Posts tagged ‘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 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 Lighthouse and the Candle

It was a quiet evening. Christmas eve.
The “Pythia” was sailing under a full moon. On board, captain Hessel Westra did his shift and drinking his coffee that the cook had brought to him in the wheel house.
“Another Christmas at sea,” the cook sighted. He gleamed outside.
Hessel didn’t speak. He shivered. Every now and then a beam of light flashed over the water from the coast. The island became visible. The lighthouse Brandaris. Terschelling.

The old farmer put his book down and his glasses away. He looked at his wife, who was sleeping in her chair near the window. On the windowpane was a candle next to a picture of a young man. The candle was flikkering. Christmas eve and a silent night. Maybe it was a pity there was no snow this year.
He rose from his chair, got his jacket and wellies and went outdoors.

It was so quiet outside. Just the sea behind the dunes. The moon was shining from a clear dark sky.
A cow in the barn mewed, then it was quiet again.
The old farmer started to climb the dune and he thought of years ago. So maybe he was wrong that time. He shouldn’t have tried to force the lad to do what he didn’t want. But that was how it was in those days. Children listened to their parents, was he wrong to think his son would listen too?

But the boy wanted to go to sea. Not become a farmer. And now, years later, he knew the son had a point. But then… Had he himself not just lost his brother who was drowned? He was still wearing the black armband then!
Around the arm that hit his son that Christmas eve.

From the top of the dune he looked over the peaceful island, the dunes and the sea.
Where would his boy be now? Well, boy, he would have been forty now. Would he still be alive today?
He left that Christmas eve and he had never returned. Never they had heard from him.

On the bridge of the “Pythia” Hessel still shivered. The coffee couldn’t keep him warm. Was it really the cold that made him tremble? He remembered that he had this strange sensation when he was young. A shiver. A feeling of bad things to happen. And then he would just know a cow would die, or lightning would strike , things like that. Odd, he had forgotten all about that shiver.
Maybe it had to do with the fact they were sailing here, so close to Terschelling, where he had lived on his parents farm until that Christmas eve such a long time ago.
There was the lighthouse. There were the dunes. And somewhere behind those dunes was the old farm, the horse and his parents. If still alive.

The old man was staring towards the sea, where he could see the light of a vessel far away. Why didn’t he just go home, inside, where it was warm.
Didn’t he hear the old horse now? What was wrong with that animal?
He turned round and entered the barn. The horse was restless, scraping his foot over the floor.
“What is the matter old boy? Huh?”

On board of the “Pythia” Hessel took over the stirring wheel from a mate and gave him his coffee.
It was strange, in the last years he must have sailed here several times, so close to the shore of his island, and he had never thought about home till now. It had been a horrible fight, between him and his father. Over twenty years ago it had been and he had left and never returned to the island.
Maybe he was right then. He thought so, then. But now, he could see his fathers point of view too. So soon after the death of his father’s brother, he should have waited a bit with revealing his future plans.
And now he once again sailed by the island he used to live on.

He held his breath.
All of the sudden he saw his mother, she was sleeping in her chair near the window. The candle on the windowpane, he saw it flickering. The candle…
He uttered a cry.

The horse had calmed down a bit, the old eyes looked sadly at the farmer.
“So you are fine now, aren’t you old boy,” the farmer said. Just when he decided to take a look in the stable to see if the cows were okay, he could hear the telephone ring in the living room.
“Now why doesn’t she take that call?” he wondered. He forgot about the cows and hurried inside, into the living. There his wife stood in the room, a burning curtain was lying on the floor. She tried to kick out the flames. He helped her and they succeeded to put out the fire.
Still shaken she said: “I was asleep, you know, and then the phone rang. I woke up and I saw that the curtain was burning. I just tore  it down to the floor. Just in time. If that phone hadn’t rang…”
“Maybe whomever it is, will call again,” her husband said.
“Whomever it was, he or she may have saved my life,” the old woman said. She put the fallen picture of her son Hessel back in its place and they both had a glass of wine to celebrate the good ending.

Hessel was still near the radio and waited. There was the voice of the operator.
“This is Scheveningen Radio again sir, I am sorry, they won’t answer the phone.”
He thanked her and stared out of the window again, over the sea. There was the lighthouse of Ameland, the next island. The shiver had gone.

Slowly the ship continued the voyage.

translated by me, from orig. Dutch, written by me in 1986, published in De Terschellinger. repost of 12-12-2010

I had planned for something new, but things got in the way!  🙂

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!

The letter

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 has thought of a reward: she and I were to spend a while on board of 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 captains 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 fathers seamanship, may his soul rest in peace, it is 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 screw, 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 as well 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. Afterall, this was óur spot. Seans 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 has 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 done secretively, 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 were 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 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, I can safely say I looked better than she did. 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. Afterall 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. Not my idea by the way, but no one ever asked me.

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 hin a very hard push. Before he knew what hit him, he lost his balance on the edge of the cliff. I pushed again. He screamed, I do well remember. A very horrible scream. 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. The most beautiful black hair she got.

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 Nazi’s 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 Allieds. He mysteriously disappeared in 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 been drifting.
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

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