Without a sigh


At midnight, just as we have gone to bed, there is a phone call. The end seems to be near now. After a quick trip through the night we find him still in death throes. It can take hours more. Gradually the others go home, only we remain. The unrest passes into an unrestful sleep, panting and difficult, punctuated now and again by imminent silences. Each time we think it is the end and we bend over him, but then from the inside the respiration is propelled again and the panting surges.

At six thirty, just after the bells have rung for the first mass on sunday March 5th, the quick rhythm falters, but now in a very different way than we have become accustomed to in the last few hours. Back then you could hear it going into depths where it would take a turn, as it were, to come back moments later. Now it terminates like a stalling engine; there is no more echo in nearby life and no promise of a new beginning. We have no experience in these matters, but we don’t have to say a word to both know that this is the end. Without a sigh he stops living. His sighs have always marked the transition to another phase in his existence or the rhythm of the day. Now there is nothing left to sigh. He moves his mouth once, seems to want to swallow, and then lies motionless, his eyes almost all the way closed, his mouth open.

Because i’ve read about it often and because I now too feel the need for a final ritual, more than because it is necessary, I close his eyes. As I press his limp chin upwards, another superfluous gesture, my eyes soak in the last images of his stiffening face for minutes. To my surprise I feel no need to still talk to him or call him to order. I just want to keep looking at him till he’s disappeared at the horizon. Then I press the button next to the bed to warn the nurse. From now on we give him out of our hands and within 5 minutes a living father is a dead and stiff thing.

Not a trace of the famous smile in which the finally found peace would be expressed or even a vision of the happy afterlife. He just looks dead, removed from us at an infinite distance, mute and unreachable. He is even too far to be mysterious. He leaves not a single sign. It is impossible for me to guess what he thought or saw before him in that last moment. All week i’ve been trying to get contact with him about such things, but it has yielded nothing. Probably dying is very prosaic and the absence of every thought and vision belongs with it. There is no contact because there is nothing to report. Could the mystery of death, like so many other mysteries, consist of this, that there is nothing behind it, not just no other life, but also no wisdom, no resignation? Mystery could be the product of our resistance against the banality of life and death.

We drive back home on one of the most beautiful spring mornings I have seen in years. It is quiet on the road and we don’t say much. We’re not bothered by sleep. I almost have a feeling like I did on a day in April when I came back from the seminary, a farewell combined with a mission.Up till now i’ve often had the idea, against my better knowledge, that father also lived a bit for me, or that my life wasn’t definitively my own. It wasn’t completely in my name. It didn’t take place in the front lines and there was still a generation between us and the grave seriousness, a buffer zone. On the way home, with the dead face of my father printed deeply into my eye sockets, for the first time I feel owner of my life, but also heir. What constitutes it has been largely determined by him.


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March 4, afternoon

The priest, diligently busying about to offer spiritual assistance, comes to pray the prayers for the dying. We all join in bravely, in the hope father will notice and will believe that his children will remain on the path of righteousness. I hold his chilly hand and breathe on it. I’ve just had a few drinks at a reception and am getting very emotional. For hours I have watched him the last few days and studied every movement. And now I still don’t know if there is anything I understand about him. Because I see his lips move -which indicates a conscious presence with the situation- I try another exam after the prayer. ‘Are you tired?’ He nods yes. ‘Would you like to die?’ No reaction. ‘Shall we come with you a bit?’ Yes. ‘Is it far?’ Yes. ‘You’re over halfway there by now.’ Nods vehemently yes. ‘Will you see our mother?’ Sigh. ‘Is all well?’ Yes. ‘You’ve been a good father.’ He shakes his head and seems sad. ‘We’ll always stay with you.’ He nods and sighs. Then he closes his eyes. It is enough for today. I squeeze his wrinkled, skinny hand, of which the skin keeps getting looser. The folds that I make in them remain, like in leather. When he opens his eyes again, he seems to stare of into a distance where nobody can follow him. I don’t know whether he sees anything at all; I really believe he doesn’t.

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March 3, afternoon

‘There is a lot of aggression around the dying’, I read yesterday in an article. I believe that this is true and I notice that it also applies to our situation. We’re beginning to resent father’s weakness. We’re on the verge of thinking it is affection when he recognises others but not us, when he is confused and doesn’t behave like we expect him to. But the aggression goes much further and I hesitate to acknowledge this. Weakness cannot last too long; people have to be strong or disappear. It becomes more and more hard to put up with our powerlessness. The situation seduces us to impatience. Tired out by the wake we keep on wishing out loud, that it won’t be much longer. Maybe there is more aggression in that wish than we dare to admit to ourselves. I still don’t know if it is that good for father to die. Dying is never good. Nobody seems to know exactly what happened to him and how far recuperation is possible. But the thought that he would survive treatment and would remain a wreck -and therefore a burden- scares me, not just out of pity for him, but also for myself. I’m getting a deep distrust against the noble talk about euthanasia, because I suspect that there is a lot of aggression behind it that is being kept quiet. People become aggressive when they think they have to do something while in effect they experience that they are powerless. Sometimes they want to kill because this is for them the only way to keep believing in their activism.

Father does not want to eat and only seldom drinks. Again i’m under the impression that he has decided to die. The doctor says we shouldn’t do anything against that. None of us also feels anything for artificially prolonging this life through IV’s etc. Here, amongst his children, in his own room and his own bed, father apparently wants to die. We will look on powerlessly, without the pretension to be able to do anything for him or have control over whatever, including our dubious wishes.

I have to laugh a bit when the rector comes by again and very solemnly asks if he could ‘speak in private for a while’ with father. Very surprised, I retreat and try to eavesdrop from behind the door how this expert will succeed in getting him to talk or even confess. I suspect that he wants to bless away the last remaining bits of sinfulness from him. Out of sheer excitement I hear nothing of what he says. When he comes outside again within a minute and admits that he too cannot make contact with him, I feel a great relief. When father doesn’t talk with us, he may talk to no one.

It strikes me that many people that ask about his situation, talk about him in the past tense. They ask for example ‘how old was he?’ I’ve noticed this before. This peculiar use could potentially be explained this way, that the past tense doesn’t refer to the past, but it is a careful and soothing indication of the present. In the way some people say ‘I thought’ when they want to discretely indicate what they are thinking that moment. They are prepared to, as it were, take back their thought. ‘How old was he?’ can mean: how old was he again, I did know, but I can’t think of it this moment. The same way they often asked in stores: what was your name, what was your size?

For me, I have the tendency to explain it differently and connect it to the aggression surrounding the dying. By using the past tense the dying is written off even before his death, deleted from the attendance list and removed from the area of attention. When someone asks me ‘how old was he?’, I understand that this person doesn’t count him amongst the living anymore; and it feels like a little murder when people get ahead of the facts like that.

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March 2, afternoon

There is little change in the situation. It’s just that father keeps getting thinner. His words become more confused and the hope of a meaningful ‘last word’ is getting to be a bit childish. The reality of dying is different than what I thought. I had imagined a fairly romantic scene in which the dying, held up by pillows, addresses his children for the last time. Probably that never happens and is one of the many lies surrounding the elementary things in life. Father never addressed us, so how would he be able to at such a moment?

Everyone, it is said, has his own way of living and of dying, but I fail to see a connection between this life and this deathbed. Maybe just the silence. Father has told us little about his inner life, for example how he dealt with the death of our mother, thirty six years ago, or if he felt lonely, thought about getting remarried etc. I would also like to know, how he managed in those years of crisis, without the help of an insurance agency, to pay for the costs of a couple of years of care in a sanatorium. In mother’s old letters, which i’ve sneakily taken out of the safe and read in the past, she mentioned now and again that it all cost so much, that he had so many worries and missed so much care himself, but that happened, if I remember correctly, very sporadically. He never complained about it himself and only very rarely expressed himself about the loneliness after her death. Clear answers he has always dodged with proverbs and generalizations, no matter how big and concrete our curiosities and questions were. Answers that weren’t valid for everyone at any time and therefore weren’t suitable for endless repetition, didn’t seem to satisfy him. Usually he’d quote an old saying, that with some good intentions could be interpreted in the direction of the situation. The special case, even if it was himself, seemed to be outside of his attention. I sometimes doubt whether his emotions, conditioned so differently and especially more restrained, can be compared with ours. In any he had a greater acquiescence, and maybe he felt less at the time than we think now and precisely because of his acquiescence a lot of things passed him by. But that is hard to believe with such a sensitive man. I sometimes think too that he didn’t talk with us about all that misery because we were still little children when it all happened, and that where it concerns those occurrences, we remained little children in his eyes. With outsiders he was always more talkative than with us. From my side, I too never told him that in all those years of going to church, I passed the time judging women on their qualities as a potential second mother.

My respect for him grows despite all doubts and complaints to a mythical size. By going outside of all reasonable proportions, I seem to want to make up for all the ways I felt him short. I think I haven’t been a good son and have hurt him a lot. I can’t take that back and there’s hardly sense in trying, for example by becoming extremely religious. Still I think that I am at this deathbed beginning to swerve right, at least inasmuch that I feel a fiery hate towards the propagandists of a revolt against fathers and for a fatherless society. Even a bad son can’t abnegate his father and ignore his heritage without maiming himself deadly.

People still moan about the crisis years and they always depict it as though the crisis only struck the workers. The small tradesman that lies dying here was hit much harder and who knows how many others like him. I remember from that time that we would occasionally have a can of ‘crisismeat’ at home, the same meat that the sons of workers of my age still complain about now. Compared to the rancid bacon that was our daily food, this meat seemed to us a treat for rich folk. But father was a bit embarrassed by it.

He did not, like some other farmers, profit from the war to become rich. He came out of it poorer than he went in it, at least I suspect as much, for he wouldn’t mention it much. That one time he dared to do something, selling some gold coins from an inheritance he had to split up, he got caught. Furthermore he was a little too scared to undertake much. The radio was turned in diligently and even a pistol which was at least 100 years old was not allowed to stay in the house. But that fear wasn’t enough reason to give away as much as he did. After the war he was involved with the currency reform and found out pretty precisely who had enriched themselves. He never wasted another word on the subject; still we noticed that certain farmers he founded harder to respect.

Even though he was often involved with monetary matters, I don’t believe that he was really knowledgable with them. His discussions on the rates of interest and such things impressed me as a child, but far more than the business side of the money it were the moral aspects that stayed with me. Those had only to do with his money, the money I cost him. The small allowance that he gave me so I could study, barely a hundred guilders a month, but i’d have to let him know if I needed more, always made me emotional and brought about a sense of debt that had nothing to do with finances. If he had been a bit more businesslike, i’d probably not have had that feeling. But when communication is a tad deficient, the few things that are fairly clear in and off themselves, and which are calculable, like money, become burdened with an unbearable heavy symbolism. Every penny was a sigh from father, part of my great debt.

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February 29, night

He is calmly asleep and we are reading a book. In as far as we had hoped for recuperation, we have abandoned that hope by now. He refuses to eat and only rarely wants to drink. It is apparent he wants nothing more than to die. But we don’t know what is going on inside of him. We interrogate him sternly in search for words that can give us any meaning. But he is confused and tired, far away from us.

When we lift him into his chair, he stares vacantly and bewildered into space, with an open mouth and dangling head. He is a shade, a rest of the father we had. But that is precisely why, because it is the last opportunity, that I still want to ask him a lot of questions. Today he recognised and named people that he hasn’t seen in years. He responds more to certain voices than to ours, especially those of old acquaintances and authority figures. I don’t know what that is. We exchange suppositions about it that according to our mood imply accusations towards or excuses for him. Perhaps in his condition older memories come up quicker and we fall outside of his horizon. It is also possible that our presence and our names are too self-evident and because of that are left out. Then it would be our mistake to want to examine him. But it appears as though an emphatic and authoritative voice appeals to his politeness or his obedience. With the doctor he almost talked normally. ‘I’m a bit lazy,’ he said and I have to assume that within this statement lies some reflection about his state. When Janine, after a somewhat sternly formulated request from her side, gives him something to drink, he take more than usual and says ‘dank ouw’ (thank thou). That is a very old-fashioned and rather emphetical form of ‘dank oe’. He is living in a different time, we’re not there yet.

I’m writing a letter to Sjaak in America to report to him. When I ask father if I should send his regards, he clearly says ‘yes’. ‘Should I say anything else?’ ‘Not much.’ Does he mean that he’s ‘not much’ anymore or does he only want to convey that, where he is concerned, everything has already been said? I’m beginning to suspect that he means much less than we are inclined to think and than what we have a need of. Words that cannot be illustrated and explained also have nothing to mean. We can mull it over and think about it endlessly, but in communication with the one speaking them they have no function anymore.

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February 28, afternoon

When I enter the room, he calls my name. I’ve never known that just this can be enough to be happy for a moment. It is evidence of his presence in the present, with us. But he is tired and confused. The only thing he keeps saying when he’s asked or suggested something, is ‘good night’. He annunciates it in the same, somewhat imperatival way as in the past, when he thought it was time to go to bed and we weren’t initiating yet. That is his text for today and he repeats it with great persistence and with emphasis on the first word. It isn’t much, but i’d rather hear that than quick prayers. With this, one could have thoughts of wanting to say goodbye, or as far as i’m concerned a request to be left alone.

When he wakes up from a short sleep, he indicates that he wants to be helped up. He can no longer do this by himself. Yesterday he made it to the side of his bed, when he tried for a last time to escape from the bed pan and the bottle and make it to the bathroom by himself. We lift him up and put him in a chair by the bed.

‘It is so far away,’ he says with eyes wide open. I don’t know which distance he means; he doesn’t offer explanation. With my arm around his shoulder, because i’m emotional and because I don’t want to see him fall forward again and again, I carefully try and talk with him.

‘Did you sleep?’


‘Did you dream?’


‘Did you see someone?’



‘Nobody.’ He pronounces it a bit plaintive and disappointed.

My brother calls out that I should stop it and starts to cry. He can’t take it anymore. Neither can I, really, but I think I have to, for I want to know what he experiences and be involved in his visions. He sighs deeply and gives no further answers. I almost feel that as a reproach for my indiscreet questions.

My soul, and probably those of all of us, is composed of his sighs. With those he spoke the most imperatival and inevitable language. All of the tiredness, disappointments and reproaches that his fatherhood brought him, were expressed in them. I remember a vacation day at the beginning of the war. I went to the field where he was starting to mow the wheat. Sighing, he put down the sickle. Without getting up all the way, with one hand touching his painful side, he hobble to the side of the field. There was a blue enamelled can of cold tea in the shadow of a bush there. He twisted off the lid and poured it full. Only then did get get all the way up. With a pallid look he took in his work. Hesitatingly his lips, grey with stubble, laid a ring against the sharp edge of the lid. He rinsed the tea long and loudly in his mouth before he gulpingly swallowed it. Again he sighed, this time to indicate that a new phase of a tiring job had to begin. While he used the sleeve of his smock to wipe the sweat of his brow, I realised again that I wouldn’t be able to heartily respond to the question that had to come and was in effect already asked with that sigh.

‘So, Cornelis’ he would say; he’d always use that formal name if he wanted to hide his intentions, , a form of mischief that had become a clear code throughout the years, ‘so, Cornelis, would that not be a nice job for you?’ He remained hopeful that one day i’d start to think of the work as nice. The wheat that he had sown had to be bound. Because I was on holiday and therefore had seas of time, because I was still young of body and limbs and could bend down well, because I already costed so much and could do something in return, for all those reasons i’d heard from others, it was obvious I should join in. A good son helps his father with his work, that goes without saying. But he never commanded. It might sound nonsensical, but I would have been grateful for a command from him, for one unambiguous command in my whole life. I never had a command, nor a slap or a direct reply. All it ever was were propositions, suggestions and reproachful sighs. I hated to stupid coincidence that precisely children of farmers always got involved in their dad’s work and that they were judged by their willingness to do so, but I also knew that he hated the work of a farmer as much as I did. It was thrust upon him by his lineage and his irrevocable fate. That’s why I could only after a long time of practise get a careful refusal from my lips, and that one still got punished from within with painful guilt, the answer to his sighs.

But that afternoon I didn’t let it get that far. I think my guilt had driven me to that field. Even before father had closed his can, i’d already bend over for the first sheaf. I saw him smile apologetically.

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The moment

Never before has it been this quiet here. Four weeks I’ve been in this little summer home and there’s always been something that emphatically reminded me of the outside world and my prehistory, even if it was only my own homesickness and the throbbing of my rancour. Now there is a dome of peace over my dwelling. The silence is total and massive. There is no sound and there is no movement. It swallows up everything, including me and my paltry history. There is only this moment, a saturated standstill and a heaven on earth.

Everything has gathered under this bell jar of peace, my drunken thoughts, memories and furtive desires, but especially the breath of my children. My boy lies asleep with his little butt up on the couch and the little girl, her bear pressed against her, is dreaming in the open loft. In a while I’ll go to sleep there too. Slowly I’m already drifting in that direction by the peacefulness of this instant, after all those weeks of storm a reservoir of calm.

daan slaapt zw (1 of 1)

It was only this afternoon that I was waiting by the garden fence for the miracle. I had been put in the nuthouse and longed at the gate for the wide world and real life; I was in boarding school and my frivolous mother no longer thought of me. I was ashamed of my lunacy. Just in case someone would pass by, I repeatedly bent forward as though I was diligently weeding. A goddess would appear to tell me that everything had been the consequence of a misunderstanding; she would touch me with a magic wand and end the nightmare. She came when I had realized the impossibility of my desire and had locked myself in again. She hasn’t changed anything, but also hasn’t infected the moment with homesickness. All is well and my head is full of Händel.

The dogs, formidable guardians of this domain, didn’t raise their voices when she came. Suddenly she stood inside with the light of the autumn afternoon surrounding her like a nimbus. I didn’t know what to say and stared speechless at an angel from heaven. It turns out she already knew my story and well, it isn’t that special. She left, like she had appeared, just as mysterious, and it seemed as though she’d been erased. I’ve already forgotten the colour of her eyes: was it amber or the underside of a fresh hazelnut? The image fades and in the movie gets replaced by the wave of a lisping weeping willow.

The mist makes the world small; but what I don’t see is not there. There is nothing and there shall be nothing; everything is now and it is here. For the absurd happiness of a meagre existence it suffices that it is. The lamp above the table marks a space that fits around us precisely, a circle in which everything that is elemental is collected and saved. This space I can fill with the remnants of my heroism. Two beings entrust themselves blindly and with joy to my poor protection. I owe my strength to the fact that they don’t know my weakness, a blessed misunderstanding and the greatest gift of children.

The twinges of misplaced resoluteness which have plagued my existence for years as a gout of willpower, ebb away in a world that is no longer there. I search in vain for words that are small enough for the ineffability of this situation. I wish I could hush about it with someone in the same language.

At their arrival, late in the afternoon at the agreed hour, the children looked at me inquisitively again, like puppies gauging their owner’s mood. What they understand of the situation is primarily that I look forward to their arrival for six days and don’t always succeed in hiding the feelings that are connected to it. Today their insecurity didn’t have to last long and we could start immediately with the familiar rituals of walking, eating and playing. They enjoyed themselves exuberantly, even with my primitive cooking, and feel completely at home in this little house. For them this is vacation and luxury. I’ve succeeded in keeping it that way and not to speak of what moves me. My story is not theirs; my job now is not to let them know who I am, but to share their blessed superficiality and to save my life.

I have two anchors that hold me in the harbour or two balls chained to my leg that prevent me from leaving, depending on how I want to look at it. Now they are the anchors that guard me from being blown away. Their weight keeps me on the surface. I’m still something thanks to the fact that they hold on to me. Their childlike trust gives substance to my existence. Never before have I understood what an anchor has to do with hope. Now it becomes clear to me that that hope needn’t be geared towards a distant future or another world, but that it also is a certainty about a moment that bears closest resemblance to captivity.

I’m sitting at the table and via a long detour of enforced maturity come back to myself. I think of what the angel said at my grave: “You can’t even be unhappy.” It sounded a bit like mocking, not a reproach connected to one of the many things I turn out not to be able to do, but more as the observation of a curious fact. I often have the feeling that I was cast from sheer melancholy, but I still, also in this recent situation, can’t really believe in my sadness, nor in my anger. With big emotions I always think of an opera. Even the most bitter thoughts at this moment are more something I can randomly think of or an arrow that I can shoot at others than a breach in the indestructibility of my own minimum.

Is there a hand that protects us here? I know it’s not mine, though I wish it were. I also can’t picture a divine hand and feel less religious than ever, unless religion suddenly became something else than it’s ever been. There would be room for a goddess, but she appears in too much light and disappears into the mist. I wouldn’t even want to know the address of whoever I’d potentially be grateful to for the mercy of this moment. That knowledge alone would puncture the bell jar and suck me away to a space in which I’d get lost or get alienated from the little beings with whom I share this space. There are no threads from this moment to another time or place, it cannot be traced back, held in place or repeated. If it could, I am not interested in it now. I hardly move, for I want to let sleeping dogs lie.

For a brief moment there is movement in the bump on the couch. I am ready to spring into action, but it is no more than a reassuring sign of life, a sigh that confirms presence. The smile on his face seems the greeting of a passing angel, a ripple over a still fen. For the first time in all this while, I don’t feel pity, but sooner something like jealousy, now that I look at him and try to surmise what stirs in him. Anyone that can doze that blissfully, I assure myself, does not feel betrayed and extradited to an incomprehensible arbitrariness. He rubs in his nest and has no idea yet of the dizziness that can wash over him when he starts to look over the edge. Now there is no edge, for all is round and closed; there is nothing outside the sphere of this small universe.

The silence is definitive and takes hold of me. The lisp of the weeping willow is no more than the sigh of a sleeping child and the graveyard is a spot of endless trust, kept awake by the living listening to the willows.

At the borders of my own silence stirs still the watchfulness of the nightly worrier who imagines himself the shepherd of the world, the only light in a massive night. The old and dear cliché blends with the dying music in my head. Everything that ever was is there now and I am the only one to witness it.

I catch myself whispering the word ‘pettifoggery’ and hoping that it exists. To me it means that the measly tossing and turning of the why of all these painful occurrences stops torturing me. The why is outside of the instant of pure presence. The tormenting question of the blame of this separation now has no relevance. The answers, as innumerable as random, can no longer hurt or please me. They no longer appeal to an urge for deeds that has given me so much disappointment already. Under this bell jar all I have to be is the motionless witness to my situation and do I no longer have to pretend to have manners reasonably in hand.

Can a moment of happiness be the balance between a shameful past and a worrisome future, a quiet between storms and therefore no more than a natural occurrence? The question is in front of my eyes as though printed, a somewhat impertinent title for a mandatory assignment, but it doesn’t interest me and brings nothing into motion. Any answer is fine by me, but even the most weighty one won’t impress me. I don’t want to know what happiness is and I’ve got nothing to do with it. For me it never has to be about anything more than what’s happening here now on this island in the mist.

I am slowly disappearing and shrivelling into the minimum that is necessary to still be witness and identify traces of happiness. The inflated me-soufflé with all its pretensions crumbles without a sound; but what remains is still big enough to contain no less than everything. For that, it turns out no more is required than a little spot of light that is saved from the mist. Never was what I did or presented good enough, but now, while I do nothing and shrink to a minimum, I am completely content with what I did and neglected to do.

It is a liberation to lose all that can be taken away and then to see what remains, how little that is, how essential and how sufficient. The more I’m thrown back to myself, the less I think about myself. Whatever now still stirs in me as worries is the almost solemn translation of superfluous problems into a very small certainty. I don’t have to make any more resolutions, nor transfer some exalted feeling into an expensive oath, for there is nothing anymore outside of this instant.

Something moves underneath the roof tiles, a mouse or a sparrow. The rustle moves to above the loft and draws a scratch over the bell jar. There has to be a leak somewhere through which guileless but awake life penetrates to take over my space. My space? I’m here by coincidence and nothing is mine.

Yesterday, to console myself, I bought a pocket knife, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Knives are one of my old passions, one I can’t understand or eradicate. As a child I’d often go searching randomly, hoping to find a knife; sometimes that worked. The little knife now lays open on the table, its aggressive pike mouth jauntily forward, ready to bite. I can still throw it with a flat hand into a tree trunk. I’ve often wondered, what pulls me so irresistibly to such a hostile thing. Now I seem to see, that it must be its perfection. Pocket knives are like cats. We wouldn’t find those as sweet either if they didn’t have, next to the soft fur, also such dangerous nails. The perfection of their organisation exists in that they combine what seems to exclude each other, and that they succeed in it in a guileless way and on a scale that is manageable.

What is not here now, is outside the reach of my will and my memory. What seemed unimaginable has happened, but also afterwards it remains so unimaginable, that I can not only not understand it, but I also can’t remember it. Never before have I had to listen to more wisdom about the human soul and its deep stirrings than in the last few weeks; but now they all seem like fabrications from another world that has nothing to do with reality. Now that my eyes have finally opened, it strikes me, how little can be seen.

Upstairs my little girl is dreaming. Has she heard the rustle? She turns around in her sleep and mumbles something incomprehensible. I’m under the impression that it sounds a bit worried and make myself even smaller so not to wake her. Even the onset of panic could disturb the precarious balance. The mumble moves onto a sigh and she starts comforted with the next section of her journey through the night. When she wakes, she’ll immediately know where she is and she’ll greet the day full of life. I will never know what stirred in her and neither will she.

‘Fragmentation’ is the word for that which I feared the most all that time. It is a loss of unity, style and loyalty, caving into the temptation of countless moments, a vague intent to someday come back instead of staying, eternal provisionality. Maybe it is exactly what I’m doing now, but then for the first time, and what almost makes me happy now. It is too much, Händel in the head, an apparition in front of the eyes, elegiacally staring into the mist, becoming nothing and still having the pretence to be everything for two children. Only the fact that it all happens at the same time gives it unity.

If there is anything I understand about anglers, it’s that they too at the water front have such moments of inner peace and total detachment. Usually those are discussed in terms of enjoyment and relaxation; but that might be no more than a way of translating into a language of what is allowed and can be strived for, well-earned rest, hobby or recreation. In that language they have a right to it, and they are active with it. They can incorporate the moment into a program, or have to say that they can. But the core of their relaxation and of almost all recreation to me seems the contemplation.

The sound of an airplane, barely audible in the compacted sky, reminds me that there still has to be a busy world out there. It is so vague and so far away, that I wonder if I’m not making this up too. Yesterday I dreamt that all people had been evacuated to another planet, but that I hadn’t been warned, because I wasn’t registered. This afternoon it looked for a little while like it was so. Now it may be so, for there is a dome that protects us. When the occupiers come, they will not wipe out this circle.

papa neeltje daan zw (1 of 1)

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