Friday, June 27, 2008

A Minor Misunderstanding

Anna stood waiting at the Inn’s front gate. Her smiles were getting readable – young Thom could see she had something planned. And indeed she had. She had been talking to the blacksmith about restoring the old Inn and reopening it. The blacksmith was trilled with the idea and was convinced it would bring a new vitality to this seemingly cataleptic town. He was convinced the villagers would embrace the idea and offer their help to speed up the work. Once completed, some of the village boys could work in the place instead of having to find a job in the city.
While Anna was doing a little joy dance in front of young Thom he wondered if the future would indeed be so clear and simple. It occurred to him that the blacksmith was not a villager and that the villagers might react quite differently to the idea than expected.
Young Thom did not know what had brought this village to its cataleptic state - as the blacksmith had well put it - but he did know it could not have been a trivial matter. And very likely the Inn had something to do with it.
Young Thom was not given time to ponder on it any longer as Anna grabbed his hand and guided him to the kitchen. Young Thom willingly followed and observed the graciously moving slim figure in front of him. Anna took a knife and an aubergine and put them in young Thom’s hands. Then she stood behind him, grabbed his hands and showed him how to cut vegetables like a real French chef as she taught her children during cooking lesson. Young Thom being a little bigger than her average student meant that Anna had to push close to him and rather than look over his shoulder she had to bend sideways to see what was happening on the table. Young Thom did his best to concentrate on the vegetable in front of him.
More than an hour later, Anna raised her glass to toast on a new beginning.
Young Thom followed her example though not completely sure what his place would be in this new beginning and if indeed it was what he wanted. But he had no future plans of his own and what could he oppose to the vision presented? The life presented was not far beyond what he had ever dared to dream of. All he had ever thought about was a vague notion of a life that was in relation to a job in the factory or as a blacksmith. Young Thom stared at his glass of dark red wine in which the flame of the candle seemed to dance around like a genie. With each taste of the delicious meal, the though of a future in the Inn came to settle comfortably in young Thom’s mind.

It was a full moon as Anna and young Thom walked along the small stream towards the top of the hill that overlooked the village. It wasn’t mid summer yet, but the night refused to cool down. Anna’s scarf was hanging loosely over her shoulders, revealing a long white neck that looked almost blue under the moon’s light. While stepping over a fallen tree she had grabbed on to young Thom’s arm and had held on to it for the rest of the walk.
Young Thom strolled with his hand in his pockets and noticed he had a grin on his face he just didn’t seem to be able to get rid of. Due to the wine, so he thought and he laughed out loud. This made Anna curious and she did not accept young Thom had no reason for the laugh. Young Thom saw no other option than to escape by running up the last slope of the hill. But right before the top, the wine took the upper hand and young Thom fell flat into the high grass. Young Thom took one deep sigh as he stared straight up at the moon and felt Anna lying down next to him. After a while she leaned over him, punched him in the stomach and remarked he hadn’t said a word about restoring the Inn. Indeed he hadn’t, so young Thom thought and he raised his hands up to the moon and shouted as loud as he could that it was the greatest idea of all! The greatest idea of all! Anna couldn’t stop laughing as young Thom took her wrists and pointed her arms toward the moon and they both shouted over and over again it was the greatest idea of all!
As all went quiet again, young Thom – still holding on to Anna’s wrist – watched her breath deeply in and out. Slowly he lowered his hand along her arms.

Where the road split between the schoolhouse and the Inn they said goodnight and went of, each in their own direction. Young Thom strolled with his hands in his pockets again, looking down at the ground, kicking every little stone he could spot in the dim light.
That he should not worry about it anymore she had said – it was just a minor misunderstanding, nothing had happened. But it was not to happen again.

Next : No more Patience

Friday, June 20, 2008


His little sister had been a cheerful but loud child - always managing to attract attention in the most ingenious ways. At a very young age, it was just smiling and pulling peoples clothes, but gradually this evolved into well orchestrated little performances - all to the enjoyment of the butcher’s customers. Although the girl always made sure to be the centre of attention, Martha had found a way to be relieved of her for at least some hours. If you brought out a living animal and some knives, the little brat was off into the fields or woods. Her attitude towards meat was ambiguous to say the least, as she adored sausages and stews but ears and feat where the most horrible things she had ever seen on a table. In her own words, meat was fine as long as it came in cubes or tubes.

Martha instructed young Thom to press more firmly. People did not like floppy sausages.

The two girls were quite different. While young Thom’s sister was more interested in the wide world and all its wonders, Martha liked nothing better than to help out her father and brother in the butchery. But both girls remained curious in each other’s preoccupations. Many evenings the little girl would tell Martha all the things she had learned and Martha would try to persuade young Thom’s sister to help out with some butcher’s work – most often with little result.
But Martha did listen with admiration and awe to the stories of the world.
But when years later Martha was met with laugher by the other children of the village as she tried to forward these stories to them, that most of them had been made up. Apparently young Thom’s sister had used her vivid imagination to enhance a bit, that what she had read in her schoolbooks. But when finally exposed, the little girl was fair enough to apologize and to promise she’d never tell a lie again. Nevertheless, for Martha it was clear that both of the girls were quite different and they would never fully understand each other’s worlds. Despite all this, the two girls remained good friends, most likely because they benefited from each other complementary qualities. Indeed, young Thom’s sister was somewhat fragile and could not keep up with the boys or even most of the other girls of her own age. But her friendship with Martha made up for that. No one dared to touch or tease the skinny girl and they all knew very well who’d be at their doorstep if they did. Likewise, if Martha was ever in doubt of something she had heard, she’d consult the little walking encyclopaedia.

Young Thom pushed the last meat into the hog casing. Both his hands were sticky and as he moved to wipe them on his clothes two hands quickly grabbed his wrists. People would smell him miles away if he did that, Martha ensured him. Martha brought out a bucket with soapy water and washed young Thom’s hands. It was time to leave as her father and brother would no doubt soon return. Young Thom wanted to thank her but got no chance. Martha grinned and with her finger she punched him in the belly and pointed to the road. While walking back towards the Inn, young Thom realized he’d hadn’t learned much about what had happened to his mother and sister, but nevertheless he was satisfied for now. Martha had portrayed his little sister very well, and he was sure he’d liked the little brat a lot. As young Thom approached the Inn, he felt his fingers that had been softened by the greasy work he’d done. Indeed, they smelled soap, meat and Martha.

Next : A Minor Misunderstanding

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Breakfast

The next morning noise from downstairs abruptly awakened young Thom. His first encounter with daylight was the sun straight in his eyes. And once again noise from downstairs. This time he was able to recognize the voice of Anna. Young Thom stumbled out of bed as he tried to evaluate the beginnings of the day. Firstly he had overslept and secondly he was not presentable wearing only a short shirt. He opened the door and began to negotiate some time. While he tripled to the bathroom, breakfast was proposed from downstairs. Five minus later young Thom follows the smell of his favourite breakfast coming from the kitchen: bacon and eggs. This and the cheerful greeting of always smiling Anna improved the morning mood drastically. Two pigeons quickly flew away as Anna and young Thom entered the dining room. Anna rests her chin on her hand as she watched young Thom dipping a peace of bread in the pan. As she noticed that young Thom wasn’t very comfortable being observed while eating, she flees to the centre of room - the spot where the pigeons had left some feathers. Slowly she started twirling making the feathers flying further and further from the centre. As young Thom sips the egg yolk from a bread crust he follows the movements of her hips, her hands and her hair waving in front of her face. Though not a very gifted dancer she was gracious in every move. The way she curved her back, overstretched her arms and pulled her shoulders back as if she was flying – which wasn’t very hard to imagine: numerous feathers twirled around her.
Suddenly she stopped, spread her arms and legs to balance herself and gazed straight forward while searching with her hand for support. No, she was not a gifted dancer but something of a comedian, young Thom thought. That she shouldn’t drink so much, he remarked - much to the surprise of Anna who’d never heard him joke or tease before. Didn’t know he had it in him! Indeed, young Thom didn’t know he hadn’t in him himself.
Anna looked around the room again. It would be expensive to fix this place, but it would be worth it, she thought. As she slowly walked towards the panoramic window the sun peered through the coloured glass at the top. Young Thom watched the show and listened to the vision of a restored great place where visitors could stay and villagers could marry. Anna imagined welcoming new guests while asking her own children to get out of the way and be more polite. Suddenly she looked at her watch. Afternoon class!
Quickly she took her coat and hat, kissed young Thom on the cheek and ran off while thanking him for breakfast. That she was always welcome, young Thom shouted before realizing he had to thank her for breakfast. As he cleared the table he looked at the empty dining room. Her own children. Young Thom wondered who the father would be.

Next : Sausage

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Promise

Eventually Martha came to know young Thom’s mother as a kind and gentle - though fragile person. When they were alone with the baby she seemed open and quite happy, but strangely enough that changed completely when in presence of any other person of the village. In fact, young Thom’s mother avoided going outside as much as possible. She would always claim to have too much work to do in the house.

Slowly some sunlight from the window behind young Thom illuminated the hands of Martha. Young Thom observed how the strong light revealed scared and scratched fingers. Why did his mother behave so strangely? As a young boy he had known her as an open and cheerful person. Why then this withdrawal from public life?
Outside the butcher’s house some footsteps could be heard. Martha stood up to look through the window and then quickly grabbed young Thom by his wrist and rushed him to the back of the house. As the two men entered, young Thom sneaked away through a backdoor.
That night he thought of his father leaving the village for the very last time. Wearing a soldier’s uniform he had placed his giant hands on the boy’s shoulders and promised him he’d return within a year. It was all the young lad could think of, but alas, a year later it was his own turn to leave. And he too promised to be back while waving goodbye to his mother. Young Thom turned over in his bed. Outside the window the moon was getting covered by clouds. To his mother he had failed the promise; to his sister he was bound to keep it.

Next : The Breakfast

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Intruders

Martha remembered well the day a woman and a baby were introduced by her father with the brief statement that from now on they would live in the same house and had to be treated as family. Teenager Martha had never known her own mother of whom she only possessed a tiny painting in a little wooden box. However small the portrait, one could clearly recognize the noble features, the truthful eyes of a woman as perfect as could be.
Martha could well image how it would be if her mother would have been around and she frequently talked to her before sleep. But now the house had changed. How could her father not see that bringing this woman inside their home was a stab in the back of the mother of all his children?
Those first days young Martha made sure to make the guests feel not welcome at all, determined as she was to make the intruders leave - subtly but unavoidably expelled by Martha’s vicious looks. A women’s war was being fought.
But already during the first week Martha’s irritation with the baby’s cries slowly progressed to curiosity, especially at moments when the mother was cuddling and teasing the little girl. At times some little hands and feet raised in excitement above the cradle’s edge. When Martha finally decided to peek inside and was greeted with a broad smile and two large shining eyes, surrender was the only option. Indeed a women’s war had been fought and the very youngest participant had claimed victory.

Next : The Promise

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Firm Rubbing

That afternoon, on the school’s roof, young Thom hammered firmly at some last nails as he replaced a patch of broken tiles. Each nail seemed to resist more and more, but young Thom remained determined. With each hit he felt the roof trembling under his legs. When he swung his hammer right on his thumb, he cried out loud to the sky. In reply a loud roar announced an approaching thunderstorm. Young Thom looked up to the dark grey threat. With yet another patch to go, he hurried to seal the roof as the first raindrops hit his shoulders. The last tile was in place just before all hell broke loose. Young Thom carefully positioned himself so he could slowly lower himself down on the wet and slippery roof. Suddenly, he heard the galloping of a horse down below. A cart with two men on it hastily ran past the schoolhouse. Young Thom recognized the bloodstained aprons. As they moved past he could see in the back of the cart a rope, some big knives and an axe. Young Thom knew the men were off for a good hour’s work. This was his chance and so he perilously slid down the roof and further down the ladder. As he ran through the village, the streets had already turned into mud streams. The butcher’s house was located on the hillside of the village. Pink coloured water ran down from the sloping street. In front of the butcher’s house a table and some tools were getting washed by the rain. Young Thom knocked tree times hard on the door and waited. All houses in the village down below were blurred by gray curtains of heavy rain - not a single soul was to be seen.
The door was opened by a worried butcher’s daughter. She saw young Thom standing there with his white shirt soaking wet and his red curly hear dripping down his face and could not resist a little snigger. Without a word, she stepped aside to let him in. The place smelled of iron. Once inside, she handed him a towel that he used to quickly wipe of most of the rain. Not pleased with the result she took the towel in her own hands and gave young Thom an extra firm rubbing – so much that it put him slightly off balance. She carefully examined her work, pushed away the hair in front of young Thom’s eyes and then offered him to sit down at a working table: a solid wooden construction, partially covered with bones and a couple of pigs’ ears and feet. With a swift move of her arm she pushed it all away and rested her elbow on the table.
Her name was Martha.

Next : The Intruders

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Empty Handed

The next morning young Thom walked to the back of the schoolhouse. There was a small room attached to the main building – you could see it had been added more recently. There was a door and a window covered by a curtain. But the door itself had a small window that was uncovered and young Thom took a peek inside while calling out the teacher’s name. Anna. She had left early as young Thom very well knew. He carefully looked inside. There was a table, one chair and a small bed in the corner. The room looked generic - no personal belongings of Anna could be seen. Young Thom turned away and with his hands in his pockets he slowly strolled back to the Inn. At the front gate he took a pause and looked up at the stone building – most of it covered with leaches and ivy. Anna was right, it could be restored to its full glory again but it would be a lot of work, and young Thom had other things on his mind for now.
Young Thom hurried towards the bakery while making up a list of things to do that week. He looked up into sky and realized he hadn’t thought about his family the day before. Suddenly a voice spoke out from behind him. It was the butcher’s daughter, this time her dark-blond hair tightly pulled back and tied in a knot and wearing a still clean white apron.. If the lamb had been good she wanted to know. With a face bearing professional interest she awaited reply. Of course, yesterday’s lamb! Young Thom was surprised by the question until he realized the young woman facing him was indeed the butcher’s daughter. He quickly confirmed with enthusiasm. And if it had been well cooked, she also wanted to know. A polite smile appeared on her face while Young Thom wet his lips at the thought of that mint sauce. Indeed, the cooking had been divine. He looked the butcher’s daughter straight in the eyes and replied with a modest yes.
Pleased with the replies, the butcher’s daughter thanked young Thom and went of to the bakery. But young Thom had questions for her too and with a few fast steps he stood in front of her again. A wide smile appeared on her face. But as young Thom asked his question the smile quickly disappeared and with apparent resentment she bluntly replied she would talk to him later and quickly rushed into the bakery. Young Thom followed but the place was crowded. After she left with her bread, he impatiently awaited his loaf and then quickly ran outside to find the street empty.

Next : A Firm Rubbing