About this book
Margriet de Moor • David Doherty
A woman gets up in the middle of a wintry night and starts baking a Bundt cake while her lover sleeps upstairs. When it’s time for her to take the cake out of the oven, we have read a story of romance and death. The narrator of this novel was widowed years ago and is trying to find new passion. But the memory of her deceased husband and a shameful incident still holds her in its grasp. Why did he do it?
Margriet de Moor, the grande dame of Dutch literature, tells a gripping love story about endings and demise, rage and jealousy, knowledge and ambiguity — and the possibility of new beginnings.
It’s another of those nights. A night to live through, without sleep.
For years now, I have been in the habit of getting up. As a novice, this was something I did not do. I stayed under the covers, flinging myself from one side of the bed to the other, and listened for the striking of the clock. Odd, when you think about it. All you want is to slip away, into the countless hours, the immense space where the ticking of time only occurs by way of a joke, but instead you lie there muttering, “One . . . two . . . three already, damn it!” And by an easterly wind, you hear your sentence confirmed seconds later by a faint clang from the village steeple. More chime than church bell. I would often listen to the trains, too. And it struck me that while all of creation lay still at this hour, these nocturnal transports rolled on, uninterrupted. In resignation or in panic, I would feel the wheels rumble even before I heard them, the vibration intensifying as it burrowed through fields and ditches to latch onto the dresser mirror, which would begin to rattle unbearably. What was it that had to be carried with such stealth across the silent country?
What I do now is get up and make my way barefoot down the unlit stairs. Anatole, my mongrel German shepherd, hears me coming and knows what to expect. By the time I step into the kitchen and switch on the light, the dog has heaved himself up and is stretching his stiff legs. I take out the flour, the eggs, the hand mixer, two bowls — one big, one small — and begin without hesitation. I never have to think what to make. I just know. Shortbread cookies. Apple cake. Breton ham pie.
I am grateful to my husband for installing the oven at eye level when he equipped the kitchen. My eye level. Just as he chivalrously made the kitchen counter to suit my height and not his, which — as I came to learn — was six feet four and a half.
When it is time to slide the cake pan or baking tray into the preheated oven, I set the kitchen timer. This is essential. Once I have entered the dark living room in the company of Anatole, I lose all sense of temperature, aroma, and the time needed for a perfect golden-brown crust. From a corner of the room, I hear the dog sink to the floor with a smack and I begin to walk.
I am grateful to my husband for this soft wooden floor, laid with his own two hands. I know that he salvaged these planks of oak from a scrapyard. I even know that the wood originally came from the Heide Hotel, an old hunting lodge. I walk a floor for which a tidy sum was once paid. As he worked away in the living room — I can still hear the short, intense blasts of hammering — I was running an angled paintbrush along the frame of the door that leads down to the cellar. I remember how pleased I was with the color, a grayish green that even now, almost fifteen years later, still seems just right. I recall the stiffness in my fingers when the paint that had dripped down the side of the brush began to dry. I didn’t have much space to work in. I see very clearly that the sweep of my clumsy efforts was hemmed in by a pile of secondhand chairs and boxes crammed with wedding gifts. While the Chinese bowls, the tablecloth embroidered with irises, the cocktail shaker, and goodness knows what else are items I still possess and see almost every day, Ton, my young husband, has vanished without a trace. The look on his face. The remarks he made from the living room.
“Clear varnish might be best after all.”
“Tea? Or a beer?”
“You’ll never guess who I ran into this morning.”
“Over halfway done and moving along.”
“Sure. But it’s not what you’re thinking.”
Along those lines. Accompanied perhaps by a whistled tune or a burst of laughter. I can stick my fingers in my ears and bring the remarks to mind. But they are words without intonation, spoken with a mouthful of sand. As he went about this task, I neglected to notice my husband.