Monday, April 6, 2009

Up in Alms

Up in Alms
Handkerchief from an Almshouse in the Fourth Dimension

--From "Strange But True," edited by Corrine Kenner and Craig Miller, published 1997

In August 1964, my friend V. Stephens and I spent a holiday in Bruges, Belgium. One day we toured the town in a horse-drawn cab and stopped at several places of interest, among them the Old People's Almshouses.

We found ourselves in a square surrounded on three sides by cottages with a plot of untilled ground in the center. Elderly people were sitting around talking and making lace at little tables. One lady invited me into her cottage and offered me orange squash. My friend bought a lace-edged handkerchief. We visited the chapel, which was on the left-hand side of the place, halfway down the block, and then we said farewell and left.

We vacationed in Bruges for a week and, before we departed, we decided to have another horse-cab ride. We asked the driver to stop at the Almshouse. He took us through the familiar gateway and we found ourselves once again in the square.

But the scene was different from the one we remembered. There were no people about. We saw no lacemakers, even though it was a warm day. The large, untilled plot of ground now held a mass of fully grown flowers and vegetables. We went to look for the chapel but it was not there. Eventually we found it at the end of the block.

We met an attendant and told him that we thought the chapel had been on the left, in the center of the left-hand row of cottages. "Oh, yes, it used to be," he replied. "But it's been moved."

We left somewhat mystified. Where were the people and the lacemakers? Why was every door shut when previously each had stood hospitably open? How was it that the open field in the center had been cultivated when a week ago it had been bare? And how did the chapel get moved and rebuilt in the space of a few days?

Skeptics might say we dreamed it all, but my friend still has the handkerchief she bought that day, and that is real enough.

Elsie Hill
Eastbourne, Sussex, England
January 1978

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