This is an extract from the short story ‘Creative Writing’, first published in the collection Rustig aan, tĳger (‘Easy, Tiger’) by Joost de Vries, (Das Mag, 2020)
As the pilot tells us to prepare for landing, the plane begins a turn to the right and I wonder whether pilots also talk about ‘port’ and ‘starboard’. From ten thousand feet the world isn’t landscape but topography. We see a river cut tens of kilometres of green land in two, we see a coastline that’s not announced by anything like dunes or a beach; the world simply stops, as if that great expanse of farmland isn’t earthed, as if it’s been floating all this time like a sheet of coloured paper on a calm sea.
It’s a cloudless morning. We’re leaving the Baltics behind us. We’re going home.
That ought to be Friesland, and that island there – barely a speck of green in the grey water – might be Schiermonnikoog. But there’s a road or a bridge running out into the sea from Groningen or Friesland. The bridge stretches so far that we can’t see the end, as if it’s not a bridge but a gangplank, a suicide bridge, designed for the sole purpose of disappearing into the water.
So this can’t be the Netherlands, but it must be Denmark, or north-western Germany. It can’t be the bridge that joins Denmark to Sweden. I don’t understand. But less than ten minutes later, when I look out of the window again, I can clearly see the blast furnaces: Tata Steel. Is the Netherlands so small? Have we already travelled from Denmark to high above North Holland?
That’s the IJ, that’s the North Sea, that’s the beach at Bloemendaal and Zandvoort. The dunes sparkle. You can see straight away of course that it’s snowed, just as you can see from the delicately glistening ice on the treetops that there’s been a frost. It gives depth, accentuating the curvature of the dunes in the otherwise flat country: short curls on a mound of Venus.
While we taxi to the gate everyone obediently stays seated, except for one man, who stands up in astonishment, iPhone in hand. He says something I don’t fully comprehend: ‘ … has fallen!’
What? I think. Stalingrad? Constantinople? In the row behind me someone asks the question: What’s fallen?
By Joost de Vries
Translated by Liz Waters
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Joost de Vries is an editor and literary critic at De Groene Amsterdammer. In 2010, he published his debut novel, Clausewitz, and in 2013 was awarded the prestigious Charlotte Köhler Stipendium. His second novel, The Republic, for which he won the 2014 Golden Book Owl, was published in English translation in 2019. His debut short story collection, Rustig aan, tijger (‘Easy, Tiger’), was released in 2020.
Liz Waters studied philosophy and theology at the University of Manchester, and worked at a literary agency in Amsterdam before becoming a full-time translator of literary fiction and nonfiction. She has translated writers including Linda Polman, Fik Meijer, Paul Scheffer and Lieve Joris.