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Tooth and Nail

When Violet tires of it, of people, of conversation, of the party, when she wants to get away without having to explain, she says: “I have to go to yoga.” There are moments when it is hard to claim that one has to go to yoga. So there is also the variation: “I need to get to bed. Early start tomorrow.” That sounds perhaps less zealous, but things don’t necessarily have to sound zealous, they only have to be it.
In any case, she doesn’t like staying up late. Two o’clock is late enough for her. She likes to dance, but not till the crack of dawn. On occasion she has imagined that a man might say: “Let’s go somewhere else.” But no one has ever said that. Of course, that wouldn’t be so terrible. You could always say: “I can’t really, not tonight. Maybe some other time.”
Her bed is close to the window. When she lifts her head she can look outside, she can see a little square in Amsterdam with a playground. She likes the view. She likes being downtown.
Sometimes she dances in front of the mirror in her room. It’s not a big mirror, but big enough that she can still see herself.
She has dark blonde hair, dyed light blonde now. She has a lot of hair, and not just on her head. She shaves sometimes, but complete hairlessness is not her kind of thing. She’s not in grade school anymore.
When she fell asleep, it was on top of the book she’d been reading. Murakami, The Windup Bird Chronicle. It was a birthday present, from two of her friends. Stingy friends, one book between the two of them. Violet likes Murakami, but the problem with this book is that it’s so big. It’s not easy to take along on the train.
Lying beside Murakami is her phone, and beside her phone lies her bear. For a while there she had figured she was too old for the bear, which she’s had since she was six and which she’s always called Mr. Bear. When she went off to college Mr. Bear moved into a plastic bag, but somewhere around the start of her junior year she regretted that decision, she liberated Mr. Bear from his plastic bag, and since then he has slept beside her as though things had never been any different.
He is badly in need of an operation. Above his butt is a small hole through which the stuffing slowly leaks out, but she’s been too busy to do anything about it. There’s been no time to find a doll doctor, and it doesn’t seem like a good idea to do it herself. Sometimes she says to her bear: “We’re going to get you an operation real soon. Don’t you worry.” For the time being, though, her job keeps her too busy for an operation, and things are only getting busier.
Her phone was what woke her, she answers it, still half asleep. “Hmmm,” she says. And again: “Hmmm.” In her dream the phone rang like an alarm clock, and only when she realizes that this is no longer a dream does she murmur: “Hello?” Now she feels that her cheek is still atop the Murakami. She pushes the book off the bed. It falls to the floor with a thump.
That, too, is a bad thing about thick books. They fall loudly, they wake the neighbours.
“Oh, it’s you,” she says. “I thought it was the plumber.” “You thought I was the plumber?” Roland Oberstein asks.
“I thought you were coming to unplug the toilet.” She makes little growling noises. That forces her to wake up completely.
“Unplug the toilet?”
“I was dreaming about the plumber. The plumber is coming tomorrow. The toilet is plugged. Where are you, sweetheart?”
“In my hotel room,” Roland says. “How long has the toilet been plugged?”
“Since this afternoon. How was it?”
“It was good,” Roland says.
“Were they pleased?”
“With what?”
“With your speech?”
“Yes, I think so.”
She sighs. She rolls over onto her stomach.
“Is that all?” She’s completely awake now. As though morning had come and she were ready to get up. As though she could go bicycling off to work any moment.
Sometimes she lies in bed, tossing and turning without being able to sleep. She thinks then about her job, about her boyfriend.
“Yes. That’s all.”
Her boyfriend doesn’t talk a lot, there are days when he’s as taciturn as Mr. Bear. She’d like to get him talking, but she doesn’t know how. She’s tried lots of things. Vacations, romantic dinners, one time she even convinced him to help her paint decorations on espresso cups, but when they were done he told her he felt like he’d painted enough espresso cups for the next five years. And he hadn’t talked much while they were painting them either.
When she sits at her desk in the afternoon, with a bag of liquorice drops, she sometimes tells herself that she’s tried everything. To draw out the warmth she knows he has inside him. He’s like a wood-burning stove she can’t get lit.
“Are you busy with something else? Are you checking your mail? I can hear you typing. If you’d rather answer your mail than talk to me, you don’t have to call me in the middle of the night.”
“I’m not typing,” Roland says.
“I can hear you.”
“I’m not typing,” Roland says again.
“I heard you.”
“I wasn’t typing.”
“Do you think I’m crazy? You call and wake me up and you’re typing. Why do you call me if you’re typing?”
“I wasn’t typing,” Roland reiterates. “And I called you because you called me, and because you texted me. Twice, to be precise.”
“So then why aren’t you telling me anything?” Violet wants to know.
“I’m not much of a talker,” Roland says. “You know that. When’s the plumber coming?”
“In the morning. I think. You’re typing again.”
“I’m not typing.”
“Would you please knock it off? You’re talking to me now. Focus on this conversation. Stop typing.”
“I’m focused.”
Violet is sitting straight up in bed now. Mr. Bear is in her arms. He is, in fact, in a very bad way. One of his legs is coming off.
“The purpose of a conversation is that people tell each other things, right? So if you’re not going to tell me anything, why call? Didn’t anything happen that was worth telling about?”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell,” Roland says. “It’s late. I’m tired. I love you.”
“Oh, could you maybe say that with a little more conviction? It sounds like you’re asking for the goddamn check.”
“I love you,” she hears again, but the intonation is the same.
Once she’d thought about joining the air force, she had wanted to do something almost no one had ever done before, there weren’t that many female F-16 pilots after all, but she had abandoned the idea.
“I won’t do it again, I promise. But if I don’t call and wake you up, you get angry too. Whatever I do, it’s wrong. I can’t do anything right.”
Would doll doctors be listed in the yellow pages? It was such an old-fashioned profession.
“Listen, I’m going to try this one more time. A conversation is when two people tell each other things. So what are we doing?”
“We’re having a conversation,” Roland says.
“No!” Violet’s shouting now. “We are not having a conversation, because you’re not telling me anything. And I still hear you typing. Would you please stop?”
“I can do two things at the same time. I can type and I can talk to you. I’m tired. If I type now, I can go to sleep later on. I’m saving time.”
“I’m not a time-saving device. I’m your girlfriend, goddamn it!”
“The one does not rule out the other,” Rolands says. “A good girlfriend is also a time-saving device.”
“Okay, I’ll run it back. How did your speech go?”
“You already asked me that. Good. I wasn’t dissatisfied, it could have been better. But fine, in fact. The discussion afterwards was a bit tame, though.”
“Shall we put an end to this conversation?” Violet asks. “Or is there something else you want to tell me? Let’s just stop, this isn’t a conversation. It’s nothing. It’s nothing at all.”
“No, I don’t want to stop this conversation. Not as long as you don’t. I don’t want you to be sad. I’ll go on until you hang up. I’m not giving up.”
“So is there something you want to tell me?”
“I’ve already told you everything. Is there something you want to tell me?”
“Yes,” Violet says. “Yes, there’s something I want to tell you. I cheated on you.”
She hears Roland laughing.
“Are you laughing?” she asks.
“Yes, I’m laughing,” Roland says.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because it’s funny. Don’t you think it’s funny?”
“No, I don’t think it’s funny, no. I cheated on you.”
For a moment, all is silent.
“When?”
“Oh, so now you’ve stopped typing!” she shouts. “All of a sudden I have your undivided attention! Now the typing has stopped!”
“When?” Roland asks.
“So now the great economist has stopped typing, right?” Violet screams. “Now the typing is over!”
“I’m still typing.” Roland raises his voice now as well. “If you didn’t scream like that, you’d be able to hear me. Listen. I’m still typing. Type type type. All I want to know is: when?”


(Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Amsterdam, 2010)