by Neil Felton
Di Ding. Di Ding. Seth slipped his feet out of bed, stepped over to the window and looked down to the Ceintuurbaan three stories below, to where the tram had passed by, figures scurried this way and that, going somewhere. He turned away, undressed and then showered, ready for moving on.
On the ground floor he stepped into the hotel lounge come dining room.
“Morning, Arie. Two poached eggs on toast and a tall black coffee please.”
It was not a swanky affair, the hotel, more at the back packer end of the scale, which suited Seth. Arie was the proprietor, the cook and the front desk man. He was it. It was a quiet part of the city. Seth sat at his usual front seat, by the window looking out onto the street, morning sun warming his shoulders.
He recalled back in New Zealand, Shamus asking him what was the number one thing he wanted to be, a painter, an actor, a musician – yes, he was quite an exponent of the flute as well – a writer, or the money man – accountant. Money was an issue with all of them. But he vowed he would never go back to that!
An actor, he declared. I reckon that is the ultimate.
Right now as he tucked into breakfast, he was not so sure about the future. He savoured each mouthful like it was his last.
“Beautiful,” he smacked his lips. “Do you know where Gulpen is, Arie?”
“Ah, no. I can look it up for you.” He wandered off.
Up at the counter they were hunched over a map.
“Are you sure it is in Holland?”
“Surely. That is why I'm here.”
Arie found a bigger map and produced a magnifying glass. “Must be a small place, perhaps a suburb...
“Ah, found it. Just about as far south as you can go, right down here,” he pointed, “in Limburg, part of Holland – sort of.”
“What do you mean, sort of?”
“Not too good on my history, but it's an area that I believe actually includes a piece of Belgium, that historically goes back before Belgium and before the Netherlands. They are a people who fought to remain independent and still think of themselves as different.”
Seth scratched his head, shrugged, “sort of makes sense.”
”Are you going down there?”
Nod, nod, nod, went Seth, back and forth, rocking slightly, nod, nod, like he was convincing himself that is how it had to be. “It is about money.”
Seth smiled, “you're right, what's money.”
He slipped his sunglasses on and gazed through the window at the traffic going by. It was a blur, colours, highlights, movement, shadows. A foreboding shiver ran through him.
An hour later he arrived at the railway station. A huge wurlitzer was churning out its own brand of music, carnival style, on the roadway outside. He made his way into the ticket office and then onto the train that would take him south to the end of the track, to Maastricht, then somehow onto Gulpen in Limburg – a place apart – a place – I can't imagine – a place in name only, in the minds of the people?
On board he observed the other passengers, curious as to where they were headed, curious as to where he was headed.
Clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clack.
Buildings flashed by his window – shapes, shadows, lines, lights, avenues. Then they were in the countryside, gliding through farmland. A road, slightly raised as on a causeway ran parallel to the track, middle distance. Beyond that there was nothing, no relief, just a line of trees at the roadside and sky above. It could have been an ocean on the other side, but of course it wasn't. Germany came next in that direction. Everything was so still. A solitary car appeared between the trees, creeping back northward.
Clickety clack, clickety clack – woosh, woosh, woosh they sped now past cottages, shops, factories and away again out of town, back to a sedate, dreamy sameness, flat grasslands, a winding stream. Time stood still, like it had all been laid out thousands of years ago. A stone wall here and there conjured up images of a stone age once upon a time – long, straggling hair, clubs dangling from long arms, big, flat feet – fires and caves.
Caves? That's going a bit far. Below sea level here, Seth reckoned, looking across at the accompanying causeway/ road that had reappeared, just above the track they were travelling on.
The odd windmill added a fairyland atmosphere. Clickety clack, clickety clack... didoomp, didoomp, didoomp...
Seth shielded his eyes with a raised hand as he stepped out of the station into the bright sunlight.
“Excuse me,” a young lady brushed past.
Where am I? he almost spoke aloud, stepping away from the pedestrian traffic. He slumped into a seat by the railway building. A gentleman in a cheese cutter cap stepped out of a car and walked over to him.
“Seth, been waiting long?”
“Simon.” The man extended his hand.
Seth followed him to the car. It was a quaint little two seater. Simon opened the passenger door for him, took his seat, touched a couple of buttons and they were off.
“How did you know my name?”
“It's on the report,” he indicated the screen at the dash board.
“You alright?” he noticed Seth fidgeting about his person.
“It's just that -” He didn't recognise the clothes he was wearing and was checking out the pockets. Wasn't he carrying something. “I – I don't remember.”
“What do you want to remember?”
“Where are we going?”
Simon pressed a button on his control panel. “Destination.”
“The Forest Manor...” the on-board computer replied.
Meant nothing to Seth. May as well go along for the ride. He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, sniffed the sweet scent of turf... He was sitting on a grass slope to the side of a rugby field wondering what teams were playing, one lot with the same jersey he had on. Where was he? He had received a thump to the head and was taken from the field. He sat there looking on. It was all new... His eyes opened. New, like now.
He looked across at Simon who met his gaze and pressed a window button. He felt the gentle breeze, turned back to the open window at his shoulder, mmm, similar scents, but lighter, a hint of clover. The plains were gone, replaced by sensual curves of rolling landscape. They drove down into a valley and through the township of Gulpen. On the other side of town they rose up over more rolling country, lush grasslands, corn fields, fields in fellow, crops he didn't recognise, more grasslands. Along a ridge they drove between trees marshalled at either side.
They dipped down from the ridge a little, pulled into the driveway of a small farm on the border of a forest. New Zealand, Seth was reminded. Real bush at first glance, though very different he would soon discover. They stopped in a courtyard and he stepped out to gaze down over a fenced field, to trees branching up into a canopy of green before a pale, cerulean blue above. Heavenly, he sighed.
Turning back he faced the Manor immediately before him, incongruously old world and imposing. Mmm, a stately manner about it though, he conceded, impressive stone buttress about equally impressive stone columns, one to either side of the main entrance where a grand old oak door yawned ajar, inviting entry.
He moved round the sporty little two seater to the drivers door. “Thanks Simon.” He fished in his pocket for his wallet. No wallet. There was a card, but nothing else..
Simon winked and drove on around the courtyard and back up toward the roadway.
On the landing before the partly open Oak Door, Seth hesitated for a moment then gave a rap with the knocker. He could see inside - looked expensive. “Anyone at home,” he called into the voluminous space within. A door clicked shut and footsteps pattered toward him.
“Come on in, Seth.”
Mmmm, wonderful - the intoxicating scent, the welling warmth of woman, magic in his arms. Relief and gratitude overwhelmed him. It had been so long – an absence not realised till that moment, a vacuum instantly fulfilled. An embrace, so little, yet everything, from this woman in particular. Standoffish bitch, he had reckoned. He admired her in so many ways, as a woman, as an artist. Standoffish bitch. How silly – all forgotten. Mmmm.
He stepped back. “You have changed.”
He could not quite believe it. She had made his day. “I'm so pleased to see you,” he beamed
“Yes, so I gather.”
“Is Shamus here?”
“Don't remember Shamus.”
“That's what I said.”
“Of course that's what you said,” Seth slapped a sardonic hand to his forehead. “How silly of me.” His eyes narrowed. “Nothing has changed, has it, still playing games.”
“I was warned you might find things difficult. Have a seat Seth, let's take our time. Everything is going to be OK. I'll make us a cup of tea.”
Lovely as ever, and so dammed patronizing. I'll make us a cup of tea, humph. Let's take our time. Who does she think I am!
Now, now, this is not like you, Mr Unflappable.
Not feeling myself at all, and with good reason.
Ever since he had arrived in Amsterdam, even before then, before he left New Zealand, he had seriously questioned his motive for such a rash move – selling up, distributing a lot of money amongst them in order to get it all out of the country. What a learning curve. Fancy the government not allowing him to take what was his out of the country. That had him digging his toes in for a start. As individuals they could take a portion out each without exceeding the allowable limit, so that is how he did it.
Kris returned with the tea and they sat looking out the window at the forest below. They both fell silent. They sipped at their tea, nibbled at a biscuit, together yet a million miles apart, up above the forest.
Out the corner of his eye, Seth caught Kris smiling. Don't be taken in by her beguiling grin. “You said you don't know who Shamus is.”
“Come on,” he turned toward her, “where is he? And where are the rest of them?”
“I don't know who you are talking about.”
“Yet you know who I am.”
“I know your name. And you do seem familiar,” she met his gaze with that crocodile smile.
Seth took his time. Another impromptu game. The art of acting. I'll go along with it. “You said you were warned that I might find things difficult.”
Kris stood, gathered the tea cups and heading for the kitchen. Seth was right behind her with the teapot and sugar bowl.
“Who warned you?”
She sat the cups and saucers down and turned to him. She stepped closer and her eyes softened. She stroked his arm, picked a piece of fluff off his sleeve. “You are special, Seth. Let me show you where you can stay,” she hurried ahead, an encouraging come hither hand trailing behind her. Down a hallway she led him to a door with a small sign, “please knock”. It obviously did not apply to her. Inside the reason became apparent. It was a self contained apartment, unoccupied. “This is the kitchen, and through here the reception hall with external door, so you can come and go as you please; the bedroom through here with en suite, and back through to your lounge,” she smiled, gave a wee curtsy and alighted in an armchair.
Seth was suitably amused by her titillating performance.
“There is a wardrobe full of clothes in your boudoir, Seth. I have stocked your refrigerator with the fundamentals, and anything else you want while you settle in, I'm close by.