False Mother

by Joshua McKenzie

Brian McMahon is a disgruntled teacher trying to keep body and soul together in Frankfurt, Germany. Chance events beat a trail to a woman hailed as the Divine Mother. After a mysterious poisoning, McMahon contends with various demons, and ends up a little wiser.



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From: False Mother by Joshua McKenzie

© Joshua McKenzie

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Germany. The darkest place on the planet. Always was. You don’t believe me? Ask your average Catholic about Martin Luther. So you’re a Protestant? Karl Marx, then. No-one’s messed the world up more than him. Ah, Marx was a Jew, was he? Dangerous territory, there. Yeah, maybe I’d say the same thing about France or Tibet if I was living there, but I’m not, am I? I’m here.

I was saying this, or something like this, when we crossed the Bridge of Peace over the River Main, heading towards Frankfurt’s main railway station. How did we get onto the subject? It was a report on the radio. A home for asylum-seekers attacked by fire bombs. My passenger, a teenage hitch hiker I’d picked up at a motorway petrol station, didn’t seem to care.

“You’re boss German?”

I was on my way to the language teaching company I worked for. It was German-owned and German-run.

“There’s never chaos,” he said, “when there’s a German at the top.”

We stopped at a traffic light. When it turned green, my car travelled a few metres, then stalled with a jolt. When I turned the key, the engine started for me, but it was too late for the green light. And there was no way to go forward, because the traffic had jammed up. I put the gears into reverse, hitting my passenger on the knee with my knuckles. He recoiled from me like I was an electric shock. Trying to get back behind the white line, I had to swerve round a lorry that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make room for me.

“You foreigners,” the hitch hiker was saying, “you can’t drive for peanuts.”

He was bleeding from the eye region. I leaned sideways over him to get a closer look.

“You keep your hands off me.”

“Steady on, now,” I said, giving him space. I took a tissue from under the dashboard. “Here. For the bleeding. Press as hard as you can. I’ll take you to a hospital, if you like.”

Now we had missed the light turning green again and we were blocking the traffic. One or two drivers got out of their vehicles and advanced in a threatening manner. I got the car started, just in time for us to be the only vehicle that got through the green phase. I remember thinking I’d have to re-register the car, because at least one of those drivers was sure to have my number, and would be coming after me.

“I don’t need a hospital,” said the teenager. “I got this bruise yesterday, and I just hit myself now in the exact same place because of the way you drive. That’s why it’s bleeding.”

“In a fight, were you?” I was relieved that it wasn’t all my fault.

“Somebody tried to get in my way in the cinema queue, and I let him have it, and he let me have it back.”

“Who won?”

“Let’s just say, he won’t ever get in the way of a German again.”

It was early afternoon, and the sun was shining. Frankfurt was looking good for a change.

“So this guy wasn’t German, and he was ahead of you in the cinema queue, and because you’re German you had the right to go in front of him?”

“You got it, Mister.”

“Maybe it’s time for me to go home to Ireland.”

He turned sideways to face me. There was a twist on his lips. “Yeah, just go home. There are too many foreign parasites here.”

“You’re in my car. I’m giving you a lift. Maybe it’s you who’s the parasite.”

“Mister, you live here, you live off this country, and you still think you can pick on us Germans like we’re shit.”

I squinted at him out of the corner of my eye. Maybe an East German. From some decaying and resentful metropolis where they refused to let go of the past.

“So, where are you from?”


The place had been in our geography books at school. Eifel. Hunsrück. Taunus. Westerwald. We used to chant the names religiously from our little wooden desks, with the crazed teacher beating the rhythm on the blackboard. Not far from the Rhine. These days, they say chalkboard, because they’re afraid if they use the word ‘black’ someone will call them a racist.

“They burn refugees in that place you come from, just because they’ve been out of a job since the Berlin wall came down?”

“Mister, you just keep your eye on the traffic. And the Westerwald is West Germany, by the way.”

“There you are, son. A foreigner knows a bit more about Deutschland.”

“Listen.” His face was serious and his tone was hard, too hard for his seventeen or eighteen years of life-experience. “You tell your friends. The war was over in 1945. We Germans, we’re not taking crap for ever.”

At the next lights he was gone, slamming the door so hard it made the car shake. I watched him, his anorak flying open in the wind. It was an ugly dark colour, pitch-black almost, and too big for him. And he was wearing white runners with one of those stupid logos on them. He gave me a clenched fist salute.

“What are you trying to be?” I called after him, “fascist or communist, or just a punk?”