How on earth could he remember Heraclitus, and not his own telephone number? But telephones were useless extremities anyway: no one to call and no callers. Just one more thing to lose.
He supposed he must have finished the book already; the phrase sounded like the kind of thing someone would say at the end of a book, after tangled events had sorted themselves out only to reveal a lack of overall progress. The only constant is change... Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Now what was that one? A poem, most likely: more shifting sand, difficult to hold on to for meaning. He hadn’t read any poetry for years; this must be another one of those illusory fragments that constantly resurfaced but resisted full recognition.
A middle-aged woman came down the stairs from the deck above wearing skin-colored shorts. It gave Georg a shock until he shifted his glasses higher on his nose and saw that they were in fact shorts. A brochure had warned of topless beaches the day before, and he supposed that, given this freedom, some enterprising individuals might not hesitate to advance the custom a step farther and forego bottoms. Georg had desperately hoped it wouldn’t become common practice while he was yet onboard the cruise ship. Why would anyone wear such clothing anyway?
“Don’t trip, John. These stairs are steep.” A small boy trailed the woman down the steps, rehearsing a crooked sneer he had learned and giggling at his own twisted features. He immediately tripped on the second step but caught himself on the railing just in time. The boy’s closely cropped blonde hair was spiked in front, but otherwise resembled Georg’s when he had been a boy. His shorts even looked a little like the old knickerbockers Georg had worn. He remembered that. So long ago, and he remembered it clearly still.
He stood on a train platform, one of the largest in Graz, scuffing his shoes and trying to inch closer to the platform edge where the tracks began and trains roared by. Finally his mother, with a soft cluck, took his hand and held it firmly. Her scratchy dark-green woolen skirt matched her funny little hat with the edges turned up, and her black handbag was primly tucked between her arm and her side, giving a resilient and formidable look to her figure. Her face, however, betrayed great love and kindness, with large eyes and soft, curved lips.