Written by Ada Den Hollander
(I entered the short story below for the short story summer competition of the Dutch Newspaper NRC. There were a few rules. The story shouldn’t contain more than 600 words; you get bonus points by using the words’ gravel’, ‘steam’ and ‘umami’*. They are, of course, included in my story. Furthermore, the word corona isn’t allowed, the setting is a summer day and it must be a gripping story).
Even before Sarah can get up from her sunbed to put her slipper back on her foot, which had fallen off, she sees the almost black eyes of her lover Jeroen above her head. In his hand, teasingly and with puckered lips, he holds up her elegant slipper as if to say that he will only slide it on her foot for a kiss.
“You’re so beautiful and delicious,” he mutters, leaning forward and kissing her full on the mouth.
“Such a sweetheart,” she thinks. Her thoughts go back to her ex.
Jeroen walks back to his lounger and stares happily at the pool’s clear blue water. “Not too bad to spend a summer day this way,” he thinks, closing his eyes.
“What a huge difference between the two men,” muses Sarah.
Johan, her ex, a control freak with wandering hands and Jeroen full of attention, a sharp mind, a true IT man, and a good cook. In the beginning it had seemed like a dream relationship with Johan, a fashion photographer and her, a successful model. Soon, however, he regularly became highly violent with her. The final straw was when Johan had beaten her so severely in the front yard that she had not been able to stand up. And then suddenly Jeroen had appeared on the garden path. Without giving it another thought, he had lifted her up and carried her into the house. They had started talking, dating, had sex often and satisfactorily and decided to live together in Sarah’s spacious villa within three months. A cohabitation contract stipulating that the surviving partner would inherit everything sealed their happiness.
She had never heard from Johan again.
A sneeze puts an end to Sarah’s musing and while she grabs a tissue she says to Jeroen:
“I feel a cold coming up.” He rubs his eyes.
“That’s typical Jeroen,” Sarah thinks.
“Maybe you should steam?” he says.
‘Always a helpful suggestion and there for you, I am so lucky’.
‘I’ll put the kettle on and while you’re steaming, I’ll go shopping for a seafood dish. I will make sure that you can clearly taste umami because you love that so much. While talking, Jeroen has gone to the kitchen, and a little later Sarah hears him calling that Madam can take a seat.
Sarah gets up from her lounger, walks to the kitchen and sits down at the kitchen table, where Jeroen has laid out everything. A container with boiling water, from which the menthol vapour hits her. Next to it lies a towel which she puts over her head. She bends her head over the steam and closes her eyes. The sound of Jeroen’s footsteps crunching on the gravel path slowly fades away. What Sarah doesn’t hear is that those same footsteps turn around. At the kitchen door, Jeroen hesitates; then he quickly walks over to Sarah and pushes her head into the container with the scalding water. Her scream is muffled.
Jeroen leaves the kitchen, hurries to his car and drives to the Japanese convenience store. When he gets home he finds Sarah unconscious on the floor. He calls the emergency number. The paramedics find a distraught man next to the victim who keeps shouting that he does not understand how this could have happened.
A few days later -Sarah has passed away- Jeroen is about to start cooking as the bell rings. He walks to the front door, opens it and sees Johan’s grinning face.
He says: “I will make fish with a strong umami taste. Are you staying for supper? We have something to celebrate, don’t we? “
*Umami is the so-called fifth taste.