The visitor’s gallery of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Mona: The air in here…

Alvin: Is it because we’re up in the gallery?

Mona: The air feels like it’s been translated.

Alvin: Into what?

Mona: It’s lighter down there for the politicians. But it’s been translated up here, so it’s heavier.

Alvin: You were asleep.

Mona: With this air? Yeah I was.

[He points.]

Alvin: That woman’s talking about how the minerals that are critical for Europe, for the production of electric cars, are also essential for the countries where they’re mined.

Mona: Which one?

Alvin: Which country?

Mona: Which woman?

Alvin: Second from the left.


Mona: Good use of hand gestures.

Alvin: The jabbing finger.


Mona: I like this space. I was emotional when we first sat down.

Alvin: Emotional about what?

Mona: The whole project. Europe. Cooperation.

[Applause ripples across the chamber.]

Mona: It must have been the book I was reading.

Alvin: I didn’t think it was such an emotional book.

Mona: It’s about 1945. I mean, it’s mostly accounts of cholera and crumbling ruins and desperation in these women known as Ruinenmäuschen.

Alvin: In where?

Mona: In Berlin. Ruinenmäuschen basically means ‘mice in the rubble.’ These young women or kids, even boys, sift through the rubble for food. They try to pick up soldiers. And I’m sure the author held back and didn’t describe the worst stuff.

Alvin: Mäuschen.

Mona: Ruinenmäuschen. While reading it, I kept thinking about them walking up piles of bricks. I know that’s probably the least of their problems but imagine trying to climb rubble. All the bricks are sliding—all these pools of fetid water.

Alvin: To be fair, you’re still at the beginning of the book.

Mona: First chapter. Maybe that’s why coming here is meaningful. They built something here.

[They listen.]

Alvin: ‘Reproducing neocolonialist behaviour.’

Mona: I like her. They need powerful speakers so you don’t fall asleep in this weird air.

[They listen.]

Mona: I could just sleep right here. I could dream of Europe. I could dream of freedom to travel, freedom to study, freedom to work, freedom of residence, freedom to do business, freedom to freedom.

Alvin: You gotta give for what you take.

Mona: The book mentions this American soldier who became a figure in the underworld of Frankfurt right after the war. Their name was Tante Anna, Auntie Anna. But it doesn’t say if the soldier was male or female.

Alvin: It could be a man named Anna.

Mona: Auntie Anna was known in the Trümmerbordellen. That was the name of the ruin brothels.

Alvin: Europe was not all brothels.

Mona: I know, but it’s the stuff that sticks with you. Piles of bricks, impossible to climb. Broken buildings. How many seats do you think there are down there?

[He checks.]

Alvin: 705 members. ‘It represents the second largest electorate in the world after the parliament of India.’

Mona: She’s leaving now.

Alvin: Who?

Mona: The woman who wants to build institutions for a post-growth society.

Alvin: I like her.

Mona: Me too.

Alvin: She is valiantly climbing the pile of bricks.

[They listen.]

Mona: I don’t think everything in the first chapter is about brothels, but the despair in Europe was astounding. It’s tough to remember the despair.

Alvin: It’s always difficult to remember despair.

Mona: I may have to leave here.

Alvin: Why?

Mona: The air. I keep yawning.

Alvin: We need to take back the little audio tour headphones.

Mona: I need to take back control is what I need to take back.

Alvin: We can go back to the courtyard.

Mona: I need to take back control of my oxygen.


The waiting room of a community health centre.
The visitor’s gallery of the European Parliament in Brussels.
A café in Paris, 20th arrondissement.
The paint aisle.
A downtown café.
A large hardware store.
A laneway.
A path through a forest of old cedars.
A cafe in Oregon.
A used bookstore.
In Christian heaven.
At the home of a crossword puzzle setter.
Outside a car dealership.
The Salish Sea.
A cafeteria.
In a forest.