Don’t Worry Anca Szilágyi
Johnny’s teaching math in the fall and we’re on our honeymoon. Venice, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam. A whole month. Sexy sexy cities for sexy sexy times. I planned most of it. He got Amsterdam.
Here we are at the Rijksmuseum and it’s too late, 5 pm, closed. We couldn’t sleep at all the night before, our first night in Amsterdam, the last leg of our trip: Airbnb sheets stained yellow, bed narrow, EuroVision blaring next door; and in the silences, inexplicable pounding, scraping sound of metal on metal, someone sobbing, a halting sort of sob, loud like they were pressing their mouth to the wall, then quieter and quieter, a wandering away.
“Oh well,” says Johnny. “Coffee shop?”
We bumble on to the first one we find, Reefer Madness, and sit down in the back, an herby haze to smooth over life’s wrinkles.
“This is nice,” I offer, relieved at least, to not be milling about yet another big museum. I lean back and exhale luxuriously. “Our honeymoon should be relaxing, after all.”
Johnny’s eyes go soft—melted butter, olive oil. Satisfied I’m not mad about the Rijks, I think.
We step out into the early evening.
“I’ve got just the place. I’ve been waiting all month for it.”
Off Leidensplein, the Times Square of Amsterdam: a smoky restaurant.
“The best in Europe.”
“But are ribs Dutch?”
Johnny shrugs, runs his large hand through his hair. It’s so thick it stands upright, makes me want to jump on his back and muss it up.
“What’s Dutch anyway? Potato? Cheese?” He sweeps his arm in a grand gesture and says with a relishing sneer, “Herring?” His eyes glitter. I snatch his arms down, hug him until he says ouch.
We each opt for the smoked ribs and a baked potato and the waiter eyes us with a twinkle, must think we’re fools. Heaping platters, fit for four. Four Americans, in fact, so make that eight. We rub our hands together. The salt is marvelous. The grease coats our lips, cheeks, fingers. Smack, suck. Tear strips of meat off the bone.
Eat your salad, I almost say, but it’s just our honeymoon. Why nag?
Our bellies swell and groan.
“Wish I’d worn a sundress.” I’d let my gut hang. I feel it spill over my low rise jeans. Little beer-meat baby.
The weed-food coma spreads open my mind. Like there are big wide gaps, like the spaces in a video game. Leap to the platforms with red-capped mushrooms to make thoughts go ba-BLING.
“Well, we should see something of Amsterdam,” I say. Almost stamp my feet.
“Like what? The Red Light?”
My mind rifles.
“Anne Frank. That’s the one. Everyone goes.”
“Well,” he says, and I can see him tamping down an eye roll. “This way north, then cut west.” He’s memorized the map. Good boy.
“Is it even open?”
His fingers smudge oil in the pages of the guidebook. “’Til 10. Golly!” We grab hands. He leads the way.
The streets get busier and drunkier. Bunch of handsome scruffies sit on a dirty white couch on a broken terrace overlooking a canal, guzzling beer. Opera’s playing in their house, big windows open to the world. Like they’re looking to be looked at. Like Abercrombie models debauched. Nasty pretty frat boys on a gap year. One of them one day will murder a hooker. You can just tell.
Here come the sex shows. Pics of slick naked bodies in all variations of thrust. Johnny nudges me.
“How about it?”
“Well. If they’re short.”
There’s nothing to them. Acrobatics to a techno beat. Change positions when the rhythm shifts. In out twist thrust boom boom boom boom. I yawn.
Outside, red bulbs switch on and curtains open. A skinny brunette sidles close to the glass. Little blue bruise on her arm. Blonds with boob jobs. Half of them slump on stools, scrolling through phones. Race car red or hot pink and studded with rhinestones. A fat one chugs a Red Bull. An older, larger lady, eyes lined real dark, looks askance, worried. And one, real cut, dances with her head down, silky hair hiding her face. The only one smiling is at an open door, talking up a prospect.
Johnny lets out a rib burp and laughs.
“C’mon, we did a show, now this. How about it?”
“But we’re already here.”
“Should’ve got me a bigger diamond for that.”
His bear paw of a hand swipes at me, gentle like a cub. Snakes his arm around my neck, gives me a noogie.
The line at Anne Frank Huis is short but slow. My stomach’s still tight with pork. My mind still full of plastic boobies and pink silicone coochie coos. Nubbed vibrators.
At the admission desk, Johnny gets real serious, puts on his teacher face. But his eyes are still glazed. The security guard shines a light inside my purse. A sex dancer sneers up at us from a flyer and I zip it real quick with a sheepish grin. Security guard just chucks his chin. Move along.
We shuffle through a short film and empty rooms. Not much to see. Here’s where they snapped a wedding photo. A woman named Miep (Meep). A woman named not Beep or Boop but Bep.
We wait for the crowd to trickle up steep, narrow stairs.
“You’re in The Twilight Zone,” Johnny whispers, breath all herb and wood smoke. “That episode where you have to choose to be one of two kinds of people. Except the choices are now Meep and Bep. How do you choose? How?”
I knock his head with the heel of my hand. Upstairs, more empty rooms. Except their toilet’s there, behind Plexiglas. It’s actually pretty, blue flowers on porcelain, like fine china. In the next room, the wall’s collaged with Anne’s favorites: movie stars and kittens. She named her diary Kitty.
Then there’s the pictures of the piles. Naked bodies. Gristly rib bones come to mind. My stomach gurgles, mad about all the churning fat inside. We pull on our sober faces. The next room moves real slow. I can’t see over shoulders. I wait. Johnny shimmies forward, darts ahead, a reconnaissance mission, darts back.
“C’mon,” he’s saying, pulling on my hand. “It’s just papers.”
Anne’s dad is on a video. I had no idea he survived. He’s saying something about being surprised by her diary, how you never really know your children.
We’re outside again, the air cooler. What a relief. Imagine the heat of those cattle cars. The thirst and stink. “I need a drink,” Johnny says. There’s an unsteadiness behind his face now. He runs his hand through his hair again and it looks even crazier.
We find a chill pub by a canal. You can always find a pub by a canal. That’s nice. The old sidewalk is tilted. We order two gins. Waiter looks peeved. Bunch of stupid whacked out tourists.
“Johnny,” I say, fiddling my drink.
There’s a nasty look, but he wipes off that face with a Justin Bieber smile.
A long-legged brunette bicycles slowly toward us. She’s dreamy, indifferent, her straight hair so long it drapes over her small, buoyant breasts. Her chemise is gauzy, her blue shorts real short and real blue, twilight blue, her skin golden. She rides upright, posture perfect, earbuds in, and as she passes she’s singing off-key, blasé, “You don’t love me like I love you.” I think this is perfect this is the perfect moment and there’s the sound of something dropping. Italian dude at the next table dropped his steak knife on the cobble stones. A cruiser of red-faced blond bros glides by behind him on the canal, they’re shout-singing Bob Marley, “Don’t Worry,” but with a military drum and martial beat, and the Italian guy, the Italian guy, he reaches for his knife and tumbles forward off his chair into the street.
Originally published in Moss: Volume Two.