“If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much,” his uncle used to say. Wim stopped halfway across the oldest bridge in Europe. It always gave him a thrill to stand there, for just a moment, looking out at the expanse of water flowing under the bridge like an inevitable cataclysm marching toward the sea. It felt reassuring somehow, as if the continuity of human history stood beside him on the bridge. Beyond, on the south shore of the Maas, stood the older parts of the city of Maastricht, where Carol would be waiting, although she did not know that was what she was doing.First built by the Romans in the Second Century, this bridge spanned the wide Maas River, one of the great rivers of Holland. If anyone looked at a map they would see that all Holland was essentially the delta of the Rhine, with several powerful rivers branching off from their mother and coursing through the flat, rich soil that became the Netherlands -- the Lowlands. The Scheid, the Maas, the Wal, the Lek, the Issel, were all navigable, all lifelines for trade and commerce. They also were major obstacles to any potential conqueror. Even in the modern world, these rivers were dotted with cargo barges low in the water from the weight of the pods they carried on their backs.This spot on the Maas became a Roman settlement about Zero CE, at the same time as Nijmegen, and was called Trajectum ad Mosam, “Road Across the Maas.” There was a continuity here, in this incredible spot, reaching back as far as Caesar Augustus and spanning centuries of human triumph, tragedy, joy and shame. As he stood at mid river, Wim felt a brief flash of national pride. His small country had been, at various times, the cornerstone of progress and the inventor of the future. It was a great heritage, capped by the Dutchman’s penchant for stealing land from the sea, a process augmented by the iconic symbol of Holland, the windmill.Wim smiled to himself, thinking, God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.It was good to be a Dutchman. The Dutch had a reputation for being blunt, even rude, so speaking the truth as he knew it always came easily no matter how uncomfortable it was for others to hear. The Dutch also had a reputation for being the tallest people in all Europe. Wim wondered whether this was because so much of the Netherlands was at or below sea level. Gravity had less pull here.Others said it was the water. Well, the Dutch had plenty of that.The day was pleasant, warm for early March, with a clear, deep winter blue sky. There was just enough of a breeze coming across the Maas to make him glad for his bulky sweater. His American friend would call it brisk.People passed him by going both directions, walking mostly in pairs. He listened to their banter as they passed. Most seemed simply happy, delighted to be there. They talked of the weather, of the beauty of the setting, of the power of the Maas. Once in a while someone would comment about the Romans having built the bridge, how he or she might be walking on the same foot falls as a Centurion nearly two millennia before. Wim did not have the heart to point out that much of the bridge was actually a Thirteenth Century replacement. The romance was more important than the continuity.At University, Wim studied Cultural Anthropology. Now teaching it was his career. Social movements in particular fascinated him. He knew them all well enough, he felt certain, to trust none of them. He was curious why so many people chose a direction contrary to their own best interests. Why would they elect a government that would take away their rights and their entitlements, or one that would lead them into war? The Dutch had been lucky for the most part over the past few centuries – after their time had passed, after the Golden Age had slipped away. But to Wim they were just as complacent as anyone else, just as ready to give away their progress on a whim.He chuckled to himself.Who else knew what was being lost? Even he – so ready to act against his own self-interest for some greater good, some noble ideal he could imagine only vaguely.Wim walked off the bridge and headed for the old wall that still surrounded the city. There was one more landmark, one more special spot he wanted to see. It felt strange to admit the pull of the place on his soul, but in this instance, continuity mattered more than anything. Continuity was a statue cast and mounted only a few years ago, honoring a man who wasn’t even Dutch and who became one of the most famous names in all fiction but was real, and who fought and died on the spot where the statue stood.That man’s name was d’Artagnan.The statue was larger than life, but otherwise inconspicuous in its corner of the rolling grass on the outside of the old ramparts. In 1674 the French were at war with the Dutch and had besieged the city of Maastricht. During the siege d’Artagnan was shot and killed on this spot. Two more Musketeers died trying to retrieve the body. In those days no one questioned honor and duty. No one questioned at all. It was a simpler time, or, at least, it seemed simpler to anyone looking back from these complicated days.He checked his watch. Carol should be there by now, unless she got distracted. It was easy to become distracted in Maastricht. He smiled again, then tipped his cap toward d’Artagnan. Wim headed back toward the city center, or centrum, which may have been the true and genuine center of the world. At least, Wim thought so.Appropriate.Carol was right where she was supposed to be, milling about a myriad of outside tables. Even on a winter’s day people often preferred to sit outside.When she first saw him and realized he was walking toward her, her eyes lit up with both surprise and delight. At least, Wim hoped it was delight.The first thing they did was hug in greeting. It was perfunctory, in the Dutch way: both hands on the other’s shoulders, first a kiss to the left cheek, cheeks barely brushing each other and the kiss mostly air, then the right, then back to the left. He wanted so much to move his lips onto hers, to kiss her, really kiss her, to show her how much he loved her. This was a farewell, after all.But he didn’t. Everything might have changed if he had, but he would never know.Instead he pulled out a chair so she could sit, then scooted the chair with her on it closer to the table. As he went around to take his own seat, she said, smiling, “Chivalry isn’t dead.” To his ears it sounded like the purr of a contented cat. “You seem surprised to see me,” he said.“I wasn’t sure you would come.”“I don’t want you to be alone.” It was quiet in the square. An hour from now it would be teeming with people hungry for lunch. Table after table would fill with people of all kinds and ages. People would park their belongings and their packages and rest, eat, and drink. Hot coffee would flow, beer would appear like magic in small pilsners. Tourists would emerge from the cathedral on the other side of the square feeling profoundly moved, either by the architecture or the perceived presence of God within the church’s walls. Some might even carry the faint residue of candle wax and sulfur from lighting a candle at the altar. That was fine, all fine. Timing was everything, and this moment belonged to this woman, and to him.A woman emerged from In Den Ouden Vogelstruys, the oldest pub in the Netherlands, and walked toward their table. The pub was founded in 1730 and has been operating steadily ever since, through revolution and war and depression and boon. Continuity.The waitress came over. Pretty girl, he thought, healthy. Before she could ask, he said, “Twee Oude Jenever, alstublieft.”Wim watched the waitress depart with the order, his eyes tracking her movements, the sway of her hips. He heard Carol grunt, disapproving no doubt, and turned his attention to her.Carol was also a pretty woman, at fifty just two years younger than Wim. Neither looked their age – but who did anymore? Anyone would say they made a handsome couple, she with her finely chiseled face and slight body, he with his rounder northern European features and his impressive height. People might have laughed to themselves imagining the two of them attempting sex, but, then, sex was a remarkably funny thing to begin with, and Wim would begrudge no one any kind of fantasy that involved himself with the American girl.The waitress returned with two shot glasses filled to the brim, setting one in front of each of them. Carol asked, “What is this?”“You haven’t experience Oude Jenever?”“No.”“You’ve been in my country for three months, and never had one?”“No. What is it?”“Simply put, a liquor. Specifically, it is derived from a medicinal wine that was distilled to double its strength. But the stuff tasted terrible, so they added herbs and berries to it, in particular, juniper.”“So," she said, “like gin?”“Gin is derived from Jenever, yes.”“See how smart I am?” She laughed. She then went to pick up her glass from the table but Wim waved her off. “Tradition,” he said. “Like this,” he added as he bent down to take the first sip from his glass where it stood.She followed suit. “Nice to have traditions,” she said.“Especially about drinking,” he answered, as he picked up the glass and presented it to her. She picked up hers. “Cheers,” he said, gently clinking her glass. She nodded, trying to bring out a smile but it wouldn’t come. “Nothing to be cheerful about?”“This is hard, very, very hard.”“You don’t want to.”“But I have to. I know that. Some things are just unavoidable. Inevitable.”His hand rested gently on the back of hers. “There’s always time to change the road you’re on, like the song says.”“Not for me. Not this time. I’ve changed roads so often the map of my life looks like one solid block. I’m just another silly American girl. A daughter of privilege in a world of need.”“You’re much more than that.”“No, I’m not. I’m not beautiful, I’m not talented, I’m not rich, but I’m not poor either, I’m not extraordinary in any way. Even my politics are suspect.”“You think too much,” he said.“Always my biggest problem. I just wanted to make a statement." Several seconds passed. Wim took a sip of his drink while Carol cradled the tiny glass like a baby bird. Then, jumping track, she said, “Why didn’t you and I ever have sex?”He loved and hated that ability she had to leap from one subject, one thought to another as if she were moving from ledge to ledge on the edge of the world. Yet it all connected, and he could see that, too. He answered, “I think, so we could be here now. If we were lovers, I don’t think we could do this. At least, I wouldn’t be here to help you through this difficult moment.”“Now who thinks too much?”“Really, I would not be here. I don’t think I could face it.”“But you are.”“Yes.”“And you won’t just walk away?”“I can’t.”“Yes, you can.”“But I won’t.”She smiled. He could not read the curves of her mouth. The word that came to him, an odd word, an American word, was wan. A wan smile. Yes.He took another sip from the Jenever. This might have been the critical instant in time, the moment where everything changed. He could not be sure. His mind raced with alternative stories to pursue, some without Carol, most with her. He could get up right now and walk away. That would be the sensible thing to do. Leave, leave now, walk out of this square and out of her life forever and never look back. It would be a happy ending, at least for him. He could grab her by the arms and drag her with him. Escape, anywhere, go to the train centrum and climb onto the first train regardless of the destination, find two seats, and cradle her in his arms. He could whisk her away to a nearby hotel and spend the night making love to her until all energy was spent and all worries were cast aside. So many stories they could create for themselves, but time was running out.She said, “Wanna see what I bought?”Reality, back in the present, seeing Carol before him, piecing together the incongruity between this moment and Carol’s words. “You went shopping?”“I thought it would amuse you.”She handed him a small package, which he carefully unraveled as if it were this woman’s own undergarments begging to reveal her body underneath. It was a cup and saucer, delicate yet not Parian. Decorated in subtle browns and blues. He recognized it immediately, but still turned the saucer over to read the mark. “Makkum,” he said. “You bought Makkum.”“I know. Most people would have settled for Delft blue.”“Most people would never have heard of Makkum, particularly Americans. I’m impressed. This is high grade. You spent a lot.”“I spent the last of my Euros. Two hundred seventeen. But, hell, can’t take them with me.”“Two hundred seventeen Euros? On a piece of commercialism,”“A nice piece,” she said, sounding defensive.“There’s something ironic about that.”“The shopkeeper was happy.”“I bet he was. You made his morning. Two hundred seventeen Euros, you might have made his week.”“A small thing,” she said. “Parting gift.” She sighed deeply, drawing in cool late morning air. “It is a beautiful day.”“Yes.” He wanted to reach across the table to her, take her hands in his, and tell her not to go. He wanted to scream, Come with me! Instead, he simply looked at her, drinking in the fine features of her young face with the same delicacy with which he approached the Jenever. Dutch gin. Dutch courage, he told himself.She seemed to pick up on his thoughts. “They won’t understand.”“Nobody will,” he said. “And that’s good. We don’t want it to be easy, or easily dismissed. What we want are question marks. Giant question marks on everything.”“Why here? Why now? Why me?” “You know why.” “Then, why you?” “I’m coming with you, that’s all.” “More questions?” “Of course,” he said. “It has to be confusing. The why of it is hidden and no one knows where to find it.” She nodded. “We don’t belong to anybody’s demographic, you and I. We don’t fit any profiles.” “Yes,” he said. “Isn’t that the point?” “I’m so sorry,” she said.She reached for her handbag and opened it wide, so he could look inside. It was small, much smaller than he had imagined. The detonator was in her hand.He grabbed her wrist. “Do it,” he said. . .