by Nicholas P. Snoek
A couple of days have passed, and the Spiets family has had a chance to unwind from the tensions of travelling. Everyone is all up to date now with all the news and current events, so Mr Schuurman has decided he will rent a couple of horses and a mule the next day, and get some gear together so that the day after the two men and the boys will go see if they can find Jack's monastery.
Jack and Viktor are in the shed, whittling toy soldiers.
"Jack, do you belong to Cubs or Scouts or anything like that? Or do they have that here?"
"I don't know if they do or not. What's it all about?"
"It's groups of boys who belong to a sort of club, for being outdoors and doing things like camping and surviving in the woods. You learn how to set up a tent, cook on a campfire, and make all the different types of knots with rope, for mountain climbing, and tying up boats and things. Do they have that here? I was in Cubs, and when I got older I went into Scouts. I've got all kinds of badges. You earn the badges by learning to do all those things. It's a lot of fun."
"I don't think they have it here. I've never heard of it, anyway."
"Oh, too bad. Did you ever play at being Indian? You know, North American Indians with cowboys and stuff."
"No, I never did."
"I did. I was always making bows and arrows. I used willow branches for the bows, and there was a partition behind the chicken house made out of reed, like bamboo. I would get arrows out of there. I even got mom to make me a feather head bonnet. I collected a bunch of long feathers out of the chicken pen and she sewed them onto a head band. I was so surprised she did that. Usually it's `Oh we'll do that sometime.' But when I asked her that, she did it. Right away. Pretty good, hey?"
"Yeah. I guess so."
"But around here! I was surprised, they really know how to use a bow and arrow. When I saw them all doing that, I thought I might be able to join in, but they would make me look pretty silly. They take it seriously, with competitions and everything. Like sharpshooters in the army. Have you learned to shoot a bow and arrow?"
"No. They don't get into it much at the monastery."
"Boy, Jack. You haven't done much of anything except study, have you? You've got a lot of catching up to do.
Tell me about those soldiers. Did they march all together, really loud. And were they wearing big iron helmets like round buckets, on their heads?"
"No, I never saw or heard them marching at all. They rode horses. And most of them just wore caps. The officer's helmet was more like a shiny blue or green soup bowl. The monks said they were Chinese soldiers."
"Oh yeah. Cavalry. The Chinese took over Tibet. I wonder what they were doing in Bhutan.
The soldiers that I remember were Germans. They always marched, never just walked, even if there were only two. They would march on the cobblestones, and you could hear the metal clickers on their boots a long ways off. At night we could hear them going by outside. When she heard them, mom would gather us round and say a prayer, asking God to please let them go by and not stop.
But there were times they didn't go by. They stopped and came in. Even without knocking, sometimes."
"Dad was in the Dutch underground, and they came looking for him. Mom would sit in an armchair in the middle of the dining room, with us kids right tight around her, and pray the rosary. Then the Germans would search the house. She said they weren't ordinary soldiers, they were NSB'ers, some special group.
I don't think they ever found him. I can't remember anything like that anyway. But I knew where he was hiding. There was a part of the attic you couldn't see by going through upstairs, but you could get into it by taking out the boards at the top of the clothes closet. I saw him getting in there once.
It was really hard for me not to look up that way when the officers would be asking Mom where he was."
"Why did they want him so bad?"
"I didn't know it then, but when he was in the army he was part of Intelligence. He rode a big Harley Davidson and took messages all over for the Allies.
But at times he was also in charge of a death squad for the Dutch underground. So the Germans were always after him."
"They never caught him?"
"Well, I guess they must have. He was a prisoner of war. I don't know for how long. I've heard him telling people the interrogators would show him pictures of Mom and us, and say that she would be raped, and we would be shot in front of her, if he didn't co-operate with them. Or that we were all dead already. But I guess he never told them anything. I don't know how he got away."
"Wow. That's pretty scary. What is that, `raped'?"
"You don't want to know. I'll tell you someday. It's kind of complicated."
"Did your dad wear a uniform? And did he have a gun?"
"Of course. He always had guns, as far as I know."
"I never even saw a gun till those soldiers came."
"Dad kept several guns in his bedroom closet. I went in there one time and dressed up in his helmet and his big heavy boots and I was marching all round the house with his rifle on my shoulder, shouting out orders like I had seen them do out in the street.
That was pretty funny. Mom got right upset over it, you bet. Dad didn't seem to think it was so bad. He was smiling to one side, I just caught that. Then he pretended to be just like Mom about it.
I didn't see any guns or uniforms after that. I don't know where they got to. Except for one day when he shot a pigeon off the brick chimney, for practice, I guess. That was before we got the other pigeons I was telling you about."
"That's kind of sad, to shoot a pigeon for target practice."
"Yah, I felt bad about it. It's different when it's a rat. There were a lot of rats in the shed at the back. Dad was always trapping them, but they were pretty cagey. I remember many times, walking in there and rats scattering every which way.
Once a long time before the pigeons I was coming down to the sloot at the back of the place and Dad was there, hunkered down with a gun in his lap watching something on the far side. I crouched down beside him, and then I could see he had shot a rat. It was bleeding, and crawling slowly along the mud slope. I was really young, but I was angry because he didn't finish it off.
I said so, too. He just laughed a little, and said the rat was dead already."
"Yeah. You know, about that laugh... One time we were all skating on the canal, the whole neighborhood, and I was just learning how to skate, pretty scared and clumsy. I slipped and fell. Hard, right on my tailbone. Man, did that hurt!
And he laughed. Right out loud, like it was funny. I could have killed him."
It is late evening. Jack and Viktor are in bed.
"Jack, you lived only with monks till you came here, how do you like being in a house with four girls? And a mother."
"At first it was really strange, but now it seems as if I've always been here. I like Mrs Schuurman mostly, but she's a little sharp sometimes. She gets right snappy once in a while and I can't figure out when that's coming, or why it happens.
The girls are fine. They're hard to understand though, completely different from anyone I've ever met. But I get along with them pretty good."
"Have you kissed any of them yet?"
"What! Kissed them?"
"Yeah, what do you think? You like a girl, you kiss her."
"Well, how do you do it? What do you do?"
"Come on, Jack, you just kiss them; where have you been?"
"In a monastery, Viktor, in a monastery. And until just lately I've never even seen anyone kiss another person. Not like you're talking about, anyway. Brother Cyprios kissed me on the forehead when I was younger, when he put me to bed. But come to think of it... Lately I'm always running into people kissing. I see them in alleyways, in the fields, a lot on verandas. And Mr and Mrs Schuurman, wow! I guess I just never noticed that before."
"Well, as far as how you do it, I don't know, you just sort of hold them kind of soft like, and you put one hand on their cheek or their neck, and then put your mouth on theirs. And you move your lips around against theirs. It feels good. There's a couple of girls back home in Holland, I kiss them all the time. We chum around together, and when no one is watching, I kiss them. They like it."
"You know, sometimes when I look at Truusje's mouth I can feel myself sort of being pulled towards her. It's the weirdest thing. It's like when you're really high up, and you lose your balance from looking down? I almost fall over to her. Or like there's two hands around the back of my neck, and they're pulling me over to that candy mouth! Have you ever felt like that?"
"Well, I don't know. I sure never thought of describing it that way. But I suppose I have. So, if that's how you feel, why haven't you kissed her?"
"Because. Until now I didn't understand what was happening. Now I do. I know now that I want to kiss her! Fancy that, I actually want to kiss a girl! But I shouldn't do it, Mrs Schuurman wouldn't like it at all."
"How's she gonna know? I won't tell, Truusje wouldn't tell, and I'm darn sure you're not going to tell her. So how's she gonna know?"
"Viktor, this is not a good idea."
"This is a real good idea! You know you want to.
Tell you what. You kiss Truusje and I'll kiss Ietje. Then we'll all be in it together and it'll be a secret for the four of us."
"Well, I've got to think about it. I'll sleep on it."
"I don't see why. You should forget about that monastery, you know. The world is just not like that.
But okay, sleep on it if you want. Good night."
/// Jack is sitting on a wooden bench in a grassy area, surrounded by trees spaced wide apart. There is a quiet stream to the right, with a lily pond a little farther on, and up on higher ground to the left, he can see the upper parts of several trim looking buildings. Some people are having a picnic near a group of roofed over tables.
A girl with very light skin and long dark hair is going by. She is pretty as can be! And Jack, without another thought, gets up to follow her. She's wearing a light fluffy summer dress, and twirling a wide straw hat by its sash, on her left forefinger. She doesn't look at him.
Coming to the edge of the pond, she leans down, undoing her sandals, and puts them with the hat on the edge of the grassy bank. Then she steps into the water.
Jack stands on the shore looking at her. But she ignores him completely. He wonders what he should do.
He finally kicks his shoes off too, and steps into the water. She's half hidden in the reeds.
Jack slowly wades over to her. She's just standing there, and doesn't seem to see him. He comes quite close, and stops. They're facing each other, about a foot apart. He cannot understand it. Her eyes are almost looking through him. The water is up to his shoulders and, hidden from her view, his hand reaches out to touch her. He feels her arm, and she does not pull back. He slowly puts his lips on hers. It feels nice. She doesn't react. Neither of them moves.
He lifts his head back. His other hand goes round behind her and slowly, dreamily, he pulls their hips together.
There is a slight smile on her mouth now, but still she does not seem to see him. Who, what, where, how can she be? How can she be this way? It doesn't matter.
A warm delicious melting need suffuses his lower body, and he comes closer in,... and closer in. His head reels, and his eyes lose focus now. He cannot see her, as he surrenders to the heady meltdown. She does not move. It doesn't matter.
A hot sweet chemical bite in an ache of animal ecstasy shoots from his swollen loins! OHHH, Ohhh, my GOD!
An afterglow of utter relaxation swimfloats his absent body in the gentle current, and an orange-red expanse fills all his field of sight... He cannot see at all.
It does not matter.
The stream is taking him away. He drifts along, lazily letting it happen. Slowly the sky comes visible. He will go to the ocean, with all the other silt and mud and refuse.\\\
Jack wakes up, thinking he has wet his bed. Is he still peeing his bed in his dreams? He thought he had conquered that! Will he never grow up?
But the bedding seems to be dry. Strange.
The next evening the two boys coax Ietje and Truusje outside with a game of hide and seek. And when Viktor finds Ietje as she hides, he bends down to her and kisses her. She squeaks and giggles, but she doesn't object.
And Jack finds Truusje hiding. She is crouched inside a large cardboard box.
"Hush! Don't say anything. Let me sit with you for a minute, okay?"
"Okay. There's not much room in here."
Jack half squats in front of her, embarrassed. Older, experienced, Viktor and Ietje kiss from time to time, and do not disturb the younger ones.
"I like you Truusje."
"I know. I like you too."
"And I, uh... Oh darn!"
"What, Jack. What?"
He cups her cheek in his left hand, and hesitantly moves closer. He almost kisses her when she, trying to make room for him, turns her head, and their noses bump together. Hard! Ouch, how embarrassing!
"Agh! Oh, Truusje, I'm sorry. I'd better go." Jack is turning to leave.
"Jack! It's okay. Don't go. It didn't hurt."
Hesitantly Jack sits down again. "I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."
"I'm okay. You didn't do anything wrong. We just bumped noses, that's all."
Vaguely realizing the little girl is not so little, Jack decides to risk all, and again he comes closer. And this time it works! Gently and properly, he kisses her on the mouth. And she kisses back! Oh, it's great!
And then a voice comes from the house...
"Ietje, Truusje, come on in now. It's time for bed!"