Translated by Brian Doyle
Geert ate his soup and thought that praying had something to do with the words ‘before’ and ‘after’. He then started to count the words in his mind that could be combined with ‘before’ and ‘after’: eating, sleeping, drinking, peeing, shitting, farting, thinking, resting, talking, raining, holidays, school, being bored, shower, dentist, burping, homework... After each word Geert pictured his grandma and grandpa praying, and before each word making a sign of the cross. The faster he thought, the faster the spoon moved between the plate and his mouth, so fast that grandma and grandpa could no longer keep up with it. When he was done grandma made a sign of the cross. Geert watched his grandma’s hands and how they moved, walked up to her, touched the places on her body where she had made the sign of the cross, and looked for the same places on his own body. Grandma and grandpa then brought him upstairs. Geert headed for the room in which his mother had always slept as if he knew the way. He opened the door and came face to face with a huge painting of the crucifixion of Jesus hanging on a wall. Jesus was surrounded by angels and soldiers, with Mary kneeling in front of him. There were photos of his mother on the other walls, one with a toothless smile when she was seven weeks old, another in which she had two oversized front teeth, and others in which teeth appeared one by one until she had a complete set. Then her smile disappeared in the house full of silence. Geert stayed in his mother’s room. Every time his grandma or grandpa opened the door they found him playing with the building blocks, teddy bears and dolls that had belonged to his mother and the pillowcases, bedspread and towels that had been left out for him. When it was time for dinner, grandma opened the door to call him. She jumped. He had made a cross with the blocks and secured a plush monkey to it without nails. He had arranged another cuddly toy in front as a sorrowing Madonna. Soldiers stood at either side, and the pillowcases to the rear had become clouds and the pillows mountains. In an exact copy of the painting, the monkey was illuminated from behind; Geert had set up the bedside lamp at its back. Grandma could hardly believe her eyes. She crossed herself and ran to grandpa who was convinced that Geert had to have the devil in him if he was clever enough to construct such a thing.