Still, september 2012 (fragment)

The first thing Anton asks when I come to pick him up is: Do you have a newspaper with you?
A newspaper?
Yes, a paper. They didn’t bring mine this morning.
No, I haven’t got one.
Anton says: I think someone stole it.
I say: Anton, I thought you stopped reading the newspapers.
When did you start reading them again?
A while ago.
Poor Anton. He still was collecting horrifying stories. I remember him reading them out loud at home. The look on his face, the glance in his eyes, and his mother pretending not to hear it.
So you really don’t have a paper? Not even in the car?
No, not even in the car.
He puts his cigarette in the ashtray, pushes forward a little on the seat of the chair and grabs his cup from the table. We are in the coffee room. In the corner is a TV, high on the wall, showing a music video. The sound is off.
Is the coffee cool enough yet? I ask.
He shakes his head.
You’ve got to blow.
He picks the cup from the table, puts all his fingers around the cup and brings it close to his mouth. He blows.
Did you sleep well last night? I ask.
Whether you slept well.
Yes, says Anton.
Have you got all your stuff packed?
My bag? It’s in my room.
Why don’t you go and get it? Then we can go.
First my coffee.
Go and get your bag and your coffee will have cooled down by the time you’re back.
No, I want my coffee first.
He blows into the cup and then gently takes a sip of coffee.
Yeah, nice.
It’s from a machine, I say.
You like that plastic stuff?
Yep, I like it.
Come on, I say. Time to go.
Anton stays in his seat and takes a sip of coffee. I get up and say: Just bringyour coffee with you in the car.
It’ll spill.
The cup isn’t that full.
He takes a few sips of coffee.
We should go. Will you get your bag?
Anton walks down the corridor to his room, holding his cup.. He returns with his bag, but no cup, and we walk together towards the exit. I point to where my car is. We get in and drive to the motorway. The bag is between Anton’s feet. His hands on his thighs. We drive along the canal, around a roundabout, through the centre of town and follow the road north.
Who’s going to be there? he asks.
Anton looks at the first houses after the roundabout. We pass a big farm. In the field next to the warehouse are a few large machines, yellow and orange.
Is this where it happened? With that man and his leg?
Yes, I say, It was here.
Anton says: He got stuck in a thresher, didn’t he?
Yeah, I think so.
Anton smiles. That’s the way it went, he says. And nobody helped him. He shouted to the others when he got stuck. He was always playing tricks on them, stupid jokes and that, so nobody went to help him. They thought it was another of his jokes, right? So they just carried on eating their lunch. Is that what you heard, That’s right, isn’t it?
Yes, I say.
It was lunchtime and they were just eating their sandwiches. And the man was shouting for help.
Anton looks over his shoulder at the machinery next to the warehouse.
Lost his leg, from there down, he says, making a chopping movement on his thigh. He chuckles.
Because he was always joking around.
We arrive at the house. I park the car and say: Uncle Frans is already here, you see?
That’s his car, right?
Yes, the blue one.
What kind of pie has Mum made? he asks.
Apple pie, of course.
I want mine with whipped cream.
Thought you might.

Jan van Mersbergen