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Lest we Forget

It’s the Season

A Fable

Sylvia Petter

Sylvia Petter is an Australian based in Vienna, Austria. She writes short and long, serious and fun.

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Acknowledgement:  Some of these flashes were submissions to Ad Hoc Fiction’s weekly online competition. “Lest We Forget” was a recent winner.


Her parents fled. There was no fear for survival. They just wanted a better life away from the aftermath of a world war. Their daughter was born on a ship that squeezed through the tight Suez. They arrived safely in Australia and lived in peace for many years. She buried their ashes, as was their wish, in the Australian bush.


Today, she sits in her armchair and watches the news on her TV. She remembers when she asked: Why? Her father rose from his chair. “It was for you,” he’d said. “It was to give you a chance.”


The news show a man with a child in his arms, a woman clings to his side, tears in her eyes. There is blood on his forehead.


She sips her wine. The images have made her bite her lip. She tastes something metallic and dabs at a blood smear.

My grandmother would tell me stories of how they put us away back then. Not because of our politics, not because of our religion, just because we couldn’t stay put. It’s funny how things go round, and I’m not talking about karma.


Eighty years later they’re doing it again. They said we had to move on because folks were complaining about our caravans, saying we stole food and clothes. Then they locked us up. Now they’re making us work on a barbed wire fence, not to keep us in this time, but to keep others out, others who just want to pass through. Folks are now offering food and clothes, things that we were accused of stealing.


They talk of getting the right balance between security and humanity. But what about me and mine, where do we sit on this bloody seesaw? My hands are bleeding.

In summer, Magda always has breakfast on her balcony overlooking Vienna’s St Stephen’s, and reads her home-delivered paper. She’s worked hard for the good life and now, recently retired with a good pension, she enjoys all the culture her adopted city offers: opera, concerts, coffee and Strudel at Demel’s, outside the tourist rush, of course.


Magda doesn’t like to dwell on the past. It’s the here and now she loves. But the news has been heating up in the wake of the recent heatwave. They’re lying on the train tracks at Bicske, screaming “not here”.


“Not here.” The words slip from the page and morph into her mind. “My home is no longer here.” It is 1956. Magda is preparing to flee.


Magda stares down at the buskers on St Stephen’s square. She kneads her fingers as a solitary tear drops onto her wrinkled hand.


In a land nestled in mountains garden gnomes delighted in their pots of gold while lilac cows gambolled in the lush foothills. It was a land of white sheep with thick fleeces.

One day, the gnomes told the sheep stories of bedraggled others, keen to graze on their well-tended lawns.

Seized by fear, the white sheep huddled together, and conferred.

Banners then furled throughout the land: What will become of our pots of gold? Where will our sweet lilac cows now graze? Our lambs need protection. Our fleeces are pure. No to the jet-black sheep.

The white sheep considered and bleated approval of far-reaching actions.

And so what was once a rich land of beauty shrivelled to that of an insular state. The lilac cows lost their sweetness and the white sheep became unable to lamb. All that remained were old garden gnomes hording their pots of tarnished gold.

They’re out in force, turning the soil of Vienna’s gardens. Green bins are being filled with wilted red carnations, their stems unable to survive the long, hard winter. Perennials are being planted. Violas. It’s the season.

The viola does not seem to have an apparent stem, rising as it does directly from the ground, and can survive beneath the winter snow. It is found in many gardens where its elusive scent can desensitize, at least for a while, before its force can be discerned. There’ve been seasons in the past where no one noticed the hardy perennial until it was in the spring of its full bloom, a time when people had to scramble for their lives.

Violas, bleeding into blue, are being planted all over the city. It’s the season.

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