Retire to the Netherlands – William Auten

Maybe you misheard me. Maybe elsewhere, then. You didn’t seem too interested; your hair didn’t curl its usual puppy-tails whenever new places are discussed. No “stars having their way” turned over your eyes. It’s OK. We can bypass all that: the well tempered cheese, his and hers klompen, the self-portraits on dark backgrounds, the lamplights of beers, and the little village on the river Waal that I had picked out. I just want to mention it one more time before moving on. A pub is tucked along the shore, propped up by stone and moss, and has a fireplace that runs on wood, tobacco, and ghosts. Things really loosened up once the priests kept to their own in Belgium and Germany. But let’s reassess. Further north, then, my Love, my Honeycomb Drip? Say, the Arctic—or close to its blue-green edge that science and movie stars claim is melting under the heat that makes travel to and photographs of such places possible these days. But we won’t be able to tell if anything is missing or slumping like drunken shoulders or a house built on a canal; we’ve never been there before. At least, you haven’t. I was there once, many years ago. Aurora Borealis dragged its watercolors across the black sky like fireworks in Hell. Actually, I was on my way to meet the Devil. We had a date and a time planned and a bullet-point list of Things to See Through. We met on an ice floe, which was there then but may not be there now—or if it is there now, it surrendered itself to the sea, as all things are designed to be. Walruses barked nearby; squirrels zigzagged in front of us; mere horseplay from the snow mares. My clothes suggested that I had planned for different weather, typical for a homebody like me. He Who Has Dominion Over This World offered a cup of tea and a chair and commented on the warmth, saying that it was getting colder Down Below, the temperature dropping bit by bit. We talked about the old days, how no one seems to believe anymore, but they behave or ask for forgiveness as though something remains in them. He told jokes, the funniest one about the number of bureaucrats it takes to screw up a light bulb. In? I wondered if he had slipped prior to the punch-line. Up, he confirmed with a wink. After a few seconds of laughing, he admitted that he was the happiest he had ever been: the Internet had relieved him of so much. What is to be done? I asked. Shrugging, he didn’t have a clue, but it seemed more that he didn’t have a care. We reclined, dropped in a few sugar cubes, and watched the clouds descend in a way that is very similar to cherry syrup swirling in a jar. I thought Rotterdam must be lovely this time of year.


William Auten is the author of the novel Pepper’s Ghost (Black Rose Writing, 2016), and recent work has appeared in East Bay Review, Oxford Magazine, Red Earth Review, Sequestrum, Sliver of Stone, and Split Lip. Work is forthcoming in Solstice. He read at the 2015 bicentennial celebration for North American Review.