She was absolutely determined now. At Leiden she stood up quite normally, only to waste time wrestling awkwardly with her coat. Then she walked leisurely towards the doors. They were about to close. Now was the moment to get off. But just at the last second a girl in jeans carrying a large bag jumped on as the train was pulling out. The girl collided with her and she nearly fell over. She just managed to grab hold of a handle.
“Sorry,” said the girl. “That was a close call. Not hurt, are you?”
She straightened her coat and shook her head angrily. Ill-mannered child! And now, oh heavens, she was on her way to Haarlem. Without a ticket.
What now? I’ll walk down to the buffet car, she thought. Then at least I’ll be rid of the damned box.
So she entered the next car, where the girl was sitting with the bag between her knees. She got a book out of it. Must be a student. The creature had lit a cigarette and said as she passed, “I am sorry. I was so late. You didn’t want to get off, did you?”
She shook her head angrily so as not to give herself away and said gruffly, “Certainly not. I’m looking for the buffet car.” “Oh, it’s the other way. I happened to see it as I was running by.”
She turned around and went back into the nonsmoking car, with an involuntary glance at the white box which was still in the luggage rack. No one had touched it. A foreign worker near the window smiled beneath his woolly hat. He pointed upwards. “Ah, box, eh! Forgot nearly, eh!”
There was no point in going any further. She was stuck with the box and so she sat down under it. A door banged open. A cheerful voice called out: “Tickets, please.” Deeply embarrassed, she had to confess to the man that she was travelling without a ticket. He looked doubtful. There was nothing to be done. She had to pay a fine. On top of everything. How the other passengers stared at her, thinking: “tight-fisted old bag, bet she thought she could get away with it.” Trembling with nerves, she stared fixedly out of the window, as if the yellow and red of the daffodils and tulips in the bulb fields really riveted her attention.
In Haarlem it all happened again. She left the box in the luggage rack, someone came after her with it. She forgot it in a teashop, someone came after her with it. She bought a bunch of flowers and put it on the ground half under the stall, someone came after her with it.
She threw the flowers into a canal. For a moment she was actually on the point of chucking the box after them, but she managed to control herself because again people were giving her funny looks. She went back to the station with the tiny corpse, took a train to The Hague via Leiden again, got the No. 11 tram for the third time and finally came home to the dreary Obrechtstraat distraught, exhausted, and practically in tears. By now, the box was covered with finger-marks and beginning to look rather strange. Although it was late in the afternoon she decided to have a quick cup of tea. Strong tea, a hot cup, was what she needed. It might make her feel better. It had been such a strange, nasty day! She dropped into her chair at last. She was utterly worn out. The tea tray was at her side. She poured herself a cup and slurped up the brew. Delicious, even if it was only a cheap brand that she had mixed with leaves left from the day before. Excellent! Very reviving. You could put your mind to work and order your thoughts. The white box lay on the table. What on earth was she to do with those ill-fated remains? Wouldn’t they be beginning to smell by now? She gave the box a furtive look. Her ugly eyes suddenly filled once more. Bleak self-pity threatened to overcome her. All her life she had had to get used to deep, bitter loneliness. But had she ever really succeeded?
She swallowed and got hold of herself. She made a decision. Tonight, when darkness had fallen, she would set off with the box one last time. A few streets away there were dark doorways, and she would either leave it in one of them or under a parked car. She would not look at the number of the house or the car, no, she would make a quick getaway and find oblivion in a glass of cherry brandy. There was no other way.
All the same she already felt a muddled sense of guilt. Poor Felix! She thought: what must he look like after being dragged around so much? It’s a good thing he doesn’t know about it. The little dear. Always so affectionate and such a comfort when times were difficult. She also thought: if he had a soul – and who can say? – he will be aware in the hereafter of all I did for him today. It may not have done much good, but I did it for him, and with the best intentions.
She drained her cup. And at that moment she could think of no better consolation than to be with him once more. To see him one last time. She could not bear to leave the box closed until the evening.
She put it on her lap. She slid her teaspoon under the pieces of tape. With a deep sigh and a lump in her throat she lifted the lid.
It was at that moment that the miracle occurred. A new transfiguration took place. For the rest of her life she would remember this as the greatest of miracles. How had it happened, in her own hands, during her tragic exodus on that long, endlessly sad day?
Inside the white box lay an exquisite, cream-topped, amber-brown apricot tart. On a white marzipan oblong was written in elegant chocolate letters: To Mother.

Translated by John Rudge

AuthorF.L. Bastet
2018-08-21T17:23:14+00:00 June 4th, 2006|Categories: Prose, Literature, Blesok no. 48|0 Comments