Blame It on the Bricks
Never before had I seen my mother lying on the floor of the living room . .
A bright blue sky and frost, and shiny clouds sparkling on the edges .
. . days like this are rare, my mother said that morning.
Next she took a tram and went shopping at the flea markets in Amsterdam.
It was a rare day to collapse and die, indeed.
Shortly after my mother died my brother’s friend rang the doorbell and
someone must have opened the front door without explaining we had a corpse
inside the house, and that boy brought in a dog. As soon as the friend saw
our dead mother on the floor of the living he whistled the pit-bull back because
it was sniffling at my mother’s face and barking like a maniac.
That guy, a black boy with a whitish cap on his head and legions of golden
chains around his neck, took off his cap, and then he left in a hurry, mumbling
to my dead mother: God. I am so sorry, man.
God. I am so sorry, man.
Now it was evening and my brother the Indian was talking to her body, too.
Our mother looked awkward, massive, and I wondered what would become of her
memories now that an invisible combination lock had sealed her. What happens
My stepfather sat on the couch, pale and thin like an apparition. Now and then
his eyes watched his dead wife. He reminded me of a reptile, white of dry mud,
sitting motionless on a rock in the sun, sucking heat from the world around
him to warm his being up, just waiting for a fly to tumble through the sky
and then, with the speed of light, he would open his mouth to shoot his yo-yo
tongue out and catch his prey.
I can’t believe it yet, he said with the voice of disappearing
My brother was on the floor now, on his knees. He tried to close her lips properly.
I walked up and down the room. I stood still at the spot where she’d
often told me I was born. Here stood the bed, she would say,
smiling, while her hands pointed at the place where I stood now.
She had given birth to me in a room that was no longer there, because my father
had taken walls down many years ago.
My father had taken walls down.
For a second I pictured him and her making love on the spot where I stood.
I could hear my father pant and moan. I couldn’t imagine my mother young,
with her legs around his hips.
The sounds and images faded out.
I lit a cigarette and tried not to smoke it.
Where I stood, halfway in the elongated living room of our cellar house, across
the emerald canal with shrieking ducks that suffered from starvation, I noticed
dreamlike images. I watched a baffling movie cast upon the inside of my cranium.
My life was a collection of images:
I, a wavering field of corn. I, a fragment of a painting of Vincent van Gogh.
I, Vincent van Gogh. I, cutting off my earlobe because I couldn’t bear
me. Me, a river without water. Me, a fish in sand. I, death and life as one.
I, God and Lucifer dancing in a bonfire. Me, a garden and a stone in a garden.
Me, a stone in my emerald garden. I, the roots of a tree and the rotten fruits
in autumn . . .
Was it the summer of ’67 when I danced in the rain with a sapphire boy?
I was the authority that had killed him with a thing like kissing. I, a killing
pasture. Walk in my pasture and death will be your share. Me, the friend of
Tessa at the age of eleven. Me, the stockholder of dead kids. My life had become
a painting, and on it are dead kids. Tessa was bullied by our classmates. I
was her only friend. We walked to school one day. We passed a field with yellow
flowers. Tessa, we went into the field, do you remember this, in the ash? Do
you remember us stealing yellow flowers in the ash, Tessa? The sun was beating
down on us. Even the light that tumbled from the trees looks old now. Did you
sense how much I envied you for having pearly pigtails? Could I know they would
be soaked by your blood, later that day? You talked and talked and talked,
Tessa. Your voice was so bright and sounded so excited as if life was created
for you only. Ash blonde figure walking through a world of gleaming dust. A
powdery world. Atlantis. God knows I almost believed I was God for saving you
from isolation and desolation and the pests. I was your savior for some time,
and then it all collapsed. Don’t you get it, Tessa?
Life was a saucer and we were in it picking yellow flowers. Life was Goliath
eating everything living. Screw me. Burn me to ashes. It will be over soon.
Ash! I couldn’t bring you home, Tessa. I wasn’t allowed to bring
you home. Our teachers weren’t people, but memories. We didn’t
know it then, but only felt it.
Hey, Tessa, see us walking there in a sunny heat? I, a destroyer of little
blonde bullied girls. I wondered what had happened when I passed the bridge
close to my house, half an hour too late to save you. All that blood, drying
in the sun. What happened when I wasn’t there to tell you how to cross
a road? Is it so difficult to cross a road without being driven over by a truck?
Get off my back, you bewildered fairy. Mini Marilyn Monroe. Girl, I sort of
hate you for still loving you.
All those people on the bridge, their humming voices. Birds, butterflies,
bees . . .
And glistening fish rise from the muddy canal water. Green fish
with their mouths wide open. It is so hot; they want to escape the boiling
Amsterdam canals. Even the highway—melting black tar smelled so well—was
shiny with tinsel. Fatamorgana. It was such an exciting day. Jesus, what a
beautiful day it was. Remember? Another rare day. The sun was spreading nothing
but gold powdery lights. I inhaled your blood. And the scents of flowers, darling,
wavering into the depth of my carcass, filled me up with an overwhelming urge;
baby, I was dying to live. Don’t ask me why. No one ever asked me why.
Until I saw a drawing of white chalk in the shape of a child’s body on
the blackboard of the road and I recognized the scene, because they had even
outlined your pigtails.
* * *
I am guilt and remorse. I am a flood of destruction, a tide of desire. How
much did you love me more than you loved my sister or brother? Please tell
me. Never mind, I think I know the answer. Let’s never speak about it.
Your only child,
* * *
She couldn’t breathe and I thought she just had the flu, the
We gazed at him but no one spoke a word. He looked so strange. A lie in the
gap of his wife’s skull.
I decided to phone my real father.
Is this my biological father speaking?
I guess so, yes.
Sir, your first wife died.
I smelled the skin of my father. I was almost able to touch his bearded faced
that loomed up in a hollow corner of the room. I wanted to stick my tongue
into the beard of my father.
Give me some time to remember her, he answered.
* * *
I gazed at the bed that had been there once. A bed in a living room in Amsterdam.
A bed of moldering bricks.
Death and life in a bed; in a grave; in a cut in the earth . . .
Death has a penis.
Ask the old walls of our house. Ask the bricks how often I’d put my tongue
on one of these walls to taste life. I have licked stones, I have sucked doorknobs.
I have tasted the black dust of Amsterdam left behind by acid rain, on metal
ornaments in art deco style, beside the colossal rocky stairs on the outside.
I have made love in a way, to the interior and the exterior of a building.
I made love in alleys and on the very spot you died, Mamma. I made love in
water and in attic rooms. Nevertheless, I don’t remember making love
to anyone, ever.
Her body is cooling down, the Indian said.
I walked to the end of the room, and gazed outside the windows of the garden
doors and put my fingers on the cold glass. Nothing had changed. Everything
was still there, the endless memories tumbling over each other. Me climbing
in the apple tree on the right, stepping onto the roof of the barn. Me, an
eight, nine, ten year old . . . looking like a pink insect, wearing a ballet
dancer’s tutu. Where’s the reptile sucking me from the sky? The
sun, a meandering river of light, around me. Repulsive images. I shoot the
girl in the lonely garden, the metallic bugs and the rotating jackdaws. I
detest the smell of ripe fruits; the sounds; the buzz of our next door dentist’s
drill; the emerald green eyes of the boy next door, piercing mine; the cats
wetting the fur of other cats; the scent of mimosa and lavender and white
roses and kaput grass; the coolness of the earth beneath my frightened small
the hands that captured butterflies and worms; the taste of fresh earth on
pebbles in my mouth, but I no longer fear the wavering cloth of worms in
my intestines. I hate perfections.
* * *
I heard the Indian sob. God bless the women that would have him.
I turned around. I noticed my sister had arrived. She looked so skinny and
afraid. I walked over to her and she took my hand. This was the first time
in our life she had taken my hand to console me. Her hand felt modern, anorexic,
but it looked like a tiny starving bird that would never find a twig to rest
on. I wouldn’t let go of her hand. Her hand is still in my hand. Her
hand will always be in my hand.
We have to call someone to take her away, I said.
Who shall we phone? she asked.
Some men, I guess . . . I answered in a whisper.
Someone had to pick her up. This is the end of the story of my mother. I
wanted men to pick her up. I wanted to get rid of the body.
* * *
We were upstairs in the master bedroom. We were in a bedroom in Amsterdam
and the lights were off. We roamed awhile in the dusk. Then we watched the
across the canal. Dogs barked in the shadows of naked bodies. The red-light
district seemed so peaceful, a heaven of satisfying meat. Men walked up and
down the alleys.
Two men stepped out of a black car in front of our house. They wore black
shiny hats. So much black surrounded their pale and criminal looking faces.
took their hats off before they rang the bell of our house.
Downstairs we heard things: A whining zipper closing memories. A little later
the men carried a large black pack outside the house, and shoved it into
Why are most undertakers repulsive looking men? I asked.
I don’t know either why everything looks so normal, my sister
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