Every fifteen meters the light from a lamppost shines. The rivers running through the town reflect their lights. The water often flows smoothly. An occasional wave might pass by, but I barely notice it. If it wasn’t for the rainfall I wouldn’t believe I live in a coastal city. Five or six small boats are anchored by a one-way street on my side. No anchoring on the other side. The river is narrow enough to see across which causes most people to shut their drapes. Shadows move to and fro. There’s a couple on the second floor who are particularly animated. They dance, I think, or perform sketches. I sit by the window at my computer and try different songs to match their rhythm. I’ve tried to listen by opening the window, but I can’t hear a thing other than the city noises. Not that I live in a busy part of town, just a forgotten side-street between two busy river crossings. There is always a car somewhere, a loud conversation around the corner, a bottle being broken or something that breaks the attention. The cities are growing even more crowded. Oddly enough I read that the cities are not growing louder. Hundreds of years ago the city was smaller but louder. The blacksmith would bang his hammer on the anvil. The hooves of a horse echoed in the streets. There were no phones or microphones. You shouted to be heard. Maybe that part hasn’t change. Maybe we still shout. To be heard is to be seen and we all want to be seen. I wonder how Victoria sees it. She must know about me and Patrick.
He once told me she doesn’t have anything to do with his business. That night I felt like the girls of the red light district. I was just his business. He didn’t correct himself. Not that I made him aware of just how dirty he made me feel. I deserve it. Victoria is not an angel, but she’s home with the kids and he’s out playing golf and handling business. I should be studying but I’m not. It is the very reason I keep this up. It’s how I justify myself. He’s renting me this apartment, pays for my tuition and groceries. But I imagine the kids, Joseph and Olivia, growing up and realizing there’s a person who affects their lives somewhere in Amsterdam. I imagine the look on Olivia’s face that one day she confronts me. How she travels across the Atlantic just to make me see how I hurt them. It would be an ordinary day. I could never prepare myself. Just one day when I’m leaning out over the railing of a bridge, looking at a gray river without reflection and I’d turn around. There she’d stand. I’d know it immediately. Years of not connecting with her father and years of hearing her mother cry would stare me right in the face. It’s how my life will be reflected; in the torn face of my lover’s children.
I don’t want to be a shadow of a person. So I told him no. He insisted, even begged. He told me he would pay for tuition and help me get my own income. So I’m sitting here, by the window and trying to figure out which music my neighbors dance to. It’s all I can do. He’s on his way. The plane arrived on time; I watched the arrivals on the airport site. A phone call at any moment will tell me where to go and we’ll meet for dinner. I’m always between phone calls. My life starts with the ringing of my phone. I’m just a forgotten life between two of his business meetings in Europe. It rings.
“I’m coming straight to you.”
“Hello. Uhm okay. I haven’t cleaned up the apartment.”
“Ah I see. You must have been busy thinking about me. That’s alright. We can grab some food after. You have wine, right?”
“No. But I can—“
“Yea. So I’ll be there in forty-five minutes. Bye.”
I put two bottles in the fridge, wash two glasses and walk out of the apartment. I knock on Christiaan’s door.
“Hey, Liese. What’s up?”
“I need to borrow a bottle-opener again.”
“Ha-ha! Seriously? Why don’t you just buy one? They cost like one euro.”
“Okay, come in.” He leaves the door open for me and walks over to his kitchen. I wave at Daphne from the doorway. She rolls her eyes and turns back to the TV. “Hey you know…” He looks out from the kitchen. “Oh I thought you had followed me. Come in. I don’t wanna shout. You know you might as well just keep the corkscrew. We have two and to be honest you use ours more than we use them.”
“Oh no I couldn’t. I will buy a new one tomorrow.”
“No it’s no problem.”
“I don’t want to take your stuff. I’m sorry for even—“
Daphne hits the back of the sofa. “Oh for crying out loud! Just keep it!”
Christiaan hands me the corkscrew and I go back to my kitchen. Patrick rings my bell and I run to open the door. He gives me a bouquet of tulips – I guess because I’m Dutch – and gives me a lopsided grin as if to say he is more of a man than I ever could have dreamed. I smell them and find a vase for them while he opens a bottle.
“How’s the studying coming along? Too much for you?”
“No. It’s going okay.”
He pours a glass of wine and hands it to me. “If you want to take a semester off, that’ll be alright. Take your time, you know. You’re young. You shouldn’t rush into the boring years of your life. You have plenty of time to nag about bullshit later.”
I jump up, to sit on the kitchen counter. “Yea… I guess.”
“Hey. What’s the matter with you? It was a joke.”
“I know I’m just… thinking about what you said.”
He walks up to me, parts my legs and kisses me. “Make sure not to worry too much though. You get a tiny, but laser-sharp line on your forehead. And you don’t want that to stick to your face. Hell you’d look like Harry Potter.”
He finishes his glass. “Yea you like that? I made that reference just for you.”
“Thanks. That’s kind of you. ‘Cause I’m young.”
“Exactly. I thought about something with the Teletubbies but didn’t know if you get that show here.” He starts stroking my leg. “You know what I like?”
“This part right here.”
He strokes it with the outside of his fingers.
“Your thigh. Smooth as silk. Oh I could kiss this part right here all night.”
He kisses me and touches me. We make love. He keeps kissing me after. I kept my eyes closed and still keep them closed. He chuckles and pours himself a new glass. I open the window to get some fresh air and go to the bathroom. After I come back he also has his clothes on. We share another glass. He talks about golf and how he’ll bet on the round with his buddies tomorrow. I nod my head and sip on my glass. When the occasion calls for it I fill in; That’s interesting! or Oh really? He sighs and opens the fridge.
“Oh. You had another bottle here? It’s almost ice. Good. Perfect temperature. I’m as cold as ice. Something-something sacrifice.”
He sings the last part. I smile and look out of the window. “Patrick?”
“Yea. Too old a reference for you? It was a song—“
“No. I know the song. What do you think they’re listening to? You see the couple behind the drapes on the second floor? What music are they dancing to?”
He puts his glass on the desk and leans forward. “I don’t know. Who cares?”
“They’re always dancing.”
“Ha-ha! Who cares which tune other people dance to? Such a waste. Like, you know, the millions of people watching reality TV. Live your own god damn lives. Come here. Put on some music and come here. We’re gonna dance. Yea, right now. Come on.”
I turn on the computer. “But what music do you want?”
“Whichever music you dance to is alright with me. Let’s go.”
I click on the browser and search for a web-based radio station. “I figure we could choose a radio station that—“
“Let’s go! I’ll retire before you pick a song.”
Twenty links show up. I hover over the titles without clicking. “I don’t wanna dance anymore.”
“Don’t be such a cry baby. Just pick a station and we’ll dance.”
“No. I mean. No I don’t wanna do this anymore.” He smiles without showing teeth and holds out his hands. I shut the window and close my drapes. “This. Us. I don’t want to do this anymore. Like what kind of music does Olivia dance to?”
“What? My daughter? How the heck should I know?”
“That’s my point.”
“What the hell are you saying? Olivia has nothing to do with us. So… What’s your point exactly?”
“You should know your daughter.”
“Stay out of it. She’s not your daughter. You have no right to tell me anything about her!”
“No. I’m sorry. It’s just… What we do here, has consequences for Olivia and Joseph. And for Victoria. I can’t live with that.”
“We’ve been screwing for two years and now you have a problem? I pay for your tuition and this apartment and suddenly you’re not okay with this?”
“Suddenly? You think I’m suddenly having a problem? How poorly you know me! Do you think a single day passes by without me questioning my life choices?”
“Okay. You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just. Every time I see you I’m happy. Victoria and I have a loveless marriage. There’s no spark. There never was. I’m so lonely when I’m back in the States. I think about you. I think about us and I think about us together. You are the only spark in my life. Like right now, when you tilt your head like that, your shirt falls a little out of place and it reveals your collarbone.”
I adjust the shirt.
“I know it isn’t perfect. Nothing is. Right? You agree, right? Nothing is perfect. I just want to keep my family together. I work hard to keep them as happy as I can. And while I’m far away, continents away, if I wanna see the person who makes me happy, I don’t think I’m such a bad guy. And what about you? You’re not a bad person. I mean the fact that you agonize over this is proof of it. Meanwhile you’re working on your future. I want to help you with that. We’re just two people trying our best. I’m sorry. I can be a bit of a brute sometimes. I just wanted to dance with you. I’m sorry.”
I walk up to him and hug him. “No I’m sorry. Of course I’m sorry. I over-reacted.”
He runs his hand through my hair and kisses me on the forehead. “We don’t have to dance.”
I take his hand. “Come. Help me chose a song and we’ll dance.”
We dance and kiss to a couple of slow-tempo songs. We make love again. He uses the bathroom after me. As I pour myself a new glass he shouts from the bathroom.
“Hey Vicky, I mean Liese. How come there are no mirrors? You should get a mirror in here!”