The eleventh story in the collection is Girls in Windows.
For four unseasonably hot and very happy days in October 2011 my hubla and I visited Amsterdam for a travel piece I was writing for easyJet. We had a wonderful time in this city of extremes, and several of the sights and experiences stamped themselves indelibly on my consciousness, providing the backdrop of this story, which I wrote for and had published in Litro magazine’s Dutch edition. Now all I needed was a plot, which came in the form of a young man apparently stalking the protagonist and knowing her to the core. But how?
The artwork is by Louise Boulter.
A short excerpt from Girls in Windows
In the park we ambled along the paths, pausing to hear the skin-shivering strains of a violin echoing beneath a bridge. You grasped my hand, ejecting me abruptly from my reverie. Forcing me to conceal my annoyance, tell myself you’d meant it to be romantic, had meant well.
Deeper into the park, we walked through a fragrant avenue of hedges starred with white flowers where bees stumbled in drunken bliss. “What a wonderful smell!” I exclaimed. “It reminds me of something…”
As always, you were ready with an answer, sniffing hard then declaring: “Honey.”
I breathed in, catching a note of something richer, almost buttery. Honey wasn’t right – it was caramel that caught in my throat. Despite everything, I wanted to be kind to you on our anniversary, so I just smiled.
We reached a lake besides which bikes lounged in the grass like heat-hungry metallic lizards. Small birds shot overhead from tree to tree, silhouetted against the brightness, flickers of colour showing through.
“Parrots?” I asked disbelievingly. You thumbed through the guidebook, finding no answer between its pages.
Our meandering took us back to the bridge, but the violinist had gone, replaced by a group of kids in their late teens, early twenties; bearing handwritten signs offering free hugs. The sight intrigued me, drew me to them, but you pulled me closer to yourself, proclaiming: “We have all the free hugs we need!”
I forced a laugh, pulled away, and the boy must have seen his chance. His warmth enveloped me, along with a faint smell of perspiration that wasn’t entirely unpleasant.