In four of the six bedrooms, wires were still sticking out from incomplete sockets. The hardware store has more types of plugs than Coop in Tuscany offers pasta types on the shelf. ‘Those two brown wires must be put together behind this red clip,’ said a happy electrician sternly to me in Amy’s room. And blue below! “Okay, so those two browns together?” Said waited a few seconds and looked at me happily. “Yeah. And you get this welding cap as a present.”
This renewal does not stop. I dream of aerated concrete, kimband, fittings, insulating tape. I wake up with numb hands sticking to Kim’s Putty, the pink adhesive used to seal bathroom floors. When it dries on your hands it looks like a pancake spread. My pants are falling off my ass because I’m losing kilos with the efforts. This wouldn’t be a problem if I knew where my pants were; In a corner of the old apartment are still puzzle pieces, Lego parts, prank fairground toys and Allen keys, but also boxes and bags of clothes. Just a few days and then delivery.
Not a dream
Every day children ask when they can go to the new house, but the dreamy transition in which you finally find peace between starched sheets is certainly not the case. Movement and renewal are intertwined. Lifting a box to one side of the wall, I encounter a loose wire all the way, begging for connection. When I install the toilet seat, I notice there is no ceiling vent.
The last word has not yet been said about this toilet: in replacing the seat I had to press my body between the tile wall and the bowl, so that my cheeks came so close to cold porcelain that I could imagine how trapped I would be. Lonely death in the sewer.
My 76-year-old father, who will soon be having hip surgery, helps me to the bathroom on the first floor. I tried positioning the bathtub properly and then prepping the floor for the epoxy cure, but the result was a middling surprise from Sinterklaas. Try to save what can be saved.
He ordered me to put the Kimband on. I sat bent over and he shuddered from above, leaning on a stick: ‘Breathe! Watch out for the coop! No air allowed! As I rose to my feet panting, my fingertips dripping with pink glue, he shook his head. ‘Now what? Come on, that tip.’
When he had treated his worst sufferings in the bath with his spirit level and mortar tub, he sat exhausted in the twilight among the chests on the loose-leaf table. “Now give me a coke.” ‘I do not have.’ “Your old father’s coke isn’t that much trouble, is it?” I answered it from under the table, where I clamped the table top with a screw machine. This is the scourge of the handyman. Did you bag those loft nails? I was going to number the parts. I thought that was cute. My hands were shaking from holding the drill so high. How many loft beds have you collected yourself? How often do you move yourself? From Flegmen to Heusen in the 1970s, then to Bergen.
Home swallowed it
There is little left of the man over forty with his multi-storey house. In my imagination, the threads curled out of the holes to find my bare neck. This house would swallow me up, and I would disappear into the hollow walls of the mist. Lotte got mad at me complaining and reminding me, “You’re constantly angry and you only command.” During the odd hours, the Van Aaltens seem to act like bad ranchers.
Lynn and Verona came to admire their new rooms. They were “extremely happy” with it. Other children’s rooms were still filled with fragments of a loft bed, boxes of tiles, and bags of clothes. Emily was there too. Her room on the second floor is the smallest. It was already close to 9 am but I still had to install the ceiling light for it, so I turned off the power. “Very warm, like that,” she said with relief as she rose to a chair and shone with my phone’s flashlight. She said the terminal block reminded her of Lego bricks.
Once she was in bed, she made a video of her mom, who was worried about all the power cords. Just say: Hey mom, I’m laying here in bed…” she repeated the text word for word. The next morning it turned out that she had peed in her bed, but she didn’t realize it. “It could happen,” I said, as I peeled off the warm, damp sheets of the mattress and duvet.(The washing machine is still in the old house and can’t be installed until we finish the bathroom floor).
sleep for the first time
I returned Wednesday evening from the bi-weekly meeting of language coordinators and specialists from elementary education (fifteen beautiful women whom I guide through impeccable research reports and political plans, which always give me courage and strength). Hugo and Mia slept for the first time. They lay in their pajamas on mattresses on the floor, reading. I sank into a chair. ‘How is life here?’ Did you learn anything in school? We were talking about Miss Zus and Meester Zo when there was a knock on the front door downstairs.
It turned out to be a DHL delivery person with a parcel from Germany. The shell lamp, milk glass, and gold were from the ’80s. This lamp will seal the last hole for wiring in our bedroom. The owner of the online store included Buenos and mini Snickers in the package. Darling, I unrolled a piece of paper and ate the chocolate bar. Despair dissipated.
Writer Thomas Van Aalten, 44, has three daughters (Amy, 7, Lynn, 12, and Verona, 15). They live partly with their mothers. Thomas with Lotte, Hugo’s mother (11) and Mia (8).