Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The chill crept up his back as he made his way into the grassy fields. Winter had set in and that fact, combined with an early morning sun, gave the scene a little bit of a dampened feel. Hank felt the wet grass beneath his feet and on his trousers. In a matter of seconds they were soaked. This would have been no problem when he was still young, but now, with his seventy years on the clock, it would most probably keep him in bed the next day. Hank smiled at this little knowledge. It was okay. He had been struck with nostalgia and thus had already piled up the ancient holiday videotapes on his dusty VCR. Should that fail, he still had the albums full of pictures, nowadays conveniently stored underneath his bed.
Today’s trip had much to do with his nostalgia as well, but it concerned a memory more vivid than anything that could be recorded in a video or in a picture. Effective in storing experiences, these mediums would never be as effective as what you could contain in your mind.
This particular memory concerned the lone oak tree in the middle of the meadow. Hank hadn’t visited it for fifty-two years and just seeing it warmed his heart. The heat spread throughout his body and he did not feel cold anymore. Also, the morning fog hanging over the meadow seemed to fade away.
He made his way over to the tree and tenderly caressed its bark, then looked up at the leafless branches. That was different. His hands kept touching the tree, his fingers looking for something. The smile on his face faltered, then returned swiftly. On the bark he could feel the faint outline of a carving. Years of sun, wind, rain and of course the tree’s natural growth had faded it, but yet it was still there, on the same spot where it had been for over half a decade.
The sunlight brightened. It was no longer a cool winter’s sun, but the warm, healthy glow that came with the nicest day of summer. Hank looked at his hands in surprise. The fingers touching the bark were still his, that was true, but they were different. Their wrinkles had vanished in thin air. Their white color was replaced by a tan. The hairs were once again black. Hank’s hands weren’t all that had changed, though. Long-lost vitality was coursing through his body and that’s when it struck him. He was young again. Somehow he had travelled through time. His youthful, wild blue eyes took in everything. The luscious green grass, the large leaves once more hanging from the tree, the rebellious flowers that always popped up their heads in their own struggle for a little sun. He noticed the small pocket knife in his left hand, the feel of sawdust underneath his right. Brushing it away revealed a carved heart and the initials S & H standing out brightly in the deep brown bark. Hank decided it was the masterpiece of his life.
Her presence was something he sensed before the sweet scent of her perfume reached his nostrils. Sandra. Suddenly his throat felt dry. Tears swelled in his eyes, but before they fell he felt her. The soft skin of her hands taking hold of his, her chest against his spine. He felt her heart beating quietly, calm. It eased him. She had always been able to. The only one who had been. Finally her head coming to rest against his hair, the silk touch of her lips on his neck. Electricity sparked from every pore of his body. He couldn’t take it any more. He had to see her. Had to turn around. He did. And there she stood, 17-year old Sandra, smiling her radiant smile. That smile! To Hank it felt like enough to get an entire army on its knees. He stared, it was all he could do. His feet were nailed to the ground, his mouth jammed shut by some invisible force. She took a step towards him again, closing the distance that had formed when he turned around. Her beauty! He had never even attempted to explain it to anyone, nor did he think anyone could even see it the way he did. Her head moved towards his, her eyes blazing, lips slightly parted. His response was automatic, it was as if his body moved on its own accord. Then they were kissing. Hank felt like his heart would explode. Here he was, reliving their first kiss all over again. It felt exactly as it had all these years ago. Just as real.
The moment seemed to last forever. It was as if he was drowning, losing himself in it. Then it was done. Her presence faded, the warmth with it, as well as his rediscovered vitality. There he stood, eyes closed, desperately clinging to the moment a little longer. Then his eyes slowly opened. His old eyes. That saw his old hands. Hands that would never hold hers anymore. He stood for a long time, the memory that had been so real slipping away, right through his fingers.
Hank pulled himself together. Better he got out of here, or he would be in bed for a week. Not that it mattered. He had his videotapes.
And his pictures.