What Happens in Amsterdam
Hannah van Didden
‘Park wherever you want,’ says the waiter. He is pockmarked and out of place
here in his American accent and flaming hair. No older than twenty, he is probably a
student, she decides. Her mouth is pinched and parted at once, like a pitted cherry, and
she sips the air through her teeth.
She chooses an outside table. It’s circular and wooden and a drinking glass of
simple blooms is just off centre. She pulls back the rattan chair. It creaks and bows as
though it will collapse from beneath her. She sits, quite still, and begins a habit of
She is too late for lunch, too early for dinner, and only a couple at chess are like
her—enjoying the al fresco area in spite of the sun. She has selected this table for its
proximity to the street. She is meeting someone whose voice she has heard twice.
‘Can I get you anything?’ comes a blue tone. It’s the waiter. She hardly realized he
was at her side.
She shakes her head, lifts the laminated card from its resting place, angles her face
at it. ‘A few more moments,’ she says and, when he walks away, she drops the menu.
She thumbs the anaemic band circling her finger. It seems long ago. She spent
time making her peace. Her fingers pluck at the pills and creases that follow the length
of her black dress, press the cinch created at her waist by her identifier, the purple sash.
The Valium she took when she arrived has yet to take effect. She sits as though her
shoulders are weighted.
A carafe of pink something bubbly is plonked next the flowers and the waiter is by
her elbow. ‘Ma’am,’ he says with a nod. ‘Sangria. On the house.’
She straightens up to face off with the single glass he has planted in front of her.
It’s a tumbler with scalloped base, the form of the makeshift vase. Her waiter wears a
grin to the side. The cheek of him! It’s clear he thinks she’ll be dining alone.
His hand brushes hers in the reach to fill her glass. His fingers are rough and he
smells like skin and the air in the nearby coffee shop. She knows it well—his feel, this
thickness of scent. Her first real boyfriend wore the same. Her thoughts promote her
waiter to musician. He could be twenty-five. Still too young for her.
Her hand—the one with the sapphire cabochon ring—slides back to the glass as he
leaves her side. The fizz is cool and sweet. Only when it is gone does she notice the
pink lipstick chapped at the rim, baked on and cracked. It isn’t hers. She stiffens, lifts
her eyebrows, shrugs and pours another glass anyway, fights the mellow that comes
with her second helping.
He is late. Seven minutes and counting, but she’s trying not to count. She puckers
her face in its panoramic scan. And she sees him. He is at the corner in floppy brown
hair and a three-piece suit. When she sees him, her face opens up. He is taller and more
handsome than she expected. The leather document holder and the orange tulip—the
baby’s breath is a nice touch—point to her to the fact of him. Blue eyes prise open the
gap between the top of her face-swallowing sunglasses and the rim of her hat.
‘May I?’ His hand grips the ear of the empty chair.
‘Please,’ she says.
He leans forward to shift his seat back and, with this gesture, slips to her the three
little words she has been waiting for—‘It is done.’ He says this in a peppermint vapor
and, as he does, she expels her long-held breath, allows her shoulders to unfurl.
About the author: Hannah van Didden lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and their three children. As well as playing with words, Hannah chases butterflies, eats mindfully, and sings in the shower.