SHE REMAINS STANDING STILL WHERE SAINT NICHOLAS, TUCKED AWAY BETWEEN THE FACADES, ANNOUNCES HIS ENTRANCE TO THE CHURCH ON THE HILL.ONCE A YEAR, THE WOMAN RETURNS TO THE CITY WHERE SHE GREW UP. WHERE HER MEMORIES LIE, BUT NOT HER FUTURE. EVERY YEAR SHE HEARS HIS CALLING. AND YEAR AFTER YEAR, SHE ANSWERS HIS CALL AND TRAVELS BACK. BACK TO THE MEMORIES, BACK TO HIM.
She lets her gaze slide along the small cobbles under her feet and up to the houses on both sides of the street. History is not just visible here, it’s palpable. Gothic and Renaissance have been preserved in the building blocks, even though there wasn’t much left of it when she was little.
A red mailbox stands on the corner of the street. Silently, she looks out over the small square. Her mouth is closed and painted red. The glory that she received in 1902 has been preserved. The front is adorned with golden lions and a silver crown. Underneath, set in distinctive letters, you can read the motto of her country: Je maintiendrai. I shall maintain. Even though she hasn’t been offered a letter in a very long time, she keeps watch, stately and proud.
The woman is distracted by a group of people who have gathered around her. The grey gentleman who’s leading the group talks passionately about the history of the quarter. She listens carefully until the church bells abruptly ask for her attention. After a quick glance at her wristwatch that confirms the time, she crosses the square and enters the church. She can’t lose any time.
The collection of antique books has filled the room with the smell of history and in seconds, it takes her back in time. It’s that time she looks back upon every year and hoping to find again. She looks around and resolutely approaches the first table. She lets her fingers hover over the collection on display. She’ll have to start with the first letter of the alphabet. That is where it always begins.
“Can I help you, madam?” someone asks her from the other side of the table. She can’t answer. The first clue is hidden on one of the pages in this house of God and will also be hidden from the lady behind the table. “I’m just browsing, thank you.” Without looking up she lets her finger slide over the books, drawing an invisible line. Until she stops. The name of the author of the book right below her index finger begins with the letter A. With both hands, she picks up the book and opens it at the back. There, in the lower right corner on the second to last page it’s written in pencil in the handwriting she knows so well: “I”. She breathes in the stale air with a deep gulp and lets it rest in her chest. This one forbidden letter pulls her back into the memory that is suddenly hidden so vividly in the past.
Impatiently, she searches for the next word at the neighboring table. The name of the author or the title of a classic novel will reveal his trace. A trail of words that carry the secret with them, which had to remain hidden for all these years. The next book also hides a word in grey in the lower right corner. Just like the book after that. And the next one too. Slowly she slides past the fabric-covered tables and scours the books along as she gathers the words for which she has come back. Until the words form a complete sentence. Then she looks up.
He got up when he saw her slowly moving his way. The path he had laid out for her through the church would eventually lead up to his table. He added one more word to the four that he uttered in the past, behind the same building. When their eyes meet, he repeats them without speaking them out loud. ‘I still love you’. The passing of time has not changed the impossible words that encapsulate their true feelings. Separated by religion and the possibilities that existed in the past, they lived their lives without each other. They married other people, they were blessed with children, a family and an opportunity to forget each other.
But once a year they cannot but relive it. Then they’ll go back to their past, move backwards in time, and for a single moment the impossible truth is tangibly recorded on antique paper. While everything changes over time, the absence of their touch and not speaking these precious words has not changed. When she leaves the church on the hill she does not turn around. It’s not until next year that she will reminisce and look back. In the meanwhile, life will continue. Slowly, more and more will change in the streets of the old city. But the secrets of the past will always remain hidden there. Just those very few who are looking will be able to discern them. “I still love you too”, she whispers without anyone being able to hear it. Then she walks down the street, drinks a cup of coffee in the busy square before heading back to the station to go home.
Puck Parker writes short stories for works of art. The everyday characters get lost in an adventure of words and images and disappear between fact and fiction. Puck Parker ‘s short stories are easy to read, but difficult to forget.
Jelmer Gremmen is passionate about analogue photography and grain. He aims to capture everyday scenes in such a way that the viewer is enticed to slow down and take a longer look.