Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Zoë Jenny's Sophie's Summer continued

Here is the second half of Zoë's beautiful short story, Sophie's Summer:

Clarice and I picked up Jan by car at the train station. He was standing on the platform with a smile; his legs were covered with fine blond hair, and he had brought along all of his photographic equipment. On the way back, as I sat in the back seat, Jan started sniffing Clarice’s locks and inhaling the fragrance of her hair. He embraced Clarice’s parents and walked with a possessive gait through the house as if he belonged there checking everything out as if only in passing.

The next day he unpacked his equipment. The smallest of things could capture his interest: a beam of light falling through the veranda door and casting a rectangular shadow on the wooden table, a petal, Clarice’s exposed arm draped across the back of a chair. In the evening at the beach, he took pictures of clouds drifting by, of the sun going down, and of the sea and the shells washed ashore. Eventually, he threw himself on the ground and photographed the structures of the sand. Sitting on our swimming towels, Clarice, Sophie and I started laughing, as we saw him doing that. Jan gazed through his lens, crawled through the sand, and discovered Sophie’s feet, as if by coincidence. He exclaimed how beautiful her feet were, so fine and round. He asked her to let the sand run through her toes. Sophie turned red in the face and sheepishly tucked strands of hair out of her face and behind her ear, like a woman suddenly turned into a girl again. She did, as Jan asked her to, and he photographed her feet full of enthusiasm. At the dinner table, as they sat facing each other, Jan observed how Sophie brought the fork to her mouth or how her hands folded the napkins. She didn’t seem to notice, but Clarice did and went to bed sooner than usual. For the next couple of days, Jan was preoccupied with photographing Sophie. He accompanied her to the beach and was her constant companion, leaving only to rush into the village to buy more film.

Sophie’s voice suddenly regained its strength. Her laughter was buzzing through the house, like an invisible but omnipresent figure. Clarice tried not to let on, but I felt for the very first time that she was afraid. Sometimes she cast a sideways glance at her father, as if waiting for his intervention. Only once, after dinner, did Mr. Schmitz ask Jan what he was going to do with all these photos. “Nothing, really,” Jan replied, “I am just practicing.” Mr. Schmitz slapped him on the back, a bit too forceful to be understood as gesture of good will. Jan, however, did not respond in kind, but instead fumbled with his camera and looked at it from all sides, as if it were an interesting, live creature.

On the eve of our departure, Sophie decided to have dinner in the garden and carried the table out with Jan. Clarice complained of a headache and said good night even before we had dessert. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Schmitz and I retreated into our rooms as well. From my bedroom window, I could see Sophie and Jan, two lovers facing one another in the glow of a candle. Clarice knocked at my door. “I can’t sleep,” she said and crawled into my bed. Under my blanket she assumed an embryonic posture. “Close the window,” she said in a cold voice. “I have always known it.” As children, we used to lie next to each other for many a night for fear of missing the ghosts sneaking past us the moment we’d close our eyes.

Mr. Schmitz stumbled into the room even before sunrise. “They have gone,” he said in a muffled voice. Clarice sat up abruptly. Not only were her eyes wide open, her entire face was looking intently. The house was quiet. In the distance one could hear the wash of the ocean. Clarice threw away the flowers in all the rooms. She bent the stems and plucked the flowers. Mr. Schmitz shook his head mechanically. “Has she gone crazy, has she gone crazy?” he said as if to himself, while removing the items he had placed in the suitcase; he stared at them, not knowing what to do with them. I couldn’t help but think of Clarice’s hair as a child, the lock I had kept somewhere in a match box. I walked up to her and grabbed her arm. “This will pass; it doesn’t mean anything,” I said, unsure of myself. Clarice looked up briefly, and my words disappeared behind the disks of her eyes in the dark.

Many thanks to Zoë for taking the time to write Sophie’s Summer – it’s always interesting to see how each author interprets the task of writing a blog, and posting up a short story adds a little variety to the daily entries. To buy a copy of The Sky is Changing, please click on the link below.

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