Short Story Competition 2019 – 1st Place; Land’s End, by Luc de Vries

It is genetic, and therefore likely, that I’ll lose my mind sooner or later. My old man was crazy and the son of a bitch before him was too. I’m not sure what my mother’s side was like, but if she hadn’t been cuckoo from the start my father sure nudged her in the right direction by showing her how.

By comparison me and my sisters are turning out well. I don’t think any of us have ended up crooks or bandits yet but I don’t speak to them often enough to say for sure. But we’ll go looney at one point or another. It happens to most people, and it will certainly happen to me.

I sit at my mother’s table. I leave the messages from the family WhatsApp group unread and watch the clock in the top corner of my phone screen. Mom walks about the old place and talks to me from the other room.

“Arjen. It’s happened again,” she says.

“What’re you looking for?”

“My pink… Er. Thing. Coat.”

“You mean your vest?”

“Yes.”

“Right here.”

“…Put it there, did I?”

I hold up the vest to her as she walks into the room. I rise and drape it across her shoulders. They feel small and bony like a child’s. “All right? How’s about we go for a little drive, then?” I say.

“Thank you, dear. I’m just forgetting something… something else. Oh, bugger.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Let’s get to the car.”

“No, no… Can’t be doing that.” She puts a hand to her side and begins to scan the floor as if what she’s looking for might be hiding underneath.

I put on my jacket and wait by the door. I send a message to my sister and switch my phone to silent. When I look up I see my mother standing there in the middle of the room. I suck my teeth. “Mom… if it’s your gun, let’s not bring it.”

She remains still for a moment before she looks up. She nods. “That’s it. Thank you, dear.”

“…Mom, let’s—”

“Oh, push off. What if the cops show up? You’ll be thanking me, you will.”

“We’re getting coffee, for Chrissakes.”

She pulls a small handgun from the dresser. “Shaddap. I’m a wanted woman, I’ll have you know,” she says waving the weapon in my direction.

“An old crackpot’s what you are. C’mon, let’s go.”

Arjen!”

“Yeah, yeah. Put the gun down, mom. Let’s go already.”

Muttering, she shoves the gun down her purse. We put a coat on her and leave the house. I check my phone a final time and then we drive for Land’s End, North Holland, the name alone making my world seem very small.

#

Time passes me by like a dirty prostitute on the street and all I can do is look and watch it go. Christ. I’m getting on the wrong side of thirty and I’m doing ninety on the freeway with my mother and I wonder how I could be missing someone so much sitting right beside me. Looking at her now, staring out across the countryside and its grass pastures and turbines, she don’t look so crazy. She looks like my momma. Used to buy me Panini soccer cards and take me feeding the ducks in the park. Robbing banks with my old man on the side. Always a mother first and an armed robber second. That time never meant as much to me as it does now.

She turns to me and I look at her. She smiles and brushes her finger along her upper lip. “Had a shave, did you, Geer?”

“I’m Arjen, mom. We’re getting coffee.”

She doesn’t answer and looks down at her hands.

“Come on. Don’t go crazy on me again.”

She gives me a hateful look and then she looks out the window again. I never know what to do so I put my hand to her knee and she brushes it off. She’s not looking at me and I throw my hands up and slap them down on the wheel.

“Fuck,” I say. I clench the wheel and I keep it at that.

The clouds are a blueish gray. It’s tried to rain a few times but it never really followed through. Small raptors sit waiting for roadkill and the further we go the more it feels as if the entire world lies in wait for some change that will be swift and terrible and all I can do is look and watch it go. There are some things a parent can’t teach you and you’ll never know until it is too late and you are caught some diesel miniature on a long road between here and nowhere hoping your crazy mother won’t peek inside your glovebox and discover the cheap bar you stock in there.

“Christ. Look, you know I didn’t mean it like that.”

She looks over from the corner of her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

The lines around her mouth remain stark and put, and she looks away again.

We drive in silence for the next half hour. “Hey,” I say eventually. “If you want we could take a little detour. Ram-raid an ATM in Julianadorp.”

 Her face turns to me with shock. She sees my grin and falls back into her seat. I laugh and she bumps my arm. “Don’t!” she says. “I thought you were serious.” A smile comes to her face and she begins to chuckle. “Good grief. When’d I raise such a… er.” She pauses long and then curses to herself.

“A bastard? A rapscallion?”

She chuckles. “Well, something like that, yes.”

“We could also just get coffee,” I say.

She stares off into the distance. “Julianadorp… I actually quite dislike that place. Wouldn’t mind gunning down a person or two there.”

We have another short burst of laughter. She takes off her glasses and pads her eyes down with her vest.

“You’d do it, too. I remember Laura saying you’d shot someone once. Back then.”

“Not just one, dear. Heaps, I tell you.” She laughs, that warm familiar trill. I look at her purse and back at her.

“…But don’t you feel, you know, remorse? For all that?”

“Well, your old man did all the planning, and so on… so forth.”

“So, do you?”

“…Oh, honey,” she says, and sighs. “As if I would remember.” She turns to me with a wide grin, shoulders shaking as she starts laughing again, and I with her.

We drive on. The clouds break over the turbines curving down the horizon, austere and monolithic like trees of some unfathomable future where they stand forever immense and all I can do is look and watch it go in my rearview mirror and we are northward bound.

#

We drive for Land’s End. We enter the city of Den Helder where you are either old or a mariner and the children stuff themselves with Ritalin and laughing gas and they go crazy. Bad directions end you up in this place. No one wants to be here and I grow nauseous and we drive for Land’s End.

We step out onto the parking lot. Mom is relieved to find no police vehicles parked and I convince her to leave her purse in the car. It feels safer now and I feel bad for it. With her on my arm we walk to the entrance. The ferryman’s cottage turned restaurant is called Land’s End and from this point on there is only water and the dim vista over the Wadden Sea to the east and the North Sea to the west. Here a boat lays at its moorings and soon it will ferry across the tide-race those beyond the toll booth and we watch it from where we are seated.

We sit quietly and remain so when our order arrives. Two cups of coffee. Two slices of rubbery apple pie. A large tuft of whipped cream for my mother. I listen to the people around us talking or laughing and I hear the sea and the wind rustle through the peninsula’s last marram grass, seesawing high and low.

We are halfway through our drinks when she says, “I don’t think I want to go back.”

I put down my cup and look her in the eye. “…I’m not sure what you’re—”

“Laura and Vanessa. They’re in there right now, aren’t they.”

I look away. I link my fingers in my lap and rub my thumbs.

“Please. My boy.”

“C’mon, mom. It’s only two blocks away. You’ll have most your old stuff and just a couple extra eyes on you for when you’re—”

“Crazy?”

“…It’s not like that—”

“We did the same, you know. With Ge—” She pauses. Her brow furrows in thought. “Ge… your… f-father’s father. The man died within months after that. I won’t have it happen to me. Nuts to that.”

“You have to understand. We can’t look after you twenty-four seven. We can’t.”

“Then don’t.”

I look at her again. Her skin is creased and thin like crêpe paper. She sits shaking in her coat and she returns my stare without mercy.

“Look, this wasn’t my idea,” I say. “But what other choice do we have now? I’m just… sorry.”

“I want to go home.”

I prop my elbows on my knees and rub my face with both hands. “Christ. Come on, momma. Please.”

She stares at her cup and the faint plumes that still rise from it. She has a face she puts on when she thinks these days and it makes her look like someone else and I find it hard to look for long.

“They’ll do it to you, too,” she says.

I’m rocking back and forth on my heels. I nod. “Yes. Yes, I know.”

We don’t speak for a while. I drink the rest of my coffee. The whipped cream melts into a puddle and my mother sobs soundlessly. I unlock my phone to find over a hundred messages in the WhatsApp group and I don’t read them. Eventually she calms down and we have another round of coffee and we watch the view that has now turned strange and calm as has the rest of the world. We watch the waters below where the ferry begins to withdraw its boarding ramp and the gulls scatter laughing.

“Are you ready to go?” I say.

She looks at me. “Oh. Had a shave, did you, Geer?”

I pay the bill and get us to the car. I drop my mother off at her new address and she acts along with my sisters and I’m glad I stole the gun from her purse. It has no place with crazy people.


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