Dune Pan

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man standing in a dune pan, at the end of solo bike ride, watching a couple dancing in the surf of the ocean

 

Dune pan

 

I stand here, barefoot in a dune pan, amazed to see a man spinning a woman in his arms, like ballet dancers in an exercise. They are naked, in the surf of the sea; he tanned, she wrinkled, rather a son happy with the vitality of his mother than a couple celebrating love.

I stand here and doubt everything.

Six weeks of cycling brought me closer to myself, but not closer to a plan, a future, work, family. Each pedal stroke pumped up a sense of freedom and narrowed the desire for structure.

When the wind was strong, I thought of Aliza, even when the hill got too steep. I thought of her waking up, endlessly waiting for the ferry or walking naked into the sea, that time from a completely deserted beach.

 

I last saw Aliza the afternoon before my departure. We drank white wine on a terrace by the river and shortly before she had to pick up her children, I suggested that she cycle with me for the first few days. It must have sounded desperate. This woman was a primal mother who had just reunited with the father of her four children, a woman I never kissed, who showed no initiative to me as long as I knew her.

She was merely concerned, she said. She wondered if I knew what I was getting myself into, if I was not burning all the ships behind me. "Everyone is sometimes fired in his life, or suffers damage, you now too. Maybe you just stayed with Grey Four for too long. Think of it as an educational experience, nothing more, nothing dramatic. "

"It feels that way."

"You make it yourself, Anton. You could have left yourself a year ago, or five years ago: now they have said goodbye to you. And they gave you money to find another job. No more.'

"It was a farewell without shine. You know that too. “

One Monday evening, my boss asked me by text to come to his room at 10:00 the next morning. Philip became Marketing & Clients Director, he told me, somewhat nervous, played casually. 'We give you two annual salaries for your almost twenty years of employment. And we think it's better if you leave right away. You are probably no longer required to settle our interest in Medtech. That is up to our lawyers. "

No doubt he still blamed me for the loss of this out-of-control investment. Either way it made my future at this company without a chance. He handed me the resignation letter and said I could look back on a largely successful period "with the country's most ambitious asset manager."

I nodded and took the elevator down, ignoring all staff. The next day I sent a couple of befriended colleagues a goodbye message, after which I walked to the bicycle shop for the most beautiful titanium travel bike imaginable. I saved nothing, as if every euro I spent on the bicycle was paid directly by Grey Four, as if every euro was not charged to my own capital, which I may still need urgently to start my own investment fund, or when I unexpectedly would not find a job again or if I all of a sudden consider to stay on the road for six months. The price of the hub alone was equal to twenty nights in the type of bed & breakfast the titanium bike was now leaning against.

She hoped to see me again soon, she said, putting a hand on my forearm. She wished me a lot of contemplation and reflection and gave me a short, wordless hug when we said goodbye, ending with a soft kiss on my mouth. Then Aliza turned away from me and didn't look back.

 

In the first hours on the bike, I confirmed myself in the intention to cover at least a hundred kilometers every day, preferably as hard as possible. I had to prove I could still do it. Grey Four might find me unsuitable as Director Marketing & Clients, but as a cyclist I showed no signs of wear. That contemplation came sometime, I told myself, first kicking that annoying farewell from my body.

It made cycling harder than expected. My head was just not there and certainly with a little headwind my legs became very heavy. One afternoon I spent a long time in a fish restaurant without enjoying a moment. It felt like playing truant. In my notebook I triumphantly wrote that I was lounging at the expense of Grey Four, but meanwhile I followed every half hour all stock prices, a habit built up in almost twenty years. I was also constantly looking for news about Medtech, the company that had determined who I was for so long: Anton Jacobs, the investor with the greatest interest in the best-performing stock exchange fund! The man who could read and write with Medtech's vain and headstrong chairman.

Cursing on the strong wind, I forced myself to a first exercise in moderation. Why rush, I wondered. Why the drive to perform? I was alone, without work or family at home and with enough money. I better stare at a harbour seafood restaurant for a few hours, than drive past it, bent over the handlebars, annoyed by sheep gates slamming too fast.

I began to see that circumstances played a game with me over and over again without becoming unreasonable. One day the wind stopped me, a day later it blew me on; the ferry that would unexpectedly leave hours later was suddenly waiting for me the next day. There are also always several roads leading to your next destination, I realised, even shorter ones. Nobody forced me to follow the coastal path from the road book carefully. In about four weeks I only had to be on that island, where I had booked for three nights in a hostel, hidden deep in the dunes.

So on the tenth day I cycled with relief to a ferry that cut me about a hundred kilometers from the planned route. The wind came from south-west, half in the back, the clouds were low. Every now and then a car passed me, tractors had started the first round of hay in the fields. By ten o'clock I fastened my bicycle to the railing and saw the kiosk open, a wooden shed built on a platform. Two large plates of cake were carried inside.

The sweet please, I said after a little hesitation and made eye contact with the woman who presented the choices to me. The next boat only left at half past eleven, she told me, so all the time. She came to bring the coffee with the apple cake to my table and allowed me eye contact again. She was a tall woman, with thick, wavy hair, pulled back in a tail. She looked nothing like Aliza, who was frail and almost always wore her long ash-blonde hair loose.

I took a sip of coffee and quietly scanned all the details of my bike, the helmet on the saddle, the two black water bottles, the beautiful titanium frame. My gaze lingered for a long time on the backpack that stood still against the rear wheel. It slowly became a still life that I captured with my phone.

It wasn't until my second coffee that I noticed the huge container ships. They came from both directions, to and from the sea, on their way to the port to unload, or fully loaded on their way to Shanghai or Istanbul, maybe Amsterdam. The ferry didn't care about those big structures in the river. Within ten minutes it was on the other side, where I clicked on the pedals and sprinted up the slope without any effort. The ambition was back. I was rewarded with mostly long straight paths, mostly flat. Only those countless fencing that kept the sheep in check took me out of my rhythm. Hanging over my handlebars I had to open them, push the bike past them and hope they wouldn't close against my rear wheel.

Every 20-25 kilometers I stopped for tea or something to eat. And to take notes, to capture images of the day in words, not to lose ideas about my future. It was a routine that I would sharpen further per cycling day. And I always wrote about Aliza, the beautiful unattainable woman, whom I could so eagerly long for, even though she was hiding in her cocoon at home.

At breakfast I always sent her a SixWordStory and before I went to sleep a short impression of the day. Ten days, seventeen messages, zero responses. I decided it didn't bother me. That it shouldn't bother me. That I just wanted to enjoy her presence and not wonder why she kept me at bay or why she didn't respond to my stories. The choice between messages or not was made quickly. The suggestion that she read everything drove me to another message, to the next destination.

She cycled in front of me, called to me from afar, I let her do everything that enhanced the melancholy. Aliza Huijgevoort effortlessly penetrated into the space that was released behind the disappeared blockades, a woman I fell in love with in silence 22 years ago and whom I unexpectedly saw again five months ago. At 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, she walked into the boardroom of Medtech to give a presentation about a stock plan. A mother of four, who then lived separately from her husband. 

 

Around six o’clock that day I took a room in a family hotel and walked through the harbour to the beach. On a bench, I opened my e-reader and tapped the book I started reading the night before. A cruise ship lay on the horizon, the only sign of life that the calm sea revealed this evening. The beach was also completely deserted.

Peering over the water, I put the e-reader next to me and folded my polo shirt and pants over it. Very well I felt a new restlessness in my body. On the way to the flat water surface, over which the sun quickly lay a ribbon full of Christmas lights, I lowered my boxer to my ankles and got out. How long would it take for the ship to enter port? How many steps did I have to take in the cold, shallow water before I got noticed?

It was high tide, the water kept rippling around my knees, so that after a hundred meters of wading I suddenly became very aware of my gender. I felt her eyes rest on it, finally, after 22 years of waiting, of doubt and fear, finally there was that long-desired liberating feeling.

She turned around, walked next to me again, held her back and looked at my white buttocks, the red spots and the bumps. She laughed at it, sweetly and softly, grabbed my hips and let her hand slowly slide down my pubic hair, as if pulling a comb through the hair of her youngest son, a boy I didn't know. In a pale summer dress, she ran ahead of me, barefoot; she still didn’t allow me more of her body, even not then, while relieving me of my last shame. Suddenly I was no longer a naked man with her, with brown attachments on a stark white body ... I ran after her with a laugh, grabbed her hips and fell forward ... alone.

Without anyone knowing about it, I floated on my stomach in the sea for minutes. It was as if I no longer existed for her, as if that last kiss by the river were her farewell to a friendship that should never have been there.

How plausible was it that I would see her naked body turning pirouettes in the foothills of a vast sea? That this primeval mother would leave her family behind for a while to indulge in a love that only brought joy to herself?

I had become a jammer, someone who could slip into her life for five minutes a day, like toothpaste on her toothbrush, with a word joke sent by text message or a mini-travelogue. She stopped responding. Every message to me was to be a betrayal to her, as something she could never explain to her children later.

 

I take a deep breath and rub the sand out of my face again. I very well feel the scorched skin on my cheek and upper arm, caused by being exposed to the sun for too long. It had never occurred to me that I could fall asleep, although since I waded through the low, ripple-less water, I had slumped every day in the late afternoon. This dune pan turned out to be soft as a hotel bed; the swirling of the seagulls as soothing as the sounds from my headphones.

The naked man and woman walk entangled onto the beach, his hand on her shoulder, hers around his waist. The salty water drips from their arms, drops in the afternoon sun, crystals on their bodies. They don't show any interest in me, probably didn't even notice me. They pick up their towels and start to dry slowly, talking to each other, it seems. I am amazed at how happy they keep looking, how easily they touch each other. They put on their bathrobes and hug slightly.

How likely is it that I will ever embrace my mother on that family  beach? Was the dinner of three weeks ago in our home village the most achievable for me? Or could it be the beginning of a normalised relationship that would bring us back to an intimate moment in the seaside resort where we used to go on holiday with the six of us, in a rented mobile home? When my father was still alive.

Another hour and then the hostel opens, the tentative end goal of my bike ride. My gaze focuses on the bicycle, which is against the facade, the helmet half on the saddle. I have to ask if I can store it somewhere, which I forgot to do when booking. Here on the island I want to limit myself to walking and swimming.

The couple walks in front of me laughing. My eyes go from their snow-white bathrobes to their slippers. The woman's nails are painted red. Would they take a shower together in their holiday home? Were these people from the city, who left their luxury penthouse in the summer for a thatched log villa on this island? Was this man still working?

Suddenly I saw in him a former investment banker, who had disciplined himself in sauna and gym. And now every afternoon went dancing with his wife in the surf of the sea before a glass of whiskey came to the table at home. On sunny days maybe a gin and tonic.

At the end of April, we met with the American investors who wanted to take Medtech off the stock exchange. They were assisted by bankers, men in expensive suits, with understated ties, made mainly of one color. Only red and blue, if I remember correctly. During dinner at a renowned restaurant, I was the only one without a tie, a statement that baffled or even irritated my boss. He and Philip had better understood what the code was, as was Medtech's board delegation. I don't know if it was the missing tie, but after dinner my boss told me I didn't have to be in the negotiations.

'Why not?'

"You are quite emotionally involved, Anton”, he said, “We should also be able to fall back on someone if we have a break. "

During dinner I had already noticed that the chairman of the board hardly looked at me anymore.

Medtech was withdrawn from the stock market, with our interest shrinking to a third of the value it had a year earlier. In the car on the way home, I felt humiliated and miserable. Acceptation fought with anger. In a short message from a parking lot, I suggested Aliza go to the movies together. She responded favourably. And fast. “Good idea!”, she wrote, “I'll see if I can do that. Really! How was your meeting?”

Since that day, since February 2, 2010, since she walked into the boardroom of Medtech in a black wool dress, since she smiled her smooth, white teeth and put her hand on my forearm, since she casually slipped her multicoloured scarf over her shoulder and began to present her plan, I longed for her permanent hug. Not a few seconds before parting by the river, but forever. I wanted to feel her every moment of the day, in an open tent, when the sky turns dark.

She became my foothold, my refuge.

If I can't put it on the calendar at home, then I don't, she always explained when I asked her for dinner, a movie or a drink at the end of the working day. She could say that very pleasantly, without getting angry or taking a reproachful tone. She always gave me the impression that she liked me, but I never got the feeling that she liked to see me. She would never use words like love, loving or darling she made clear to me. She loved her children "and also the animals, those who are defenceless. " There was little room for adult men.

She loved going out into nature with her children and the two dogs, she said in our first private conversation after seeing her again. “I can really enjoy the vastness of the landscape, or small villages in the dunes, a fish auction.” We ate a goat cheese salad and at my suggestion we had a glass of white wine with it. I heard love in the tone of her voice, I saw it in the soft eyes she looked at me when she said something.

“Do you actually like biking," I asked her. From 22 years ago I couldn't remember her as an active cyclist.

"Yes," she replied, slightly flirtatiously. Before they got married, she forced her husband to take her on a ten-day cycling trip through the Dordogne. It was something she wanted to do with a friend, but after they slept, she preferred to go with him. When she returned, she was pregnant with their son, I calculated for myself. Or deceived myself.

It stings.

It was still stinging. It stung as long as I was on the road. This inn was nothing but a large sleeping tent, amidst the dunes, where I had asked for a sea view room. Also for the next three days I would sleep alone, contented with images of a dream woman, tormented with the thought of a phantom love. She would lie next to me like an amputated body part. I would look at her when she got out of bed naked to make breakfast for her four school-aged children.

 

With difficulty I start to walk, stiff and unwilling, the resistance of the unknown, the knowledge that there is not even a plan for the day anymore, that I have to get out of my rhythm of waking up, having breakfast, a message to Aliza, viewing the route, drink coffee, zip up the backpack and hit the road; 20-25 kilometers to the first stop. I see her fiddling away from me again, gracefully, like a doe, with a straight back. 

She does not look back this time either.

Do I really have to give myself on this island to the self-chosen emptiness? Why again? Why did I wanted to stay here for three nights? If I buy a lightweight tent tomorrow, which I hang in a waterproof bag under the cross tube of the titanium bike, I can go wherever I want. You can also make plans everywhere, isn’t it.

Was it not my ultimate travel experience to lie with Aliza Huijgevoort in a tent on a fjord? Was it not for over twenty years the highest conceivable happiness in my life? 

In each of my daydreams, that tent was open on one side and we looked out together, to the high mountains across the water. Together, in zipped sleeping bags, spoons folded together, my hand around her right breast.

Shortly before leaving home I sent her a photo of my bicycle, the backpack half against the front wheel. I had captured the titanium bike from at least six different positions. In between, I moved the backpack two more times and turned the handlebars to give the front wheel a slightly more active stance. Standing against a lamppost, I then searched my phone's screen for the best picture, posted it to her in a message, and started typing. Just in time I saw the absurdity of the situation, picked up the bike and parked it in the hall of my house.

Standing in front of the music installation in the large living room, overlooking a square, I tried to find the words that would justify my emotion with the new bicycle. I couldn't do it. I put the phone down, turned on the radio, and flipped through the newspaper. In the meantime I thought feverishly about sentences for the bicycle photo. To save time, I gave her a tone of her own so that I would know it was her if my phone beeped or rang on the way.

My bike is now in about the same position against the wooden wall as in the photo I finally sent her. It was as if that photo had to complete the image she had of me. If I wanted to show her the adventurer, the man who accepted no limits, who could leave whenever he wanted. The bicycle as a symbol of freedom, the bicycle that let my thoughts flow, like the water in the river, cranked by pedals clicked at my feet, by a woman who had dominated my life for 22 years.

Without Aliza, there would be no thoughts. Thoughts on Aliza were richer. The bike did nothing but excite them in intensified concentration as I rode away from her, increasing the distance between us with each pedal stroke.

I pulled myself together.

I will make those three nights. And then I move on. Or back. Or I'll stay here.

 

When I cross the path to get to my bike, I effortlessly recognise the footprints of the man and the woman, those of the investment banker much more articulated than those of the ballerina.

Perhaps he now grinds the coffee beans, or selects a whiskey bottle, the ice tinkling in the tumbler. I see him standing, wide-legged, still in a bathrobe, while the woman rinses off in the bathroom,seeks out lingerie and takes off a simple, yet colourful summer dress from the hanger.

She smiles when she hears him calling. She leaves the lingerie on the bed; the dress glides smoothly on her soft skin. 

 

 


Submitted: May 01, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Adrianus. All rights reserved.

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