“From Brussels South to Ottignies” by Monica Westeren

This week I drew the four of hearts for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I’ve dedicated the hearts suit to women authors this year (though I also have a smattering of them in other suits as well). Where did I discover this story? A couple years ago, I learned from fellow blogger Alex (at The Sleepless Reader) of a collection of short stories set in Brussels. Now, I’ve alighted in many countries of the world in my reading, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with a Belgian setting, so I decided to buy it and planned to use it as “fodder” in my future DMI projects. This is the third (of nine) I’ve read so far, and I also have Edina Doci’s story, “Bear Dance” waiting to yet be drawn this year. The name of the collection is “The Meantime” and info may be found here: http://www.themeantime.be.


I had no idea what this story would be about, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised (based on the title) that the main character works on a commuter train as a ticket inspector. The story is subtitled “The Story of Lia'” and Lia is a young woman working that dead-end job and harboring unfulfilled dreams of being a linguist and scholar. It opens with the following warning:

“If by living your dream you risk seeing it shatter to pieces, then better to remain frozen. For ignorance is bliss, and so are frozen dreams that live forever.”

Reading through the story, however, I doubt that the author believes this philosophy to be true. More likely is that the “warning” is placed in the story as a potential explanation of how so many people in the world choose the “remain frozen” option. I found the story interesting (and the main character’s current job is an ideal time-killer as she considers her preferred career path of linguistics, for she encounters many passengers of many nationalities speaking many languages in the daily performance of her duties). In an early heart-to-heart talk with her brother, when discussing their father’s discouraging her interest in languages, Lia’s brother says, “Don’t you see through dad? He’s shit scared you’ll make it, while he played it safe.” (See? He chose to “remain frozen” as well)

The majority of the story takes place on a train (see title) and also includes the gimmick of dividing sections of text with times – like a train schedule would be presented. There is also a mystical interlude thrown in near the end which took me by surprise as it felt a little out of place and left me wondering if its inclusion was a late decision by the author. Speaking of the author, I searched for her online, but she appears to have fallen silent for now, with the most recent stuff I found being a whole year ago. I hope she herself hasn’t retreated to the choice of remaining frozen…

What short stories have you read recently? Where in the world have YOUR reading travels not yet taken you?

Below: the action of the story takes place between Brussels and Ottignies (where the red stick pin is in this map). I wanted to know where it was, okay? 🙂



  1. Hanne, on Cloud 9 said,

    March 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    aha! that’s interesting. i live just North to Brussels so i should feel right at home in that story collection.
    Thanks for sharing, excellent blog entry!


    • Jay said,

      March 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Ah yes, I’d forgotten I was “in your neighborhood” here too. 🙂 Almost no one rides trains in my part of the country, which I think is too bad.


  2. Dale said,

    March 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Hi Jay,
    Dreams being discouraged by parents is always an interesting theme to me. I think Lia’s brother’s insight is right on the money.


    • Jay said,

      March 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Me too. Tends to make my blood boil.. 🙂


  3. March 24, 2014 at 2:15 am

    I like the sound of this collection! “Brussels South” to many Europeans means “Charleroi Airport”, the airport used by Ryanair, a low-fare airline, as their “Brussels” airport, and named by them “Brussels South”, though you’ve still got quite a long way to go to the city itself.


    • Jay said,

      March 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Interesting… maybe that is the intended meaning in the story title. I just assumed it was the route of the train on which Lia was working. If the meanin is “directional” as i assumed, looking at the map, the story should have been called “Brussels Southeast to Ottignies” 🙂


      • Hanne, on Cloud 9 said,

        March 24, 2014 at 5:39 pm

        I don’t think so. In this case i think they really mean Brussels South station, better known by its French name as Brussels Midi. There is a trainline going to Ottignies from there so it makes sense.

        (The charleroi airport renaming itself to Brussels South has always been a big joke worthy of a short story though :))


        • Jay said,

          March 26, 2014 at 7:20 am

          That makes more sense for the story’s title. I can almost hear them announcing it at the station “All aboard. Brussels South to Ottignies!” 🙂


  4. Candiss said,

    March 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I definitely have to look this story up, as linguistics is one of my loves, and I’m fascinated by train travel as an everyday thing. No one rides trains here anymore, it seems. I will opt for Amtrak whenever it is a viable option, but it’s so…antiquated, yet doesn’t even have much of a positive feel about it to balance things out. (It’s largely stuck in the worst of both worlds…both slow/outdated AND without charm. *sigh*) I am terrifically jealous of Asia (and also Europe) for their high speed lines!

    I really enjoy geographically-linked anthologies. I didn’t know there was one set in Brussels that is available in English!


    • Jay said,

      March 26, 2014 at 7:19 am

      Hi Candiss,
      I suspect you’d enjoy the linguistic aspects of this story. You probably wouldn’t like the character’s father saying things like “languages are fine for a hobby, but how are you going to pay the bills with them?” or something like that. (He was annoying).

      I’d love to take a long train trip across the country some day. Maybe I should add that to the non-literary bucket list. 🙂


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