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Joe's Vliegerwinkel

Author: Frances Ainslie
Year: Future

They said it was the mildest March on record that day we weaved through the flower market. The air was thick with the cloying scent of earth, and narcissi and hyacinth. Dad had died the prior autumn, and here we were overwhelmed by flowers once again. Mum bought bags of tulip bulbs to pot-up when we got home. They are always so bright and jolly, she said.

Escaping to the fresh air we breathed in the stillness of the canal, before sitting outside a little cafe cradling mugs of steaming hot chocolate with a name we could barely pronounce. Words took a while to come while we watched a heron patiently waiting on the opposite bank. Warming in the early morning sunshine, she said, Your father wouldn’t fly. He hated boats too. But you know, I think he would have liked it here.

That evening we wandered into an antique shop in the Hoogstraat where Mum bought me a turquoise pendant. A pretty thing set in silver. Two stones, each a different shape and shade. A tiny inclusion like a river of copper thread trickled across the smaller stone. It was a thank you, she said, for being there. It was later in a cobbled alleyway that we found Joe’s Vliegerwinkel. The shop window was a sky of flying kites in rainbow colours. There were bluebirds, peacocks, flamingos, red-nosed clowns, and golden flying fish, but it was the black panther with the olive-green eyes and the purple tail streamers who roared at me through the glass. A black cat for luck, Mum said.

I imagined a brighter future and looked forward to the day when we would set it free on a blustery hillside covered in wildflowers. The panther flying with the birds, higher and higher in sweeping arcs. People below looking at the sky and pointing. I imagined the laughter of children someday. Mum asked me if he liked kites? I said I didn’t know, but wouldn’t it be such a precious thing to fly this one?

Today I am in the garden. Twenty years have passed. It is a sunlit day with a stiff breeze. The swaying Birch tree by the gate disturbs the light. I snip at winter deadwood and think about Covid, life, death, and how we seem to be forever looking forward to better times. He is clearing out the bourach that is his shed. He emerges from the gloom between the matching tubs of scarlet tulips. Look what I found, he says, it’s that black cat. It must have slipped down the back of the shelf. He holds aloft the slim package still loosely encased in blue and white Delftware wrapping paper. Who bought us that? he asks, as he hands it to me.

Behind the clear plastic cover, I can just make out the black panther’s olive-green eyes through the layers of spider web, and faded moth wing. I take the package from him. Saying nothing I head indoors. At the sink I gently clean away the webs and wings and put it in the corner of the cupboard facing outwards, so you catch the glint of eyes as soon as you open the door. There is always tomorrow.