“Try looking in the loft then, Bob,” Henriëtta suggested. She was fidgeting with her apron, leaning against the door to the living room. “The wretched thing has to be somewhere, hasn’t it?” They had already looked everywhere downstairs and in the bedrooms, even in the ash bin and the coal-scuttle.
“It’s not just a thing, it’s my lower dentures!” her father yelled from the kitchen where he was listening to the radio. “And I want quiet, I want to hear about the war in Korea!”
This mandatory board meant they had to put up with the old man because if they did not, they could be forced to have strangers living in with them. New housing developments were being promised. Also for invalids. Henriëtta kept her hope focused on that promise. “Just find them. I won’t get any new teeth from health care!”
He had been in the army, fighting in Asia. He had been a colonel. He had lost a leg in combat. They had never seen him smile since his return.
“Bob, please go take a look,” Henriëtta tiredly demanded her sixteen year old son. “Even if it is not there, we can say we did our utmost. We have looked everywhere else.”
“Of course it is not in the loft, he can’t even get up there,” her eldest son said. “Why can’t he just keep those dentures in his mouth, mom?”
“Please Bob. And if Tom joins you, he can hold the dyno torch for you. Please.“
Bob had recently burned his hands when he had found a grenade that exploded. Although his hands were free from bandages now, he could not operate the dyno torch himself. The doctor had told him his wounds would probably be healed when the Summer holidays were over.
Tom looked up from his magazine, a comic he was reading while sitting on the stairs. These stairs were his spot, the place he could withdraw and be safe from his dominant older brother Bob. He wore black framed spectacles with a band-aid on the bridge covering a crack.
“Where is the dyno torch?” he eagerly asked. He had always wanted to investigate the loft. Henriëtta found the thing in the cutlery drawer together with some coffee ration coupons she had been looking for for ages. It was about time they had a good cleaning in the house, she thought, even though she had done the Spring cleaning just two months ago.
The boys went upstairs, retracted the loft ladder and clambered into the darkness.
“Get up here! You must point the torch!” Bob said irritatedly. Tom followed him.
The loft was dusty. Cobwebs were covering stuff that had been stored and forgotten, even soap bars from before the war. Bob realized they had better use them when soap still was scarce, but soap was not their business now.
“Look under the bed,” he ordered his brother. Tom shone with the dyno torch under the iron bed with no mattress. “What can you see?”
“Suitcases, trunks, old ones granddad brought with him when he returned from the East Indies.”
“Indonesia, you mean.”
“It was called the East Indies not that long ago.”
“No lower dentures?”
“No. I’ll move the trunks to look behind them.”
There was dust, a dead mouse, some old newspapers inhabited by silverfish, a small box with items that had belonged to their father: a silver cigarette case and the fountain pen he used to write his angry letters to the newspapers in protest against the living conditions of Jews. Tom discovered a hole, exactly in the corner where the roof met the floor. It was a rather big hole too, about two inches in diameter, and sunlight entered. He could see the big cranes of Rotterdam in the distance, which went on day after day to rebuild the destroyed city. And he could see the house next door. The window.
Bob was left behind in the dark, he felt Tom’s calves sticking out from under the bed.
“What are you doing?”
“There’s a hole, I can see right into the minister’s bedroom. Jeez.”
“I can see the minister’s arse!”
“Get back. Let me see.”
Tom made room for his brother.
“You’re right!” he said and Tom felt a strange kind of triumph. Bob never said his brother was right. Never. Even when Tom had seen from a distance how a German soldier shot a man when they were children, and he was convinced it was their dad, Bob had refused to believe him. Only when someone came to the house later that day to tell them their father had been shot by mistake, he had to admit Tom was right. But he didn’t.
“You are right, it is the minister, and he is really at it!” Bob rejoiced.
“He is screwing! He is fornicating! Fucking!”
“But with whom?”
“I see another pair of buttocks. Black ones. Underneath him.”
“I only know one black, that guy working in The Anchor.”
“No, idiot, this is a woman! Not totally black, blackish! Dark! Oh, they really go for it! Anal sex!” Bob shouted, his voice breaking.
“But the minister’s wife is a blonde. And anal, are you saying they only do it once a year?”
“You don’t understand anything that is going on. You never do!” Bob irritatedly sighed.
“This is the girl they took in as a maid. Minister’s wife is staying with her sister for a week,” Bob said. “Man, this is a great view. I can see the whole thing from here! He is banging the shit out of her!”
It was a pity there was not room enough for them both, they had to take turns.
After half an hour, suddenly there was nothing to see anymore, and tittering they descended the ladder and stairs.
‘Where are my dentures!” their grandfather shouted.
”Not in the loft, that’s for sure.” Bob’s eyes sparkled. Tom tried to warn him not to say anything, but Bob ignored him.
“Granddad, we saw the minister next door through a hole in the roof. He is making out with that Indonesian girl who is dating Adrian!”
“Of course Adrian is at sea now,” Tom said knowingly. They explained what had happened.
“Haha, I had never expected such a thing from that dried up stiff moralist,” their grandfather said with red cheeks of excitement. “Man, I would love to see that. Don’t tell your mother.“
In the days ahead, the lower dentures were found behind the toilet bowl. The grandfather could not remember how they got there. He insisted they had been stolen and put there by a regretful burglar. Meanwhile, the brothers frequently visited the loft to go under the bed. They found some bullets, mementos from the shooting that killed their father. Also a teddy bear, and some baby clothes for a girl who they had never seen before. As they had no sisters, they wondered whose they had been.
Lying there in the loft on their stomachs, somehow they achieved a kind of bonding, a trust, and they seemed to get along better downstairs as well.
“Yes!” Bob said one day as he had taken the first turn to peep through the hole. “They are at it again! We have to get granddad!”
It was not easy to help the invalid man up the ladder. Bob and Tom had to support him, Bob only using his arms, not his hands, while their mother was clapping hers, not understanding and frantic.
“What are you doing, oh my god, be careful, he might fall, what on earth is going on there?” she wailed on the floor under the loft.
“I brought my binoculars,” the grandfather panted, ignoring his daughter. His binoculars were a very nice and dear item given to him by a Raden Panji of Eastern Java, after he had been rescued by one of his servants from bleeding to death when he was shot in the leg. He had stayed in the Raden’s house as a guest to recover. At least, this is what he had told his family. It was one of his favorite stories, he never said much about the actual fighting he had been in, nor the friends he had lost in the battles. He and the Raden had become friends, so he claimed. The binoculars were probably made for the Japanese army and somehow found its way to the Raden. It probably was worth some money.
It took a lot of effort for him to crawl under the bed. His body was stiff and painful. The hole had increased in size during the last couple of days, due to the boys who wanted to see more of the action.
The sun was shining, his eyes had to adjust. Then he saw the minister’s bedroom window, with no drawn curtains, as there was no way anyone could look in. The grandfather held his breath. With his binoculars, he could see everything even better.
“Lovely!” he gloated. “What a view! Oh my god, he is taking her in all positions!”
Then he startled. The girl looked him right in the face. He would never forget the despair in her eyes.
That evening it was quiet at the kitchen table. The only thing to be heard, was the cuckoo clock ticking. It cuckood six times.
Henriëtta was buttering bread, she didn’t understand what was going on. It made her nervous. Her father’s binoculars were lying on the table next to his plate. The others didn’t seem to have an appetite. They didn’t touch the bread nor the milk.
There was a knock on the back door.
“Come in!” the grandfather said loudly.
It was the Indonesian girl. Her beaded black hair shone with a blue shine, her scent was sweet and thick. She wore a red dress with white flowers.
In shock the boys rose and stood behind their chairs, as if they wanted to use them as shields.
“O hi,” Henriëtta said in a friendly manner. She smiled. “Have you come to borrow another cup of sugar, dear?”
“No, ma’m.” She didn’t look Henriëtta in the face, but stared at the grandfather. She kept silent. Her presence filled the space with guilt and shame. Tom was searching for some reassurance from his brother, but Bob looked away.
“Henriëtta, boys, I think you must leave the kitchen for a moment,” the grandfather said.
“Why, what is going on?” Henriëtta muttered. However, her eldest son pushed her gently towards the corridor.
“And close the door!”
They tried to catch some of the conversation that was going on in the kitchen. The girl was crying now. She mentioned Adrian. Her Adrian. She mentioned that she loved him.
Suddenly they could hear the back door slam. They all returned to the kitchen.
“What are you staring at?” the grandfather said, but he had lost his military sternness. His eyes were red and he sounded as if he had a cold. He blew his nose. The binoculars were not next to his plate anymore, so Tom noticed, but he didn’t ask about them.
The next day the grandfather had the hole in the roof repaired by a local carpenter.
The minister’s wife returned and told Henriëtta everything about her little trip while they were having tea in the garden. She regretted that her husband had decided they didn’t need a maid anymore, as now she had to do everything herself, but she was glad the girl found another position in the village. She was such a nice girl.
And a few months later Adrian finally came home on leave. Proudly he walked through the streets of the village, in his first mate’s uniform, with the Indonesian girl at his side, and on his neck, the binoculars she had given him.