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A Tuesday Morning in Amsterdam
Sebastian was lying in boxer shorts on the futon in the attic bedroom of the house; everything was quiet, the air was stifling barely affected by the oscillating fan on full blast, and Sebastian laid with his eyes closed, a dog-eared book lying disheveled next to him on the cedar-wood floor. Though it was late, he was still awake, though he closed his eyes because the lights of the attic bedroom had been off for more than an hour. Uncomfortably, he lied on his back, upon the thin strip of mattress which apparently was deemed a ‘bed’. Moth wings beat against the ceiling and against the air and if he opened his eyes, he would have seen the big, dusty moths collaborated in the rafters. But he does not open his eyes, because he was trying to sleep. Sleep was vital, Sebastian knew, but it was already well past midnight and still he was conscious. Exerting himself to the absolute fullest, he drifted into the inkpot of slumber, the darkness overwhelming him and soothing him simultaneously.
When Sebastian awoke a few hours later, the white light piercing his eyelids, he sat up startled before collapsing back onto the futon. The moths had disappeared and the fan was still running futilely. It did not feel as hot in the morning, only warm: the heat without the humidity. Sebastian climbed off of the futon, pulled on shorts and shirt, folding the book under his arm. As he moved toward the open attic window, there was a brash knock on the door. Swallowing the hard lump in his throat, he approached the door and unlocked it. As soon as he had, the door burst open, the massive landlord towering over him.
“Leaving so soon?” asked the man in German, with a deep Northern dialect and accent spun on.
“Yes,” replied Sebastian, pushing past the large man, whose hand clasped his shoulder like a serpent’s mouth.
“Bezahlt.” Pay. A simple command to a foreigner.
Sebastian stepped backwards and the landlord took a step forward in reaction. “I don’t have any money.”
The book fell limply to the floor, spinning wildly across the cedar-oak, after Sebastian toppled backwards, the landlord tackling him at the waist. Crashing to the floor, Sebastian groaned. When he rolled his head over, the landlord slugged him in the face, blood dribbling out of his aching nose onto his parched lips. Hoisted into the air and pressed against the wall by the landlord, Sebastian grunted and then smiled, which angered the landlord further. Reeling back, the enormous fist pummeled Sebastian in the stomach, causing him to double over and fall onto his hands and knees on the dusty floor.
Hot tears began to seep through his eyelids, which were squeezed closed tightly. Growling, the landlord kicked him in the side causing him to crumple like an insect. As the landlord peered down at him to see whether or not he was unconscious, Sebastian suddenly scrambled to his feet. Sprinting across the room, landlord in tow of the perpetrator, Sebastian clambered over the windowsill and then tipped himself out.
He landed hard on his back, sliding across the slick red shingles of the roof which lay just below the attic window. For a moment, he was dazed, but then Sebastian gasped with the shock of the fall and clung to the ridge of the roof, his legs dangling off the sides. It was a ten-foot drop to the street, so Sebastian decided against simply letting himself fall. Clambering back atop the roof, regaining his full balance, Sebastian could breathe easy. The dull toll of the bells sounded from a nearby church and Sebastian cursed himself. It was eight o’ clock. His train ticket in his pocket was for nine.
She stood poised, silent, and on tiptoes, one leg erected and pointed toward the right of the stage. Her head tilted slightly up, her eyes bright and open despite the burning white spotlights which shone down upon her as she stood alone on the stage. “Parisian Dancing Academy’s very own Clarice Lucrece, prima donna of their ballet, just performed a dance of her own invention.” The lights turned off and gracefully, Clarice floated off of the stage.
At the edge of the stage, she was greeted by a slew of congratulations, because the dance had gone perfectly, and still, even offstage, she retained her immaculate posture and expression, the poise of a goddess. Disappearing behind a stage door, she took early to the streets, while the ballet performance continued.
Clarice found, several blocks down, a quaint café where she sat in the corner and drank very strong coffee, the taste purging her sense, the aroma shocking her anew every few moments. She was like a runaway Puritan, taking pleasures in the banal subtleties of the modern world. When she finished her coffee, it was nearly eleven, so she stood up and bustled out of the door. Though she was elegant on stage, public did not recognize as a dancer who might swoon to delightful melodies and mournful elegies. On the street, she looked almost more like an attractive commoner, whose appearance had not yet been brandished by passion and sin.
Fifteen minutes later, she stood alone on the elevator, her eyes intent on the shivering crevice between lusterless metal doors. Shakily, the elevator rose and she stood stock still, the grinding of the chains above sounding like the hum of an old microwave. When a bell sounded and the doors slid apart, revealing a quiet corridor with red and green carpet and crème-colored walls, she walked with tepid moderation into the hall, her eyes flashing over the golden numbers on each door. When she arrived at the proper one, she removed a round key from her pocket and inserted it into the circular, crop circle-esque hole. The click of the lock was the only sound in the corridor, unheard by the sleeping tenants, and then Clarice slithered into her hotel room and silently closed and locked the door.
Clarice’s alarm clock had not gone off at seven, so when she awoke drowsily at eight o’ clock, to the sound of church bells ringing in the distance, she panicked. The ballerinas from the dancing school were scheduled for the seven-fifty train. She supposed she’d have to catch the nine o’ clock train: she’d have to buy a new ticket.
After she had climbed out of bed, showered in the frigid water, and put on stiff garments, she went out and hailed a cab to take her to the train station.
The flashes of the Red Light District burned Adam’s red-rimmed eyes. As he stumbled and then fell face first into the middle of the road, he groaned, pushing off the asphalt as if it were his memories. Forty-something, dress in a stained business suit, shirt not tucked in, tie pulled halfway down, Adam was quite a sight at one in the morning. His clients and his family had always looked upon him as a quiet type, though if they saw him now they’d think he was mad. He was not; he had only reached an alcohol-drenched catharsis. One so quiet, a man who suffered mildly from low blood sugar, was overweight, his black head purged of hair and gleaming under the bitter lights, had faced the ultimate irony to become so inebriated: his antidote for irony was just to drink more.
When he’d stumbled into the Red Light District, he had had no intention of entering any of the smoky and humid parlours, though his drunken mind directed him through a large black door into a dingy room with charcoal-gray furniture and half-dressed women lounging on them. He could stay here the night. His train into Zaanstad left at nine the next morning, and though he should have slept for the night in preparation with meeting his company’s foreign partners, he had ambled out. Now, he was in a dimly lit brothel.
As he began to wallow across the room toward one of the ladies, two big arms grabbed him from behind and lifted him high into the air. The grunting bouncer carried him over his head out of the door and then catapulted him onto the street where Adam began to cough and laugh hysterically at the same time. When he was all out of breath and he had convinced himself that he would soon die, he rolled onto his back and stared up at the sky, the stars obscured by the mottle of smog.
Behind him, the dancers in the lit-up windows were closing thick green curtains around their platforms and the light which flooded Adam’s mind faded, just like everything else had. He’d probably lose his job, but he was not thinking about that now. Exhausted, Adam stood and staggered to a bench where he lay down to sleep. Adam had no dreams.
When Adam opened his eyes, the ring of church bells filled his ears, as well as the mumble of several voices. Sitting up suddenly, he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember the night before. The drunkenness. Shaking his head at his own stupidity, Adam vainly hoped that it was still early. His shirt unbuttoned, his pants loose, he attracted a lot of attention. Adam began to walk, hoping to find a cab to take him to the train station.
The garish street was embarrassingly tawdry, Adam realized, as he read the German graffiti sprayed across the front door of the place he had entered the night before. Had he hired one of girls? He might have felt bad, if he had, before the trip. However, he no longer cared what he did: infidelity meant very little to him, because his wife had cheated first.
The last ring of the bell rang through the streets as Adam waved down a cab. “What time is it?” he asked the driver, in German taught to him a few weeks before the business trip.
“Eight o’ clock,” said the driver.
He had an hour. As he climbed into the taxi, he reached for his wallet to check how much money he had. It wasn’t there. Abruptly climbing out of the cab, Adam realized his wallet had been stolen.
So this is what he got for telling his parents that he could finance his own trip to Europe, using the money he had earned while working at the grocery store: beat up. His nose still bled profusely as he climbed down the ladder and hopped into the narrow alley, amuck with muddy puddles, litter, and a mad homeless man who seemed to stalking a stray cat: predator and prey, a diagram of the unnatural food web. Stepping across the cracked gravel, pressed against a dank and cool wall, Sebastian tramped toward the street, where the people bustled roughly and crammed themselves into tight spaces, bristling with pretend anticipation and falsified purpose.
Sebastian broke into a run, pushing through the hordes, remembering that the train station was nine blocks away. Sprinting across the concrete, his legs pumping, his shaggy hair blown out behind him, he was seventeen and alone in Amsterdam. Stopping several times to catch his breath, Sebastian arrived in front of the train station a few minutes before nine. Pleased with himself, he walked inside, inserted his ticket into the gateway machine and pushed hastily through the turnstile. The train had arrived a few minutes before and was prepared to leave in less than a minute now. Passing through the doors of the train, he turned just in time to see a large, middle aged black business man hurdle over the turnstile and sprint toward him.
Her perfume clouded the taxi, and she could see that the driver winced at the potency of the odor, though it was sweet. Stopping in front of the station, the driver revolved in his seat and outstretched a grimy, gloved hand. Clarice handed him the proper amount, €16.78. Then, gathering her bags in her arms, she walked gingerly toward the big front doors. Since the shower and changing had taken some time, she had fifteen minutes before the train left. Her fellow dancers had left almost an hour earlier than it was when she arrived at the station. Had they noticed she was gone? Naturally, they had, because she was the prima donna.
However, no one had phoned her room, even with knowledge of the number. The instructors from the school, too, had overlooked the notion of ringing her: had they truly forgotten her? This was to be her largest performance, a final dance with the ballet of the Parisian Dancing Academy. After she was done touring, she would move into retirement, because she was growing too old for the profession. She was twenty-four.
Approaching a ticket booth, the mustached man behind the counter with a cap on, asked, “Do you need help?”
“I am looking to buy a ticket,” she responded in German, which she had learned as a child. The man, grimacing at the French accent, told her how much to pay she completed the transaction. Reminded of her childhood, as she picked up her bags again and made for the ever-shifting turnstiles, thoughts of education and dancing pervaded her mind. She had been dancing since the age of three, attended several preparatory schools in Paris where she learned English, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, as well as bits of other languages. Having gone on tour with the Academy for the first time when she was ten, she had become accustomed to customs too alien to comprehend. However, she was now leaving the prestigious school and dancing company, because age had made its mark on her. She could no longer dance in a few months time: she’d have to find a French husband and settle down somewhere where there were a lot of green knolls which stretched on for miles around a tall white house, with fluted columns and pristine French windows.
Clarice slid the ticket into the slot before shuffling through the turnstile and boarding the train. After she had found an empty compartment, she heaved her bags atop the rack which would be above her head: being unnaturally tall and limber had its advantages. Sitting down with a sigh, she looked out of her window and when she became immediately bored with the crowds climbing onto the train, she took a small paperback novel from one of her bags. Leaning far back into he cushioned seats, she opened it to the page where lay a leather bookmark, tassels hanging loosely along the spine. For a few minutes she read, before she heard shouting on the station platform. Looking up, she saw a group of security guards in pursuit of a middle-aged black man in a tattered business suit.
Adam panted, his hands on his knees, his head tipped down, but was satisfied with himself for reaching the train with two minutes to spare. Rushing up the steps and bolstering through the glass doors, Adam walked in a hurried way toward the turnstile. However, when he reached for his ticket, she cursed himself. It had been in his wallet.
Frantically, Adam paced the marble-tiled floor, the large fans above beating his ears like the wings of a moth beat attic ceilings. If he did not take the train to Zaanstad and in consequence, did not attend the meeting with Herr Vohler and Herr Olzinger, he would be fired. The loss of a job on top of the loss of a family, the loss of his credit cards, would perhaps result in the loss of his dignity. Biting his lip, he backed across the floor and then broke into a run for the turnstile.
Men, dressed much like train conductors in navy blue suits, dashed in his wake, fingers groping for the back of his crinkled shirt. Crouching to his haunches, he bound over the turnstile. As he sailed through the air, the metal bar caught his leg and he tumbled forward onto the train platform. With his head pounding because of the hangover, he could not decipher what the words meant, shouted by his pursuers. Pushing up from the floor, he loped toward the train doors. A shaggy-haired teen stood in the doorway and gave him a meaningful look as he passed. Adam smiled, because the doors closed behind him and in a few seconds time, the train was set into motion: he had made it.
The teen, wearing a sweaty T-shirt featuring an archaic grunge band, followed him to a compartment which was empty except for a very tall and very pretty woman in her twenties. Both entered, a tacit greeting given in the form of a curt nod. Sebastian sat on the edge of the seat, on Clarice’s side while Adam sat opposite. The compartment was quiet as Clarice scanned the page vainly with her eyes and Adam peered out of the window. After a few minutes more, a loud screeching sound pierced the air.
“What was that?” Sebastian asked aloud in English. Suddenly, the floor shook and then the entire compartment shifted, Adam falling on the seat between Clarice and Sebastian, blood procured from a cut on his head from a metal screw in the seat’s metal lining. A few seconds later, the entire train derailed.
Four hundred twenty-nine people survived the crash. Three did not.