The End by Shaun Levin

We have nothing left to say but neither of us wants to get up. Tell me a joke, I say. You say you’re bad at jokes, you never remember them, especially not in English. I say, when is a door not a door? You say, what? So I repeat the question. It’s a riddle, I say. Which is when you learn the word “riddle.” When it’s a jar, I say, and explain. Another riddle, you say. What can run but can’t walk? And: What building has the most storeys? And: What’s brown and sticky? You like the simplicity of that one, the satisfaction of an unexpected yet obvious answer.

What’s brown and sticky? I’d said.

I don’t know, you said, tell me.

A stick.

Then you say: I’m sorry.

I want to be together, I say. I can’t help it.

You say, me, as well.

What you as well? I say.

I can’t help it, you say, my heart is closed.

That happened at the beginning of our long weekend in Berlin. We took a second room for the last couple of days, visited different sites on different days, agreed on breakfast times to avoid each other in the mornings.

And now on the morning of our departure, like every morning, foreigners gather to feed on the local delicacies: Sausages, blood pudding, clumps of scrambled egg. The coffee wakes you. Bread and pastries fill you up. At a table close by, Janet Price, Australian, is travelling with her cousin Mel and telling the waitress that they’ve been to Italy, London, Devon, too many countries for one trip. The waitress is Taiwanese. Janet wants to know if she speaks “the lingo.” The waitress is friendly, open-hearted, and tells Janet she’s been here for seven years, mixes up all her languages. That’s nice, says Janet, her accent a foreign language in itself, so she speaks slowly, as if one wrong move could kill. She eats her eggs and bacon, sips her cappuccino, a tourist abroad for the first time at fifty-eight, she and Mel in Europe. Delicious, thinks Janet, I love hotel breakfasts (every year she’s up at the Gold Coast), and watches two girls with acne, a hot chocolate for one, a latte for the other, plump, unformed, and a writer (me) in dark trousers and cotton shirt (I should have shaved) eating eggs and smoked salmon. You appear, surprised to see me, but come and stand by my side. I couldn’t wait, I say, and smile up at you apologetically. You put a hand on my shoulder, that’s fine, you say, and turn to face the vast buffet, making as if to brace yourself for something momentous.

Shaun Levin published Mark (a novel) in 2021. In addition to being a writer, he is a visual artist, creating artist’s books and writing maps. His collection of short stories, A Year of Two Summers, was published in 2005. A novella, Seven Sweet Things, was published in 2003 and reissued in 2012. His work on Isaac Rosenberg has appeared in Desperate Remedies and in the monograph, Isaac Rosenberg’s Journey to Arras: A Meditation. He founded and edits the A3 Review and Press. Learn more about him here:

Sketch of two people leaning against each other. Text reads "You were the Quentin Crisp to my Jack Keerouac (eating hummus)
Illustration by Shaun Levin.
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