Experiments
in Witchcraft

Experiments
in Witchcraft

Experiments in Witchcraft

Experiments
in Witchcraft

Grounded SF from
the Netherlands
and Flanders
no. 3

Grounded SF from
the Netherlands
and Flanders
no. 3

Grounded SF from
the Netherlands
and Flanders
no. 3

AUTHOR

Bertram Koeleman

PITCH

A couple with two young children visits their childless friends. What should have been a laid-back dinner party turns out to be an evening with a deep underlying tension. Is it just the stress that comes with a young family, or do the little mounds of dirt the parents repeatedly find in their house have something to do with it?

Grounded SF

Translated by: Anne Chadwick Wendrich

Lydia and Bas are each carrying a child. Before Sip lets them in, he quickly peeks at them through the glass front door. The wavy glass transforms them into two misshapen beings, each with two heads and deformed limbs.

Lydia and Bas are each carrying a child. Before Sip lets them in, he quickly peeks at them through the glass front door. The wavy glass transforms them into two misshapen beings, each with two heads and deformed limbs.

Lydia and Bas are each carrying a child. Before Sip lets them in, he quickly peeks at them through the glass front door. The wavy glass transforms them into two misshapen beings, each with two heads and deformed limbs.

Lydia and Bas are each carrying a child. Before Sip lets them in, he quickly peeks at them through the glass front door. The wavy glass transforms them into two misshapen beings, each with two heads and deformed limbs.

Lydia and Bas are each carrying a child. Before Sip lets them in, he quickly peeks at them through the glass front door. The wavy glass transforms them into two misshapen beings, each with two heads and deformed limbs.

‘Hello hello.’

They step into the house. Astrid emerges from the kitchen into the hall.

‘Hi there.’

Kiss kiss kiss.

The children get unwrapped from their jackets. They hang around mummy and daddy in silence. Sip crouches down next to the eldest and tries to start a conversation. The child clutches to her mother and presses her face into her leg.

‘Give her a minute,’ Lydia says. ‘She’ll be right as rain in half an hour.’

The parents lead them into the living room.

‘Oh, what lovely sliding doors!’ she says.

‘Yes, aren’t they great?’ says Astrid. ‘The house was built in 1935.’

‘And you’ve got a bay window,’ says Bas. They go into the front room, to the window that looks out over the front garden and the street. ‘And there is more stained glass here.’

‘Yeah, when you walk down the street you can see that a lot of people have got rid of it,’ says Astrid. ‘Or removed the en suite.’

‘I don’t get it,’ says Sip. ‘Although it does make you wonder what would be better for the value of a house: modern elements or original features.’

He’s lost count of the number of times he’s repeated the same phrases since the move.

‘Yeah,’ says Bas.

Bessie, the youngest, clings to him, her face firmly buried in his neck. Sip tries to make eye contact over Bas’s shoulder.

‘She’s shy,’ says her father. ‘She’ll get over it.’

‘Come and sit down,’ says Astrid. ‘Something to drink?’

The parents exchange a look. She nods, so he says: ‘I’d like a beer.’

‘Have you got some fruit juice or something?’

‘Should have. And the kids?’

‘Etta will have a juice too. Bessie doesn’t usually want anything.’

Bas tries to pull the youngest child off him. Whining, she allows herself to be deposited on the ground. Lydia pulls her bag onto her lap and starts pulling out toys.

‘Look at this, sweetie,’ she says, making one of the toys rattle. The girl thrusts out both arms, grabs the rattle and starts chewing on it.

The older child has pulled a book from the shelves.

‘Is that okay?’ Bas asks.

Sip leans back to look into the front room. ‘Oh, that’s fine. No problem.’ Resting his hands on his thighs, he gives a sigh. ‘So. How are you two doing?’

‘Fine,’ says Lydia. ‘Busy busy. I’ll be glad when they both go to school.’

‘Yeah, from what I hear, it’s outrageous what they charge for day care,’ says Sip.

‘It’s not just that,’ says Bas. ‘They’ve got so much energy. You’re literally always on the go. It’s almost impossible to keep up.’

Lydia gives him a brief look. Sip thinks he sees a frown.

His wife comes in. ‘Beer for Bas.’

‘Cheers.’

‘Did you want a glass?’

‘Nah, this is fine.’

‘This is all I’ve got, is that okay?’

Lydia takes both glasses. ‘Absolutely fine. Etta, drink up.’

‘Sip, don’t you want anything?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Get it yourself then. I’ll get some snacks.’

‘I have to do bloody everything for myself around here.’

The guests smile awkwardly.

When he gets back from the kitchen, the youngest is crying. Etta is holding the empty glass in both hands and quivering with suppressed excitement. As Lydia manages to pull Bessie’s little hands away from her face, Sip sees where the contents of the glass went. Astrid gives him a puzzled look.

‘Shall I get a cloth?’ he says.

But Lydia has already pulled the bag back onto her lap and is extracting a package of wet wipes. Safe between mummy’s legs, the child calms down, and the sniffling gradually subsides as Lydia soothingly dabs the juice off her face and hands. Lydia gives Bas another look and rolls her eyes towards the older daughter. Sip sits down.

‘Etta, hall.’

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

Bas stands up. Etta runs away from him towards the door, into the hall. He drops back down onto the sofa. Bessie has found another distraction. In the corner between two sets of bookcases, toys have appeared as if by magic. Sip sees two brightly-coloured horses with long manes, tails and eyelashes.

‘Are those things back in fashion?’ Astrid asks. She sounds breathless. Was she shocked by the juice attack?

‘Oh God yes,’ says Lydia. Bas sips his beer. Cartoons and computer games and God knows what else.’

‘Etta’s what, four? Is she already playing computer games?’

Lydia glares at Astrid. Silence. The men also stay quiet. Sip looks at Bas, who is finishing his beer. Sip looks at his wife.

‘Hello hello.’

They step into the house. Astrid emerges from the kitchen into the hall.

‘Hi there.’

Kiss kiss kiss.

The children get unwrapped from their jackets. They hang around mummy and daddy in silence. Sip crouches down next to the eldest and tries to start a conversation. The child clutches to her mother and presses her face into her leg.

‘Give her a minute,’ Lydia says. ‘She’ll be right as rain in half an hour.’

The parents lead them into the living room.

‘Oh, what lovely sliding doors!’ she says.

‘Yes, aren’t they great?’ says Astrid. ‘The house was built in 1935.’

‘And you’ve got a bay window,’ says Bas. They go into the front room, to the window that looks out over the front garden and the street. ‘And there is more stained glass here.’

‘Yeah, when you walk down the street you can see that a lot of people have got rid of it,’ says Astrid. ‘Or removed the en suite.’

‘I don’t get it,’ says Sip. ‘Although it does make you wonder what would be better for the value of a house: modern elements or original features.’

He’s lost count of the number of times he’s repeated the same phrases since the move.

‘Yeah,’ says Bas.

Bessie, the youngest, clings to him, her face firmly buried in his neck. Sip tries to make eye contact over Bas’s shoulder.

‘She’s shy,’ says her father. ‘She’ll get over it.’

‘Come and sit down,’ says Astrid. ‘Something to drink?’

The parents exchange a look. She nods, so he says: ‘I’d like a beer.’

‘Have you got some fruit juice or something?’

‘Should have. And the kids?’

‘Etta will have a juice too. Bessie doesn’t usually want anything.’

Bas tries to pull the youngest child off him. Whining, she allows herself to be deposited on the ground. Lydia pulls her bag onto her lap and starts pulling out toys.

‘Look at this, sweetie,’ she says, making one of the toys rattle. The girl thrusts out both arms, grabs the rattle and starts chewing on it.

The older child has pulled a book from the shelves.

‘Is that okay?’ Bas asks.

Sip leans back to look into the front room. ‘Oh, that’s fine. No problem.’ Resting his hands on his thighs, he gives a sigh. ‘So. How are you two doing?’

‘Fine,’ says Lydia. ‘Busy busy. I’ll be glad when they both go to school.’

‘Yeah, from what I hear, it’s outrageous what they charge for day care,’ says Sip.

‘It’s not just that,’ says Bas. ‘They’ve got so much energy. You’re literally always on the go. It’s almost impossible to keep up.’

Lydia gives him a brief look. Sip thinks he sees a frown.

His wife comes in. ‘Beer for Bas.’

‘Cheers.’

‘Did you want a glass?’

‘Nah, this is fine.’

‘This is all I’ve got, is that okay?’

Lydia takes both glasses. ‘Absolutely fine. Etta, drink up.’

‘Sip, don’t you want anything?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Get it yourself then. I’ll get some snacks.’

‘I have to do bloody everything for myself around here.’

The guests smile awkwardly.

When he gets back from the kitchen, the youngest is crying. Etta is holding the empty glass in both hands and quivering with suppressed excitement. As Lydia manages to pull Bessie’s little hands away from her face, Sip sees where the contents of the glass went. Astrid gives him a puzzled look.

‘Shall I get a cloth?’ he says.

But Lydia has already pulled the bag back onto her lap and is extracting a package of wet wipes. Safe between mummy’s legs, the child calms down, and the sniffling gradually subsides as Lydia soothingly dabs the juice off her face and hands. Lydia gives Bas another look and rolls her eyes towards the older daughter. Sip sits down.

‘Etta, hall.’

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

Bas stands up. Etta runs away from him towards the door, into the hall. He drops back down onto the sofa. Bessie has found another distraction. In the corner between two sets of bookcases, toys have appeared as if by magic. Sip sees two brightly-coloured horses with long manes, tails and eyelashes.

‘Are those things back in fashion?’ Astrid asks. She sounds breathless. Was she shocked by the juice attack?

‘Oh God yes,’ says Lydia. Bas sips his beer. Cartoons and computer games and God knows what else.’

‘Etta’s what, four? Is she already playing computer games?’

Lydia glares at Astrid. Silence. The men also stay quiet. Sip looks at Bas, who is finishing his beer. Sip looks at his wife.

‘Hello hello.’

They step into the house. Astrid emerges from the kitchen into the hall.

‘Hi there.’

Kiss kiss kiss.

The children get unwrapped from their jackets. They hang around mummy and daddy in silence. Sip crouches down next to the eldest and tries to start a conversation. The child clutches to her mother and presses her face into her leg.

‘Give her a minute,’ Lydia says. ‘She’ll be right as rain in half an hour.’

The parents lead them into the living room.

‘Oh, what lovely sliding doors!’ she says.

‘Yes, aren’t they great?’ says Astrid. ‘The house was built in 1935.’

‘And you’ve got a bay window,’ says Bas. They go into the front room, to the window that looks out over the front garden and the street. ‘And there is more stained glass here.’

‘Yeah, when you walk down the street you can see that a lot of people have got rid of it,’ says Astrid. ‘Or removed the en suite.’

‘I don’t get it,’ says Sip. ‘Although it does make you wonder what would be better for the value of a house: modern elements or original features.’

He’s lost count of the number of times he’s repeated the same phrases since the move.

‘Yeah,’ says Bas.

Bessie, the youngest, clings to him, her face firmly buried in his neck. Sip tries to make eye contact over Bas’s shoulder.

‘She’s shy,’ says her father. ‘She’ll get over it.’

‘Come and sit down,’ says Astrid. ‘Something to drink?’

The parents exchange a look. She nods, so he says: ‘I’d like a beer.’

‘Have you got some fruit juice or something?’

‘Should have. And the kids?’

‘Etta will have a juice too. Bessie doesn’t usually want anything.’

Bas tries to pull the youngest child off him. Whining, she allows herself to be deposited on the ground. Lydia pulls her bag onto her lap and starts pulling out toys.

‘Look at this, sweetie,’ she says, making one of the toys rattle. The girl thrusts out both arms, grabs the rattle and starts chewing on it.

The older child has pulled a book from the shelves.

‘Is that okay?’ Bas asks.

Sip leans back to look into the front room. ‘Oh, that’s fine. No problem.’ Resting his hands on his thighs, he gives a sigh. ‘So. How are you two doing?’

‘Fine,’ says Lydia. ‘Busy busy. I’ll be glad when they both go to school.’

‘Yeah, from what I hear, it’s outrageous what they charge for day care,’ says Sip.

‘It’s not just that,’ says Bas. ‘They’ve got so much energy. You’re literally always on the go. It’s almost impossible to keep up.’

Lydia gives him a brief look. Sip thinks he sees a frown.

His wife comes in. ‘Beer for Bas.’

‘Cheers.’

‘Did you want a glass?’

‘Nah, this is fine.’

‘This is all I’ve got, is that okay?’

Lydia takes both glasses. ‘Absolutely fine. Etta, drink up.’

‘Sip, don’t you want anything?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Get it yourself then. I’ll get some snacks.’

‘I have to do bloody everything for myself around here.’

The guests smile awkwardly.

When he gets back from the kitchen, the youngest is crying. Etta is holding the empty glass in both hands and quivering with suppressed excitement. As Lydia manages to pull Bessie’s little hands away from her face, Sip sees where the contents of the glass went. Astrid gives him a puzzled look.

‘Shall I get a cloth?’ he says.

But Lydia has already pulled the bag back onto her lap and is extracting a package of wet wipes. Safe between mummy’s legs, the child calms down, and the sniffling gradually subsides as Lydia soothingly dabs the juice off her face and hands. Lydia gives Bas another look and rolls her eyes towards the older daughter. Sip sits down.

‘Etta, hall.’

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

Bas stands up. Etta runs away from him towards the door, into the hall. He drops back down onto the sofa. Bessie has found another distraction. In the corner between two sets of bookcases, toys have appeared as if by magic. Sip sees two brightly-coloured horses with long manes, tails and eyelashes.

‘Are those things back in fashion?’ Astrid asks. She sounds breathless. Was she shocked by the juice attack?

‘Oh God yes,’ says Lydia. Bas sips his beer. Cartoons and computer games and God knows what else.’

‘Etta’s what, four? Is she already playing computer games?’

Lydia glares at Astrid. Silence. The men also stay quiet. Sip looks at Bas, who is finishing his beer. Sip looks at his wife.

‘Hello hello.’

They step into the house. Astrid emerges from the kitchen into the hall.

‘Hi there.’

Kiss kiss kiss.

The children get unwrapped from their jackets. They hang around mummy and daddy in silence. Sip crouches down next to the eldest and tries to start a conversation. The child clutches to her mother and presses her face into her leg.

‘Give her a minute,’ Lydia says. ‘She’ll be right as rain in half an hour.’

The parents lead them into the living room.

‘Oh, what lovely sliding doors!’ she says.

‘Yes, aren’t they great?’ says Astrid. ‘The house was built in 1935.’

‘And you’ve got a bay window,’ says Bas. They go into the front room, to the window that looks out over the front garden and the street. ‘And there is more stained glass here.’

‘Yeah, when you walk down the street you can see that a lot of people have got rid of it,’ says Astrid. ‘Or removed the en suite.’

‘I don’t get it,’ says Sip. ‘Although it does make you wonder what would be better for the value of a house: modern elements or original features.’

He’s lost count of the number of times he’s repeated the same phrases since the move.

‘Yeah,’ says Bas.

Bessie, the youngest, clings to him, her face firmly buried in his neck. Sip tries to make eye contact over Bas’s shoulder.

‘She’s shy,’ says her father. ‘She’ll get over it.’

‘Come and sit down,’ says Astrid. ‘Something to drink?’

The parents exchange a look. She nods, so he says: ‘I’d like a beer.’

‘Have you got some fruit juice or something?’

‘Should have. And the kids?’

‘Etta will have a juice too. Bessie doesn’t usually want anything.’

Bas tries to pull the youngest child off him. Whining, she allows herself to be deposited on the ground. Lydia pulls her bag onto her lap and starts pulling out toys.

‘Look at this, sweetie,’ she says, making one of the toys rattle. The girl thrusts out both arms, grabs the rattle and starts chewing on it.

The older child has pulled a book from the shelves.

‘Is that okay?’ Bas asks.

Sip leans back to look into the front room. ‘Oh, that’s fine. No problem.’ Resting his hands on his thighs, he gives a sigh. ‘So. How are you two doing?’

‘Fine,’ says Lydia. ‘Busy busy. I’ll be glad when they both go to school.’

‘Yeah, from what I hear, it’s outrageous what they charge for day care,’ says Sip.

‘It’s not just that,’ says Bas. ‘They’ve got so much energy. You’re literally always on the go. It’s almost impossible to keep up.’

Lydia gives him a brief look. Sip thinks he sees a frown.

His wife comes in. ‘Beer for Bas.’

‘Cheers.’

‘Did you want a glass?’

‘Nah, this is fine.’

‘This is all I’ve got, is that okay?’

Lydia takes both glasses. ‘Absolutely fine. Etta, drink up.’

‘Sip, don’t you want anything?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Get it yourself then. I’ll get some snacks.’

‘I have to do bloody everything for myself around here.’

The guests smile awkwardly.

When he gets back from the kitchen, the youngest is crying. Etta is holding the empty glass in both hands and quivering with suppressed excitement. As Lydia manages to pull Bessie’s little hands away from her face, Sip sees where the contents of the glass went. Astrid gives him a puzzled look.

‘Shall I get a cloth?’ he says.

But Lydia has already pulled the bag back onto her lap and is extracting a package of wet wipes. Safe between mummy’s legs, the child calms down, and the sniffling gradually subsides as Lydia soothingly dabs the juice off her face and hands. Lydia gives Bas another look and rolls her eyes towards the older daughter. Sip sits down.

‘Etta, hall.’

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

Bas stands up. Etta runs away from him towards the door, into the hall. He drops back down onto the sofa. Bessie has found another distraction. In the corner between two sets of bookcases, toys have appeared as if by magic. Sip sees two brightly-coloured horses with long manes, tails and eyelashes.

‘Are those things back in fashion?’ Astrid asks. She sounds breathless. Was she shocked by the juice attack?

‘Oh God yes,’ says Lydia. Bas sips his beer. Cartoons and computer games and God knows what else.’

‘Etta’s what, four? Is she already playing computer games?’

Lydia glares at Astrid. Silence. The men also stay quiet. Sip looks at Bas, who is finishing his beer. Sip looks at his wife.

‘Hello hello.’

They step into the house. Astrid emerges from the kitchen into the hall.

‘Hi there.’

Kiss kiss kiss.

The children get unwrapped from their jackets. They hang around mummy and daddy in silence. Sip crouches down next to the eldest and tries to start a conversation. The child clutches to her mother and presses her face into her leg.

‘Give her a minute,’ Lydia says. ‘She’ll be right as rain in half an hour.’

The parents lead them into the living room.

‘Oh, what lovely sliding doors!’ she says.

‘Yes, aren’t they great?’ says Astrid. ‘The house was built in 1935.’

‘And you’ve got a bay window,’ says Bas. They go into the front room, to the window that looks out over the front garden and the street. ‘And there is more stained glass here.’

‘Yeah, when you walk down the street you can see that a lot of people have got rid of it,’ says Astrid. ‘Or removed the en suite.’

‘I don’t get it,’ says Sip. ‘Although it does make you wonder what would be better for the value of a house: modern elements or original features.’

He’s lost count of the number of times he’s repeated the same phrases since the move.

‘Yeah,’ says Bas.

Bessie, the youngest, clings to him, her face firmly buried in his neck. Sip tries to make eye contact over Bas’s shoulder.

‘She’s shy,’ says her father. ‘She’ll get over it.’

‘Come and sit down,’ says Astrid. ‘Something to drink?’

The parents exchange a look. She nods, so he says: ‘I’d like a beer.’

‘Have you got some fruit juice or something?’

‘Should have. And the kids?’

‘Etta will have a juice too. Bessie doesn’t usually want anything.’

Bas tries to pull the youngest child off him. Whining, she allows herself to be deposited on the ground. Lydia pulls her bag onto her lap and starts pulling out toys.

‘Look at this, sweetie,’ she says, making one of the toys rattle. The girl thrusts out both arms, grabs the rattle and starts chewing on it.

The older child has pulled a book from the shelves.

‘Is that okay?’ Bas asks.

Sip leans back to look into the front room. ‘Oh, that’s fine. No problem.’ Resting his hands on his thighs, he gives a sigh. ‘So. How are you two doing?’

‘Fine,’ says Lydia. ‘Busy busy. I’ll be glad when they both go to school.’

‘Yeah, from what I hear, it’s outrageous what they charge for day care,’ says Sip.

‘It’s not just that,’ says Bas. ‘They’ve got so much energy. You’re literally always on the go. It’s almost impossible to keep up.’

Lydia gives him a brief look. Sip thinks he sees a frown.

His wife comes in. ‘Beer for Bas.’

‘Cheers.’

‘Did you want a glass?’

‘Nah, this is fine.’

‘This is all I’ve got, is that okay?’

Lydia takes both glasses. ‘Absolutely fine. Etta, drink up.’

‘Sip, don’t you want anything?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Get it yourself then. I’ll get some snacks.’

‘I have to do bloody everything for myself around here.’

The guests smile awkwardly.

When he gets back from the kitchen, the youngest is crying. Etta is holding the empty glass in both hands and quivering with suppressed excitement. As Lydia manages to pull Bessie’s little hands away from her face, Sip sees where the contents of the glass went. Astrid gives him a puzzled look.

‘Shall I get a cloth?’ he says.

But Lydia has already pulled the bag back onto her lap and is extracting a package of wet wipes. Safe between mummy’s legs, the child calms down, and the sniffling gradually subsides as Lydia soothingly dabs the juice off her face and hands. Lydia gives Bas another look and rolls her eyes towards the older daughter. Sip sits down.

‘Etta, hall.’

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

Bas stands up. Etta runs away from him towards the door, into the hall. He drops back down onto the sofa. Bessie has found another distraction. In the corner between two sets of bookcases, toys have appeared as if by magic. Sip sees two brightly-coloured horses with long manes, tails and eyelashes.

‘Are those things back in fashion?’ Astrid asks. She sounds breathless. Was she shocked by the juice attack?

‘Oh God yes,’ says Lydia. Bas sips his beer. Cartoons and computer games and God knows what else.’

‘Etta’s what, four? Is she already playing computer games?’

Lydia glares at Astrid. Silence. The men also stay quiet. Sip looks at Bas, who is finishing his beer. Sip looks at his wife.

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

‘Witch!’ Etta cries with the gay abandon that only a forbidden word can inspire.

Stammering, Astrid starts to speak. ‘I–I mean…’

‘No, she’s not playing computer games yet,’ says Lydia slowly. ‘But they exist.’

Astrid nods.

‘Er, what time would you like to eat?’ asks Sip.

Bas answers, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to make it too late, because of the girls. Around six?’

Astrid stands up, clearly glad to have a reason to get up. ‘Then let’s get started. Sip, will you help me chop things?’

In the hall they pass Etta. She’s standing with her hands behind her back and leans against the wall. Sip ruffles her hair sympathetically. He’d like to say something about little sisters and how they can be a pain in the ass (though perhaps not in those exact words), but the girl slips out from under his hand and goes into the living room. Sip looks at his wife. She didn’t notice.

‘Will you make the filling?’ she asks.

‘Will do.’

They work in silence for a few minutes. Muted conversation comes from the living room.

‘Would you say Lydia’s reaction to my question was strange?’

‘About the computer games. Yeah, it was a bit, wasn’t it?’

‘Have you been touching my child?’

Bas stands in the doorway.

Sip can feel his face going red. ‘What?’

‘Etta says you touched her. Just now, in the hall.’

‘I stroked her head. I felt bad that she had to go into the hall. Nothing iffy, Bas. Jesus. Another beer?’

Bas hesitates for a moment on the threshold, then takes two steps into the kitchen, coming close to Sip. Astrid picks up a pepper and starts filling it with the vegetables Sip just finished chopping.

‘Can I talk to you for a minute in private?’

‘Of course. Here,’ says Sip, handing him a bottle. ‘We’re going out for a minute, dear.’

They stand in the porch. It’s a coolnight, late April. Last week it was already dark by this time. Bas pulls out a crumpled packet of Marlboros, shakes one out and presents it to Sip, who thanks him with a quick wave, puts it in his mouth and begins to chew the filter.

‘Is everything okay, Bas?’

‘Yes, fine. It’s just… Lydia’s a bit, how shall I put it…’

‘Nervous.’

‘That. And tired. We’re both tired. Especially since Bessie. She’s still not talking. Her motor skills are…’ He rocks his hand from side to side. ‘We’ve been talking about getting her tested. You know. In case she’s... I don’t know. And of course Etta just keeps on wanting attention. She can be really fierce. You saw it yourself just now. It’s just so hard sometimes.’

He mumbles something into his unlit cigarette. ‘And then there’s, well, the other thing.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘We’ve been finding little mounds in the house.’

‘Mounds. As in little accidents? Poo?’ Sip unsuccessfully attempts to suppress a smile. Bas doesn’t notice.

‘No, um, dirt. Little mounds of dirt.’

A girl with long dark hair cycles past. The conversation pauses until her slim figure disappears around the corner.

‘Sorry Bas, I don’t understand.’

He throws the half-chewed cigarette into the garden. ‘The other day I found one in our wardrobe. Right there behind the shoes. And then yesterday there was another one under the bed.’

‘So Etta’s getting creative.’

‘Yeah. But you’d think we’d have caught her at it. I mean, one of us is always at home.’

‘Ants?’

‘What?’

‘Maybe you’ve got an ant problem? I remember we were clearing out the shed at my mum’s house and there were these great big heaps because the ants…’ He stops in the face of a hard look from Bas. ‘Sorry, what?’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

It occurs to Sip that there is a link between this exchange and the rest of the conversation.

‘Those mounds of soil. Do you think Lydia…?’

Bas says in a rush, ‘All that, just now. About Etta.’

‘Yes?’

‘I had to say that. Lydia made me. She wanted me to confront you.’

Sip suppresses an urge to repeat that last sentence. He drinks from his bottle.

‘Bas, I don’t want to, you know, minimise it or anything. But I honestly just stroked her head. It’s not like I…’

Bas raises a hand. ‘I know. Lydia. It’s…’

Someone taps the door behind them. They both turn their heads towards the glass. Sip opens the door. Lydia has Bessie in her arms. The child’s head on her shoulder, eyes closed. Chubby arms dangling.

‘Astrid says the food’s almost ready.’ A brief glance at Sip. ‘Did you have a good chat?’

‘Fine,’ says Bas.

He follows her into the living room. In the kitchen Sip gives his wife a kiss on the head.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Fine. You should get the table laid.’

‘Get it laid? You mean like this?’

He makes thrusting motions towards her with his pelvis. His lame joke earns him a weary look. He gets the tablecloth, plates and place mats out of the cupboard and heads for the living room.

Stammering, Astrid starts to speak. ‘I–I mean…’

‘No, she’s not playing computer games yet,’ says Lydia slowly. ‘But they exist.’

Astrid nods.

‘Er, what time would you like to eat?’ asks Sip.

Bas answers, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to make it too late, because of the girls. Around six?’

Astrid stands up, clearly glad to have a reason to get up. ‘Then let’s get started. Sip, will you help me chop things?’

In the hall they pass Etta. She’s standing with her hands behind her back and leans against the wall. Sip ruffles her hair sympathetically. He’d like to say something about little sisters and how they can be a pain in the ass (though perhaps not in those exact words), but the girl slips out from under his hand and goes into the living room. Sip looks at his wife. She didn’t notice.

‘Will you make the filling?’ she asks.

‘Will do.’

They work in silence for a few minutes. Muted conversation comes from the living room.

‘Would you say Lydia’s reaction to my question was strange?’

‘About the computer games. Yeah, it was a bit, wasn’t it?’

‘Have you been touching my child?’

Bas stands in the doorway.

Sip can feel his face going red. ‘What?’

‘Etta says you touched her. Just now, in the hall.’

‘I stroked her head. I felt bad that she had to go into the hall. Nothing iffy, Bas. Jesus. Another beer?’

Bas hesitates for a moment on the threshold, then takes two steps into the kitchen, coming close to Sip. Astrid picks up a pepper and starts filling it with the vegetables Sip just finished chopping.

‘Can I talk to you for a minute in private?’

‘Of course. Here,’ says Sip, handing him a bottle. ‘We’re going out for a minute, dear.’

They stand in the porch. It’s a coolnight, late April. Last week it was already dark by this time. Bas pulls out a crumpled packet of Marlboros, shakes one out and presents it to Sip, who thanks him with a quick wave, puts it in his mouth and begins to chew the filter.

‘Is everything okay, Bas?’

‘Yes, fine. It’s just… Lydia’s a bit, how shall I put it…’

‘Nervous.’

‘That. And tired. We’re both tired. Especially since Bessie. She’s still not talking. Her motor skills are…’ He rocks his hand from side to side. ‘We’ve been talking about getting her tested. You know. In case she’s... I don’t know. And of course Etta just keeps on wanting attention. She can be really fierce. You saw it yourself just now. It’s just so hard sometimes.’

He mumbles something into his unlit cigarette. ‘And then there’s, well, the other thing.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘We’ve been finding little mounds in the house.’

‘Mounds. As in little accidents? Poo?’ Sip unsuccessfully attempts to suppress a smile. Bas doesn’t notice.

‘No, um, dirt. Little mounds of dirt.’

A girl with long dark hair cycles past. The conversation pauses until her slim figure disappears around the corner.

‘Sorry Bas, I don’t understand.’

He throws the half-chewed cigarette into the garden. ‘The other day I found one in our wardrobe. Right there behind the shoes. And then yesterday there was another one under the bed.’

‘So Etta’s getting creative.’

‘Yeah. But you’d think we’d have caught her at it. I mean, one of us is always at home.’

‘Ants?’

‘What?’

‘Maybe you’ve got an ant problem? I remember we were clearing out the shed at my mum’s house and there were these great big heaps because the ants…’ He stops in the face of a hard look from Bas. ‘Sorry, what?’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

It occurs to Sip that there is a link between this exchange and the rest of the conversation.

‘Those mounds of soil. Do you think Lydia…?’

Bas says in a rush, ‘All that, just now. About Etta.’

‘Yes?’

‘I had to say that. Lydia made me. She wanted me to confront you.’

Sip suppresses an urge to repeat that last sentence. He drinks from his bottle.

‘Bas, I don’t want to, you know, minimise it or anything. But I honestly just stroked her head. It’s not like I…’

Bas raises a hand. ‘I know. Lydia. It’s…’

Someone taps the door behind them. They both turn their heads towards the glass. Sip opens the door. Lydia has Bessie in her arms. The child’s head on her shoulder, eyes closed. Chubby arms dangling.

‘Astrid says the food’s almost ready.’ A brief glance at Sip. ‘Did you have a good chat?’

‘Fine,’ says Bas.

He follows her into the living room. In the kitchen Sip gives his wife a kiss on the head.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Fine. You should get the table laid.’

‘Get it laid? You mean like this?’

He makes thrusting motions towards her with his pelvis. His lame joke earns him a weary look. He gets the tablecloth, plates and place mats out of the cupboard and heads for the living room.

Stammering, Astrid starts to speak. ‘I–I mean…’

‘No, she’s not playing computer games yet,’ says Lydia slowly. ‘But they exist.’

Astrid nods.

‘Er, what time would you like to eat?’ asks Sip.

Bas answers, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to make it too late, because of the girls. Around six?’

Astrid stands up, clearly glad to have a reason to get up. ‘Then let’s get started. Sip, will you help me chop things?’

In the hall they pass Etta. She’s standing with her hands behind her back and leans against the wall. Sip ruffles her hair sympathetically. He’d like to say something about little sisters and how they can be a pain in the ass (though perhaps not in those exact words), but the girl slips out from under his hand and goes into the living room. Sip looks at his wife. She didn’t notice.

‘Will you make the filling?’ she asks.

‘Will do.’

They work in silence for a few minutes. Muted conversation comes from the living room.

‘Would you say Lydia’s reaction to my question was strange?’

‘About the computer games. Yeah, it was a bit, wasn’t it?’

‘Have you been touching my child?’

Bas stands in the doorway.

Sip can feel his face going red. ‘What?’

‘Etta says you touched her. Just now, in the hall.’

‘I stroked her head. I felt bad that she had to go into the hall. Nothing iffy, Bas. Jesus. Another beer?’

Bas hesitates for a moment on the threshold, then takes two steps into the kitchen, coming close to Sip. Astrid picks up a pepper and starts filling it with the vegetables Sip just finished chopping.

‘Can I talk to you for a minute in private?’

‘Of course. Here,’ says Sip, handing him a bottle. ‘We’re going out for a minute, dear.’

They stand in the porch. It’s a coolnight, late April. Last week it was already dark by this time. Bas pulls out a crumpled packet of Marlboros, shakes one out and presents it to Sip, who thanks him with a quick wave, puts it in his mouth and begins to chew the filter.

‘Is everything okay, Bas?’

‘Yes, fine. It’s just… Lydia’s a bit, how shall I put it…’

‘Nervous.’

‘That. And tired. We’re both tired. Especially since Bessie. She’s still not talking. Her motor skills are…’ He rocks his hand from side to side. ‘We’ve been talking about getting her tested. You know. In case she’s... I don’t know. And of course Etta just keeps on wanting attention. She can be really fierce. You saw it yourself just now. It’s just so hard sometimes.’

He mumbles something into his unlit cigarette. ‘And then there’s, well, the other thing.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘We’ve been finding little mounds in the house.’

‘Mounds. As in little accidents? Poo?’ Sip unsuccessfully attempts to suppress a smile. Bas doesn’t notice.

‘No, um, dirt. Little mounds of dirt.’

A girl with long dark hair cycles past. The conversation pauses until her slim figure disappears around the corner.

‘Sorry Bas, I don’t understand.’

He throws the half-chewed cigarette into the garden. ‘The other day I found one in our wardrobe. Right there behind the shoes. And then yesterday there was another one under the bed.’

‘So Etta’s getting creative.’

‘Yeah. But you’d think we’d have caught her at it. I mean, one of us is always at home.’

‘Ants?’

‘What?’

‘Maybe you’ve got an ant problem? I remember we were clearing out the shed at my mum’s house and there were these great big heaps because the ants…’ He stops in the face of a hard look from Bas. ‘Sorry, what?’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

It occurs to Sip that there is a link between this exchange and the rest of the conversation.

‘Those mounds of soil. Do you think Lydia…?’

Bas says in a rush, ‘All that, just now. About Etta.’

‘Yes?’

‘I had to say that. Lydia made me. She wanted me to confront you.’

Sip suppresses an urge to repeat that last sentence. He drinks from his bottle.

‘Bas, I don’t want to, you know, minimise it or anything. But I honestly just stroked her head. It’s not like I…’

Bas raises a hand. ‘I know. Lydia. It’s…’

Someone taps the door behind them. They both turn their heads towards the glass. Sip opens the door. Lydia has Bessie in her arms. The child’s head on her shoulder, eyes closed. Chubby arms dangling.

‘Astrid says the food’s almost ready.’ A brief glance at Sip. ‘Did you have a good chat?’

‘Fine,’ says Bas.

He follows her into the living room. In the kitchen Sip gives his wife a kiss on the head.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Fine. You should get the table laid.’

‘Get it laid? You mean like this?’

He makes thrusting motions towards her with his pelvis. His lame joke earns him a weary look. He gets the tablecloth, plates and place mats out of the cupboard and heads for the living room.

Stammering, Astrid starts to speak. ‘I–I mean…’

‘No, she’s not playing computer games yet,’ says Lydia slowly. ‘But they exist.’

Astrid nods.

‘Er, what time would you like to eat?’ asks Sip.

Bas answers, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to make it too late, because of the girls. Around six?’

Astrid stands up, clearly glad to have a reason to get up. ‘Then let’s get started. Sip, will you help me chop things?’

In the hall they pass Etta. She’s standing with her hands behind her back and leans against the wall. Sip ruffles her hair sympathetically. He’d like to say something about little sisters and how they can be a pain in the ass (though perhaps not in those exact words), but the girl slips out from under his hand and goes into the living room. Sip looks at his wife. She didn’t notice.

‘Will you make the filling?’ she asks.

‘Will do.’

They work in silence for a few minutes. Muted conversation comes from the living room.

‘Would you say Lydia’s reaction to my question was strange?’

‘About the computer games. Yeah, it was a bit, wasn’t it?’

‘Have you been touching my child?’

Bas stands in the doorway.

Sip can feel his face going red. ‘What?’

‘Etta says you touched her. Just now, in the hall.’

‘I stroked her head. I felt bad that she had to go into the hall. Nothing iffy, Bas. Jesus. Another beer?’

Bas hesitates for a moment on the threshold, then takes two steps into the kitchen, coming close to Sip. Astrid picks up a pepper and starts filling it with the vegetables Sip just finished chopping.

‘Can I talk to you for a minute in private?’

‘Of course. Here,’ says Sip, handing him a bottle. ‘We’re going out for a minute, dear.’

They stand in the porch. It’s a coolnight, late April. Last week it was already dark by this time. Bas pulls out a crumpled packet of Marlboros, shakes one out and presents it to Sip, who thanks him with a quick wave, puts it in his mouth and begins to chew the filter.

‘Is everything okay, Bas?’

‘Yes, fine. It’s just… Lydia’s a bit, how shall I put it…’

‘Nervous.’

‘That. And tired. We’re both tired. Especially since Bessie. She’s still not talking. Her motor skills are…’ He rocks his hand from side to side. ‘We’ve been talking about getting her tested. You know. In case she’s... I don’t know. And of course Etta just keeps on wanting attention. She can be really fierce. You saw it yourself just now. It’s just so hard sometimes.’

He mumbles something into his unlit cigarette. ‘And then there’s, well, the other thing.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘We’ve been finding little mounds in the house.’

‘Mounds. As in little accidents? Poo?’ Sip unsuccessfully attempts to suppress a smile. Bas doesn’t notice.

‘No, um, dirt. Little mounds of dirt.’

A girl with long dark hair cycles past. The conversation pauses until her slim figure disappears around the corner.

‘Sorry Bas, I don’t understand.’

He throws the half-chewed cigarette into the garden. ‘The other day I found one in our wardrobe. Right there behind the shoes. And then yesterday there was another one under the bed.’

‘So Etta’s getting creative.’

‘Yeah. But you’d think we’d have caught her at it. I mean, one of us is always at home.’

‘Ants?’

‘What?’

‘Maybe you’ve got an ant problem? I remember we were clearing out the shed at my mum’s house and there were these great big heaps because the ants…’ He stops in the face of a hard look from Bas. ‘Sorry, what?’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

It occurs to Sip that there is a link between this exchange and the rest of the conversation.

‘Those mounds of soil. Do you think Lydia…?’

Bas says in a rush, ‘All that, just now. About Etta.’

‘Yes?’

‘I had to say that. Lydia made me. She wanted me to confront you.’

Sip suppresses an urge to repeat that last sentence. He drinks from his bottle.

‘Bas, I don’t want to, you know, minimise it or anything. But I honestly just stroked her head. It’s not like I…’

Bas raises a hand. ‘I know. Lydia. It’s…’

Someone taps the door behind them. They both turn their heads towards the glass. Sip opens the door. Lydia has Bessie in her arms. The child’s head on her shoulder, eyes closed. Chubby arms dangling.

‘Astrid says the food’s almost ready.’ A brief glance at Sip. ‘Did you have a good chat?’

‘Fine,’ says Bas.

He follows her into the living room. In the kitchen Sip gives his wife a kiss on the head.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Fine. You should get the table laid.’

‘Get it laid? You mean like this?’

He makes thrusting motions towards her with his pelvis. His lame joke earns him a weary look. He gets the tablecloth, plates and place mats out of the cupboard and heads for the living room.

Stammering, Astrid starts to speak. ‘I–I mean…’

‘No, she’s not playing computer games yet,’ says Lydia slowly. ‘But they exist.’

Astrid nods.

‘Er, what time would you like to eat?’ asks Sip.

Bas answers, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to make it too late, because of the girls. Around six?’

Astrid stands up, clearly glad to have a reason to get up. ‘Then let’s get started. Sip, will you help me chop things?’

In the hall they pass Etta. She’s standing with her hands behind her back and leans against the wall. Sip ruffles her hair sympathetically. He’d like to say something about little sisters and how they can be a pain in the ass (though perhaps not in those exact words), but the girl slips out from under his hand and goes into the living room. Sip looks at his wife. She didn’t notice.

‘Will you make the filling?’ she asks.

‘Will do.’

They work in silence for a few minutes. Muted conversation comes from the living room.

‘Would you say Lydia’s reaction to my question was strange?’

‘About the computer games. Yeah, it was a bit, wasn’t it?’

‘Have you been touching my child?’

Bas stands in the doorway.

Sip can feel his face going red. ‘What?’

‘Etta says you touched her. Just now, in the hall.’

‘I stroked her head. I felt bad that she had to go into the hall. Nothing iffy, Bas. Jesus. Another beer?’

Bas hesitates for a moment on the threshold, then takes two steps into the kitchen, coming close to Sip. Astrid picks up a pepper and starts filling it with the vegetables Sip just finished chopping.

‘Can I talk to you for a minute in private?’

‘Of course. Here,’ says Sip, handing him a bottle. ‘We’re going out for a minute, dear.’

They stand in the porch. It’s a coolnight, late April. Last week it was already dark by this time. Bas pulls out a crumpled packet of Marlboros, shakes one out and presents it to Sip, who thanks him with a quick wave, puts it in his mouth and begins to chew the filter.

‘Is everything okay, Bas?’

‘Yes, fine. It’s just… Lydia’s a bit, how shall I put it…’

‘Nervous.’

‘That. And tired. We’re both tired. Especially since Bessie. She’s still not talking. Her motor skills are…’ He rocks his hand from side to side. ‘We’ve been talking about getting her tested. You know. In case she’s... I don’t know. And of course Etta just keeps on wanting attention. She can be really fierce. You saw it yourself just now. It’s just so hard sometimes.’

He mumbles something into his unlit cigarette. ‘And then there’s, well, the other thing.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘We’ve been finding little mounds in the house.’

‘Mounds. As in little accidents? Poo?’ Sip unsuccessfully attempts to suppress a smile. Bas doesn’t notice.

‘No, um, dirt. Little mounds of dirt.’

A girl with long dark hair cycles past. The conversation pauses until her slim figure disappears around the corner.

‘Sorry Bas, I don’t understand.’

He throws the half-chewed cigarette into the garden. ‘The other day I found one in our wardrobe. Right there behind the shoes. And then yesterday there was another one under the bed.’

‘So Etta’s getting creative.’

‘Yeah. But you’d think we’d have caught her at it. I mean, one of us is always at home.’

‘Ants?’

‘What?’

‘Maybe you’ve got an ant problem? I remember we were clearing out the shed at my mum’s house and there were these great big heaps because the ants…’ He stops in the face of a hard look from Bas. ‘Sorry, what?’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

It occurs to Sip that there is a link between this exchange and the rest of the conversation.

‘Those mounds of soil. Do you think Lydia…?’

Bas says in a rush, ‘All that, just now. About Etta.’

‘Yes?’

‘I had to say that. Lydia made me. She wanted me to confront you.’

Sip suppresses an urge to repeat that last sentence. He drinks from his bottle.

‘Bas, I don’t want to, you know, minimise it or anything. But I honestly just stroked her head. It’s not like I…’

Bas raises a hand. ‘I know. Lydia. It’s…’

Someone taps the door behind them. They both turn their heads towards the glass. Sip opens the door. Lydia has Bessie in her arms. The child’s head on her shoulder, eyes closed. Chubby arms dangling.

‘Astrid says the food’s almost ready.’ A brief glance at Sip. ‘Did you have a good chat?’

‘Fine,’ says Bas.

He follows her into the living room. In the kitchen Sip gives his wife a kiss on the head.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Fine. You should get the table laid.’

‘Get it laid? You mean like this?’

He makes thrusting motions towards her with his pelvis. His lame joke earns him a weary look. He gets the tablecloth, plates and place mats out of the cupboard and heads for the living room.

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual.
And I just don’t know what to do.’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual.
And I just don’t know what to do.’

‘It’s just so, so strange. It’s like it’s, I don’t know, a ritual. And I just don’t know what to do.’

Etta, will you help me set the table?’ he asks.

The child is lying on her tummy, a colouring book on the floor in front of her. She has almost completely covered a picture of a puppy with thick red stripes. She ignores him.

While he sets the table, Lydia assembles a children’s high chair. When she asks if she’s coming to eat, Etta gets up straight away, pulls out a chair and sits down, holding her knife and fork ceremonially aloft. Sip forces a smile and says she’ll have to wait a bit longer, attracting another pointed look from Lydia. As he passes Bas between the sliding doors he tries to catch his eye, hoping for some sympathy for being in Lydia’s black book. Bas doesn’t see it: he’s carrying the sleeping toddler, his face set in a frown of concentration.

Evening comes. Sip switches on the lights. Etta softly sings a song, using her cutlery as accompaniment. Bessie is still sleeping. Bubbles of saliva in the corner of her mouth grow and shrink with the rhythm of her breathing. Astrid sets the dishes on the table. She has made a selection of different plates, a kind of tapas, a taster platter. Each plate is accompanied by an appetising text. Sip feels a deep tenderness at her barely suppressed pride. He opens a bottle of wine, gets the glasses and asks who’d like some.

Astrid sets down the last plate on the table and takes her seat. ‘I’ll have a glass.’

‘What. Is. This!’

All sound, all movement ceases. Everyone looks at Lydia.

Lydia looks at Astrid.

‘Stuffed peppers,’ says Astrid, cautiously.

Bloody hell!

Without taking her eyes off Astrid, she takes one of the red peppers from the plate and squeezes. The filling squirts out. A mixture of shiny oil, manchego and onion oozes over her fingers, spatters the sleeve of her shirt, drips onto the tablecloth. She hurls the pepper against the wall by the bookshelves, where it sticks. Everyone watches and waits until the pulverised vegetable peels away and falls with a wet splash onto the floor.

Astrid starts up from the table. ‘Lydia, what’s wrong with you?’

Lydia’s face is contorted and red. A parody of anger. Her fingertips are wedged in the tablecloth. Etta, frozen, looks at her mother, her cutlery held tightly in her little fists. Her lower lip begins to tremble. Bessie blows bubbles in her sleep.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she hisses. ‘I’ll do you a mischief, I mean it.’

Astrid looks at the men, tears in her eyes. ‘What’s going on?’

Bas takes a deep draught of his wine. ‘Maybe we should…’

‘Mummy, why are you cross?’ asks Etta tearfully.

‘You can’t feed this to children, Astrid. Stuffed peppers.’ Her laugh is nothing more than a whistling indrawn breath. ‘What are you trying to say? That
you have time to spend in the kitchen? That you and your husband have got such a great life here with no children?’

Astrid starts to cry. ‘Lydia…’

‘Don’t you “Lydia” me. You think I’ve got a good life? With two of those little pests in the house?’

Bas gets up. ‘Okay, maybe we should go. Sweetie, go and get your toys, okay?’

Lydia doesn’t seem to notice. She is totally focused on Astrid. Sip is halfway to his feet, next to Lydia; he has one hand on the back of his chair, the other on the table. Etta carefully pushes her chair back and tiptoes with measured steps into the living room. Bessie’s head nods from left to right, her closed eyes focused on her mother. Who now gets up from the table.

‘It was his idea, not mine. I should have kicked him out of the fucking bed! Do you know what my belly looks like nowadays? Want to see the scars? What my cunt looks like? Oh, the joys of motherhood! God yes, give me a dozen of them! O Lord, I am the portal for all your followers! Destroy my body so the little children can play!’

The adults just stand there, frozen. Lydia takes a deep breath, her mouth a great black O in the middle of her red face. There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

‘Mummy?’ Etta asks, next to the sliding doors.

Bas turns around, picks her up and takes her into the hall. They hear the little girl ask if mummy is angry with her.

Sip has taken two steps backwards. Astrid wants to go to Lydia around the table, but Sip raises a hand.

‘She’s going to choke,’ Astrid cries.

‘Huh,’ says Lydia.

Her body suddenly seems to relax. Her hands release their grip on the tablecloth. Lydia takes one unsteady step, then another, then she sinks, more by luck than by design, onto her chair.

Astrid comes over to her and lays a hand on her forehead. ‘Get some water,’ she says, using a napkin to wipe the sweat from Lydia’s forehead. The red streaks on her face and neck are already fading. She looks as if she’s just given birth, Astrid thinks.

‘There you are,’ she says when Lydia’s eyes find hers. ‘Better?’

‘My stomach hurts,’ says Lydia. ‘And my throat. As if I’ve been screaming.’

Sip holds out a glass of water. Astrid holds it to her mouth. Etta comes in on her father’s arm. Bas sets his daughter down on Sip’s chair and puts his hand on his wife’s head.

‘Feeling better, darling?’

‘Why is everyone talking to me as if I’m a child? What happened?’

Bessie wakes up. Only Etta sees how a thin string of dark-coloured material runs from Bessie’s mouth over her chin, down her bib. Calmly, as if she’s done it many times before, Etta cleans her sister’s lips and chin.

Etta, will you help me set the table?’ he asks.

The child is lying on her tummy, a colouring book on the floor in front of her. She has almost completely covered a picture of a puppy with thick red stripes. She ignores him.

While he sets the table, Lydia assembles a children’s high chair. When she asks if she’s coming to eat, Etta gets up straight away, pulls out a chair and sits down, holding her knife and fork ceremonially aloft. Sip forces a smile and says she’ll have to wait a bit longer, attracting another pointed look from Lydia. As he passes Bas between the sliding doors he tries to catch his eye, hoping for some sympathy for being in Lydia’s black book. Bas doesn’t see it: he’s carrying the sleeping toddler, his face set in a frown of concentration.

Evening comes. Sip switches on the lights. Etta softly sings a song, using her cutlery as accompaniment. Bessie is still sleeping. Bubbles of saliva in the corner of her mouth grow and shrink with the rhythm of her breathing. Astrid sets the dishes on the table. She has made a selection of different plates, a kind of tapas, a taster platter. Each plate is accompanied by an appetising text. Sip feels a deep tenderness at her barely suppressed pride. He opens a bottle of wine, gets the glasses and asks who’d like some.

Astrid sets down the last plate on the table and takes her seat. ‘I’ll have a glass.’

‘What. Is. This!

All sound, all movement ceases. Everyone looks at Lydia.

Lydia looks at Astrid.

‘Stuffed peppers,’ says Astrid, cautiously.

Bloody hell!

Without taking her eyes off Astrid, she takes one of the red peppers from the plate and squeezes. The filling squirts out. A mixture of shiny oil, manchego and onion oozes over her fingers, spatters the sleeve of her shirt, drips onto the tablecloth. She hurls the pepper against the wall by the bookshelves, where it sticks. Everyone watches and waits until the pulverised vegetable peels away and falls with a wet splash onto the floor.

Astrid starts up from the table. ‘Lydia, what’s wrong with you?’

Lydia’s face is contorted and red. A parody of anger. Her fingertips are wedged in the tablecloth. Etta, frozen, looks at her mother, her cutlery held tightly in her little fists. Her lower lip begins to tremble. Bessie blows bubbles in her sleep.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she hisses. ‘I’ll do you a mischief, I mean it.’

Astrid looks at the men, tears in her eyes. ‘What’s going on?’

Bas takes a deep draught of his wine. ‘Maybe we should…’

‘Mummy, why are you cross?’ asks Etta tearfully.

‘You can’t feed this to children, Astrid. Stuffed peppers.’ Her laugh is nothing more than a whistling indrawn breath. ‘What are you trying to say? That
you have time to spend in the kitchen? That you and your husband have got such a great life here with no children?’

Astrid starts to cry. ‘Lydia…’

‘Don’t you “Lydia” me. You think I’ve got a good life? With two of those little pests in the house?’

Bas gets up. ‘Okay, maybe we should go. Sweetie, go and get your toys, okay?’

Lydia doesn’t seem to notice. She is totally focused on Astrid. Sip is halfway to his feet, next to Lydia; he has one hand on the back of his chair, the other on the table. Etta carefully pushes her chair back and tiptoes with measured steps into the living room. Bessie’s head nods from left to right, her closed eyes focused on her mother. Who now gets up from the table.

‘It was his idea, not mine. I should have kicked him out of the fucking bed! Do you know what my belly looks like nowadays? Want to see the scars? What my cunt looks like? Oh, the joys of motherhood! God yes, give me a dozen of them! O Lord, I am the portal for all your followers! Destroy my body so the little children can play!’

The adults just stand there, frozen. Lydia takes a deep breath, her mouth a great black O in the middle of her red face. There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

‘Mummy?’ Etta asks, next to the sliding doors.

Bas turns around, picks her up and takes her into the hall. They hear the little girl ask if mummy is angry with her.

Sip has taken two steps backwards. Astrid wants to go to Lydia around the table, but Sip raises a hand.

‘She’s going to choke,’ Astrid cries.

‘Huh,’ says Lydia.

Her body suddenly seems to relax. Her hands release their grip on the tablecloth. Lydia takes one unsteady step, then another, then she sinks, more by luck than by design, onto her chair.

Astrid comes over to her and lays a hand on her forehead. ‘Get some water,’ she says, using a napkin to wipe the sweat from Lydia’s forehead. The red streaks on her face and neck are already fading. She looks as if she’s just given birth, Astrid thinks.

‘There you are,’ she says when Lydia’s eyes find hers. ‘Better?’

‘My stomach hurts,’ says Lydia. ‘And my throat. As if I’ve been screaming.’

Sip holds out a glass of water. Astrid holds it to her mouth. Etta comes in on her father’s arm. Bas sets his daughter down on Sip’s chair and puts his hand on his wife’s head.

‘Feeling better, darling?’

‘Why is everyone talking to me as if I’m a child? What happened?’

Bessie wakes up. Only Etta sees how a thin string of dark-coloured material runs from Bessie’s mouth over her chin, down her bib. Calmly, as if she’s done it many times before, Etta cleans her sister’s lips and chin.

Etta, will you help me set the table?’ he asks.

The child is lying on her tummy, a colouring book on the floor in front of her. She has almost completely covered a picture of a puppy with thick red stripes. She ignores him.

While he sets the table, Lydia assembles a children’s high chair. When she asks if she’s coming to eat, Etta gets up straight away, pulls out a chair and sits down, holding her knife and fork ceremonially aloft. Sip forces a smile and says she’ll have to wait a bit longer, attracting another pointed look from Lydia. As he passes Bas between the sliding doors he tries to catch his eye, hoping for some sympathy for being in Lydia’s black book. Bas doesn’t see it: he’s carrying the sleeping toddler, his face set in a frown of concentration.

Evening comes. Sip switches on the lights. Etta softly sings a song, using her cutlery as accompaniment. Bessie is still sleeping. Bubbles of saliva in the corner of her mouth grow and shrink with the rhythm of her breathing. Astrid sets the dishes on the table. She has made a selection of different plates, a kind of tapas, a taster platter. Each plate is accompanied by an appetising text. Sip feels a deep tenderness at her barely suppressed pride. He opens a bottle of wine, gets the glasses and asks who’d like some.

Astrid sets down the last plate on the table and takes her seat. ‘I’ll have a glass.’

‘What. Is. This!

All sound, all movement ceases. Everyone looks at Lydia.

Lydia looks at Astrid.

‘Stuffed peppers,’ says Astrid, cautiously.

Bloody hell!

Without taking her eyes off Astrid, she takes one of the red peppers from the plate and squeezes. The filling squirts out. A mixture of shiny oil, manchego and onion oozes over her fingers, spatters the sleeve of her shirt, drips onto the tablecloth. She hurls the pepper against the wall by the bookshelves, where it sticks. Everyone watches and waits until the pulverised vegetable peels away and falls with a wet splash onto the floor.

Astrid starts up from the table. ‘Lydia, what’s wrong with you?’

Lydia’s face is contorted and red. A parody of anger. Her fingertips are wedged in the tablecloth. Etta, frozen, looks at her mother, her cutlery held tightly in her little fists. Her lower lip begins to tremble. Bessie blows bubbles in her sleep.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she hisses. ‘I’ll do you a mischief, I mean it.’

Astrid looks at the men, tears in her eyes. ‘What’s going on?’

Bas takes a deep draught of his wine. ‘Maybe we should…’

‘Mummy, why are you cross?’ asks Etta tearfully.

‘You can’t feed this to children, Astrid. Stuffed peppers.’ Her laugh is nothing more than a whistling indrawn breath. ‘What are you trying to say? That you have time to spend in the kitchen? That you and your husband have got such a great life here with no children?’

Astrid starts to cry. ‘Lydia…’

‘Don’t you “Lydia” me. You think I’ve got a good life? With two of those little pests in the house?’

Bas gets up. ‘Okay, maybe we should go. Sweetie, go and get your toys, okay?’

Lydia doesn’t seem to notice. She is totally focused on Astrid. Sip is halfway to his feet, next to Lydia; he has one hand on the back of his chair, the other on the table. Etta carefully pushes her chair back and tiptoes with measured steps into the living room. Bessie’s head nods from left to right, her closed eyes focused on her mother. Who now gets up from the table.

‘It was his idea, not mine. I should have kicked him out of the fucking bed! Do you know what my belly looks like nowadays? Want to see the scars? What my cunt looks like? Oh, the joys of motherhood! God yes, give me a dozen of them! O Lord, I am the portal for all your followers! Destroy my body so the little children can play!’

The adults just stand there, frozen. Lydia takes a deep breath, her mouth a great black O in the middle of her red face. There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

‘Mummy?’ Etta asks, next to the sliding doors.

Bas turns around, picks her up and takes her into the hall. They hear the little girl ask if mummy is angry with her.

Sip has taken two steps backwards. Astrid wants to go to Lydia around the table, but Sip raises a hand.

‘She’s going to choke,’ Astrid cries.

‘Huh,’ says Lydia.

Her body suddenly seems to relax. Her hands release their grip on the tablecloth. Lydia takes one unsteady step, then another, then she sinks, more by luck than by design, onto her chair.

Astrid comes over to her and lays a hand on her forehead. ‘Get some water,’ she says, using a napkin to wipe the sweat from Lydia’s forehead. The red streaks on her face and neck are already fading. She looks as if she’s just given birth, Astrid thinks.

‘There you are,’ she says when Lydia’s eyes find hers. ‘Better?’

‘My stomach hurts,’ says Lydia. ‘And my throat. As if I’ve been screaming.’

Sip holds out a glass of water. Astrid holds it to her mouth. Etta comes in on her father’s arm. Bas sets his daughter down on Sip’s chair and puts his hand on his wife’s head.

‘Feeling better, darling?’

‘Why is everyone talking to me as if I’m a child? What happened?’

Bessie wakes up. Only Etta sees how a thin string of dark-coloured material runs from Bessie’s mouth over her chin, down her bib. Calmly, as if she’s done it many times before, Etta cleans her sister’s lips and chin.

Etta, will you help me set the table?’ he asks.

The child is lying on her tummy, a colouring book on the floor in front of her. She has almost completely covered a picture of a puppy with thick red stripes. She ignores him.

While he sets the table, Lydia assembles a children’s high chair. When she asks if she’s coming to eat, Etta gets up straight away, pulls out a chair and sits down, holding her knife and fork ceremonially aloft. Sip forces a smile and says she’ll have to wait a bit longer, attracting another pointed look from Lydia. As he passes Bas between the sliding doors he tries to catch his eye, hoping for some sympathy for being in Lydia’s black book. Bas doesn’t see it: he’s carrying the sleeping toddler, his face set in a frown of concentration.

Evening comes. Sip switches on the lights. Etta softly sings a song, using her cutlery as accompaniment. Bessie is still sleeping. Bubbles of saliva in the corner of her mouth grow and shrink with the rhythm of her breathing. Astrid sets the dishes on the table. She has made a selection of different plates, a kind of tapas, a taster platter. Each plate is accompanied by an appetising text. Sip feels a deep tenderness at her barely suppressed pride. He opens a bottle of wine, gets the glasses and asks who’d like some.

Astrid sets down the last plate on the table and takes her seat. ‘I’ll have a glass.’

‘What. Is. This!

All sound, all movement ceases. Everyone looks at Lydia.

Lydia looks at Astrid.

‘Stuffed peppers,’ says Astrid, cautiously.

Bloody hell!

Without taking her eyes off Astrid, she takes one of the red peppers from the plate and squeezes. The filling squirts out. A mixture of shiny oil, manchego and onion oozes over her fingers, spatters the sleeve of her shirt, drips onto the tablecloth. She hurls the pepper against the wall by the bookshelves, where it sticks. Everyone watches and waits until the pulverised vegetable peels away and falls with a wet splash onto the floor.

Astrid starts up from the table. ‘Lydia, what’s wrong with you?’

Lydia’s face is contorted and red. A parody of anger. Her fingertips are wedged in the tablecloth. Etta, frozen, looks at her mother, her cutlery held tightly in her little fists. Her lower lip begins to tremble. Bessie blows bubbles in her sleep.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she hisses. ‘I’ll do you a mischief, I mean it.’

Astrid looks at the men, tears in her eyes. ‘What’s going on?’

Bas takes a deep draught of his wine. ‘Maybe we should…’

‘Mummy, why are you cross?’ asks Etta tearfully.

‘You can’t feed this to children, Astrid. Stuffed peppers.’ Her laugh is nothing more than a whistling indrawn breath. ‘What are you trying to say? That you have time to spend in the kitchen? That you and your husband have got such a great life here with no children?’

Astrid starts to cry. ‘Lydia…’

‘Don’t you “Lydia” me. You think I’ve got a good life? With two of those little pests in the house?’

Bas gets up. ‘Okay, maybe we should go. Sweetie, go and get your toys, okay?’

Lydia doesn’t seem to notice. She is totally focused on Astrid. Sip is halfway to his feet, next to Lydia; he has one hand on the back of his chair, the other on the table. Etta carefully pushes her chair back and tiptoes with measured steps into the living room. Bessie’s head nods from left to right, her closed eyes focused on her mother. Who now gets up from the table.

‘It was his idea, not mine. I should have kicked him out of the fucking bed! Do you know what my belly looks like nowadays? Want to see the scars? What my cunt looks like? Oh, the joys of motherhood! God yes, give me a dozen of them! O Lord, I am the portal for all your followers! Destroy my body so the little children can play!’

The adults just stand there, frozen. Lydia takes a deep breath, her mouth a great black O in the middle of her red face. There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

‘Mummy?’ Etta asks, next to the sliding doors.

Bas turns around, picks her up and takes her into the hall. They hear the little girl ask if mummy is angry with her.

Sip has taken two steps backwards. Astrid wants to go to Lydia around the table, but Sip raises a hand.

‘She’s going to choke,’ Astrid cries.

‘Huh,’ says Lydia.

Her body suddenly seems to relax. Her hands release their grip on the tablecloth. Lydia takes one unsteady step, then another, then she sinks, more by luck than by design, onto her chair.

Astrid comes over to her and lays a hand on her forehead. ‘Get some water,’ she says, using a napkin to wipe the sweat from Lydia’s forehead. The red streaks on her face and neck are already fading. She looks as if she’s just given birth, Astrid thinks.

‘There you are,’ she says when Lydia’s eyes find hers. ‘Better?’

‘My stomach hurts,’ says Lydia. ‘And my throat. As if I’ve been screaming.’

Sip holds out a glass of water. Astrid holds it to her mouth. Etta comes in on her father’s arm. Bas sets his daughter down on Sip’s chair and puts his hand on his wife’s head.

‘Feeling better, darling?’

‘Why is everyone talking to me as if I’m a child? What happened?’

Bessie wakes up. Only Etta sees how a thin string of dark-coloured material runs from Bessie’s mouth over her chin, down her bib. Calmly, as if she’s done it many times before, Etta cleans her sister’s lips and chin.

Etta, will you help me set the table?’ he asks.

The child is lying on her tummy, a colouring book on the floor in front of her. She has almost completely covered a picture of a puppy with thick red stripes. She ignores him.

While he sets the table, Lydia assembles a children’s high chair. When she asks if she’s coming to eat, Etta gets up straight away, pulls out a chair and sits down, holding her knife and fork ceremonially aloft. Sip forces a smile and says she’ll have to wait a bit longer, attracting another pointed look from Lydia. As he passes Bas between the sliding doors he tries to catch his eye, hoping for some sympathy for being in Lydia’s black book. Bas doesn’t see it: he’s carrying the sleeping toddler, his face set in a frown of concentration.

Evening comes. Sip switches on the lights. Etta softly sings a song, using her cutlery as accompaniment. Bessie is still sleeping. Bubbles of saliva in the corner of her mouth grow and shrink with the rhythm of her breathing. Astrid sets the dishes on the table. She has made a selection of different plates, a kind of tapas, a taster platter. Each plate is accompanied by an appetising text. Sip feels a deep tenderness at her barely suppressed pride. He opens a bottle of wine, gets the glasses and asks who’d like some.

Astrid sets down the last plate on the table and takes her seat. ‘I’ll have a glass.’

‘What. Is. This!

All sound, all movement ceases. Everyone looks at Lydia.

Lydia looks at Astrid.

‘Stuffed peppers,’ says Astrid, cautiously.

Bloody hell!

Without taking her eyes off Astrid, she takes one of the red peppers from the plate and squeezes. The filling squirts out. A mixture of shiny oil, manchego and onion oozes over her fingers, spatters the sleeve of her shirt, drips onto the tablecloth. She hurls the pepper against the wall by the bookshelves, where it sticks. Everyone watches and waits until the pulverised vegetable peels away and falls with a wet splash onto the floor.

Astrid starts up from the table. ‘Lydia, what’s wrong with you?’

Lydia’s face is contorted and red. A parody of anger. Her fingertips are wedged in the tablecloth. Etta, frozen, looks at her mother, her cutlery held tightly in her little fists. Her lower lip begins to tremble. Bessie blows bubbles in her sleep.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she hisses. ‘I’ll do you a mischief, I mean it.’

Astrid looks at the men, tears in her eyes. ‘What’s going on?’

Bas takes a deep draught of his wine. ‘Maybe we should…’

‘Mummy, why are you cross?’ asks Etta tearfully.

‘You can’t feed this to children, Astrid. Stuffed peppers.’ Her laugh is nothing more than a whistling indrawn breath. ‘What are you trying to say? That you have time to spend in the kitchen? That you and your husband have got such a great life here with no children?’

Astrid starts to cry. ‘Lydia…’

‘Don’t you “Lydia” me. You think I’ve got a good life? With two of those little pests in the house?’

Bas gets up. ‘Okay, maybe we should go. Sweetie, go and get your toys, okay?’

Lydia doesn’t seem to notice. She is totally focused on Astrid. Sip is halfway to his feet, next to Lydia; he has one hand on the back of his chair, the other on the table. Etta carefully pushes her chair back and tiptoes with measured steps into the living room. Bessie’s head nods from left to right, her closed eyes focused on her mother. Who now gets up from the table.

‘It was his idea, not mine. I should have kicked him out of the fucking bed! Do you know what my belly looks like nowadays? Want to see the scars? What my cunt looks like? Oh, the joys of motherhood! God yes, give me a dozen of them! O Lord, I am the portal for all your followers! Destroy my body so the little children can play!’

The adults just stand there, frozen. Lydia takes a deep breath, her mouth a great black O in the middle of her red face. There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

‘Mummy?’ Etta asks, next to the sliding doors.

Bas turns around, picks her up and takes her into the hall. They hear the little girl ask if mummy is angry with her.

Sip has taken two steps backwards. Astrid wants to go to Lydia around the table, but Sip raises a hand.

‘She’s going to choke,’ Astrid cries.

‘Huh,’ says Lydia.

Her body suddenly seems to relax. Her hands release their grip on the tablecloth. Lydia takes one unsteady step, then another, then she sinks, more by luck than by design, onto her chair.

Astrid comes over to her and lays a hand on her forehead. ‘Get some water,’ she says, using a napkin to wipe the sweat from Lydia’s forehead. The red streaks on her face and neck are already fading. She looks as if she’s just given birth, Astrid thinks.

‘There you are,’ she says when Lydia’s eyes find hers. ‘Better?’

‘My stomach hurts,’ says Lydia. ‘And my throat. As if I’ve been screaming.’

Sip holds out a glass of water. Astrid holds it to her mouth. Etta comes in on her father’s arm. Bas sets his daughter down on Sip’s chair and puts his hand on his wife’s head.

‘Feeling better, darling?’

‘Why is everyone talking to me as if I’m a child? What happened?’

Bessie wakes up. Only Etta sees how a thin string of dark-coloured material runs from Bessie’s mouth over her chin, down her bib. Calmly, as if she’s done it many times before, Etta cleans her sister’s lips and chin.

There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk.
She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over;
a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

There is a sound like a deep drill. Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table. The bottle of wine tips over; a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

There is a sound like a deep drill.
Then her upper body begins to shake and jerk. She leans on the table.
The bottle of wine tips over;
a red fan spreads across a plate of spicy sausages.

The departure, a quarter of an hour later, is chaotically. All the corners of the room are checked for toys. Once everything is packed up, the bags have to be checked. Lydia is in the hall with her coat on, Bessie on her arm. Bas says goodbye to Astrid and Sip. Etta’s hand is in his, and there’s a vague smile on her lips.

‘We’ll try this again,’ he says in a low tone. ‘When everyone’s settled down a bit.’

Sip closes his eyes and nods reassuringly. ‘No worries.’

Astrid smiles, her mouth closed. Her eyes are still red.

A little later, they are alone in the living room. Host and hostess look at each other for some time in silence.

‘What was that?’ Astrid asks again.

Sip opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She says, ‘I fancy another glass of wine. You?’

‘That sounds like a fantastic plan.’

He tries to maintain a light tone. She takes two glasses from the table and takes them into the kitchen, the empty bottle of wine under her arm.

Sip closes his eyes.

He only realises she’s back with him when she says his name.

‘Is it so hard for you to wipe your feet?’

‘What?’

‘What? You were the last one to go out to the shed. There’s a mat by the back door. Use it.’

He heaves himself into a more upright position. ‘Sorry, love, what are you talking about?’

She balls her hands into fists and thrusts them out in front of her. As she speaks, the volume rises until she’s screaming so loud that it makes him want to hide in a corner. The tendons in her neck are standing out so far under the skin that he’s afraid her head is suddenly going to fly off her torso. 

‘There’s a mountain of dirt in the hall, Sip. But no one saw it, of course. Jesus. I mean, how hard can it be? And there’s Lydia saying we’ve got it so easy. She should come and live here for a week. Bloody hell. I can’t believe you sometimes. No children. Know what I think? You don’t want a wife, you want a mother. You just want to be a bloody child. That’s what I think. It’s like I’m living with a bloody child. With a stupid, lazy, thoughtless child!’

The departure, a quarter of an hour later, is chaotically. All the corners of the room are checked for toys. Once everything is packed up, the bags have to be checked. Lydia is in the hall with her coat on, Bessie on her arm. Bas says goodbye to Astrid and Sip. Etta’s hand is in his, and there’s a vague smile on her lips.

‘We’ll try this again,’ he says in a low tone. ‘When everyone’s settled down a bit.’

Sip closes his eyes and nods reassuringly. ‘No worries.’

Astrid smiles, her mouth closed. Her eyes are still red.

A little later, they are alone in the living room. Host and hostess look at each other for some time in silence.

‘What was that?’ Astrid asks again.

Sip opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She says, ‘I fancy another glass of wine. You?’

‘That sounds like a fantastic plan.’

He tries to maintain a light tone. She takes two glasses from the table and takes them into the kitchen, the empty bottle of wine under her arm.

Sip closes his eyes.

He only realises she’s back with him when she says his name.

‘Is it so hard for you to wipe your feet?’

‘What?’

‘What? You were the last one to go out to the shed. There’s a mat by the back door. Use it.’

He heaves himself into a more upright position. ‘Sorry, love, what are you talking about?’

She balls her hands into fists and thrusts them out in front of her. As she speaks, the volume rises until she’s screaming so loud that it makes him want to hide in a corner. The tendons in her neck are standing out so far under the skin that he’s afraid her head is suddenly going to fly off her torso.

‘There’s a mountain of dirt in the hall, Sip. But no one saw it, of course. Jesus. I mean, how hard can it be? And there’s Lydia saying we’ve got it so easy. She should come and live here for a week. Bloody hell. I can’t believe you sometimes.
No children. Know what I think? You don’t want a wife, you want a mother. You just want to be a bloody child. That’s what I think. It’s like I’m living with a bloody child. With a stupid, lazy, thoughtless child!’

The departure, a quarter of an hour later, is chaotically. All the corners of the room are checked for toys. Once everything is packed up, the bags have to be checked. Lydia is in the hall with her coat on, Bessie on her arm. Bas says goodbye to Astrid and Sip. Etta’s hand is in his, and there’s a vague smile on her lips.

‘We’ll try this again,’ he says in a low tone. ‘When everyone’s settled down a bit.’

Sip closes his eyes and nods reassuringly. ‘No worries.’

Astrid smiles, her mouth closed. Her eyes are still red.

A little later, they are alone in the living room. Host and hostess look at each other for some time in silence.

‘What was that?’ Astrid asks again.

Sip opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She says, ‘I fancy another glass of wine. You?’

‘That sounds like a fantastic plan.’

He tries to maintain a light tone. She takes two glasses from the table and takes them into the kitchen, the empty bottle of wine under her arm.

Sip closes his eyes.

He only realises she’s back with him when she says his name.

‘Is it so hard for you to wipe your feet?’

‘What?’

‘What? You were the last one to go out to the shed. There’s a mat by the back door. Use it.’

He heaves himself into a more upright position. ‘Sorry, love, what are you talking about?’

She balls her hands into fists and thrusts them out in front of her. As she speaks, the volume rises until she’s screaming so loud that it makes him want to hide in a corner. The tendons in her neck are standing out so far under the skin that he’s afraid her head is suddenly going to fly off her torso.

‘There’s a mountain of dirt in the hall, Sip. But no one saw it, of course. Jesus. I mean, how hard can it be? And there’s Lydia saying we’ve got it so easy. She should come and live here for a week. Bloody hell. I can’t believe you sometimes. No children. Know what I think? You don’t want a wife, you want a mother. You just want to be a bloody child. That’s what I think. It’s like I’m living with a bloody child. With a stupid, lazy, thoughtless child!’

The departure, a quarter of an hour later, is chaotically. All the corners of the room are checked for toys. Once everything is packed up, the bags have to be checked. Lydia is in the hall with her coat on, Bessie on her arm. Bas says goodbye to Astrid and Sip. Etta’s hand is in his, and there’s a vague smile on her lips.

‘We’ll try this again,’ he says in a low tone. ‘When everyone’s settled down a bit.’

Sip closes his eyes and nods reassuringly. ‘No worries.’

Astrid smiles, her mouth closed. Her eyes are still red.

A little later, they are alone in the living room. Host and hostess look at each other for some time in silence.

‘What was that?’ Astrid asks again.

Sip opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She says, ‘I fancy another glass of wine. You?’

‘That sounds like a fantastic plan.’

He tries to maintain a light tone. She takes two glasses from the table and takes them into the kitchen, the empty bottle of wine under her arm.

Sip closes his eyes.

He only realises she’s back with him when she says his name.

‘Is it so hard for you to wipe your feet?’

‘What?’

‘What? You were the last one to go out to the shed. There’s a mat by the back door. Use it.’

He heaves himself into a more upright position. ‘Sorry, love, what are you talking about?’

She balls her hands into fists and thrusts them out in front of her. As she speaks, the volume rises until she’s screaming so loud that it makes him want to hide in a corner. The tendons in her neck are standing out so far under the skin that he’s afraid her head is suddenly going to fly off her torso.

‘There’s a mountain of dirt in the hall, Sip. But no one saw it, of course. Jesus. I mean, how hard can it be? And there’s Lydia saying we’ve got it so easy. She should come and live here for a week. Bloody hell. I can’t believe you sometimes. No children. Know what I think? You don’t want a wife, you want a mother. You just want to be a bloody child. That’s what I think. It’s like I’m living with a bloody child. With a stupid, lazy, thoughtless child!’

The departure, a quarter of an hour later, is chaotically. All the corners of the room are checked for toys. Once everything is packed up, the bags have to be checked. Lydia is in the hall with her coat on, Bessie on her arm. Bas says goodbye to Astrid and Sip. Etta’s hand is in his, and there’s a vague smile on her lips.

‘We’ll try this again,’ he says in a low tone. ‘When everyone’s settled down a bit.’

Sip closes his eyes and nods reassuringly. ‘No worries.’

Astrid smiles, her mouth closed. Her eyes are still red.

A little later, they are alone in the living room. Host and hostess look at each other for some time in silence.

‘What was that?’ Astrid asks again.

Sip opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She says, ‘I fancy another glass of wine. You?’

‘That sounds like a fantastic plan.’

He tries to maintain a light tone. She takes two glasses from the table and takes them into the kitchen, the empty bottle of wine under her arm.

Sip closes his eyes.

He only realises she’s back with him when she says his name.

‘Is it so hard for you to wipe your feet?’

‘What?’

‘What? You were the last one to go out to the shed. There’s a mat by the back door. Use it.’

He heaves himself into a more upright position. ‘Sorry, love, what are you talking about?’

She balls her hands into fists and thrusts them out in front of her. As she speaks, the volume rises until she’s screaming so loud that it makes him want to hide in a corner. The tendons in her neck are standing out so far under the skin that he’s afraid her head is suddenly going to fly off her torso.

‘There’s a mountain of dirt in the hall, Sip. But no one saw it, of course. Jesus. I mean, how hard can it be? And there’s Lydia saying we’ve got it so easy. She should come and live here for a week. Bloody hell. I can’t believe you sometimes. No children. Know what I think? You don’t want a wife, you want a mother. You just want to be a bloody child. That’s what I think. It’s like I’m living with a bloody child. With a stupid, lazy, thoughtless child!’

Bertram-Koeleman

BERTRAM KOELEMAN

Bertram Koeleman (1979) is a bookseller and writer. He debuted in 2013 with the novel De huisvriend, which was on the shortlist of the Anton Wachter Prize for best debut. His short story collection Engels voor leugens came out in 2016, and was nominated for the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for best short stories.

Photo: Jelmer de Haas

BERTRAM KOELEMAN

Bertram Koeleman (1979) is a bookseller and writer. He debuted in 2013 with the novel De huisvriend, which was on the shortlist of the Anton Wachter Prize for best debut. His short story collection Engels voor leugens came out in 2016, and was nominated for the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for best short stories.

Photo: Jelmer de Haas

 

This literary magazine for Grounded SF from
the Netherlands and Flanders is published twice
a year by Lebowski Publishers.
© Lebowski Publishers  |  Amsterdam

For international rights please contact:
Oscar van GelderenTracy Fisher, Jill Gillett or Sylvie Rabineau

This literary magazine for Grounded SF from
the Netherlands and Flanders is published twice
a year by Lebowski Publishers.

© Lebowski Publishers  |  Amsterdam


For international rights please contact:
Oscar van GelderenTracy Fisher , Jill Gillet
or Sylvie Rabineau

This literary magazine for Grounded SF from the Netherlands and Flanders is published twice a year by Lebowski Publishers.

© Lebowski Publishers  |  Amsterdam



For international rights please contact: Oscar van GelderenTracy Fisher, Jill Gillet or Sylvie Rabineau

© 2019 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele 

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen,
Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2019 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2019 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2018 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen,
Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras,
Joost Vandecasteele


© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich, Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett,
Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

© 2018 Simone Atangana Bekono, Hanna Bervoets, Willem Bosch, Joost Devriesere, Rob van Essen, Jerry Goossens, Gina Hay, Bertram Koeleman, Roderick Leeuwenhart, Erik Nieuwenhuis, PJ Pancras, Joost Vandecasteele

© TRANSLATIONS Anne Chadwick Wendrich,
Jai van Essen, Paul Evans, Antoinette Fawcett, Kristen Gehrman, Suzanne Jansen, Thijs van Nimwegen, Jonathan Reeder, Sarah Welling, Joni Zwart

EDITORS Oscar van Gelderen, 
Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design

EDITORS Oscar van Gelderen, 
Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN
 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design

EDITORS 
Oscar van Gelderen, 
Jasper Henderson, 
Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman | uncanny.design

EDITORS 
Oscar van Gelderen, Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design

EDITORS 
Oscar van Gelderen, Jasper Henderson, Maaike Pleging

DESIGN 
Bart Heideman  |  uncanny.design