by Ruth Deming

After my second cup of Starbucks Coffee, the world was looking mighty beautiful. As assistant librarian of the Willow Grove Library – and I promise not to joke about the lack of water-depleting willow trees – I was entitled to a two-week vacation.

I’d mentioned to my daughter, Louisa Rose, that I’d like to vacation in Amsterdam. Might she come with me?

“Absolutely not, Maman,” she said partly in French over the phone. “You must learn to travel by yourself.”

When I hung up, I knew she was right.

A million questions ran through my mind. Would there be terrorists on the plane? Would I be able to stop them? Once in Amsterdam, would I smoke pot? What museums would I see?

The airplane was not a Boeing, a wonderful plane founded in 1916 by one William Boeing.  The eponymous Boeing would be freaking out if he knew what had happened in January of 2019. Safety features had failed to work on the Boeing 737 in Ethiopia and Malaysia, simply because the pilots didn’t understand how they worked.

When I got my driver’s permit years ago, I thought I’d never learn to drive, until I took lessons with Uncle Eddie’s Driving School.

Looking out the window of the plane after lift-off, I marveled at the miracle of flight.

Without thinking, my mind went straight to what had happened in Ethiopia and Malaysia. We plunged head-first onto the runway. Not even time for the pilot to warn us.

I snapped to the present tense and watched, entranced, as the plane flew upward like a bird eager to build a nest.

“Quite something,” said the man in the seat next to me.
“You read my thoughts,” I laughed.
Beep-tones kept going off.
“You may remove your seatbelts,” said the voice of the pilot.

As a librarian used to obeying orders, I removed my seatbelt. I wanted to joke to the man in the next seat, “I’ll also remove my clothes.”

Not a good idea.

How long had it been since I had an affair with someone?

A couple before my marriage. My ex-husband excelled at affairs, which is why we were no longer together.

Closing my eyes, I took small naps as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I often awoke when I heard myself snore. When food arrived, I would eat ravenously, then fall back to sleep.

“What did you say your name was?” I asked in one of my remissions.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “William.”
“What a fine name,” I said. “I’m glad you don’t abbreviate it.”

We awkwardly shook hands from our seats.

Neither of us wore a wedding band.

William had a large red stone where the wedding band should be.

“Gorgeous ring,” I said, pointing.

He told me he had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, which was in the bowels of Philadelphia. They were not immune to scandal.

“You must be smart,” I said, laughing.
“That’s not what Mary Lou told me,” he said.
“Your wife, undoubtedly,” I said.

A male flight attendant passed by in a red uniform, no different, I thought, than a prison uniform.

“Uh, how long sir, until we reach Amsterdam?” I asked.

He looked at his watch.

“An hour and twenty minutes,” he said.

I excused myself and walked to the tiny restroom in front of us.

“Vacant!” read the sign.

Good Lord, it was tiny, as I balanced myself on the seat. How could I pee in a situation like this? One always managed. Not only did I flush, hearing nothing over the roaring of the plane, but I also washed my hands.

William was gone, too, having used another restroom.

Whatever was I going to do with him?

“Natalie,” he said. “Dare I ask you if you want to get adjoining rooms at our hotel?”
“Not a problem,” I said, hating that expression.

That night, we lay on a king-sized bed, at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel.

The room was palatial, with a table spread with delicacies. A silver coffee pot. All sorts of teas. Cheeses. Jams.

I had opened the blinds so that the starry sky was in full view.

Soft music played on the radio. Jazz. Miles Davis running the Voodoo down.

We snuggled in each other’s arms.

“Shall we?” asked William.
“Well, I’m not Mary Lou,” I said.

We made love for hours. It was nothing short of spectacular.

The next day a taxi brought me to a Coffee Bar, as the marijuana bars are called.

When I got out, I walked along the brick street where thousands of bicycles whizzed across the street. Motorbikes, as loud as firecrackers, joined the general cacophony.

After entering the shop, a tall man in a white chef’s hat and the label “Henryk” across his chest addressed me in English.

“Your desire, madame?” His dark eyebrows bounced up and down.
“Help me choose something mild, Henryk, marijuana, that is.”

I ordered a plate of Gouda cheese, tiny raw herrings, and a small white joint of sativa.    

Moving to a table, I brought out my paperback, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C S Lewis.

It was so popular at our library but I never got around to reading it.

Yes, I was “high,” but not terribly so, as Henryk had indicated.

Every word glimmered like a jewel on the page.

“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London due to the Air-Raids.”

Why, this is quite wonderful, I thought, wondering what had become of William.

Wearing my Rockport shoes, I walked down to the Vincent van Gogh museum. I must have had a smile on my face, as people were smiling at me. As is often the case, I thought I saw my grandchildren, Rosie and Little Jack.

The sun shone brightly and one or two forlorn clouds moved slow as elephants across the sky.    

The pot had worn off. Fine. I bought a ticket and entered the light-filled museum. William Hockney, known for his modernistic paintings of swimming pools, was also exhibiting there. As a member of L.A. Fitness back home, I swam early in the morning before the crowds got there.

Chlorine I considered one of my favorite smells, as I backstroked across the pool, then pushed myself off the blue tiles, doing the Australian crawl and sidestroke.

Recently I had watched the film Gates of Eternity with red-bearded Willem Defoe playing the tormented van Gogh.

In my light sweater and silver dangling earrings, I found my way to a large room filled with Vincent’s paintings.

One wishes always to be alone with the artist.

And I was.

Standing alone, I whispered, “You, above all, are my favorite artist. And there are so many others. Rembrandt, Velasquez, Gauguin (yes, I know you gave him the gift of your ear). In fact, when I go home, we will have a lecture at our library about you, dearest Vincent.”

I spoke “Vincent” as the French do.

In the gift shop, I stocked up on earrings, posters, to be shipped home, and darling hand towels in as bright-colored yellow as his sunflowers and straw hat. Removing my own earrings, I installed a pair of long silver earrings that reached my shoulders.

And William?

I never saw the bastard again.   

About the Author:

Ruth Z. Deming is a poet and short story writer who lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her works have been published in Mad Swirl, Literary Yard, ShortStory,net and other writing venues. She runs New Directions, a support group for people with depression, bipolar  disorder and their loved ones. “Yes I Can: My Bipolar Journey” details her triumph over bipolar disorder. A mental health advocate, she educates the public about this treatable illness.