Aerial shot. The sun rises over a city of semicircles. Traffic noises are punctuated by shrieking gulls. The camera pans down, getting closer and closer to the earth until figures emerge on a street split in half by a misted canal.
I – Economy
Nothing is permanent except for the creation of junk. Bicycles. Umbrellas. Handbags minus wallets. One-eyed dolls. Her catch of the day will be a legless piano in black.
She climbs into her cabin, cigarette dangling from her mouth, and turns on the ignition. The crane stirs to life—rumbling, clanking, rattling. The shovel plunges into the water, the hydraulic arm, an extension of her own. She uncovers nonstop. More bicycles, some chained in pairs. Mattresses. Televisions. Shopping carts.
On her barge, civilization flourishes in mountainous piles of trash. There are people who make and people who discard and if she’s not careful, she sees the hands of the makers, more callused than her own.
Candy wrappers. Beer cans. Plastic chairs. Plastic bottles. Plastic bags. Dead ducks. Indifference must be sold in this city, but she doesn’t know where.
The camera focuses on a house behind the dredging. A red-brick facade, five stories high, a clock gable. Street noises fade. Close up of a keyhole dissolving into a tunnel illusion, then into a dark staircase leading up.
II – Syringe
It happens behind closed doors.
Don’t think: illegal. Think: private.
It happens far away from the sterile world of hospitals, in a realm where your dog or cat or long-eared rabbit, in this case, is invited to curl up on your bed.
Even if you don’t have any pets, you’re not alone. Your fate is not to force death upon yourself and lay there with your eyes open. Your end is planned in collaboration with others, as was your life.
The ones you love are all present because you picked the moment for the syringe to enter your vein. The choice was empowering: At this stage in your existence there is so little left to choose.
Your last words may be “Thank you” or “Goodbye” or “I love you.”
Afterward, it happens without panic.
Fade to black.
III – Walking Shoes
Life is laughter. Life is talks. Life is extended lunches on terraces, bees nudging your plate. Life is arguing drunkenly whether offensive jokes ought to be funny. Life is yoga classes and holistic cures and take-away smoothies and getting caught in the rain while cycling your kids to school. Life is queuing at cash machines at all hours of the day. Life is looking at screens and swiping phones and trying to live where you are not. Life is diapers and traffic and waiting rooms, the smell of soup and your neighbor’s cheap cologne. Life is battling toenails or windmills or mistakes.
Life is finding a way to compensate for life.
Life is practicing your gait.
Sirens rise over a handheld shot of cobblestones and anti-terror barricades. A yellow tram jangles past. Shouts and slogans become audible before the camera finds the angry mob.
IV – Uniform
We will not step aside or lower our banners. We will not shut up or disperse. We are marching as unique individuals in a throng that moves as one.
This is what we do in the face of total crap.
We are not blind and deaf and obedient. We will not jump through silly hoops. The pharmacy reminds us life can always be worse, but today our voices are heard.
Join us if you dare and swell our ranks. Be part of something greater than yourself. Our arms will twine around you as we march. In unison and defiance.
We will not be intimidated by the police, watching us from the sides. We love their horses and spit on their boots.
We say, If they squirm at our questions, they should not be in power.
We say, Something is wrong here and it isn’t just us.
The camera pans out and flies over the city, meeting a pigeon in the air. The camera follows the bird as it skirts past a market, tulips in buckets, workmen unloading trucks, girls in headscarves buying apples. The pigeon lands in a tree that is orange with fall and the camera angles down. Close up of a couple on the grass underneath.
V – Vondel Park
They look into each other’s blue eyes and it’s like a river pouring into an ocean, a mountain stream gushing down into a glacial lake, a waterfall meeting a sea—you get the picture: The one dissolves into the other.
Their eyes, and not just their eyes, their souls, too, or their personalities, if souls sound too spiritual to you, merge and become one.
But who is casted in what role? And what is the better role to play?
There is a devouring vastness and an oblivious feed, a beloved who swells in the union and an admirer who disappears. They look into each other’s blue eyes and forget who they were before.
Lust or Long-Lasting Love? Whatever. Drunk on beer and puppy love, all they know is that they want.
Theater curtains close and open.
VI – Red Lights
Ever seen a bee trapped inside a jar? Wings flapping against the glass, the butting and falling of a tiny striped body.
—Let me out!
You may wonder: How stupid are these bees for trying the same escape routes, again and again. They cannot fly through the glass. Cannot crawl under the rim. Cannot rise from the lid. No exit.
Yet they keep on struggling. No bee brains to state the obvious, perhaps.
Then again, lock a girl behind glass and she’ll do the same. She pleads and schemes. She fights and dreams. Wings or not, she is rising and falling.
Make no mistake, this girl is smart. As the world observes her through the window, she observes the world.
—Giving up never got anyone anywhere.
The camera pulls away from the window, crosses the canal backward, turns 180 degrees and moves into the open window opposite the prostitute’s room.
VII – Mirror
We need to forget ourselves to be ourselves, she says. All that anger and pain, all these deadlines and family emergencies and uneasy dinners and white lies and missed chances and fake orgasms—these are not us. We are pure and good and exist on nothing but love, right?
Why not mention air? someone jokes.
She snorts the white powder through a twenty-euro note, its blues bright in her eyes, and passes the mirror along. Outside, the canal reflects the dawn in ripples, in waves of light.
We need to forget ourselves, she says. Only in the dark, on the bottom, in the bleakness of regret can we shine with a glow that says “us.”
None of her friends reply, and she pulls the curtain, shutting out the terror of another ordinary day.
Claire Polders is a Dutch author of novels, stories, essays, and flash fiction. Together with her American husband, she wrote A Whale in Paris, a book for children and adults, forthcoming in May 2018 (Atheneum/Simon&Schuster). Her short prose has been published in TriQuarterly, Electric Literature (Okey-Panky), The Pinch, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. Find news and links to her work online at clairepolders.com.