Fiction: The Visitation

Read More: A brief interview with Ivo Kamps

A student in Tjeerd and Bram’s high school has died.  He was from the former Dutch colony the Molukken, and he stood out because of his brown face.  His name was Ambroos.

Bram emerges from his front door just as Tjeerd sounds the car horn for the third time.  They’re going to the visitation in Amsterdam.

“You can’t bring that,” Tjeerd says, as his friend slides into the red Citroën deux chevaux. The brown paper bag in his left hand has the square shape of a bottle of Bokma.

“It’s a gift” he says, shutting the car door.

“You don’t show up to a visitation with jenever. It’s not an Irish wake.”

He knows what Bram is thinking: It’s a dreary and drizzly Saturday, and if this thing drags on, I can step out the back for a drink and a smoke.

“I brought flowers and my mother made spicy meatballs,” Tjeerd says. “We’ll give them together.”

Bram pushes the bottle under his seat and winks to acknowledge they both know he’ll find a reason to crack open the gin before long.

They’ve never been to a visitation.  You just walk past the coffin slowly and say goodbye, Tjeerd’s mother said. Bow your head.  You’ll be fine.

They assume Ambroos’ parents came to Holland as guest workers in the early 1970s, but they aren’t sure.  There’s no good way to ask.  Ambroos must have been pretty young at the time because his Dutch had only a slight accent.  He was in their gym class, and couldn’t climb the rope all the way to the ceiling. Five meters. The teacher, by way of encouragement, put a cigarette lighter under his bare feet. The pupils thought it was funny how he didn’t know to use his feet for rest or leverage. He struggled like an injured spider, though eventually he fought his way to the top. The sunlight caught him through the upper windows, and sweat glistened on his flushed face and meager, trembling physique. Everyone applauded (though some of the pupils may have been sincere), and then, when the teacher told him he could come down, he fell.  It was a simple matter of gravity – no more than a five-pound bag of sugar tipping off a shelf. No screams or frantic grasping. He landed with a thud, awkwardly, and broke his neck (it later turned out). Everyone stood around him, the way people gather around something discovered, with a mixture of curiosity and pointless concern. Someone called the school nurse. […]

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Ivo Kamps chairs the department of English at the University of Mississippi, where he teaches early modern literature. He holds Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and he is the author of several academic books and editions. Inspired by a group of talented creative writers in UM’s MFA program, he writes fiction when he can. Last year he published his first short story on the Chariton Review.

Read More: A brief interview with Ivo Kamps