Sytske van Koeveringe – It’s Monday Today
The first time
The man shakes my hand; his is sticky. ‘Mr Van Rijk,’ he replies when I say my name. He looks surprised and scrutinises me head to toe.
He precedes me down the narrow hallway and into the living room. A fetid smell hits me.
‘There’s an upstairs and a downstairs. Just do what you always do.’ His voice is deep; the words come out with difficulty, as if he hasn’t seen another human being in days.
The living room is bright. There are no photos of family members, no artwork over the sofa, no side tables with newspapers, no pens or stacks of books anywhere. There’s a single shelf, with a tea light and a stopped clock on it. In here it’s always two-thirty. The floor is strewn with pips, muesli, nuts and solidified pasta. The dining table is empty, save for a layer of dust. It’s a living room you might find after a house move.
‘The kitchen is through here. You’ll find everything you need under the sink.’
I can’t get myself to look at him.
‘I’ll be upstairs. Give me a shout if you need anything.’ He walks off.
‘Where’s the vacuum cleaner?’
‘I don’t have one.’ Amid a lot of groaning, he heaves himself up the stairs.
‘Wouldn’t it make sense to buy one?’
No response, just heavy, laboured breathing that slowly disappears upstairs.
I pull open the fridge door. A smell of chemicals mixed with mould escapes, as if the air itself can’t hack it in there. I quickly slam the door shut. My head is throbbing. The pain has shifted from right to left. Every time I catch a strong whiff of something, my temples feel as if they’re being crushed.
Soft, limp food scraps in the sink, coffee splatters on the wall, and the two electric plates caked in muck. I fill a bucket with hot water. I always like to start in the kitchen, wherever I am.
The layout of the house resembles that of my parents: compact. Maybe his spare room reeks of next door’s cigarettes as well, and Mr Van Rijk is also woken up during the summer nights by a vacuum cleaner that’s switched on and off. Except he doesn’t live with a mother who has a word with the neighbours one day, like mine did, and then says: ‘Your father hunts them down with a rolled-up T-shirt, I get them with a proper fly swatter, while the woman next door hoovers them up with a vacuum cleaner hose. Julia, I can’t say this often enough, but everybody has their own way of doing things.’
I change the water for the fifth time. Another hour to go. Like those in the kitchen, the walls in the toilet are covered in splatters. The towel beside the washbasin is used as paper, no doubt about it. For a moment I squeeze my eyes shut.
‘Mr Van Rijk?’
I hear stumbling upstairs. I repeat his name.
‘Yes?’ he says from behind a closed door.
‘Do you have a toilet brush?’
I hear a door squeak, footsteps, and then I see his pale hand at the top of the banister.
‘There should be a washing-up brush. You can use that.’
‘Right.’ I’d seen the washing-up brush, hoping those were food scraps on it. Mr Van Rijk walks back to where he came from. My mobile vibrates in my trouser pocket. I ignore it.
‘No,’ I say loudly. The footsteps return.
‘No,’ I say again. ‘I’m not cleaning your loo with a washing-up brush.’
There’s a brief silence. The banister creaks when Mr Van Rijk moves his hand. ‘I can buy one for you.’
‘In that case I’ll call it a day,’ I reply. At moments like these I feel as if I’m a homecare worker.
Mr Van Rijk walks back, remains upstairs, and doesn’t even say goodbye when I leave his house.
‘And up there is the roof terrace. Not that you have any business there of course, but if you like we can go up. Ladies first. It gets sunshine the whole day, and look, there’s the Rijksmuseum. Do you know it? It’s a shame I have to travel to Den Helder every day, otherwise I could enjoy the sunset in the evening. I can only sit on my roof terrace at the weekend, when it’s bound to be overcast or raining. Sod’s law.
It’s nice to talk up here, don’t you think? I’ve got a bottle of rosé open in the fridge. I never get to talk to anyone after work; what do you expect, I live on my own. Mind you, I’m not lonely. Good heavens, no. I’ve got Menno, and my friends, even though they all have families to support. What did you make of Menno? He’s always happy. It’s good to have someone in the house who’s pleased when I get home. The neighbour across the street walks him, otherwise he’d be on his own for too long. So don’t be startled when you see him – it’s not as if he’s come in through the back door or anything.
You sure you don’t want a drink?
Would you mind not hoovering? Menno can’t stand it. The noise upsets him. So if you just sweep and mop the kitchen and bathroom floors, that’ll be absolutely fine. Once a month I hoover the rest of the house and then I leave Menno up here. The poor thing.
How about some nuts? I’ve got cheese straws as well…
As I just said, I lay out my shirts and my mother’s blouses every week. I’d appreciate it if you could iron those. My mother isn’t getting any younger. She lives two streets away, which is nice and easy for these little things. It will be ideal later, when she’s really old. I can’t bear the thought of having to visit her in a nursing home. Besides, she wouldn’t dream of leaving her house. You’ll meet her; we’re always in and out of each other’s places. But anyway, I digress. Is there anything else you need to know? I reckon I’ve shown you everything.
What does your future hold then? I found your name on the internet. It said you’ve written a book! That man you wrote about, does he really exist? Is it autobiographical? Feel free to go for the more mature man. There’s no need to be ashamed, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t judge anybody. Nobody at all. Anyway, the topic sounded amusing, precisely because it struck me as so realistic. What is it with all this fiction?
And what are you up to these days, besides cleaning? I assume you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life. No offense meant. You ought to find a rich man, someone who provides for you, so you can do as you please, without worrying about money.
Call me old-fashioned, but that’s how I see it. The man’s the breadwinner, while the woman’s at home, managing the household. She can always take up a fun hobby too. Of course it doesn’t matter who’s wearing the trousers, but when it comes to financial matters, I prefer to wear them. That’s not something every man can say, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve worked very hard to reach this position.
Did you have a late night? All those stifled yawns – don’t say a word, I’ve been there. When I was your age… Ha! You don’t want to know.
Why don’t we go downstairs if you don’t want anything to eat or drink? Let me give you the keys. When did you say you’d come? As I said, I really don’t mind what day it is, as long as you come. Ladies first.’
Translated by Laura Vroomen