It’s happened before. I sit in front of the computer and type away, eyes on the keyboard. I cannot see the screen or notice, not a single word I’ve typed has registered.
A blank page and I have been writing for over fifteen minutes.
I could go back and try to write all the things I put down earlier but now it’s boring. I’ve already been there, and I don’t want to return to the same old territory.
Nothing to show for my efforts. It demands a certain calm, otherwise, I might be left feeling even worse than when I began.
So I start again.
My mother’s cousin Ria worked for the VVV (the tourist bureau) in Haarlem, Holland and every year she arranged for a different group of girls to represent her city as flower girls, Bloemenmeisjes.
They dressed similarly in the fashion of the day and each carried a flat basket of flowers and wore a wide smile. They travelled on a float throughout the city as part of the celebrations.
There’s something icky to me about the concept of flower girls. I think of vestal virgins and young girls used as sacrifices to the gods, their beauty and innocence the biggest drawcard to seal their deaths.
During my early twenties, I stayed one time on holiday with my husband, before he was my husband, in a basement flat, which my mother’s cousin owned.
One-night late, curiosity overtook any respect I might have held for my cousin’s privacy, and I went exploring the secret places in her flat.
In a separate bedroom from where we slept, I came across a deep trunk filled with photos and memorabilia of flower girls.
My second cousin had collected newspaper cuttings, photos of her bloemenmeisjes and photos of herself with the mayor and other dignitaries.
My imagination went berserk. Fuelled in part by reading Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now and haunted by memories of the film I had seen a couple of years earlier and based loosely around Du Maurier’s story, with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as leads.
The film follows a grief-stricken couple whose daughter Christine dies in an accident in the sprawling grounds of their country home after slipping into a pond in search of her ball.
The daughter, Christine, was wearing a red hooded raincoat at the time of her death. The story is pockmarked with signs of what is to come. A naked woman’s dead body is winched out of the river in Venice. A killer is on the loose. Shots of gargoyles loom menacingly.
Christine’s father, who restores antiquities visits Venice to work on a crumbling stone church, flanked by monstrous gargoyles. His wife struggling over her daughter’s death accompanies him. In typical British style, the couple ships their son off to boarding school.
The film then centres around their time in Venice. At dinner one evening, after a delicious lovemaking scene, the only joyous moment in the movie, the wife is fascinated by a couple of tourists, elderly sisters, one of whom is blind. The blind woman is a psychic and the wife encounters them in the toilets and begins a conversation. The psychic channels Christine who wants to warn them her father is in danger.
The father won’t hear of it when his wife begs him to talk to the blind woman, and the film, which takes a long time to get you there, ends in tragedy.
I should not describe the end for fear of ruining the story, save to say when I first saw it I had not seen it coming.
I should have seen it coming. In retrospect, there were plenty of warnings. A rock falls from on high as if pushed by a malevolent gargoyle and nearly crushes our hero. There’s the naked woman her dead body dripping wet, and in the blind woman’s future vision, we see flashes of a funeral, a coffin carried on top of a boat along one of the canals in Venice.
Finally, the father races through the streets following a small figure in a red raincoat just like his daughter’s coat on the day of her death.
We think he might be following Christine, reincarnated. He thinks he’s following Christine, or someone come to tell him about her. But the red-coated creature turns into something from a horror movie.
I refuse to go to horror movies and even as I write this, the horror stays with me.
I could not sleep for days after I saw this movie and later in Haarlem when I stayed at my cousin’s house and decided I must read the actual book to put my mind at rest, I became terrified at the thought that my cousin’s preoccupation with flower girls might be something else.
The two things merged in my mind, however unrelated.
In the flat below my cousin’s sumptuous apartment had windows in the kitchen that looked out onto the pavement. You could see people’s feet as they walked past. I sat in this basement apartment and read my book at the kitchen table becoming more alarmed every day.
There’s no great conclusion here. I finished the book and it did not affect me so deeply as the film adaptation, perhaps made worse by the jenever (Dutch gin) and tonic I drank in copious quantities at night to help me sleep.
When we left Holland for home, and I heard several years later that my mother’s cousin had developed Parkinson’s and died young, it left a hollow feeling.