‘God-damn,’ we say.
It is the end of a cloudy August day when two blondes pass our yacht on a red Fox 22. Hard to tell if they’re good-looking but five days on a boat certainly weighs in their favor. Our vibe is hormonal, testosterone rising like bamboo in tropical summer. Jack will say goddamn to a pig in a life vest by now.
‘Are those girls looking good or what?’ Jack says.
‘Goddamn right they are,’ Steve says.
Every summer Steve, Jack and I rent a boat and see the watery part of the world. It is a way we have of driving off the spleen, regulating the circulation. We sail, drink, and look for exquisite specimens of the female persuasion. Were you to look down from the heights of our testosterone level, our boat would resemble a pimple on the ass of the Aspidochelone, the fabled sea monster. But we don’t look down—we look at the girls on the red Fox 22 and say goddamn.
We’ve docked our boat on a small pier in Swarte Brekken, a shallow in eroded peat just south of Sneek. Behind the pier grows reed. Under the reed swim fish and above it fly insects. Since the red Fox left we’re the only boat here. The water is dark and flat, mirroring pregnant clouds. Wind has shifted around to the southwest, and the barometer’s falling. A shag glides over the water, shiny black and thin, a fish in its beak.
‘Storm coming boys,’ Jack says. ‘Radio said so too. It’s not here yet but it’s coming.’
We sit outside and drink and smoke and wait for the storm. I try to catch fish with a bamboo rod we bought in Grou today for four fifty. As I look at the bobber I think of the Instant Fisherman program I used to watch over and over again as a kid. If you ordered the compact, steady, always-ready-to-fish rod, the deal included a book on how to catch more fish. ‘Like tip no. 24,’ the voice-over would say, ‘Always go fishing when the weather turns, because that’s when the fish go wild.’ Not today though—the weather turns, fish take the bread but not the hook.
Steve is on his phone. Jack reads a book by John Irving and enjoys it so much he reads every third sentence out loud to us. With passion he recites descriptions of breasts, not yet aware they belong to some elderly transvestite. ‘Love it,’ he snickers. ‘Great read this one, really great.’
Soon the wind thickens and the clouds take on various shades of grey and brown: ash grey, battleship grey, gunmetal, Payne’s grey, taupe, liver. Beneath them lays a yellow wedge of August sun. I take out my phone and take a ridiculous number of panoramic shots. Rain then starts to fall, pl pl pl in the water and tk tk tk on pier and boat. The drops darken the teak deck cigar brown.
‘There she comes boys,’ Jack says.
We take our books and towels and cushions inside and close the roof. It is almost dark now. With a roll of thunder water falls from mountainous clouds. Jack switches off the cabin lights. Through foggy portholes we behold the spectacle—lightning everywhere, our boat wobbling in the water like a drunken whale.
After dinner we drink the whiskey Steve brought and play poker. The storm has settled but nails keep on rattling against the nerveless teak. Inside, the boat smells like a wet dog.
‘Goddamn weather,’ Steve says.
‘Goddamn weather Steve,’ Jack says. ‘Now place your blind please.’
Jack beats us both with a flush of clubs on the turn, shortest game we ever played. Steve yawns. ‘I wish those girls had docked here,’ he says. ‘We could’ve drank beer and played cards with them.’
‘Play with their tits,’ Jack says. He stands up from the table, walks to the door, opens the roof and sticks out his head. ‘Still raining boys,’ he says. Like we didn’t know. I tell him to close the roof then and bring three beers on your way back. He opens the fridge and pulls out three beers and sits back down. The wind sings a grim song; ropes drum a vicious beat against the mast.
‘You know what this reminds me of?’ Steve asks.
‘What do you mean “this”?’ I ask.
‘This sound. It reminds me of a girl named Vera. She had a creaking bed and cried like a goose when we did it.’
We laugh. ‘Classy story Steve,’ Jack says as he opens the bottles. ‘You know what it reminds me of?’
Jack looks at us and takes a long draught of his beer.
‘Well, get on with it,’ Steve says.
‘It reminds me of a story my cousin Ivan told me when I was seventeen and he about thirty.’ Jack sits across the table, elbows on the wood. He pulls the label from his bottle and rolls it to a ball between his fingers. ‘I was heart-broken over a girl named Anna. She was a year my senior and I loved her. When I told her she said I like you too but as a friend.’
‘Naturally,’ Steve sneers. Jack frowns and looks at Steve and throws the paper ball at him.
‘My cousin Ivan had dated many girls but by that time was in a serious relationship with a beauty named Kate. I’d told him about Anna and to make me feel better he told me about a thing that’d happened to him at work one day. It had taught him a lot about women, he said.’
‘What was it?’
‘It happened in the summer. He worked in a cinema, checking tickets and stuff like that. One night he was in the upstairs hallway, waiting for visitors. It was a hot and humid night and there was a terrible storm, much worse than this one—heavy thunder, lightning illuminating the stained glass windows, etcetera.
‘The late film was a semipornographic melodrama. You’d expect at least some people for that, right, but no one showed. Well, Ivan was about to kick the wedges from under the swinging doors and leave, when a strange sight met his gaze. A few paces from him stood a tall, slender girl in a slight pink dress with a white kerchief on her head, holding a ticket. Ivan was very specific about these details. He told me there was in the girl’s movements something so enchanting, imperious and caressing, so mocking and charming, that he nearly cried out with wonder an delight, and would, at that moment, have given everything in the world to have those lovely fingers holding that ticket tap his forehead.’
‘Tap his foreskin you mean?’ Steve says.
‘No, his forehead—Ivan was a strange feller. Anyway, he told me this girl was a goddess. His eyes devoured her graceful figure, the lovely neck, the beautiful arms, the slightly disheveled fair hair under the white kerchief—and the half closed, perceptive eyes, the lashes, the soft cheek beneath them… He sucked in every detail of her beauty—checked her ass too as she walked the corridor.’
‘How was it?’
‘It was a good one, he told me. Nothing to joke about.’
‘Did he fuck her?’
‘Hold on Steve. Now, Ivan is so caught up with this girl that he forgets everything. Suddenly a voice near him cries Young man! Hey, young man! Is it proper to stare at unknown ladies like that? Ivan shudders with shock and embarrassment, and almost faints. Near him stands a good-looking woman in her late thirties or early forties with long dark hair and the stern look of an experienced piano teacher, looking at him ironically. At the end of the hall the girl halts and turns. Ivan sees her large grey eyes in a bright, lively face, which suddenly begins to quiver and laugh. He told me he felt unusually gay.
‘So, Ivan starts the film and leaves the room. As he kicks the wedges from under the doors and picks them up, the door at other the end of the corridor opens. It’s the woman. The trailers take rather long, she says, I think I have time to freshen up. Sure, Ivan says, wondering why she’d want to freshen up. The woman walks the corridor and passes Ivan and goes to the bathroom. In passing she hands him her scarf and says Hold this please. Ivan said it has a nice, lotus-like smell to it.’
‘What does a lotus smell like?’ I ask.
‘It smells real nice,’ Jack says. ‘Real nice. Anyway, when she comes back from the ladies room, she asks Why don’t you put your silly wedges away and come watch the film with us? It’s just the three of us in there and it would be real nice if you joined us.’
‘Jesus,’ Steve says. ‘You’re kidding. That’s like an open invitation into her baby cannon.’
‘Damn right it is Steve. Naturally Ivan is hot with excitement. He brings his stuff downstairs, notifies the cashier that he’ll stay to see the film, goes back upstairs. When he enters the cinema, the room is dark as hell. He can’t see the frame of his glasses is how dark it is. We’re in the back, the women say. Ivan climbs the steps, right hand touching the wall. It’s warm and there’s a pungent smell. He thinks what the hell and takes off his shirt. Good, the women say, Take it off. He takes off his shoes too and is so excited he doesn’t notice the floor is soggy. Good, the women say, Come.
‘Ivan ascends further, unbuckling his belt. It’s dark and warm and it smells bad but all Ivan thinks of now is storming the pink fortress. When he reaches the back of the room and enters the last row—pants on his ankles—he feels hands on both his wrists, pulling him gently. Now he stumbles, plunges forward and lands on top of something warm and soft. A pile of pleasure he called it, unlike anything he ever felt. The pile embraces him perfectly and he the pile—the two becoming one in the process. It was perfect he said.’
Steve and I look at Jack. Jack sips his beer.
‘And then what?’ Steve asks.
‘Here’s the thing,’ Jack says. ‘Ivan dozes off and wakes up when the lights go on at the end of the film. The pile is cold now and he sick with the stench of rotten olives. The women are gone and all that’s left is a pile of cold, wet, stinking shit, and he on top of it.’
Steve and I keep silent. Rain falls on our boat. The wind sings and ropes drum. Jack finishes his bottle, puts it on the table, looks at me, at Steve, at his empty bottle, at mine, at Steve’s, again at his. He says:
‘Ivan told me this when I was seventeen and heart-broken. I was as quiet as you right now, quiet and sad. Ivan said It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s also okay to plunge into a pile of shit sometimes. It’s all okay. Well, that certainly took my mind off Anna for a while.’
It’s past one now. Steve yawns. We drink our beer. ‘That’s one crazy story Jack,’ Steve says. ‘One crazy story.’
‘I’m going to bed,’ Jack says.
We all go to bed. I lie awake for a while and look at the damp ceiling and listen to the storm. I think about Jack’s story and about the two blondes on the Fox 22. Then the water cradles me, by a route obscure and lonely, out of space—out of time.
Utrecht, 7 oktober 2015. Geschreven voor een nog te publiceren boek.