One last time

“This just isn’t what I signed up for.”

There is a long pause.

“Well,” Sietske hesitates. “What did you sign up for?”

A long sigh threads its way down the phone line. Bastiaan grips his hair, painfully, perhaps hoping this will wake up his brain. And his calling. But there is nothing.

“I don’t know. I can’t say. Not right now.”

Another silence.

“I’m sorry, Bas. I wish I had something helpful to say. I feel responsible.”

“That’s just ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it is.” His tone is sharp, impatient.

“If it weren’t for me,” she soldiers on, “you wouldn’t be stuck in that God-forsaken hole.”

“Yes, it’s all your fault, you siren, you temptress. Luring me, unwilling, into your bed.” They each smile, unseen by the other, in their living rooms.

After another long pause, Sietske suggests hanging up or saying something meaningful. “KPN is making a lot of money out of us for very little.”

“Come and stay,” Bastiaan blurts out.

“Do you really think-“

“Come and stay,” he repeats roughly. “Please. I need a bit of light. A bit of happiness. Come and lighten my mood.”

She succumbs. It feels so familiar. Their relationship is built on we-shouldn’t and perhaps-we’d-better-not and one-last-time-then. They plan another last time, a very last time. They make no notes in their diaries but they won’t forget. They hang up, feeling both elated and heavy at heart.

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Marching Band

“Fenna, you can’t.” It was the skirt. Fenna had only got as far as three steps down the stairs before being sent back up to change into her trousers. “I don’t care what you wear when you go out with your friends – I mean, I do, but you know – this is the marching band. People will see.”

“You mean the neighbours. The neighbours will see. And think you’re a bad mother. And then what will happen?” The ice cold analysis of the fifteen year old mind.

“You’re too clever by half. Just do as I say and change into your nice, neat trousers.” Liesbeth dashed a stray curl out of her eyes and quickly turned off the gas under a pan of potatoes. Dinner was late. And probably not very nice. And she wished her daughter had more sense of decorum than brains, instead of the other way round.

When Fenna reappeared, five minutes later, her outfit could only be described as ironic. Liesbeth didn’t know anyone else who could be sarcastic and compliant at the same time, but Fenna had managed it. She was impeccably dressed, in a white shirt and black trousers, her Schutterij sash neatly ironed and arranged exactly as it should over her left shoulder, her badge polished, her hair in a neat bun, pins holding back any wayward strands. She was not wearing any make up and her shoes were neatly polished. Her flute was tucked under her arm.

“I’m ready to go,” Fenna announced calmly.

“Well, let’s have dinner first. Where’s your brother?”

“Probably getting beaten up on his way home,” Fenna mused as she took her seat at the table. “You might want to see to the pork chops. They’re curling at the edges.”

Liesbeth bit her lip and launched the chops onto three plates, where they bounced and skidded in an unappetizing way. She was beyond caring. They only had about five minutes to eat it now anyway. As she ladled mealy potatoes and an amorphous mush of carrots and peas onto the plates, the front door opened. It was Sjoerd, preceded by his tuba.

“I can’t play.” his muffled voice came from behind the instrument.

“What was that? Speak up, boy!” his sister jeered.

“I can’t play!” Sjoerd wailed, dropping the tuba on the couch and revealing a muddy, tear-streaked face, a swollen lip, a black eye and worst of all – a missing tooth.

Liesbeth rushed to his side and swept him into her arms, muttering expletives and reassurances alternately. Sjoerd sobbed in heart-breaking abandon, only managing to reveal between wet snorts and snuffles the name of his assailant, which did not surprise either of the two women. It was Maikel, of course.

Finally, Sjoerd calmed down a little and announced: “I’ve still got it.” It was said a little proudly, as if this made everything better.

“You’ve still got what, squirt?” Fenna asked.

Sjoerd dipped his hand in his trouser pocked and fished out a handkerchief. He unfolded it carefully and held it out for his mother and sister to see. In it was a small, ivory, bloody tooth.

They all stared at it, mesmerised, while dinner became increasingly inedible on the table. In the churchyard, the marching band waited in vain for its flute and tuba players to appear.