by Nicholas P. Snoek
It's late at night, past twelve. Jack and Mom are talking by themselves in the front room.
"Victor, I had a call today. From the lawyer." Pause.
"What was it about?"
"I'd almost forgotten about it again, it was so long ago, but when we came from Bhutan we brought a letter with us, that Brother Andre had put in our care. The letter was for you, and it wasn't supposed to be given to you till you turned eighteen. We gave it to our lawyer to hold for us, like Brother Andre asked. And now you'll soon be turning eighteen. He called to remind us."
"The lawyer called to remind you about getting the letter to me on my birthday. Who's it from?"
"It was written by your real mother, I think. I'm not clear about that anymore. Maybe I shouldn't even have said that. It was from a woman, anyway."
"Do you have any idea what it was about? Have you read it? Why couldn't I see it till my eighteenth birthday?"
"No, it was sealed, in a package. Brother Andre has a copy. It was his decision that you not read it till you're eighteen. You should know too, that some months ago I was worried about you, the way you were so desperately seeking answers to all kinds of weird questions -- so I wrote Brother Andre, asking him to get in touch with us. I never heard back, so that sort of slipped my mind too."
"Perhaps it never got to him."
"No, maybe not. Anyway, his instructions were clear enough. I'll go to town tomorrow and pick up that package, and this weekend we'll give it to you. You are to read it by yourself and then decide if you want anyone else to see it. You can keep it private if you wish."
"Alright." Sounds intriguing.
There's a dairy farm not far up Harbing Road, about a mile from the slaughterhouse. Jack has worked there, haying from time to time. The father is a tall Scottish man, thinning brown hair and a wide bottom lip always wearing a half smile, and he has the usual tall stoop. Jack is friends with the older of two sons, Keith. There is a daughter, the middle child, Agnes. Jean is the youngest.
Jack and the boys are hanging out in the barn loft. It's nice and roomy and dry. An all purpose barn, not just for hay, sort of hollow sounding, with all sorts of nooks and crannies where you can hide. Some pigeons nest in the peaks, and their cooing and chortling adds a peaceful tone. A pleasant place.
Keith is whispering something in Jean's ear. They laugh, and Jean leaves to go to the house.
Keith, "Vick, we're going to play a new game. You'll like it. It's fun."
"Okay. What is it?"
"You'll see. Wait till Jean and Agnes get back."
The two younger ones come climbing up into the loft, and the two brothers exchange covert glances. Jack wonders what's going on here, but waits to see.
"Okay, let's play hide and seek." Keith suggests.
"Alright." Nothing new there.
When Agnes hides, and the two brothers find her, they don't end things the usual way.
Keith, "Agnes, shut your eyes. We're going to spin you around. See if you can guess who's touching you."
"No, please Keith. Don't. I don't like that. It hurts."
"Come on, don't be a spoilsport. We'll be careful."
And he spins her round. Jack has joined them now, and is watching, wondering what this is all about. He soon finds out. When she comes to a stop Jean gets behind her and covers her eyes with his hands. Keith starts to feel her breasts and rub her legs and belly. She doesn't say anything, well aware that guessing who is not the point here. She knows very well, who.
Encouraged by Jack's silent gaze, Keith motions Jean to lean her back, and soon Jean is lying on the floor, using only one hand to cover her eyes, and he is fondling her breasts with his other hand. He has an erection now and is pushing his groin back and forth between her buttocks.
Grinning at Jack, Keith gets down and lifts her skirt. Adamantly pushing aside her futile fingers he slides his hand under her panties and over her soft mound, and then he starts to pull them off. When they are down a little ways he puts his mouth on her and kisses her. Back and forth, all over. He spreads her legs more, ripping the panties, and soon he pushes his finger into her. She moans and cries. Jean shifts his hand to cover her mouth now, but she keeps her eyes closed anyway. Tears are streaming down her face.
Keith is struggling with his belt.
Jack has had enough. "I have to go!" he chokes, and quickly turns, walking rapidly out of the barn.
He wanders the long road home in a daze. How can they do this! Their sister! Right out there, in front of each other. In front of him.
A game! What game!
Why did she come out into the barn?
Damn their eyes!
The weekend has come. And Mom, instead of making the manila envelope part of the birthday celebration, has waited till that was all over, and gives Jack the package up in his bedroom. Pietje will stay up for a while.
"Here you are, young man. I hope this will answer some of your questions. And happy birthday, again. Let us know tomorrow what you decide to do, okay?"
"Okay. Thanks, Mom. Goodnight."
Nervously, Jack tears open the brown cover. There are several things inside. First a folded white paper slides out. Jack glances at it. In a large hand on both sides are the words: READ FIRST! There is another sheet tucked inside it. It's a short letter, signed by Brother Andre.
Sitting forward in his chair, Jack reads, heart pounding...
Happy eighteenth birthday!
You're a man, now. I hope you are well and happy. You probably have a girlfriend, and I expect you have made and perhaps have lost, other friends. Life is like that.
Forgive me, Jack, for all this mystery about the enclosed letter. If everything has gone as I hope, you may now be able to read it and benefit, rather than be shocked or hurt by it. In any case, I thought by your eighteenth birthday you would be entitled to see and judge for yourself, the meaning and value of what your mother had to say.
You will note the letter was meant for me. It was much on my mind before you left. I believe it's genuine, authentic. That is, I think the woman who wrote it considers that she's telling the story as she believes it to have taken place.
Make of it what you will. By the age of eighteen I'm sure you will have even more a mind of your own than you show at the time I write this, and for a young lad you display a lot of independence.
You don't have to share this with anyone, you understand. If you wish, you can keep it a private affair and not even mention to anyone that you got a letter.
So good luck, Jack. Hope to hear from you.
Jack dives into the package again. There's another sealed envelope inside. Tearing it open, he starts to read...
`14 April 1946
In December of 1940 I left my baby at the door of the monastery. When I was pregnant with this baby I was very troubled. I thought I would be better after I gave up the baby, but I was not better. I was even worse.
I was raped by an apeman in March 1940. When the baby was born it was very hairy. I am not hairy. My husband is not hairy. In both our families no one is hairy, and no one is blond. So I think the apeman was the father. I have heard of this, it can happen.
I know you kept the baby, I have asked in the valley and I have seen the little boy. And I know he is not hairy now. He is almost blond, and his skin is not very dark. They told me his eyes are green. I have not seen a man with green eyes.
It is worrying me what can happen with the boy. If he is part apeman he may be wild or crazy. I think you must know this so you can be careful.
Please do not try to find me, I can not help. And I do not want my husband to know this.
I hope I will be better now.
I'll be damned! This woman, whoever she is or thinks she is, is saying I'm the child of an apeman! That's impossible! Impossible.
I'm a normal human being. I have normal hair, normal eyes, normal skin and arms and legs, just like everybody else. I can think and read and carry on a conversation with the best of them. I'm good in school, very good!
An apeman my ass! What the hell is an apeman! An ape, or a man? There is no in between, there. There's no halfway house between ape and man. One goes in a cage or a jungle, and the other puts him there.
She's crazy! She's hiding something. What could be her motive? She must have had an affair of some sort. And so she blames it all on some apeman raping her. That's it! That's got to be it. My father is somebody she can't admit to. She had some sleazy love affair. Probably with a man who must not be compromised. Some high ranking official. Maybe the king.
She says it herself. She doesn't want her husband to know this. No wonder! He'd probably kill her. And maybe my father would, too. Or have somebody do it.
What a lot of stupid fuss about this letter. It's pure bullshit! Brother Andre, I'm disappointed in you. Surely you could have figured this out a bit better. What crap!
I'm going to hide this in the attic. And I'll just say I want to write to Brother Andre about it, that I can't figure it out without checking with him. That'll keep people off my back. And I'll just forget about it.
One Sunday early in the school year Jack is up in the church choir looking down at the parishioners in their pews, when suddenly he sees a beautiful madonna shaped head of shining copperbrown hair -- thick, layered, gorgeous. He keeps looking at it through the Mass. He can't tell much about her, but finds himself muttering, incredibly, `If the girl with that hair is anything in keeping with that hair, she's going to be my wife!' But he knows she is. He knows she will. He can't wait for Mass to finish!
After, when everyone files out, he casts about, searching for the young lady. And sure enough, there she is! Jack can't help staring, although he is quite close to her.
She looks back at him, and says "Hi!"
"Hi." Jack mumbles, unable to react otherwise. She's a very nicelooking young lady! And he doesn't know what to do. Finally he just walks over to the family car and gets in, leaving all the gossiping churchgoers to chat it up without him. And he waits for the others while he peers around to see if he can get another glimpse of her. He doesn't.
On the way home he can't help talking about her, and for some weeks after that the girl is referred to summarily as `Victor's girlfriend'. And she barely knows he exists!
Jack carries books around all the time. The looseleaf binders commonly used in school are not well suited to carrying books. You have to pile them against the outside of the binder, in a little square stack. And then they slip and slide around. So Jack decides to get a briefcase, a large brown leather one. It's so much easier. And after a while Daniel does the same. About two months later, several other students get one, too. And by the end of the school year there's a trend -- high school students are carrying briefcases.
And Jack learns something. One person making a simple decision can change things. One person can have an effect, even without any soapbox antics, just by making a simple decision and acting on it. All right!
Daniel is talking to Jack.
"Victor, my worthy opponent, please tell me. If the rabbit and the turtle both have a hundred yards to run, and you consider their relative positions after they have run half as far as they will be running, how much farther will each have to run?"
"Well, the rabbit has to run half of the hundred, and the turtle has to run half of whatever distance he will have run by the time the rabbit gets to the finish line."
"You're assuming the rabbit will win this race."
"If they start at the same spot and the rabbit takes no time off, and all other practical assumptions about running races are valid, the rabbit will win."
"Alright. Now what is the situation at the next half time?"
"You mean the point in time if you cut in half the time the rabbit would take to go the remaining distance?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, that should be close to twenty-five yards, depending on any change in speed due to fatigue or terrain or some other reason, for the rabbit. As to the turtle, there isn't much you can say about him, except that he will have gone whatever distance would be his equivalent of the rabbit's performance."
"Okay, we may as well forget the turtle then. What about the rabbit's next half-time?"
"It should be close to twelve point five yards."
"Right. Now, if we keep doing that, cutting in half the time remaining after each snapshot, the rabbit will never get to the finish line, will he? Because each time all he does is cut in half the remaining distance. And each time the remaining distance will be half of what it was the time before. But it will never be nil. It will only get smaller."
"That can't be right."
"No, but that's how it is, isn't it? What's the solution?"
"I don't know. It has something to do with time. But I can't put my finger on it."
"Yeah. Ain't it great?"
Jack muses. Common sense dictates the rabbit will cross the finish line in fine style, and in very short order. So what's wrong here? Why and how does looking at this situation in detail so badly distort the picture? Is it a language problem?
No, it doesn't seem to be. There's something wrong with that snapshot notion.
"Daniel my son. Let's say we do this snapshot thing with a really good movie camera. If we take a film of the rabbit running the race and crossing the finish line, as you very well know will normally occur, then by studying the individual frames we can get a valid representation of the repeated half-time snapshots you're referring to. And what we will see is that whether we look at the frames one by one, or whether we run them with a projector at whatever speed suits you, the rabbit will cross the finish line.
If we pick out the right frames to catch each half point, like the fifty yard one, then the twenty-five yard, and so on, we'll come to the situation quite quickly where there is no frame for the half time spot we need. The time intervals will be smaller than the number of frames per second provides pictures for. Do you see what I mean?
So the problem consists in the artificial stretching of time embedded in the notion of repeated stops. That stretching of time is not real; it's not what happens. It's an infinity type of phenomenon which doesn't reflect the real or the observable world. What do you think of that?"
"Very good, Vick, very good. But I submit to you that it's the observable world, and the way we observe and record it with our consensual representations, which is unreal. The infinity calculation is the more valid indicator of the real."
"Uhhuh. Like Alice in Wonderland."
The pasture portion of the farm floods every spring, not totally, but all the low spots. The ponds get flushed out then, and the silty currents sweep much of the swampy slough life out to the lake. About mid June, as the water starts to recede, a lot of suckers or carp, big yellowish grey fish with toothless mouths that hang down the front of their heads like vacuum cleaner attachments, sluggishly swim about in the dirty water, often getting trapped in tiny shallow bays with nowhere to turn. They're very bony, apparently, and don't taste that good.
Jack goes around with a fish spear, sometimes using a home made raft for the purpose, collecting these mud factories to use as fertilizer for the garden.
Later, as things heat up and dry out, the water is confined to the ponds proper, but these turn into soupy hotbeds of swamp life; they become sloughs. They swarm with tadpoles, larvae of all sorts, water spiders, beetles and bugs of all kinds, and blood suckers! The kids at first would wade around in these marshes, but after finding bloodsuckers on their legs several times on coming out, they decide to go to the river.
One day Jack notices one of the big white ducks staggering around so he picks it up, trying to figure out what's wrong. Its head is drooping and, as he looks at its fogged over eyes, he sees that there's something dark in its nostrils. And yes. How nauseating! The front part of this poor duck's head is plugged solid with several big black bloodsuckers!
He gets some tweezers and gently pulls them out, one by one. But the damage is too great; the poor thing dies later that day. From then on, Jack makes it a point to round up the ducks several times each summer, and clear out any bloodsuckers, before they get too deeply entrenched.
Jack is alone. `Alone, alone, all all alone, alone on a wide wide sea.' Daniel is not at all sympathetic to any talk of mediums and psychics; he has a more conventionally scientific bent.
For Dan, in spite of his talk about multidimensionality and an anti-matter universe, things have to be observable-measurable and experimentally verifiable, to be included in the repertory of accepted knowledge. So Jack does not share even with Daniel his emerging convictions regarding karma and reincarnation.
And of course Dan would be tickled over the idea that prophets are psychics or mediums. Right up his alley! No point bringing that into the picture.
The churches of the Judeo-Christian faiths stand as one in rejecting reincarnation. So who would listen with an open mind? Jack has no one to talk to at all, now. He's more isolated, more alone, than ever.
A Friend Alone
Strange. The more you learn the less you share.
The more you know the more alone you are.
Where do you find likeminded kindred spirits?
Or is that too, a myth. Perhaps it's just
Not possible; perhaps they don't exist. But then,
How could those friendships bloom and grow,
Asseverated so in all the literature?
Or is it by espousing lesser selves
For daily routine presentation, a shucking
Off of better parts, as good Prince Hal
To make fit company to Falstaff, that renders
Friendship workable? Is that to be
Is there in friendship an
Inevitable paring down to fit
A mutual reduction mold? Some
A compromise denial of one's best,
Denominating down to meet on common
Ground, to win approval and acceptance?
No, it must not be. You cannot do it.
Hold fast to what is right and true, and let
It be what it will be. You have to find
Another way, a way to keep the ground
That cost so much to win, and settle then
For what's available and possible
By way of friends. You cannot satisfy
Your heart by cutting off your head.
It has to be by reticence and sometime
Lack of candor that you may win the day.
Do not betray your better part, but just
Refrain from letting it emerge. Keep back
The urge to share your newfound knowledge,
And keep your own good counsel. That way
You can be friends with anyone whose views
Significantly asymptote to yours
In even minor measure; by leaving out
Some things. Just leave them out till later, until
You find a closer consonance, a better fit.
But never volunteer too much. If you
Come out and say what's in your heart and mind
Too quick... You've seen the way it often goes.
They just don't understand.
The way you think,
The way you speak, the things you care about,
Are yours alone. And almost certainly
Are not the ways of anyone you may be
Talking to. So just forget that hope.
If it's not obvious by what they say
That they already have achieved by their
Own means such ends as you have reached, it is
Not likely that a common path is possible.
Resign yourself, Jack Migo Schuurman Victor
Spiets. You are alone. You are ALONE!