Now I hated him. It was our mother reborn as an American teenager and though the hair was done up in an American style, it was still our mothers thick, blond hair, and her eyes were the same too, she even had the same green vein at the side of her temple. So, not only did he get to have our mother for all his childhood, he got to have her again as a grandchild.
But I must not be transparent in any wayat least, he didnt seem to notice. Cindys a terrific kid, kind, helpful, full of good, clean fun. And of all the kids and grandkids, shes the one whos most interested in her Dutch background. Reads everything she can get her hands on.
You should have brought her over.
Maybe next time, he said with what seemed a kind of wistful sadness. Maybe he had some serious illness, I thought, maybe thats why hes decided to make the trip and see his brother, though he still hasnt once called me by name.
She should come, I said. Holland has plenty to offer. But teach her one thing from her uncle.
Not to ooh and aah over the tulips. I hate tulips. Theyre too pretty when theyre alive and look so dead when they die. But the real reason I hate them is I know what they taste like. In the war, at the end, when there was nothing, we ate them, we ate tulip bulbs.
I dont remember that, he said. I dont remember much. And the few memories I do have, I cant be sure if theyre really true or just stories my mother, our mother, told me.
Youre lucky then.
But I want to know what happened. During the war. And just after.
You know the feeling when someone starts to tell you a good story, then right after he gets going he decides he shouldnt be telling it and just stops. And you try to convince him that once you start a story, you have to finish, it isnt fair otherwise. Most people will give in to that but sometimes they wont and youre left completely frustrated. Well, thats sort of how I feel about my life, except its the beginning I dont know about.
And thats why you came here?
Thats why I came here, Joop.
Well, maybe you can tell me a few stories too.
Maybe I can.
Except for a few postcards from our mother and the letter you sent when she died, theres not much I know.
I know, he said, dropping his eyes. Im sorry.
Another beer would be good.
For a second in the kitchen I did not want to go back to the table, to my brother, to the past and all its sorrows.
I looked out the window. The sky was a bright blue with a few gray rain clouds. A young woman pedaled by on a black bike, talking on her cell phone.
If I had died three years ago in the hospital, none of this would have happened, my brother, the rain cloud, the girl on her bike. But I didnt die.
I went back to the front room.
My brother took a long swig of beer. The part of the story he did knowour mother leaving our father, who had been incapacitated by a stroke right after the warwasnt too pretty, and the part he didnt know about wasnt any prettier.
Take a good swig, my lucky American brother, who has so few bad memories that he had to come all the way to Holland to get some.
You know who Anne Frank is? I asked.
Of course, he said, as if I had offended his intelligence and Dutch pride.
When they came to get her, they went right to her hiding place.
Copyright © 2007 by Richard Lourie. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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