The Attraction by D. Hooijer

Because I’m unemployed I go to the funfair. I’ve no choice but to keep myself moving, otherwise I’ll be in an even worse state. And don’t amble; the soles of the feet slapping the asphalt, the doctor said. Just stamp a bit as you walk.

[private]The funfair is harder to take these days. There used to be the soft colours, now they’re garish and fluorescent. Fortunately you can screw your eyes shut. You can’t get away from the noise or the stench of kebab. The girls have got prettier though.

I go and try a few shots at a stall that has one of those girls. She says as little as possible and her face is expressionless. Her father or boss is standing talking with a group of men a short distance away but he looks around regularly to check she’s still doing it right (still watching intently enough).

In the tall display case I’ve spotted a stuffed animal. There are a good five other animals exactly the same, but he’s got something about him, something sceptical, something sharp. I think he’ll be good for me to talk to. At first I shoot so wide of the mark that I have to look at the barrel of the gun. Yes, the barrel’s bent. I don’t let on, I always behave myself, especially at funfairs. I shoot again and again to get used to the deflection and from then on I’m bang on target.

I win a little white pottery negro, then the same figurine only black. Blacker even than I am.

‘Don’t I get a first prize, all bull’s-eyes?’ I ask the girl.

‘Not up to me, it works electronically.’

For the next three bull’s-eyes she gives me a little plastic squirrel with spray-on fur. I’ve got ten euro left. I suspect her of trying to wind me up and that makes me mad. I get her to promise she won’t give away the wolfish bear. That one! I point to the fifth in the row. Her nod’s more superior than reassuring. I go to withdraw some cash.

Again a good stamping walk to the cash machine. Get a move on. The same firm tread. Next I’ll run. Dammit I feel as if something heavy has gone from my head.

At first I want to empty my account but then I remember I need to get by for two weeks yet and I don’t have any beer or potatoes at home. I draw two hundred euro and run back to the shooting gallery with the pretty girl. Of all the pretty girls she’s the ugliest and of all the ugly ones she’d be the prettiest. Which makes her average. She does have lovely wet purple lips; all right true, as if she’s dead, but she’s alive and she calls me love and looks coldly at me. Shame she won’t give me the animal. Do I have to show what I’m made of first? How, exactly? What am I made of? Let’s think. I’m nice, and not lazy but not thoroughly nice and not thoroughly lazy. You could say I’m average too.

This time I’m given a straight gun, when I was used to the bent one, so I have to get my eye in again. Then for a full fifteen minutes I shoot everything in sight. To be more precise I shoot two yellow bears that don’t make me happy, then three of those squirrels and a beautiful rabbit, except that I don’t like it. People stop and watch because I put all the animals down at my feet. Each time I first ask for the wolf.

‘Just give the lad that Alsatian,’ a man calls out.

‘No. Why? It’s electronic.’

‘Bullshit, you only have to unhook it.’

More people gather round. I shoot and shoot; my blood’s boiling. Even if I have to go back for the rest of my dole money, even if I have to take out a loan, I’ll shoot my way right through that furry troop to get at the wolf. He looks smarter and smarter. He looks as if he was expecting this, the bloody battle to free him. My hands start to shake.

‘I’ve got to cool off a bit. Don’t give him away, alright?’

I hand back the gun. Now don’t go saying otherwise you’ll shoot her or someone will call the police. I get into trouble quickly because of my black blackness, blacker than those coffee-brown and choco-milk types. You can bet I live frugally to make ends meet and why things are always coming into my life all the same, a woman or a party and now this, beats me.

I’m incapable of ambling. I think ambling looks spineless in blacks. So I walk erect, taking my time, to the ferris wheel, where I get into a gondola with all my new cuddly toys in a big plastic bag. The wheel jolts upwards, higher and higher. When I get to the top it speeds up a bit. I actually have vertigo but today I’m so furious I don’t notice it much. I believe you should deal with an obsession in the same way as your ordinary plans. I believe obsessions have their reasons.

I can see the shooting gallery down below. It’s starting to get dark; the sky’s still grey with patches of blue but the lights are going on in the city. I see four Honda motorcycles approaching. The noise doesn’t reach me, because all the music comes together up here.

Then I’m rotated away from the view and on the next turn upwards I notice they’ve unscrewed their saddles and are putting them in a bag. The wheel rotates me away again and the next time round I see them stepping into fluorescent clogs. Pink and purple fluorescent clogs. They race off towards the bumper cars in them. Could they be farmers? Shall I ask them later if they have a job for me? A job in a distant province. I start to sing for a moment, but suddenly the wheel goes viciously fast. I grab a pole and hold tight for the rest of the ride. On the ground I look first at my money; at home there aren’t enough potatoes and beer, but food isn’t important. No, you won’t get rid of me till I’ve won the wolf. He likes me, I could tell from his embroidered muzzle. When I put this cuddly toy in my room everyone will understand it’s not just any old cuddly toy but a creature to talk to. Or rather, since his mouth is sewn shut, I’ll do the talking and he’ll think.

I quickly walk back and yes, he’s waiting for me with that angry understanding face. I promise him I’ll shoot right through the whole woolly flock till the stall’s empty, till he’s the only one left. Then she’ll have to give him to me.

I take my trusty gun and shoot my ‘three bull’s-eyes’. And the girl gives me the wolf. She doesn’t say anything and still there’s no hint of a smile. Is she keen to get rid of me? Her boss or father is sitting at the next stall with a big plate of pancakes. Could that be it? I can’t work out why I’m given him otherwise, why now and not before.[/private]

Written by D. Hooijer and translated by Liz Waters.

Born in 1939, D. Hooijer started out writing poetry. In 2001 she released her debut collection of stories, Kruik en Kling, followed by a second collection three years later, Zuidwester Meningen, which was nominated for the Anna Bijns Prize. Her most recent collection, Sleur is een roofdier, won the Libris Prize 2008. The jury said: "The author has opened all registers of storytelling. These nine unusual, fascinating stories offer no certainties, no closure or clarity.” She also recently published Catwalk, her first novel.

Liz Waters translates literary fiction and quality nonfiction from Dutch into English. Her recent translations include The Rebels' Hour by Lieve Joris and War Games by Linda Polman.

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