Maite Vanthournout: Attachment (No Need for Solid Wood)
Eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors have taken inspiration from seventeenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum. Looking at these objects, what eureka moments do they see? Maite Vanthournout wrote a short story inspired by a cradle made by an anonymous craftsman. ‘I perceive the outside world with just one ear, while the other scans the many heartbeats for a mother’s heart.’
Anonymous, Cradle, ca. 1700 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Attachment (No Need for Solid Wood)
The embroidered edges of the mattress protector leave a pattern on my cheek. A vague impression of sepals. At daybreak, the marks fade and the longing for bodies ends. The maids take turns. I don’t know their names, but I remember their embraces. Some arms begin to tremble after a while, some laps know how to support a new-born for a long time. The fidgeting stops when an ear is completely enveloped in a fold of skin. I perceive the outside world with just one ear, while the other scans the many heartbeats for a mother’s heart.
When I explore the world, it’s the limitations that stay with me. The first boundary I came across was a membrane that was stretchy and flexible. Now a new boundary has been erected, a parapet with filed down fangs. I’m lying in the lower jaw of a cradle. This is where the gentle squeaking must come from. The world is no longer filtered through moisture. Mother is resting in a room next door, I now realise. She’s still close, but not like she was when my growing limbs were being rocked in her belly. Perhaps mother is living submerged in her room, and the doors must remain closed so no water can escape. Sometimes, over a maid’s shoulders, I search for wet footprints on the black squares of the tiled floor.
The maids smell as if they all wake up under the same sheet. When my father bends over the cradle I’m overwhelmed by scents from elsewhere. This house and all of its residents make him restless. To this day, the maids are trying to rub away the scratches from the afternoon when he rearranged chairs, tables and sofas. The anxiety eased when he realised that, unlike the furniture, he could simply go outside when he wanted to escape my mother’s sobbing.
I don’t know if my mother and I cry for the same reasons at night. Every time I close my eyes, gods and sea creatures spring to life. They take me in tow without telling me whereto. Below my navel, the pressure increases. The following morning I wake in a puddle.
The maids enter, commencing their duties in silence. One of them takes a new mattress protector, another lifts me up, the eldest opens the window. We leave this all-too-heavy cradle. I hope that one morning my mother gets out of bed and manages to rise on subsequent mornings too. Something’s tugging at her, heavy like this ebony contraption. However hard you push by hand or foot, after a few swings the rocking motion grinds to a halt again. The maids take me to the back garden. They tie a linen cloth to a branch and while leaning with their backs against the broad trunk, they continue to watch over me, leaving the swinging to the wind.