An Obligation to Uncle Marten
A Story by Setz
August 27, 2007
Joos' journey had begun with a phone call. Having had his supper, having just
switched on the television, and having just settled in his chair for the
evening, his evening was already interrupted. With a look of exasperation, he
got up from his chair and tromped across the room to the telephone. It wasn't a
long day, no more so that usual, but it was a typical day and Joos was
interested in a typical evening only.
It was his mother, and although the conversation began pleasant, it did not continue so for very long. Her brother, Uncle Marten, had passed away of a heart attack this afternoon. He was fifty-three and the funeral was to be Maastricht in three days time. It was decided that Joos was to be a pall bearer, and Joos saw no problem with this at all. Uncle Marten was a pal of his who he spent time with growing up in Maastricht and his cousins. They were at every family gathering and his mother and him got along quite well for brother and sister. Images of his childhood floated through his head as his mother told him that he'd better iron his suit this time. Joos agreed and, of course, warned her not to worry about that: this time it would be ironed to perfection.
His mother skeptically approved and then let him know that Uncle Marten's niece on his wife's side, Katelijn, was also in Groningen and needed to go to the funeral. "Do you remember her at all? You've met her before, haven't you?"
"Katelijn?" Joos rubbed his chin in contemplation of this sudden turn of events. "Yeah, I remember her. She's in Groningen?" His previously tensed posture gradually loosened and he leaned up against his wall.
"Yes!" her mother replied. "Good! She apparently knows you, too, and since you two are the only ones that are all the way across the country, Roos thought that it would be a good idea if the two of you came together tomorrow and we could pick you up and stay in the basement."
His mother had a talent for organizing family events with the vicious efficiency that would be more suited to a bank robber. "Sure," was his one word response to that.
"I told Roos that you'd give her a call once we were done and take care of the train tickets. Just give me a call or leave me a message when you know when you'll be getting into town tomorrow, O.k.?" Vicious, Vicious efficiency.
"Sure, Mom." He quit leaning and snapped to life when his mother rattled Katelijn's address and phone number. They exchanged further apologies and consolations and, of course, to call if he needed anything, and that was it.
He hung up the phone and resumed his lean against the wall. In a pair of unironed black slacks and an unbuttoned beige longsleeved shirt, his legs were crossed and his right arm raised. The situation demanded a few minutes to himself to digest all of this. Putting Katelijn out of his mind, he focused on Uncle Marten. Marten was rides home from school when Joos' parents were busy, or a place to stay when his parents were away. Not being short and stubby with huge paws, Joos didn't look anything like Uncle Marten. Being a tall mouse for the family, average for the general public, he was early twenties in appearance and mid twenties in actuality. Slump shouldered and, in his own mind, overworked. Though dejected, he reserved his tears for the funeral as he was often more moved by the funeral by the death itself. A nice man, Uncle Marten, he thought. Did good things. Nice thing. A nice guy. Respectable. Respect-able. Able to be respected. That's Uncle Marten. Nice and able to be respected. A family man.
That very last thought stopped him in his tracks and he slid down the wall to sit cross-legged on a slant. Funerals can serve a couple of purposes. They can both be a celebration of the life that the deceased had lived and also be a stinging reminder of all that remained unaccomplished in the lives of the living. Joos rubbed his paw through his messed hair and knew that he'd need to call Katelijn sooner rather than later, but needed a little more time to himself.
It's funny how you can go around town for years and not see somebody. It's not a huge, huge city, but I guess that she'd been here for a while and had been right under his nose and now she's thrust directly in front of him. She probably lives a couple blocks away and has some sort of comic schedule out of a Marx Brothers film where she leaves just as he gets home and the crowd goes wild. He tossed this image around in his mind ad nauseum for about five sitting minutes and then slapped his thigh. "Well! I got you know!" He picked himself up and grinned at himself in the mirror, taking his shirt off completely and tossing it on the carpet. "I got you know." He triple-checked the phone number and dialed up Katelijn.
After several nervous rings, she'd picked up. "Hello?"
Joos was prepared with his most sympathetic tone. "Katelijn?"
"Yes?" came a voice with a hint of waver.
"This is Joos Hakluyt. How are you doing?" His long face drooped further and he wished that he had her shoulder to place his paw on.
"Oh, Joos! I'm O.k. I'm alright, really. Mom called me and said you'd be calling and said that we'd be going home together and staying at your mother's place." Her tone did pick up.
"That's right. Is that O.k. with you?" He sure hoped it was.
"If it's fine with your Mom, it's fine with me," she answered, once again slightly wavering.
"Well, I don't know if it's alright with Mom or not, but she's issued the marching orders, and so that's what's going to be." He couldn't resist taking a shot at his mother this time.
Katelijn gave a reserved laugh. "So I hear."
Getting straight to the point so that he could resume his evening, he asked, "Hey, do you ned train tickets?"
"Yes, I do- well..." The hesitation in her voice was a stone wall.
"Well? ... I'll pick a couple up in the morning." His mind raced to figure out what her problem was. "I go home pretty often, so it's no problem. It leaves at 5:00, we make stops in Utrecht and Hertogenbosch, and we'll be home a little after 9:00."
"O.k.," was the simple reply.
"Cool. Then I'll be by at 4:00 with a taxi tomorrow, kay? Mom got me the address from your Mom."
"Sure." There was another pause. "Thanks Joos."
"Hey, no problem! Take it easy tonight. Do you have my number?" A little bit of his mother did shine through, nonetheless.
"Yes, I'll cal if I need anything, but I... Could you book two seats for me, please?"
Well, that ruined the fantasy for him. What a dagger twist. "Absolutely." He looked as though he'd eaten a lemon.
"...Thank you," she replied in a tone more wavering yet.
"Hey, no problem. I'll, uh, see you tomorrow, kay?"
"Sure. Thank you, again. Good night."
She is of very few words when she gets right down to the bad news, Joos
thought to himself as he traveled along in the back seat of the taxi to
Katelijn's house. Rather than being a block away, her place was actually across
town, but it could have been at the bottom of the ocean for all he cared right
now. "Bloody trip," he muttered to himself, gritting his teeth and tapping the
taxi window impatiently at the prospect of the delicious Katelijn van Devender
snoogling and being consoled her ridiculous, undoubtedly asinine boyfriend. Or
husband! Bet some ridiculous name like van der Noot, van der Snoot, or van der
Diepen van Hel en Eeuwige Kwelling! Well, he'd best get her a God forsaken hotel
room, then, he threatened himself as they pulled up to her house. It made him
sick. He was physically ill at the prospect of four hours, eight hours at least
with this woman and this other asshole. "Piss on my parade," he spoke to himself
as he stepped out of the car. "Go ahead! I can take it. Have her. Take her all
away from me."
He forcibly removed the look of straight anger from his face as he knocked on her front door at a quarter to four in the afternoon. He let out a sigh as he waited for someone to answer, reminding himself that anger is fleeting and will be washed away like autumn rain and tromped over by a juggernaut of self-loathing as soon as he got onto the train. "Come in, please!" she yelled from inside the house. He straightened his tie and raincoat and tie again in a desperate attempt to show her exactly what she's missing. He looked better now than he had in years. He did something with his hair, trimmed his white whiskers, held his shoulders up, chest out, and looked not overworked and disconsolate, but.., well... It was the sort of desperation that would not be immediately apparent, but when coupled with his actions would ring through like the carillon bells of the Stadhuis. He opened the door tentatively and crossed the threshold.
"Katelijn? It's Joos." He closed the door behind him and looked around her porch, specifically at the coats and shoes. Womens', womens', womens'.... Womens'?
"Come on in. I'll just be a couple of minutes."
He slid his shoes off and stepped into the rental house, taking in as much of it as he could. He turned the corner and looked into the living room, following after her voice. "The taxi's waiting for us outside." And then he was hit. The house was a mess and Katelijn herself sat in front of her computer on a loveseat that she filled, had been reinforced once already, and had certainly seen better days. She clicked the mouse furiously as she prepared to save her game and head out. "Holy..." he mouthed to himself as he saw her and the room, unable to speak aloud. Pizza boxes stacked up beside her, and a mess of clothes and things were strewn about the floor with room only for pathways to walk by from here to there. "God..." He tilted his head to the side as he eyed the sides of her rear pressed up against the arms of the loveseat. His shoulders reslumped and his mouth became bone dry. "In heaven..." She was not the delicious young raccoon that he'd remembered. She would have been his mother's, brother's, brother-in-law's daughter and so he didn't see her often and hadn't seen her in years, and if she was delicious before... He wet his throat and asked, "Warcraft?"
"Yeah. I'll just be a minute." She hadn't actually looked at him yet. Just the screen, but you could tell by the way she handled herself that she was in overdrive mode, leaning forward and glaring intently at the screen. She wore a massive t-shirt and great black stretchy joggers. Just a little further and she'd be ready to save. She was all packed and ready to go, despite all appearances.
"That's fine," he assured. Though the blinds were tightly shut, he briefly looked to where the taxi would be, and then back to her. "No rush." Though usually so, he stayed as far from being sarcastic as possible and simply watched her.
"O.k.!" Katelijn licked her lips with finality as she saved her game and quit. She slowly rocked back and forth in her chair as it groaned deeply with each movement. Slowly she stood up as her entire body swayed with the hundreds and hundreds of extra pounds on her body as she pivoted to face him. The next part had Joos weak in the knees as her slow waddle made the floorboards creak and bend underneath her as she shuffled her way towards him. "Hi... Sorry about that. I'm ready!" Already running low on breath, she picked up her bag and made her way towards the porch.
"That's cool," he replied and made way for her, opening the front door for her, and appreciating the fact that there's only one little step to get to the curb. "Anything I can do for you?"
"Nah. I'm alright," she said with an eager smile as she slid her feet in some well-flattened sandals and headed ahead of him, tightly shimmying through the doorway.
He slid his shoes on, closing and locking the door behind him, and followed along behind as she carefully descended the two very small steps to her walkway. Her slow wobble moved a few steps beyond her front door and so he quickly flanked her and snatched her bag. "Here," he said with a chivalrous smirk, slinging her bag over his shoulder. "Let me be a gentleman."
"Oh!" Though a bit startled, she was not unresponsive to the gesture. "Thank you.., Joos. Your mother raised you well."
"Well," he admitted with a bashful shrug. "You're going to be a guest in our house, and so if you need anything at all, just let me know."
"I will. Thanks!" A genuinely broad smile crossed her face as they crossed the halfway point to the taxi. "Your Mom said that she'd take care of everything."
"Yeah, that's her, alright. She's one of those people that makes you glad that she's on our side."
"So I hear!" she huffed with raised eyebrows.
"Yes, Mom's a very efficient tyrant. She didn't give you guys and problems, did she?"
"No... Mom and Dad... will be staying at a hotel... and your Mom... allegedly... has some extra room... Phew!" Finally at the sidewalk, she leaned up against the taxi and rested a moment, catching her breath.
"Here! Sit down!" Joos ran around and graciously opened her door for her. She thanked him and slowly, with difficulty, wobbling, and panting, squeezed herself (by herself) into the backseat of the taxi. He admired how the vehicle leaned heavily to her side as he walked around the back to place the bag into the trunk and walked around to take his place. Even at the other end of the back seat, he was still pressed up against her. He looked up at her face to see if she minded at all, but she didn't. Something as natural and predictable as this didn't bother her in the least, thankfully for both of them.
Through the lazy mid-afternoon streets the traveled as they both went through the motions of the small talk surrounding the tragedy, though they both watched Rijksuniversiteit Groningen as they drove past. Not only did they both watch the university, they both noticed each other watching the university, a fact that they both coyly hid from each other and stored in their box of good questions for each other to spring later on. They both had some doozers for each other, but on the same token were both playfully patient.
They talked their way to the train station and when they'd arrived Joos paid the driver and jumped out to empty and close the trunk. Meanwhile Katelijn opened her door and began the struggle to get back out of the car. "You know," she said through grit teeth as she freed her left leg from underneath her belly, "this is why I take the bus." The car rose up and down and bounced with her efforts to free herself. She had one silky black raccoon paw clenched like a boa constrictor around the handle above the window and the other pressed down on the seat in front of her as she inched herself sideways from the back seat. Joos set the bags down on the ground and braced himself to help her out.
Now there is a huge difference between imagining the heaviest person you could think of and actually being the heaviest person that you could think of and that difference was being reconciled right now as her weight came to bear on his frame. Though she made rapid progress in getting out of the car, his elbows and shoulders felt as though they were being pulled from their sockets. To distract him from the job, he wondered to himself if his elbows actually had sockets or not, but before he could rationally think that thought through, she was released from the car and stood leaning against the car, panting to catch her breath. He was sweating himself and relaxed with her for a minute. "You're right," Joos agreed, wiping his brow. "Let's take the bus when we get to Maastricht."
"Yes!" A weary smile crossed her face. "Let's move, though, so Mr. Taxi Driver can continue his day." She heaved herself from the car and moved forward to sit on a steel bench just inside the station doors with Joos following close behind with the luggage.
He placed the luggage down next to her and watched her sigh with relief as she relaxed. "Take it easy for a bit. I'll go grab the tickets I'd reserved. I'm going to get a drink, too. Do you want anything?" This was, he knew, the declaration of war.
"Yes! Please." She grinned and beckoned him closer. Through pants she let him know that she would like to stock up for the trip and through no ambiguous terms she let him know that she did eat both a lot and at regular intervals, but if he had something to say about it to say it later because she was first of all hungry; second of all clairvoyant. "Thanks."
The train was more or less empty for the first leg of the trip. There were
the odd geezers and geezeresses at the front of the car, but they had the back
of the car to themselves. Katelijn sat taking up her two seats and Joos sat
across from her stretched out on his two seats, though he was now kicking
himself for buying two tickets for her with an empty train. They kept their
luggage, and her food, inconspicuously hid up overhead. There was a lull in
their idle conversations as both of them opted to watch the scenery whiz by. Two
thirds of the way to Utrecht was when Katelijn decided to ask the question,
"What did you study in university?"
She looked directly at him when she asked it and Joos met her eyes. "Sociology." Without a second's hesitation, he retorted, "You?"
"Math." On both of their visages were wistful smiles. "Did you graduate?" she asked.
"No," he replied, shying away from a laugh. "You?"
"No." She smiled and looked out the window. "Kinda feels good, doesn't it?"
"I'd like to graduate someday," he answered with a tone of seriousness.
"I mean sitting with another drop out." She did giggle softly.
"Oh that? Yes." He paused and thought about it. "It does feel pretty good, actually. Misery loves company"
"Why did you drop out?" She picked up her second bag of trail mix back up and started munching again.
"Money," he admitted with a deep frown. "Money, plain and simple." He kept his eyes on her trail mix to prevent them from wandering. "You?"
"Honestly?" She looked at him, raising an eyebrow.
"Sure," she said, not taking his eyes from her bag.
"I don't... like people," she admitted taking another bite of her snack.
"Yeah, well, I'm not a big fan of people, either." He looked outside once more and undid the top two buttons of his shirt, pulling his tie off and setting it over the headrest of the empty seat next to him.
"I think one day, some years ago, I just said screw it and stayed home - and then I stayed home the next day, and the next day."
Joos nodded sympathetically, but his eyebrows reflected an understanding in her words. "I know the feeling."
"Mm." She nodded with him and emptied the rest of the bag into her muzzle. "I really don't care for graduating, either. I've gotten past that a long time ago. I've got my life now."
"That's just the thing, isn't it?" he replied snappily. "I don't got the life I want. Not by a goddamned light year."
"Oh?" she asked with a raised eyebrow at the sudden outburst.
"You know, you bust your ass cause you don't got nothing left to bust for no one, but it doesn't make you feel good, you know? Or right or fair or true. Not fulfilling, that's for damned sure!" He gestured at her with his paw, venom in his voice.
Katelijn smiled inwardly as she realized that she'd struck a nerve and watched his tirade, even adding some fuel to the fire. "Where does this come from?"
"It comes from years of doing sweet nothing with your life. Doing things at your life, correctly put, and so now- NOW I've lost three days to go to send my respects to Uncle Marten and go put up with Mom." He tapped his finger against his paw for effect, saying, "You know, I liked Uncle Marten as much as the next guy, but those rats, they gnaw away at their tunnels whether you're there or not and now I got three more days to make up again. Would it killed the man to have died on a Thursday?"
"Whoa," she exclaimed with a laugh that she couldn't contain anymore. "I think you have some issues."
"You're goddamned right I got some issues," he agreed, a smirk creeping across the side of his mouth.
"You're wound up like a clock spring," she added with guile.
"On a time bomb," he added, matching her guile.
"On a time bomb?!" She laughed again and her stomach shook worse this time. It stuck out taking up most of the room between the two of them, a couple of times bumping up against his knees.
"Well," he admitted, rolling his eyes. "Maybe not that bad, but you know, it feels like it."
"I'm not the time bomb type per se."
"What type are you, then?" he asked, leaning forward intently, resting his jaw on his paw.
"I really don't think I have a type," she replied, crinkling up her trail mix bag and tossing it into the garbage next to her. "I don't like to be 'typed', if you know what I mean."
"Not a math geek?" he asked with a smirk.
"Geek, yes. Math geek, no," she admitted cheerfully. "I don't like 'geek', but I can't say that I'm not with a straight face because anyone who plays Warcraft fifteen or so hours a day cannot not be a 'geek'." She even made the quote gesture with her paws. "Besides, geeks are geeky, and I don't think I even do enough to even BE a geek, because to BE a geek, you need to DO things, and when you don't DO anything, it's hard to characterize yourself in any way. So, I guess, no. I'm not a geek. I'm not anything, really. Just Katelijn."
Through her own cheerful tirade Joos kept his chin on his paw and listened carefully. "That's fair."
"I thought it would be." She crossed her arms and grinned at him once again with a raised eyebrow, relatively small breasts pressed up against her arms like a dyke holding back the sea.
They exchanged smiles for a little while and the conversation once again fell silent as both opted to look out the window again. After several minutes of silence, it was Joos that broke it. "You know, it just occurred to me that we have the basement when we get home."
"Basement?" she asked with curiosity.
"Yeah. I don't think that Mom knows that you've gotten this big since we saw you last," he stated diplomatically.
"I don't do stairs," she said flatly.
"I don't think the stairs could hold you at any rate. They're pretty old and creaky and that'd be an awful nasty accident. Eee..." He made a ghastly face and rubbed his jaw.
"Is your house full? Any other rooms we could sneak into?" she asked.
He paused and cocked his head at that statement. "We?" he asked with a curious smirk.
"Well, I mean, I could sneak into." That got her flustered and she blushed a bit.
"WE?" he asked again with a very broad smirk. He placed his paws on his knees and leaned forward a little bit.
"Fine." she said in a blunt tone. "We. Are there any other rooms that WE could sneak into?"
"Well now." He leaned back and folded his arms.
"Hmph." She smirked cynically at his comfortable posture. "Or would you enjoy that?"
"I, uh..." He finished his sentence with a set of deep nods ending with his eyes on her feet. "Hey, uh, when's the last time you had a foot massage? I mean, a good one."
"Heh." Her chest and gut jostled at her slight laugh. "Never."
"Could you use one? Maybe?" He cocked his head at an angle and raised his eyebrows.
"Ah, now I don't know much about this whole... person to person interaction kinda stuff cause, well, I have this general hate for people, but I know that look in your eyes and that look in your eyes is the look of a guy that wants to see how much he can get away with in an empty train car containing a female he barely knows at all, for better or worse." She leaned her bulk forward and placed her soft, strong paw on his knee. "A strange woman, too, that he doesn't know at all and doesn't how far he can push or prod because he doesn't really know how hard she pushes back. Or if she does at all. Mmm..." She rubbed his knee and lower thigh gently without leaving a gap in her words. She continued with eyes on the part of his chest that he had unbuttoned, "I'll give you a hint. Better yet, I'll ask you a question - I'll answer your foot massage request in a minute. Do you know how much I really weigh and what it feels like to... interact with me?"
At this whole speech, Joos had an ever increasing number of butterflies in his stomach. A sickening feeling of apprehension swept over him that made his toes numb and forced him to a commanding feeling of arousal. "No," he answered in a sort of deeply interested sigh.
"Well. I don't know how much you really weigh or what it feels like to interact with you." She patted his thigh and rested herself heavily back against her chairs, causing the reinforced plastic to bend slightly. "So I'm afraid we're in a certain predicament here, and yes I'd like a foot massage please. Knees, too, if you can."
"Of course." He slid down off of his seat and sat facing her enormous belly. It never for a second sat still as the constant movement and jostling of the train kept it in perpetual jiggle. It was mesmerizing to watch that close up. He could almost feel his breath against it, feel the imposing weight of it so close, feel the unerring laziness that not only caused the gut to come about but to make it so great and immovable. Empires could rise and fall, volcanoes could bury ancient cities in lava, gods could walk the earth, but the absolute size and immensity of Katelijn stomach just didn't care, so imposing, so indifferent, and so real as it was. It swayed and jiggled on its own. No one could control it. No one had the strength or force to control. As she prepared herself for the massage, she grabbed another bag of trail mix and began eating. At the sound of the rustling plastic, Joos placed his paw on her right foot, slid it forward, took off her sandal, and rested the foot heavily in his lap. He started to massage it and she let out a soft moan. This, he thought still staring at her stomach, is the smallest I will ever see it. It will only get larger. It cannot get smaller. It is the trail mix. It is the stacks of pizza boxes. He imagined it expanding further, taking up yet all of the space between seats, engulfing him as he massaged her bloated foot. He bit his lip, feeling the butterflies in his stomach once more as he imagined her once more playing Warcraft her belly taken over her living room. A great mound of fat, the jiggle of her resting the keyboard and mouse on it as she plays, not taking her eyes off of it. No more desk in front of her, her stomach becomes the desk. Would it only be a matter of time, he thought? This would be the smallest he'd ever see it in front of him, dangerously close to crushing the life out of him. He moved his paw up he calf muscle, needing to reach under her belly which came centimeters from the floor. He looked up at her munching, beaming face as if to ask permission and then scootched forward and pressed himself against it so that he could adequately reach her calf muscle to massage it. She giggled as he really felt for the first time the sheer mass and volume of the stomach. There was so much of it and it was so heavy and so soft and warm. It invited him deeply yet could destroy him so easily he realized, sinking his paws into her calf which was such a daunting mix of fat and the unmistakable muscle needed to move her body. He was in awe of her; real spiritual, reverential awe.
"That feels... wonderful..," Katelijn cooed as he completed the massage of her first leg and continued on the second. "This is better than I imagined. It feels so wonderful to be touched by someone that seemingly cares."
Joos didn't reply directly, but continued to massage her foot, working up her doughy ankle. After a long pause, he replied in a voice just shy of quavering. "There's a room on the main floor. The spare bedroom. Normally I'd take the basement, but I don't think there'd be any problems if we snuck into it. I dunno if the bed'll hold us, but I don't really care, and it would be nice, I think, if you experienced a nice, full back massage, too."
She blushed very deeply. Sweat built up on her body from both arousal and genuine gratefulness. "Do you need a massage, too?" she asked, her voice soft and delicate as fresh bed sheets that she imagined laying on with her thick raccoon paws working into his back. Still a force of nature, but was not a tempest but melting snow at the thought of pressing him lovingly into the mattress. His warmth was strong, beautiful sunshine that heated her. She knew he was angry and she knew she was angry, but all at once they harmonized together. She felt his paw move up her calf and yearned not to squash or crush him, but to envelop him and rest with him and just be as close to him as she was distant to everyone else.
His ears flopped over in dear, sweet relief, his whole body relaxing. "Yes. I do."