On the terrace across the street below the elms in fickle light, you eat dishes that are neither here nor there. Facing the canal, you lower your spoon into your bowl of soupçon and come up empty, as though the dash of salt is just an idea. You stab your fork into a generous cut of something dark, waiting for the blood to sprout, and instead meet the resistance of a slice of toasted bread. When you squeeze your eyes against the shifting shadows, intent to see what’s up, you chew mouthfuls of steaming nothing echoing your future’s taste. But make no mistake—your plate is not empty; it’s just a magic trick involving make-believe.
When the moon sets and the liquid mercury rises, even worry takes the day off and suns itself along the shore of a long-forgotten holiday. Eyes closed against the glare, or darkened by glasses that double-function as a mask, you undress in total confidence: at the beach nobody sees anything. Like a naked woman, the summer blue of sky stretches out to infinity, making sure this day will never end. You sleep and read, sleep and read. Anxieties buzz in every now and then from behind the trashcans and ice-cream vendors, only to fly off swiftly at the appearance of a nap. The single fear that may stick in the sand is smothered beneath high-factor creams that claim to prove nothing.
How to Kill a Rose
You trample flowerbeds, pluck young tulips off their stems—petals here, leaves there—altering what you encounter or making things up. But never the rose, the rose you take as is, like water in whatever form. These ducks, these vicious raping ducks, they bring you to the edge. If it wasn’t for the butterflies, dipping and spinning. The inaudible flap of their wings. You know it’s too much to ask, a song written just for you, a thing of beauty impressed with your name. Roses are ruthless. Each time you deeply inhale their scent, you fall and let the rose go unharmed. There are always things that stand in the way.
You love black and you love white, but when they put you in a black-and-white world, you will bark. Forced to choose, gray is really the only shade. They will see it for themselves, if they dare to throw you a bone. They will see how unyielding the human mind can be when faced with blind opponents who’d rather kill an innocent dog than chew on Van Gogh’s ear.
Claire Polders is a Dutch author of four novels with a debut in English on the way. In 2016, Denver Quarterly nominated one of her stories for a Pushcart Prize. Her short prose recently appeared in TriQuarterly, Green Mountains Review, Okey-Panky, Folio, SmokeLong Quarterly, Tin House (The Open Bar), Prairie Schooner (Blog), and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @clairepolders or at www.clairepolders.com.