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from the May 2014 issue

Ten Floors

Girls, women, he’s beginning to fathom them. On the Internet, stripped of shirts, underwear, false modesty, pretty much everything, they reveal their nature. With each click of the mouse more appear on his screen. “Look how happy without clothes. Look at those eyes!” And not just happy eyes but happy legs (spread), happy breasts (bent over), happy mouths (always full).

How different the world on the street. If he ventures out he sees misery, cares, doom. Women in a hurry, whining children, heavy shopping bags, absurdly thick coats.

 “Who on earth wears a coat in this weather? Hey, people, it’s summer!”

Even in the Geleenstraat the women don’t understand. OK, true, scantily clad and offering their services, but what else? If he pays for thirty minutes he’s out in ten. If he empties his wallet for them as he goes in, they still look as if they’re facing bankruptcy and starvation.

Then: a chance meeting on the covered walkway on his floor. Girl next door, blonde, a shy laugh, a real princess. They wait for the elevator together. “Do you live here too?” Ten floors to the street. “My kingdom for ten floors!” Not that she thinks him worthy of another glance from her beautiful eyes—to say nothing of her legs, her breasts, her mouth. But still.

At home he sees her again, now on the Internet. “Isn’t that her? Spread, bent, full?” A new daily routine: following her on the Web. “There. That blonde, belly on the table, hands cuffed behind her back, whip across the buttocks. And there, oh, how undeniable: her freckles, her eyes, the evasive look, the full mouth.” And not just clearly her but her apartment too, exactly like his: there’s the balcony and there’s the window and that same doorknob as all over the building. Can’t be coincidence—the more he looks around, the more confirmation. Every Web site devoted to her, every interior her home. At night he lies awake, listening to her sounds: a flushing toilet, footsteps on parquet, voice on the phone. Just you try getting to sleep.

The Internet no longer suffices; real life beckons. Waiting for her on the walkway, hours pass—doesn’t matter, she’s worth it. There’s the princess. Does she seem innocent? He knows better! Shall we do ten floors together? On stepping in: a wink from him—does she take the hint? Furtive laugh, his hand on her shoulder, does anything dawn on her? Her face averted; a game but no player. Five floors to go. Still no result. OK, cut to the chase—he opens her blouse, yanks open her pants, his hands on her delectables, her mouth trying to scream, her breath faltering, her eyes open wide. Esmé, princess, is it starting to dawn on her?

Ground floor—she forces her way out, fixing her blouse, fastening her pants. Back up in the elevator, alone, mission unaccomplished. Better take things into his own hands, then, ten floors, jerking—his spunk in a corner. Fucking Christ, what a girl. Research on Internet—was someone mistaken? She maybe? Not him anyhow. Just look: there she is again, and there and there and there. “Oh naughty girl next door, oh my little scoundrel!”

Unexpected sighting: he at the apartment window, she on the street, ten floors down. Belongings stuffed into a moving van, a young man helping her—cupboard, bed, desk. She doesn’t look up, drives out of the street without looking back.

Seems to have gone from the Internet too. There are other women, though, princesses like her, but different princesses. Growing realization: on the street they can wrap themselves in thick clothes and lug bags but they’re the same women as on his computer; if he takes a good look around he can spot every one of them. He only has to wait for his chance—the elevator, an alleyway, or simply a corner of the supermarket.

"Tien etages" © Ton Rozeman. By arrangement with Atlas. Translation © 2014 by Liz Waters. All rights reserved.

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