Updated: Mar 30, 2022
Nadia de Vries
“I can’t see you anymore,” he said.
The statement came unexpectedly. I had just stuffed an olive into my mouth, a particularly meaty one that left me smacking my lips, which didn’t benefit my predicament.
He looked away for a second, then he continued.
“I want to be on my own for a while. It’s imperative that I work on myself in a few important areas. And it won’t do me any good to be with someone. I’m facing a challenging time. I need some peace, some rest, most of all.”
A challenging time – it sounded intense. I wondered if he was ill. Yes, there was no doubt about it: he had to be suffering from some serious illness, one that he might die from.. But why would he want to be alone if he was dying? Who would be there to hold his hand during treatment? Who would hand him the disposable, kidney-shaped bowl when he’d have to vomit? That’s right – I would.
We met on a dating app three weeks ago. On my profile, I had indicated that I wasn’t looking for anything serious; he’d stated that he didn’t want any one-night stands. We met in the ambiguous middle. I’ll be frank: I don’t believe in love at first sight, but this came awfully close!
Since we’d met, we had seen no less than three movies together, two of which at the cinema. He had already met my best friend, by accident, while getting crisps at the off-license for the one movie we watched at mine. I’d be introduced to his friends soon, he said. We made plans for a beach day. I’d left a bottle of contact fluid in his medicine cabinet.
And now, there was distance.
“Have I not been good to you?” I asked him. “Do you not find me attractive enough?”
“Of course you are. But it’s not about that. This is bigger than that.”
I didn’t need to know the specifics. It was a lost cause, I could tell by his face and his diction. I had to take a step back. Say goodbye. Maybe for good!
It all needed some time to sink in. The fact that we would never spend a night in a tent together. That he would never take a picture of me standing on some mountain. That we would never get food poisoning from the same oyster. After enough time had passed, I would even forget the sound of his voice.
Generally speaking, I’m a strategic person. I’m the type that carefully plans out her life. Whenever I go on holiday, I bring plasters and a safety whistle. Whenever I have loss to process, I give myself the appropriate space to do so.
(My heels will not bleed; my corpse will not be found on some highway near the Côte d’Azur.)
“Can I have one of your sweaters?” I asked.
I read skepticism in his eyes. His voice had gone up a full octave when he answered.
“A sweater? Why on earth would you need one?”
“To mourn. This is all quite unexpected, you see, and to deal with the shock of it I’d like to have a concrete object to hold on to. So that I can say goodbye to us, to the idea of us, at a pace that feels right to me. Yes, I see you’re frowning, but it’s not absurd at all. I read about it once in a waiting room . It’s a tried-and-true method. They call it ‘continuing bonds’.”
“Yes. That’s the theory I’m invoking here. To mourn.”
“All right… Let me think about it.”
He disappeared into the bathroom. He stayed there for quite some time. The first cafés were closing, even though the sun was far from setting. These were the dog days. The air was thick with sultriness and disarray. For my own peace of mind, I finished the olives.
He came back carrying the receipt. The bill was paid, he wanted to make clear to me – like dressing on the wound he himself had caused.
“I thought about it. It’s possible. I think I have something lying around somewhere. But promise me you won’t do anything dodgy with it. Nothing on the internet, for starters! And no creepy rituals either.”
“And if you write a story about it, or use it in your book, I’ll make sure to publish our chat history. I’m sorry, that sounded harsher than I meant it to. But if I’m to agree with this, I need some kind of leverage.”
We said our goodbyes. He hopped on his rental bike, I got into a cab. The driver insisted on having a conversation. I pretended to be the kind of person who enjoys such things, I smiled often and asked him about his life. I didn’t want any bad ratings on my passenger’s profile. Like I said, I’m a strategic person.
Five days later, a package was delivered at my house. It didn’t fit through the mailbox, so it was a lucky thing that I was home. It was a box from a wine store I knew, a distinguished place that dealt in natural wines – apparently that’s where he got his booze from. He had crossed out his own address and circled mine with many arrows pointing towards it, as to not confuse the mailman. Addressee, exclamation mark, exclamation mark.
There was a Christmas sweater in the box. A very ugly Christmas sweater, with green and white stripes and the image of a holly branch sewn on to boot. I smelled it. It smelled like wool, nothing else. Maybe the sweater had never even been worn. Typical – I’d been placated with a mendacious offering. So much for my continuing bonds!
This was unacceptable.
I was relieved to know he hadn’t blocked my number yet. His profile picture was still visible to me, in the tiny circle next to the name I had given him in my phone. According to his status, he’d been online no less than twenty minutes ago.
“I just need to be sure about one thing,” I wrote to him. I ended the sentence with a full stop to demonstrate the urgency of my request. “Are you ill?”
It took a while for him to go online again. Only after an hour did the ticks turn blue. He’d seen my message, that much was clear, but he wasn’t responding to it. I had to persevere – I had to be straightforward!
“Hello?” I attempted again. “Are you dying???” I hoped the three question marks would help express the sincerity of my concern.
The ticks turned blue again. Finally, he was typing something – a response.
Then his profile picture disappeared.
You know, the Christmas sweater did not only have a holly branch sewn on it. It was also covered in small, silver-colored bells, that pealed softly when I moved. If I moved too much, they didn’t peal at all. They stung my sides whenever I wore the sweater to bed.
It was still July. The dog days. Far too hot to wear a sweater in bed.
I did it anyway.
Nadia de Vries is a writer and a cultural scientist. She is the author of the Dutch book Kleinzeer (Uitgeverij Pluim, 2019) and two English poetry collections. In 2020 she graduated from the University of Universiteit van Amsterdam with a dissertation on online depictions of human corpses. Her debut novel, De bakvis, will be published in 2022 by Uitgeverij Pluim.
Author photo: Tom van Huisstede
Translation: Fannah Palmer