Adriaan Jaeggi


Hero by profession

Chapter I
Let's just all be happy our grandparents bred this incredibly large family, otherwise we'd all be pretty much extinct by now. Unbelievable, the death-rate in this family. Last week another one, a cousin of my fathers', drabbest funeral of the year so far, and this morning three more cards arrived. You'll spot them a mile away in the mail, corps-grey or creamy white with a black band, and always a little larger than the rest of the mail, like they're afraid you are going to miss it.
 Teddy always spots them right away. When she was very small, she'd take every card straight to my father's room, because she knew he would take her on his lap and hold her tight while reading the name on the card.
 Nowadays she'll start screaming the moment she sees one. 'I'm not going, I'm not going! I'm not, I'm not!'
 If we didn't have this ridiculous number of relatives we wouldn't have to go to all these funerals. My father has to go, they're mostly from his part of the family, but he insists that we come too. I don't mind that much, but that's just me. Teddy and Nadine will scream their heads of and Molly predictably locks herself up in her own room. Not that it makes a difference. We'll be going anyway.
 It's all part of the stupid charade, all the yelling, 'cause once we get there everything's ok and everybody enjoys themselves just fine. And there's a whole day's off from school in it.
 I just wish they wouldn't make such a fuss about it. I can hear them talking now, downstairs. Nadine sort of crying, Teddy in her sweet little-girls voice, and the low droning of my father's voice. Always the same: first calm and collected, then heated, and finally he is shouting at everyone that no matter what, we're going to this funeral, and there's an end to it.
 I'm not going down there. I know what's gonna happen anyway: someone, most probable Nadine, running up the stairs in tears, crying and kicking every door on the way to her room. I don't have to leave my room for that, I can wait for it right here.
I think I would proably be more upset if anyone died that I knew, but most of the people in my family I've never met. Last year this uncle of mine died, who is supposed to have been a close friend of the family when I was about four, but I couldn't remember a thing about him. Melchior. My father talked about him all night, how I'd sat on his lap and how one time he'd bought this funny cap for me. I don't remember ever owning a cap. Actually, when they were hauling Melchior towards the oven, all I could think about was this friend of mine for two years, Dick. He always wanted me to go fishing with him. I don't care about fishing, but he didn't mind, he just wanted me there. He didn't even ask if I had a fishingrod of my own.
Anyway, he had this large whicker box, with little drawers for his tackle and his hooks, and a belt to hang it over your shoulder with, and you could sit on it whilst fishing. He wanted me to carry it.
He always carried his rod in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. When we were at the usual place, somewhere by the canal, he would thrust the pitchfork in the ground and kick the handle, so it would vibrate and drive the worms out of the mud. He walked around, bent over like an old man, and peeled the worms from the mud and put them in a plastic cup. Then he put one on the hook and gave me the cup. I sat down on the whicker box, holding my hand over the cup. I could feel the worms tickling the palm of my hand. Dick stepped into the shallow water and threw out his line. He never wore boots, he just stood in the water with his shoes and socks, just like that.
When he caught one he would whip it on shore in one big move, like he was handling a big whip or something.
Sometimes he took the fish from the hook himself, sometimes he let me do it.
He left the fish he caught lying in the high grass. Sometimes it took ten or fifteen minutes for them to stop moving. I could feel the tickling of the worms against my hand as I looked at the mouths of the fish, biting at the air. I always wondered if that was the way people would die when they drowned - O, and now I remember why I was thinking about Dick during my uncle's cremation: my uncle had drowned, not in the sea, but in the hotel-pool, during his holiday.
© Adriaan Jaeggi, 1999/2001

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