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The Lady Ceciliana

The bulb for our beautiful future

By Gal MuxPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 18 min read
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I leered intently at the man right in front of me, like a curious child encountering eccentricity for the very first time. 

He wore a long brown coat whose style I couldn't trace. Were those patches? He certainly wasn't from around. The coat also looked dusty even though it was autumn. Somehow, he also looked rugged like one who had just arrived from a long journey.

In the shadows, I couldn't clearly see the details of his face, but from the outline of his frame, he looked elderly but strong. He still stood steady. He also smelt of strong spice, like someone who lived in the corner of a spice merchant's attic.

This is not what I had expected.

He put his hand in his left-hand pocket and then pulled it out again. Between the long unkempt nails on his skinny fingers was a shimmering coin.

He flipped it.

" Where do you want to go?" came his coarse shaky voice.

" Harlem," I answered.

" When?"

" As soon as I can."

" No, I mean which day do you want to go back to?" he spoke in his unfamiliar accent. 

"19th January."

"Year?"

" This year…1637. 19th January 1637."

He turned his head sharply as though triggered by my answer.

He then outstretched his hand, placed the coin on my open palm and pressed it. 

" Spin it when you like," he instructed, "But remember, it will only work once. Use your chance wisely."

I nodded and took a few steps away, quick to go back to my rented quarters and use it.

" One more thing," the coiner mumbled, " I need you to give me something in return…"

" A me…me… memory… I kn… know…" I stuttered.

The man moved closer to where I stood, never losing his glare at me. I tried to hold my breath, blocking the now even sharper smell of spice. I shook a little. 

He held my hand, pressing the coin in it. He then brought his face a hairsbreadth from mine and looked straight into my eyes. I blinked, dazed. He stared into them for a few seconds. And then suddenly, hard and rough, he released my hand.

I picked my legs and walked away as fast as I could, not looking back, the coin tightly held in my fingers, the smell of spice following me.

What was that? I wondered when I was finally home and sitting on my bed.

Nobody had told me about the staring thing.

***

Everybody had heard whispers about the coiner. Nobody knew where he had come from, but it was rumoured that some knew where you could find him.

I needed to find him. 

" Don't you dare make a deal with the devil!" my friend Marteen warned me when I told him about my plans, " Or attract him even. There is always a price to pay…" 

Like a lion on the hunt barring all distractions to focus on a kill, I ignored him. 

This was do or die for me. The coiner would help me get my Ceciliana back. He would help me amend my wrongs. 

I had also done my research. 

For weeks, I wouldn't let go of anyone I heard mentioning the coiner. I badgered them like an interrogator on a case until they told me all they knew. I wanted to hear it all. The truth, the allegations and the speculations. 

Many times I even started the conversation myself. 

They said the coiner gave you a coin that you would spin. It would take you back to a time and place of your choice. You could re-live it all over again, or change it to what you wanted it to be. 

All he asked for in return was a memory. A memory of his choosing. 

Think about it. Do you remember all your memories? With the hundreds of billions of memories in your head, the coiner only asked for one. Look, I didn't even remember the memories I couldn't remember, so it would mean nothing if the coiner took just one of them I told myself. 

Old Bertie had wanted to go back in time and win the bet he had lost in a drunken state that had made him lose his canal house. He told me the coiner only took the memory of his first fishing boat. 

He knew he had had the fishing boat, but after the visit to the coiner and after he got his house back, he couldn't remember what the boat looked like, or its name, or whether it had been a successful or a dull venture. He just couldn't remember anything more, other than that he had had it. 

" How the fuck does that matter?" he shoved me when I probed him more.

I had wondered if he was worried that such an important memory had been taken away from him. He had been a fisherman all his life. I imagined that the memory of his first boat would have held some sentimental value. 

 " I remember all my other fishing boats. Working on all of them combined bought me this fucking house that I am now back to sleeping in. I am no longer sleeping on the canal banks with people kicking me when they will like I am a fucking dirty stray dog. They no longer piss on me on their way back from their drinking dens like I am a fucking corner wall. I have my fucking dignity back. Why the fuck should I care about a memory that wasn't fucking helping me?" 

The old man cursed like a sailor. But I got his point. 

By Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Tante the fishmonger wanted to go back and prevent her son from boarding the ship to the Indies. She feared loneliness especially now that her husband had recently died in the plague. 

" Oh what nonsense! Total nonsense that the coiner takes a memory. I supplied him with a basket of fish and now I have my son back," she laughed me off, " And if he took something from my head, it probably doesn't even matter because I have what I need the most. My son back home with me. The coiner takes a memory ha! How does that even go?" she dismissed me. 

She seemed assured and content. 

" He doesn't take a memory," Vivy held my hand and whispered softly while staring pensively into the blank space in front of her. 

I found her picking tulips from her farm in my search for her husband who I heard had had a meeting with the coiner. She offered to tell me what she knew insisting that her husband no longer spoke on the matter. 

"He takes the experience," she told me, " Not a memory, the experience..." 

" What do you mean…?" I probed. 

She was now looking directly at me. Dissolutionment written all over her face. 

" I got the man I wanted. He got the woman he wanted. He spun the coin from the coiner, went back and got me out of the brothel. But he still goes back there every often, his needs insatiable. He swore he would be true to me but he never kept his promise…"

" But why..." I probed some more. 

So far I hadn't heard from the perspective of a person who hadn't taken the coin. 

"He says he doesn't feel me anymore. He doesn't feel it. Not like the way he felt it when he used to come to visit me at Tarvenia. The vivacity isn't there. He also says it isn't me. It's just the feeling. It's as though the coiner took away the very experience that got him to come back to me. When I look at it now, it's like it was all for nothing. He shouldn't have taken the coin. And we would still be happy with him coming to see me at Tarvenia, taking care of me, still giving me his promises. Now it's all just dull." 

Why was she telling me what I didn't want to hear?

She had begun to walk away, a bouquet of purple tulips in her hands when she turned. 

" Be careful Jod," she warned, "He doesn't just take from those he gives. He also takes from those who might receive. He took my joy, my freedom, my life. Do you know who takes and takes? The person who has nothing. And what does he do with all he takes? He puts it together and builds it for himself." 

I shook my head unable to fully grasp what Vivy was trying to say. 

" Nobody knows where this coiner came from Jod. Where do you think he takes what he asks for? What does he do with it? Remember, too that you can never turn back time. If you do, you trigger the rocks. They roll tripping all in their way. It can never be the same when you go back. It can never be the same. " 

I felt sad for Vivy. I had known her since childhood. She was like a sister to me. She had always been bubbly. Now she looked joyless, unlike she had been when I used to see her in Harlem on her way home from working at the brothel. She would chuckle and wave a tulip to the men as she passed. Even me, even though we both knew I would never visit her there. Now, she didn't even seem to notice the beauty in the ones she held in her hands. 

But even that was not enough to convince me to quit in my quest to know about and to find the coiner. All women complain about their husbands, don't they? 

"Which of my memories would the coiner take," I wondered as I walked away. 

He could take any from my boyhood. I seemed to agree with old Bertie. Why should one care about a memory that wasn't helping them? Maybe he could take my memory of my mother. She had died when birthing my youngest sister. I still loved her, but rarely did I think of her. It had been years. 

Could the coiner take my memory of Ceciliana? Would he take her away from my mind? Well, what would be the point of that if she was the reason I sought his help in the first place?

I thought about poor Vivy and her situation. Oh, it would kill me if I never got to feel Ceciliana's touch again. Her warmth. The wetness of her soft lips. The ecstasy of her locking me in her sweet love. The joy of her telling me I got her there. 

She was with child. My child. The baby would arrive in a few weeks now, yet I hadn't seen her since her mother had organised to have her sent to what she said was a convent in France. She didn't want the shame. Her mother planned that Ceciliana would give birth and have the child put up for adoption and then have her come back and continue helping her at the warehouse. Ceciliana had protested. But she had no choice. 

" Cecy is visiting her auntie in the south of France, helping them with the huge harvests in their vineyard. It's been a good year in France," I heard she told the fishmonger on one of her supply rounds when she wondered where her daughter was after not seeing her for a while. 

Her mother said the pregnancy would ruin Ceciliana's chances of getting a good husband, particularly now that I wasn't really suitable since the bubble had burst. 

It broke my heart. 

Why did she tie my worthiness to guilders and not to the genuine intentions of my heart? 

By Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 on Unsplash

I had the special skill. I was gifted with spotting a breaker early on. 

Before everything had come to this, before the plague-ridden ship had docked in Harlem, in early spring, I would scout tulip farms, select a patch where I had spotted a possible breaker and pay the farmer for the patch on the spot. 

I would return often to check on the possible breaker before harvesting the patch early in the summer and rushing to the market with my breaker bulb as the star. 

Sometimes I would sell it to market speculators as it grew on the farm turning in a good profit. 

I was known for my skills all over the land. 'Jod with the breaker's eye' is what they called me. Many scouts would also hire my services to help them spot possible breakers. And farmers from as far as Limburg would come looking for me. One even came from Paris to learn from me. 

The markets had also been good. I had saved enough and bought a plot of land in De Pijp. Now all I needed was to save enough money, drain the marsh and build a brick house for us. Me, Ceciliana and our beautiful baby. 

She said she would name the baby whether a boy or a girl, Jodeke, after me. 

Ceciliana loved me for me. Even if I had started from the bottom.

She had turned down many young wealthy merchants who had anchored boats full of spices, expensive china and other exotic goods in front of her father's canal house in Amsterdam asking for her hand in marriage. 

" Mother wants a big dowry," she would tell me, " she doesn't want me to be with you. She has forbidden me from seeing you. She wants me to marry Van Gelder's son and go with him to their family's plantation in Suriname. But our love is forever my Jody."

She would then kiss me gently. I would feel the love twinkling in me like the thousands of stars painting the dark night sky above us. 

" And I am not a merchant good to be sold off to the highest bidder!" she would add anger in her voice. 

After she told me she was with child, I knew I had to work harder. I needed to find the rarest breaker and sell it in the market. The last rarest, the Admiral Stariano had been sold at the price of a merchant ship. 

If I could find one that could match it, I would take the money and build a house for us, and Ceceliana would finally be allowed to come to live with me. 

I would call my breaker 'The Lady Ceciliana'. 

After building a house, we would find the best painter and have a portrait of the three of us, our beautiful family done. And we would hang it in our house for all guests to see. We had agreed that Ceceliana would be holding a tulip. 

When I told her about my plans, Ceciliana kissed my hands and feet and blessed them.

" May your feet take you to a blessed farm. And your hands pick a breaker that will bring us freedom." 

She was a girl beyond my wildest dreams. 

Her fair skin, blue eyes, long hair, tall frame and round bust made me die for her. But the fact that she saw me for me, as a person in my own right and not the poor porter orphan boy who had grown up working for her father like everyone else did, made me feel alive. And I was going to dedicate my life to her happiness. 

She could see through the stains others had placed on me. She could see my potential. She could see me. The real me. And she helped me be the best version of myself. 

She was the one who helped me buy my first patch of tulips where I spotted my very first breaker. She had given me seven guilders for my twenty-third birthday. 

" It's a gift. Never pay it back," she shushed me with a kiss on the mouth when I felt embarrassed by her generosity. 

I didn't want to be her charity case. And she never made me feel like one.

 ***

"Have you cooked the onions yet?" they would mock us, spotters and speculators while laughing their lungs out. 

The same people who would ask us for tips on speculations or loans and rounds at the dens now saw us as dirt. 

" Oh, where is your house?" they jeered. "Oh wait, it was made of cards!" they would burst out as they popped invisible bubbles in the air.

I didn't take it to heart. I had been despised most of my life.

And to be honest, I had also dug my own pit. 

Why hadn't I sold my Lady Ceceliana in time? Why did I have to wait for quarantine to be over? I should have gone back to Harlem and sold it to Jaan on that day. He had given me a good price and the money on the spot. It would have helped me lay a few bricks. At least a room or two for my family. 

I cursed 19th January 1637. 

"How could I build a house now that it had all come falling down?" I would constantly ask myself. 

I still had my Lady Ceciliana. I had locked the bulb safe in a chest below the wooden floor planks on my bed. I had spotted it on Cyril's farm. It was the most magnificent I had ever seen. Red fiery streaks on a sky blue and white tulip. It burned like the love in my heart for Ceciliana. Those who saw the flower were mesmerized. 

Ceciliana never got to see it. She had already been gone when I found it. But with it, I hoped I would have her back. Her and my baby. 

I also kept the other bulbs in a locked chest under the table, the key always hanging on my neck. 

It had been a few months since the market had gone bad, and many of us had kept hoping that business would get back to normal even in the recovery. But so far, there was no hope in sight. 

That's when I decided on finding the coiner, going back to Harlem and preventing the ship from docking.

It is this ship that brought the plague to Harlem forcing the quarantine. 

Waiting for the quarantine to be over led to many contracts going unfulfilled bringing chaos to the markets. The banks and the courts refused to intervene leading to what they called the bursting of the bubble. 

Many people also died, including Jaan. 

If I could stop that ship from docking, I would not just save my future, I could save lives. 

I had planned it well in my head. When we reached the docks, I was going to cause a scene. I would shout that I had spotted a dock worker sick with the plague, rally for support from others, fishmongers and traders alike and prevent the new arrivals from debarking the ship. Friends I had worked with there, concerned for their safety would believe me I hoped. 

We had heard stories of the devastation the plague had caused in other lands. We did not want it in ours. 

After, I would rush to Jaan's front and take the deal I had refused. 

The money would help me start the house. And the continued trade would help me finish it. 

By Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

***

It was late evening. I was on my way back from visiting my plot of land at the Pijp. I couldn't help it, it had become a ritual my system needed as the constant reminder of my goal. 

I could see many others on their way to wherever their needs were taking them. Some to the drinking dens, others home to their wives and children. How I wished that that was me. 

My mind hung on my breaker bulb. 

I turned on the alley. In a flash, as though from nowhere, I felt a grab on my hand, then a voice in a whisper. 

" Seek and you will find." 

" Huh?" I said looking at the shabbily dressed man holding me. 

" De Koiner… Are you not looking for De Koiner?"

" The coiner…?" 

" Under the bridge at Boar. Tomorrow. This time. You shall find whom you seek." 

"Huh?" I uttered shaken to my core. 

As suddenly as he had grabbed me, the man let go of my hand and disappeared into the darkness.  

That's what led me to get the coin that I had now flipped thrice with nothing happening. 

"What a scam!" I cursed as I forced myself to sleep clueless about the next step to take. 

***

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I woke up frightened. 

"Jod, wake up! Wake up! The ship will dock soon. 

I listened. It was Maarten. What had he just said? 

" Wake up lazy bone! Time to go make some guilders in the market!" 

Was this a dream? It seemed like I had lived this day before. 

"I waited for you at the canal and you didn't show up. Were you out drinking last night?" he questioned. 

I went and opened the door for him. 

" Have you not woken up lazy bone? The bulbs are not gonna sell themselves! Today is the day. After the merchants sell the cargo from the ship docking today, they will have money to buy the bulbs. Today it will fetch a good price! Jaan's wasn't good enough!"

I had seen these happenings before.

"What day is it?" I asked him. 

"Today…"

"I mean what date?" 

"I don't know, 19th perhaps…"

I jumped. The spin had worked!

I reached for my clothes and hurriedly put them on. I then went to the box under the table, unlocked it, picked the four bulbs there and rushed out behind Maarteen.

"Did you bring The Lady Ceciliana?

" What do you mean Lady Ceciliana? I asked worriedly, "What have you heard? Did my Ceceliana marry a Lord?"

" Stop joking. The bulb? The fiery breaker? Where did you put it? We need to go now!" Maarten insisted. 

" Yes, I have the bulbs. They will fetch a good price at Jaan's. I answered running behind him. 

We arrived at the dock. It looked like we were early. The ship had not docked yet. What time had it come? Or had my being there changed the past as Vivy had warned me? 

I decided that we rush to Jaan's and see what he would offer. I shook on seeing him standing in front of me, alive. 

"Where's the one you brought yesterday? The one with the fires. The white and blue burning one?" he asked me. 

"Which one?" I asked.

"The Ceciliana, idiot. He wants the Ceceliana," Maarten nudged me.

" Which Ceciliana?" I asked puzzled. 

Maarten looked at me like I had lost it. 

"That one or nothing! Jaan barked. 

I stood there like a pole gazing at them with no idea what they were talking about. Why did they keep insisting on a thing I didn't hold? I had been in the business for a while. I knew all my bulbs. 

" Get out! Get out!" Jaan barked some more, " You are playing with me again. Testing me to see if I'm the merchant with a better price. Wasting my time! Get out! I need to prepare and go receive my merchandise that is docking in today. Disappear!" 

I felt confused. What was this?

" Did you sell the Ceceliana and didn't tell me?" Maarten asked me when he managed to pull me out.  

I didn't have a clue about what he was talking about. And the confusion made me feel defeated about my plans for the arriving ship.

As though from another person's eyes, and with my head spinning like a coin, I saw us walking to the docks. Paupers on the newly arrived ship were unloading goods, the bulbs still inside the pocket of my coat. 

" Maybe a new merchant will come today…" I heard Maarteen's voice in a haze. 

I found myself on the floor next to my bed, four bulbs in my hand, my ankles and knees aching as though I had been walking across a thousand farms. 

Unable to pay my rent and sick in the pain of my predicament, I found myself being kicked out of my quarters a few months later. They had me fix it for the next tenant. Below a rickety wooden plank under the bed, I encountered a strange chest.

I cracked it open. Inside it was a bulb and a note. It read, 

"The Lady Ceciliana. For our future." 

I took the bulb and held it in my hand curious about my find. Suddenly, in a hot flicker, and like flooding water on the canals, it all came rushing back to me. 

My Ceciliana, the breaker, my promises…

I fell to my knees and wept bitterly. 

Why did everyone get to be happy while I was left constantly wadding in the swamps? Like everything else in my life, my lessons landed in the sludges through the muck. 

I couldn't say I hadn't been warned.

I never saw Ceciliana again. Or my child. They told me they both died from the plague in the convent in France. 

What did I do with the bulb? Did I ever build my house? That, is a story for another day.

MysteryHistorical
1

About the Creator

Gal Mux

Lover of all things reading & writing, 🥭 &

🍍salsas, 🍓 & vanilla ice cream, MJ & Beyoncé.

Nothing you learn is ever wasted - Berry Gordy

So learn everything you can.

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