[Part 7 of a fictional blog serial told in 7 installments. Only some of it really happened, but all of it is true.]
The path winds through the forest, a canopy of green over our heads, the sky barely visible. Ahead, Babette sits behind Roy in the child's seat on their bicycle, waving her arms as if conducting the scenery. Biking beside me, Michelle talks about places we could go together, Ibiza, the Dutch Antilles. I'm listening to the sound of her, her sensibility, a way she sees the world, and I'm weighing, comparing, warily curious: alien or familiar?
"Is that art?" Michelle points. Roy and Babette have slowed by the clearing, where a long wall, like the beginnings of a building abandoned, rises from the short grass. All afternoon we've been pedaling and walking through the woods of the Kroller Mueller, peering at sculptures and earthworks lying amidst the greenery of the park surrounding the museum, and often what's looked like a random bit of construction has turned out to be an installation worth millions. Ray's favorite piece here is a tree sculpted out of bronze that passes easily for a real one. So all of us are already critiquing this weathered stone wall, thinking it's not one of the better pieces in Kroller Mueller's vast collection, when Roy reads the placard found around the bend and informs us that it is indeed a real wall -- the start of the museum's original building, which was left uncompleted 70 years ago.
We bicycle on. Time's suspended in this Dutch air that's neither grey nor sunny, the tundra-like landscape could be any country anywhere. Michelle and I, stranger-friends, charged with the palpable electricity of possibility, are either mates-to-be on a day of courtship that'll be fond remembrance, years later ("You know that afternoon we spent at the Kroller Mueller, when we should have been in bed?") or we're a fleeting tourist stop on the map of our respective romantic histories, a vague memory of only superficial significance. Who can tell today?
We pedal back to the museum proper, with its Van Goghs and Redons. I'm art-ed out by now, aware that it's my last day in Amsterdam, anxious to get back to town for my last dinner with Michelle and whatever the night may bring (with that perfect hotel room overlooking the canal). Babette's crashed, a limp doll in Roy's arms. Michelle holds my hand as we walk through the lot of the hundred white bicycles, one of the free pools of transport for museum-visitors. She leans her head briefly on my shoulder for the first time, and My Romance sidles up alongside me to inhale the scent of her hair and remind me that it's been three years since a woman's touched me with this kind of intimacy.
Back in town we're on our own again in the last hour of sun. Michelle keeps her coat on when we go up to my room, but finally unfolds her arms as I make fun of her. We end up entangled on the big armchair, its back to the big bed looming behind us like a giant wink. "You know I'm not spending the night with you," she whispers, surfacing from our embrace, "I can't possibly." "Sure you can," I murmur, and claim that bared belly with my palm at last. With a little groan she arches away from me. "Dinner," she says and swats at my hand.
We return to the Grasshopper for a coffee and a smoke before we eat, comandeer the same booth as last time, Michelle stretched out on one side, me on the other, two cafe lattes on the table again and a fresh joint in my hand. "Alright," I say, exhaling. "So how are we going to play this?"
"There's just so many versions," Michelle notes. "We could do the one where we meet here again six months from now..."
"There's the one where we do the whole relationship in this week," I muse. "Like we would have to sleep together tonight, only then we'd fight and break up..."
"Ugh," she says. "How about... we keep meeting in different cities, and we actually never get to sleep together..."
We laugh. And we go on like this, a couple of romantic comedy writers sitting around talking, pitching all the different ways it could work out or not, while the way it's really going continues of its own volition, beyond us, beyond our control. My Romance is seated in a booth across the way, rolling a cigarette with a complacent air, giving us the briefest of glances before turning back to survey the street, a couple with a stroller, men and women on bikes, trilling their bells.
And it seems -- given just a little more time -- that the rightly written version of us will be found, while the one thing that's become clear in this moment is that we haven't yet reached the end of whatever we may turn out to be.