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Blood & Water

 Sylvia Petter 

Sylvia Petter is an Australian based in Vienna, Austria. She writes short, long, serious and fun. For more information on all things Sylvia visit


When my best friend, Wolfgang, lost his job and had nowhere to go, I said: “Hey, come on back. There’s always a place for you in our home.”


It wasn’t the first time I’d said it. When he went to sea and broke his neck diving into low tide in the harbour of what was then Leningrad, just showing off to some local girls, I’d said the same thing. He couldn’t go home since his stepfather hated him as much as, or probably more than his mother loved him. “I have a gun,” she said. “Just in case you don’t make it completely.” And she meant it.


But he did make it. Okay, he ponged to high heaven that hot July in our one-room flat in Vienna, in his plaster like armour from crown to belly, underarm tendrils sprouting like mad, and him unable to pee straight into the loo we shared with the next-door neighbour.  “Sit down, for Christ’s sake!” I’d say. But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t sit still, and when the plaster came off, so was he, back to sea, and landed in Sweden.


We kept in touch. We visited him. I say “we” because I’d met a girl. She was there when he was all trussed up in his armour. Everyone thought it was a Jules & Jim scene, especially since she had the same name as my favourite actress back then, Jeanne Moreau. But she was just my girl, and much later she became my wife.


Neither Jeanne nor I had siblings, if you don’t count the ones my Dad had peppered all over Vienna. So, for us, friends were family. You can choose them. Blood is sometimes too thick to make the spice flow. Relatives, we both said, are so relative.


We didn’t want kids. That came much later. So when Wolfgang married a Swedish girl we became “godparents” in an unofficial sort of way. We could always go home, shut the door, heave a deep sigh. God, we were glad not to be in that scene. Family. Family is so relative.


Wolfgang lost his wife to another man, but he and Inge both kept their daughter, and we kept her, too. We had our own daughter by then. Relatives are so relative, we’d tell her, to make up for there being hardly any for her to complain about or show off with to the other kids at school.


So when Wolfgang lost his job a couple of years off retirement and had nowhere to go, we said come on down and be a “privileged pensioner”. We even got him a sign for his door.


And then he died. Just like that. In our home. In his room. On a hot Friday afternoon. I pumped like mad and Jeanne did mouth-to-mouth. “I kissed him more deeply dead than alive,” she said. Fuck Jules & Jim. What people think is so relative! He’d been dead for over two hours, the paramedic told us. The police came, of course. Wolfgang was not family.


The family came to the funeral, his daughter (our “god-daughter”), her husband and kids from Sweden, his sisters and brother-in-law in Vienna, local people who knew him, some colleagues of mine, our cleaning lady, the professor from upstairs, and our daughter from the other side of the world. Blood and water.


He didn’t leave much, but we had to go through the legal motions. One day I got a call from the lawyer. “There is not only a daughter. There is also a son. You are the executor.”


“Did you know?” I asked his sisters. They nodded. “Did you know?” I asked his daughter. She nodded. “Did you know?” I asked Jeanne. She shook her head.


Blood is a black hole. It’s compact and thick. It swallows. Makes it all true. But it is all so relative, isn’t it? 


Jeanne and I still ride the waves, wondering why he never could tell us about the fruit of a one-night stand, who didn’t give a damn. Until collection day. Relatives are so relative.


Our daughter doesn’t talk family. She simply says: “My people”. My people, our people, they ride the waves, roll with the flow, flounder and drown, but even that is in cool, clear water. Yet, it is all so relative.


 (Top photo was taken in Vienna Prater by Anton Martin)

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