Your first night in Holland you dream her pregnancy and know its true. Three thousand miles away, its something she forgot to tell you, except now in a dream, touching her flat stomach then turning away. You dont remember any words, just the sensation of waking in a hotel and knowing the child she carries isnt yours. Unable to sleep, you wander the streets of Amsterdam on a night without stars. The canals ripple below you, sheets of bitter silk, and were you to dive there, down and down, passing fish with three eyes, a mermaid with the face of Anne Frank, you know you would be as lost as them. And the streets are stone, the buildings narrow-waisted and black-eyed with too many vacant windows. At midnight you pass cafes where students are like wraiths in clouds of hashish. You breath it all in, the alleys reeking of urine, the laughing students, the city made of cloud, but your mind still runs quick with the dream, her turning away, her just out of reach, how impossible it will all become. You walk until the soles of your feet blister, until the sun creeps over the peaked roofs. You pass into morning, dazed in a labyrinth of light. Somehow you find yourself in the Rijksmuseum, standing before a painting of a Cossack rider, his steed black and the snow endless and his beard grim with ice as he turns into the mouth of the storm. The more you look at him the more his face becomes your own until you no longer remember who you are supposed to be. Here the dream of her quiets enough inside you so you remember your thirst, the good ache in your feet. Here, in the travelers presence, you desire nothing more than coffee, a newspaper in your own language, to let the dream of her blanch in the morning sun like laundry strung on a line. A brief forgetting, a winter that never was yours. You walk back on stones white as the bellies of clouds, crossing once more into familiar country.
About the author: Thomas Maltmans stories, poems, and essays have been published in many literary journals. His debut novel, The Night Birds, was released by Soho Press in August of 2007 and won an Alex Award from the American Library Association. He is currently the Visiting Artist in Creative Writing at Normandale Community College.