Harald called out.
They stopped and looked at us, one of them pointing to both sides.
Harald went to one, I went to the other. Then the game started.
The ball came towards me and I braked it with my toe. I started
dribbling towards the goal. I was in control. Suddenly I felt
a thwack in my side. A word spat by my ears as I crashed to the
Harald was by my side and pulled me to my feet.
"What did he mean?" I said.
"Let us go," Harald said and walked me away. Behind
us, I heard snickering.
"I said it was better you did not play," Herr Klain
said. "You are a Jew."
I stared at Harald’s father. Harald sat on the stairs, his elbows
on his knees and his head hanging down.
"Kennes," Herr Klain said, "it is sad, but some
of our waiters, they are good boys, yes, but … they do not like
"But how do they know?" I said. "I look just like
you. Like Harald." I tried to find some relief. I looked
over at Harald. "I have a nose just like his."
Herr Klain put his arm around me and reached out an arm to his
"It is unfortunate," he said.
The next Sunday and all Sundays thereafter Herr Klain insisted
I accompany the family to mass at Saint Stephen’s. I soon forgot
the soccer incident. Harald and I would exchange grins as we knelt
and glanced over at the confessional boxes.
One day, Herr Klain took me with him to one of the neighbouring
villages in Burgenland to place his wine orders. Glasses of golden
wine were reached around in the damp cellars.
"Sip," he said.
I saw him drink, but didn’t see him spit the wine out. I took
bigger mouthfuls. I swallowed.
"The boy doesn’t know how," the wine-seller said.
"You’re supposed to spit it out, Kennes." Herr Klain
spat in a bowl.
"He will learn," Herr Klain said to the wine-seller.
"That type never learn," the man said. "Just like
those types in the village we’re stuck with."
Two other men tasting wine in the cellar mumbled agreement. The
words came to me in a haze. I wasn’t like that. I noticed the
men didn’t spit out their mouthfuls. I swallowed mine.
As we came up to the fresh air, my head started to spin, and my
Herr Klain laughed as I tried to walk a straight line.
"It is to taste wine," he said. "You’re supposed
to spit it out. Not get drunk." And he clapped me on the
shoulder. "You will learn, Kennes."
I was euphoric again.
I wished Harald were there.
On our last trip, though I didn’t know it, we saw a family at
the entrance to the village. A woman in long dark skirts and a
bright head scarf stood behind a makeshift stand and plaited the
dried leaves of corn cobs. A man in a slouch hat squatted on his
haunches, smoking. A child sat on the ground, drawing in the dust.
As we passed in Herr Klain’s old Ford, I turned my head, kept
watching the family. The two men from the wine cellar appeared
out of nowhere and sauntered towards the threesome. They kicked
down the stand.
Herr Klain kept driving, slowly. I watched through the rear window
as the child buried its head in the woman’s skirts, as the man
stood and his arms encircled his wife. The two men laughed, it
seemed, and walked off. All the while Herr Klain had been silent,
then he stopped the car in the middle of nowhere.
"Kennes," he said. "I do not think you should stay."
"But I still have three months to go," I said. "I
like it so much here. You. Harald. I love Vienna."
Herr Klain sighed.
"It is best you go back to England." His voice was cold.
Harald came with his father to see me off at the station. He bear-hugged
"I shall write," he said.
Herr Klain swung my rucksack in the overhead strapping and dropped
back to the platform where Harald and I stood. Then he hugged
"Leb wohl, Kennes," he said and his hand patted my face.
Tears prickled my eyes as I stood at the window waving at the
large figure of Herr Klain and the slender Harald by his side.
I must have fallen asleep just after Linz. I awoke to screams
as the train pulled into Salzburg. Two uniformed men in khaki,
a red band flashing on their left arms were shoving three or four
of the other passengers before them. It was a family I had seen
board the train in Vienna. I had wondered if they were from one
of the Burgenland villages near the Hungarian border where Herr
Klain and I had tasted the wine. They were dressed in a similar
way, almost like gypsies, but the woman was without the bright
colours and the clinking gold baubles. Why would gypsies travel
by train anyway, and where were they going? I had fallen asleep
thinking they couldn’t have been gypsies.
I looked out of my window. One of the uniformed men was barking
something at the huddling group of four. The other turned to the
train driver and raised his right arm straight in a stiff salute.
I stared out past the platform as the train pulled off towards
"Farewell, Harald," I said as tears rolled down my cheeks.
Copyright © Sylvia Petter 1998
This article may not be archived or distributed further without
the author’s express permission. Please read the license.
This electronic version of Viennese Blood is published
by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.
Sylvia Petter is an Australian living in France.
Her stories have appeared in print and on the Web
in, among others, The European, Thema, Southern
Ocean Review, Mystery & Manners Quarterly,
Edifice. One of her stories, The First Man, was
broadcast on BBC World Service in December 1997.
She is working on a short story collection and
has completed one novel, excerpts of which may be
found at Gangway. Sylvia can be reached at
[email protected] and her home page is at http://sylviapetter.com