The Most Difficult
Houseguest In Ages

The
Most Difficult
Houseguest
In Ages

The
Most Difficult
Houseguest
In Ages

The Most Difficult
Houseguest In Ages

The Most Difficult
Houseguest In Ages

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

Rob van Essen

PITCH

A mysterious stranger who weasels his way into a couple’s life turns out to be the most difficult houseguest in ages, keeping them awake at night and even lying in bed with them, crying. Later he writes them a letter that explains it all: he was a time traveler.

Grounded SF

Translated by: Jai van Essen

‘He was a time traveler,’ Axel says.

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Our houseguest.’

‘You mean the most difficult houseguest in ages?’

‘Yeah, that one,’ Axel says, flapping a piece of paper in his hand. ‘He wrote us a letter explaining it all. Shall I read it to you?’

‘He was a time traveler,’ Axel says.

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Our houseguest.’

‘You mean the most difficult houseguest in ages?’

‘Yeah, that one,’ Axel says, flapping a piece of paper in his hand. ‘He wrote us a letter explaining it all. Shall I read it to you?’

‘He was a time traveler,’ Axel says.

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Our houseguest.’

‘You mean the most difficult houseguest in ages?’

‘Yeah, that one,’ Axel says, flapping a piece of paper in his hand. ‘He wrote us a letter explaining it all. Shall I read it to you?’

‘He was a time traveler,’ Axel says.

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Our houseguest.’

‘You mean the most difficult houseguest in ages?’

‘Yeah, that one,’ Axel says, flapping a piece of paper in his hand. ‘He wrote us a letter explaining it all. Shall I read it to you?’

‘He was a time traveler,’ Axel says.

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Our houseguest.’

‘You mean the most difficult houseguest
in ages?’

‘Yeah, that one,’ Axel says, flapping a piece of paper in his hand. ‘He wrote us a letter explaining it all. Shall I read it to you?’

'Wait a second.’ I sit down opposite him on the chair we once bought at Van Beek: a Gispen, designed by Gerrit Rietveld’s son. It had been our guest’s favourite chair. ‘A time traveler?

‘That’s what he wrote.’

‘Did he write anything else?’

‘Come on Miranda, he tells us he’s a time traveler and you’re asking if he wrote anything else? What else should he write about, the weather? What the food was like at our place? Isn’t it enough that he…’

‘I mean does he explain where he got that idea?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says, ‘he does.’

_______________

It was around three o’clock and I’d just got back from work. Business had been slow at the gallery, so I’d closed early. He was sitting on the step by the front door. I almost missed him, as I always go round the back. He looked young. Twenty, twenty-five at the most.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ I asked upon entering the front yard. I laughed a little, and so did he. He looked harmless: blond, good teeth, well-dressed, calm, as if he’d agreed to meet me there. Sometimes you run into someone and you feel like you’ve seen them before, even though you know that isn’t the case. He was one of those people.

‘I’ve come for the room,’ he said, without getting up.

‘We don’t rent out rooms,’ I said.

‘Even so, you seem to have more than you need.’ He nimbly rose to his feet, leaving a small purple satchel where he’d been sitting. ‘I’m Eric,’ he said. ‘A man on a mission.’
I shook his hand. ‘And this mission is to find a room?’

‘Exactly,’ he said, laughing. ‘Or else a glass of water.’

This is how they weasel their way in, I thought. Everyone knows that. ‘I certainly have a glass of water for you,’ I said, ‘but I’m not letting you in. Come with me round the back.’

He picked up his purple satchel and followed me. I pointed him towards one of the recliners on the terrace. I even got out the cushions from the garden shed and tossed them in his direction. ‘Make yourself comfortable,’ I said, ‘I’ll get something to drink.’

I entered the code, slid open the door, and entered the kitchen. Of course, he could have just followed me in, but he didn’t. He’d laid out the cushions on the chair and had lain down. ‘Can I get you a beer?’ I called. He lazily raised his hand and answered, ‘Do you maybe have a soda instead?’

I put a coke and a gin-tonic on the table and lay down on the other chair, the cushions were already there. ‘Did you just go get these?’ I asked. ‘You are fast.’

‘Yeah, I figured you’d come sit with me.’

‘My husband will be back later,’ I said. It sounded like a line someone else had written for me in some other world, an old world, a comedy from the previous century.

‘And he’s in charge of the rooms?’

I laughed. ‘There aren’t any rooms, didn’t I tell you that already?’

He gazed at the swimming pool. ‘Care to take a dip?’ I asked, and without waiting for him to answer I went inside to get a towel and a pair of Axel’s swimming trunks. If he’d swim, I wouldn’t have to talk to him; I’d rather look at him. The swimming trunks fit perfectly. Unabashedly, he got changed right in front of me before diving into the water.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. The sunlight filtered through the poplars in the park behind the garden. The young man – I’d forgotten his name – was swimming laps like he’d been doing this his whole life.

_______________


‘Is it a long letter?’ I ask. ‘Otherwise, I’ll make some coffee first.’

‘Just stay where you are,’ Axel says, ‘you’re going to need something stronger after this. Can I begin?’

‘Yes, go ahead,’ I say. ‘So where did you find this letter?’

‘It was with the mail,’ Axel says.

‘He mailed it? After he disappeared?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Axel says, ‘but you’ll understand soon enough. It’s probably the letter he was writing in the park.’

_______________

He got out, dripping wet, dried himself off and lay down. We had another drink, after which he lowered himself into the water again, slowly this time. He swam at a more leisurely pace, as if the first time had been an impetuous initiation, and now he was just casually using the available facilities. I looked at him; he was a handsome young man.

Axel returned from work and came around the back. ‘I see we’ve got company.’ Axel and his briefcase. I’d once spray-painted it pink. He’d even taken it to work, but they hadn’t been amused at the office, so he’d bought another one. ‘What ever happened to that pink briefcase?’ I asked. ‘I threw it away,’ Axel said. ‘Who’s our guest?’

‘That’s Eric,’ I said, suddenly recalling his name again. I hoped it was correct. ‘He just turned up at our door. He told me he came here for a room. Do you know anything about a room?’

‘No, do you think I’d hang up notes at the grocery store without telling you? He’s a good swimmer.’

Eric got out of the water, walked up to Axel with dripping wet feet and shook his hand. ‘Eric. Nice pool you guys have.’

‘Thank you,’ said Axel. ‘Good to see you’re using it right away. Good for the water, too, that it’s used for a change.’

I’d actually expected Axel to know him from somewhere, and that our visitor had only pretended to be looking for a room to amuse himself, but Axel clearly had no idea either. ‘I hear you came for the room. Where’d you get this idea that we have rooms to rent?’

Eric dried himself off and put on his shirt. ‘You hear things sometimes.’

‘Yes, I’m sure you do,’ Axel said. Maybe renting out rooms isn’t such a bad idea, I thought to myself. A mild-mannered student. Or a not-so-mild-mannered one.

The three of us had another drink. Eric stuck to soda while Axel and I opened a bottle. The sun was setting below the poplars in the park. We went inside when it started to cool down. It only made sense that he stayed for dinner. We opened a second bottle. Eric stuck to mineral water, so Axel and I polished off the bottle together. I can’t recall what we talked about all that time. Not Eric, I think, as we didn’t learn much more about him. After dinner, we sat down to watch a movie with us on the sofa and him on the son-of-Rietveld chair. Death Wish IV. At the time, Axel was in his Death Wish phase, and I’d watch along with him. They’re engaging movies, and Charles Bronson reminded me a little of my father. Well, his name did anyway, as my father’s name was Charley. We didn’t pay much attention to what was happening. It’s not the kind of movie where you need be on the edge of your seat, fully concentrated, in order to follow the plot, so when Eric at last had a glass of wine as well, we talked some more, which was easy enough. Eric told us he had all kinds of things to do in the city. So then how did he end up at our place, who told him about the room? ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I have an eye for good people. By the way, I have had something to do with you two before.’ Is that right, when was that? He wouldn’t say. It would be far too easy if he just told us right there. If we didn’t know, we’d just have to guess. Long after the movie had ended, we sat there taking turns guessing, wrong every time, but we had a lot of laughs, like we’d known each other for years.

‘Maybe he’s a customer from your gallery,’ Axel said as we lay in bed. Eric was in the guest room. It wouldn’t have felt right to see him off this late at night, plus you could tell he’d had two glasses of wine. He didn’t seem to handle alcohol well. ‘Someone you can’t remember bought something from you. But he remembers you, and can you blame him?’

‘Yeah, right. Why couldn’t he be one of your clients at the office? Someone you screwed over sometime and don’t remember, even if he still remembers exactly who you are.’

‘That could be anyone,’ Axel said.

When I came out the bathroom, I’d knocked on Eric’s door to check if everything was all right and if he needed anything. He’d answered everything was fine. ‘If you have trouble sleeping, feel free to grab a book from the shelf downstairs!’ I’d said, which had sounded rather dull.

‘He’s a serial killer, of course,’ Axel said, ‘he’s got to be. Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘Or he’ll tie you up and rape me, and then make you watch,’ I said.

‘Yeah, he was just talking about that,’ Axel said, ‘he asked if I had a piece of rope for him.’

This is how easy it is to weasel your way into someone’s life, I thought. You just look for a couple who are up for it. Had we strayed so far away from ourselves, were we so bored with our everyday lives that we would willingly invite a killer into our home? I didn’t say any of this to Axel. I prefer to keep melancholy thoughts to myself. ‘And,’ I said, ‘did you give him the rope?’

‘I told him we needed it ourselves tonight,’ Axel said and pulled me close.

‘Does this turn you on?’ I asked. ‘With someone sleeping in the guest room?’

‘Yeah,’ he said, but he couldn’t get it up, maybe also because of the wine.

‘I can tell,’ I said.

‘Jesus woman, then why don’t you do something about it!’ he yelled, as if his failure to get an erection was my responsibility. He suddenly raised his head. ‘What’s that I hear?’

‘He’s snoring,’ I said.

‘How is it we can hear that?’ Axel said. ‘The guest room is at the other end of the hallway.’

‘I know where the guest room is,’ I said. ‘Apparently, he snores really loud.’

‘You’ve got to be joking,’ Axel said. ‘Where are my earplugs?’ He leaned to the side and opened the top drawer of the night stand. I knew where they were, and as I watched him rummage around I told myself: Warm, warmer, cold, ice-cold, warm… We both jumped when we heard a curious racket coming from the hallway. Dull thumps, bells jingling. Axel leapt out of bed to see what was going on.

‘What was it’ I asked when he returned.

‘A tambourine,’ Axel said, still dumbfounded. ‘He was walking through the hallway with a tambourine, and he was beating it really hard, like he was angry with the thing. I think he’s a sleepwalker. I took him by the arm and led him back to his room, and he got back into bed.’

‘Where did he get a tambourine? We don’t own a tambourine.’

‘He must have brought it with him,’ Axel said. ‘In that satchel of his. Hell if I know.’

‘So no serial killer,’ I said.

‘No, I don’t think so either,’ Axel said. ‘But already the most difficult houseguest in ages.’

We both laughed, nervously.

'Wait a second.’ I sit down opposite him on the chair we once bought at Van Beek: a Gispen, designed by Gerrit Rietveld’s son. It had been our guest’s favourite chair. ‘A time traveler?

‘That’s what he wrote.’

‘Did he write anything else?’

‘Come on Miranda, he tells us he’s a time traveler and you’re asking if he wrote anything else? What else should he write about, the weather? What the food was like at our place? Isn’t it enough that he…’

‘I mean does he explain where he got that idea?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says, ‘he does.’
 

_______________


It was around three o’clock and I’d just got back from work. Business had been slow at the gallery, so I’d closed early. He was sitting on the step by the front door. I almost missed him, as I always go round the back. He looked young. Twenty, twenty-five at the most.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ I asked upon entering the front yard. I laughed a little, and so did he. He looked harmless: blond, good teeth, well-dressed, calm, as if he’d agreed to meet me there. Sometimes you run into someone and you feel like you’ve seen them before, even though you know that isn’t the case. He was one of those people.

‘I’ve come for the room,’ he said, without getting up.

‘We don’t rent out rooms,’ I said.

‘Even so, you seem to have more than you need.’ He nimbly rose to his feet, leaving a small purple satchel where he’d been sitting. ‘I’m Eric,’ he said. ‘A man on a mission.’
I shook his hand. ‘And this mission is to find a room?’

‘Exactly,’ he said, laughing. ‘Or else a glass of water.’

This is how they weasel their way in, I thought. Everyone knows that. ‘I certainly have a glass of water for you,’ I said, ‘but I’m not letting you in. Come with me round the back.’

He picked up his purple satchel and followed me. I pointed him towards one of the recliners on the terrace. I even got out the cushions from the garden shed and tossed them in his direction. ‘Make yourself comfortable,’ I said, ‘I’ll get something to drink.’

I entered the code, slid open the door, and entered the kitchen. Of course, he could have just followed me in, but he didn’t. He’d laid out the cushions on the chair and had lain down. ‘Can I get you a beer?’ I called. He lazily raised his hand and answered, ‘Do you maybe have a soda instead?’

I put a coke and a gin-tonic on the table and lay down on the other chair, the cushions were already there. ‘Did you just go get these?’ I asked. ‘You are fast.’

‘Yeah, I figured you’d come sit with me.’

‘My husband will be back later,’ I said. It sounded like a line someone else had written for me in some other world, an old world, a comedy from the previous century.

‘And he’s in charge of the rooms?’

I laughed. ‘There aren’t any rooms, didn’t I tell you that already?’

He gazed at the swimming pool. ‘Care to take a dip?’ I asked, and without waiting for him to answer I went inside to get a towel and a pair of Axel’s swimming trunks. If he’d swim, I wouldn’t have to talk to him; I’d rather look at him. The swimming trunks fit perfectly. Unabashedly, he got changed right in front of me before diving into the water.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. The sunlight filtered through the poplars in the park behind the garden. The young man – I’d forgotten his name – was swimming laps like he’d been doing this his whole life.

_______________


‘Is it a long letter?’ I ask. ‘Otherwise, I’ll make some coffee first.’

‘Just stay where you are,’ Axel says, ‘you’re going to need something stronger after this. Can I begin?’

‘Yes, go ahead,’ I say. ‘So where did you find this letter?’

‘It was with the mail,’ Axel says.

‘He mailed it? After he disappeared?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Axel says, ‘but you’ll understand soon enough. It’s probably the letter he was writing in the park.’

_______________

 He got out, dripping wet, dried himself off and lay down. We had another drink, after which he lowered himself into the water again, slowly this time. He swam at a more leisurely pace, as if the first time had been an impetuous initiation, and now he was just casually using the available facilities. I looked at him; he was a handsome young man.

Axel returned from work and came around the back. ‘I see we’ve got company.’ Axel and his briefcase. I’d once spray-painted it pink. He’d even taken it to work, but they hadn’t been amused at the office, so he’d bought another one. ‘What ever happened to that pink briefcase?’ I asked. ‘I threw it away,’ Axel said. ‘Who’s our guest?’

‘That’s Eric,’ I said, suddenly recalling his name again. I hoped it was correct. ‘He just turned up at our door. He told me he came here for a room. Do you know anything about a room?’

‘No, do you think I’d hang up notes at the grocery store without telling you? He’s a good swimmer.’

Eric got out of the water, walked up to Axel with dripping wet feet and shook his hand. ‘Eric. Nice pool you guys have.’

‘Thank you,’ said Axel. ‘Good to see you’re using it right away. Good for the water, too, that it’s used for a change.’

I’d actually expected Axel to know him from somewhere, and that our visitor had only pretended to be looking for a room to amuse himself, but Axel clearly had no idea either. ‘I hear you came for the room. Where’d you get this idea that we have rooms to rent?’

Eric dried himself off and put on his shirt. ‘You hear things sometimes.’

‘Yes, I’m sure you do,’ Axel said. Maybe renting out rooms isn’t such a bad idea, I thought to myself. A mild-mannered student. Or a not-so-mild-mannered one.

The three of us had another drink. Eric stuck to soda while Axel and I opened a bottle. The sun was setting below the poplars in the park. We went inside when it started to cool down. It only made sense that he stayed for dinner. We opened a second bottle. Eric stuck to mineral water, so Axel and I polished off the bottle together. I can’t recall what we talked about all that time. Not Eric, I think, as we didn’t learn much more about him. After dinner, we sat down to watch a movie with us on the sofa and him on the son-of-Rietveld chair. Death Wish IV. At the time, Axel was in his Death Wish phase, and I’d watch along with him. They’re engaging movies, and Charles Bronson reminded me a little of my father. Well, his name did anyway, as my father’s name was Charley. We didn’t pay much attention to what was happening. It’s not the kind of movie where you need be on the edge of your seat, fully concentrated, in order to follow the plot, so when Eric at last had a glass of wine as well, we talked some more, which was easy enough. Eric told us he had all kinds of things to do in the city. So then how did he end up at our place, who told him about the room? ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I have an eye for good people. By the way, I have had something to do with you two before.’ Is that right, when was that? He wouldn’t say. It would be far too easy if he just told us right there. If we didn’t know, we’d just have to guess. Long after the movie had ended, we sat there taking turns guessing, wrong every time, but we had a lot of laughs, like we’d known each other for years.

‘Maybe he’s a customer from your gallery,’ Axel said as we lay in bed. Eric was in the guest room. It wouldn’t have felt right to see him off this late at night, plus you could tell he’d had two glasses of wine. He didn’t seem to handle alcohol well. ‘Someone you can’t remember bought something from you. But he remembers you, and can you blame him?’

‘Yeah, right. Why couldn’t he be one of your clients at the office? Someone you screwed over sometime and don’t remember, even if he still remembers exactly who you are.’

‘That could be anyone,’ Axel said.

When I came out the bathroom, I’d knocked on Eric’s door to check if everything was all right and if he needed anything. He’d answered everything was fine. ‘If you have trouble sleeping, feel free to grab a book from the shelf downstairs!’ I’d said, which had sounded rather dull.

‘He’s a serial killer, of course,’ Axel said, ‘he’s got to be. Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘Or he’ll tie you up and rape me, and then make you watch,’ I said.

‘Yeah, he was just talking about that,’ Axel said, ‘he asked if I had a piece of rope for him.’

This is how easy it is to weasel your way into someone’s life, I thought. You just look for a couple who are up for it. Had we strayed so far away from ourselves, were we so bored with our everyday lives that we would willingly invite a killer into our home? I didn’t say any of this to Axel. I prefer to keep melancholy thoughts to myself. ‘And,’ I said, ‘did you give him the rope?’

‘I told him we needed it ourselves tonight,’ Axel said and pulled me close.

‘Does this turn you on?’ I asked. ‘With someone sleeping in the guest room?’

‘Yeah,’ he said, but he couldn’t get it up, maybe also because of the wine.

‘I can tell,’ I said.

‘Jesus woman, then why don’t you do something about it!’ he yelled, as if his failure to get an erection was my responsibility. He suddenly raised his head. ‘What’s that I hear?’

‘He’s snoring,’ I said.

‘How is it we can hear that?’ Axel said. ‘The guest room is at the other end of the hallway.’

‘I know where the guest room is,’ I said. ‘Apparently, he snores really loud.’

‘You’ve got to be joking,’ Axel said. ‘Where are my earplugs?’ He leaned to the side and opened the top drawer of the night stand. I knew where they were, and as I watched him rummage around I told myself: Warm, warmer, cold, ice-cold, warm… We both jumped when we heard a curious racket coming from the hallway. Dull thumps, bells jingling. Axel leapt out of bed to see what was going on.

‘What was it’ I asked when he returned.

‘A tambourine,’ Axel said, still dumbfounded. ‘He was walking through the hallway with a tambourine, and he was beating it really hard, like he was angry with the thing. I think he’s a sleepwalker. I took him by the arm and led him back to his room, and he got back into bed.’

‘Where did he get a tambourine? We don’t own a tambourine.’

‘He must have brought it with him,’ Axel said. ‘In that satchel of his. Hell if I know.’

‘So no serial killer,’ I said.

‘No, I don’t think so either,’ Axel said. ‘But already the most difficult houseguest in ages.’

We both laughed, nervously.

'Wait a second.’ I sit down opposite him on the chair we once bought at Van Beek: a Gispen, designed by Gerrit Rietveld’s son. It had been our guest’s favourite chair. ‘A time traveler?’

‘That’s what he wrote.’

‘Did he write anything else?’

‘Come on Miranda, he tells us he’s a time traveler and you’re asking if he wrote anything else? What else should he write about, the weather? What the food was like at our place? Isn’t it enough that he…’

‘I mean does he explain where he got that idea?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says, ‘he does.’

_______________

It was around three o’clock and I’d just got back from work. Business had been slow at the gallery, so I’d closed early. He was sitting on the step by the front door. I almost missed him, as I always go round the back. He looked young. Twenty, twenty-five at the most.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ I asked upon entering the front yard. I laughed a little, and so did he. He looked harmless: blond, good teeth, well-dressed, calm, as if he’d agreed to meet me there. Sometimes you run into someone and you feel like you’ve seen them before, even though you know that isn’t the case. He was one of those people.

‘I’ve come for the room,’ he said, without getting up.

‘We don’t rent out rooms,’ I said.

‘Even so, you seem to have more than you need.’ He nimbly rose to his feet, leaving a small purple satchel where he’d been sitting. ‘I’m Eric,’ he said. ‘A man on a mission.’
I shook his hand. ‘And this mission is to find a room?’

‘Exactly,’ he said, laughing. ‘Or else a glass of water.’

This is how they weasel their way in, I thought. Everyone knows that. ‘I certainly have a glass of water for you,’ I said, ‘but I’m not letting you in. Come with me round the back.’

He picked up his purple satchel and followed me. I pointed him towards one of the recliners on the terrace. I even got out the cushions from the garden shed and tossed them in his direction. ‘Make yourself comfortable,’ I said, ‘I’ll get something to drink.’

I entered the code, slid open the door, and entered the kitchen. Of course, he could have just followed me in, but he didn’t. He’d laid out the cushions on the chair and had lain down. ‘Can I get you a beer?’ I called. He lazily raised his hand and answered, ‘Do you maybe have a soda instead?’

I put a coke and a gin-tonic on the table and lay down on the other chair, the cushions were already there. ‘Did you just go get these?’ I asked. ‘You are fast.’

‘Yeah, I figured you’d come sit with me.’

‘My husband will be back later,’ I said. It sounded like a line someone else had written for me in some other world, an old world, a comedy from the previous century.

‘And he’s in charge of the rooms?’

I laughed. ‘There aren’t any rooms, didn’t I tell you that already?’

He gazed at the swimming pool. ‘Care to take a dip?’ I asked, and without waiting for him to answer I went inside to get a towel and a pair of Axel’s swimming trunks. If he’d swim, I wouldn’t have to talk to him; I’d rather look at him. The swimming trunks fit perfectly. Unabashedly, he got changed right in front of me before diving into the water.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. The sunlight filtered through the poplars in the park behind the garden. The young man – I’d forgotten his name – was swimming laps like he’d been doing this his whole life.

_______________


‘Is it a long letter?’ I ask. ‘Otherwise, I’ll make some coffee first.’

‘Just stay where you are,’ Axel says, ‘you’re going to need something stronger after this. Can I begin?’

‘Yes, go ahead,’ I say. ‘So where did you find this letter?’

‘It was with the mail,’ Axel says.

‘He mailed it? After he disappeared?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Axel says, ‘but you’ll understand soon enough. It’s probably the letter he was writing in the park.’

_______________

He got out, dripping wet, dried himself off and lay down. We had another drink, after which he lowered himself into the water again, slowly this time. He swam at a more leisurely pace, as if the first time had been an impetuous initiation, and now he was just casually using the available facilities. I looked at him; he was a handsome young man.

Axel returned from work and came around the back. ‘I see we’ve got company.’ Axel and his briefcase. I’d once spray-painted it pink. He’d even taken it to work, but they hadn’t been amused at the office, so he’d bought another one. ‘What ever happened to that pink briefcase?’ I asked. ‘I threw it away,’ Axel said. ‘Who’s our guest?’

‘That’s Eric,’ I said, suddenly recalling his name again. I hoped it was correct. ‘He just turned up at our door. He told me he came here for a room. Do you know anything about a room?’

‘No, do you think I’d hang up notes at the grocery store without telling you? He’s a good swimmer.’

Eric got out of the water, walked up to Axel with dripping wet feet and shook his hand. ‘Eric. Nice pool you guys have.’

‘Thank you,’ said Axel. ‘Good to see you’re using it right away. Good for the water, too, that it’s used for a change.’

I’d actually expected Axel to know him from somewhere, and that our visitor had only pretended to be looking for a room to amuse himself, but Axel clearly had no idea either. ‘I hear you came for the room. Where’d you get this idea that we have rooms to rent?’

Eric dried himself off and put on his shirt. ‘You hear things sometimes.’

‘Yes, I’m sure you do,’ Axel said. Maybe renting out rooms isn’t such a bad idea, I thought to myself. A mild-mannered student. Or a not-so-mild-mannered one.

The three of us had another drink. Eric stuck to soda while Axel and I opened a bottle. The sun was setting below the poplars in the park. We went inside when it started to cool down. It only made sense that he stayed for dinner. We opened a second bottle. Eric stuck to mineral water, so Axel and I polished off the bottle together. I can’t recall what we talked about all that time. Not Eric, I think, as we didn’t learn much more about him. After dinner, we sat down to watch a movie with us on the sofa and him on the son-of-Rietveld chair. Death Wish IV. At the time, Axel was in his Death Wish phase, and I’d watch along with him. They’re engaging movies, and Charles Bronson reminded me a little of my father. Well, his name did anyway, as my father’s name was Charley. We didn’t pay much attention to what was happening. It’s not the kind of movie where you need be on the edge of your seat, fully concentrated, in order to follow the plot, so when Eric at last had a glass of wine as well, we talked some more, which was easy enough. Eric told us he had all kinds of things to do in the city. So then how did he end up at our place, who told him about the room? ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I have an eye for good people. By the way, I have had something to do with you two before.’ Is that right, when was that? He wouldn’t say. It would be far too easy if he just told us right there. If we didn’t know, we’d just have to guess. Long after the movie had ended, we sat there taking turns guessing, wrong every time, but we had a lot of laughs, like we’d known each other for years.

‘Maybe he’s a customer from your gallery,’ Axel said as we lay in bed. Eric was in the guest room. It wouldn’t have felt right to see him off this late at night, plus you could tell he’d had two glasses of wine. He didn’t seem to handle alcohol well. ‘Someone you can’t remember bought something from you. But he remembers you, and can you blame him?’

‘Yeah, right. Why couldn’t he be one of your clients at the office? Someone you screwed over sometime and don’t remember, even if he still remembers exactly who you are.’

‘That could be anyone,’ Axel said.

When I came out the bathroom, I’d knocked on Eric’s door to check if everything was all right and if he needed anything. He’d answered everything was fine. ‘If you have trouble sleeping, feel free to grab a book from the shelf downstairs!’ I’d said, which had sounded rather dull.

‘He’s a serial killer, of course,’ Axel said, ‘he’s got to be. Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘Or he’ll tie you up and rape me, and then make you watch,’ I said.

‘Yeah, he was just talking about that,’ Axel said, ‘he asked if I had a piece of rope for him.’

This is how easy it is to weasel your way into someone’s life, I thought. You just look for a couple who are up for it. Had we strayed so far away from ourselves, were we so bored with our everyday lives that we would willingly invite a killer into our home? I didn’t say any of this to Axel. I prefer to keep melancholy thoughts to myself. ‘And,’ I said, ‘did you give him the rope?’

‘I told him we needed it ourselves tonight,’ Axel said and pulled me close.

‘Does this turn you on?’ I asked. ‘With someone sleeping in the guest room?’

‘Yeah,’ he said, but he couldn’t get it up, maybe also because of the wine.

‘I can tell,’ I said.

‘Jesus woman, then why don’t you do something about it!’ he yelled, as if his failure to get an erection was my responsibility. He suddenly raised his head. ‘What’s that I hear?’

‘He’s snoring,’ I said.

‘How is it we can hear that?’ Axel said. ‘The guest room is at the other end of the hallway.’

‘I know where the guest room is,’ I said. ‘Apparently, he snores really loud.’

‘You’ve got to be joking,’ Axel said. ‘Where are my earplugs?’ He leaned to the side and opened the top drawer of the night stand. I knew where they were, and as I watched him rummage around I told myself: Warm, warmer, cold, ice-cold, warm… We both jumped when we heard a curious racket coming from the hallway. Dull thumps, bells jingling. Axel leapt out of bed to see what was going on.

‘What was it’ I asked when he returned.

‘A tambourine,’ Axel said, still dumbfounded. ‘He was walking through the hallway with a tambourine, and he was beating it really hard, like he was angry with the thing. I think he’s a sleepwalker. I took him by the arm and led him back to his room, and he got back into bed.’

‘Where did he get a tambourine? We don’t own a tambourine.’

‘He must have brought it with him,’ Axel said. ‘In that satchel of his. Hell if I know.’

‘So no serial killer,’ I said.

‘No, I don’t think so either,’ Axel said. ‘But already the most difficult houseguest in ages.’

We both laughed, nervously.

'Wait a second.’ I sit down opposite him on the chair we once bought at Van Beek: a Gispen, designed by Gerrit Rietveld’s son. It had been our guest’s favourite chair. ‘A time traveler?

‘That’s what he wrote.’

‘Did he write anything else?’

‘Come on Miranda, he tells us he’s a time traveler and you’re asking if he wrote anything else?What else should he write about, the weather? What the food was like at our place? Isn’t it enough that he…’

‘I mean does he explain where he got that idea?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says, ‘he does.’
 

_______________


It was around three o’clock and I’d just got back from work. Business had been slow at the gallery, so I’d closed early. He was sitting on the step by the front door. I almost missed him, as I always go round the back. He looked young. Twenty, twenty-five at the most.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ I asked upon entering the front yard. I laughed a little, and so did he. He looked harmless: blond, good teeth, well-dressed, calm, as if he’d agreed to meet me there. Sometimes you run into someone and you feel like you’ve seen them before, even though you know that isn’t the case. He was one of those people.

‘I’ve come for the room,’ he said, without getting up.

‘We don’t rent out rooms,’ I said.

‘Even so, you seem to have more than you need.’ He nimbly rose to his feet, leaving a small purple satchel where he’d been sitting. ‘I’m Eric,’ he said. ‘A man on a mission.’
I shook his hand. ‘And this mission is to find a room?’

‘Exactly,’ he said, laughing. ‘Or else a glass of water.’

This is how they weasel their way in, I thought. Everyone knows that. ‘I certainly have a glass of water for you,’ I said, ‘but I’m not letting you in. Come with me round the back.’

He picked up his purple satchel and followed me. I pointed him towards one of the recliners on the terrace. I even got out the cushions from the garden shed and tossed them in his direction. ‘Make yourself comfortable,’ I said, ‘I’ll get something to drink.’

I entered the code, slid open the door, and entered the kitchen. Of course, he could have just followed me in, but he didn’t. He’d laid out the cushions on the chair and had lain down. ‘Can I get you a beer?’ I called. He lazily raised his hand and answered, ‘Do you maybe have a soda instead?’

I put a coke and a gin-tonic on the table and lay down on the other chair, the cushions were already there. ‘Did you just go get these?’ I asked. ‘You are fast.’

‘Yeah, I figured you’d come sit with me.’

‘My husband will be back later,’ I said. It sounded like a line someone else had written for me in some other world, an old world, a comedy from the previous century.

‘And he’s in charge of the rooms?’

I laughed. ‘There aren’t any rooms, didn’t I tell you that already?’

He gazed at the swimming pool. ‘Care to take a dip?’ I asked, and without waiting for him to answer I went inside to get a towel and a pair of Axel’s swimming trunks. If he’d swim, I wouldn’t have to talk to him; I’d rather look at him. The swimming trunks fit perfectly. Unabashedly, he got changed right in front of me before diving into the water.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. The sunlight filtered through the poplars in the park behind the garden. The young man – I’d forgotten his name – was swimming laps like he’d been doing this his whole life.

_______________


‘Is it a long letter?’ I ask. ‘Otherwise, I’ll make some coffee first.’

‘Just stay where you are,’ Axel says, ‘you’re going to need something stronger after this. Can I begin?’

‘Yes, go ahead,’ I say. ‘So where did you find this letter?’

‘It was with the mail,’ Axel says.

‘He mailed it? After he disappeared?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Axel says, ‘but you’ll understand soon enough. It’s probably the letter he was writing in the park.’

_______________

 He got out, dripping wet, dried himself off and lay down. We had another drink, after which he lowered himself into the water again, slowly this time. He swam at a more leisurely pace, as if the first time had been an impetuous initiation, and now he was just casually using the available facilities. I looked at him; he was a handsome young man.

Axel returned from work and came around the back. ‘I see we’ve got company.’ Axel and his briefcase. I’d once spray-painted it pink. He’d even taken it to work, but they hadn’t been amused at the office, so he’d bought another one. ‘What ever happened to that pink briefcase?’ I asked. ‘I threw it away,’ Axel said. ‘Who’s our guest?’

‘That’s Eric,’ I said, suddenly recalling his name again. I hoped it was correct. ‘He just turned up at our door. He told me he came here for a room. Do you know anything about a room?’

‘No, do you think I’d hang up notes at the grocery store without telling you? He’s a good swimmer.’

Eric got out of the water, walked up to Axel with dripping wet feet and shook his hand. ‘Eric. Nice pool you guys have.’

‘Thank you,’ said Axel. ‘Good to see you’re using it right away. Good for the water, too, that it’s used for a change.’

I’d actually expected Axel to know him from somewhere, and that our visitor had only pretended to be looking for a room to amuse himself, but Axel clearly had no idea either. ‘I hear you came for the room. Where’d you get this idea that we have rooms to rent?’

Eric dried himself off and put on his shirt. ‘You hear things sometimes.’

‘Yes, I’m sure you do,’ Axel said. Maybe renting out rooms isn’t such a bad idea, I thought to myself. A mild-mannered student. Or a not-so-mild-mannered one.

The three of us had another drink. Eric stuck to soda while Axel and I opened a bottle. The sun was setting below the poplars in the park. We went inside when it started to cool down. It only made sense that he stayed for dinner. We opened a second bottle. Eric stuck to mineral water, so Axel and I polished off the bottle together. I can’t recall what we talked about all that time. Not Eric, I think, as we didn’t learn much more about him. After dinner, we sat down to watch a movie with us on the sofa and him on the son-of-Rietveld chair. Death Wish IV. At the time, Axel was in his Death Wish phase, and I’d watch along with him. They’re engaging movies, and Charles Bronson reminded me a little of my father. Well, his name did anyway, as my father’s name was Charley. We didn’t pay much attention to what was happening. It’s not the kind of movie where you need be on the edge of your seat, fully concentrated, in order to follow the plot, so when Eric at last had a glass of wine as well, we talked some more, which was easy enough. Eric told us he had all kinds of things to do in the city. So then how did he end up at our place, who told him about the room? ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I have an eye for good people. By the way, I have had something to do with you two before.’ Is that right, when was that? He wouldn’t say. It would be far too easy if he just told us right there. If we didn’t know, we’d just have to guess. Long after the movie had ended, we sat there taking turns guessing, wrong every time, but we had a lot of laughs, like we’d known each other for years.

‘Maybe he’s a customer from your gallery,’ Axel said as we lay in bed. Eric was in the guest room. It wouldn’t have felt right to see him off this late at night, plus you could tell he’d had two glasses of wine. He didn’t seem to handle alcohol well. ‘Someone you can’t remember bought something from you. But he remembers you, and can you blame him?’

‘Yeah, right. Why couldn’t he be one of your clients at the office? Someone you screwed over sometime and don’t remember, even if he still remembers exactly who you are.’
‘That could be anyone,’ Axel said.

When I came out the bathroom, I’d knocked on Eric’s door to check if everything was all right and if he needed anything. He’d answered everything was fine. ‘If you have trouble sleeping, feel free to grab a book from the shelf downstairs!’ I’d said, which had sounded rather dull.

‘He’s a serial killer, of course,’ Axel said, ‘he’s got to be. Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘Or he’ll tie you up and rape me, and then make you watch,’ I said.

‘Yeah, he was just talking about that,’ Axel said, ‘he asked if I had a piece of rope for him.’

This is how easy it is to weasel your way into someone’s life, I thought. You just look for a couple who are up for it. Had we strayed so far away from ourselves, were we so bored with our everyday lives that we would willingly invite a killer into our home? I didn’t say any of this to Axel. I prefer to keep melancholy thoughts to myself. ‘And,’ I said, ‘did you give him the rope?’

‘I told him we needed it ourselves tonight,’ Axel said and pulled me close.

‘Does this turn you on?’ I asked. ‘With someone sleeping in the guest room?’

‘Yeah,’ he said, but he couldn’t get it up, maybe also because of the wine.

‘I can tell,’ I said.

‘Jesus woman, then why don’t you do something about it!’ he yelled, as if his failure to get an erection was my responsibility. He suddenly raised his head. ‘What’s that I hear?’

‘He’s snoring,’ I said.

‘How is it we can hear that?’ Axel said. ‘The guest room is at the other end of the hallway.’

‘I know where the guest room is,’ I said. ‘Apparently, he snores really loud.’

‘You’ve got to be joking,’ Axel said. ‘Where are my earplugs?’ He leaned to the side and opened the top drawer of the night stand. I knew where they were, and as I watched him rummage around I told myself: Warm, warmer, cold, ice-cold, warm… We both jumped when we heard a curious racket coming from the hallway. Dull thumps, bells jingling. Axel leapt out of bed to see what was going on.

‘What was it’ I asked when he returned.

‘A tambourine,’ Axel said, still dumbfounded. ‘He was walking through the hallway with a tambourine, and he was beating it really hard, like he was angry with the thing. I think he’s a sleepwalker. I took him by the arm and led him back to his room, and he got back into bed.’

‘Where did he get a tambourine? We don’t own a tambourine.’

‘He must have brought it with him,’ Axel said. ‘In that satchel of his. Hell if I know.’

‘So no serial killer,’ I said.

‘No, I don’t think so either,’ Axel said. ‘But already the most difficult houseguest in ages.’

We both laughed, nervously.

'Wait a second.’ I sit down opposite him on the chair we once bought at Van Beek: a Gispen, designed by Gerrit Rietveld’s son. It had been our guest’s favourite chair. ‘A time traveler?

‘That’s what he wrote.’

‘Did he write anything else?’

‘Come on Miranda, he tells us he’s a time traveler and you’re asking if he wrote anything else? What else should he write about, the weather? What the food was like at our place? Isn’t it enough that he…’

‘I mean does he explain where he got that idea?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says, ‘he does.’
 

_______________


It was around three o’clock and I’d just got back from work. Business had been slow at the gallery, so I’d closed early. He was sitting on the step by the front door. I almost missed him, as I always go round the back. He looked young. Twenty, twenty-five at the most.

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ I asked upon entering the front yard. I laughed a little, and so did he. He looked harmless: blond, good teeth, well-dressed, calm, as if he’d agreed to meet me there. Sometimes you run into someone and you feel like you’ve seen them before, even though you know that isn’t the case. He was one of those people.

‘I’ve come for the room,’ he said, without getting up.

‘We don’t rent out rooms,’ I said.

‘Even so, you seem to have more than you need.’ He nimbly rose to his feet, leaving a small purple satchel where he’d been sitting. ‘I’m Eric,’ he said. ‘A man on a mission.’
I shook his hand. ‘And this mission is to find a room?’

‘Exactly,’ he said, laughing. ‘Or else a glass of water.’

This is how they weasel their way in, I thought. Everyone knows that. ‘I certainly have a glass of water for you,’ I said, ‘but I’m not letting you in. Come with me round the back.’

He picked up his purple satchel and followed me. I pointed him towards one of the recliners on the terrace. I even got out the cushions from the garden shed and tossed them in his direction. ‘Make yourself comfortable,’ I said, ‘I’ll get something to drink.’

I entered the code, slid open the door, and entered the kitchen. Of course, he could have just followed me in, but he didn’t. He’d laid out the cushions on the chair and had lain down. ‘Can I get you a beer?’ I called. He lazily raised his hand and answered, ‘Do you maybe have a soda instead?’

I put a coke and a gin-tonic on the table and lay down on the other chair, the cushions were already there. ‘Did you just go get these?’ I asked. ‘You are fast.’

‘Yeah, I figured you’d come sit with me.’

‘My husband will be back later,’ I said. It sounded like a line someone else had written for me in some other world, an old world, a comedy from the previous century.

‘And he’s in charge of the rooms?’

I laughed. ‘There aren’t any rooms, didn’t I tell you that already?’

He gazed at the swimming pool. ‘Care to take a dip?’ I asked, and without waiting for him to answer I went inside to get a towel and a pair of Axel’s swimming trunks. If he’d swim, I wouldn’t have to talk to him; I’d rather look at him. The swimming trunks fit perfectly. Unabashedly, he got changed right in front of me before diving into the water.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. The sunlight filtered through the poplars in the park behind the garden. The young man – I’d forgotten his name – was swimming laps like he’d been doing this his whole life.

_______________


‘Is it a long letter?’ I ask. ‘Otherwise, I’ll make some coffee first.’

‘Just stay where you are,’ Axel says, ‘you’re going to need something stronger after this. Can I begin?’

‘Yes, go ahead,’ I say. ‘So where did you find this letter?’

‘It was with the mail,’ Axel says.

‘He mailed it? After he disappeared?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Axel says, ‘but you’ll understand soon enough. It’s probably the letter he was writing in the park.’

_______________

 He got out, dripping wet, dried himself off and lay down. We had another drink, after which he lowered himself into the water again, slowly this time. He swam at a more leisurely pace, as if the first time had been an impetuous initiation, and now he was just casually using the available facilities. I looked at him; he was a handsome young man.

Axel returned from work and came around the back. ‘I see we’ve got company.’ Axel and his briefcase. I’d once spray-painted it pink. He’d even taken it to work, but they hadn’t been amused at the office, so he’d bought another one. ‘What ever happened to that pink briefcase?’ I asked. ‘I threw it away,’ Axel said. ‘Who’s our guest?’

‘That’s Eric,’ I said, suddenly recalling his name again. I hoped it was correct. ‘He just turned up at our door. He told me he came here for a room. Do you know anything about a room?’

‘No, do you think I’d hang up notes at the grocery store without telling you? He’s a good swimmer.’

Eric got out of the water, walked up to Axel with dripping wet feet and shook his hand. ‘Eric. Nice pool you guys have.’

‘Thank you,’ said Axel. ‘Good to see you’re using it right away. Good for the water, too, that it’s used for a change.’

I’d actually expected Axel to know him from somewhere, and that our visitor had only pretended to be looking for a room to amuse himself, but Axel clearly had no idea either. ‘I hear you came for the room. Where’d you get this idea that we have rooms to rent?’

Eric dried himself off and put on his shirt. ‘You hear things sometimes.’

‘Yes, I’m sure you do,’ Axel said. Maybe renting out rooms isn’t such a bad idea, I thought to myself. A mild-mannered student. Or a not-so-mild-mannered one.

The three of us had another drink. Eric stuck to soda while Axel and I opened a bottle. The sun was setting below the poplars in the park. We went inside when it started to cool down. It only made sense that he stayed for dinner. We opened a second bottle. Eric stuck to mineral water, so Axel and I polished off the bottle together. I can’t recall what we talked about all that time. Not Eric, I think, as we didn’t learn much more about him. After dinner, we sat down to watch a movie with us on the sofa and him on the son-of-Rietveld chair. Death Wish IV. At the time, Axel was in his Death Wish phase, and I’d watch along with him. They’re engaging movies, and Charles Bronson reminded me a little of my father. Well, his name did anyway, as my father’s name was Charley. We didn’t pay much attention to what was happening. It’s not the kind of movie where you need be on the edge of your seat, fully concentrated, in order to follow the plot, so when Eric at last had a glass of wine as well, we talked some more, which was easy enough. Eric told us he had all kinds of things to do in the city. So then how did he end up at our place, who told him about the room? ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I have an eye for good people. By the way, I have had something to do with you two before.’ Is that right, when was that? He wouldn’t say. It would be far too easy if he just told us right there. If we didn’t know, we’d just have to guess. Long after the movie had ended, we sat there taking turns guessing, wrong every time, but we had a lot of laughs, like we’d known each other for years.

‘Maybe he’s a customer from your gallery,’ Axel said as we lay in bed. Eric was in the guest room. It wouldn’t have felt right to see him off this late at night, plus you could tell he’d had two glasses of wine. He didn’t seem to handle alcohol well. ‘Someone you can’t remember bought something from you. But he remembers you, and can you blame him?’

‘Yeah, right. Why couldn’t he be one of your clients at the office? Someone you screwed over sometime and don’t remember, even if he still remembers exactly who you are.’

‘That could be anyone,’ Axel said.

When I came out the bathroom, I’d knocked on Eric’s door to check if everything was all right and if he needed anything. He’d answered everything was fine. ‘If you have trouble sleeping, feel free to grab a book from the shelf downstairs!’ I’d said, which had sounded rather dull.

‘He’s a serial killer, of course,’ Axel said, ‘he’s got to be. Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘Or he’ll tie you up and rape me, and then make you watch,’ I said.

‘Yeah, he was just talking about that,’ Axel said, ‘he asked if I had a piece of rope for him.’

This is how easy it is to weasel your way into someone’s life, I thought. You just look for a couple who are up for it. Had we strayed so far away from ourselves, were we so bored with our everyday lives that we would willingly invite a killer into our home? I didn’t say any of this to Axel. I prefer to keep melancholy thoughts to myself. ‘And,’ I said, ‘did you give him the rope?’

‘I told him we needed it ourselves tonight,’ Axel said and pulled me close.

‘Does this turn you on?’ I asked. ‘With someone sleeping in the guest room?’

‘Yeah,’ he said, but he couldn’t get it up, maybe also because of the wine.

‘I can tell,’ I said.

‘Jesus woman, then why don’t you do something about it!’ he yelled, as if his failure to get an erection was my responsibility. He suddenly raised his head. ‘What’s that I hear?’

‘He’s snoring,’ I said.

‘How is it we can hear that?’ Axel said. ‘The guest room is at the other end of the hallway.’

‘I know where the guest room is,’ I said.

‘Apparently, he snores really loud.’

‘You’ve got to be joking,’ Axel said. ‘Where are my earplugs?’ He leaned to the side and opened the top drawer of the night stand. I knew where they were, and as I watched him rummage around I told myself: Warm, warmer, cold, ice-cold, warm… We both jumped when we heard a curious racket coming from the hallway. Dull thumps, bells jingling. Axel leapt out of bed to see what was going on.

‘What was it’ I asked when he returned.

‘A tambourine,’ Axel said, still dumbfounded. ‘He was walking through the hallway with a tambourine, and he was beating it really hard, like he was angry with the thing. I think he’s a sleepwalker. I took him by the arm and led him back to his room, and he got back into bed.’

‘Where did he get a tambourine? We don’t own a tambourine.’

‘He must have brought it with him,’ Axel said. ‘In that satchel of his. Hell if I know.’

‘So no serial killer,’ I said.

‘No, I don’t think so either,’ Axel said. ‘But already the most difficult houseguest in ages.’

We both laughed, nervously.

‘He’s a serial killer, of course, he’s got to be.
Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘He’s a serial killer, of course, he’s got to be.
Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘He’s a serial killer, of course, he’s got to be.
Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘He’s a serial killer, of course, he’s got to be.
Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

‘He’s a serial killer, of course, he’s got to be. Should we move the closet in front of the door?’

The following morning I gave Eric some of Axel’s clothes, just in case the tambourine had taken up all the space in his satchel. ‘Now you’re all set to go out into the world,’ I said when he entered the kitchen, where Axel and I were already having breakfast.

‘You two are my world,’ he said.

‘You sleepwalk,’ Axel said. ‘Did you know that? With a tambourine.’

Eric looked at him and nodded. ‘Ever since I was a child. But not all night, right? By the way, that assistant of yours, he’s screwing you over.’

‘Breevoort?’ Axel said. ‘No way!’

‘He is,’ Eric said. ‘He charges extra commission, which he pockets himself.’

‘Impossible,’ Axel said, ‘we have a system that completely rules out anything like that.’

‘He’s doing it anyway,’ Eric said.

_______________

 
‘I fired Breevoort,’ Axel said when he came home that evening. ‘Eric was right. Where is he?’

‘Don’t know,’ I said. ‘I gave him a ride this morning and dropped him off downtown. He said I didn’t need to pick him up. And when I came home, he wasn’t here.’ I’d figured, hoped, expected he would be in the garden, or in the swimming pool.

We sat down and had a drink. Without telling each other, we both knew we were waiting for Eric. We missed him, like he was already one of us.

When we sat down for dinner and tried to reconcile ourselves with the possibility we might never see him again (at least I was, I’ve never been able to read Axel’s mind), the doorbell rang.

‘How did you know about Breevoort?’ Axel asked.

‘Oh, you hear things sometimes,’ Eric said. He seated himself and joined us for dinner. He was vague about what he’d been doing all day. That night, he was very restless once again. ‘The snoring, that’s one thing,’ I told Axel, ‘but we’re taking that tambourine off him tomorrow.’

_______________

‘Read it then,’ I say.

Axel holds the letter a little higher and squeezes his eyes together. ‘Dear parents.

‘Dear parents?’

‘Yeah, that’s what it says. Do you think I’m making this up? Dear parents, if you’re reading this and I’m not in the room with you, I mean, if at the moment you read this I’ve disappeared without a trace, my mission has been accomplished.’

_______________

On the third night, Eric came into our bedroom. We were in bed, watching an old movie, something in black-and-white with Cary Grant. Without so much as a glance at the screen, he nestled in between us. We just let him, though we exchanged glances over his head.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ Axel asked.

‘A bit,’ he said. Maybe he missed his tambourine, which was under our bed. He was wearing a set of Axel’s freshly washed striped pajamas, which were a size too big for him, which was odd, since all Axel’s other clothes seemed to fit him perfectly.

‘Where are you from, actually?’ I asked, realizing I’d never asked him anything so directly over the past few days.

He remained vague and kept his eyes on the movie while he talked. His body heat blended with our own. Of course he came from somewhere. He spoke of things that had me listening and nodding, but that I couldn’t remember later because they lacked specificity. And maybe we were to blame as well, because we were trying to watch the movie at the same time. He asked us all kinds of things, like how we’d met. This resulted in an interesting, increasingly engrossing conversation because, of course, Axel and I each had our own version of events, and we’d never compared the two. We forgot about the movie and talked, often looking at each other in surprise. Did you really feel that way back then? And what about you, were you sure about that already? Eric smiled, shifting his gaze from me to Axel and back to me, after which he asked what our plans for the future were. ‘Find someone to take Breevoort’s place,’ Axel said, but this didn’t satisfy Eric. He wanted to know how I felt as well, how I envisioned the rest of my life, if I was going to continue working at the gallery, if we’d be having children. ‘Well, there are plenty of rooms,’ Axel said, and I said I didn’t know yet, we’d just got our own lives in order and were making a good living. It was only a short time ago that we’d bought this house, we still had the time to work on our future. Had we actually seen any of the couples we knew get any happier after having children? Well, no. Did we see having children as our life purpose? Well, no again. For the time being, we were in the middle of a future we’d been working towards for years. Eric nodded as if he were taking it all in seriously, and we kept on talking, Axel, Eric, and I. The movie had ended some time ago. Towards the end, he became contemplative, not in a heavy way, still friendly and light, but something philosophical came over him, as if he was full of questions and saw us as people who could help him. This had never happened to us before, not to me, anyway. Life, what was it, and what, in the end, was it all about? The way he said it, it didn’t sound like a cliché, he genuinely wanted to know how we felt, and he also told us how he felt himself. So there we were, the three of, propped up against each other in bed. It was low-key and extraordinary, and I wish I’d taken notes that night. At a certain moment Axel tapped my shoulder behind Eric’s back, nodding his head in Eric’s direction when he met my gaze. I leaned over a little and saw the tears pouring down Eric’s face, from his eyes down over his cheeks, but without sobbing or any sound. It kept pouring from his eyes, left and right. Axel took him by the arm and led him from the bed to his room. ‘Maybe that’s a kind of sleepwalking too,’ he said when he returned. ‘He didn’t even seem to notice it himself, all that water.’

_______________

 The following night he was walking through the hallway with his tambourine again – three times, with a glassy but determined look in his eyes. Luckily, he also let himself be led back to the guest room three times without any trouble.

‘I saw him in the park,’ Axel said when he returned from work that afternoon. ‘He was sitting on a bench, writing something. He didn’t see me.’

‘He was probably writing a letter to his friends,’ I said. ‘About how he’d found the most gullible people in the world. How you could keep them awake at night, lie in bed with them crying., How they’d put up with anything. And that they should swing by with the truck tonight to come rob the place.’

‘I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have any friends,’ Axel said.

‘Then we have to be his friends,’ I said. ‘Didn’t you walk up to him?’

‘No,’ Axel said, ‘I don’t know why, exactly, but something stopped me. He was in a world of his own, that’s it.’

_______________

 We’d both left work early to go home and have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before Eric returned from whatever it was he’d been doing. Only we’d barely lain down when we heard the sound of the doorbell, long and persistent. It was Eric – we had no choice but to let him in. During dinner, he seemed agitated. That night, he was constantly in the hallway with his tambourine, beating the skin as if he was trying to break it. The shrill jingling of the bells sounded like screeching birds. The next morning he’d disappeared.

The bed had been made, he’d somehow managed to hang the clothes he’d borrowed from Axel back in the closet without waking us. ‘I dreamed someone was leaning over me and explaining all kinds of things to me,’ Alex said at breakfast, ‘but I can’t remember if it was Eric or what he said.’ I only half-believed what he said, which is to say, not at all. Why would he lean over Axel and not me?

Eric didn’t return, so it was only the two of us for dinner that evening. We were surprised at how much we missed him. ‘Strange, isn’t it?’ Axel said. ‘How can we miss him this much?’

‘How come we put up with him for so long? I said. ‘That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘It just made sense for him to be here,’ Axel said. ‘Other than that, I have no idea.’

He didn’t return the next day, either. When we talked about him, we referred to him by his title, the most difficult houseguest in ages, which made it a bit more bearable, as if talking about some innocuous anecdote that we might share at parties.

_______________

‘Wait a minute,’ I say. ‘Dear parents? Is that really what it says?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says. ‘That’s really what it says, hold on, it gets a lot stranger still. Are you ready?’

‘Shoot,’ I say.

‘All right, here goes. When friends at school asked me what I’d do if I had a time machine, I was never short of answers, even if the answers I’d come up with as a youth soon lost their innocent luster.

‘So eloquent,’ I say.

‘Shush now. The last few years, I could think of just one: I would travel back in time to my parents and shoot them before they could conceive me.

That’s obviously a serious act of violence, but I took solace in knowing that I’d be altering only one particular course of time, and that in another course of time they could live, and had lived, into old age.

You probably didn’t notice these last couple of days, because I was on a mission, and therefore not my usual self, but I’ve always felt life to be a tremendous burden for which I was barely equipped if at all.

It’s not that I want to blame you for this, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always assumed this was a congenital trait, although your careless lifestyles and drinking may also have been a factor.

But I’m not interested in pinning blame. Though you probably never noticed, life has always been too much for me, and I’ve always been filled with shame.

Even now, I’ll make things up to make it more bearable, like those friends at school who’d ask me what I’d do if I had a time machine. I never had such friends, I asked myself this question and answered it myself as well.

Axel lowers the letter. ‘He’s underlined shame,’ he says.

‘Just keep reading,’ I say.

I didn’t shoot you, which proves that, in the end, I don’t harbor any malice towards you. I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home. After that, I went back downtown to buy a tambourine.

At first, I thought of getting a trumpet, but I don’t play the trumpet, or any instrument for that matter. A drum might also have been an option. Why is it you never signed me up for music lessons or sports? I might have met those like-minded people there that I so sorely lacked.

But again, this wasn’t about you or about how I felt about you, my aim was to eliminate myself. I wanted out, I wanted to escape. By now, it should be clear what I’ve tried to do. You’ve never been slow to catch on: I worked out the time of my conception and tried to make it impossible for you to beget me.

I gave myself a week, which was cutting it close, but any more days didn’t seem doable. I already didn’t know how I’d survive a whole week with the two of you, not because I hated you, or not only because of that, but also because you didn’t know me yet, and I’d need to find a way to get in with you somehow.

Luckily, that was easier than I’d expected. The rest wasn’t very difficult, either. As careless as your lives are, in the end you’re both creatures of habit. I knew when you’d have sex: always at the beginning of the night, never in the morning or during the day. I had to listen to the sounds you make long enough, right, even though it’s such a big house. Still there was no escaping it, so now you know why I wanted to move to the attic room when I was eleven years old. In order to prevent my conception from ever occurring, it should have sufficed to disturb you at the beginning of every night.

Axel pauses and looks at me. ‘The next sentence is in parenthesis.’

‘So then why don’t you just say ‘open parenthesis’?’ I say. ‘You don’t need to explicitly say that, do you?’

‘Open parenthesis. So it’s a good thing I don’t have any friends, as they’d have told me my plan was flawed and precarious, and most likely would have advised me to dig up the gun again. Close parenthesis. So the sleepwalking was a charade, but you understood this much already, because like I already wrote, you’ve never been stupid, just careless and inattentive. No matter how many hints I dropped these last few days, you didn’t notice a thing. This whole week, did it really never occur to you how well I knew my way around your house?

Again, I don’t blame you for anything. I could tell that you almost recognized me. It’s a strange sensation, and surely part of the reason why you took me into your home so readily, and not just your usual nonchalance, as if life doesn’t really matter.

Well, I can tell you that life definitely matters to other people, and so much that if they can get their hands on a time machine, they won’t hesitate to put their money where their mouth is.

Axel folds the letter and leans forward to put it on the salon table.

‘Well-acted,’ I say. ‘Should we warn anyone?’

‘Who?’ Axel asks. ‘The authorities?’

Why not? Maybe he’s been doing this with other people as well.’

‘And what do we say?’

‘Yeah, good question. Maybe we should check online to see if that letter is mentioned anywhere. If he’s done this before, there’s a good chance someone…’

Axel shakes his head. ‘I’m willing to bet everyone gets a letter written just for them. Besides, what has he actually done?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Unlawful entry? Intrusion under false pretenses? Psychological manipulation? Keeping people up who want to sleep?’

‘Can you picture us at the police station?’

‘No,’ I say.

The following morning I gave Eric some of Axel’s clothes, just in case the tambourine had taken up all the space in his satchel. ‘Now you’re all set to go out into the world,’ I said when he entered the kitchen, where Axel and I were already having breakfast.

‘You two are my world,’ he said.

‘You sleepwalk,’ Axel said. ‘Did you know that? With a tambourine.’

Eric looked at him and nodded. ‘Ever since I was a child. But not all night, right? By the way, that assistant of yours, he’s screwing you over.’

‘Breevoort?’ Axel said. ‘No way!’

‘He is,’ Eric said. ‘He charges extra commission, which he pockets himself.’

‘Impossible,’ Axel said, ‘we have a system that completely rules out anything like that.’

‘He’s doing it anyway,’ Eric said.

_______________

 
‘I fired Breevoort,’ Axel said when he came home that evening. ‘Eric was right. Where is he?’

‘Don’t know,’ I said. ‘I gave him a ride this morning and dropped him off downtown. He said I didn’t need to pick him up. And when I came home, he wasn’t here.’ I’d figured, hoped, expected he would be in the garden, or in the swimming pool.

We sat down and had a drink. Without telling each other, we both knew we were waiting for Eric. We missed him, like he was already one of us.

When we sat down for dinner and tried to reconcile ourselves with the possibility we might never see him again (at least I was, I’ve never been able to read Axel’s mind), the doorbell rang.

‘How did you know about Breevoort?’ Axel asked.

‘Oh, you hear things sometimes,’ Eric said. He seated himself and joined us for dinner. He was vague about what he’d been doing all day. That night, he was very restless once again. ‘The snoring, that’s one thing,’ I told Axel, ‘but we’re taking that tambourine off him tomorrow.’

_______________

‘Read it then,’ I say.

Axel holds the letter a little higher and squeezes his eyes together. ‘Dear parents.

‘Dear parents?’

‘Yeah, that’s what it says. Do you think I’m making this up? Dear parents, if you’re reading this and I’m not in the room with you, I mean, if at the moment you read this I’ve disappeared without a trace, my mission has been accomplished.

_______________

On the third night, Eric came into our bedroom. We were in bed, watching an old movie, something in black-and-white with Cary Grant. Without so much as a glance at the screen, he nestled in between us. We just let him, though we exchanged glances over his head.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ Axel asked.

‘A bit,’ he said. Maybe he missed his tambourine, which was under our bed. He was wearing a set of Axel’s freshly washed striped pajamas, which were a size too big for him, which was odd, since all Axel’s other clothes seemed to fit him perfectly.

‘Where are you from, actually?’ I asked, realizing I’d never asked him anything so directly over the past few days.

He remained vague and kept his eyes on the movie while he talked. His body heat blended with our own. Of course he came from somewhere. He spoke of things that had me listening and nodding, but that I couldn’t remember later because they lacked specificity. And maybe we were to blame as well, because we were trying to watch the movie at the same time. He asked us all kinds of things, like how we’d met. This resulted in an interesting, increasingly engrossing conversation because, of course, Axel and I each had our own version of events, and we’d never compared the two. We forgot about the movie and talked, often looking at each other in surprise. Did you really feel that way back then? And what about you, were you sure about that already? Eric smiled, shifting his gaze from me to Axel and back to me, after which he asked what our plans for the future were. ‘Find someone to take Breevoort’s place,’ Axel said, but this didn’t satisfy Eric. He wanted to know how I felt as well, how I envisioned the rest of my life, if I was going to continue working at the gallery, if we’d be having children. ‘Well, there are plenty of rooms,’ Axel said, and I said I didn’t know yet, we’d just got our own lives in order and were making a good living. It was only a short time ago that we’d bought this house, we still had the time to work on our future. Had we actually seen any of the couples we knew get any happier after having children? Well, no. Did we see having children as our life purpose? Well, no again. For the time being, we were in the middle of a future we’d been working towards for years. Eric nodded as if he were taking it all in seriously, and we kept on talking, Axel, Eric, and I. The movie had ended some time ago. Towards the end, he became contemplative, not in a heavy way, still friendly and light, but something philosophical came over him, as if he was full of questions and saw us as people who could help him. This had never happened to us before, not to me, anyway. Life, what was it, and what, in the end, was it all about? The way he said it, it didn’t sound like a cliché, he genuinely wanted to know how we felt, and he also told us how he felt himself. So there we were, the three of, propped up against each other in bed. It was low-key and extraordinary, and I wish I’d taken notes that night. At a certain moment Axel tapped my shoulder behind Eric’s back, nodding his head in Eric’s direction when he met my gaze. I leaned over a little and saw the tears pouring down Eric’s face, from his eyes down over his cheeks, but without sobbing or any sound. It kept pouring from his eyes, left and right. Axel took him by the arm and led him from the bed to his room. ‘Maybe that’s a kind of sleepwalking too,’ he said when he returned. ‘He didn’t even seem to notice it himself, all that water.’

_______________

 The following night he was walking through the hallway with his tambourine again – three times, with a glassy but determined look in his eyes. Luckily, he also let himself be led back to the guest room three times without any trouble.

‘I saw him in the park,’ Axel said when he returned from work that afternoon. ‘He was sitting on a bench, writing something. He didn’t see me.’

‘He was probably writing a letter to his friends,’ I said. ‘About how he’d found the most gullible people in the world. How you could keep them awake at night, lie in bed with them crying., How they’d put up with anything. And that they should swing by with the truck tonight to come rob the place.’

‘I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have any friends,’ Axel said.

‘Then we have to be his friends,’ I said. ‘Didn’t you walk up to him?’

‘No,’ Axel said, ‘I don’t know why, exactly, but something stopped me. He was in a world of his own, that’s it.’

_______________

We’d both left work early to go home and have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before Eric returned from whatever it was he’d been doing. Only we’d barely lain down when we heard the sound of the doorbell, long and persistent. It was Eric – we had no choice but to let him in. During dinner, he seemed agitated. That night, he was constantly in the hallway with his tambourine, beating the skin as if he was trying to break it. The shrill jingling of the bells sounded like screeching birds. The next morning he’d disappeared.

The bed had been made, he’d somehow managed to hang the clothes he’d borrowed from Axel back in the closet without waking us. ‘I dreamed someone was leaning over me and explaining all kinds of things to me,’ Alex said at breakfast, ‘but I can’t remember if it was Eric or what he said.’ I only half-believed what he said, which is to say, not at all. Why would he lean over Axel and not me?

Eric didn’t return, so it was only the two of us for dinner that evening. We were surprised at how much we missed him. ‘Strange, isn’t it?’ Axel said. ‘How can we miss him this much?’

‘How come we put up with him for so long? I said. ‘That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘It just made sense for him to be here,’ Axel said. ‘Other than that, I have no idea.’

He didn’t return the next day, either. When we talked about him, we referred to him by his title, the most difficult houseguest in ages, which made it a bit more bearable, as if talking about some innocuous anecdote that we might share at parties.

_______________

‘Wait a minute,’ I say. ‘Dear parents? Is that really what it says?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says. ‘That’s really what it says, hold on, it gets a lot stranger still. Are you ready?’

‘Shoot,’ I say.

‘All right, here goes. When friends at school asked me what I’d do if I had a time machine, I was never short of answers, even if the answers I’d come up with as a youth soon lost their innocent luster.

‘So eloquent,’ I say.

‘Shush now. The last few years, I could think of just one: I would travel back in time to my parents and shoot them before they could conceive me.

That’s obviously a serious act of violence, but I took solace in knowing that I’d be altering only one particular course of time, and that in another course of time they could live, and had lived, into old age.

You probably didn’t notice these last couple of days, because I was on a mission, and therefore not my usual self, but I’ve always felt life to be a tremendous burden for which I was barely equipped if at all.

It’s not that I want to blame you for this, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always assumed this was a congenital trait, although your careless lifestyles and drinking may also have been a factor.

But I’m not interested in pinning blame. Though you probably never noticed, life has always been too much for me, and I’ve always been filled with shame.

Even now, I’ll make things up to make it more bearable, like those friends at school who’d ask me what I’d do if I had a time machine. I never had such friends, I asked myself this question and answered it myself as well.

Axel lowers the letter. ‘He’s underlined shame,’ he says.

‘Just keep reading,’ I say.

I didn’t shoot you, which proves that, in the end, I don’t harbor any malice towards you. I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home. After that, I went back downtown to buy a tambourine.

At first, I thought of getting a trumpet, but I don’t play the trumpet, or any instrument for that matter. A drum might also have been an option. Why is it you never signed me up for music lessons or sports? I might have met those like-minded people there that I so sorely lacked.

But again, this wasn’t about you or about how I felt about you, my aim was to eliminate myself. I wanted out, I wanted to escape. By now, it should be clear what I’ve tried to do. You’ve never been slow to catch on: I worked out the time of my conception and tried to make it impossible for you to beget me.

I gave myself a week, which was cutting it close, but any more days didn’t seem doable. I already didn’t know how I’d survive a whole week with the two of you, not because I hated you, or not only because of that, but also because you didn’t know me yet, and I’d need to find a way to get in with you somehow.

Luckily, that was easier than I’d expected. The rest wasn’t very difficult, either. As careless as your lives are, in the end you’re both creatures of habit. I knew when you’d have sex: always at the beginning of the night, never in the morning or during the day. I had to listen to the sounds you make long enough, right, even though it’s such a big house. Still there was no escaping it, so now you know why I wanted to move to the attic room when I was eleven years old. In order to prevent my conception from ever occurring, it should have sufficed to disturb you at the beginning of every night.

Axel pauses and looks at me. ‘The next sentence is in parenthesis.’

‘So then why don’t you just say ‘open parenthesis’?’ I say. ‘You don’t need to explicitly say that, do you?’

‘Open parenthesis. So it’s a good thing I don’t have any friends, as they’d have told me my plan was flawed and precarious, and most likely would have advised me to dig up the gun again. Close parenthesis. So the sleepwalking was a charade, but you understood this much already, because like I already wrote, you’ve never been stupid, just careless and inattentive. No matter how many hints I dropped these last few days, you didn’t notice a thing. This whole week, did it really never occur to you how well I knew my way around your house?

Again, I don’t blame you for anything. I could tell that you almost recognized me. It’s a strange sensation, and surely part of the reason why you took me into your home so readily, and not just your usual nonchalance, as if life doesn’t really matter.

Well, I can tell you that life definitely matters to other people, and so much that if they can get their hands on a time machine, they won’t hesitate to put their money where their mouth is.

Axel folds the letter and leans forward to put it on the salon table.

‘Well-acted,’ I say. ‘Should we warn anyone?’

‘Who?’ Axel asks. ‘The authorities?’

Why not? Maybe he’s been doing this with other people as well.’

‘And what do we say?’

‘Yeah, good question. Maybe we should check online to see if that letter is mentioned anywhere. If he’s done this before, there’s a good chance someone…’

Axel shakes his head. ‘I’m willing to bet everyone gets a letter written just for them. Besides, what has he actually done?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Unlawful entry? Intrusion under false pretenses? Psychological manipulation? Keeping people up who want to sleep?’

‘Can you picture us at the police station?’

‘No,’ I say.

The following morning I gave Eric some of Axel’s clothes, just in case the tambourine had taken up all the space in his satchel. ‘Now you’re all set to go out into the world,’ I said when he entered the kitchen, where Axel and I were already having breakfast.

‘You two are my world,’ he said.

‘You sleepwalk,’ Axel said. ‘Did you know that? With a tambourine.’

Eric looked at him and nodded. ‘Ever since I was a child. But not all night, right? By the way, that assistant of yours, he’s screwing you over.’

‘Breevoort?’ Axel said. ‘No way!’

‘He is,’ Eric said. ‘He charges extra commission, which he pockets himself.’

‘Impossible,’ Axel said, ‘we have a system that completely rules out anything like that.’

‘He’s doing it anyway,’ Eric said.

_______________

 
‘I fired Breevoort,’ Axel said when he came home that evening. ‘Eric was right. Where is he?’

‘Don’t know,’ I said. ‘I gave him a ride this morning and dropped him off downtown. He said I didn’t need to pick him up. And when I came home, he wasn’t here.’ I’d figured, hoped, expected he would be in the garden, or in the swimming pool.

We sat down and had a drink. Without telling each other, we both knew we were waiting for Eric. We missed him, like he was already one of us.

When we sat down for dinner and tried to reconcile ourselves with the possibility we might never see him again (at least I was, I’ve never been able to read Axel’s mind), the doorbell rang.

‘How did you know about Breevoort?’ Axel asked.

‘Oh, you hear things sometimes,’ Eric said. He seated himself and joined us for dinner. He was vague about what he’d been doing all day. That night, he was very restless once again. ‘The snoring, that’s one thing,’ I told Axel, ‘but we’re taking that tambourine off him tomorrow.’

_______________

‘Read it then,’ I say.

Axel holds the letter a little higher and squeezes his eyes together. ‘Dear parents.’

‘Dear parents?’

‘Yeah, that’s what it says. Do you think I’m making this up? Dear parents, if you’re reading this and I’m not in the room with you, I mean, if at the moment you read this I’ve disappeared without a trace, my mission has been accomplished.

_______________

On the third night, Eric came into our bedroom. We were in bed, watching an old movie, something in black-and-white with Cary Grant. Without so much as a glance at the screen, he nestled in between us. We just let him, though we exchanged glances over his head.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ Axel asked.

‘A bit,’ he said. Maybe he missed his tambourine, which was under our bed. He was wearing a set of Axel’s freshly washed striped pajamas, which were a size too big for him, which was odd, since all Axel’s other clothes seemed to fit him perfectly.

‘Where are you from, actually?’ I asked, realizing I’d never asked him anything so directly over the past few days.

He remained vague and kept his eyes on the movie while he talked. His body heat blended with our own. Of course he came from somewhere. He spoke of things that had me listening and nodding, but that I couldn’t remember later because they lacked specificity. And maybe we were to blame as well, because we were trying to watch the movie at the same time. He asked us all kinds of things, like how we’d met. This resulted in an interesting, increasingly engrossing conversation because, of course, Axel and I each had our own version of events, and we’d never compared the two. We forgot about the movie and talked, often looking at each other in surprise. Did you really feel that way back then? And what about you, were you sure about that already? Eric smiled, shifting his gaze from me to Axel and back to me, after which he asked what our plans for the future were. ‘Find someone to take Breevoort’s place,’ Axel said, but this didn’t satisfy Eric. He wanted to know how I felt as well, how I envisioned the rest of my life, if I was going to continue working at the gallery, if we’d be having children. ‘Well, there are plenty of rooms,’ Axel said, and I said I didn’t know yet, we’d just got our own lives in order and were making a good living. It was only a short time ago that we’d bought this house, we still had the time to work on our future. Had we actually seen any of the couples we knew get any happier after having children? Well, no. Did we see having children as our life purpose? Well, no again. For the time being, we were in the middle of a future we’d been working towards for years. Eric nodded as if he were taking it all in seriously, and we kept on talking, Axel, Eric, and I. The movie had ended some time ago. Towards the end, he became contemplative, not in a heavy way, still friendly and light, but something philosophical came over him, as if he was full of questions and saw us as people who could help him. This had never happened to us before, not to me, anyway. Life, what was it, and what, in the end, was it all about? The way he said it, it didn’t sound like a cliché, he genuinely wanted to know how we felt, and he also told us how he felt himself. So there we were, the three of, propped up against each other in bed. It was low-key and extraordinary, and I wish I’d taken notes that night. At a certain moment Axel tapped my shoulder behind Eric’s back, nodding his head in Eric’s direction when he met my gaze. I leaned over a little and saw the tears pouring down Eric’s face, from his eyes down over his cheeks, but without sobbing or any sound. It kept pouring from his eyes, left and right. Axel took him by the arm and led him from the bed to his room. ‘Maybe that’s a kind of sleepwalking too,’ he said when he returned. ‘He didn’t even seem to notice it himself, all that water.’

_______________

The following night he was walking through the hallway with his tambourine again – three times, with a glassy but determined look in his eyes. Luckily, he also let himself be led back to the guest room three times without any trouble.

‘I saw him in the park,’ Axel said when he returned from work that afternoon. ‘He was sitting on a bench, writing something. He didn’t see me.’

‘He was probably writing a letter to his friends,’ I said. ‘About how he’d found the most gullible people in the world. How you could keep them awake at night, lie in bed with them crying., How they’d put up with anything. And that they should swing by with the truck tonight to come rob the place.’

‘I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have any friends,’ Axel said.

‘Then we have to be his friends,’ I said. ‘Didn’t you walk up to him?’

‘No,’ Axel said, ‘I don’t know why, exactly, but something stopped me. He was in a world of his own, that’s it.’

_______________

We’d both left work early to go home and have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before Eric returned from whatever it was he’d been doing. Only we’d barely lain down when we heard the sound of the doorbell, long and persistent. It was Eric – we had no choice but to let him in. During dinner, he seemed agitated. That night, he was constantly in the hallway with his tambourine, beating the skin as if he was trying to break it. The shrill jingling of the bells sounded like screeching birds. The next morning he’d disappeared.

The bed had been made, he’d somehow managed to hang the clothes he’d borrowed from Axel back in the closet without waking us. ‘I dreamed someone was leaning over me and explaining all kinds of things to me,’ Alex said at breakfast, ‘but I can’t remember if it was Eric or what he said.’ I only half-believed what he said, which is to say, not at all. Why would he lean over Axel and not me?

Eric didn’t return, so it was only the two of us for dinner that evening. We were surprised at how much we missed him. ‘Strange, isn’t it?’ Axel said. ‘How can we miss him this much?’

‘How come we put up with him for so long? I said. ‘That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘It just made sense for him to be here,’ Axel said. ‘Other than that, I have no idea.’

He didn’t return the next day, either. When we talked about him, we referred to him by his title, the most difficult houseguest in ages, which made it a bit more bearable, as if talking about some innocuous anecdote that we might share at parties.

_______________

‘Wait a minute,’ I say. ‘Dear parents? Is that really what it says?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says. ‘That’s really what it says, hold on, it gets a lot stranger still. Are you ready?’

‘Shoot,’ I say.

‘All right, here goes. When friends at school asked me what I’d do if I had a time machine, I was never short of answers, even if the answers I’d come up with as a youth soon lost their innocent luster.

‘So eloquent,’ I say.

‘Shush now. The last few years, I could think of just one: I would travel back in time to my parents and shoot them before they could conceive me.

That’s obviously a serious act of violence, but I took solace in knowing that I’d be altering only one particular course of time, and that in another course of time they could live, and had lived, into old age.

You probably didn’t notice these last couple of days, because I was on a mission, and therefore not my usual self, but I’ve always felt life to be a tremendous burden for which I was barely equipped if at all.

It’s not that I want to blame you for this, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always assumed this was a congenital trait, although your careless lifestyles and drinking may also have been a factor.

But I’m not interested in pinning blame. Though you probably never noticed, life has always been too much for me, and I’ve always been filled with shame.

Even now, I’ll make things up to make it more bearable, like those friends at school who’d ask me what I’d do if I had a time machine. I never had such friends, I asked myself this question and answered it myself as well.

Axel lowers the letter. ‘He’s underlined shame,’ he says.

‘Just keep reading,’ I say.

I didn’t shoot you, which proves that, in the end, I don’t harbor any malice towards you. I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home. After that, I went back downtown to buy a tambourine.

At first, I thought of getting a trumpet, but I don’t play the trumpet, or any instrument for that matter. A drum might also have been an option. Why is it you never signed me up for music lessons or sports? I might have met those like-minded people there that I so sorely lacked.

But again, this wasn’t about you or about how I felt about you, my aim was to eliminate myself. I wanted out, I wanted to escape. By now, it should be clear what I’ve tried to do. You’ve never been slow to catch on: I worked out the time of my conception and tried to make it impossible for you to beget me.

I gave myself a week, which was cutting it close, but any more days didn’t seem doable. I already didn’t know how I’d survive a whole week with the two of you, not because I hated you, or not only because of that, but also because you didn’t know me yet, and I’d need to find a way to get in with you somehow.

Luckily, that was easier than I’d expected. The rest wasn’t very difficult, either. As careless as your lives are, in the end you’re both creatures of habit. I knew when you’d have sex: always at the beginning of the night, never in the morning or during the day. I had to listen to the sounds you make long enough, right, even though it’s such a big house. Still there was no escaping it, so now you know why I wanted to move to the attic room when I was eleven years old. In order to prevent my conception from ever occurring, it should have sufficed to disturb you at the beginning of every night.’

Axel pauses and looks at me. ‘The next sentence is in parenthesis.’

‘So then why don’t you just say ‘open parenthesis’?’ I say. ‘You don’t need to explicitly say that, do you?’

‘Open parenthesis. So it’s a good thing I don’t have any friends, as they’d have told me my plan was flawed and precarious, and most likely would have advised me to dig up the gun again. Close parenthesis. So the sleepwalking was a charade, but you understood this much already, because like I already wrote, you’ve never been stupid, just careless and inattentive. No matter how many hints I dropped these last few days, you didn’t notice a thing. This whole week, did it really never occur to you how well I knew my way around your house?

Again, I don’t blame you for anything. I could tell that you almost recognized me. It’s a strange sensation, and surely part of the reason why you took me into your home so readily, and not just your usual nonchalance, as if life doesn’t really matter.

Well, I can tell you that life definitely matters to other people, and so much that if they can get their hands on a time machine, they won’t hesitate to put their money where their mouth is.

Axel folds the letter and leans forward to put it on the salon table.

‘Well-acted,’ I say. ‘Should we warn anyone?’

‘Who?’ Axel asks. ‘The authorities?’

Why not? Maybe he’s been doing this with other people as well.’

‘And what do we say?’

‘Yeah, good question. Maybe we should check online to see if that letter is mentioned anywhere. If he’s done this before, there’s a good chance someone…’

Axel shakes his head. ‘I’m willing to bet everyone gets a letter written just for them. Besides, what has he actually done?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Unlawful entry? Intrusion under false pretenses? Psychological manipulation? Keeping people up who want to sleep?’

‘Can you picture us at the police station?’

‘No,’ I say.

The following morning I gave Eric some of Axel’s clothes, just in case the tambourine had taken up all the space in his satchel. ‘Now you’re all set to go out into the world,’ I said when he entered the kitchen, where Axel and I were already having breakfast.

‘You two are my world,’ he said.

‘You sleepwalk,’ Axel said. ‘Did you know that? With a tambourine.’

Eric looked at him and nodded. ‘Ever since I was a child. But not all night, right? By the way, that assistant of yours, he’s screwing you over.’

‘Breevoort?’ Axel said. ‘No way!’

‘He is,’ Eric said. ‘He charges extra commission, which he pockets himself.’

‘Impossible,’ Axel said, ‘we have a system that completely rules out anything like that.’

‘He’s doing it anyway,’ Eric said.

_______________

 
‘I fired Breevoort,’ Axel said when he came home that evening. ‘Eric was right. Where is he?’

‘Don’t know,’ I said. ‘I gave him a ride this morning and dropped him off downtown. He said I didn’t need to pick him up. And when I came home, he wasn’t here.’ I’d figured, hoped, expected he would be in the garden, or in the swimming pool.

We sat down and had a drink. Without telling each other, we both knew we were waiting for Eric. We missed him, like he was already one of us.

When we sat down for dinner and tried to reconcile ourselves with the possibility we might never see him again (at least I was, I’ve never been able to read Axel’s mind), the doorbell rang.

‘How did you know about Breevoort?’ Axel asked.

‘Oh, you hear things sometimes,’ Eric said. He seated himself and joined us for dinner. He was vague about what he’d been doing all day. That night, he was very restless once again. ‘The snoring, that’s one thing,’ I told Axel, ‘but we’re taking that tambourine off him tomorrow.’

_______________

‘Read it then,’ I say.

Axel holds the letter a little higher and squeezes his eyes together. ‘Dear parents.

‘Dear parents?’

‘Yeah, that’s what it says. Do you think I’m making this up? Dear parents, if you’re reading this and I’m not in the room with you, I mean, if at the moment you read this I’ve disappeared without a trace, my mission has been accomplished.

_______________

On the third night, Eric came into our bedroom. We were in bed, watching an old movie, something in black-and-white with Cary Grant. Without so much as a glance at the screen, he nestled in between us. We just let him, though we exchanged glances over his head.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ Axel asked.

‘A bit,’ he said. Maybe he missed his tambourine, which was under our bed. He was wearing a set of Axel’s freshly washed striped pajamas, which were a size too big for him, which was odd, since all Axel’s other clothes seemed to fit him perfectly.

‘Where are you from, actually?’ I asked, realizing I’d never asked him anything so directly over the past few days.

He remained vague and kept his eyes on the movie while he talked. His body heat blended with our own. Of course he came from somewhere. He spoke of things that had me listening and nodding, but that I couldn’t remember later because they lacked specificity. And maybe we were to blame as well, because we were trying to watch the movie at the same time. He asked us all kinds of things, like how we’d met. This resulted in an interesting, increasingly engrossing conversation because, of course, Axel and I each had our own version of events, and we’d never compared the two. We forgot about the movie and talked, often looking at each other in surprise. Did you really feel that way back then? And what about you, were you sure about that already? Eric smiled, shifting his gaze from me to Axel and back to me, after which he asked what our plans for the future were. ‘Find someone to take Breevoort’s place,’ Axel said, but this didn’t satisfy Eric. He wanted to know how I felt as well, how I envisioned the rest of my life, if I was going to continue working at the gallery, if we’d be having children. ‘Well, there are plenty of rooms,’ Axel said, and I said I didn’t know yet, we’d just got our own lives in order and were making a good living. It was only a short time ago that we’d bought this house, we still had the time to work on our future. Had we actually seen any of the couples we knew get any happier after having children? Well, no. Did we see having children as our life purpose? Well, no again. For the time being, we were in the middle of a future we’d been working towards for years. Eric nodded as if he were taking it all in seriously, and we kept on talking, Axel, Eric, and I. The movie had ended some time ago. Towards the end, he became contemplative, not in a heavy way, still friendly and light, but something philosophical came over him, as if he was full of questions and saw us as people who could help him. This had never happened to us before, not to me, anyway. Life, what was it, and what, in the end, was it all about? The way he said it, it didn’t sound like a cliché, he genuinely wanted to know how we felt, and he also told us how he felt himself. So there we were, the three of, propped up against each other in bed. It was low-key and extraordinary, and I wish I’d taken notes that night. At a certain moment Axel tapped my shoulder behind Eric’s back, nodding his head in Eric’s direction when he met my gaze. I leaned over a little and saw the tears pouring down Eric’s face, from his eyes down over his cheeks, but without sobbing or any sound. It kept pouring from his eyes, left and right. Axel took him by the arm and led him from the bed to his room. ‘Maybe that’s a kind of sleepwalking too,’ he said when he returned. ‘He didn’t even seem to notice it himself, all that water.’

_______________

 The following night he was walking through the hallway with his tambourine again – three times, with a glassy but determined look in his eyes. Luckily, he also let himself be led back to the guest room three times without any trouble.

‘I saw him in the park,’ Axel said when he returned from work that afternoon. ‘He was sitting on a bench, writing something. He didn’t see me.’

‘He was probably writing a letter to his friends,’ I said. ‘About how he’d found the most gullible people in the world. How you could keep them awake at night, lie in bed with them crying., How they’d put up with anything. And that they should swing by with the truck tonight to come rob the place.’

‘I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have any friends,’ Axel said.

‘Then we have to be his friends,’ I said. ‘Didn’t you walk up to him?’

‘No,’ Axel said, ‘I don’t know why, exactly, but something stopped me. He was in a world of his own, that’s it.’

_______________

We’d both left work early to go home and have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before Eric returned from whatever it was he’d been doing. Only we’d barely lain down when we heard the sound of the doorbell, long and persistent. It was Eric – we had no choice but to let him in. During dinner, he seemed agitated. That night, he was constantly in the hallway with his tambourine, beating the skin as if he was trying to break it. The shrill jingling of the bells sounded like screeching birds. The next morning he’d disappeared.

The bed had been made, he’d somehow managed to hang the clothes he’d borrowed from Axel back in the closet without waking us. ‘I dreamed someone was leaning over me and explaining all kinds of things to me,’ Alex said at breakfast, ‘but I can’t remember if it was Eric or what he said.’ I only half-believed what he said, which is to say, not at all. Why would he lean over Axel and not me?

Eric didn’t return, so it was only the two of us for dinner that evening. We were surprised at how much we missed him. ‘Strange, isn’t it?’ Axel said. ‘How can we miss him this much?’

‘How come we put up with him for so long? I said. ‘That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘It just made sense for him to be here,’ Axel said. ‘Other than that, I have no idea.’

He didn’t return the next day, either. When we talked about him, we referred to him by his title, the most difficult houseguest in ages, which made it a bit more bearable, as if talking about some innocuous anecdote that we might share at parties.

_______________

‘Wait a minute,’ I say. ‘Dear parents? Is that really what it says?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says. ‘That’s really what it says, hold on, it gets a lot stranger still. Are you ready?’

‘Shoot,’ I say.

‘All right, here goes. When friends at school asked me what I’d do if I had a time machine, I was never short of answers, even if the answers I’d come up with as a youth soon lost their innocent luster.

‘So eloquent,’ I say.

‘Shush now. The last few years, I could think of just one: I would travel back in time to my parents and shoot them before they could conceive me.

That’s obviously a serious act of violence, but I took solace in knowing that I’d be altering only one particular course of time, and that in another course of time they could live, and had lived, into old age.

You probably didn’t notice these last couple of days, because I was on a mission, and therefore not my usual self, but I’ve always felt life to be a tremendous burden for which I was barely equipped if at all.

It’s not that I want to blame you for this, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always assumed this was a congenital trait, although your careless lifestyles and drinking may also have been a factor.

But I’m not interested in pinning blame. Though you probably never noticed, life has always been too much for me, and I’ve always been filled with shame.

Even now, I’ll make things up to make it more bearable, like those friends at school who’d ask me what I’d do if I had a time machine. I never had such friends, I asked myself this question and answered it myself as well.

Axel lowers the letter. ‘He’s underlined shame,’ he says.

‘Just keep reading,’ I say.

I didn’t shoot you, which proves that, in the end, I don’t harbor any malice towards you. I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home. After that, I went back downtown to buy a tambourine.

At first, I thought of getting a trumpet, but I don’t play the trumpet, or any instrument for that matter. A drum might also have been an option. Why is it you never signed me up for music lessons or sports? I might have met those like-minded people there that I so sorely lacked.

But again, this wasn’t about you or about how I felt about you, my aim was to eliminate myself. I wanted out, I wanted to escape. By now, it should be clear what I’ve tried to do. You’ve never been slow to catch on: I worked out the time of my conception and tried to make it impossible for you to beget me.

I gave myself a week, which was cutting it close, but any more days didn’t seem doable. I already didn’t know how I’d survive a whole week with the two of you, not because I hated you, or not only because of that, but also because you didn’t know me yet, and I’d need to find a way to get in with you somehow.

Luckily, that was easier than I’d expected. The rest wasn’t very difficult, either. As careless as your lives are, in the end you’re both creatures of habit. I knew when you’d have sex: always at the beginning of the night, never in the morning or during the day. I had to listen to the sounds you make long enough, right, even though it’s such a big house. Still there was no escaping it, so now you know why I wanted to move to the attic room when I was eleven years old. In order to prevent my conception from ever occurring, it should have sufficed to disturb you at the beginning of every night.

Axel pauses and looks at me. ‘The next sentence is in parenthesis.’

‘So then why don’t you just say ‘open parenthesis’?’ I say. ‘You don’t need to explicitly say that, do you?’

‘Open parenthesis. So it’s a good thing I don’t have any friends, as they’d have told me my plan was flawed and precarious, and most likely would have advised me to dig up the gun again. Close parenthesis. So the sleepwalking was a charade, but you understood this much already, because like I already wrote, you’ve never been stupid, just careless and inattentive. No matter how many hints I dropped these last few days, you didn’t notice a thing. This whole week, did it really never occur to you how well I knew my way around your house?

Again, I don’t blame you for anything. I could tell that you almost recognized me. It’s a strange sensation, and surely part of the reason why you took me into your home so readily, and not just your usual nonchalance, as if life doesn’t really matter.

Well, I can tell you that life definitely matters to other people, and so much that if they can get their hands on a time machine, they won’t hesitate to put their money where their mouth is.

Axel folds the letter and leans forward to put it on the salon table.

‘Well-acted,’ I say. ‘Should we warn anyone?’

‘Who?’ Axel asks. ‘The authorities?’

Why not? Maybe he’s been doing this with other people as well.’

‘And what do we say?’

‘Yeah, good question. Maybe we should check online to see if that letter is mentioned anywhere. If he’s done this before, there’s a good chance someone…’

Axel shakes his head. ‘I’m willing to bet everyone gets a letter written just for them. Besides, what has he actually done?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Unlawful entry? Intrusion under false pretenses? Psychological manipulation? Keeping people up who want to sleep?’

‘Can you picture us at the police station?’

‘No,’ I say.

The following morning I gave Eric some of Axel’s clothes, just in case the tambourine had taken up all the space in his satchel. ‘Now you’re all set to go out into the world,’ I said when he entered the kitchen, where Axel and I were already having breakfast.

‘You two are my world,’ he said.

‘You sleepwalk,’ Axel said. ‘Did you know that? With a tambourine.’

Eric looked at him and nodded. ‘Ever since I was a child. But not all night, right? By the way, that assistant of yours, he’s screwing you over.’

‘Breevoort?’ Axel said. ‘No way!’

‘He is,’ Eric said. ‘He charges extra commission, which he pockets himself.’

‘Impossible,’ Axel said, ‘we have a system that completely rules out anything like that.’

‘He’s doing it anyway,’ Eric said.

_______________

 
‘I fired Breevoort,’ Axel said when he came home that evening. ‘Eric was right. Where is he?’

‘Don’t know,’ I said. ‘I gave him a ride this morning and dropped him off downtown. He said I didn’t need to pick him up. And when I came home, he wasn’t here.’ I’d figured, hoped, expected he would be in the garden, or in the swimming pool.

We sat down and had a drink. Without telling each other, we both knew we were waiting for Eric. We missed him, like he was already one of us.

When we sat down for dinner and tried to reconcile ourselves with the possibility we might never see him again (at least I was, I’ve never been able to read Axel’s mind), the doorbell rang.

‘How did you know about Breevoort?’ Axel asked.

‘Oh, you hear things sometimes,’ Eric said. He seated himself and joined us for dinner. He was vague about what he’d been doing all day. That night, he was very restless once again. ‘The snoring, that’s one thing,’ I told Axel, ‘but we’re taking that tambourine off him tomorrow.’

_______________

‘Read it then,’ I say.

Axel holds the letter a little higher and squeezes his eyes together. ‘Dear parents.

‘Dear parents?’

‘Yeah, that’s what it says. Do you think I’m making this up? Dear parents, if you’re reading this and I’m not in the room with you, I mean, if at the moment you read this I’ve disappeared without a trace, my mission has been accomplished.

_______________

On the third night, Eric came into our bedroom. We were in bed, watching an old movie, something in black-and-white with Cary Grant. Without so much as a glance at the screen, he nestled in between us. We just let him, though we exchanged glances over his head.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ Axel asked.

‘A bit,’ he said. Maybe he missed his tambourine, which was under our bed. He was wearing a set of Axel’s freshly washed striped pajamas, which were a size too big for him, which was odd, since all Axel’s other clothes seemed to fit him perfectly.

‘Where are you from, actually?’ I asked, realizing I’d never asked him anything so directly over the past few days.

He remained vague and kept his eyes on the movie while he talked. His body heat blended with our own. Of course he came from somewhere. He spoke of things that had me listening and nodding, but that I couldn’t remember later because they lacked specificity. And maybe we were to blame as well, because we were trying to watch the movie at the same time. He asked us all kinds of things, like how we’d met. This resulted in an interesting, increasingly engrossing conversation because, of course, Axel and I each had our own version of events, and we’d never compared the two. We forgot about the movie and talked, often looking at each other in surprise. Did you really feel that way back then? And what about you, were you sure about that already? Eric smiled, shifting his gaze from me to Axel and back to me, after which he asked what our plans for the future were. ‘Find someone to take Breevoort’s place,’ Axel said, but this didn’t satisfy Eric. He wanted to know how I felt as well, how I envisioned the rest of my life, if I was going to continue working at the gallery, if we’d be having children. ‘Well, there are plenty of rooms,’ Axel said, and I said I didn’t know yet, we’d just got our own lives in order and were making a good living. It was only a short time ago that we’d bought this house, we still had the time to work on our future. Had we actually seen any of the couples we knew get any happier after having children? Well, no. Did we see having children as our life purpose? Well, no again. For the time being, we were in the middle of a future we’d been working towards for years. Eric nodded as if he were taking it all in seriously, and we kept on talking, Axel, Eric, and I. The movie had ended some time ago. Towards the end, he became contemplative, not in a heavy way, still friendly and light, but something philosophical came over him, as if he was full of questions and saw us as people who could help him. This had never happened to us before, not to me, anyway. Life, what was it, and what, in the end, was it all about? The way he said it, it didn’t sound like a cliché, he genuinely wanted to know how we felt, and he also told us how he felt himself. So there we were, the three of, propped up against each other in bed. It was low-key and extraordinary, and I wish I’d taken notes that night. At a certain moment Axel tapped my shoulder behind Eric’s back, nodding his head in Eric’s direction when he met my gaze. I leaned over a little and saw the tears pouring down Eric’s face, from his eyes down over his cheeks, but without sobbing or any sound. It kept pouring from his eyes, left and right. Axel took him by the arm and led him from the bed to his room. ‘Maybe that’s a kind of sleepwalking too,’ he said when he returned. ‘He didn’t even seem to notice it himself, all that water.’

_______________

 The following night he was walking through the hallway with his tambourine again – three times, with a glassy but determined look in his eyes. Luckily, he also let himself be led back to the guest room three times without any trouble.

‘I saw him in the park,’ Axel said when he returned from work that afternoon. ‘He was sitting on a bench, writing something. He didn’t see me.’

‘He was probably writing a letter to his friends,’ I said. ‘About how he’d found the most gullible people in the world. How you could keep them awake at night, lie in bed with them crying., How they’d put up with anything. And that they should swing by with the truck tonight to come rob the place.’

‘I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have any friends,’ Axel said.

‘Then we have to be his friends,’ I said. ‘Didn’t you walk up to him?’

‘No,’ Axel said, ‘I don’t know why, exactly, but something stopped me. He was in a world of his own, that’s it.’

_______________

We’d both left work early to go home and have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before Eric returned from whatever it was he’d been doing. Only we’d barely lain down when we heard the sound of the doorbell, long and persistent. It was Eric – we had no choice but to let him in. During dinner, he seemed agitated. That night, he was constantly in the hallway with his tambourine, beating the skin as if he was trying to break it. The shrill jingling of the bells sounded like screeching birds. The next morning he’d disappeared.

The bed had been made, he’d somehow managed to hang the clothes he’d borrowed from Axel back in the closet without waking us. ‘I dreamed someone was leaning over me and explaining all kinds of things to me,’ Alex said at breakfast, ‘but I can’t remember if it was Eric or what he said.’ I only half-believed what he said, which is to say, not at all. Why would he lean over Axel and not me?

Eric didn’t return, so it was only the two of us for dinner that evening. We were surprised at how much we missed him. ‘Strange, isn’t it?’ Axel said. ‘How can we miss him this much?’

‘How come we put up with him for so long? I said. ‘That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘It just made sense for him to be here,’ Axel said. ‘Other than that, I have no idea.’

He didn’t return the next day, either. When we talked about him, we referred to him by his title, the most difficult houseguest in ages, which made it a bit more bearable, as if talking about some innocuous anecdote that we might share at parties.

_______________

‘Wait a minute,’ I say. ‘Dear parents? Is that really what it says?’

‘Yes,’ Axel says. ‘That’s really what it says, hold on, it gets a lot stranger still. Are you ready?’

‘Shoot,’ I say.

‘All right, here goes. When friends at school asked me what I’d do if I had a time machine, I was never short of answers, even if the answers I’d come up with as a youth soon lost their innocent luster.’

‘So eloquent,’ I say.

‘Shush now. The last few years, I could think of just one: I would travel back in time to my parents and shoot them before they could conceive me.

That’s obviously a serious act of violence, but I took solace in knowing that I’d be altering only one particular course of time, and that in another course of time they could live, and had lived, into old age.

You probably didn’t notice these last couple of days, because I was on a mission, and therefore not my usual self, but I’ve always felt life to be a tremendous burden for which I was barely equipped if at all.

It’s not that I want to blame you for this, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always assumed this was a congenital trait, although your careless lifestyles and drinking may also have been a factor.

But I’m not interested in pinning blame. Though you probably never noticed, life has always been too much for me, and I’ve always been filled with shame.

Even now, I’ll make things up to make it more bearable, like those friends at school who’d ask me what I’d do if I had a time machine. I never had such friends, I asked myself this question and answered it myself as well.

Axel lowers the letter. ‘He’s underlined shame,’ he says.

‘Just keep reading,’ I say.

I didn’t shoot you, which proves that, in the end, I don’t harbor any malice towards you. I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home. After that, I went back downtown to buy a tambourine.

At first, I thought of getting a trumpet, but I don’t play the trumpet, or any instrument for that matter. A drum might also have been an option. Why is it you never signed me up for music lessons or sports? I might have met those like-minded people there that I so sorely lacked.

But again, this wasn’t about you or about how I felt about you, my aim was to eliminate myself. I wanted out, I wanted to escape. By now, it should be clear what I’ve tried to do. You’ve never been slow to catch on: I worked out the time of my conception and tried to make it impossible for you to beget me.

I gave myself a week, which was cutting it close, but any more days didn’t seem doable. I already didn’t know how I’d survive a whole week with the two of you, not because I hated you, or not only because of that, but also because you didn’t know me yet, and I’d need to find a way to get in with you somehow.

Luckily, that was easier than I’d expected. The rest wasn’t very difficult, either. As careless as your lives are, in the end you’re both creatures of habit. I knew when you’d have sex: always at the beginning of the night, never in the morning or during the day. I had to listen to the sounds you make long enough, right, even though it’s such a big house. Still there was no escaping it, so now you know why I wanted to move to the attic room when I was eleven years old. In order to prevent my conception from ever occurring, it should have sufficed to disturb you at the beginning of every night.

Axel pauses and looks at me. ‘The next sentence is in parenthesis.’

‘So then why don’t you just say ‘open parenthesis’?’ I say. ‘You don’t need to explicitly say that, do you?’

‘Open parenthesis. So it’s a good thing I don’t have any friends, as they’d have told me my plan was flawed and precarious, and most likely would have advised me to dig up the gun again. Close parenthesis. So the sleepwalking was a charade, but you understood this much already, because like I already wrote, you’ve never been stupid, just careless and inattentive. No matter how many hints I dropped these last few days, you didn’t notice a thing. This whole week, did it really never occur to you how well I knew my way around your house?

Again, I don’t blame you for anything. I could tell that you almost recognized me. It’s a strange sensation, and surely part of the reason why you took me into your home so readily, and not just your usual nonchalance, as if life doesn’t really matter.

Well, I can tell you that life definitely matters to other people, and so much that if they can get their hands on a time machine, they won’t hesitate to put their money where their mouth is.

Axel folds the letter and leans forward to put it on the salon table.

‘Well-acted,’ I say. ‘Should we warn anyone?’

‘Who?’ Axel asks. ‘The authorities?’

Why not? Maybe he’s been doing this with other people as well.’

‘And what do we say?’

‘Yeah, good question. Maybe we should check online to see if that letter is mentioned anywhere. If he’s done this before, there’s a good chance someone…’

Axel shakes his head. ‘I’m willing to bet everyone gets a letter written just for them. Besides, what has he actually done?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Unlawful entry? Intrusion under false pretenses? Psychological manipulation? Keeping people up who want to sleep?’

‘Can you picture us at the police station?’

‘No,’ I say.

I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home

I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home.

I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home.

I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home.

I did smuggle along a gun, which I buried between the bushes out behind the swimming pool that first day, before you came home.

In the days that follow, I reread the letter many times. ‘He looked like us, Axel,’ I say one evening over dinner. ‘He looked like us, and that’s why we trusted him. I would look at him, and it would be like I was looking at you, I can only see this now. Didn’t you feel the same way, like you were looking at me?’

Axel thinks for a moment. ‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘Maybe I felt I was. Does he specifically target victims who both look like him? Does he know they’ll trust him right away? But how did he know about Breevoort?’

We go over each moment we spent with him. We both have our own version of these moments, put together they provide a more complete picture than our individual versions, our memories corroborate and complement each other. We try to recall details that eluded us at the time: what he said, what he looked like, did he really know his way around our house like he’d been there before, like the floor plan was ingrained in his system?

We download movies about time travel and watch every one of them, one after another, two, three times, discussing plot holes and time travel paradoxes. I catch myself constantly hoping to spot our houseguest on-screen somewhere, however foolish and nonsensical that idea might be.

‘Actually,’ Axel says one evening as he opens a third bottle, ‘we killed him.’

‘He wanted to kill us,’ I say.

‘But he didn’t,’ Axel says, ‘he bought a tambourine.’

‘He didn’t want to live himself,’ I say. ‘He prevented himself from existing, he killed himself. How can we have done it?’

‘By not conceiving him. Or by conceiving him, and then… You read the letter as well, didn’t you?’

‘If that’s your theory,’ I say, ‘then we killed him twice. But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘There’s an idea,’ Axel says. He puts down his glass as well and grabs my arm. ‘Come on.’

I thought he might have trouble getting it up after all that wine, but no, the idea of conceiving Eric seems to turn him on, just like it turns me on, and not just that evening. We’re on a mission. That night, and the nights that follow, we fuck like our lives depend on it, or Eric’s life at least. And not just at night, we do it during the day, at times Eric never heard us before.

In the days that follow, I reread the letter many times. ‘He looked like us, Axel,’ I say one evening over dinner. ‘He looked like us, and that’s why we trusted him. I would look at him, and it would be like I was looking at you, I can only see this now. Didn’t you feel the same way, like you were looking at me?’

Axel thinks for a moment. ‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘Maybe I felt I was. Does he specifically target victims who both look like him? Does he know they’ll trust him right away? But how did he know about Breevoort?’

We go over each moment we spent with him. We both have our own version of these moments, put together they provide a more complete picture than our individual versions, our memories corroborate and complement each other. We try to recall details that eluded us at the time: what he said, what he looked like, did he really know his way around our house like he’d been there before, like the floor plan was ingrained in his system?

We download movies about time travel and watch every one of them, one after another, two, three times, discussing plot holes and time travel paradoxes. I catch myself constantly hoping to spot our houseguest on-screen somewhere, however foolish and nonsensical that idea might be.

‘Actually,’ Axel says one evening as he opens a third bottle, ‘we killed him.’

‘He wanted to kill us,’ I say.

‘But he didn’t,’ Axel says, ‘he bought a tambourine.’

‘He didn’t want to live himself,’ I say. ‘He prevented himself from existing, he killed himself. How can we have done it?’

‘By not conceiving him. Or by conceiving him, and then… You read the letter as well, didn’t you?’

‘If that’s your theory,’ I say, ‘then we killed him twice. But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘There’s an idea,’ Axel says. He puts down his glass as well and grabs my arm. ‘Come on.’

I thought he might have trouble getting it up after all that wine, but no, the idea of conceiving Eric seems to turn him on, just like it turns me on, and not just that evening. We’re on a mission. That night, and the nights that follow, we fuck like our lives depend on it, or Eric’s life at least. And not just at night, we do it during the day, at times Eric never heard us before.

In the days that follow, I reread the letter many times. ‘He looked like us, Axel,’ I say one evening over dinner. ‘He looked like us, and that’s why we trusted him. I would look at him, and it would be like I was looking at you, I can only see this now. Didn’t you feel the same way, like you were looking at me?’

Axel thinks for a moment. ‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘Maybe I felt I was. Does he specifically target victims who both look like him? Does he know they’ll trust him right away? But how did he know about Breevoort?’

We go over each moment we spent with him. We both have our own version of these moments, put together they provide a more complete picture than our individual versions, our memories corroborate and complement each other. We try to recall details that eluded us at the time: what he said, what he looked like, did he really know his way around our house like he’d been there before, like the floor plan was ingrained in his system?

We download movies about time travel and watch every one of them, one after another, two, three times, discussing plot holes and time travel paradoxes. I catch myself constantly hoping to spot our houseguest on-screen somewhere, however foolish and nonsensical that idea might be.

‘Actually,’ Axel says one evening as he opens a third bottle, ‘we killed him.’

‘He wanted to kill us,’ I say.

‘But he didn’t,’ Axel says, ‘he bought a tambourine.’

‘He didn’t want to live himself,’ I say. ‘He prevented himself from existing, he killed himself. How can we have done it?’

‘By not conceiving him. Or by conceiving him, and then… You read the letter as well, didn’t you?’

‘If that’s your theory,’ I say, ‘then we killed him twice. But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘There’s an idea,’ Axel says. He puts down his glass as well and grabs my arm. ‘Come on.’

I thought he might have trouble getting it up after all that wine, but no, the idea of conceiving Eric seems to turn him on, just like it turns me on, and not just that evening. We’re on a mission. That night, and the nights that follow, we fuck like our lives depend on it, or Eric’s life at least. And not just at night, we do it during the day, at times Eric never heard us before.

‘It goes against all logic,’ Axel gasps one afternoon as he drops his head onto the pillow, ‘it goes against all logic, what we’re doing here.’

‘And then we’ll be stuck with him for the rest of our lives,’ I say, ‘and then we can’t screw it up like the first time.’ I stretch and fold my arms behind my head. ‘Apart from the sex,’ I say, ‘shouldn’t we maybe honor Eric’s wish not to exist?’

‘That’s an excellent question to ponder sometime,’ Axel says. ‘But what matters most to me now is the illogical nature of this whole undertaking. If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to here, they’d be laughing in our faces. You just said we shouldn’t ruin Eric’s life like we did the first time, but that’s already impossible, for one thing.’

‘If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to, they’d only be jealous,’ I say. ‘They haven’t had sex this good themselves in years.’

‘And then there’s this,’ Axel says. ‘If this is what we’re up to, it’s like we believe Eric’s story. He’s laughing his ass off somewhere right now.’

‘Any excuse for good sex will do.’

‘Will you stop going on about good sex!’ Axel shouts. ‘That’s not what it’s about, is it?’

‘Listen to what you just said,’ I say.

Axel sighs and looks at the ceiling. ‘Eric, this is what we’re willing to do for you,’ he says. ‘Can’t you see? Can’t you see, you jerk! You dick, you fucking asshole, can’t you see?’ His shouting grows louder and louder, and I shout along with him until we’re both hoarse.

Later, I wake and find myself alone in bed. I get up and open the curtains. The skies are grey, and it’s getting dark. The surface of the water in the swimming pool gently ripples. Axel is busy with a shovel in between the bushes behind the pool. He’s dug quite a few holes already. I open the window. ‘What are you doing?’ I call out.

‘That gun he mentioned!’ Axel calls back. ‘He said he’d buried it here somewhere! If I can find it, that’ll prove he really existed!’

‘But we saw him, didn’t we?’ I say.

Axel leans on his shovel. His head is red and clammy, and there’s an enormous sweat stain on the front of his shirt. ‘Oh, right,’ he says.

In the days that follow, I reread the letter many times. ‘He looked like us, Axel,’ I say one evening over dinner. ‘He looked like us, and that’s why we trusted him. I would look at him, and it would be like I was looking at you, I can only see this now. Didn’t you feel the same way, like you were looking at me?’

Axel thinks for a moment. ‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘Maybe I felt I was. Does he specifically target victims who both look like him? Does he know they’ll trust him right away? But how did he know about Breevoort?’

We go over each moment we spent with him. We both have our own version of these moments, put together they provide a more complete picture than our individual versions, our memories corroborate and complement each other. We try to recall details that eluded us at the time: what he said, what he looked like, did he really know his way around our house like he’d been there before, like the floor plan was ingrained in his system?

We download movies about time travel and watch every one of them, one after another, two, three times, discussing plot holes and time travel paradoxes. I catch myself constantly hoping to spot our houseguest on-screen somewhere, however foolish and nonsensical that idea might be.

‘Actually,’ Axel says one evening as he opens a third bottle, ‘we killed him.’

‘He wanted to kill us,’ I say.

‘But he didn’t,’ Axel says, ‘he bought a tambourine.’

‘He didn’t want to live himself,’ I say. ‘He prevented himself from existing, he killed himself. How can we have done it?’

‘By not conceiving him. Or by conceiving him, and then… You read the letter as well, didn’t you?’

‘If that’s your theory,’ I say, ‘then we killed him twice. But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘There’s an idea,’ Axel says. He puts down his glass as well and grabs my arm. ‘Come on.’

I thought he might have trouble getting it up after all that wine, but no, the idea of conceiving Eric seems to turn him on, just like it turns me on, and not just that evening. We’re on a mission. That night, and the nights that follow, we fuck like our lives depend on it, or Eric’s life at least. And not just at night, we do it during the day, at times Eric never heard us before.

‘If that’s your theory, then we killed him twice. 
But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘If that’s your theory, then we killed him twice. 
But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘If that’s your theory, then we killed him twice. 
But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye,
‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘If that’s your theory, then we killed him twice. 
But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘If that’s your theory, then we killed him twice. But maybe,’ and I put down my glass and look him in the eye, ‘maybe we still can conceive him.’

‘It goes against all logic,’ Axel gasps one afternoon as he drops his head onto the pillow, ‘it goes against all logic, what we’re doing here.’

‘And then we’ll be stuck with him for the rest of our lives,’ I say, ‘and then we can’t screw it up like the first time.’ I stretch and fold my arms behind my head. ‘Apart from the sex,’ I say, ‘shouldn’t we maybe honor Eric’s wish not to exist?’

‘That’s an excellent question to ponder sometime,’ Axel says. ‘But what matters most to me now is the illogical nature of this whole undertaking. If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to here, they’d be laughing in our faces. You just said we shouldn’t ruin Eric’s life like we did the first time, but that’s already impossible, for one thing.’

‘If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to, they’d only be jealous,’ I say. ‘They haven’t had sex this good themselves in years.’

‘And then there’s this,’ Axel says. ‘If this is what we’re up to, it’s like we believe Eric’s story. He’s laughing his ass off somewhere right now.’

‘Any excuse for good sex will do.’

‘Will you stop going on about good sex!’ Axel shouts. ‘That’s not what it’s about, is it?’

‘Listen to what you just said,’ I say.

Axel sighs and looks at the ceiling. ‘Eric, this is what we’re willing to do for you,’ he says. ‘Can’t you see? Can’t you see, you jerk! You dick, you fucking asshole, can’t you see?’ His shouting grows louder and louder, and I shout along with him until we’re both hoarse.

Later, I wake and find myself alone in bed. I get up and open the curtains. The skies are grey, and it’s getting dark. The surface of the water in the swimming pool gently ripples. Axel is busy with a shovel in between the bushes behind the pool. He’s dug quite a few holes already. I open the window. ‘What are you doing?’ I call out.
‘That gun he mentioned!’ Axel calls back. ‘He said he’d buried it here somewhere! If I can find it, that’ll prove he really existed!’

‘But we saw him, didn’t we?’ I say.

Axel leans on his shovel. His head is red and clammy, and there’s an enormous sweat stain on the front of his shirt. ‘Oh, right,’ he says.

‘It goes against all logic,’ Axel gasps one afternoon as he drops his head onto the pillow, ‘it goes against all logic, what we’re doing here.’

‘And then we’ll be stuck with him for the rest of our lives,’ I say, ‘and then we can’t screw it up like the first time.’ I stretch and fold my arms behind my head. ‘Apart from the sex,’ I say, ‘shouldn’t we maybe honor Eric’s wish not to exist?’

‘That’s an excellent question to ponder sometime,’ Axel says. ‘But what matters most to me now is the illogical nature of this whole undertaking. If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to here, they’d be laughing in our faces. You just said we shouldn’t ruin Eric’s life like we did the first time, but that’s already impossible, for one thing.’

‘If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to, they’d only be jealous,’ I say. ‘They haven’t had sex this good themselves in years.’

‘And then there’s this,’ Axel says. ‘If this is what we’re up to, it’s like we believe Eric’s story. He’s laughing his ass off somewhere right now.’

‘Any excuse for good sex will do.’

‘Will you stop going on about good sex!’ Axel shouts. ‘That’s not what it’s about, is it?’

‘Listen to what you just said,’ I say.

Axel sighs and looks at the ceiling. ‘Eric, this is what we’re willing to do for you,’ he says. ‘Can’t you see? Can’t you see, you jerk! You dick, you fucking asshole, can’t you see?’ His shouting grows louder and louder, and I shout along with him until we’re both hoarse.

Later, I wake and find myself alone in bed. I get up and open the curtains. The skies are grey, and it’s getting dark. The surface of the water in the swimming pool gently ripples. Axel is busy with a shovel in between the bushes behind the pool. He’s dug quite a few holes already. I open the window. ‘What are you doing?’ I call out.

‘That gun he mentioned!’ Axel calls back. ‘He said he’d buried it here somewhere! If I can find it, that’ll prove he really existed!’

‘But we saw him, didn’t we?’ I say.

Axel leans on his shovel. His head is red and clammy, and there’s an enormous sweat stain on the front of his shirt. ‘Oh, right,’ he says.

‘It goes against all logic,’ Axel gasps one afternoon as he drops his head onto the pillow, ‘it goes against all logic, what we’re doing here.’

‘And then we’ll be stuck with him for the rest of our lives,’ I say, ‘and then we can’t screw it up like the first time.’ I stretch and fold my arms behind my head. ‘Apart from the sex,’ I say, ‘shouldn’t we maybe honor Eric’s wish not to exist?’

‘That’s an excellent question to ponder sometime,’ Axel says. ‘But what matters most to me now is the illogical nature of this whole undertaking. If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to here, they’d be laughing in our faces. You just said we shouldn’t ruin Eric’s life like we did the first time, but that’s already impossible, for one thing.’

‘If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to, they’d only be jealous,’ I say. ‘They haven’t had sex this good themselves in years.’

‘And then there’s this,’ Axel says. ‘If this is what we’re up to, it’s like we believe Eric’s story. He’s laughing his ass off somewhere right now.’

‘Any excuse for good sex will do.’

‘Will you stop going on about good sex!’ Axel shouts. ‘That’s not what it’s about, is it?’

‘Listen to what you just said,’ I say.

Axel sighs and looks at the ceiling. ‘Eric, this is what we’re willing to do for you,’ he says. ‘Can’t you see? Can’t you see, you jerk! You dick, you fucking asshole, can’t you see?’ His shouting grows louder and louder, and I shout along with him until we’re both hoarse.

Later, I wake and find myself alone in bed. I get up and open the curtains. The skies are grey, and it’s getting dark. The surface of the water in the swimming pool gently ripples. Axel is busy with a shovel in between the bushes behind the pool. He’s dug quite a few holes already. I open the window. ‘What are you doing?’ I call out.

‘That gun he mentioned!’ Axel calls back. ‘He said he’d buried it here somewhere! If I can find it, that’ll prove he really existed!’

‘But we saw him, didn’t we?’ I say.

Axel leans on his shovel. His head is red and clammy, and there’s an enormous sweat stain on the front of his shirt. ‘Oh, right,’ he says.

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!’

‘It goes against all logic,’ Axel gasps one afternoon as he drops his head onto the pillow, ‘it goes against all logic, what we’re doing here.’

‘And then we’ll be stuck with him for the rest of our lives,’ I say, ‘and then we can’t screw it up like the first time.’ I stretch and fold my arms behind my head. ‘Apart from the sex,’ I say, ‘shouldn’t we maybe honor Eric’s wish not to exist?’

‘That’s an excellent question to ponder sometime,’ Axel says. ‘But what matters most to me now is the illogical nature of this whole undertaking. If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to here, they’d be laughing in our faces. You just said we shouldn’t ruin Eric’s life like we did the first time, but that’s already impossible, for one thing.’

‘If people versed in time travel paradoxes saw what we were up to, they’d only be jealous,’ I say. ‘They haven’t had sex this good themselves in years.’

‘And then there’s this,’ Axel says. ‘If this is what we’re up to, it’s like we believe Eric’s story. He’s laughing his ass off somewhere right now.’

‘Any excuse for good sex will do.’

‘Will you stop going on about good sex!’ Axel shouts. ‘That’s not what it’s about, is it?’

‘Listen to what you just said,’ I say.

Axel sighs and looks at the ceiling. ‘Eric, this is what we’re willing to do for you,’ he says. ‘Can’t you see? Can’t you see, you jerk! You dick, you fucking asshole, can’t you see?’ His shouting grows louder and louder, and I shout along with him until we’re both hoarse.

Later, I wake and find myself alone in bed. I get up and open the curtains. The skies are grey, and it’s getting dark. The surface of the water in the swimming pool gently ripples. Axel is busy with a shovel in between the bushes behind the pool. He’s dug quite a few holes already. I open the window. ‘What are you doing?’ I call out.

‘That gun he mentioned!’ Axel calls back. ‘He said he’d buried it here somewhere! If I can find it, that’ll prove he really existed!’

‘But we saw him, didn’t we?’ I say.

Axel leans on his shovel. His head is red and clammy, and there’s an enormous sweat stain on the front of his shirt. ‘Oh, right,’ he says.

Rob-van-essen

ROB VAN ESSEN

Rob van Essen (1963) was born in Amstelveen and grew up in Twente and the Veluwe. He has published eight novels, two collections of short stories, and two autobiographical chronicles. His collection Hier wonen ook mensen won the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for the best short story collection of 2014. His novel Visser made the short list for the Libris Prize, and Winter in Amerika and De goede zoon the long list. He reviews English-language literature for the NRC Handelsblad and lives and works in Amsterdam.

ROB VAN ESSEN

Rob van Essen (1963) was born in Amstelveen and grew up in Twente and the Veluwe. He has published eight novels, two collections of short stories, and two autobiographical chronicles. His collection Hier wonen ook mensen won the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for the best short story collection of 2014. His novel Visser made the short list for the Libris Prize, and Winter in Amerika and De goede zoon the long list. He reviews English-language literature for the NRC Handelsblad and lives and works in Amsterdam.

ROB VAN ESSEN

Rob van Essen (1963) was born in Amstelveen and grew up in Twente and the Veluwe. He has published eight novels, two collections of short stories, and two autobiographical chronicles. His collection Hier wonen ook mensen won the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for the best short story collection of 2014. His novel Visser made the short list for the Libris Prize, and Winter in Amerika and De goede zoon the long list. He reviews English-language literature for the NRC Handelsblad and lives and works in Amsterdam.

ROB VAN ESSEN

Rob van Essen (1963) was born in Amstelveen and grew up in Twente and the Veluwe. He has published eight novels, two collections of short stories, and two autobiographical chronicles. His collection Hier wonen ook mensen won the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for the best short story collection of 2014. His novel Visser made the short list for the Libris Prize, and Winter in Amerika and De goede zoon the long list. He reviews English-language literature for the NRC Handelsblad and lives and works in Amsterdam.

ROB VAN ESSEN

Rob van Essen (1963) was born in Amstelveen and grew up in Twente and the Veluwe. He has published eight novels, two collections of short stories, and two autobiographical chronicles. His collection Hier wonen ook mensen won the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for the best short story collection of 2014. His novel Visser made the short list for the Libris Prize, and Winter in Amerika and De goede zoon the long list. He reviews English-language literature for the NRC Handelsblad and lives and works in Amsterdam.

 

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