Bussing for Your Lives
I’d been to visit a cousin on Lake Constance close to the Austrian border. He was an anti-vaxxer. My best friend had also gone down the rabbit hole. Part of me wanted to understand. Another part didn’t.
“I’ll drive you to the border,” he said. “There’s a bus going straight to Vienna. I’ve booked you on it. You’ll get to see another viewpoint.”
“No borders in the EU,” I said.
“Only for Switzerland,” he said. “The bus will be waiting on the other side,” he added.
I wave goodbye and get into line. I’m a bit nervous. I usually take the train, but this was a direct Friday bus to Vienna, and it was free.
“Is this your first time?” The young woman behind me with a toddler on her hip asks.
I nod and turn around to face her. She has red, curly hair, a dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks. Wholesome.
“You’ll see. It´s great. Everyone together. United in a cause. All types. All ages,” she says, scratching her nose.
“All desperate to go?” I ask, now worried that I might be in the wrong place.
“We´re doing it for our children. So, they have a better life. So, they won’t be fooled.” She pulls her child, a girl with her red hair, up in her arms and kisses her on the left cheek.
“What do they check?” I say.
“Have you got a mask with you?” she says
I nod. “Of course,” I say. I feel in my pockets. Damn. Forgot it.
“Appearances,” she says and pulls a pink mask out of her pocket. “Here, take this.”
“It’s clean,” she says. “Brand new. We look after each other. I always have a spare,” she adds.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“I live in the Emmental,” she says and turns her head.
I had visions of Swiss cheese with large holes.
“I came by train,” she continues as if correcting her statement.
She looks at me. “America,” she says. “Georgia, but I’m Swiss now,” she quickly adds.
“But why?” I ask. “Why become Swiss?”
“FACTA,” she says and puts her child down. Straightens up. “We want to be free. Free from the banks.”
I see her t-shirt “Freiheitstrychler”. See the Swiss antivaxxers bearing down on Vienna. Hear their cowbells chiming.
She’s wearing the t-shirt. I spell it out and say: “Free from vaccines?”
“We can live here one with nature.”
“Why not just do that?” I ask. “Why take the bus? Why go to Vienna?”
“We want to save them,” she says.
“But it’s Friday,” I say. “The demo’s tomorrow.”
“We’ll sleep in the bus, “she says. “We always do.” Her toddler starts coughing.
“Sleet rain is forecast,” I say weakly.
The line starts moving and I’m reminded of a recent headline about American missionaries infecting people in covid-free Kiribati.
But this was Europe; the virus was everywhere and knew nothing about borders, real or imaginary.
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Vienna born Australian Sylvia Petter trained as a translator in Vienna and Brussels. Founding member of the Geneva Writers´ Group, she is a Humber College Toronto creative writing alumnus, holds a PhD in Creative Writing from UNSW (2009) and is a member of the Australian Society of Authors, Sydney, and GAV and IG_AutorInnen, Vienna.
Her stories have appeared online and in print since 1995, notably in The European (UK), Thema (US), The Richmond Review, Eclectica, Reading for Real series (Canada), the anthology, Valentine´s Day, Stories of Revenge (Duckworth, UK), on BBC World Service, as well as in several charity anthologies, and flash-fiction publications.
Her latest book of short fiction, Geflimmer der Vergangenheit (Riva Verlag, Germany, 2014), includes 21 stories drawn from her English-language collections, The Past Present (IUMIX, UK, 2001), Back Burning (IP Australia, Best Fiction Award 2007), and Mercury Blobs (Raging Aardvark, Australia, 2013), and translated into German by Eberhard Hain, Chemnitz.
She has led flash-fiction workshops in Vienna and Gascony, France. Writing as AstridL, several erotic stories appeared in anthologies in the US (Alyson Books) and the UK (Xcite) and subsequently in her collection of 17 erotic tales, Consuming the Muse, (Raging Aardvark, Australia, 2013.)
In 2014, she organized in Vienna the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English.
In March 2020, her debut novel, All the Beautiful Liars was published as a Lightning Bolt eBook by Eye & Lightning Books, UK, and came out in 2021 in paperback and audio.
In July, 2020, she served on the jury for English-language flash fiction for the Vienna Poetry School’s second literary magazine “Gespenster” issued in October. Her antifa novelette in flash, Winds of Change, was published in April 2021 under her imprint FloDoBooks Vienna-Sydney. Sylvia blogs on her website at http://www.sylviapetter.com where there is more on her and her writing.
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