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Stephen Magic

by Bergkamp 

Posted: 02 March 2004
Word Count: 2900

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Sometimes I walk along the seafront, the ships and the ferries snorting in the background. I wander past the pensioners sitting together on benches looking out to sea. Toddlers stumbling along, and couples arm in arm, scarves and hats, hands thrust into pockets. Their conversations are barely audible. The tide always hushing them into silence.

Jastebarsko was high up in the hills, amongst vinyards, far from the sea. But there is a familiarity here. It is the groups of men fishing on the beach, and from boats out at sea. Their rods bent towrds the water, solemn, concentrating.
Sometimes I stand and watch them. The mena re often there from early in the morning with a folding chair, aflask and a paer. I never see them catch anything. I just watch them as they wait.

My father used to fish, not in the sea, though. We lived too far inland for that. Instead, he used to down to the banks of the Kupa in a truck that belonged to one of his friends. The two of them used to fish together. I cannot remember who it was, just that it was just the two of them. They kept their fishing gear in the back of the truck. It was ahobby more than anything, a quiet place to sit and pass the time. As a boy I used to go with him. The fishermen here in Dover remind me of that.

I am sitting upright on the slope of the riverbank. My father and his friend are further down near the water. It is flatter there. The grass is longer but they can set up their chairs and dos there. There is awhicker baskeet with a picnic. My father is smoking a pipe. I do not remember him smoking excpet when he was fishing. His shoulders are hunched, his shirt is pulled tight across his back underneath his braces.

I waatch them as they turn their attention away from their fishing. Their rods remain propped up, lines in the water, as they unpack the picnic. There is a checked cloth, plates, knives, and some bottles. There is bread, cheese and sausage. I can see them both quite clearly as my father hacks off a mouthful of sausage for his friend, slices the cheese and cuts the bread to make a sandwich. They are laughing, talking. I can see it in their faces, but I can hear nothing. They cannot see me. It is as I am not there. The fishing rods and lines nod towards the water. My father offers his friend a bottle and they tear off sausage with their teeth. The knives lie discarded by the plates. They turn away, their backs to me once more. The picnic is finally forgotten. They attend to their fishing again, bottles proppped on the bank by their feet.

Then they are asleep on their backs on the picnic cloth. I can see the rise and fall of my father’s chest as he sleeps. His right arm is flung out and his right arm rests on his stomach. He has let his braces down from across his shoulders. Their bottles lie forgotten by the fishing rods by the water. The light begins to change as the afternoon wears on. The colours soften and cool as the sun rests in the hilltops away to the West.

My father stirs, lifts his head and pushes his friend to wake him. I watch as my father use his right arm to lever himslelf up off the picnic cloth. His hand slips and he falls back. He clutches his right hand clumsily. His left arm is caught in his braces which are hanging loose from the waistband of is trousers. Now his friend is crouching over him. He has a knife in his hand. The blade is smeared with my father’s blood. My father’s friendhelps him to disentangle himselffrom his braces and go down to the riverbank. While my father holds his hand in the water his friend gathers up the fishing tackle and starts to clear up, preparing to leave. My father stands up finally. His shirt sticks to him, wet from the river. His friend uses a knife to cut off part of my father’s shirt sleeve and tie it round the cut on the palm of my father’s hand. The redd comes through the bandage staright away. There is blood on the front of his shirt aand trousers. He raises his bandaged hand and looks towards me. I start to wave back , but he cannot see me. He walks in my direction from the river bank and up the hill with his bandaged hand raised to stop the bleeding. The blood is dripping down his forearm as he approaches me. It drips onto the grass as it leaves atrail in the grass behind him. But he seems too dazed to notice this.

I cannot remember seeing them actually catch any fish on the trip when my father cut himself on the sausage knife, although there is a crate of fish in the back of the truck sitting next to me. Maybe twenty fish in their silvery skins sliding about as we make our way back to Jatrebarasko. I was sitting in the back in one corner, holding onto the sides of the truck . I had to flex a leg to stop myself from bumping up and down as the truck stumbled on along the path towrds Jastrebarsko. The fishing rods slid across the floor of the truck from one side to the other.

When we arrived back in the village my grandmother would be waiting outside the house. There would be few cars and she would be able to see the truck approaching from the far side of the square. If there were children outsidethey would run behind and bang on the the sides of the truck. Once I had jumped down and my father and his friend had divided up the fish between themselves, my grandmother woulld take it inside. I liked to help my father with his fishing rod and tackle. Before we were back inside the house, the children who had been chasing us and banging on the truck would be clambering into the back of the truck, shouting and banging on the sides as my father’s friend took them on a ride around the square, past cafes and shops as the early evening fell across thee the roofs of the shops and houses and settled in the branches of the trees. The bells of the Church clanged and echoed across the village, and groups of villagers made their way from between buildings and from beyond the square for the Evening Mass.

At night I lie in bed in my room in the roof. There are only the muffled sounds of late night traffic from the road below. Occaisionally, a door to one of the other flats opens and closes. If I turn an lie on my left side with my face close to the wall, there is silence. My good eye sinks into the pillow and my one ear hearts nothing.

As a boy, I used to lie awake after I had been put to bed. I was the youngest child,so I waas always the one to leave the grown ups downstairs before anyone else. Lying in bed now, in the silence, these meories come back to me, muffled and indistinct, from the other side of my bedroom door in Jastrebarsko.

I could hear the hum of my father’s voice from downstairs, and the clatter of women’s voices, usually my sisters’. Music sometimes. But it was the half-heard babble of voices that tempted me out of bed , even in the cold. I would creep downstairs in the hope of listening in on the conversation.

They would break off and turn to me. I can see my father now, sitting next to my grandmother, an arm wrapped round her shoulders, a glass in his hand, the bottle on the table in front of them. He whispers something in her ear. She smiles, then looks up and sees me. My father breaks off from his private joke. He takes his arm away from around my grandmother’s shoulders and takes a gulp from his glass before looking across the room at me. Then he remembers to smile. Grandmother stands up. She is the first to speak.

“Did you have a bad dream, my darling one?” She asks, her arms outstreched towards me as she comes to over to where I am sitting halfway down the stairs.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“We must have been keeping you awake with all our talking,” she turns to the others. “Quiet now, while I take our little man upstairs,” and we go upstairs together to my room. My sisters call out,”goodnight!” I hear my father turn back the conversation back to the language of the adult world. The language of after dark, of the late at night. It is a dialect I did not understand, that I am only now trying to learn.

Upstairs again, my grandmother sits on the edge of my bed and strokes my hair. I can see the light from the landing behind her. The voices from downstairs are indistinct and and fading as she leans over to kiss me goodnight once more.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had been dreaming. The room was dark. I could make out the door frame. I remember that I had dreamt that my grandmother was lying in her bed across the hallsurrounded by new born babies. Lots and lots of babie. My sisters were milling around. They were grown up, but their faces looked like babies faces, smooth, fat and round. My father was there, too. He was cradling a bay in his arms. My grandmother beckoned to me from amongst all the babies to join her. The bed seemed huge. My sisters sat on the end of the bed with their baby faces, all of them hlolding up babies, rocking them. I tried to climb into the bed with my grandmother. She stretches her ams out towards me. Then I fall, slide off the side of the bed.

Onced, I remember I actually did fall out of my own bed. This time, though, the dream woke me up, as it always did at this point, and I climded out of bed. It must have been the winter because the bedroom door was closed and there were extra blankets on the bed. I felt my way to my father’s bed. Not to wake him, just to climb in beside him and feel his warmth and fall asleep again.

The bed was empty. It had not been slept in. The blankets were undisturbed. It felt cold and uninviting and I wanteed the warmth and reassurance of another person. Someone who could protect me, catch me as I fell out out of the bed again.

Still only half awake, I found the door and went out onto the landing. The house felt cold and silent.


The Door to my grandmother’s room is across the hall from where I sleep. Although it is dark and I can barely make out the door frame, I know where it is instinctively. As I reach out and grasp the doorknob, I hear the door of the bathroom open. My father is standing in the doorway. He is lit up for a moment before he switches off the light. He does not see me in the hallway, at grandmmother’s door. Before the passage is plunged into darkness again, I se that he is still fully dressed, except his feet, which are bare. It is so cold at night that I wear socks in bed.
My hand drops from the doorknob.
‘Papa, I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to come into your bed but you weren’t there. So, I was going to Grandmother.’ My eyes are becoming accounstemed to the dark landing. I can make out my father as he comes towards me.
‘It’s alright, Stephan,’ he says, as he reaches me by my grandmother’s bedroom door. ‘I was just coming to bed myself.’
He puts an arm around my shoulder and leads me back to my bedroom. I can hear the slap of his bare feet on the cold, hard landing floor.
Once back in our bedroom my father tucks me up in bed and kisses me goodnight. In the dark I hear him as he as he moves about getting ready for ed himself. I shift under the blankets searching for a pocket of warmth. I can see my father as he opens the bedroom door and goes out onto the landing once more. All I can hear are doors opening and closing. Then my father comes back into the bedroom. I hear him put his shoes down on the floor by his bed. Lying awake in the dark with my father across the room in his own bed, I want to go to himin his bed and fall asleep beside him. But something stops me. Soon I can hear his breathing. He is asleep. I can make out his shape aas he lies on his side with his back to me.
My father’s name was Ante. If he lived here in England I suppose his name would be Anthony. I don’t know exactly what happened to my father when I died on 24 July 1992. He must have died then, too. That is what they told me at the hospital afterwards. There were no survivors. He would have been seventy. An old man. He comes to me in my dreams as someone much younger, sturdy and sure of himself. He is muscular, with big hands and strong arms.

We werealways surrounded by women, my father and me. Surrounded by my sisters and grandmother, I took refuge in my father. We shared a room throughout my childhood. I remember him putting me to bed when I was little and telling me stories that he had made up.
There was astory about Goblins that he used to tell. Like children everywhere, I would ask him to re tell it over and over again. If he ever tried to skip some of it, or change it, I would correct him., adding in those parts of the story that he had missed out.
‘You forgot the part about the Goblin princess!’ I would cry. And I either my father would recap, and add in the episode, or I would prompt him, filling in the details for him myself, before I allowed him to continuewith the tale. Looking back at what I can remember of his bed-time story telling I cannot be sure if he really did forget parts of his stories, or if, with repitionhe grew impatient and simply wanted to finish the story and thinking that I would not notice, skip parts of it.
My father would leave the bedroom door ajar, with light from the landing streching across the floor like an arm. We lay together in bed looking at the ceiling and he would tell his stories. This is how I remember the story of the Goblins and the mice.
The telling of it was like a ritual. Once I was in bed lying close to the wall so that there was room for my father to lie next to me on my narrow bed, I would resat my head on his chest.
‘What story tonight, Stephan?’
‘The Goblin Kingdom!’
It was always the same. My father would protest.
‘Always the same one!’
‘Please papa! It’s my favorite!’
‘Alright then, I shalll beegin…’
And so my father would lead me into the make-believe world of Goblinstravelling at night in boats on the river, holding lanterns that would swing on poles, to light their way. He described the jetties where their boats were moored and the clamour of the Goblin market day. That was when Goblins from far and wide descended on the market place to trade with eachother, exchange news of the other Goblin towns and villages and discuss the grestest threast to their idyllic exsistence – the grey river mice.


I would re-enact these stories time after time. At first the Goblins would just capture the mice, hold them prisoner and then release themas part of a peace treaty at the end of the game. But later there were military raids against the mice to avenge the deaths of Goblins. Prisoners were put on trial and the sentence sombre, dramatic and always the same: death. A firing squad was assembled, the prisoner brought out, a last request and then the inevitable crescendo of ‘ta-ta-ta-ta’ as the gunfire spluttered from my childish lips.

Sometimes, I played these games with school friends. But no one wanted to be the mice every time. And I would always insist on the same scenario. The peace-loving Goblins attacked by the invading mice. The nobility of revenge and justice was always the motivation behind the Goblins’ attacks and killings.

So, as my friends wanted to play different games, I continued to play these games on my own in my bedroom. On the floor, under my bed the mice would be held captive and brought out into the open for their trial and execution.

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Comments by other Members

Bergkamp at 13:44 on 02 March 2004  Report this post
I am struggling with the technology at the moment. This longer segment (2900 words) is the latest one I have up loaded, but it doesn't appear to be in chronological order (other than by date). Can anyone help?


Nell at 14:07 on 02 March 2004  Report this post
Bergkamp, if you're talking about how the pieces appear on your profile, only the dates tell anyone interested in reading which are the earlier chapters. Why not edit the titles and add chapter numbers to these, that way we'll all know which order they come in. No time now, but I'll look forward to reading this later.



Back again. Reading this is like looking through a very old photgraph album and seeing the pictures come to life before your eyes. It all feels so real that I can't help wondering if it's imagined or if the details are factual. In any case it makes for fascinating reading. We're learning more about the mysterious Stephen, the man who died, and one is drawn in gently like one of those fish they were catching. Again, quite a few typos and repetitions, but you did say that this is an early draft, and I am looking forward to seeing how it develops.

Best, Nell.

Elspeth at 17:35 on 02 March 2004  Report this post
Bergkamp, this has some wonderful images. Dee chose an excellent analogy; it is like glimpsing someone's family album. The opening paragraph is particularly strong and immediately throws the reader into your world. Do watch the typos, just for clarity, but I understand if it's an early draft. It's difficult to capture childhood with a sense of authenticity, but for me, Stephen's managing it. I loved the idea of late night language being a dialect that children don't understand - everyone remembers being on a landing somewhere and listening to adults talking downstairs. It'll be interesting to see where this one goes.


Ralph at 08:49 on 03 March 2004  Report this post

I enjoyed having more to sink into here, but still it seemed to pass too quickly. The memories, the events that bind them together with a hint of mystery, the atmosphere... this is such a beautiful piece of writing.

Every time, you seem to reveal a little more about Stephen, but you keep it subtle, stripping a layer to reveal more mystery underneath. It's captivating.

As Nell and Katie have said, there's some typos and some repetition... The only sentence I really questioned, though, was this one:

"If he lived here in England I suppose his name would be Anthony. "

This might just be me, but it seemed odd for Stephen to say that, as though he were suddenly conscious of the reader. Until this point, I've read his journal as a therapeutic exercise, a private exploration that's been revealed by accident... Does ths make any sense?

I loved the way his confusion as an adult mingles here with the disorientation of childhood insomnia, and his sense of searching for a place to belong is so finely drawn it speaks in undertones, but speaks strongly.

I'm enthralled now. More please...

All the best with it



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