“In this house we ask before we leave the table, Kim!”

It was as if her father had never spoken. She continued walking into the kitchen and opened the door.

“Kim, what time will you be ba…?”

But Kim had already slammed the door and was halfway down the road.

“Her behaviour is unacceptable. I need to talk with her sternly. She is a bad example to Pim and Joop,” said Wim slamming his coffee cup onto the table and causing the two young van der Laarschot children to jump.

“Now, no, dear,” replied the ever-placatory Anneke. “She has been through a lot. It is hard for her.”

“I know that but for three months we have had this, always over nothing. It cannot go on!”

It had been over nothing. Wim had mentioned to his daughter about the state of her room and how her younger half-siblings have to keep a certain degree of order and she should really think about the example that she is setting them. This had resulted, as Anneke had prophesised it would when Wim had told her that he’d be addressing the issue, with a long rant about how he was an OCD, order-obsessed freak who needed to lighten up and get off people’s backs.

And now she had walked out. Again.


As she always did, after storming out of her father’s house, Kim walked straight to the centre of Renesse, neither talking nor looking at anyone or anything. Then she’d climbed the dunes and headed for the beach. Thankfully today was dry, cloudy though not too cold, but even on the days when the rain lashed down she did the same. And there she would sit, hunched up, hands around her knees, gazing out at the sea, westwards, imagining that she could see England over the horizon, that place where things had all been so much simpler… and better.

But of course she could not. No England, only waves, endless waves and above them a thick mattress of grey cloud. There was nothing to look forward to.


Anneke knew where Kim went. She had followed her once. Not that she ever told Wim. She loved her husband dearly; he was a good man who, although gruff and brisk, cared deeply for all his family. He was hurting too and he wanted to be close with his eldest child, to assuage her pain. But he had no skills with people, he did not know how to talk to Kim. He would just storm over there, shout at her and make things worse. What Kim needed was space and time. She’d tried to talk to Kim herself on a couple of occasions but the reply had been the same: “”You’re not my mum and you never will be so leave me alone!” It had hurt a little but she had left her. After all, what’d Kim had said was true. She wasn’t her mum and no one else ever could be. But what she did do was follow after a while and just check that she was safe. Renesse is not known for being a dangerous place but with all the tourists about you never could tell.


Following their sister’s outburst, both Piet and Joop had left the table properly and gone upstairs to their bedroom. They knew that their sister was upset; mummy and daddy had explained what had happened, but even so, what she had said and done was wrong! They had to tidy their room so why didn’t she? And they were not allowed to leave the table like that or to speak to dad in that way. Alright, so they couldn’t understand exactly what they had said since she spoke a different language and all, but they got the meaning from the tone. And because of that, whilst they wanted to forget it, they couldn’t, and whilst they wanted to enjoy themselves playing with the new Lego set that their Aunt Gaab had bought Joop for his birthday, for some reason they instead found themselves sat on the bed hugging one another with tears flowing down their cheeks.


Like his daughter, after the meal, Wim too had left the house. Like her, he hadn’t said a word as he walked down the garden path and got into the car. He’d driven to the place that he always drove to, the lonely beach overlooking the Oosterscheldekering and there, like his daughter, he’d sat on the damp sand and stared out to see. He recalled their argument the night before, the hateful things that she had said, playing them over and over and again in his mind.

“Father? You’re no fucking father to me! You abandoned me, remember! You left! You don’t have the right to call yourself a fucking father!”

He recalled that day vividly. Hannah had told him that she no longer wanted to be with him, that she had another man. He protested, he pleaded. He’d always believed in the Family as an ideal, and he loved both her and Kim more than anything else on earth. But no, she had shown him to door. He’d rented nearby but there was no work for a Dutchman without English-language qualifications and Steve, the man who had stolen his partner and child, was not happy about him entering the house. He’d had to stand at the door when he wanted to see his daughter and half the time even that was refused with Steve just coming to the door and saying ‘No, it is not possible today’. Wim had hated him for that but what could he do? Hannah had custody and that was that. In the end he’d given up and gone back home to the Netherlands where he could start a new life. They’d arranged that he could come over to England every year and she could stay with them on Schouwen-Duiveland for the summer holidays but that was it. So no, he didn’t have any right to call himself her father but then, he’d longed to say to her, what choice did I have?

He looked out at the dam and the windmills on Neeltje Jans. They kept on turning. Like life. Rain or shine, storm or calm, it keeps going. And so would he. And Kim. But how?


A shadow crossed over in front of her and Kim looked up. It was a boy, her age. He said something to her but she shrugged. “Sorry, I don’t really speak Dutch,” she said.

The boy smiled. “It wasn’t Dutch, it was German, but I can talk English also,” he replied. “And what I said was ‘Do you mind if I sit with you?’”

“Sure,” she replied, motioning. He sat down next to her. “You German then?”

“Yeah, from Dusseldorf. We’re on holiday here. You too?”

“No, I live here… now,” she replied. “My dad is Dutch. I’m not, I’m English and I live with my mum and step-dad but then they died in an accident so now I have to live here with him.”

“Sorry to hear that.”


“No, I mean it. My dad died three years ago and I had to live with my mum and her new husband. It was hard, although at least it was the same country. No language problems I suppose.”

“The language is not such a problem to be honest; they all speak English here. But it isn’t home and it never will be. And my dad is some kind of freak who is obsessed with tidiness and order and everything being done his way.”

“For me the problem was my step-mum. She was a real bitch, like from the fairy stories.”

Kim smiled for the first time in ages. “Mine is ok, she is nice actually. Just my dad.”

They sat in silence looking at the water and some gulls hovering overhead looking for fish.

“Look, that one’s found something!” said the German boy pointing. The gull swooped and picked something out of the water. Kim looked across at him. She liked him. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Holger. And you?”


“Nice name.”

They watched the gulls for a little longer and then Holger glanced at his watch. “Scheisse! I have to go. We have dinner ready. Listen, Kim, it was fun hanging out here and I am here for a whole two weeks. Would you like to meet again?”

“Yes, I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”

“Where can I find you?”

“Call by my house. We’re number thirty-two on Emmaweg, behind the church.”

“I will do. Kim, it’s been great. I’m sorry about your mum and that, but I think you’re a great girl.”

He got up.

“Bye,” she said.

“Bye,” he replied before walking off.

Kim looked out to sea again. Some of the gulls she now noticed, were in pairs. She wondered about her father and her mother. What had it been like when they’d met? Her mum had said that it was on a beach although far away from here. They’d been young too. She put her hands around her knees again. She’d loved her mum and she missed her but she knew she was gone. And Steve she didn’t miss. What she hadn’t told Holger was how her stepdad had been worse than any character from a fairy story. She might shout and scream at Wim but at least she could without fear of reprisals. Yes, at least Steve was gone forever.

She looked up at the sky and smiled as the sunlight broke through the clouds.

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