Marijn Sikken (1990) graduated from the Schrijversvakschool (School for Writing) in Amsterdam in 2014. In 2011 she won both the jury and public price of writing contest Write Now!. She writes short stories and columns for different magazines and is currently working on her first novel.
On the beach they break the ribs of the man who saved the child from drowning. Reanimation is a rough sport. The child’s doing fine, that age will play carefree in the sand again tomorrow, build castles to kick down, and the next day forget how close to the great void he was.
We, the spectators, form a ring around the hero: a few children, an older couple, a woman with a soft ice cream – she’s tactful enough not to eat it – and Freke and me.
It’s hot. The hero has no chest hair. The lifesaver, blond, aged about twenty, pumps the hero’s chest for as long as he has to. There’s a rhythm to it. The hero’s got water in his lungs; it’s not coming out.
I always think it’s less tragic when a child dies because a child’s less aware of what he’s losing. With a child it’s the other people involved who suffer most from the death; with an adult it’s the adult himself.
Freke says I shouldn’t say things like that aloud. In turn I explain to her that genuine sympathy and disaster tourism go hand in hand on Twitter, so she doesn’t upload the photo of the approaching ambulance.
Just along the beach, the girls’ team wins a game of volleyball.
‘Shall we go for a drink?’
Freke looks up. ‘You want to go for drink now?’
‘You’d rather see how this ends?’
The woman turns round too, dribbles of ice cream running down her wrists. As I see it, dying, like shitting, is a private matter. As Freke sees it, I’m horrible.
I order lemon beers at the bar because she likes them, and because drinking the same drinks and so on gives her a sense of togetherness. Since we’ve been in Katwijk we’ve had minor rows, but the holiday lasts another week and we’ve saved up for it, so we slog on.
The ambulance drives off, sirens screaming.
In Katwijk there’s a little church called the White Church, even though it’s no longer white. In Katwijk the beaches are broad and it’s not uncommon for someone to drown. They already pray for them, on Sundays even in their best clothes.
On the sand in front of us, just outside the beach bar, two children are playing. One of them taps the other on the head with his spade. The spade is pink.
‘What’s to laugh at?’ asks Freke.
The moment has passed. The moment had already passed when we got to the campsite, where the swimming pool turned out to be rather small and the neighbours homophobic; the moment passed when the lifesavers fished the man out of the water, after the child. We held our breath, but not for too long.
Freke cries, saying the man looked like a father.
I say, ‘Let’s drink to him. Is that something?’
So we drink a toast. We toast all evening.
On Twitter we read that the man – forty-seven, golf teacher, father of three – is dead. Hashtag Katwijk, hashtag R.I.P.
Translated by Liz Waters