Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Tricky In Our Garden, in a dream. Picture; Daphne Buter.
THE TUNE OF THE NIGHTINGALE
Last night Tricky heard a nightingale and she woke me up to listen to the bird.
"He sings beautifully," I said.
"He isn't singing, but crying," Tricky said. "Don't you hear it?"
Now it is morning and I lay in my bed and I listen to my neighbors. My neighbor's voices know how to penetrate a wall. Maybe my ears are the problem; maybe my ears know how to suck unreal sounds through a wall or a window. Only God knows what the truth is. If God exists, truth exists. Life is not what it seems.
"Shall I take the river Styx?" I hear my neighbor Harry say.
"Please do it right away," his wife answers.
My youngest one is a smart little girl. We all have to watch out for her. Seven years ago we named her Gentle, but God knows why we called her Tricky two years later. Last week she asked me what color my sweater was. It was pink.
"It is pink," I said. "You know it is pink, Tricky."
She grinned, walked over to the wall, stood at the tip of her little toes and switched off the light. We were surrounded by darkness. My little girl seemed to have disappeared. I had vanished, too. Only the sounds we made were still there.
"What color is your sweater?" Tricky repeated.
Just now I did all the things I had to do. I woke up. I'd put my feet on the floor of the bedroom. I walked to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. I took a shower. I brushed my teeth. I did all these things because I had to start my day with something. If I hadn't done these things I would have fallen back to sleep. I would have dreamed about something complicated. I would have dreamed about Tricky.
I lay on a stretcher in our garden. The sun is out and blinds me. What shall I write about today? Shall I write about the sun? The sun is not there - it is a star that we named sun. A star is shining in the garden. Between that star and me a lot of things happen. Clouds raise and disappear. The sky around the star is cerulean. Actually, the blue sky I can see is not around the star, but under it, and it isn't cerulean. Tricky told me the sky isn't. I suppose she'd read Nietzsche while I was asleep one night. "Listen," she said, "listen, the light of the star makes you believe the sky is cerulean, but the sky isn't."
I start to bite my nails. I see the face of Tricky on the brink of my mind's eye. A little blonde human being. Her face has so much expression she looks more convincing than God. Her legs are so skinny they make every dog smile arrogant if we go for a walk to the park. Her legs are full of blue spots because she keeps falling from trees.
"What is a skeleton?" Tricky asked me the other day.
"It is the remains of a creature that died," I answered.
"Wrong! Under my skin lives my skeleton," Tricky said.
"If I ask myself where I am, I am only in my head," she said some time ago.
Maybe I don't lay on a stretcher in our garden. Thinking about it, I don't lay on a stretcher in our garden. I am in my head. Tricky explained to me how I should look at things. In this case, it isn't our garden to begin with. It is just a small piece of land we named a garden. And then, one day, we bought this house for a lot of debts and that is why we call it our garden. "Is it our garden?" she asked. "If it is our garden, for how long will it be our garden?"
"You were dead for centuries, now you are alive for just a short time. Soon you will be dead forever," Tricky said one day. "When you are dead forever, can I have your PC?"
Just now Tricky came out a building we named school and she walked to a house we named home, and now she walks into a garden we call our garden. Tricky looks so small she makes me feel like a giant. Maybe I am a giant.
Here, outside the house, Tricky cannot turn out the light. No one can turn out a star named the sun. Tricky isn't God. I've got her. This time she cannot win the battle.
"What color is my sweater," I ask.
"No one can answer that question."
"Come on, Tricky, what color is my sweater?"
"I think you believe it is pink."
"Well, isn't it pink?"
"Only if God exists, it is. Does God exist?"
"Well, a lot of people believe God exists."
"God exists only in their heads."
I lay on a stretcher in a garden. A star is out and blinds me. The sky has no color. I believe I wear a pink sweater. I really believe I wear a pink sweater. If God exists, no matter if it is a he or a she, it knows I am crying on the inside of my being.
Tricky wears a translucent dress. In the light outside I would swear the dress is pink as a marshmallow. Tricky is collecting bugs. She knows where to find them. Under stones and on leafs, or dangling in the wind. Her little fingers grab the insects and put them in little containers. She runs through the garden like a pink whirlwind. She is so busy it would touch the devil's heart.
Tricky has thousands of insects incarcerated. The bugs are red, yellow, golden, green, and metallic with stripes… She never hurts them. She takes them to the attic and looks at them through her microscope. After a day or so she throws them back in a garden, under a colorless sky, if a star is out to change the world into a paradise of colors, buzzing insects, odors and birds.
"Have a good time," she says with a voice sweet as candy, to the bugs. "Let a bird-beak eat you. You don't mind, don't you? You are too simple to realize you are a living dead thing. No one will miss you when you are gone. We're all just food for each other."
God help me. I am here. I lay on a stretcher in our garden. Last night I heard a nightingale chant. I am sure it wasn't crying. Above me the sky is blue as an ocean on a postcard from Greece.
"Shall I take the river Styx?" my neighbor Harry asked this morning.
"Please do it right away," his wife answered.
Only God knows or I heard it right. If God exists, truth exists. If God exists, I wear a pink sweater. Tricky is more convincing than God. We all are nothing but food for future generations of bugs. I am dying here, I'm dying. I am a dead living thing. That star in that colorless sky above me is scorching me. I start to sweat.
I put my hand as a cap above my eyes and look at that little pink butterfly over there, that pink whirlwind who is collecting bugs in a garden.
"Tricky," I say, "Tricky, do you love me?"
Tricky runs rapidly like she is haunted by a lion. "Your voice reminds me of the tune of that nightingale we heard last night," she answers.
"God knows I love you, Tricky," I say. "Would you miss me if I was dead?"
My heart is pounding fanatically. Tricky stops running and looks at my face. She lets her arms hang down. She is out of breath. Bugs crawl from her little hands to her elbows, further upwards. Red bugs, yellow bugs, golden beetles, green ones, metallic ones with stripes... I see them vanish in the puffy sleeves of her pink dress, ready to eat her. She angles her head, and smiles at me, forlornly. Her big brown eyes remind me of the hearts of sunflowers. Her skinny legs look like brushwood under her fluttering lucid dress. When she says, "What kind of question is that?" she never looked this tiny before.
The Tune Of The Nightingale was published by Dicey Brown last fall.
Monday, May 23, 2005
The boss of a fish-shop in our neighborhood gave me this fishhead for free.
My friend Kiki phoned me to tell me her husband began a fish shop. Her husband is an electrician and he’s born in Nigeria. He doesn’t know a lot about fish. First he was enthusiastic. He let the walls of the shop decorate by an artist. Every day he opened the shop at ten in the morning, but soon he did find out he had no customers. He opens the shop at 4 o’clock in the afternoon now, but still he has no costumers.
"What do you have for diner?” I asked Kiki to change the subject.
“Fish,” Kiki answered.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Drawing By Me
This is one of my translated short stories. The story was translated by Edo Marinus and somewhat revised by me. 'Call Of The Heron, Silence Of The Snake', was puplished by Snow Monkey (US) and by Cadenza (UK).
Call of the Heron, Silence of the Snake
Only when darkness slid off the night, and the world turned into a moist, drab molehill, did Donja feel her despair disappear. Fear was a snake, crawling through the hairy red grass of the nylon carpet, where it remained hidden until the next attack. The weight which had pressed down on her chest all night lifted like a balloon.
She crawled out of bed and sat down on the floor. She was surrounded by empty bottles and leftovers; the carpet was stained with wine and black mould. The table overflowed with rubbish and in the washbasin flies crawled over dirty plates and pans.
She opened the attic window and poked her head outside. She looked out over flower gardens, sagging sheds and balconies with metal rubbish bins. In the middle of the block was a gnarly, knotted oak that must have pushed its way out of the earth long before she was born. Empty crows' nests were scattered among the branches.
She stepped onto the gravelled rooftop and gazed over the edge into a ravine of wet earth and clumps of grass. Last winter, a girl had jumped from the fourth floor, but survived the fall. She would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, her limp body kept upright by a kind of leash. All she could move was her head. She used her chin, which lay lopsided on her dented chest, to operate buttons on a small panel, and zoomed up and down the street. Occasionally Donja would chat with her. The girl was always cheerful; she said that she was grateful for having survived the fall, because the force with which she had struck the earth erased her memory, after which she had found God.
Sitting on her haunches, Donja looked into the dept below and leaned forward a little more. Her fingers clung to the zinc edge next to her bare feet. She sat for fifteen minutes while her heart ticked away time like a clock inside her. Over the twilit world a heron flew. Fascinated, she looked at the bird, which cried out loudly, as if it was trying to stop her from feeding her body to the abyss. She had never heard a heron's call before. It sounded raw, desperate.
For a moment she saw how she might push off and spread her arms, flying after the bird, floating on the humid morning fog for perhaps a second, then plummeting down to the city's floor.
She flinched and crawled back inside through the window.
The mess surrounded her like ruins. She picked up a wine bottle from the floor and put it to her lips to catch the last drops. Drink was the only means of controlling her fears, but her purse was empty. It would start all over again tonight. The snake would sneak up, entangle her with its cold body and keep her in its stranglehold till break of day.
The smell of excrement permeated Mrs. Kars' studio, as a sewer pipe had burst and was leaking into the earth beneath the floor. Donja came in, teetering on her high heels. A bicycle, which had been standing behind the door, fell noisily to the floor.
"The bike belongs to that new guy," said Elize. Donja's portfolio had fallen to the floor. Sheets of drawing paper stuck out of it like a fan. Donja put the bicycle back up while Elize picked up the sheets of paper. "There he is," she whispered in a hysterical squeak. She pointed with a fat finger over her shoulder.
The young man was sitting naked on a kitchen chair that was standing on a wooden table. Legs spread, he was reading Kafka's The Trial, blithely scratching in his pubic hair, causing his scrotum to jump up and down. His penis looked like a squirrel, skittering back and forth between his legs. For a moment Donja watched it, fascinated. The young man looked up from his book and bared his white teeth in a grin. Donja disliked his face. A shock of black curls framed his bright visage, though his blue eyes reminded her of mentholated cough drops. He raised his hand amicably.
"Never seen a naked man before, then, eh?" he called out.
Walking stiffly on her high heels, Donja passed the room where the sculpting group was working over lumps of rock with hammers and chisels, and hung her summer jacket on the row of pegs in the corridor.
Mrs. Kars was suddenly standing next to Donja. "That's Clemens, our new model," she said in her sharp Indonesian accent. "Don't be shy – he's a nice lad and a charming conversationalist. I'll introduce you in a minute. Get used to his bare bum, because you'll be seeing it a lot from now on." She giggled and pushed Donja through the corridor back into the studio, right up to the table. "This lady would absolutely love to meet you," she said teasingly.
Clemens offered her the hand he had used to root through his public hair. Donja frowned, decided to shake it anyway out of politeness, then turned around. She stood her portfolio upright against the wall and surreptitiously smelled her fingers, then wiped her hand on her blouse. The walls were covered with studies of the young man's body. She recognized him in black charcoal lines and grey watery spots: sitting on a chair, lying on a settee, voluptuously seen from the front or from behind. Facing the door were a number of sculptures of him in greasy clay together with some snow-white plaster moulds, sometimes just a torso without a head or just a head on a wooden stand.
Elize stood next to her. "Isn't he amazing? I bet he's the prettiest boy you've ever seen."
Mrs. Kars clapped her chubby hands. Little puffs of plaster escaped from between her fingers and her golden bracelets tinkled like a triangle. "Now we will all sit and take up the sketchpad and a piece of charcoal. We will make sure we have some feathers and our erasers at hand." Her dark-pink mouth rattled off the words as if they were an order. Donja could not get used to her tart voice, no matter how hard she tried. Sometimes Mrs. Kars would look at Donja suspiciously through her shiny rhinestone glasses. Her eyes looked like slits cut into a cardboard mask with a knife.
Mrs. Kars rapped the table with her nails, which were so long they curled. The students picked up their sketchpads and sat down on the wooden stools, which had been placed in a circle around the table. Donja sat next to Elize. Clemens was sitting on the table like an idol.
"Even his cock is pretty," Elize lisped into Donja's ear.
Donja saw the young man's head floating in mid-air. He smiled at her and licked his fleshy lips with the tip of his tongue. "I think he's revolting," she whispered.
Elize shrugged. Flakes of her psoriasis fluttered from her head down onto her clothes. She was wearing a pair of Roy Rogers jeans with big pockets on the back and legs which were too short. Next to her plump cheeks hung braids with sky-blue ribbons.
"Your shoes are amazing," Elize said after a while, looking at the red pumps which trapped Donja's feet like little torture chambers.
Donja looked at Elize's sandals – heavy shoes with crepe soles and broad buckles at their sides. "They're not comfortable," she replied. "The heels are too high."
"Really amazing," Elize said again.
During the class, Clemens regaled them with amusing anecdotes from the books of Bob den Uyl and pompously recited soliloquies from Hamlet. About Kafka's The Trial he remarked that it was an impenetrable book full of symbols, which could only be understood by someone who knew a lot about the author's life. Then he lay the book down on the table, next to one of the stool's legs, and a moment later put his bare foot on the cover. Everybody thought he was charming, brilliant and funny.
"Has anybody read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky?" His words fluttered down from somewhere about the crystal chandelier, which sparkled from the ceiling and distracted Donja. When she looked at him to take in the flowing lines of his body, he looked back at her and smirked. In the basement, chisels were rapping on stone monotonously. Donja's fingers hesitated on the paper. She could feel him stare at her, making it impossible to think. The figure on her paper looked like a Neanderthal, a muscular colossus, while the young man himself was slender.
Though she disliked him, she wondered what it would be like to hold that perfect column of human flesh in her hands, to mould and shape him like clay.
"You're daydreaming, young lady," said Mrs. Kars.
Donja hunched over the drawing board. In the groin of the figure she quickly drew a penis, which looked like a finger.
Mrs. Kars clapped her hands.
The students got up and placed their drawing boards upright against their seats. Donja put hers facing downwards. Clemens climbed off the table, walked to the row of pegs and put on one of Mrs. Kars' flowery dressing gowns, then walked back into the studio.
They had tea in cracked mugs. Elize whispered into Donja's ear, "I wouldn't mind giving what's underneath those flowers a quick tickle."
"That's no good," Mrs. Kars said after the break. She stared over Donja's shoulder at the paper covered with smudges and lines. Her breath smelled of garlic and nicotine. "Look closely at his physique, that supple body, full of beautiful muscles..."
Her deformed nails rapped snappily at the drawing. "And you turn it into a gorilla."
Clemens craned his neck to look at the sketch, but Donja quickly lifted the drawing board. He gave an amused chuckle and she wished he would fall off the table, chair and all.
She spent the remainder of the lesson erasing lines and sketching a new figure, but no matter how she tried, it remained a gorilla.
"That's because he's such a gorgeous man," Elize said. "Makes you bloody nervous."
Mrs. Kars looked at her watch, took off her apron and snapped her fingers. "That's all for today." She draped her apron over a chair and lit a small, thin cigar.
"Oh, what a shame," Elize whined. Proudly, she showed Clemens her handiwork: a charcoal figure sitting on a chair, legs wide apart. Between his thighs she had drawn what looked like a witch's nose.
Clemens feebly clapped his hands and said: "L'art, c'est mourir un peu."
The sky was the color of dark prunes. Bats wheeled around the spire of the Westertoren, which was just striking ten. Donja let the door of the studio slam behind her. It opened again immediately.
"Shall I carry your portfolio?"
Donja turned. It was Clemens. A square of light fell from the studio's window.
"I think you're a really good artist," he said. "There's a huge amount of drama in your work; I noticed that straight away. You're enormously talented and I think you're great."
"That's because of you, you're an irresistible model," she replied flatly. "You're built like a gorilla."
His laughter resounded in the dark alley. She gave him the portfolio, and as they started to walk she could hear the scraping of her stilettos on the cobblestones.
After maybe a hundred yards, Clemens stopped at a pub. Cigarette smoke billowed from the maw of the open doorway, and behind the windows dozens of people were talking and laughing.
"Come one, I'll buy you a nice glass of wine." He dropped her portfolio on the street where it landed with a gentle thud, took his wallet out of his pocket and started to count his money. "A very nice glass of wine," he continued.
Donja took another good look at him. If she refused his offer, she would have to bear the snake without alcohol that night. She gave a hollow laugh.
"Alright, I guess I can spare a minute or two."
They sat opposite each other at a little wooden table. Stirring waves of music seemed to rise from pots of ferns on the windowsill. Messages were scratched in the tabletop in different hands: SONJA LOVES LEX; BIBI COME HOME; SUZY'S BIG BOY CAME; KILLROY WAS NOWHERE; CALL ME HANS!
They were drinking Chianti. Clemens was giving a long-winded lecture on different writers. He was delighted by The Brothers Karamazov and surprised to learn she had not read it.
"I'm disappointed in you," he said, as if he had known her for years and only now found out that did not live up to his expectations.
Donja had never read anything by the authors he spoke so highly of. She knew nothing about Chekhov, Dostoevsky or Kafka, and even Bob den Uyl meant nothing to her. She could never find the tranquillity to read.
She was afraid of silence, of perfectly normal sounds like creaking floorboards or mice scurrying in the wardrobe. The fluttering of a moth in the hot bowl of a table lamp, casting a shadow on the wallpaper, caused her to be seized by panic. Often her terror was so powerful that she barricaded the attic door with the few pieces of furniture she possessed in order to keep imaginary intruders out. She would crawl into a corner of the room and spend the night moaning, curled up like a wounded animal.
Clemens rattled on about world literature, completely unaware that he was sitting opposite a lunatic. He was probably studying Dutch at the university. After graduating, he would spend his life teaching passionately at some mildewy school.
Donja was not the only lunatic in the house where she lived. Downstairs was Brenda, a skeletal girl who starved herself by never retaining anything. From early morning until late at night she would gorge herself on vast amounts of food. After every meal she regurgitated like an albatross. The whole blessed day she ambled through the house in a pink quilted dressing gown, from fridge to lavatory, from lavatory to stove. She habitually stole Donja's food. Once she ate a pound of salmon salad which Donja had bought because she was having visitors. When Donja reprimanded her, Brenda spat it out on the carpet and said: "There you go."
Often, Donja would catch her in the kitchen in the morning, frying up a stack of pancakes. She could hardly stand on her scraggy legs from weakness. She would gobble up ten pancakes garnished with syrup, slices of apple or bacon, or heaped with fruit, ice cream and thick gobs of whipped cream. Rolling them up in her bony fingers she stuffed them into her insatiable gob while a milky juice ran down from her chin into the collar of her dressing gown. She washed her meals down with gallons of Coca Cola. Then she would go to the bathroom where she spewed the undigested food into the toilet bowl, after which she began anew. Donja felt sorry for her but also feared her. She had attacked Donja on the landing once because she thought she was hogging the phone. She often played her music loud enough to vibrate the windows of the house.
One day Brenda asked Donja to look at her back because she was suffering from strange pains. As Brenda slid the dressing gown from her undernourished body, Donja had to hold on to the doorframe, dizzied by the sight of her concentration-camp body. Her back was ruined – her skin full of pocked holes oozing pus, her shoulders covered in white fuzz as if her body was enshrouding itself in some mysterious pelt. Donja flinched at the sight of a piece of bone shimmering through Brenda's skin.
"My God, you're dying," she whispered in horror.
"Tell me something I don't know," Brenda replied.
The Chianti was making her drunk. A whining voice was asking her if she knew that Dostoevsky had written The Gambler in two weeks. Donja lethargically shook her head. His blue-eyed face loomed.
"I think you're beautiful. You're so beautiful," his voice sang.
She felt his leg rubbing against hers. Numerous legs had pressed against hers in bars before. Unimportant legs, belonging to unimportant men. Legs attached to bodies that sweated, told lies, stank. Bodies with heads that had nothing to say to her. Heads that burst into tears after several glasses of beer. Heads confiding in her the anguish of their souls and their bizarre secrets. Pretty heads without brains, or ugly heads harbouring gentle personalities. Heads that declared their love for her and then approached her with drooling lips to kiss her against her will. Stone-drunk heads that vomited on her shoes. Heads yearning for love, understanding, sex.
Every time she went into the city at night it seemed a theatre in which men were looking for a way out of the labyrinth of their sordid, deformed lives. Once the night was over she threw them away. She never answered the telephone. Love letters were torn into shreds and fed to the wind through the attic window.
Clemens' leg rubbed against her knee like a pushy dog. To sort her chaotic thoughts she put her hand on his neck, drew his head close and kissed him. He laughed and seemed incapable of stopping.
"Christ, this is like something out of Kafka," he said, panting.
"Let's go," she said, getting up and putting on her coat. She put the bottle of Chianti to her lips and greedily emptied it. He brazenly put his hands under her breasts and licked one of her earlobes.
"Piss off, windbag," she barked.
They squirmed through the laughing, chattering patrons to the door. Sweaty men's heads turned in her direction, red heads with bloodshot eyes. They were shouting incomprehensible words with breath smelling of beer. One belched a subterranean burp into her ear. His sour breath clung to her hair like a puff of noxious gas. She stamped as hard as she could as she ran, hoping her stiletto heels would shatter somebody's toes.
When at last they fluttered into the dark-blue night like two escaped birds, Clemens wanted to carry her portfolio again.
"Do you know Dostoevsky wrote The Gambler in two weeks?" he repeated drunkenly.
She looked at his beaming face. He seemed chronically carefree. He knew nothing about snakes emerging from carpets to paralyse your mind.
"I don't give a damn about Dostoevsky," she snapped. Her heels scraped loudly on the pavement, as raw as a heron's call. He walked next to her in silence. Back home, she would overpower him, feed his body to the snake until the fresh-green break of day.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Picture: Daphne Buter
My friend Alice was five years older than me, and the right side of her face was roasted in a fire. Three days after she was born, her parents had left her alone in the house to buy meat at the Albert Kuyp market in Amsterdam. The reason they had left her alone in the house was because Alice’s father had bought meat that morning, but when he came home his wife said he had bought the wrong meat. Alice’s mother was still recovering from delivering the baby, and shaky on her legs, but her husband – who was annoyed he had bought the wrong meat – insisted she come with him to the market to buy the right meat.
Alice was asleep in her bedstead, and her parents decided not to disturb the baby’s sleep.
In the days Alice was born, people used cotton diapers for babies, and dirty diapers were boiled in a big pan on a stove, to cook them clean.
When the parents of Alice came back form the market, they saw a mountain of black smoke rise above the bridge, and a little later they saw their house had changed into an inferno. Firemen were trying to extinguish the combustion. Neighbors who were watching the spectacle, had told the fireman the house was empty, because they had noticed the couple had left to do some shopping. None of them knew Alice was recently born. Alice lay in her bedstead on the left side of her body.
When I was a child we lived in a subterranean vault in Amsterdam. On the first floor of our house my father had his studio where he shot his advertisement pictures, and I had to model for him almost every day.
The walls of our elongated living room were always clammy, and mysterious green, yellow and black moulds drew pattern of undiscovered faces on the bricks. The windows of the vault were placed so high in the walls that I could only watched through them if I stood on the other side of the room.
One day a girl appeared behind one of our windows, a child with a roasted face. Later my mother told me she had never seen anything like it. One side of the face of the child was black and purple and maimed. The girl had recently moved into our neighborhood.
I was too little to see the difference between a face that wasn’t burned and a face that was. To me Alice was just Alice, a nine year old goddess that taught me how to sing songs, that taught me how to spell and read words, that taught me how to climb stairs without falling from them…
Alice and I played almost every day. I was the only friend she had. Alice had a few dolls and she had roasted half of all their faces and to me that was just something Alice liked in dolls.
My mother allowed me to stay nights over at Alice’s place, and we slept together in her bed, while she told me fairy tales about girls with roasted faces that married princes with roasted faces. Alice made me believe that a roasted face was a beautiful thing. I never knew why she talked so much about roasted faces, I had no idea what a roasted face looked like in reality.
Many years later my mother told me that the marriage of Alice’s parents never had healed after the fire. They thought each other guilty for the fire. The mother accused her husband of buying the wrong meat, and the father accused the mother for leaving the diapers on the stove. My mother told me Alice’s father had become insane after the flames.
One day Alice and I played on the attic of their house. It was on a hot summer day and Alice’s father was sawing wood in a little room on the attic. At the wall of the room hung pictures of Brigitte Bardot. I asked her father who that lady was and he said it wasn’t a lady but a whore, like all women. Next he asked me if I would allow him to saw my hand off. He grabbed my hand and put it on a table, next he put the saw on my wrist and scratched my flesh. I started to cry and Alice dragged me away from her father, whispering, “my father isn’t okay at the moment. He sees the flames again at night.”
Alice and I played some more on the attic, but the atmosphere was loaded with danger. I didn’t even dare to cry anymore about the bleeding scratch of the saw. Alice’s father was walking up and down, watching us, tapping his lips with nervous fingers.
“Why doesn’t your father asks Alice to pose for one of his advertisement pictures?” Alice’s father asked me.
I shrugged. “If I’ll ask him, he will.”
“If you ask him he will...?” Her father repeated.
“Yes, of course. He will.”
“Well, your father will say no,” Alice’s father said. “No one wants to shoot pictures of Alice’s face, don’t you think?”
Alice and I didn’t say a word for some time. We just sat at the wooden floor of the attic, and our hands were playing a game with some roasted dolls, but our heads were waiting for something.
Alice’s father opened the attic window, saying, "it is hot as a fire in here."
I remember Alice and I looked each other in the eyes, but we didn’t move. We were just waiting.
Alice’s father said we had to come to his attic room and we did. The next moment he said Alice had to climb through the attic window, and that she had to place her feet in the gutter of the flat. I remember that day as if it has been a dream. Alice just climbed through the window and a minute later she stood in the gutter. Her father lifted me in the air, ordered me to put my feet in the gutter as well, and closed the window behind us.
The sun was sweltering on the burning tin roof and on our back. Above us the sky rose like an endless deep space to fall into. Below us the gardens were small green patterns. The world didn’t exist anymore. We had nothing to hold onto, just our feet standing in the gutter, and below us was the ravine of the city.
We didn’t cry, we didn’t seek for solutions, we just waited until one of us would drop dead. I remember an orchestra of thousand birds that seemed to shriek at us.
“It is my face,” Alice whispered after some time, “my father hates it. And it is your face as well, he hates that too. He hates the magazines with you in it. He hates us both… He believes we both are ugly. He cannot love perfect or imperfect beauty…”
I looked aside to Alice’s face, and for the first time I saw the scars, the twisted meat, her right eye that was melted into a narrow line, her mouth that couldn’t open or smile the way mine could. Now I noticed she had only one ear, and that she had only one eyebrow. In my mind’s eye I can see Alice's face the way I saw it that day, and she was my lifeline, and I never loved her more.
I was 4 years old when Alice and I stood in a gutter above Amsterdam. I was 4 years old when I realized Alice’s face was burned and mutilated by flames.
A few hours later my mother walked outside our cellar to hang laundry on the line in our garden, and she noticed us standing in the gutter of the flat. A little later fireman came to save us and the father of Alice was arrested by the police.
Alice and I lost contact after this incident. Many years later I went to a swimming pool when I noticed a woman with her hair covering one side of her face. The uncovered side of her face was so beautiful I couldn’t stop looking at her. Slowly I began to recognize Alice. I walked over to her and told her my name. We both cried meeting each other after so many years. Alice had had more than a hundred surgery operations on the right side of her face and her face looked different but still destroyed by the flames. We still are friends. One day Alice gave me a beach house as a gift. The beach house burned down last winter.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
3 flowers, picture: Daphne Buter.
My mother had died all of sudden, and my older sister and my brother of nineteen and my stepfather and me, were in shock. One day after she had died we had to went to the graveyard while heavy rain was falling down on us, to look for a good spot to burry her. The undertaker, which we call ‘a crow’ in Holland, walked in front of us, dressed in black clothing that smelled like the fur of a wet dog.
After some time the crow showed us a spot in the earth that was 'still free' as he called it. He explained it would be a good grave because branches of a tree that was still naked then, would blossom lovely above the grave next spring.
I asked ‘what is the name of this spot?’
Me and my family looked at that man’s face, waiting for his answer, while raindrops kept running over our faces. I suppose all of us expected him to answer something like ‘The Lane Of Peace’ or ‘Gently Shove’ or ‘The Corner Of God’s Love’… but he answered ‘Section 22.’
My sister, my brother, my stepfather and me, started to sob at full volume in the rain, when that crow said ‘Section 22.’
Sunday, May 08, 2005
My oldest girl was twelve and she was in love with a fourteen year old boy. She told me she had a reverie about him and her, riding the back of two Capricorns with wings, in the sky.
A few days later that boy and she were in her room and after some time they came out and their faces looked like two glowing lights. Then they went back in and after some time they came out again and only the face of the boy still looked like a glowing light, but the face of my girl looked very disappointed.