Author's Note: My mother grew up in Prague and my father attended Charles University and made his home in that city as a successful young journalist/editor/writer. For them it always shimmered like a lost paradise from which they were torn by the events of the 30’s and 40’s. Though I was born in Shanghai (long story), I grew up more or less as a first generation American – baseball, rock and roll, summer camp, college. I think my parents found me as strange as I found them.
Hard to Read
It was hard to see in that bright room, my eyes tearing, then closing as I reread the page. I slept over my book, a volume of stories based on the history of Prague. I kept dreaming of men being tossed out of windows, falling from the upper stories of structures built from stone. It might have been river stone. My mother came from Prague, walked a long way to school. She wrote poems and loved a man who was her father’s friend. Sometimes she whispered secrets to her small dog. Once she stood on a bridge waving to a man in a blue coat. He limped towards her, and it was impossible to see if he was old or very young. My mother became a butterfly with transparent wings and the river flowed past. The man leapt into the water and rain blurred the sky. Umbrellas opened, yellow and red and black. Suddenly the cafes were full, strangers sat crowded at tables loaded with bread and wine. Everyone was soaked and shaking, like dogs after a swim. How festive they were, the waiters laughing and dropping trays. They were mad with delight, and the flood had only begun. In days to come they would learn the meaning of gray waters and the disappearing earth.
My Father Quotes Goethe at the Restaurant
My mouth was stuffed with roast pork. There was red cabbage and dumplings and bottles of Danish beer. My father sighed with happiness. He began quoting long passages from Goethe’s Faust, something about golden apples. The waiter walked by and stopped to listen. Soon all the waiters were gathered there as my father went on through several scenes. One had tears in his eyes, another stared at us in wonder. They brought us Apfel Torte and a pot of cream. They brought coffee and mints. All through the restaurant, patrons turned toward us as if we were bathed in light, as though we were singing angelic songs in an alley behind a garage. We drank slivovitz until our tongues burned, and the waiters ushered us out into the cold night like royalty returning to the palace to do wondrous things.
When I came home in the late afternoon with the sun almost down beyond the hills, my cousins were plotting behind the stairs, whispering and drawing on creamy white sheets stolen from the art supply store, fashioning masks of bears and wolves. Halloween was past but here they were, constructing disguises they could wear out in the neighborhood. I slipped past, hoping I could escape to my room, but they heard me with their sharp little ears. In unison they called my name. They had a way of singing their words and soon I knelt to look at what they’d drawn. How talented they were, those magic girls who sang like wild angels and climbed trees and brought home trophies every week. They drew fangs and snouts, hair with a few deft pencils strokes, red tongues and fiery eyes. By now it was dark and we were alone with the moon. We roamed the creek, smeared our bodies with sticky mud. It was cold and our blood rose. Our eyes went black. We howled our delight to the fragrant trees.
©2020 Steve Klepetar
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