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fiction

Cup Run Over

Clementine Edwards (author)

Clementine Edwards

Clementine Edwards is a Rotterdam-based artist working in sculpture. They're the artist and editor of The Material Kinship Reader, which thinks material beyond extraction and kinship beyond the nuclear family. Lately they're working around language, reading, material as writing/citation, and any and all writing and citation as storytelling and political practice. clementineedwards.com 

Maria Vorobjova (illustrator)
Published 06 Sep 2023

9

min read
+
Illustration by Maria Vorobjova

On the Friday we went to a port beach which is a tiny strip of sand between chemical processing plants and container yards. It’s unsafe to swim but a scenic place to picnic. very rotterdam. Riding takes u through the port’s industrial expanse, its wastelands. We were with bikes but the watertaxi is speedy and a glam alternative.


My dear friend was visit, one of my last remaining male friends, and he was struggling, his dad is dying and he's very poor and very stressed and very much a cop to himself. I understand how success-desire can get inside of us. it had me feeling uneasy. I was trying to remember me in all this while being there for him as host, friend, support. below all this was gender grief. 

so we had to fill our cups.

there was just one man at the beach when we arrived, sitting solo on the grassy embankment and looking out at the sand and the sea, which is actually river. He wore full lycra and had a road bike propped nearby that was heavy with gear. I sized his bike up and left mine unlocked. my friend did the same. the man did not want our bikes, he had a very fine hobby and I commended him, good man, keep at it, isn’t the fresh air beautiful. 

he was the first.

After that my friend and I threw towels down on the dusty sand and unpacked the snacks: simit, avocado, some sort of fruit. we spoke a while about our plans, and then scrolled our phones listened to voice messages took photos of ourselves and the weird boats passing by slowly and fast. time passed gently.

Far away the wind turbines spinning and soft sun kissed my forearms life

a camera lens winked at the sky, guiding my eye

at the end of the short pier where the watertaxi stops there was a man standing taking photographs of clouds. His shoulders were small landslides but the backpack sat high. how. I noticed heavy-duty zips a neoprene fabric, this man was fancy. sturdy bag. he could have dropped it into the river-sea and the backpack would have floated to dry land; whatever battery packs he had stowed in there would walk away unharmed.

this man had a hobby, good man, keep at it, isn’t the fresh air beautiful

camera man was second.

both these men seemed okay. they did not read as big lone man-children hobbled by masculinity throwing rocks at the water angry, no.

***

picked up ring pulls, picked up toothpicks, picked up lid. Me and my friend shook out our towels and left the beach.

the sun moved in sky.

later in the day we encountered a third man. he was on the long pier that has tankers tethered to it. this is a different spot to where the port beach is, this is in charlois where all the swans live. The man was sitting at the end of the pier on the stone seat with the high back, and my friend and I were too because we had sneak-raced past him on our bikes to nab first spot.

(if you arrive and the lone seat is taken, your best hope is to squeeze in and share)

he was heaving when he arrived, his hand reached out to the stone sofa for support, and we shuffled over. I made a big show of compacting my body into the corner. glad my friend was in the middle.

the man caught his breath, spread his arms out into an L along the back and arm of the seat. then he fixed his eyes on the ship horizon. I ignored the view the water before us and was leaning forward towards him. excuse me, sir? may I ask if you have hobbies are you happy.

The man called me m’vrouw and I didn’t mind too much, because that’s a thing people do here and I’m committed to not getting stuck on it.

we struck up conversation.

Once a month the man at the end of the pier leaves his apartment near the Boijmans. he walk-traces the shaded perimeter of the park, then crosses the street and is swallowed by the wooden escalator down into the tiled tunnel that runs below the river, then burst back up into daylight along the bike path that skirts the docks until he arrives far away at the long pier with the stone seat where he finally sits down to watch the boats. At the end of the day, the man crosses the little red bridge and takes the 44 bus back to his home in the city.

it makes a beautiful picture, the journey he does for himself

The man was at ease. He told us how he spent time working in London and he asked us where we came from. he accepted a cup of coffee from the thermos I packed for the uitje and I wondered if this man might be future patron.. of the café my friend wanted to open, of my art practice. whatever.

a preening white swan floated by

my friend, who had drained his coffee, was now standing at a polite distance from us smoking choof.

A feeble sun touched my face. I sipped my drink and smiled my best smile

‘what sort of sculpture do you specialise in’ he wanted to know.

Is it wood or metal.

This good man with listening ears. afabs aren’t just mirrors! My belly was a spread of warmth for this man who accepted a drink and took an interest in lives that were not his own.

My friend was the same that’s why we were friends and he waved and pointed to the phone at his ear. i waved back. He was walking somewhere. I was comfortable on the stone seat with this stranger. I marvelled at the man’s routine, told him in my head how lovely, how healthy, what a kind man doing a good thing for self. Is this what makes man-men kind? they keep busy, they go walking, they take photos, these man-men know how to be in touch with selves. they know how to not be angry, they do selfcare. They have hobbies.

they have hobby

we were chatting

‘the ferry used to run direct Rotterdam london’ he said.

‘so cool,’ I said, suddenly unable to summon the energy to say much more.

in our ears the constant rumble of ships’ engines idling. they don’t turn off the tankers’ engines, he was telling me, it’s to watch their bottom lines, and I tried not to think of the aquatic life below and what that meant for their everyday. it was too monstrous. To distract myself I pictured the ferry that used to run between the two cities daily and how its journey would have made zigzag shapes over the north sea. i just focussed on the shapes.

I was still squashed in the corner of the seat and my friend was far away.

the man was levering himself off the stone sofa. he stood up. It only took a split second after that. I watched him angle himself towards me, the paper cup pressed down into his big hand. something was off. He faltered. there was a question in his body and I saw now that he was a big sturdy man

this man was a nice hobby man not an angry man, he was a man doing good thing for himself by walking.

smiling my best smile I asked him what sort of work he was in, my eyes moving down to the cup in his hand.

it was a question, I realised. the cup a question. his standing up and his hover towards me. the strange assumption. this man wanted me to take his rubbish

‘police work’ he answered and the whole veil dropped away. my eyes met his and I thought how dull

This man was a policeman. He did border and immigration work.

that’s why he walked to watch the boats.

The comfort I felt at the stone seat was now surreal. far away from where the day had begun, the wind turbines cutting their lazy whoosh through the sky.

my arm was moving, pointing at the grey steel bin mounted on a pole beside us, in hand’s reach of the seat.

the man stepped past me and rolled the cup into the mouth of the bin, a child feeding an apple to a pony.

I pitied him then. I tried to summon the warm feeling again but I had stabbed him with my feeling daggers. nothing changed in my disposition towards him, he was back in his corner of the seat, but given the violence of my internal shift I could already feel the counter response kick in, the tap-tap-tap of birth socialisation, that guilt tap reminding me to serve and make others comfy

Later, after my friend and i rode our bikes back home, I would wonder about my compassion towards this man and the warm feeling I had towards him when he accepted a cup of coffee from the thermos packed for the uitje. I’d wonder about how my compassion could go puff and how despite the words I spend describing events here, if his job had been different, logistics work say, I still would have pointed to the bin rather than reach for the cup to alleviate us both of that ugly moment.

I conjured the many people who make the decision to do police work without knowing what violent structures they are signing up to be paid by. sign up for profiling. sign up for legal context to make justice fantasy. sign here on dotted line

Much later I saw I was a cop myself. Being less of cop to oneself and to others is a lifework. we’re all cops to ourselves, to an extent, when we’re learning and reflecting. I hope the cop was a cop to himself too. I hope he rehashed that moment when he assumed I wanted to relieve him of his trash. I can’t know if he would have done it to my friend but I don’t care. I’ve made my conclusion because I’m a cop too and my conclusion is masculinity and its agonies and how to breathe space and air into masculinity from over here, where we’re not socialised and where the owls are swooping between the branches of the topiaried trees and where i’m sitting on my fine couch with my fine vista and even when they’re calling me m’vrouw

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