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De Panne by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | September 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

De Panne

by Mike Bozart

© 2019 Mike Bozart 

 

Seppe, a yellowish-blonde-haired, 42-year-old anthropologist from Bruges, continued walking northeastward on the elevated, spiderweb-cracked, paved, rapidly-becoming-deserted strandway on the senna-sand beach of De Panne (West Flanders, Belgium). It was a quiet-yet-forlorn Sunday dusk. Tomorrow would mark eight years since the tragedy – a psychologically torturous 2,922 days since his four-year-old son, Tuur, drowned. In that haunted stretch of time, he suffered one foreclosure, two divorces, three non-renewals, and four abandoned longtime friendships.

He looked to his left at the white-capping-in-random-splotches North Sea. The breeze out of the west-northwest was a brisk 18 MPH (29 km/h). Seppe mused. This patch of the North Atlantic [Ocean] is forever cursed for me. Was it also cursed for a Neanderthal? Or twenty-two? Why 22? Why did I just think of that number? And, why here in De Panne? De Panne – the breakdown. Certainly was for my psyche. ‘Are you out there, Tuur? I came back, hoping to find a clue – a clue to you, precious son.’ This inescapably tragic hominid-life. ‘I’m so sorry, son, for being unobservant for those ten seconds. Was it a rogue wave? A sudden undertow? I’ve replayed the sequence a million times. The ending is always the same: a void – a void surrounded by dense despair – suffocating despair. I failed you as a father, son. Truly failed.’ Guess I thought such misfortunes would always happen to someone else – some other hapless parent. There was certainly nothing special about me or Ève. [Seppe’s first wife (from Wallonia) and the mother of Tuur] Nothing at all. Just a couple of Homo sapiens – two of the billions – fumbling and foibling [sic] about on this planet Earth. Temporarily. And then forgotten. Eventually. Or, so it would seem. In this heartbreaking-for-our-species cosmic mystery. Why? Why us? That one always goes unanswered. And probably always will. Just like the wonderings of that young Native American woman in ‘Gold, a summer story’. How did Mats [a former friend] ever stumble upon that lurid e-novel? Maybe ultimately a foolish question. Maybe we just don’t know how slow-witted we are.

A seagull swooped down for a peck at a dead crab beside Seppe. His musing continued unabated. Was so unusually hot on that fateful day. Even hotter than today. [The high was 27º Celsius; 81º Fahrenheit on August 19, 2018.] Think it hit 31º [Celsius; 88º Fahrenheit] on that Sunday afternoon in 2010. ‘Was that why you ventured into the chilly water, son? You wanted to cool off, right? And you went in up to your waist. Were you not cold, son? And then … where’d you go? Why did they never find your body, son? How’d you just disappear? Where’d you go, Tuur? Where?’

Seppe looked up and saw the iconic Leopold 1 Monument. As he slowly approached, the yellow and black Vlaamse Leeuw (the lion flag of Flanders) came into view; it was tied to a lamppost. He paused. Wonder what Leopold was thinking on his journey from Calais to Dunkirk to De Panne. ‘Just hope they can get along.’ Ève would always bring up 18 May 1302 [when Flemish bands massacred Frenchmen in Bruges] whenever I mentioned The Battle of Golden Spurs. [fought on 11 July 1302] ‘Vous les Flamands êtes fous!’ [‘You Flemish are crazy!’ in French] Can still hear her saying it with that little left index finger wagging. So funny. We were so in love then, though. But, our love sure wasn’t strong enough to endure. Tuur took our marriage with him to the depths. ‘Son, I think you took my sanity, too.’ Kerplunk.

Seppe began walking to the right around the Leopold 1 statue. He stopped when he reached the spot where the sightline angle made it appear that the German prince had lost his left arm. ‘Look, dad, that metal man has a missing arm!’ Seems like yesterday. ‘No, son, his left arm is still attached; it’s resting on his sword. Just keep walking around the circle. You’ll soon see.’ Yeah, just keep walking. In circles. You’ll see. Circles.

After making a loop around the inaugurated-in-1958 memorial to Belgium’s first king, Seppe headed down the eponymous, tan-paver-capped esplanade into the darkness, and then turned left at an auto-traffic-restricted-by-big-bulging-bollards, almost-dead-quiet Kapellalaan, to arrive at his lodgings for the night: résidence topaze. Wonder if Ève is thinking of Tuur right now. Bet she is. I know she is. She blames herself as much as she blames me. Should I call her tonight? Nah, don’t want to intrude on her new life with Henri. [Ève’s new French husband]

After taking his taupe, casual-style loafers off and pouring himself a self-concocted, artificially sweet, vodka-and-iced-tea drink, ijsthee met wodka, Seppe began to study the artwork that he had been loaned several hours earlier from Atelier Ingrid in the nearby Dumontwijk district. It was an oil painting of the dark ocean off of De Panne. He touched the waves and felt the brushstrokes. Then he placed the painting on the nightstand with the lamp acting as the vertical support. The artist probably painted this right where I was walking. She really captured it – the ominous peril lurking. The danger behind the fun and frolic. The hazard is always present. How could I have missed it? How?!

North Sea off De Panne at night by Ingrid

He took another slug of the light-brown beverage and mused some more. That brightly inviting foreground. That joyous surf. ‘Come wade in me.’ Maybe that’s what enticed Tuur. Oh, but that foreboding background. The sea is merciless. The ocean doesn’t care about us humans. It never did and never will. It’s just amoral saltwater sloshing around. Who was the first human to drown at sea? Who was the first to go under and not come back up? It had to be someone. Somewhere. At some precise moment. Some poor Homo helmei lost to time. Maybe his/her skeletal remains are lying under ten meters [33 feet] of silt two kilometers [1.2 miles] off of the coast of Cape Town. [South Africa] Oh, what the hell am I thinking? Need to get some sleep. Can’t miss the morning tram. Need to be in the office by noon tomorrow.

However, Seppe never got drowsy. He just kept drinking his vodka-fortified iced teas and studying the nautical painting. And when he ran out of tea, he started to gulp down the strawberry-flavored vodka straight from the bottle.

At 2:22 AM, Seppe staggered out of his hotel room with the painting in hand. He retraced his steps to the beach. Once on the spongy-feeling sand, he kept trying to match the painting to where Tuur last was. And then he was sure of the exact spot. He laid the painting down on the damp, heavily footprinted sand and ran zigzaggedly towards the wind-whipped surf.

“I know where you are, son! I’m coming to get you. Hold on!”

Two mornings later, a trio of Danish tourists would discover a middle-aged, Caucasian, male, washed-up-facedown corpse on the beach a mile (1.6 km) southwest, right at the France – Belgium border.

 

Note: The featured work of art in this grim lament of a tale is by Ingrid Matysiack, and is titled Clapotis de Nuit (French for ‘Lapping Water of the Night’). It was created in 2017, and has since been sold.

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