Stephen Totterdell

Origin Point

Rapid staccato whistles sound from the Hauptbahnhof. Fyodor steps off a carriage and onto the platform and, with an extended intake of breath, scans for signs that will lead him to the S-Bahn. Moments later, it seems, he is standing outside a tall office building. A placque outside the door reads: ‘Doctor Jürgen Dodd’. Fyodor rings the buzzer. While he waits, there come a proliferation of English speakers on the street; many noticeably drunk, many shuffling guilty out of underground cinemas, before rejoining their respective groups and engaging in a cover of bravado. The buzzer sounds, and Fyodor opens the door – the handle is almost at eye-level. Out into the brightened corridor steps Jürgen. „Fyodor!” he exclaims, “welcome to our home.” Jürgen extends a hand, but Fyodor is embarrassed by the gesture and refuses. “Of course. You’re a man now,” Jürgen glances away, and scratches his temple, „Come in. I’ll show you to your room.”

The smell of meatballs fills the kitchen. The TV has been positioned to face away from the table. Fyodor watches his father eat slowly, too meticulously to be natural, and regards his own plate with only mild interest. “I’m going down to the shop.” he tells Jürgen, who smiles and says “Of course! Great idea, Fyo.” It’s dark out, and the lights of the neighbourhood businesses glow almost ceaselessly. Fyodor slips through crowds of tourists, always keeping a steady eye on the record shop at the end of the street. Suddenly the crowds siphon out. The street is quiet. Only a single encounter remains – a man and a woman exchanging pleasantries. The man, whose tie is undone, pleads pressingly with the woman, who, meeting his nerves and engaging, wears long white boots and a leather jacket. They talk a moment, then the man’s eyes catch on Fyodor. His gaze returns to the woman, but with each glance backwards he grows colder. Eventually he thanks the woman and hurries around the corner.

Each day in Jürgen’s surgery waiting room, Fyodor tells the patients “Herr Doktor Dodd will be with you momentarily.” Today, a woman with long red boots and a leopard print jacket sits sprawled with a magazine in the tattered armchair which Jürgen has dragged in from the living room. As Fyodor notifies her, he runs his eyes across her clothes, across her dyed blonde hair, and across the smile forming on her purple lips. “You’re working for your dad now, ja?” says the woman. “Yes, he’s teaching me the business.” says Fyodor, his voice crackling, and the woman coos in a way Fyodor has only heard in movies. “Well,” she says, “he’s running a very good business here, don’t forget it.” As she leaves the waiting room, her fingers run through  his hair. He clasps his notepad, then ticks her name from the list.

While Fyodor waits for the next patient, he hangs from the reception desk. It is empty; his father acts as receptionist and the desk, eternally unmanned, is an unfinished gesture. A door down the corridor opens, and the red booted woman exits. When she sees Fyodor, her muted expression transforms into a beaming toothy smile. She waves goodbye as she passes. He smiles. With a click, the door closes. Fyodor rushes to his father’s office, halting a few inches from the entrance. He peers though the small opening at Jürgen, who is preparing notes and filing papers in drawers. Fyodor watches for a moment, trying to glean something from his father’s face, and then, finding it empty, returns to the waiting room and notifies the next patient.

The floorboards in the side corridor creak, so Fyodor treads lightly. He knocks on a door, and hears a kettle whistling inside. When Ben opens the door, he looms over Fyodor. “Hi Ben,” says Fyodor, before noticing that Ben already holds a brown envelope. “How are you?” he continues. “Good, thank you.” says Ben, “And you?” The distance between them closes a little. Ben holds up the envelope, “You want my rent?” Fyodor nods, “Yes, thank you. I’m good, thank you.” Ben opens the envelope and points, “I give here an extra fifteen. That I owe. Tell your father thank you very much.”

Packaged ham, which curls up at the corners, and fresh baked bread are laid out on the table in front of Fyodor. Then, a knock on the door. It’s Ben, who leans in and hunches slightly to avoid the sun. Jürgen is already laying out another plate, and says “We’d be delighted if you’d join us.” The table is casually silent, until Fyodor asks about a new movie. Ben says “I haven’t seen it. The pictures are not really my thing just now, I’m afraid. But have you seen the old movie, from Morocco, Tastes Cola? My favourite.” Jürgen points to Fyodor, „Didn’t you say you’d seen a film from Morocco? Fyo loves the cinema.” The silence returns, more pressing. “Yes,” says Fyodor after a moment, “I saw Tastes Cola, and some other films by the director. Is he your favourite filmmaker?” Ben holds up a hand, begins to speak, stops, then says “He is one of my favourites. I like the German cinema, too. Do you like, if I’m pronouncing it correctly, Schlöndorff?“

A panoramic view of the street can be observed from Fyodor’s bedroom window, lending itself to close study of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants. When Ben leaves the table for work, Fyodor runs to the window. On the street stands the woman with red boots – her hair now coloured orange. She catches Ben’s eye. Unlike the men in suits, their demeanour is casual. The woman laughs at something Ben has said, and then he continues on his way to the garage. Fyodor launches himself toward the front door, down the half-flight of steps, and onto the street. “Hallo!” the woman smiles warmly, “How are you today, Fyo?” Her jacket is stained with small mustard-coloured blotches. Fyodor says “Are you Ben’s friend?” Her face relaxes, “Yes, but I can be your friend too, if you’d like?” Another suited man approaches tentatively from behind. Fyodor, quietly, says “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Stefan Totterdell has had work published in Dublin-based zines The Runt and I Don’t Belong Here Either, as well as performing editing duties on several small publications. He graduated with a BA in English, Media and Cultural Studies from IADT and is currently living in southern Germany. He tweets @StefanChinaski

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