translated by Lydia Davis
On the highway from Rotterdam to Vladivostok, on the train through the Betuwe, on the ships on the Twentekanaal, everywhere, I see the containers that hold our earthly possessions. Last week, I sat in that sort of locked container for eight hours. Not alone, I was in the company of Joubert Pignon, a young writer who works in a pet shop, and he in turn was in my company. We were invited to the Noorderzon Festival in Groningen, we were reading aloud. We sat next to each other on a comfortable leather sofa, the audience sat on wooden benches, twenty-five people, always more women than men, in one case twenty-four women and one man. When the herring were seated in the barrel, the organizer shut the steel doors from outside. Anyone who has ever had a look at a container from close up knows that the sealing mechanism is calculated for transporting elephants. There were no ventilation ducts, there was no air-conditioning, there were no windows. We read alternately, very short stories, Joubert’s were on average somewhat longer than mine. The agreement was that after twenty minutes the organizer would bang on the outside of our housing with a piece of wood and open the doors. He did this punctually, fortunately, for after twenty minutes the oxygen was used up–the healthy life whizzed inside and caused a feeling of rescue, escape, release. After ten minutes we went back inside and the doors were shut. The organizer had announced the event as a marathon, but I had more the idea of a hurdle race. After it was over, it seemed that Joubert Pignon had taken the hurdles more easily than I had. Not only because he is much younger than I am and thus can do with less oxygen than I, but most of all because he works in a pet shop, where you are close to nature and thus used to the ever present danger.
A.L. Snijders, born in 1937 in Amsterdam, is a newspaper columnist and the author of over 1500 “very short stories” (what he calls zeer korte verhalen or zkv‘s) the fifth collection of which was published in Fall, 2011, by AFdH Uitgevers. In 2010, Snijders was awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize, one of the three most important literary prizes in Holland.
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