The Twin

Gerbrand Bakker (trans. David Colmer)


I’ve put Father upstairs. I had to park him on a chair first to take the bed apart. He sat there like a calf that’s just a couple of minutes old, before it’s been licked clean: with a directionless, wobbly head and eyes that drift over things. I ripped off the blankets, sheets and undersheet, leant the mattress and bed boards against the wall, and unscrewed the sides of the bed. I tried to breathe through my mouth as much as possible. I’d already cleared out the upstairs room – my room.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked.

‘You’re moving,’ I said.

‘I want to stay here.’


I let him keep the bed. One half of it has been cold for more than ten years now, but the unslept side is still crowned with a pillow. I screwed the bed back together in the upstairs room, facing the window. I put the legs up on blocks and remade it with clean sheets and two clean pillowcases. After that I carried Father upstairs. When I picked him up off the chair he fixed his eyes on mine and kept them there until I was laying him in bed and our faces were almost touching.

‘I can walk,’ he said, only then.

‘No you can’t.’

Through the window he saw things he hadn’t expected to see. ‘I’m up high,’ he said.

‘Yes, that’s so you can look out and see something other than just sky.’

Despite the new room and the clean sheets and pillowcases, it smelt musty, he smelt musty and mouldy. I opened one of the two windows and used the hook to set it ajar. Outside it was quiet. A fresh chill was in the air and there were only a few crumpled leaves left on the topmost branches of the crooked ash in the front garden. Off in the distance I saw three cyclists riding along the dyke. If I had stepped aside he would have seen the three cyclists as well. I stayed put.

‘Get the doctor,’ Father said.

‘No,’ I replied, turning to walk out of the room.

Just before the door closed, he shouted, ‘Sheep!’

In his former bedroom there was a rectangle of dust on the floor, slightly smaller than the dimensions of the bed. I cleared out the room, putting the two chairs, the bedside cabinets and Mother’s dressing table in the living room. In a corner of the bedroom I wriggled two fingers in under the carpet. ‘Don’t glue it,’ I heard Mother say an eternity ago as Father was about to go down on his knees with a jar of glue in his left hand and a brush in his right, our heads already spinning from the pungent fumes. ‘Don’t glue it, ten years from now I’ll want new carpets.’ The underlay crumbled under my fingers. I rolled up the carpet and carried it through the milking parlour to the middle of the yard, where suddenly I didn’t know what to do with it. I let it drop, just where I was standing. Startled by the surprisingly loud bang, a few jackdaws flew up out of the trees that line the yard.

The Twin Gerbrand Bakker (tr. David Colmer)