“Love,” Gertruida says, “is just like a brand new dinner plate. It starts off as shiny and new and very, very promising. You can serve a lifetime of dishes on it, and it’s like new every time after you’ve cleaned it.”
The group at the bar has been discussing Vetfaan’s options after Fanny’s letter. Servaas – his old cantankerous self – said Vetfaan must move on. Precilla hoped for a more happy ending.
“Ag, come on, Gertruida. You can’t compare the most beautiful thing on earth – and heaven – with some crockery? As a barman I know there is a vast difference between porcelain and love.”
“It works like this, Boggel: every relationship starts off as a complete, whole entity. It’s new and it’s wonderful. People look at it and are astounded by it’s beauty. Onlookers even wish they had something like that. It’s like the crockery in Sammie’s Shop across the road, see? It looks great.” She pauses while her audience remembers the china-ware of their youth. Willow patterns, white plate, plates with coloured rims – they were indeed so pretty, so perfect. “Of course, due to years of service, all dinner plates get scratched and chipped. That’s natural. But we love the set. It’s part of something bigger. So, as long as it serves its purpose, we use it every day. We wash it carefully, not wanting to damage it any further. When we have guests, we make sure the chipped plate gets used for ourselves, because we know the embarrassment of those chips. We don’t advertise them. It’s a private affair.”
“I have a couple of those that are very special to me,” Kleinpiet says, “and I always make sure I get my dinner on them. There’s a plate from my grandmother’s set, and one from my mother’s. Very pretty, almost sentimental.”
“That’s my point, Kleinpiet. Exactly.. Chips are normal. But…once that plate is cracked, you can no longer trust it. The first hot or cold thing you serve on it, may very well split that plate in two. It leaks sauce on the tablecloth. It changes something useful, into a useless object. Something to discard. Something untrustworthy, just waiting to disappoint you. Chips are normal. Cracks are fatal.”
“Not so, Gertruida. “Servaas has a sad smile as he takes her on. “Now, me and Siena, we had some good times. We also had some terrible times. But we made it till death did us part.”
“You had chips, Servaas, but you never allowed them to progress to cracks. No couple stays together for any significant period of time, without chipping. But if you care enough to be kind to one another, the chips don’t become cracks. That’s the difference. Caring and kindness… That’s what it’s about.”
“So where does this leave me with Fanny?” Vetfaan raises an eyebrow. “You’re saying we are cracked?”
“It;’s in the eye of the beholder, Vetfaan. Maybe you see only a chip. Like every couple all over the world, you go tsk-tsk, shake your head, and are more careful when handling the plate in the future. You’d avoid anything that will make the chip bigger. Love is, after all, never the perfect situation we’d all like it to be.
“But, if you see a crack, you have to be honest about it. Cracks never stay the same and they never become smaller. Some cracks are so large, everybody knows about it – no matter how you try to disguise it, it’s there. That plate is useless. The dangerous cracks are the ones you only see on careful examination. You know it’s there, but you can still serve a dish on it without obvious embarrassment. Many couples live like that by treating these tiny cracks as mature chips. But, in the back of their heads, they live in fear: when is it going to get bigger?
“So the answer is honesty. If it’s cracked, it has a fatal flaw. You can’t fix it.”
“Don’t agree with you, Gertruida. What about forgiveness and compassion? What about starting over?” Servaas knits his eyebrows together – a dangerous sign. Whatever Gertruida is going to answer, will determine the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place for the rest of the day. “You just said love is never perfect. Couples fight. They make up. They forgive. That’s love.”
“Chips are always forgiveable, Servaas. It’s essential for the survival of any relationship – be it between people, in politics, between parents and children, or in churches. Not forgiving those, is a sign of an over-inflated ego or extreme selfishness.
“But you’re right – forgiveness is as important in building relationships as it is in accepting the fatal crack. Anger and hate cracks occur, and those are very sad. I’m saying that if Vetfaan realises he has a cracked plate, he must be honest with himself, that’s all. He can then accept, forgive, and get on with his life. Unforgiven cracks become heavy anchors that weigh the person down, making progress impossible.”
To everybody’s relief, Servaas sits back, his brow cleared. “I can accept that. It is a sad fact that many couples – before and after marriage – must finally come to terms with reality. Maybe the saddest thing of all is a relationship that drags on, knowing it is broken. That’s a lose-lose situation. Nobody wins.”
“So forgiving isn’t enough?” Vetfaan swallows the last of his beer. “I thought forgiveness can smooth anything over.”
“Sometimes.” Gertruida’s voice is sympathetic, understanding. “But it doesn’t take away the crack, my dear friend. That’s why you must be brutally honest with yourself – and with Fanny. Outsiders can never be the judge between all chips and a cracks. That’s for you to recognise, acknowledge and accept. In the end, you cannot ignore a crack. If the plate is flawed, you will know about it in your heart, painful as it might be.”
They watch as Vetfaan gets up slowly, to walk out with slumped shoulders.
“Yes,” Servaas’ voice is barely more than a whisper, “you can throw out a broken plate, but what do you do about a broken heart?”
Vetfaan drives off, heading for his farm. He brakes momentarily to look at the display of the new crockery in stock, glittering under the new lights Sammy has put in. Two dinner plates are propped up to show their perfection to anyone who walks by. They look like two giant empty eyes, staring blindly at the world – waiting to bring beauty to somebody’s home. It looks so pretty, so benign, so perfect.
“No, thank you.” Vetfaan smiles ruefully, “tin plates for me from now on…”