Posts tagged ‘Short story’

Looking Further – a short story –

“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.”
“What?”
“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.
“At what?”
“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.

“The Snow White Gift” a story by Diane M Denton

The Snow White Gift  is the lovely new short story by Diane M Denton and  available on Kindle!  🙂 Diane is an artist who has written many poems and the wonderful novel “A House Near Luccoli”.   Diane’s blog

xx 🙂

The inheritance (short story)

“You can’t throw everything away, of course,” her mother said just before Anne took off to Paris. “After all, those items are memories of your grandparents.”
“Whom I never met. Who never cared to meet me,” she replied while she tried to get the attention of a yellow cab driver. New York was hot and humid.
“Oh well, do whatever you want with it then. It is your inheritance, after all. Not mine.”

Anne grinned when she saw the sobbing expression on her mother’s face, it was the last thing she saw. Her mother would take care of Anne’s cats and stay in Anne’s tiny appartement while Anne was absent.
On the plane to Paris the reality of the whole adventure started to sink in. She had inherited everything her grandparents owned, and according to her mother, the Legrands were loaded.

Pierre Legrand, her father, had left France at the age of eighteen to see a bit of the world and he met Anne’s mother a few months after his departure. He got her pregnant, but the relationship ended when Pierre found out he liked men more than women. He went to live on an island in the Pacific and died when Anne was five. After his dead, Pierre’s parents sent a card to Anne’s mother to tell her of his death. It was all they ever sent.

So Anne grew up without a father, but with the love of her mother, who was half German, half Italian. She worked as a waitress to make ends meet, and to get Anne a fine education. Now, at the age of twenty-three, Anne Sontag was working in a very well-known art gallery, run by a good friend of her father’s, which she loved to do.

The man who was sitting next to her in the plane seemed a bit nervous when they took off.
“Is this your first time flying too?” she asked. He shook his head.
“No, but every time I worry.” He had a French accent. “I worry that there are dogs in the plane. I am afraid of dogs.”
“Oh, you are French right? Do you live in Paris?”
“In Amiens, actually. And you, are you going on a holiday?”
“I am going to collect my inheritance,” she said frankly. “My grandparents have died, they were in a car crash.”
“I am very sorry.”
“I never knew them. They didn’t want to know me.”
“O, that is awful. And you are so pretty!”
Anne smiled.
“Thank you.”
“So what did you inherit?” he asked. “Oh, sorry, that is not very polite of me.”
“That is okay. I have no idea, really. I got a letter from a solicitor that said I could claim their belongings. The letter was written in rather poor English and a lot of French. I have no clue what it said, to be honest and neither did my mother. I just go for it. Wait, I’ll show you.”
She took the letter out of her purse.

He put on a pair of glasses and started reading. His face showed his dislike.
“I think you might be making the trip for nothing,” he said. “This says that there are some boxes, that is all.”
“No houses? A banking account?”
“Boxes it says! Two stupid small boxes, that is your inheritance! O my god, why didn’t you have the letter translated before you booked your flight!” He looked upset.
“It doesn’t matter, I needed a holiday anyway,” Anne said, but she felt a bit of disappointment.
She tried to read the letter again, but the plane started to have some turbulence.
The Frenchmen took some pills with water that a stewardess got him and soon dozed off.

When they landed, it was early in the morning local time. Anne exchanged her dollars for euro’s and got a taxi that drove her to the address in the letter. She was excited to be in Paris and watched the people on the sidewalks. This was the city where her father had lived. She vaguely remembered him, a tall, slender young man with blue eyes and black curly hair. He was an artist. He liked to paint, but his paintings were never sold.

The taxi stopped in front of an old building in the centre of the town, it was the solicitor’s office. It looked important and impressive.
Anne paid the driver an amount she could not believe and as she carried her bag to the door, she realized it was only seven o’clock, she was way too early for her appointment. Maybe she should have gone to a hotel first, but she had not booked one. She was already running out of money. This trip would cost more than she had anticipated.

She discovered a café across the street that was already, or still, open and she decided to have a coffee.
There were some people who obviously had been partying all night. They were loud and laughing and looked curiously at Anne.
Anne didn’t understand what they were saying, ordered a coffee and tried to ignore the pushy guests.
“Hey you!” A woman, not much older than Anne, came towards her with a challenging look on her face. “You don’t want to speak to us, huh? You are too good for us?”
“Fanny! Vien ici et ferme ta geulle!” a man shouted angrily. He came after the woman and slapped her face. She hit him too and they started to fight.

Anne was shocked. She wanted to leave, but to get to the door she would have to pass the man and the woman called Fanny.
She saw a backdoor and slipped out with her bag. She now was in a dark alley and trying to find her way back to the street, she stumbled over a garbage can and fell. She hit her head.
“Hey you, what are you doing?” Fanny must have followed her outside. She pulled Anne back on her feet. “What is it with you?”
“What is it with you!” Anne replied. She shook Fanny off. “Leave me alone!”
“I only want to help. Are you looking for a hotel?”
Anne sighed.
“As a matter of fact, I do. A cheap one. Nearby. Do you know one?”
“But of course cherie. Come with me.”

Fanny took Anne’s hand and helped her back to the street.
They went into another street, and another, until they were in front of a small hotel that looked as if it could use some paint.
Fanny showed her in. There was a reception desk with a tired looking woman behind it.
Fanny asked her something. The woman answered in rapid French.
“You can’t get a room yet, but you can leave your luggage here and come back at three. Is that okay?” Fanny translated.
“How much? How much for the room?” Anne asked.
“Sixteen euro. Or do you need it all night?”
“Yes, all night.”
“Fifty. If you pay now, the room will be reserved. You understand?”
Anne nodded and paid. She left her bag at the desk.
“Thank you Fanny.”
“Have a good time. Bye.” All of a sudden Fanny was in a hurry. She left and Anne felt alone.

She went outside. It took a while before she knew her way to the solicitor’s office.
By then it was almost half past eight. She sat down on the stairs and waited. A few moments later a man in a black suit opened the door with a key.
“Are you monsieur Hinaut?” she asked. He seemed afraid.
“Yes, why?”
“I am Anne Sontag from New York.”
His face changed. His attitude changed too.
“Oh! You are here already!” he said.
“Yes.”
He shook her hand.
“Come in, come in,” he said. “This is a great day! To meet the granddaughter of monsieur Legrand!”
Anne followed him in an art deco elevator, and some moments later they were in his office.
“Can you identify yourself?” he asked. “Just a formality.” She showed him her brand new passport.
“That seems to be in order. Well now. Your grandfather had made a will, of course he didn’t know he would die only sixty-four years old.”
“What was he like? Did you know him well?”
“Oh yes, I knew him. He was very friendly. He and his wife only had one son, your father, who died of#3p Well you know that.”
“He had aids.”
“Yes. Very unfortunate.”
“Do you have pictures of my grandparents? Of my father?”
“Yes, yes. You shall get them all of course.”
He couldn’t take his eyes of off her.
“What is it I inherited?” she asked when he hadn’t moved for minutes.
“It was all in the letter!” he said.
“Well I didn’t understand the letter.”
“We shall have to go to the house. You will see for yourself.”
“What house?”
“The house that now is yours!”
Anne was confused. The man in the plane had told her she would only get some boxes.
He showed her a key.
“All is still there. Come! You shall sleep in your own house in Paris tonight!”
“But I have just booked a hotel.”
“Which one?”
“It is around the corner. ‘La Vie en Rose’?”
“Oh my god. That is not a hotel! It is a brothel. You can’t stay there!”
“My bag is already there.”
“We shall get it for you. Oh my god. Did you not notice the red carpets, the red lamps etcetera?”
“I had no idea. Some girl called Fanny took me there. I met her in the café across the street.”
“Aha. Fanny.”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes. I do.” He sighed. “Come on.”
She followed him back to the brothel. The old woman was not very happy that Hinaut wanted to cancel the reservation. There was a discussion, then in the end the woman gave him the fifty euro’s back and Anne’s luggage.
She yelled some curse in their direction as they left.
Anne followed him. He had a car parked nearby. He took her to another area of Paris. Anne could not believe what she saw.

“This is a huge villa! Is this mine?”
“Yes yes. All of it.”
He opened the door. Anne walked in as in a dream. The house was almost a palace in her eyes.
Room after room was filled with beautiful art and furniture.
“Oh god!” Anne exclaimed. “This is grand!”
“And there are six bedrooms. You pick any you like.”
Anne opened doors and was in constant excitement. Then she heard barking.
“What is that?”
“Your grandfather’s boxers. They come with the inheritance. I have fed and walked them daily since the accident.”
“Boxers?”
He took her to the back of the villa. In a room, there were two dogs. They jumped up and down, wiggling their tails.
“They need to go for their walk I think,” Hinaut said.

Anne smiled. Boxers. Not boxes. The man in the plane was afraid of dogs. That made sense!
“They seem to like you a lot,” she said.
“Oh yes, yes, and I love them. I shall miss them.” He dried his eyes.
“If you like, you can have them,” Anne said.
He was over the moon with joy.

That afternoon Anne called her mother.
“You woke me up,” her mother said sleepy. “And? What is it like?”
“It is fantastic! A villa! And there is money too, mama, I am rich!”
“What will you do with it? Sell?”
“Not yet. I think I want to live here, if you will take the cats. Open an art gallery of my own. Or a brothel!”
“A what!”
“Never mind! I am going through the family picture albums now. I look like my father.”
“Yes. Yes you do.”
“Actually, that was all I wanted to find.”
“Please do come back,” her mother said. “The cats are miserable without you.”
The doorbell rang.
“I must see who it is. I shall talk to you later.”
Anne opened the door. An old woman looked at her and touched Anne’s face.
“I am glad to meet you,” she said. “Anne. Pierre’s little girl.”
“And who are you?”
“I am your grandfather’s sister. Mimi. Hinaut told me you were coming. That you own the house now. Hinaut has always been kind to me, you see.”
She looked like the faces in the family pictures.
“Can I please stay for a minute?” Mimi asked. “I just wanted to meet you but it is far by foot. I can’t afford a car or a taxi you see. I live under a bridge.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I am not rich like my brother was. And his wife didn’t want him to help me.”
Anne had bought some wine and bread.
“Would you like some?”
“Thank you dear. The house hasn’t changed a bit. I grew up here, you know.” She looked at the photo album. “See, that is me, that girl there.”
Anne liked Mimi. After Mimi had told her everything that had happened to her in life, Anne asked her to stay in the big villa. After a week, Anne and Mimi were the best of friends. And then Anne got homesick. She missed her cats and her mother.

Anne left Paris a week later. Mimi stayed in the villa. All Anne took home with her, was a photo of her father. Mimi would live in the villa for many years to come.

Foot prints (true story)

The house had no floor, the table stood in sand, there was no lamp.
She was one of the witches that tried to survive in the days before old people got money from the state.
She looked at me with kind eyes.
I came door to door to collect money and she had none, I know now.
Outside the other children were waiting, they were convinced she would kill me.
“Don’t you think I am a witch?” she asked.
“I do not believe in fairy tales. There are no witches. You are a woman.”
“Good.” She looked outside. “Stupid breed. Their genes are feeble. When they came for the horses, a man got shot because he didn’t want to give his horse to the Germans. When they came for the Jews, nobody did anything. They took every Jew from the island.”
“My mother told me this already. She was also angry because of that.”
“She is not from here. She is from a ship. I was from a ship. People like us never root.”
I looked at her bare feet in the sand.
“You need a floor.”
“I don’t care. It means nothing to me. Not anymore.” She gave me some brandy that burnt in my throat.
“Come again if you like,” she said. “I don’t get much company.”
I promised to come back.
I never did. Her house was demolished some years after her death. When I walked there recently, I noticed footprints where once her living room was, just before the wind blew them over with sand.

The gesture (short story)

After missing the 3.00 pm ferry from Harlingen to Terschelling by only a few minutes, I ensconced myself in a chair in the restaurant overlooking the quay. It was almost the last day of the year.

I watched the ferry I should have been on disappear in the fog and, knowing that I had to wait for the fast one that wasn’t due for another few hours, I decided to order some tomato soup as an excuse for me being there. This hour of the day there weren’t many people in the restaurant, just a grumpy couple of young waitresses, both of them wanting to get the rest of the day off, and a waiter, who looked as if he was ready to commit homicide.

For several times he inspected his watch. He rose his eyebrows, for me, a customer, being there on this unusual hour, realized his colleges were still arguing, sighed and reluctantly took my order, hating his job. He went to the kitchen and stayed away for more than 20 minutes. Meanwhile I took the book I had purchased earlier that day out of my bag.
As I was reading the promising cover, I didn’t notice that an elderly couple had entered and taken seats at the table nearest to mine; not until I had opened the book and sniffed up the smell of ink, that is.

I do that sometimes, sniffing up the scent of a new book. I even had my eyes closed, and when I opened them I realized the woman had seen me doing it. Her look was that of a frozen canary.

Embarrassed because she had found out about my secret pleasure I started reading, but every now and then I took a glimpse at the couple. They had put their coats over an empty chair and both stared in a different direction.

She was about sixty, and she obviously had had a life of disappointments. Her mouth was the opposite of a smiley, her face had deep rivers of grieve.
I could only see the man’s neck, as he had halfway turned his back at her and explored the foggy sky above the water of the harbour with great interest, although there was nothing to see. He had a stubborn kind of neck that would not turn his head around. No matter what.
It was getting dark. They said nothing. They were married, they wore the same golden rings that had lost their shine.

The soup was brought, I paid the waiter and waited patiently for my change that had to come from deep out of his wallet. Then he turned to the woman and did that thing with his eyebrows again, this time in an asking manner.
“Yes?” he said demandingly.
“Coffee, please,” she replied with a dark brown voice. “Just coffee. No sugar for him. Three lumps for me.”

Her husband hawked but then stayed silent. A few moments later their cups of coffee were sort of thrown on the table by the waiter, and no need to say he could forget about a tip. Again.
An hour went by. Two hours went by. Outside it was totally dark, the gloomy sound of the foghorn was all we heard, that and the noise of pots and pans in the kitchen. Other people started to come in, filling the room with more noises and the smell of wet coats. The man and the woman remained silent.

We could hear the fast ferry entering port. Most people arose, but like the couple that was in no hurry and had no luggage with them, I stayed put, me to do some more reading, as the vessel had to disembark first. Not that I liked the book, it was in fact rather disappointing and I soon looked away again.

Then I saw her right-hand. She placed it on the softly trembling left hand of her husband and he didn’t remove his, as I had expected him to do. This unexpected gesture, implying a sort of tenderness, kept me looking, and all of a sudden her eyes met mine. I was too late to look away and now, again, we shared a secret.

I smiled, she smiled back. Then he briskly stood up, took his coat and walked out of the restaurant. She looked all frozen again and followed him outside. They sort of vanished in opposite direction of the ferry.

I put the book in my bag, waited a bit until I was sure it was about time to go on board and left the restaurant. Outside I saw one of the two waitresses and the waiter. Both apparently had the night of and they had put their arms around each other, laughing quite happily. He looked a lot nicer now.
When I stepped on board, just in time, I suddenly realized you can’t judge a book by looking at its cover.

( I published this story on Helium some years ago.)

The letter (fiction)

New York, October 31, 1998

Dear Anna

It is time. I want to tell you about the past.
Eighteen I was then. I had just nicely finished grammar school, with all good marks. Therefore my mother had thought of a reward: she and I were to spend a while on board the vessel my father worked on, so I would get to know him a bit, because otherwise that would never happen, she said. My elder brothers were already in the Indies by then. It would be a cosy trip, the three of us in the Captain’s quarters.

After an Atlantic summer storm that had wrecked the screw propeller of the “Pooldam”, we ended up on Rathlin Innes. Only thanks to my father’s seamanship, may his soul rest in peace, that we didn’t drown then, but entered the puny port in the bay of Rathlin Innes, a dot on the map, and according to the text there, an uninhabitet island. Well that description was close. My father was extremely worried, as in the meanwhile WWII had broken out, he couldn’t get spare parts for the propellor, since they had to be shipped from Germany and well, that was kind of difficult then. You understand, dear?

After a while I got bored, but it wasn’t all that bad to be trapped on the island. It was an oasis of peace in the turmoil called 1939. Here, feeding seagulls, I had time to think about my life and what I wanted to do. I had just finished my first relationship with a four-eyed Amsterdam boy called Bob, who later joined the Resistance. Well, actually he broke up with me because of Lies, a peroxide blonde skeleton he happened to marry later on, I think. Not that it matters. Not anymore.

Meanwhile, it had been over a month that we were trapped on this godforsaken island, that was part of Ireland, but just as far away from Scotland. Sean was a Scotsman. He was staying here with his aunt, so he had told me, together with the moth-eaten toothless sheep and weather-beaten toothless fishermen, because he refused to fight for the English against the Germans. Sometimes I believed him, sometimes I didn’t.

That day I had been waiting for Sean for an hour or so. As I looked outside through the half round window of the little church, I could see our ship down in the bay. The “Pooldam” was a rusty Dutch freighter, waiting for better times. We were bound for Le Havre in France actually, but the “Pooldam” would never get there. Her carcass is now rusting away on a shipyard in New Jersey, I suppose. Yes, honey, your aunt had quite an adventurous life when she was your age.

I lit a cigarette. A praying woman glanced at me in a disturbed way. I blew some smoke towards her miserable candles, and for a moment the strings of fumes seemed to take on for a sort of dance together. Or a fight. She said something in that local tongue I couldn’t make head or tail from, something horrible I think, but I laughed at her in a rather cheeky way and stayed right were I was. After all, this was our spot. Sean’s and mine. We saw each other here more or less on a daily basis, to share some secret kisses. Sean and me were the only persons under the age of thirty on the island. We always had a great time together during those secret encounters in the church or at the gravelled beach. He would tell me about Glasgow, no paradise either if I had to believe him. He wanted to go to America one day, later, when he wasn’t wanted for desertion anymore.

Sometimes we would row a bit from the shore, in his sloop, but only if my parents would sleep in late. He taught me how to fish, and I know the names of six different sorts of Scottish fish by heart. I was his Bonnie lassie or something stupid like that, in any case our love was meant for eternity and I always stole his cigarettes. I loved him. He me. It was as simple as that.

My father was not to know of our romance, because fathers those days were different from nowadays. I mean, I really would not have tried to live with a man unmarried and all, like you and Luke are doing now. Even dates were not done. Everything had to be secret, and that church on top of the cliff, where hardly anyone ever came, was ideal for our purpose. But that day our luck was against us. So when Sean took a break from lovemaking to go to his aunt’s house and arrange some whiskey, somebody entered the church. A woman with a head cloth and matches at the ready. That devoted woman kept staring in those candle flames, I became a bit queasy watching it. What kind of visions was she having? Why didn’t she just go, so Sean could re-enter and we could go on having fun. Perhaps he really had some whiskey!

Finally the catholic woman had finished. The candles she blew out, and she left. Her footsteps in the gravel faded. I waited and pushed my hair up, the curls were already losing it again. Sean still didn’t show up. I decided to see where he was.

It started to rain, like it almost did every day and it didn’t bother me, even if it was the end of my hairstyle. The path going down was slippery, terribly slippery and I had to hold on to the rocky protuberances not to fall down. Yes, dear, so that was when I saw Sean. He was leaning against a rock. Handsome, tall black hair. Very different from the islanders, who were all ginger and ugly as hell. My heart was beating like crazy when I saw him, you know.

He was not alone. He had his arm around a woman, and he was kissing her. A woman not that young anymore. My mother.

Now your grandmother, my mother, might have been good looking, but surely she was almost forty-two at the time and she had already had four children. And it showed. So what was Sean doing with his lips on hers? Could it really be he felt something for her?

Disgusted I turned around to throw up. When I looked again, they were still standing close together. I heard him laugh. She was laughing as well. They didn’t see me, as they were so busy. I will skip what happened next. After all it is about your grandmother I am writing you, Anna Maria Scholtens-De Vries, born in Amsterdam, February second 1898. Yes, you were named after her, Anna. Not my idea by the way, but no one ever asked me. I am just your aunt. Your crazy aunt.

In the end she walked away shaking her hips toward the slippery stairs that led to the harbour, about a hundred and fifty yards down. He watched her till she had disappeared behind a moss covered rock. As soon as she was out of sight, he lit a cigarette. Obviously he had forgotten all about me, in the church, my hair curled and my lips red with my last lipstick.

I could choose: run after my mother and push her down the stairs, or get even with Sean.
Okay, darling, it was Sean I picked. Well otherwise, you wouldn’t have been born either, right? As she was pregnant at that moment, carrying my little sister. Anyway, your mother was born almost nine months later.

I rushed towards him and gave him a very hard push. Before he knew what hit him, he lost his balance on the edge of the cliff. He screamed, I do well remember. A very horrible scream. He faced away from me, I am glad I didn’t see his eyes.
When I came down fifteen minutes later, some crew members were on the quay. Extremely happy. The First engineer had managed it, the screw was fixed. Everyone had to get on board, the ship was to leave the very night. Destination New York. Well, that was the plan, my father said. My mother nodded. It would be an adventurous and dangerous trip and so on. I took a good look at my mother, but she looked as dull as ever. Perhaps a bit more pale.

“I want to see Sean one more time!” I shouted. “I haven’t had a chance to say goodbye to him at all!” I did it to spite her, of course.
“Dear, that Sean will forget about you in a second,” my mother said. I didn’t get to leave ship anymore. Less than an hour later the ship was in full sea.
Well the rest you know. We arrived in America safely, we became citizens. Your mother, my little sister, was born in New York. She got the most beautiful black hair.

Why have I written all this and sent to you? You tell me. You are the psychology student.
Just the other day I accidentally read an article about the Enigma, that code machine the Nazis had. One of those complicated technical stories, well not really interesting to you. But Seans name was mentioned. Sean Wayne MacGuiness. Not a name you see every day, so it caught my attention.

Apparently my Sean had been one of the people who found out the code of the very first Enigma. This when he was working as a spy in Germany! However, he never got the chance to pass it on to the Allies. He mysteriously disappeared at the beginning of the war on the island of Rathlin Innes, where he was spying on German submarines, waiting for an opportunity to send his code safely.
He never got around doing that. No, of course not.

They found his body after the war, in a cave to where he must have drifted.
He lied to me. I do hate it when people do that.
It is bleak now. I lit a candle, I do that at times these days. I try to see what that woman on Rathlin Innes was seeing in the church. I can’t always do that. Sometimes I only see flames. But once in a while…
Is it okay for me to spend my last living days with you? You are my favorite niece. You do know that, don’t you dear?

Best wishes,
your loving Aunt Catherine

This is a repost, my translation of a story I wrote some years ago in Dutch, I didn’t know about proofread then and now that I found some mistakes, I hope this version is better 🙂 Hope you will enjoy!

Leningrad

Somewhere hidden
in the wooden salt container
that you bought for me that Winter,
a smell of some sweet fungus
mixed with a cheap perfume
is waiting for shared memories,
the kind I hope you
will find somewhere too.

Keep looking for them
in the lines of old women’s faces,
like those that folded
when she sold us
a newspaper in the Newski Prospekt,
“Pravda”, which means “the truth”,
but we couldn’t read Russian that well
so the truth never hit us.

Do you remember the taste
of my father’s burning vodka
when everything was frozen?
We had chosen not to judge the world
covered with black spotted snow.
A cold war ended in the mean while
as we grew up, but where
my friend did you go?

Somewhere hidden
in the wooden salt container
is the Winter when I first saw
life as lovers know it.

*

My sixteenth birthday

In December 1973, a day after Christmas, my mother and I got a physical check-up, in order to get a real Seaman’s book. It was all done in a hurry, in Amsterdam, and from that moment on we were supposed to be stewardesses. It says so in that book, I still have it somewhere.

A stewardess, on a coaster! There is no such thing, of course, let alone there would be 2 of them about, but only with that piece of document we were going to be allowed to go ashore in Leningrad, (that is where the trip was going to), by the authorities there. We had to pretend to be real sailors, mama and me.

The officials in Amsterdam were very creative and cooperative.

Oh, and it turned out we were both healthy. Always good to know.

I was very excited to go to Russia, it was the only time I went there. My father got me some English-Russian study books and by the time we got there, I had learned the alphabet and some lines that might come in handy.

The ship was called Noorbeek (former Timca), owned by Rederij Spliethoff, and we were to get a load of wood. My father was first mate on that voyage, and I got the pilots cabin. It was locked by my parents every evening from the outside. My father was a bit overprotective I guess, or he didn’t trust me to behave, but I had never given him any reason not trust me I think. Anyway, it did not bother me just then. I also had to make a deal that I would occasionally wear a dress instead of jeans. Now that was the hard part. Hated dresses. Jeans for ever!

The trip went smoothly. We sailed through the canal between the North sea and Baltic, we called it the “Kielerkanaal”, and as we had a pilot on board in the canal, who had to have access to his cabin because of his trade union-isues, I stayed up that night in the wheelhouse.  I found a nice place to be out-of-the-way and listened to the calm voices of my father and the pilot. “Midships!”, answered with ”Midships.” Very relaxed. There was almost no conversation. A men’s world really. Women would probably have spoken a bit. Chatted. Not these men.

After a few days, on dec. 31, we reached the port of Leningrad, now (again) known as Petersburg. The dead trees used for guiding the ship to the harbour were the first thing we saw. It was cold, it froze about 15 degrees C. It stayed a bit dark almost all day. I probably wanted to go ashore right away, but that was not possible of course, it never is with ships, the custom officers have to have a say first.

Two soldiers were standing in front of the ship, with real guns, keeping guard. I had never seen a presumably loaded gun before and it scared me to bits, those things can be dangerous! One soldier on one end, we called them all Iwan and a good change that was really their name, and one on the other end. They were there the whole day, also at night. Well, they got released every now and then of course. I cannot remember ever seeing that, though. We felt awfully sorry for them. Nobody on board was quite sure whether they were there to protect the Russians from us, or to make sure nobody tried to leave the Soviet Union as a stowaway. As one of them was always right in front of my porthole, underneath a lamppost, I could see him go up and down with the tide at night.

There was a green sort of box near the gangway, with a sloping lid, and in there our harbour passes were kept. Every time we wanted to go ashore, we gave the precious seaman’s book to the soldier, he gave us a harbour pass in return and the harbour officials in the building at the entrance of the port would exchange that for our passports, and then we could go into town. Till eleven pm.

Meanwhile the timber was being loaded. The workers were so cold, my father gave them things to eat and drink to keep them motivated.

First thing when he got a change, it was my father’s duty to organize transportation from the harbour to the centre of town for the crew to spend their leisure hours. He went ashore and I followed him through the snow. He didn’t wait for me, so I really had to walk fast. I felt very adventurous, here I was, with my father, in Russia! But for him it was just another day at work, I suppose.

We came across a lonely Christmas tree, that puzzled me, I thought they did not do Christmas over there at that time. Well they did, on the 6th of January. With Father ‘Frost.’ (Djed Maroz)

There was a building, very old I remember, built of clay and it had irregular walls. We entered, there were some women sitting round a table, silent, but one of them was crying her eyes out. Something terrible must have happened. Somebody had died or something.

I looked at my father, weren’t we suppose to ask what was the matter? Perhaps we could help? But he ignored the women, only asked if he could use the phone on the wall, phoned and arranged things with Intourist, an organization not just for tourists, but also for seamen I suppose.

As it was New years Eve, we got instructions from the captain, an excellent cook by the way who made all of us a very nice festive diner, NOT to do any fireworks. It would not be appreciated by the harbour authorities. So in the middle of the night, 2 am local time, that was midnight in Holland, after the captain went ashore with drinks for the soldiers and we had all watched, knowing they weren’t allowed to accept even though it was so cold, the second mate and I went to the upper deck and he fired off a beautiful red emergency light. It went al across the dock and landed in a pile of timber. And got alarms started. Nasty sirens. We had a great time. My mother predicted that we would all be sent to Siberia. Instead we got a third soldier in front of the ship. Iwan the third.

The next days we strolled along Newski Prospekt, were a man in a shop wanted to sell us a fur coat. Never! The rest of the shop was very empty. All of Leningrad was a bit grim, but great. The people were silent and sad, life was tough for them, that was obvious. Things were scarce to get. In a pedestrian-tunnel I sold my old scarf to a well dressed Russian man for 8 rubel. We saw the Herimitage, (Winterpalace), the best museum in the world I guess, it had 27 Rembrandts we all got to see.

We could enter without having to wait in line, as the Russians had to themselves. That was very unfair. We visited the vessel Aurora, were the Revolution started with, and also the seaman’s house, a former palace of a kind.

A woman, in full make up and probably to be rented by the hour or something like that, turned out to be quite nice actually.

There was one Russian seaman who was sitting on a different part of the bar. He did not speak to us. There we were sort of oblight to watch a film about enormous tractors, fields of waving grain and a lot of happy singing people. Boy was it fun to live in the Soviet Union!

“Propaganda,” my mother sighed. We saw it through politely. A man came sitting next to me and started to ask all sorts of things, in German, like: What did I think of Russia etc.

“Ignore,” my father said. “He just wants you to work as a spy and make photo’s in ports and such.”

Ok, as if that sounded normal! But to him it did.

The second mate had a girlfriend in town and stayed away one night. It gave trouble.

“We will all end up in Siberia!” my mother exclaimed. He was the kind that always got into trouble, and I was not allowed even to play chess with him with the door of the cabin wide open. “We will all end up in Siberia!” my mother exclaimed again.

And there was a matter of the harbour perhaps freezing over, icebreakers not being able to fix a route anymore. If that happened, we could be stuck there all winter. I hoped for it to happen. It didn’t.

My 16th birthday on the 4th of January  was celebrated on board and in the seaman’s house. I got a real balalaika from my parents, it is now on the attic, and also a gift from a very nice crew member, who did not speak Dutch. It was a wooden salt container that I have had for many years. And I got another souvenir: I exchanged a ring I had, for a pin with Lenin and a red flag, with one of the soldiers, who was not much older than me.

The exchange was pure friendly, nothing romantic! We did not say very much to each other, him standing on the quay, me on the ship. With my father being around somewhere it had to be done quickly and sneaky, and what is there to talk about, if you don’t speak each others language well and it is freezing hard. But Rembrandt he knew. When the ship left january 7, he was on the quay doing what soldiers do I suppose and I was on deck. We did not wave, hey, it was not as if we knew each other.

Goodbye Leningrad. The best thing I remember now about that holiday, was my father being a man of the world I could look up to as he walked on that quay. But of course my adolescence-battles with him were about to start…. Sweet sixteen, forget it! I wanted my ‘freedom’ so badly.

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