This short story is a poignant account of a daughter who goes in search of
her mother's belongings after the War, in Holland. When she finds them,
the objects evoke memories of her earlier life. However, she decides to leave
them all behind and resolves to move on.
DO you still know me? I asked.
The woman looked at me searchingly. She had opened the
door a chink. I came closer and stood on the step.
No, I dont know you.
Im Mrs S's daughter.
She held her hand on the door as though she wanted to
prevent it opening any further. Her face gave absolutely no sign
of recognition. She kept staring at me in silence.
Perhaps I was mistaken, I thought, perhaps it isnt her. I
had seen her only once, fleetingly, and that was years ago. It
was most probable that I had rung the wrong bell. The woman
let go of the door and stepped to the side. She was wearing my
mothers green knitted cardigan. The wooden buttons were rather
pale from washing. She saw that I was looking at the cardigan
and half hid herself again behind the door. But I knew now that
I was right.
Well, you knew my mother? I asked.
Have you come back? said the woman. I thought that no
one had come back.
A door opened and closed in the passage behind her. A musty
I regret I cannot do anything for you.
Ive come here specially on the train. I wanted to talk to you
for a moment.
It is not convenient for me now, said the woman. I cant see
you. Another time.
She nodded and cautiously closed the door as though no
one inside the house should be disturbed.
I stood where I was on the step. The curtain in front of the
bay window moved. Someone stared at me and would then have
asked what I wanted. Oh, nothing, the woman would have said.
It was nothing.
I looked at the name-plate again. Dorling it said, in black
letters on white enamel. And on the jamb, a bit higher, the
number. Number 46.
As I walked slowly back to the station I thought about my
mother, who had given me the address years ago. It had been in
the first half of the War. I was home for a few days and it struck
me immediately that something or other about the rooms had
changed. I missed various things. My mother was surprised I
should have noticed so quickly. Then she told me about Mrs
Dorling. I had never heard of her but apparently she was an old
acquaintance of my mother, whom she hadnt seen for years.
She had suddenly turned up and renewed their contact. Since
then she had come regularly.
Every time she leaves here she takes something home with
her, said my mother. She took all the table silver in one go. And
then the antique plates that hung there. She had trouble lugging
those large vases, and Im worried she got a crick in her back
from the crockery. My mother shook her head pityingly. I would
never have dared ask her. She suggested it to me herself. She
even insisted. She wanted to save all my nice things. If we have
to leave here we shall lose everything, she says.
Have you agreed with her that she should keep everything?
As if thats necessary, my mother cried. It would simply
be an insult to talk like that. And think about the risk shes
running, each time she goes out of our door with a full suitcase
My mother seemed to notice that I was not entirely convinced.
She looked at me reprovingly and after that we spoke no more
Meanwhile I had arrived at the station without having paid
much attention to things on the way. I was walking in familiar
places again for the first time since the War, but I did not want
to go further than was necessary. I didnt want to upset myself
with the sight of streets and houses full of memories from a
In the train back I saw Mrs Dorling in front of me again as I
had the first time I met her. It was the morning after the day my
mother had told me about her. I had got up late and, coming
downstairs, I saw my mother about to see someone out. A woman
with a broad back.
There is my daughter, said my mother. She beckoned to me.
The woman nodded and picked up the suitcase under the
coat-rack. She wore a brown coat and a shapeless hat.
Does she live far away? I asked, seeing the difficulty she
had going out of the house with the heavy case.
In Marconi Street, said my mother. Number 46. Remember that.
I had remembered it. But I had waited a long time to go there.
Initially after the Liberation I was absolutely not interested in
all that stored stuff, and naturally I was also rather afraid of it.
Afraid of being confronted with things that had belonged to a
connection that no longer existed; which were hidden away in
cupboards and boxes and waiting in vain until they were put
back in their place again; which had endured all those years
because they were things.
But gradually everything became more normal again. Bread
was getting to be a lighter colour, there was a bed you could
sleep in unthreatened, a room with a view you were more used
to glancing at each day. And one day I noticed I was curious
about all the possessions that must still be at that address. I
wanted to see them, touch, remember.
After my first visit in vain to Mrs Dorlings house I decided to
try a second time. Now a girl of about fifteen opened the door to
me. I asked her if her mother was at home.
No she said, my mothers doing an errand.
No matter, I said, Ill wait for her.
I followed the girl along the passage. An old-fashioned iron
Hanukkah1 candle-holder hung next to a mirror. We never used
it because it was much more cumbersome than a single
Wont you sit down? asked the girl. She held open the door
of the living-room and I went inside past her. I stopped,
horrified. I was in a room I knew and did not know. I found
myself in the midst of things I did want to see again but which
oppressed me in the strange atmosphere. Or because of the
tasteless way everything was arranged, because of the ugly
furniture or the muggy smell that hung there, I dont know;
but I scarcely dared to look around me. The girl moved a chair.
I sat down and stared at the woollen table-cloth. I rubbed it.
My fingers grew warm from rubbing. I followed the lines of the
pattern. Somewhere on the edge there should be a burn mark
that had never been repaired.
My motherll be back soon, said the girl. Ive already made
tea for her. Will you have a cup?
I looked up. The girl put cups ready on the tea-table. She
had a broad back. Just like her mother. She poured tea from a
white pot. All it had was a gold border on the lid, I remembered.
She opened a box and took some spoons out.
Thats a nice box. I heard my own voice. It was a strange
voice. As though each sound was different in this room.
Oh, you know about them? She had turned round and
brought me my tea. She laughed. My mother says it is antique.
Weve got lots more. She pointed round the room. See for
I had no need to follow her hand. I knew which things she
meant. I just looked at the still life over the tea-table. As a child
I had always fancied the apple on the pewter plate.
We use it for everything, she said. Once we even ate off the
plates hanging there on the wall. I wanted to so much. But it
wasnt anything special.
I had found the burn mark on the table-cloth. The girl looked
questioningly at me.
Yes, I said, you get so used to touching all these lovely
things in the house, you hardly look at them any more. You only
notice when something is missing, because it has to be repaired
or because you have lent it, for example.
Again I heard the unnatural sound of my voice and I went
on: I remember my mother once asked me if I would help her
polish the silver. It was a very long time ago and I was probably
bored that day or perhaps I had to stay at home because I was
ill, as she had never asked me before. I asked her which silver
she meant and she replied, surprised, that it was the spoons,
forks and knives, of course. And that was the strange thing, I
didnt know the cutlery we ate off every day was silver.
The girl laughed again.
I bet you dont know it is either. I looked intently at her.
What we eat with? she asked.
Well, do you know?
She hesitated. She walked to the sideboard and wanted to
open a drawer. Ill look. Its in here.
I jumped up. I was forgetting the time. I must catch my
She had her hand on the drawer. Dont you want to wait for
No, I must go. I walked to the door. The girl pulled the drawer
open. I can find my own way.
As I walked down the passage I heard the jingling of spoons
At the corner of the road I looked up at the name-plate. Marconi
Street, it said. I had been at Number 46. The address was correct.
But now I didnt want to remember it any more. I wouldnt go
back there because the objects that are linked in your memory
with the familiar life of former times instantly lose their value
when, severed from them, you see them again in strange
surroundings. And what should I have done with them in a
small rented room where the shreds of black-out paper still hung
along the windows and no more than a handful of cutlery fitted
in the narrow table drawer?
I resolved to forget the address. Of all the things I had to
forget, that would be the easiest.