Art by Jan Asselijn .
From the author: Two tourists brave Amsterdam's red light district, when they run afoul the girl's local guardian; the swan pimp.
“Look at her! She's gorgeous!” Tom exclaimed. He nudged Alex towards the shapely blonde woman in the black bikini, turning her backside towards them. Alex gulped a bit when she began to beckon them with her finger, while she slid her other hand across her hip. “Well? What do you think?” Tom asked. “She's right up your alley, dude.”
“Let's keep going,” Alex said, stammering a bit.
“C'mon, dude. When will we ever be here again? You gotta wet your beak a little,” Tom laughed, nudging him with his elbow.
“I dunno. I don't think I'm the type of guy to...you know...” Alex began.
“Is this about Amy dumping your sorry ass? You gotta get over that, man. That was the whole point of coming here,” Tom said, throwing his arm around Alex's neck, waving his other arm as if he was some showroom presenter giving his friend a tour of the merchandise. Tom talked about going to Amsterdam since high school, with one particular, red-colored part of the Dutch capitol in mind as their main destination. Now that they were in their last year of college, they finally decided to go. This was mostly instigated by the horrible break-up between Alex and his girlfriend Amy. The way Tom saw it, he needed to get his mind off her and onto new girls. Explore the wild variety of other women that were out there.
But Alex couldn't move on. Everywhere he looked, he saw women that paled in comparison to Amy. Especially in the red-light district. Not that the girls weren't good looking, mind you. They just didn't have her cute smile, or that adorable pout of hers when she was annoyed.
Alex was more caught up in the sights of Amsterdam. Where Tom only saw double-D sized eastern-European women in neon underwear, he'd see the classical architecture and the Rijksmuseum. It helped keep his off of Amy far better than scantily clad women ever could. But like always, Tom managed to successfully drag Alex along on one of his crazy adventures.
They took a short pit-stop at a snack vendor, buying themselves Nutella dipped waffles. Alex looked over the canal, which was filled
with wrappers, napkins, and pamphlets for sex-shows floating on the surface of the water, though the strangest sight he'd seen among all the litter was the swan that moseyed on through it. Alex chuckled at the sight of the white, slender bird, which just seemed so out of place here amongst the red lights and floating garbage, yet it didn't seem to pay mind any of it. It was just a swan, going for out for a late night swim past the ladies at their work place. Tom tore a piece of his waffle and threw it in the water. The swan rushed over, excitedly gobbled the small treat up, shaking its head and neck, then continued on its merry way.
“C'mon,” Tom said. “There's this Asian girl I saw the other night not far from here. You gotta see her. She's like: Oh my God!” he gasped, moving his hands through the air as if to sculpt her out for Alex. Without giving Alex the change to protest, he bolted down the cobble stone street. Alex shrugged and went after his friend.
As they walked past the canal, the swan seemed to follow them, looking for other scraps of food amidst the dark muddy waters of Amsterdam. Alex was actually more captivated by the bird than any of the eye candy the district had to offer. Amy would've have loved seeing it. A little bit of serene beauty, untarnished by the red neon and the faint smell of nearby coffeeshops. Remembering Amy, and therefore their last fight, killed the joy he got from watching the bird, bringing him all the way back to step one of his malaise.
Suddenly, Tom pulled Alex over to one of the windows, almost pushing him up against the glass. “Here she is. Check her out!” he said.
Alex stood face to face with a short East-Asian girl, only meeting her eyes thanks to her purple glittered stiletto heels, separated by a sheet of glass between them. The blueish neon light caused her green bikini to practically glow in the dark like it was made from some alien that was skinned, tanned and made into undergarments. She smiled and waved, a wave that Alex returned nervously.
“Dude, give me your phone,” Tom whispered. Before Alex could react, Tom took his phone from his jacket and held it up. “Say cheese!”
A flash. He showed the picture to Alex, who looked dumbfounded on it, with a cranky Asian girl in her underwear behind him, scowling. “Souvenir!”
“Dude, give that back!” Alex snapped.
“Don't worry. I'm not gonna post it online. I promise,” Tom said, grinning like a moron. Alex knew he wouldn't, but the sooner he deleted that photo the better. His mom and sister would have a fit if they found out where'd he'd been. Before he could do get it back, however, the Asian prostitute appeared out from behind her window, shaking her finger wildly at Tom.
“Delete! You delete that, now!” she shouted.
“Whoa, girl! Chill out!” Tom snapped back. She suddenly put her fingers between her lips and whistled at a piercing volume. Not a moment after she did, Alex noticed the swan from earlier swimming towards them. It spread its massive wings, then leaped out of the water onto the street. Alex wondered where the gaudy, diamond rimmed sunglasses on its bill suddenly came from. Did it just stamp out a cigarette under its black webbed foot?
“No pictures of the girls,” the swan said, in a heavy Dutch accent. It then pointed to a sign, reading; 'No pictures'. “Can't you read?” it asked.
Tom looked at Alex, not knowing what to say. The swan stepped closer to them. “No pictures of the girls. Least of all of one of my girls. Delete that now, or you're gonna be in for it,” the swan said.
That last line was too much for Tom, especially coming from waterfowl. He burst out in laughter, slapping his knee. Alex was afraid to do anything. He simply stared at the bird as it moved closer to him, making a dinosaur-like hissing sound. “Hey, waffle-boy. What's so funny? Am I funny to you, is that it?” the swan asked.
Tom looked up, wiping tears from his eyes. “Dude, this is ridiculous,” Tom said to Alex, before turning to the swan. “What are you gonna do, Donald? Let's get out of here man.”
“Delete the photo,” the swan hissed.
Tom turned around, slipping Alex's phone into his pocket. “Make me,” he huffed.
The Asian girl shouted something neither of them understood. Tom turned toward her, too distracted to notice the massive wings of the swan coming at him, knocking him down onto the pavement. The swan leaped on top of Tom and began snapping at him, whilst beating his face with its wings. Clumps of feathers danced in the air, while the swan's angry honking began to draw the attention of passerby's, who gathered around to watch the fight between the horny tourist and the white bird. A couple of the other girls came out from behind their windows, cheering the swan on. A few tourists were shocked but didn't want to intervene. Most of the locals simply minded their own business; they knew to let the swan do its thing. This was its block, a block it had held on for years, and no-one messed with its girls or made a fool of it. Those who did, learned their lesson the hard way.
Alex, on the other hand, wasn't going to stand by and watch his friend get assaulted by a large aquatic bird. He tried to grab the swan, but received a face-full of wing in return for his efforts, falling to the ground. He tried to get up when he suddenly felt something squeeze his face, which felt like it had been put in a vice. The swan had grabbed his nose and held it tight in its bill, pulling on it as it shook its neck around. Alex screamed in pain as the blood began to pour from his nose. He nearly passed out several times, but with each tug from the swan's bill, he woke back to the searing agony.
Two cops on foot patrol finally arrived and intervened, pulling the swan off from Alex's nose.
“Jezus, kalm aan! Rustig,” said one of them. His partner turned to Alex, inspecting his nose.
“Gaat het? Are you all right?”
“By dose,” groaned Alex. “Dat birt brok by dose!”
“You're all right. It's not broken. What did you two do to piss it off?
The swan started chattering in a mix of Dutch and infuriated hissing, with an angry honk thrown in every now and then for good measure. Alex caught on that is was explaining to them about the photo Tom took.
“Ok, mister,” said one of them. “This swan says your friend took a picture of one of his girls. That's not allowed here, so we'll need to see you delete it, yes?”
The swan stepped forward and hissed, held back by the policeman's leg. Alex didn't waste a second to pull out his phone, nearly deleting all his pictures in a panic. Once he presented his phone to the swan, the bird backed off. “There, that's all he needed to do,” it scoffed.
With that, it jumped back into the canal, picking through the rubbish for bits of waffle and discarded fries. Alex wondered where its sunglasses had gone to.
“You two should move along. You're done here for tonight,” said one of the cops. He then gave Tom and Alex directions towards an all-night clinic where they could get themselves looked at. “Just remember, don't mess with the girls. This is Swan Pimp territory.”
“You okay?” muttered Tom, as they sat on the hard plastic chairs in the clinic's waiting room.
“Detter. By dose till feels like crep,” Alex groaned. “Dows yur arm?”
“It's okay. I think it broke my arm. It hurts like hell. My jaw is sore, and my eyebrow stings. I think I'm gonna need stitches. That dumb goose sucker punched me.”
“Gan stwads ebed punsj?”
“Whatever. He hit me good though. Thanks for helping out.”
Alex said nothing. He was still conflicted between shrugging and saying 'that's what friends do' and yelling at Tom for inciting the fight in the first place.
A nurse stepped out, jerking her head up in surprise when she saw the two. “Jezus mina. Wat is er in Godsnaam met jullie gebeurd?”
“Indlisj,” Alex muttered.
“English,” Tom said.
“Oh. Sorry. You two together? Did you get into a fight?”
“Sort of. I think my arm might be broken,” moaned Tom.
The nurse took Tom's arm, which despite being bruised she diagnosed as thankfully still being in one piece. “Where did this happen?”
Tom chuckled, embarrassed but too worried about his arm to lie. “We were out at the Red Light's, and we took a picture--,”
“Doo dook ah picdure,” Alex groaned.
“--right. I took a picture of this girl, and...”
“Swan Pimp?” the nurse asked.
“Yeah,” Tom muttered. Both friends were surprised by how quickly she came to that conclusion. She stood up and beckoned them to follow.
“Come on in. I'll look at your nose, and you can go into that room. Marijke will help you in there.”
After a quick inspection that ended with a nurse applying stitches to the cut above Tom's eyebrow and a tube of ointment for Alex's bruised nose, the two friends were on their way out again.
“Stay safe,” said the nurse. “And don't mess with the girls again, kids. No-one messes with the Swan Pimp's girls.”
Neither Alex or Tom knew what to say. They didn't speak another word to each other the whole night. They just went back to their hostel, avoiding any further canals and other large bodies of water as they did.
The next day they went to the Rijksmuseum. It seemed safer. Nothing but Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Frans Hals and Breughel and the tourists. As far as they knew, no swans or hookers in there. They only good thing to come out of the whole mess was that Alex hadn't once thought about Amy. Even the pictures of classical nudes that somewhat resembled here didn't stir anything. This is what he'd been looking for. Nothing but serene silence, and the works of the masters of old. No memories of Amy, no talking animals.
“Excuse me, fellas,” asked a hedgehog in a Belgian accent, tugging gently at Alex's jeans. “Do you know where they've got Vermeer's 'The Milk Maid' hanging?”
This story originally appeared in Rumblefish Press.