We open our columns to talented new voices, who can send in (short) stories.
The first one is a short story by Eduardo Riccardo. It was some 30 pages he said, but now he tells us 'it would be more something like 50, even 60'. Hm. Okay. Only because we pity guys living on goat's milk and mountain herbs.
We publish it the old fashioned 19th century way: episodically.
But he caught fever and plans were cancelled, and there she was now, a spot of light inadvertently showing off against the grey backdrop of the station. A tight blue woollen dress, short leather jacket with straps.
“Look how my breasts have swollen,” she opens with, after she’d thrown her bag into the trunk, stretching her legs. “Again. I’m almost a porn star. Jesus. I was glad I could hop off this bus. What do you think, Ben?” Pulling down her dress she casts a questioning look upon him. He throws a glance. He almost crashes into a bus.
An hour later, curled up in a chair, holding a cup of tea to warm her hands, she tells him about couple of weeks ago, her friend Roberta had won a night in Rotterdam, at a five-star hotel, and they’d been sitting in a big octagonal hot tub and drinking Martini, which she doesn’t like but Roberta kept on pouring, and then they had been giggling because Roberta had been pointing at her breasts saying they were really huge, and then she looked at them herself and was surprised too. That was before they found out about the pregnancy.
“You aren’t pregnant, are you?” Roberta, worried, had asked. Of course she wasn’t; she couldn’t be, she was on medication to treat her thyroid dysfunction and the only way to get pregnant, the doctors had told her, was by undergoing IVF treatment, so having a baby was the last of her worries. Or hopes, - she wasn’t too sure about that. A child needed a father, too. No man worthy of the job had crossed her path yet. Roberta had been nodding all the time.
In the Moroccan tiled bathroom, she and Roberta had been standing in front of the gold-rimmed mirror. Her breasts were really big. Roberta didn’t say anything, she just kept looking. The bathroom had yet to heat up, the cold had a sobering effect on them both. She was still a little drunk though. Then they’d run out into the street, in search of a pharmacy. When they came back the matter was put beyond doubt: two very visible stripes. The bathroom had got very hot by then.
“It was a miracle,” she said, putting down the cup.
“Miracles happen. And accidents,” he said. Life and death, or vice versa. Suicide, birth. “Can I smoke a cigar?”
“Do you smoke?” she asked. “I thought you didn’t.”
“I don’t,” he said. “Only this one.” Driving onto the hospital parking lot, his brother next to him, they had seen their father in his wheelchair, weakened, awaiting death, lung cancer, in front of the hospital entrance enjoying a cigarette. Eight years had passed since then. “Smokers outside the hospital doors” bursting out of the car speakers when they drove upon the hospital’s parking lot, his brother had been drumming the rhythm on the dashboard. “The Editors. I’ve seen them live, in Antwerp a month ago.” His brother still went to pop concerts.
The day of their dad’s burial, only three weeks later, they both swore an oath, a vow of vengeance against the disease. They would buy a cigar, a big, Cuban one. Their dad had been a huge fan of Fidel Castro. When the time came, they would smoke it together. But he needed the cigar now. The time had come. He felt rather queasy, nausea welling up. His brother happened to be in Germany, putting black boxes in Boeing cockpits.
“It’s always a matter of life and death,” he said.
“Well, I think you don’t have to worry, one certainly won’t kill you, darling. I have one from time to time. But not now, it’s bad for the baby.” Her curls almost hiding her eyes. “Don’t know if it’s bad for the thyroid though. Mine is hypo, by the way. Not hyper, - hypo.”
Only weeks ago they had been examining the gland, some new problems turning up. They looked acute.
“Fortunately I didn’t have the scan,” she says. Months ago a scan had been planned, in order to detect whether a tumour had been nesting inside her hypofysis. “The scan could have killed the embryo.” Now she had to wait for six more weeks. If there was a tumour, the child could have a negative impact on it: the tumour could grow.
He nods. It’s a lot of information, he tries to digest it. He has been gently removing the ring, and now is cutting the edge. He’s ready for it. He’s searching for a piece of paper. Their eyes meet, a softness he has never seen before is spread out over hers, like a blanket. A tenderness drawing him near.
“Of course I’ll take care of the child,” he says, standing up, walking around the table, sitting next to her. “Because it’s yours.” He has to touch her hands. They’re soft, still cold. “I love you, Rebecca,” he says. It gushes over him, he can’t hold back. She looks at him. Transparent eyes, vast as northern lakes. A silence, fluffy like eiderdown, falls upon them. She leans back, eyes closed, without withdrawing her hands.
“Oh,” she whispers, “I don’t know what to do, Ben, I really don’t.”
She draws him near, kisses him.
Then he takes a puff. And another one, and another one, and her eyes are open now, and all the time she’s watching him, by the end he’s just holding the cigar between his fingers and they’re both watching the ashes grow until what he’s holding is no more than a stub and a lot of glowing ashes and he has to grab her cup and let the stub drop in order not to burn his fingers.
They sit for a while without speaking, just looking at the cup and the stub slowly drowning.
Two weeks later Rebecca still doesn’t know what to do. She’s in Switzerland, getting a closer look to her thyroid. “In Switzerland, they know things about thyroids nobody else knows,” she has written in a message, 4am, he reads it while having breakfast. They had planned to spend their first full weekend together. She would come over again by bus, she already had bought the tickets. But while he’s buttering toast she’s already on the plane heading for Geneva. “Of course in these hospitals it won’t be easy to call, darling, but I’ll text you whenever I can.”
He understands; after all these thyroid doctors, the world’s hormonal housekeeping at stake, will be overloaded with requests. It had to be called a miracle that she’d been able to get such a fast appointment.
Pictures of snowy mountains. Gstaad. The place looks like a sanatorium. Her eyes match perfectly against shades of the smooth, shining water, of the heated outside swimming pool. She kisses him, putting her lips almost against the screen. “You must be thinking I’ve disappeared in some crevasse by now,” he reads, “but I’m safe and well, darling. Only, these mornings and afternoons waiting and waiting in hospital corridors really tire me out. Fortunately, I have my book. Kisses, your Rebecca”. Her book lying on a small table at the edge of the swimming pool, a half-empty coffee cup next to it. In the background, rather unsharp, a parking lot. A fleet of small buses and big vehicles, probably belonging to the hospital staff: all kinds of SUV’s, Mercedes, BMW, Range Rover, all sorts of nationalities, and a Porsche in between, grey, looking small, Dutch numberplate.
Days pass like running water. He misses Lily and Amber. And he misses Rebecca. The house seems emptier after sunset. In the mornings everything is young, fresh, quiet. He runs to the beach. Then he runs by the water, along the shoreline. There's nobody else, only him and the sea. He's still in good shape. Head against the wind he runs for five miles, then back. Before entering the shower he kisses Rebecca's picture he’s put on the sideboard in the living room.
His wife calls, "Don't try to smuggle stuff out of the house, you sneaky bastard. I'm watching you. I passed yesterday, I counted your records: 272, I took a picture of every single one of them. Just in case you get any wild ideas. I'm doing you a favour by telling you this, Ben, I just don't want you to end up in jail." Click.
(to be continued in couple of days)
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