Friday, May 24, 2019

ET: Almanac

The talk was that a new face had appeared on the embankment: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Demitrich Gurov, who had already spent two weeks in Yalta and was used to it, also began to take an interest in new faces. Sitting in a pavilion at Vernet's, he saw a young woman, not very tall, blond, in a beret, walking along the embankment; behind her ran a white spitz.

And after that he met her several times a day in the town garden or in the square. She went strolling alone, in the same beret, with the white spitz; nobody knew who she was, and they called her simply "the lady with the little dog."

"If she's here with no husband or friends," Gurov reflected, "it wouldn't be a bad idea to make her acquaintance."

He was not yet forty, but he had a twelve-year-old daughter and two sons in school. He had married young, while still a second-year student, and now his wife seemed again half his age. She was a tall woman with dark eyebrows, erect, imposing, dignified, and a thinking person, as she called herself. She read a great deal, used the new orthography, called her husband not Dmitri but Dimitri, but he secretly considered her none too bright, narrow-minded, graceless, was afraid of her, and disliked being at home. He had begun to be unfaithful to her long ago, was unfaithful often, and, probably for that reason, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were discussed in his presence, he would say of them:

"An inferior race!"

It seemed to him that he had been taught enough by bitter experience to call them anything he liked, and yet he could not have lived without the "inferior race" even for two days. In the company of men he was bored, ill at ease, with them he was taciturn and cold, but when he was among women, he felt himself free and knew what to talk about with them and how to behave; and he was at ease even being silent with them. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature there was something attractive and elusive that disposed women towards him and enticed them; he knew that, and he himself was attracted to them by some force.

Repeated experience, and bitter experience indeed, had long since taught him that every intimacy, which in the beginning lends life such pleasant diversity and presents itself as a nice and light adventure, inevitably, with decent people--especially irresolute Muscovites, who are slow starters--grows into a major task, extremely complicated, and the situation finally becomes burdensome. But at every new meeting with an interesting woman, this experience somehow slipped from his memory, and he wanted to live, and everything seemed quite simple and amusing.

And so one time, towards evening, he was having dinner in the garden, and the lady in the beer came over unhurriedly to take the table next to his. Her expression, her walk, her dress, her hair told him that she belonged to decent society, was married, in Yalta for the first time, and alone, and that she was bored here . . . In the stories about the impurity of local morals there was much untruth, he despised them and knew that these stories were mostly invented by people who would eagerly have sinned themselves had they known how; but when the lady sat down at the next table, three steps away from him, he remembered those stories of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a quick, fleeting liaison, a romance with an unknown woman, of whose very name you are ignorant, suddenly took possession of him.

He gently called the spitz, and when the dog came over, he shook his finger at it. The spitz growled. Gurov shook his finger again.

The lady glanced at him and immediately lowered her eyes.

"He doesn't bite," she said and blushed.

"May I give him a bone?" and, when she nodded in the affirmative, he asked affably: "Have you been in Yalta long?"

"About five days."

"And I'm already dragging through my second week here."

They were silent for a while.

"The time passes quickly, and yet it's so boring here!" she said without looking at him.

"It's merely the accepted thing to say it's boring here. The ordinary man lives somewhere in his Belevo or Zhizdra and isn't bored, then he comes here: 'Ah, how boring! Ah, how dusty!' You'd think he came from Granada."

She laughed. They went on eating in silence, like strangers; but after dinner they walked off together--and a light, bantering conversation began, of free, contented people, who do not care where they go or what they talk about. They strolled and talked of how strange the light was on the sea; the water was of a lilac color, so soft and warm, and over it the moon cast a golden strip. They talked of how sultry it was after the hot day. Gurov told her he was a muscovite, a philologist by education, but worked in a bank, had once been preparing to sing in an opera company, but had dropped it, owned two houses in Moscow . . . And from her he learned that she grew up in Petersburg, but was married in S., where she had now been living for two years, that she would be staying in Yalta for about a month, and that her husband might come to fetch her, because he also wanted to get some rest. She was quite unable to explain where her husband served--in the provincial administration or the zemstvo council--and she herself found that funny. And Gurov also learned that her name was Anna Sergeevna.

Afterwards, in his hotel room, he thought about her, that tomorrow she would probably meet him again. It had to be so. Going to bed, he recalled that still quite recently she had been a schoolgirl, had studied just as his daughter was studying now, recalled how much timorousness and angularity there was in her laughter, her conversation with a stranger--it must have been the first time in her life that she was alone in such a situation, when she was followed, looked at, and spoken to with only one secret purpose, which she could not fail to guess. He recalled her slender, weak neck, her beautiful gray eyes.

"There's something pathetic in her all the same," he thought and began to fall asleep.

A week and passed since they became acquainted. It was Sunday. Inside it was stuffy, but outside the dust flew in whirls, hats blew off. They felt thirsty all day, and Gurov often stopped at the pavilion, offering Anna Sergeeevna now a soft drink, now ice cream. There was no escape.

In the evening when it relented a little, they went to the jetty to watch the steamer come in. There were many strollers on the pier; they had come to meet people, they were holding bouquets. And here two particularities of the smartly dressed Yalta crowd distinctly struck one's eye: the elderly ladies were dressed like young ones, and there were many generals.

Owing to the roughness of the sea, the steamer arrived late, when the sun had already gone down, and it was a long time turning before it tied up. Anna Sergeevna looked at the ship and the passengers through her lorgnette, as if searching for acquaintances, and when she turned to Gurov, her eyes shone. She talked a lot, and her questions were abrupt, and she herself immediately forgot what she had asked; then she lost her lorgnette in the crowd.

The smartly dressed crowd was dispersing, the faces could no longer be seen, the wind had died down completely, and Gurov and Anna Sergeevna stood as if they were expecting someone else to get off the steamer. Anna Sergeevna was silent now and smelled the flowers, not looking at Gurov.

"The weather's improved towards evening," he said. "Where shall we go now? Shall we take a drive somewhere?"

She made no answer.

Then he looked at her intently and suddenly embraced her and kissed her on the lips, and he was showered with the fragrance and moisture of flowers, and at once looked around timorously--had anyone seen them?

"Let's go to your place . . ." he said softly.

And they both walked quickly.

Her hotel room was stuffy and smelled of the perfumes she had bought in a Japanese shop. Gurov, looking at her now, thought: "What meetings there are in life!" From the past he had kept the memory of carefree, good-natured women, cheerful with love, grateful to him for their happiness, however brief; and of women--his wife, for example--who loved without sincerity, with superfluous talk, affectedly, with hysteria, with an expression as if it were not love, not passion, but something more significant; and of those two or three very beautiful, cold ones, in whose faces a predatory expression would suddenly flash, a stubborn wish to take, to snatch from life more than it could give, and these were women not in their first youth, capricious, unreasonable, domineering, unintelligent, and when Gurov cooled towards them, their beauty aroused hatred in him, and the lace of their underwear seemed to him like scales.

But here was all the timorousness and angularity of inexperienced youth, a feeling of awkwardness, and an impression of bewilderment, as if someone had suddenly knocked at the door. Anna Sergeevna, the "lady with the little dog," somehow took a special, very serious attitude towards what had happened, as if it were her fall--so it seemed, and that was strange and inopportune. Her features drooped and faded, and her long hair hung down sadly on both sides of her face, she sat pondering in a dejected pose, like the sinful woman in an old painting.

"It's not good," she said. "You'll be the first not to respect me now."

There was a watermelon on the table in the hotel room. Gurov cut himself a slice and unhurriedly began to eat it. At least half an hour passed in silence.

Anna Sergeevna was touching, she had about her a breath of the purity of a proper, naïve, little-experienced woman; the solitary candle burning n the table barely lit up her face, but it was clear that her heart was uneasy.

"Why should I stop respecting you?" asked Gurov. "You don't know what you're saying yourself."

"God forgive me!" she said, and her eyes filled with tears. "This is terrible."

"It's like you're justifying yourself."

"How can I justify myself? I'm a bad, low woman, I despise myself and am not even thinking of any justification. It's not my husband I've deceived, but my own self! And not only now, I've been deceiving myself for a long time. My husband may be an honest and good man, but he's a lackey! I don't know what he does there, how he serves, I only know that he's a lackey. I married him when I was twenty, I was tormented by curiosity, I wanted something better. I told myself there must be a different life. I wanted to live! To live and live . . . I was burning with curiosity . . . you won't understand it, but I swear to God that I couldn't control myself any longer, something was happening to me, I couldn't restrain myself, I told my husband I was ill and came here . . . And here I go about as if in a daze, as if I'm out of my mind . . . and now I've become a trite, trashy woman, whom anyone can despise."

Gurov was bored listening, he was annoyed by the naïve tone, by this repentance, so unexpected and out of place; had it not been for the tears in her eyes, one might have thought she was joking or playing a role.

"I don't understand," he said softly, "what is it you want?"

She hid her face on his chest and pressed herself to him.

"Believe me, believe me, I beg you . . ." she said. "I live an honest, pure life, sin is vile to me. I myself don't know what I'm doing. Simple people say, 'The unclean one beguiled me.' And now I can say of myself that the unclean one has beguiled me."

"Enough, enough . . ." he muttered.

He looked into her fixed, frightened eyes, kissed her, spoke softly and tenderly, and she gradually calmed down, and her gaiety returned. They both began to laugh.

Later, when they went out, there was not a soul on the embankment, the town with its cypresses looked completely dead, but the sea still beat noisily against the shore; one barge was rocking on the waves, and the lantern on it glimmered sleepily.

They found a cab and drove to Oreanda.

"I just learned your last name downstairs in the lobby: it was written on the board--von Dideritz," said Gurov. "Is your husband German?"

"No, his grandfather was German, I think, but he himself is Orthodox."

In Oreanda they sat on a beach not far from the church, looked down on the sea, and were silent. Yalta was barely visible through the morning mist, white clouds stood motionless on the mountaintops. The leaves of the trees did not stir, cicadas called, and the monotonous, dull noise of the sea, coming from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep that awaits us. So it had sounded below when neither Yalta nor Oreanda were there, so it sounded now and would go on sounding with the same dull indifference when we are no longer here. And in this constancy, in this utter indifference to the life and death of each of us, there perhaps lies hidden the pledge of our eternal salvation, the unceasing movement of life on earth, of unceasing perfection. Sitting beside the young woman, who looked so beautiful int eh dawn, appeased and enchanted by the view of this magical décor--sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky--Gurov reflected that, essentially, if you thought of it, everything was beautiful in this world, everything except for what we ourselves think and do when we forget the higher goals of being and our human dignity.

Some man came up--it must have been a watchman--looked at them, and went away. And this detail seemed such a mysterious thing, and also beautiful. The steamer from Feodosia could be seen approaching int he glow of the early dawn, its lights out.

"There's dew on the grass," said Anna Sergeevna after a silence.

"Yes. It's time to go home."

They went back to town.

AFter that they met on the embankment every noon, had lunch together, dined, strolled, admired the sea. She complained that she slept poorly and that her heart beat anxiously, kept asking the same questions, troubled now by jealousy, now by fear that he did not respect her enough. And often on the square or in the garden, when there was no one near them, he would suddenly draw her to him and kiss her passionately. Their complete idleness, those kisses in broad daylight, with a furtive look around and the fear that someone might see them, the heat, the smell of the sea, and the constant flashing before their eyes of idle, smartly dressed, well-fed people, seemed to transform him; he repeatedly told Anna Sergeevna how beautiful she was, and how seductive, was impatiently passionate, never left her side, while she often brooded and kept asking him to admit that he did not respect her, did not love her at all, and saw in her only a trite woman. Late almost every evening they went somewhere out of town, to Oreanda or the cascade; these outings were successful, their impressions each time were beautiful, majestic.

They were expecting her husband to arrive. But a letter came from him in which he said that his eyes hurt and begged his wife to come home quickly. Anna Sergeevna began to hurry.

"It's good that I'm leaving," she said to Gurov. "It's fate itself."

She went by carriage, and he accompanied her. They drove for a whole day. When she had taken her seat in the express train and the second bell had rung, she said:

"Let me have one more look at you . . . One more look. There."

She did not cry, but was sad, as if ill, and her face trembled.

"I'll think of you . . . remember you," she said. "God be with you. Don't think ill of me. We're saying good-bye forever, it must be so, because we should never have met. Well, God be with you."

The train left quickly, its sights soon disappeared, and a moment later the noise could no longer be heard, as if everything were conspiring on purpose to put a speedy end to this sweet oblivion, this madness. And, left alone on the platform and gazing into the dark distance, Gurov listened to the chirring of the grasshoppers and the hum of the telegraph wires with a feeling as if he had just woken up. And he thought that now there was one more affair or adventure in his life, and it, too, was now over, and all that was left was the memory . . . He was touched, saddened, and felt some slight remorse; this young woman whom he was never to see again had not been happy with him; he had been affectionate with her, and sincere, but all the same, in his treatment of her, in his tone and caresses, there had been a slight shade of mockery, the somewhat coarse arrogance of happy man, who was, moreover, almost twice her age. She had all the while called him kind, extraordinary, lofty; obviously, he had appeared to her not as he was in reality, and therefore he had involuntarily deceived her . . .

Here at the station there was already a breath of autumn, the wind was cool.

"It's time I headed north, too," thought Gurov, leaving the platform. "High time!"

 At home in Moscow everything was already wintry, the stoves were heated, and in the morning, when the children were getting ready for school and drinking their tea, it was dark, and the nanny would light a lamp for a short time. The frosts had already set in. When the first snow falls, on the first day of riding in sleighs, it is pleasant to see the white ground, the white roofs; one's breath feels soft and pleasant, and in those moments one remembers one's youth. The old lindens and birches, white with hoarfrost, have a good-natured look, they are nearer one's heart than cypresses and palms, and near them one no longer wants to think of mountains and the sea.

Gurov was a Muscovite. He returned to Moscow on a fine, frosty day, and when he put on his fur coat and warm gloves and strolled down Petrovka, and when on Saturday evening he heard the bells ringing, his recent trip and the places he had visited lost all their charm for him. He gradually became immersed in Moscow life, now greedily read three newspapers a day and said that he never read the Moscow newspapers on principle. He was drawn to restaurants, clubs, to dinner parties, celebrations, and felt flattered that he had famous lawyers and actors among his clients and that at the Doctors' Club he played cards with a professor. He could eat a whole portion of selyanka from the pan . . .

A month would pass and Anna Sergeevna, as it seemed to him, would be covered by mist in his memory and would only appear to him in dreams with a touching smile, as other women did. But more than a month passed, deep winter came, and yet everything was as clear in his memory as if he had parted with Anna Sergeevna only the day before. And the memories burned brighter and brighter. Whether from the voices of his children doing their homework, which reached him in his study in the evening quiet, or from hearing a romance, or an organ in a restaurant, or the blizzard howling in the chimney, everything would suddenly rise up in his memory: what had happened on the jetty, and the early morning with mist on the mountains, and the steamer from Feodosia, and the kisses. He would pace the room for a long time, and remember and smile, and then his memories would turn to reveries, and in his imagination the past would mingle with what was still to be. Anna Sergeevna was not a dream, she followed him everywhere like a shadow and watched him. Closing his eyes, he saw her as if aliens, and she seemed younger, more beautiful, more tender than she was; and he also seemed better to himself than he had been then, in Yalta. In the evenings she gazed at him from the bookcase, the fireplace, the corner, he could hear her breathing, the gentle rustle of her skirts. In the street he followed women with his eyes, looking for one who resembled her . . .

And he was tormented now by a strong desire to tell someone his memories. But at home it was impossible to talk of his love, and away from home there was no one to talk with. Certainly not among his tenants nor at the bank. And what was there to say? Had he been in love then? Was there anything beautiful, poetic, or instructive, or merely interesting, in his relations with Anna Sergeevna? And he found himself speaking vaguely of love, of women, and no one could guess what it was about, and only his wife raised her dark eyebrows and said:

"You know, Dimitri, the role of the fop doesn't suit you at all." One night, as he was leaving the Doctors' Club together with his partner, an official, he could not help himself and said:

"If you only knew what a charming woman I met in Yalta!"

The official got into a sleigh and drove off, but suddenly turned around and called out:

"Dmitri Dmitrich!"


"You were right earlier: the sturgeon was a bit off!"

Those words, so very ordinary, for some reason suddenly made Gurov indignant, struck him as humiliating, impure. Such savage manners, such faces! These senseless nights, and such uninteresting, unremarkable days! Frenzied card-playing, gluttony, drunkenness, constant talk about at the same thing. Useless matters and conversations about the same thing took for their share the best part of one's time, the best of one's powers, and what was left in the end was some sort of curtailed, wingless life, some sort of nonsense, and it was impossible to get away or flee, as if you were sitting in a mad-house or a person camp!

Gurov did not sleep all night and felt indignant, and as a result had a headache all the next day. And the following nights he slept poorly, sitting up in bed all the time and thinking, or pacing up and down. He was sick of the children, sick of the bank, did not want to go anywhere or talk about anything.

In December, during the holidays, he got ready to travel and told his wife he was leaving for Petersburg to solicit for a certain young man--and went to S. Why? He did not know very well himself. He wanted to see Anna Sergeevna and talk with her, to arrange a meeting, if he could.

He arrived at S. in the morning and took the best room in the hotel, where the whole floor was covered with gray army flannel and there was an inkstand on the table, gray with dust, with a horseback rider, who held his hat in his raised hand, but whose head was broken off. The hall porter gave him the necessary information: von Dideritz lives in his own house on Staro-Goncharnaya Street, not far from the hotel; he has a good life, is wealthy, keeps his own horses, everybody in town knows him. The porter pronounced it "Dridiritz."

Gurov walked unhurriedly to Staro-Goncharnaya Street, found the house. Just opposite the house stretched a fence, long, gray, with spikes.

"You could flee from such a fence," thought Grove, looking now at the windows, now at the fence.

He reflected: today was not a workday, and the husband was probably at home. And anyhow it would be tactless to go in and cause embarrassment. If he sent a message, it might fall into the husband's hands, and that would ruin everything. It would be best to trust chance. And he kept pacing up and down the street and near the fence and waited for his chance. He saw a beggar go in the gates and saw the dogs attack him, then, an hour later, he heard someone playing a piano, and the sounds reached him faintly, indistinctly. It must have been Anna Sergeevna playing. The front door suddenly opened and some old woman came out, the familiar white spitz running after her. Gurov wanted to call the dog, but his heart suddenly throbbed, and in his excitement he was unable to remember the spitz's name.

He paced up and down, and hated the gray fence more and more, and now he thought with vexation that Anna Sergeevna had forgotten him, and was perhaps amusing herself with another man, and that that was so natural in the situation of a young woman who had to look at this cursed fence from morning till evening. He went back to his hotel room and sat on the sofa for a long time, not knowing what to do, then had dinner, then took a long nap.

"How stupid and upsetting this all is," he thought, when he woke up and looked at the dark windows: it was already evening. "So I've had my sleep. Now what am I to do for the night?"

He sat on the bed, which was covered with a cheap, gray, hospital-like blanket, and taunted himself in vexation:

"Here's the lady with the little dog for you . . . Here's an adventure for you . . . Yes, here you sit."

That morning, at the train station, a poster with very big lettering had caught his eye: it was the opening night of The Geisha. He remembered it and went to the theater.

"It's very likely that she goes to opening nights," he thought.

The theater was full. And here, too, as in all provincial theaters generally, a haze hung over the chandeliers, the gallery stirred noisily; the local dandies stood in the front row before the performance started, their hands behind their backs; and here, too, in the governor's box, the governor's daughter sat in front, wearing a boa, while the governor himself modestly hid behind the portiére, and only his hand could be seen; the curtain swayed, the orchestra spent a long time tuning up. All the while the public came in and took their seats, Gurov kept searching greedily with his eyes.

Anna Sergeevna came in. She sat in the third row, and when Gurov looked at her, his heart was wrung, and he realized clearly that there was now no person closer, dearer, or more important for him in the whole world; this small woman, lost in the provincial crowd, not remarkable for anything, with a vulgar lorgnette in her hand, now filled his whole life, w as his grief, his joy, the only happiness he now wished for himself; and to the sounds of the bad orchestra, with its trashy local violins, he thought how beautiful she was. He thought and dreamed.

A man came in with Anna Sergeevna and sat down next to her, a young man with little side-whiskers, very tall, stooping; he nodded his head at every step, an it seemed he was perpetually bowing. This was probably her husband, whom she, in an outburst of bitter feeling that time in Yalta, had called a lackey. And indeed, in his long figure, his side-whiskers, his little bald spot, there was something of lackeys modesty; he had a sweet smile, and the badge of some learned society gleamed in his buttonhole, like the badge of a lackey.

During the first intermission the husband went to smoke; she remained in her seat. Gurov, who was also sitting in the stalls, went up to her and said in a trembling voice and with a forced smile:

"How do you do?"

She looked at him and paled, then looked again in horror, not believing her eyes, and tightly clutched her fan and lorgnette in her hand, obviously struggling with herself to keep from fainting. Both were silent. She sat, he stood, alarmed at her confusion, not venturing to sit down next to her. The tuning-up violins and flutes sang out, it suddenly became frightening, it seemed that people were gazing at them from all the boxes. But then she got up and quickly walked to the exit, he followed her, and they both went confusedly through the corridors and stairways, going up, then down, and the uniforms of the courts, the schools, and the imperial estates flashed before them, all with badges; ladies flashed by fur coats on hangers, a drafty wind blew, drenching them with the smell of cigar stubs. And Gurov, whose heart was pounding, thought: "Oh, Lord! Why these people, this orchestra . . ."

And just then he suddenly recalled how, at the station in the evening after he had seen Anna Sergeevna off, he had said to himself that everything was over and they would never ee each other again. But how far it still is from being over!

On a narrow, dark stairway with the sign "To the Amphitheater," she stopped.

"How you frightened me!" she said, breathing heavily, still pale, stunned. "Oh, how you frightened me! I'm barely alive. Why did you come? Why?"

"But understand, Anna, understand . . ." he said in a low voice, hurrying, "I beg you to understand . . ."

She looked at him with fear, with entreaty, with love, looked at him intently, the better to keep his features in her memory.

"I've been suffering so!" she went on, not listening to him. "I think only of you all the time, I've lived by my thoughts of you. And I've tried to forget, to forget, but why, why did you come?"

Further up, on the landing, two high-school boys were smoking and looking down, but Gurov did not care, he drew Anna Sergeevna to him and began kissing her face, her cheeks, her hands.

"What are you doing, what are you doing!" she repeated in horror, pushing him away from her. "We've both lost our minds. Leave today, leave at once . . . I adjure you by all that's holy, I implore you . . . Somebody's coming!"

Someone was climbing the stairs.

"You must leave . . ." Anna Sergeevna went on in a whisper. "Do you hear, Dmitri Dmitrich? I'll come to you in Moscow. I've never been happy, I'm unhappy now, and I'll never, never be happy, never! Don't make me suffer still more! I swear I'll come to Moscow. but we must part now! My dear one, my good one, my darling, we must part!"

She pressed his hand and quickly began going downstairs, turning back to look at him, and it was clear from her eyes that she was indeed not happy . . . Gurov stood for a little while, listened, then, when everything was quiet, found his coat and left the theater.

And Anna Sergeevna began coming to see him in Moscow. Once every two or three months she left S., and told her husband she was going to consult a professor about her female disorder--and her husband did and did not believe her. Arriving in Moscow, she stayed at the Slavyansky Bazaar and at once sent a man in a red hat to Gurov. Gurov came to see her, and nobody in Moscow knew of it.

Once he was going to see her in that way on a winter morning (the messenger had come the previous evening but had not found him in). With him was his daughter, whom he wanted to see off to school, which was on the way. Big, wet snow was falling.

"It's now three degrees above freezing, and yet it's snowing," Gurov said to his daughter. "But it's warm only near the surface of the earth, while in the upper layers of the atmosphere the temperature is quite different."

"And why is there no thunder in winter, papa?"

He explained that, too. He spoke and thought that here he was going to a rendezvous, and not a single soul knew of it or probably would ever know. He had two lives: an apparent one, seen and known by all who needed it, filled with conventional truth and conventional deceit, which perfectly resembled the lives of his acquaintances and friends, and another that went on in secret. and by some strange coincidence, perhaps an accidental one, everything that he found important, interesting, necessary, in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, which constituted the core of his life, occurred in secret from others, while everything that made up his lie, his shell, in which he hid in order to conceal the truth--for instance, his work at the bank, his arguments at the club, his "inferior race," his attending official celebrations with his wife--all this was in full view. And he judged others by himself, did not believe what he saw, and always supposed that every man led his own real and very interesting life under the cover of secrecy, as under the cover of night. Every personal existence was upheld by a secret, and it was perhaps partly for that reason that every cultivated man took such anxious care that his personal secret should be respected.

After taking his daughter to school, Gurov went to the Slavyansky Bazaar. He took his fur coat off downstairs, went up, and knocked softly at the door. Anna Sergeevna, wearing his favorite gray dress, tired from the trip and the expectation, had been waiting for him since the previous evening; she was pale, looked at him and did not smile, and he had barely come in when she was already leaning on his chest. Their kiss was long, lingering, as if they had not seen each other for two years.

"Well, how is your life there?" he asked. "What's new?"

"Wait, I'll tell you . . I can't."

She could not speak because she was crying. She turned away from him and pressed a handkerchief to her eyes.

"Well, let her cry a little, and meanwhile I'll sit down," he thought, and sat down in an armchair.

Then he rang and ordered tea; and then, while he drank tea, she went on standing with her face turned to the window . . . She was crying from anxiety, from a sorrowful awareness that their life had turned out so sadly; they only saw each other in secret, they hid from people like thieves! Was their life not broken?

"Well, stop now," he said.

For him it was obvious that this love of theirs would not end soon, that there was no knowing when. Anna Sergeevna's attachment to him grew ever stronger, she adored him, and it would have been unthinkable to tell her that it all really had to end at some point; and she would not have believed it.

He went up to her and took her by the shoulders to caress her, to make a joke, and at that moment he saw himself in the mirror.

His head was beginning to turn ray. And it seemed strange to him that he had aged so much in those last years, had lost so much of his good looks. The shoulders on which his hands lay were warm and beautiful, but probably already near the point where it would begin to fade and wither, like his own life. Why did she love him so? Women had always taken him to be other than he was, and they had loved in him, not himself, but a man their imagination had created, whom they had greedily sought all their lives; and then, when they had noticed their mistake, they still had loved him. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he met women, became intimate, parted, but not once did he love; there was anything else, but not love.

And only now, when his head was gray, had he really fallen in love as one ought to--for the first time in his life.

He and Anna Sergeevna loved each other like very close, dear people, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had destined them for each other, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as if they were two birds of passage, and male and a female, who had been caught and forced to live in separate cages. They had forgiven each other the things they were ashamed of in the past, they forgave everything in the present, and they felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.

Formerly, in sad moments, he had calmed himself with all sorts of arguments, whatever had come into his head, but now he did not care about any arguments, he felt deep compassion, he wanted to be sincere, tender . . .

"Stop, my good one," he said, "you've had your cry--and enough . . . Let's talk now, we'll think up something."

Then they had a long discussion, talked about how to rid themselves of the need for hiding, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long periods. How could they free themselves from these unbearable bonds?

"How? How?" he asked, clutching his head. "How?"

And it seemed that, just a little more--and the solution would be found, and then a new, beautiful life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off, and that the most complicated and difficult part was just beginning.

The Lady With the Little Dog - Anton Chekhov

Thursday, May 16, 2019

ET: Almanac

...Something else happened too: I started taking German lessons, going to German movies, and reading German newspapers, and it didn't bother me that the German students began walking about the streets of Prague in white socks and brown shirts. I was practically the only one left in the hotel who would serve German guests, because all the other waiters started pretending they didn't understand German, and even Mr. Skrivánek would speak only English or French or Czech with Germans. Once, at a movie, I stepped on a woman's foot and she started speaking German. I apologized to her in German, and I ended up seeing her home. She was attractively dressed, and to get on the good side of her and show her how grateful I was that she spoke German with me I said it was awful what the Czechs were doing to those poor German students, that I'd seen with my own eyes on Národní how they pulled the white socks and brown shits of two German students. And she told me that I spoke the truth, that Prague was part of the old German Empire and the Germans had an inalienable right to walk about the city dressed according to their own customs. The rest of the world cared nothing for this right, but the hour and day would come when the Fùhrer would come and liberate all the Germans, from the forests of Šumava to the Carpathian Mountains. When she said this, I was looking straight into her eyes and I noticed that I didn't have to look up at her the way I did at other women, because it was my bad luck that all the women I'd had in my life were not just bigger than me but giants among women, and whenever we were together I would be looking t their necks or their bosoms, but this woman was as short as I was and her green eyes sparkled, and she was as spattered with freckles as I was, and the brown freckles in her face went so well with her reenlisted eyes that she suddenly seemed beautiful to me. I also noticed that she was looking at me in the same way. I was wearing that beautiful white tie with the blue dots again, but it was my hair she was looking at, as blond as straw, and my big blue eyes. Then she told me that Germans from the Reich yearn for Slavic blood, for those vast pains and the Slavic nature, that they've tried for a thousand years through good and evil to wed themselves to that blood. She told me confidentially that many Prussian noblemen had Slavic blood in them and that this blood made them more worthy in the eyes of the rest of the nobility, and I agreed.  was surprised at how well she understood my German, because this was not the same as taking a guest's order for lunch or dinner, I actually had to carry on a real conversation with the young lady whose black shoes I had stepped on, so I spoke a little German and a lot of Czech, but I felt as though I were speaking German all the time, because what I said seemed to me in the German spirit. The young lady told me her name was Lise, that she was from Cheb, that she taught physical education there, that she was a regional swimming champion, and when she opened her coat I saw she was wearing a pin with four F's arranged in a circle like a four-leaf clover. She smiled at me and kept staring at my hair, which made me uneasy, but my confidence was restored when she said I had themes beautiful hair in the world, and the way she said it made my head spin. I said I was a headwaiter at the Hotel Paris, and I told her that expecting the wost, but she put her hand on my sleeve, and when she touched me her eyes flashed so intensely I was alarmed, and she said her father had a restaurant in Cheb called the City of Amsterdam. So we made a date to see the movie Love in Three-Quarter Time, and she came wearing a Tyrolean hat and something I've loved since childhood, a jacket that looked green but was really gray and had a green collar with oak fronds embroidered on it. It was just before Christmas and snow was falling. She came to see me several times in the Hotel Paris, to have lunch or supper, and the first time she came Mr. Skrivánek looked at her and then me and just like the old times we went to the alcove and I laughed and said, Shall we put a twenty on what the young lady orders? I saw that she was wearing that jacket again and those white socks. I pulled out a twenty and set it down on the sideboard, but Mr. Skrivánek gave me a queer look, like the time I'd tried to drink a toast with him the evening I'd served the Emperor of Ethiopia and the gold teaspoon got lost. My fingers were resting on the twenty-crown note, and he pulled out twenty crowns too and slowly laid it down, as if everything was alright, but then he snatched it away and stuck it back in his wallet, took another look at Lise, waved his hand dismissively, and never said another word. After the shift he took back the keys to the cellars and looked at me as though I wasn't there, as though he had never served the King of England and I had never served the Emperor of Ethiopia. But I didn't care now, because I could see that the Czechs were being unjust to the Germans, and I even began to feel ashamed for being a dues-paying member of Sokol, because Mr. Skrivánek was a great supporter of the Sokol movement, and so was Mr. Brandejs. All of them were prejudiced against the Germans and particularly against Lise, who came to the hotel only because of me, but they wouldn't let me wait on her, since her table belonged to another waiter's station. I watched how miserably they treated her, how they would give her cold soup and the waiter would put his thumb in it. Once I caught the waiter spitting into her stuffed veal just before he went through the swinging door. I jumped to grab the plate away from him, but he pushed it into my face and then spit at me, and when I wiped the thick gravy out of my eyes he spit into my face again, so I'd see how much he hated me. That was a kind of signal, because everyone from the kitchen ran out, and all the other waiters gathered around and everyone spat in my face. They kept it up until Mr. Brandejs himself came and, as head Sokol for Prague One, he spat on me too and told me I was fired. Covered with spittle and rosy-veal sauce, I ran into the restaurant to Lise's table and pointed to myself with both hands, to show her what these Sokolites, these Czechs, had done to me because of her. She looked at me, wiped my face with a napkin, and said, You can't, you mustn't expect anything else from those Czech jingoes, and she said she was fond of me because of what I had put up with on her account. We left the hotel after I changed my clothes so that I could walk Lise home, but right outside the Prašná Brána some Czech roughnecks ran up and gave her such a slap in the face that her Tyrolean hat went flying into the street. I tried to defend her by shouting in Czech, What do you think you're doing! Is that any way for Czechs to behave? But the gang pushed me away while two others grabbed Lise and shoved her to the ground. As two of them held her arms, another pushed her skirt and ripped her white socks from her suntanned legs. I was still shouting as they were beating me--What the hell do you think you're doing you Czech jingoes?--until they finally let us go and carried off Lise's socks like a white scalp, a white trophy. We went through a passageway to a small square, and Lise was weeping and hissing, You'll get yours, you pack of Bolsheviks, we'll teach you not to shame a German school teacher from Cheb. I felt like a big man as she held me tight. I was so livid, I looked for my Sokol membership cared so I could tear it up, but I couldn't find it. Suddenly she looked at me, her eyes full of tears, and right there on the street she burst out crying again, put her cheek against my face, and pressed herself against me. I knew then that I had to defend her against any Czechs who tried to harm a hair on this sweet little Egerlander's head, this daughter of the owner of the City of Amsterdam hotel and restaurant in Cheb, which the Germans had annexed as imperial territory last fall, along with the rest of the Sudetenland, and taking it back to be part of the Reich as it had once been many years before. And now, here in the Prague of the Sokols, I could see with my own eyes what was happening to the poor Germans and it confirmed everything they said about why the Sudetenland had to be taken back and why Prague might end up the same way if the lives and hour of German people were threatened and trodden in the mud. And that's just what happened.

Not only was I fired from the Hotel Paris, but I couldn't get a job anywhere, not even as a busboy, because every time I was hired, the management was informed the following day that I was a German sympathizer and, what was wore, a Sokol who was going out with a German gym teacher. So I was unemployed for some time, until the German army finally came and occupied not just Prague but the whole country. About that time, Lise disappeared on me for two months. I wrote her and her father too, but got no reply. The second day after the occupation of Prague, I was out for a walk. On the Old Town Square the German army was cooking tasty soup in big kettles and passing it out in mess cans to the population. as I stood there watching, who did I see, in a striped dress with a red badge on her breast and a ladle in her hand, but Lise. I didn't say a word to her, just watched for a while as she ladled out the soup and handed people their mess cans with a smile, until I finally got a grip on myself and joined the line. When my turn came, she handed me a cup of warm soup. She wasn't shocked to see me, but excited and pleased and proud of her military dress of the front-line Sisters of Mercy or whatever uniform it was. When I told her I'd been out of work ever since I defended her honor at the Prašná Brána over those white socks, she got someone else to take her place, put her arm through mine, and laughed and bubbled over with excitement. I felt, and she did too, that the German army had occupied Prague because of her white socks and because they had spit on me in the hotel. As we walked along Prikopy, soldiers in uniform greeted Lise, and I would bow to them each time and just past the Prašná Brána we turned and walked by the place where she was down not he sidewalk while they tore off her white socks three months before, and when we entered the Hotel Paris I pretended to be a customer looking for a table. The place was full of German officers now, and I stood there with Lise in her Sister of Mercy uniform, and the waiters and Mr. Skrivánek ere pale as they waited on the German guests. I sat down by the window and I ordered coffee in German, a while Viennese coffee with a small glass of rum on the side, the way we used to serve it, á la Hotel Sacher, Wiener Kaffe mat bespritzer Nazi. It was a beautiful feeling when even Mr. Brandejs came out and bowed, kowtowing with particular politeness to me, and all of a sudden he began talking about the embarrassing incident that had happened back then and he apologized for it, but I told him I wouldn't accept his apology and that we would have to see. And when I paid the headwaiter, Mr. Skrivánek, I told him, You may have served the King of England but it hasn't done you any good. And I got up and walked among the tables, while the German officers greeted Lise, and I bowed too, as though they'd included me in their greetings. That night Lise took me home, but first we went to a military casino of some kind on Prikopy, in a brown building, where we drank champagne in honor of the occupation of Prague. The officers drank toasts with Lise and even with me, and she told everyone how courageously I'd behaved in defending her German honor against the Czech jingoes, and they acknowledged me with raised glasses, and I bowed and thanked them. But I didn't know that their greeting were meant for Lise alone and that they were actually ignoring me, barely tolerating me as someone who went along with Lise. She was a commanding officer in the nurses' corps, as I learned during the toasts, because they addressed one another by rank. it felt wonderful to be a part of this occasion, to be among captains and colonels and young people with eyes as blue and hair as blond as mine, and though my German wasn't up to much, I felt German. As we were coming back from celebrating Lise asked me to look up my family tree, because she was sure I must have some German ancestry. I could only tell her that my grandfather's name was spelled Johan Ditie on his tombstone, that he had been a groom on a large estate, something I'd always been ashamed of, but when Lise heard that, I'd seemed to gain stature in her eyes, more than if I'd been a Czech count, and with this name Ditie, all the fortification and walls, thick and thin, that had separated us seemed to collapsed nd shew as silent all thew ay home. She unlocked the big main door to an old tenement house and we walked up the stairs, and on teach landing she gave me a long kiss and fondled the crotch of my trousers, and when we went into her little room and she turned on the table lap, she was all moist, her eyes and her mouth, and a whitish film seemed to have fallen across her eyes. She pushed me back on the couch and kissed me again, for a long time, running her tongue over all my teeth, counting them and whimpering and moaning like an uncreased gate opening and closing in the wind. What came next was bound to happen, and I'd expected it, but this time it didn't come from me, as it always had at such times before, but from her, because it was she who needed me. Slowly she undressed and watched me as I undressed, and I thought that since she was in the army even her underclothes, her panties and her slip, would be part of her uniform, that the nurses from the military hospital had some kind of government-issue underwear. But what she had on was like what the young ladies wore in the Hotel Paris when they came for their Thursday sessions with the stockbrokers, or like what the women at Paradise's wore. And then our naked bodies twined together and everything seemed liquid, as though we were snails, our moist bodies oozing out of our shells and into each other's embraces nd Lise shuddered and trembled violently, and I knew for the first time that I was both in love and loved in return, and it was so different from anything before. She didn't ask me to watch out or be careful, everything that happened was just right, the movements and the merging and the journey uphill and the dawning, and the gush of light with the muffled panting and moaning. She wasn't afraid of me afterward either, not for a minute, and her belly lifted toward my face and she wrapped her legs around my head and squeezed me tight without being ashamed. No, it all belonged, and she raised herself up and let herself be lapped and licked with my tongue until she arched her back and let me taste and feel with my tongue everything that was going on her body. Then, when she lay on her back with her arms folded and her legs spread apart with that muff of pale hair blazing, brushed up into a crest, my eyes fell on a table that held a bouquett of spring tulips, a bunch of pussy willows, and several sprigs of spruce. As in a dream, without thinking, I took the sprigs and pulled them to pieces and lay them around her vagina, and it was beautiful, her lap strewn with spruce. She cast furtive glances at me, and when I bent over and kissed her through the branches I felt their sharp needles pricking my mouth, and she took my head tenderly in her hands and arched her back and pushed her lap into my face so hard that I groaned in pain, and with several powerful thrusts of her belly she reached such a pitch of passion that she shrieked, collapsed on one side, gasping so violently that I thought she was dying, but she wasn't. She leaned over me and spread her fingers and said she would scratch my eyes out and scratch my face and my whole body in gratitude and satisfaction, and again she spread her nails above me like claws and then closed them in a spasm, only to collapse in tears a few moments later. Gradually her silent weeping turned to faint laughter. Calm and quiet, lying there wilted, I watched her tear off the rest of those spruce boughs with nimble fingers, the way hunters do when they've killed an animal, and she covered my belly, my wilted penis, and my whole lap with tiny branches. Then she raised me up slightly and with her hands she caressed me and kissed my thighs, till slowly I got an erection and the branches began to rise and my penis pushed its way through, growing larger all the time, pushing the sprigs aside. But Lise rearranged them around it with her tongue, then raised her head and plunged my penis into her mouth, all of it, right down into her throat. I tried to move her off, but she pushed me back down and shoved my hands out of the way, so I looked up at the ceiling and let her do what she wanted with me. I hadn't expected her to be so wanton and rough, and so crude in the way she sucked me to the marrow, thrashing her head about violently without even pushing the sprigs aside, so they tore her mouth till she bled, and I thought this must be the way the Teutons did it. I was almost afraid of Lise then. Afterward, when she had crawled her tongue up my belly, leaving a trail of saliva behind her like a snail, she kissed me, and her mouth was full of semen and spruce needles, and she didn't think of it as unclean but rather as a consummation, as part of the Mass: This is my body and this is my blood and this is my saliva and these are your fluids and my fluids and this has joined us and will join us forever. 

And I Never Found The Head
My new job as a waiter, and then as headwaiter, was in the mountains above Dêčín. When I first arrived at the hotel, I nearly jumped out of my skin. It wasn't a small hotel, as I'd been expecting, but a small town or a large village surrounded by woods, with hot springs the forest and air so fresh you could have put it in a cup. All you had to do was turn and face the pleasant breeze and drink it in freely, as fish breathe through their gills, and you could hear the oxygen mixed with ozone flowing through your gills' nd your lungs and vital parts would gradually pump up, as though earlier, somewhere down in the valley, long before, you'd got a flat tire, and it was only now, in this air, that you'd got it automatically pumped back up to a pressure that was safer and nicer to drive on.

Lise, who brought me here in an army truck, walked around the place as though she owned it, smiling constantly as she led me down the main colonnade, a long double line of statues of German kings and emperors wearing helmets with horns on them, all made of fresh marble or white limestone that glistened like sugar. The other administrative buildings were the same, built off the main colonnade like the leaves of a locust tree. Everywhere you went there were more of these colonnades, and before you entered any building you had to walk past columns of horn-helmeted statues. All the walls were covered with reliefs showing scene from the glorious German past, when they still ran around with hatchets and dressed in animal skins, like something right out of Jirásek's Old Czech Legends, except that the outfits they wore were German. When Lise explained what was going on here, I remembered the porter at the Hotel Tichota who loved to talk about how the unbelievable came true. Lise told me proudly that this place had the healthiest air in Central Europe and that the only other place like it was near Prague, above Ouholičky and Podmooráni. She said this was the first breeding station in Europe for a refined race of humans, that the National Socialist Party had been the first to cross noble-blooded young German women with pure-blooded soldiers, both from the Heereswaffe and the SS, all scientifically. And so National Socialist intercourse was taking place here every day, no-nonsense intercourse, as the old Teutons used to do it. But even more important, the future mothers, who were carrying the new people of Europe. in their bellies, dropped their litters here too, and a year later the children would be shipped to the Tyrol and Bavaria and the Black Forest, or to the sea, and the education of the New Man would begin in the first creches and nursery schools--not with the mothers of course, but supervised by experts. Lise showed me beautiful little houses built to look like country cottages, with flowers spilling out over the windowsills, terraces, and wooden balconies. The future mothers and those who were already mothers were all robust, blond young women who looked as though they're living in the wrong century, like the peasant girls you find in places luch as Humpolec or Haná, or in villages that are so out of the way you still see women in striped petticoats and the same sort of blouses the Sokol women wear in our part of the country, or like the kind Božena wears in the famous painting where she's doing the wash and Oldrich rides by on horseback and finds her to his liking. And they all had nice breasts, and whenever they went for walks--and these young women were always wandering about--they would stroll up and down the colonnades, staring closely at the statues of the horned warriors as though this was part of their job, or they would stand in front of the handsome German kings and emperors, trying to etch in their minds those famous historical faces and personalities and their life stories. Later, outside a classroom window, I heard these women listening to lectures about those legendary heroes and then being tested to see if they knew it all by heart. The women were taught, Lise said, that the images of those heroes in their heads gradually percolated down through their bodies, reading the thing that was just a blob at first, then something like a polliwog or a tree frog, then a tiny person, a homunculus, a dwarf that grew month by month until the ninth month, when it became a human being, and all the teaching and all the staring at the statues and pictures left an imprint on the new creature. Lise took me around and showed me everything, and she clung to me, and I noticed that whenever she glanced at my blond hair it seemed to put joy in her steps nd when she introduced me to her section chief she introduced me as Ditie, the name inscribed on my grandfather's grave in Cvikov. I knew that Lise longed to spend those nine months here and more, so that she could donate a pure-blooded offspring to the Reich. But when I thought about it, it seemed to me that everything to do with that future child would happen the way it did when we put the cow in with the bull, or our nanny goat in with the village billy goat. When I started down that row of columns and statues, I saw nothing but a tiny cloud of an enormous horror swirling around and enveloping me. And then I thought--and this was what saved me--about how I was so small that they wouldn't let me onto a Sokol gymnastics team, though I was as agile on the parallel bars and the rings as any big fellow, and I remembered the incident with the gold teaspoon in the Hotel Paris, and finally how they'd all spit in my face just because I'd fallen in love with a German gym teacher, and now here was the commander of the socialist breeding camp himself shaking my hand, admiring my straw-colored hair, and laughing pleasantly, as if he'd just seen a pretty girl or had a drink of some sweet liqueur or his favorite schnapps, and I stood straight and tall. I didn't wear a stiff collar anymore, but I think I felt for the first time in my life that you didn't actually have to be big, you just had to feel big. I looked about me with an easy mind and stopped being a little table boy, a busboy, a small waiter who was condemned to be small for the rest of his life and to put up with being called Pipsqueak and Squirt and Shorty and hear jokes insulting his family name, Dité, which means child. Now I was Herr Ditie, and for the Germans there was no child in my names nd I bet the word reminded them of something completely different, or maybe they couldn't connect it to anything at all in German. So I began to get some respect here, because, as Lise told me, even the Prussian and Pomeranian nobility would envy a name like Ditie because their names all have Slavic roots, as mine does, von Ditie, so I became a waiter in section five, and I had to cover five tables at noon and at supper and serve five pregnant German girls whenever they rang for milk or cups of cold mountain water or Tyrolean cakes or plates of cold cuts--anything that was not he menu, in fact.

It was here that I first felt myself really blossoming. Though I was good at waiting on tables at Tichota's or the Hotel Paris, here I became the darling of the pregnant German girls. True, I had been the darling of the bar girls at the Hotel Paris every Thursday, when the stockbrokers came to the private chambers, but these German women, like Lise, all looked fondly at my hair, my tuxedo, and my blue sash with the medal, which Lise arranged for me to wear when I served meals on Sundays or holidays--a splash of gold radiating from a red stone in the middle, with the inscription Virus Unibus. In this small mountain town, evening after evening soldiers from all the forces fortified themselves with good meals and fired their spirits with special Rhine and Mosel wines while the girls drank only cups of milk, and night after night the men were let in to them and were under strict scientific supervision right up to the very last moment. I was known as the waiter who had served the Emperor of Ethiopia, and I enjoyed the same standing as the headwaiter at the Hotel Paris, Mr. Skrivánek, who had served the King of England. I had a younger table boy under me and I taught him, just as Mr. Skrivánek had taught me, how to recognize what region a soldier came from and what he was likely to order. We'd ante up ten marks each and put them on a sideboards nd I'd almost always win. I learned that feeling victorious makes you victorious, and that once you lose heart or let yourself be discouraged the feeling of defeat will stay with you the rest of your life, and you'll never get back on your feet again, especially in your own country and your own surroundings, where you're considered a runt, an eternal busboy. That's what would have happened to me if I'd stayed at home, but here the Germans treated me with respect. Every afternoon when the sun was out, I took cups of milk or ice cream or sometimes cups of warm milk or tea to the blue swimming pools where the beautiful pregnant German girls would swim naked with their hair down. They treated me as if I was one of the doctors, and I could watch their bright bodies ripple in the water as they spread their arms and legs, and after each swinging, rhythmic stroke their bodies would stretch out and glide, and their arms and legs would go on making those beautiful swimming motions. But it wasn't the bodies that attracted me so much now, because I fell in love--and this was a shock to me--I fell in love with that floating hair, the hair that swayed and flowed behind those bodies like pale smoke from burning straw, hair that went straight to full length with each powerful thrust of their arms and legs and then seemed to hang still for a moment, rippling slightly at the ends, like the corrugated metal in a shopfront shutter. And there would be the wonderful sunshine, and the background of blue or green tiles shimmering with broken reflections of sun and waves on the undulating water, syrupy drops of light and shadow, and the movement of bodies along the walls and the blue floor of the pool. When they were done swimming they pulled their legs under them and stood up, their breasts and bellies shedding rivulets of water like water nymphs, and I would hand them the cups, and they would drink from them slowly, then slip back into the water, clasping their hands in front of them as if praying, pushing the water aside with their first kicks, and swimming off again, not for themselves for those future children. Several months later, in the indoor poos now, there were little babies in the water swimming along with the mothers, three-month-old tads who were already swimming with the women like cubs with female bears, or seals who can swim the day they're born, or ducklings who swim almost as soon as they hatch. But already I saw that these women thought of me as a flunky, as less than a flunky, in fact, despite my tuxedo. It was as if I wasn't there at all, as if I meant no more to them than a clothes horse. They felt no shame in front of me, because I was someone who served them, the way queens used to have jesters or midgets. Whenever they stepped out of the water they were always making sure no one was looking at them through the board fence, and once they were surprised by a drunken SS man, and they all shrieked, clapped their towels over their laps, covered their breasts with their arms, and ran into the changing booths. But when I brought them their cups on a tray, they would just stand there nonchalantly, naked, chatting to each other, leaning with one arm against the towel rack and casually drying their golden haired laps with the other in unhurried, careful movements, wiping their crotches thoroughly and then each half of their backsides. And I would stand there while they took their cups from the tray, drank a little, and put them backs s if I was a serving table, and they would go on wiping their crotches with their towels, and then they would lift their arms and wipe dry each fold and crease of their breasts. Once an airplane swooped in low never the pool, and they ran into their changing booths for cover, shrieking with laughter, and returned a few moments later and took up the same positions as before, and all the while I was standing there holding the tray with the cooling cups.

In my free time I wrote long letters to Lise. She had an address somewhere near Warsaw, which they'd conquered by now. Then it was letters to Paris. And then, perhaps because of those victories, things became more relaxed, and they built a cyclorama just outside the town, and a shooting gallery and a merry-go-round and swings and everything, just like the Carnival of Saint Matthias in Prague, full of attractions of all sorts. Just as the gables of our cottages in the countryside used to be covered with the murals of nymphs and sirens and allegorical women and animals, here regiments of German warriors wearing horned helmets filled the shooting galleries and the copy on the merry-go-round and the panels on the sides of the swings, and I learned German national history from those pictures. All year long, whenever I had some free time, I would wander around looking at them and I'd ask the cultural instructor about them. He was delighted to explain it all to me, and he addressed me as Mein Lieberman Herr Ditie, pronouncing it so nicely that I asked him again and again to teach me about the glorious German past from those pictures and reliefs, so that I too might one day father a German child, just as Lise and I had agreed. When she came back all full of the victory over France, she told me she wanted to marry me but I would have to ask permission from her father, who owned the City of Amsterdam restaurant in Cheb. And so the unbelievable came true, because in Cheb I had to undergo an examination by a Supreme Court judge and I submitted a written request in which I listed my entire family, going back beyond that cemetery in Cvikov where Grandpa Johan Ditie lay, and with reference to his Aryan and Teutonic origins I respectfully requested permission to marry Elisabeth Panánek. According to the laws of the Reich, I also had to request a physical examination by an SS doctor to determine whether I, being of a different nationality, was eligible under the Nuremberg laws not merely to have sex with someone of Aryan Teutonic blood but actually to impregnate her. And so while execution squads in Prague and Brno and other jurisdictions were carrying out the death sentence, I had to stand naked in front of a doctor who lifted my penis with a cane and then made me turn around while he sued the cane to look into my anus, a nd then he hefted my scrotum and dictated in a loud voice. Next he asked me to masturbate and bring him a little semen so they could examine it scientifically because, as the doctor said in his atrocious Egerlander German--which I couldn't understand, though I got the gist well enough--when some stupid Czech turd wants to marry a German woman his ism had better be at least twice as good as the ism of the lowliest stoker in the lowliest hotel in the city of Che. He added that the gob of phlegm a German woman would spit between my eyes would be as much a disgrace to her as an honor to me. And I knew from reading the papers that on the very same day that I was standing here with my penis in my hand to prove myself worthy to marry a German, Germans were executing Czechs, and so I couldn't get an erection and offer the doctor a few drops of my sperm. Then the door opened and the doctor came in with my papers in his hand, and he'd probably just read them and realized who I was, because he said to me affably, Herr Ditie, was ist den los? And he patted me on the shoulder, handed me some photographs, and turned on the light. I found myself looking at pornographic snapshots of naked peoples nd whenever I'd had this kind of picture in my hands before I'd always turn stiff right away, but now the more I looked at them the more I saw those headlines and the stories in the papers announcing that so-and-so and four others had been sentenced to death and shot, and there were more of them every day, new ones, innocent ones. And here I was standing with my penis in my hand and pornographic snapshots in the other, so I put them down on the table, because I still couldn't manage to do what I was asked. Finally a young nurse had to come in and after a few deft strokes of her hand, during which I didn't have to think about anything anymore, she carried off two beads of my sperm on a piece of paper, and half an hour later they were pronounced first-class and worthy of inseminating an Aryan vagina with dignity. And so the Bureau for the Defense of German Honor and Blood could find no objection to my parting an Aryan of German blood. With a mighty thumping of rubber stamps I was given a marriage license, while Czech patriots, with the same thumping of the same rubber stamps, were sentenced to death.

The marriage took place in Cheb, in a hall painted red, with red swastika flags everywhere and officials in brown uniforms with red straps over their shoulders and swastikas on the straps. I wore a morning suit and the blue sash across my chest bearing the Emperor of Ethiopia's medal across my chest and Lise, the bride, wore here gamekeeper's outfit, a jacket embroidered with oak leaves and a swastika on a red background in her lapel. It was more like a state military ceremony than a wedding because all they talked about was blood and honor and duty. Finally the mayor of the city, who was also wearing a uniform, riding boots and a brown shirt, asked us, the betrothed, to approach a makeshift altar. Hanging behind the altar was a bust of Adolf Hitler scowling as the light from below cast shadows across his face. The mayor took my hand and the bride's hand and wrapped them in the flag and held our hands through the cloth, looking solemn. Now came the moment of betrothal. The mayor told us that from now on we belonged to each other and it was our duty to think of only of the National Socialist Party and to conceive children who must also be raised in the spirit of that Party. Then, with tears welling up in his eyes, the mayor told us not to fret that we couldn't both die n the struggle for the New Europe, because they, the soldiers and Party members, would keep up the struggle for us until the final victory. And then they played a gramophone record of "Die Fahne koch, die Reihen dicht geschlossen," and everyone sang along with the record, including Lise, and I remembered how I used to sing patriotic songs like "On the Strahov Ramparts" and "Where Is My Homeland," and that memory made me sing under my breath, until Lise nudged me gently with her elbow and gave me a nasty look, so I sang along with the others, and I found myself singing with feeling, as though I were a real German. When I looked around to see who was there, I saw army colonels and all the top Party brass from Cheb, and I knew that if I'd been married back home, it would have been as though nothing had happened, but here in Cheb it was practically a historical event, because Lise was well known here. When the ceremony was over, I stood with my hand ready, waiting to be congratulated, but then I began to sweat, because the Wehrmacht and SS officers didn't shake it. I was still just a runty little busboy as far as they were concerned, a Czech pipsqueak, a pygmy. But her, while I stood there alone. When the mayor tapped me on the shoulder, I held out my hand, but he didn't take it either. So there I stood, my whole body stiff from holding my hand out, until the mayor put his arm around my shoulder and led me into his office to sign the register and pay the fee. Here I tried again and put an extra hundred marks on the table, but one of the clerks told me in a token Czech that tips were not given here because this wasn't a restaurant or a canteen or a bar or a pub, but a bureau of the creators of the New Europe, where blood and honor were the deciding factors, not--as in Prague--terror and bribery and other capitalist and Bolshevik practices. The wedding supper was held in the City of Amsterdam restaurant, and again I saw that although everyone seemed to be including me in the toasts, Lise was the center of attention, and that they put up with me as an Aryan but still considered me a dumb Bohemian despite my bright-yellow hair, the blue sash across my chest, and on the hip of my suit the medal shaped like a sunburst of gold. But I didn't let on how I felt or that I saw what was going on. Instead, I smiled and even managed to enjoy being the husband of a woman so famous that all the officers, who must have been single, would have loved to try for her hand, but not one of them had succeeded, because it was I who had enchanted her. These officers had their heads full f notions of defending honor and blood, and were probably incapable of doing anything more than jumping on a woman in bead with their riding boots on, not realizing that in ed you needed love and playfulness. That was my way of doing it, a way I had discovered a long time before, at Paradise's, when I'd spread ox-eye daises and cyclamen petals over the laps of naked girls and finally, two years ago, on the lap of this political-minded young German, this commander in the nursing corps, this high-ranking Party member. While she was being congratulated, no one could have imagined her the way I had seen her, naked on her back as I garnished her lap with green spruce, which perhaps for her was even a greater honor than when the mayor pressed both our hands through the red flag and said how sorry he was that we couldn't both fall in the struggle for the New Europe and the new National Socialist man. When she saw my smile and realized that I'd decided to play the game I'd been condemned to play by the Bureau for Racial Purity, Lise picked up her glass and looked at me, and everyone fell silent, expecting a ceremony. I stood up, making myself taller, and we faced each other, holding our glasses in our fingers, and the officers watched us carefully, as if this was some kind of interrogation, and Lise laughed the way she laughed when we were in bed together, when I'd be gallant in the French manner. We looked at each other as though we were both naked, and again that white film came over her eyes, the the kind of look women get when they are ready to cast aside the last shred of inhibition and let themselves be treated any way that seems right at the moment, when a different world opens up, a world of love games and wantonness. She gave me a long, slow kiss in front of everyone, and I closed my eyes, and as we kissed, our champagne glasses tilted in our fingers and the wine slowly spilled onto a tablecloths nd all the guests were silent. After that, everyone seemed abashed and looked at me with respect and curiosity, realizing that German blood has a lot more fun with Slavic blood than it does with other German blood. So though I was still an alien I became an alien everyone respected with a touch of envy or maybe even hatred. The women looked at me as if they were trying to imagine what sorts of things I might do in bed. They must have thought I was up to some rather special games, and maybe even rough behavior, because they sighed sweetly, looked up at the ceiling, and talked with me, even though I mixed up der, die, and das when I spoke. These women talked to me slowly in their atrocious German, articulating the way you would in a nursery school, and they loved my answers and found the mistakes I made in conversational German charming and funny, and besides it age them a taste of the magic of the Slavic plains and birch trees and meadows. But all the soldiers from the Heereswaffe and the SS glared at me because they could see only too well that I had won the affections of the beautiful, blonde Lise, that she had chosen a beautiful, animal love over German honor and blood, and that there was nothing they could do about it, even though their chests were plastered with medals and decorations from the campaigns against Poland and France.

When we came back from our honeymoon to that small town above Dêčín where I was a waiter, Lise wanted us to have children. but like any true Slav, I was a creature of moods. I could do anything in the emotion of the moment, but when Lise told em to get ready because that night she was set to conceive the New Man, the founder of the New Europe, I felt exactly the way I had when the Reichsdoktor, acting on the Nuremberg Laws, asked me to bring him a bit of my sperm on a piece of white paper. For a week she'd been playing Wagner on the record player, Lohengrin and Siegfried, and she'd already decided that if it was a boy she'd call it Siegfried Ditie, and all week long she'd walked around gazing at those scenes in relief along the covered walkways and colonnades. She would stand there in the late afternoons with German kings and emperors and Teutonic heroes and demigods rising against the blue sky, while my only thought was how I would strew her lap with flowers and how we'd start by playing like little children, especially since our name was Ditie. That evening Lise appeared in a long gown, her eyes full of duty and blood and honor, and she put her hand in mine, babbled something in German, and rolled her eyes upward, as though all the denizens of the Teutonic heaven were gazing down on us from the ceiling, through the ceiling--all the Nibelungs, and even Wagner himself, whom Lise invoked for help in becoming pregnant the way she wished, in harmony with the new Teutonic sense of honor, so that her womb would be graced by the New Man, who would establish and live in the New Order of the New Blood and the New Thinking and the New Honor. When I heard all this, I felt everything that makes a man a man drain out of me, and I just lay there staring at the ceiling, dreaming about a lost paradise, about how wonderful everything had been before we were married, a bout how I had slept with all women the way a mongrel dog would, whereas now I had a job to do, like a purebred sire with a purebred bitch. I'd seen the trouble and bother dog breeders went to, waiting for days on end for the right moment, and one breeder brought a bitch to our town from the far end of the republic and had to turn around and go all the way back because a prize-winning fox terrier wouldn't have anything to do with her. The next time they came, they put the bitch over a wooden bucket in the stable and, wearing a glove on her hand, the lady guided the dog's sex organ to its place, and the dog impregnated the bitch with a whip over his head. But the bitch would have surrendered himself just as happily to any old mongrel. Or there was the major who had a Saint Bernard and spent the whole afternoon with a bitch all the way from Sumava, but couldn't get them together because the bitch was bigger, and finally Engineer Marzin took them to a slope in the garden where he dug out a kind of depression. They spent an hour landscaping the terrain, getting ready for that Saint Bernardian wedding, and by evening they were all worn out, but at last the slope was ready, and they stood the bitch under the step in the hillside so that the male was now the same height as she was, and union took place, but by compulsion, while left to their own devices a German shepherd will eagerly join with a dachshund bitch, or an Irish setter bitch with a stable-bred terrier. And I was in exactly the same position. So the unbelievable came true, because a month later I had to go for some potency injections, and each time needles as blunt as nails were poked into my buttock to strengthen my vigor, and one night, after I'd been through the routine ten times, I managed to impregnate Lise in the regulation manner. Now that she had conceived, It was she who had to go for the injections, because the doctors were afraid she might not carry the New Man to term. and so of all our love nothing remained, and all that was left was an act of National Socialist intercourse, and Lise wouldn't even touch my penis, and I was only admitted to her bed according to regulations and the order of the New European, which did me no good. Both our behinds were so punctured by those dull needles that we spent most of our time tending the wounds, mine especially, w which kept running. And all this so I could beget a beautiful New Child.

About the same time, an unpleasant thing happened to me. Several times I noticed that you could hear lessons in Russian coming from the classrooms where they usually give lectures on the glorious past of the old Teutons. Now that the soldiers had fulfilled their duties as studs and impregnated the beautiful blonde girls, they were learning basic Russian as well. Once, when I was listening to these Russian courses under the window, a captain asked me what I thought of it. I said it looked as if there was going to be a war with Russia. At this he started yelling at me, accusing me of inciting the public, and I replied that there was no public here, just the two of us, and he yelled back that we had a pact with Russia and what I'd said was sedition and the spreading of a false rumor. It was then I realized that he was the same captain who had been Lise's witness at the wedding, who not only had refused to shake hands and congratulate me but had been trying to win Lise's favor before me, and I had beat him to it. Now he was trying to get back at me, and so he lodged a complaint, and I found myself before the commandant of the town that served as a breeding station for the New Europe. Just as the commandant that I was a Czech chauvinist and they would have me court-martialed, the alert was sounded in the camp, and when the commandant picked up the telephone he turned pale, because it was war, just as I had predicted. In the corridor all the commandant said to me was, How did you guess? And I replied modestly, I served the Emperor of Ethiopia. The next day, a son was born to us, and Lise had him christened Siegfried, because the walls of those covered walkways and Wagner's music had inspired her to have a son. but I was fired all the same and given a new position in a restaurant called Košíček in the Bohemian Paradise district. The restaurant and hotel were at the very bottom of the rocky canyon, in a kind of natural basket submerged in the morning mists below the clean air. It was a small hotel for people in love, couples who would go on dreamy walks along the cliffs and lookouts and return hand in hand to their lunches and their supers. Every movement they made was relaxed and unhurried, because although Košíček was also meant for the Heereswaffe and the SS-Waffe the officers would meet their wives and mistresses here for the last time before going off to the Eastern front. Just about everything in Košíček was poles apart from the small town that was incubating the New Race, where the soldiers were stud horses or purebred boards who were expected, the same day they arrived or at least within a couple of days, to impregnate German females scientifically with Teutonic sperm. but here it was different and more to my taste. There was not much gaiety, there was instead a melancholy sadness, a kind of dreaminess I had never expected to see in soldiers. Almost all our guests were like poets before they begin writing a poem--not because they were that kind of person, no, they were just as crude and vulgar and arrogant as other Germans, always drunk with their victory over France, even though a third of the officers from the Grossdeutschland division had fallen in the Gallician campaign. It was because these officers were preparing for a different journey altogether, a different mission, a different battle: they were going to the Russian front, which was quite another kettle of fish. By November, the Germans had driven a wedge right up to the outskirts of Moscow but no farther, so the armies coming up from the rear just kept spreading to Voronezh and on to the Caucasus. And then there was the vast distance, and the bad news from the front--that is, from this side of it--that partisans were harassing the troops so badly that the front had become a rear guard, as Lise told me when she came back from there herself, very upset about how the Russian campaign was going. Lise also brought me a tiny suitcase. At first I didn't realize how valuable the contents were because it was full of postage stamps and I wondered how Lise had come by them. It turned out that while she was in Poland she had ransacked Jewish apartments for stamps, and when they were searching deported Jews in Warsaw she had confiscated these stamps. She told me that after the war they would be worth a fortune, enough to buy us any hotel we wanted.

My little son, who stayed with me, was a strange child, I couldn't see any of my own features in him, not a single sign that he took after either me or Lise, certainly nothing of what was promised by those Valhalla surroundings, and not a trace in him of Wagner's music. He was a nervous little child who suffered from convulsions in the third month of his life. Meanwhile, I served guests from all the regions of Germany, and I could now guess correctly whether a German soldier was from Pomerania, Bavaria, or the Rhineland. I could also tell the difference between a soldier from the coast and one from inland, and whether he had been a worker or a farmer, and that was my only entertainment as I waited on tables with no real or free time from morning till evening and into the night. I waited not just on men but also on women, who were here on a secret mission, but that mission was sadness and a kind of ceremonial anxiety. I never again, as long I lived, saw married couples and lovers who were so gentle, kind, and considerate to each other, or who had so much wistfulness in their eyes and tenderness, like the girls back home who used to sing "Dark Eyes" or "The Mountains Resounded." In the countryside around Košíček, no matter what the weather, there would always be couples out for walks, always a young officer in uniform and a young woman, quiet and absorbed in each other. I who had served the Emperor of Ethiopia had never experienced this and couldn't put myself in their place. Only ow have I got to the core of it, that what made these people beautiful was knowing that they might never see each other again. The New Man was not the victor, loud-mouthed and vain, but the man who was humble and solemn, with the beautiful eyes of a terrified animal. And so through the eyes of these lovers--because even married couples become lovers again with the danger of the front hanging over them--I learned to see the countryside, the flowers on the tables, the children at play, and to see that every hour is a sacrament. The day and the night before the departure for the front, the lovers didn't sleep, but they weren't necessarily in bed either, because there was something more here than bed: there were eyes and a special feeling, like seeing a sad, romantic play or movie in a large theater or movie house. I also learned that the closest that one person can be to another is through silence, an hour, then a quarter-hour, then the last few minutes of silence when the carriage has arrived, or sometimes a military britzska, then the man sitting down and the vehicle driving off up the hill, the final bend in the road, the waving handkerchief. And then the carriage gradually slipping like the sun behind the hill until there is nothing more to be seen, only a figure standing in front of the hotel, a woman, a German, a person in tears, still waving, moving her fingers, while a tiny handkerchief flutters to the ground. Then she turns and in a fit of weeping rushes up the stairs to her room, where like a Barnabite nun who has seen a man in the cloister she falls on her face in the eiderdown and sinks into the bed for a long, invigorating cry. The next day, their eyes still red, these mistresses would drive off to the station, and the same carriage or britzska or automobile would bring other lovers from all directions, from all the garrisons in all the towns and villages, for the final rendezvous before the men went to the front. Despite the armies' rapid advance, the news from the front was so bad that Lise became increasingly worried, worried about the blitzkrieg, worried that she wouldn't be able to stand it here. So she decided to take Siegfried to Cheb, to the City of Amsterdam restaurant, and go to the front herself, where she would feel less tense.

I kept the rare stamps in an ordinary-looking little suitcase made of cardboard, inside an old vulcanite trunk, because when I checked on the value of some of the stamps in Zumstein's catalogue I knew right away that I wouldn't have to tile my room with green hundred-crown bills anymore, because even if I covered the walls with them and glued them on the ceiling and in the hallway and the toilet and the kitchen, this could never equal the sum of money I would one day rake in, since according to Zumstein four of the stamps alone would make me a millionaire. And then I thought about coming back one day after the war, because the Germans were losing and the war would be over before we knew it. Whenever I saw a high-ranking officer I could read the whole situation in his face. Faces were my newspapers and my dispatches from the front, and even if they wore flashing monocles or dark glasses or pulled their helmets down like black masks, I could still see how things stood on the battlefield from the way people walked and held themselves and behaved. And once more the unbelievable came true. By this time I had left Košíček, and like those soldiers I too said my farewells, waved until the carriage slipped over the hill, wept, and then took the train to my new place of work. As I walked up and down the railroad platform it occurred to me to look at myself in a mirror that was fastened to the station wall, and when I did I suddenly saw myself as a stranger, like those Germans from all the regions and districts with their different professions and interest and states of health that I'd been able to guess correctly because I had served the Emperor of Ethiopia, because I'd been schooled by the headwaiter Mr. Skrivánek, who in his turn had served the King of England. So I took a penetrating look at myself from that angle and saw myself as I never had before, as a member of Sokol who when Germans were executing Czech patriots had allowed Nazi doctors to examine him to determine if he could have sexual intercourse with a German gym teacher, and while the Germans were proving a war with Russia he was getting married and singing "Die Reihen dicht geschlossen," and while people at home were suffering, he was sitting pretty in German hotels and inns, serving the German army and the SS-Waffe. With the war coming to an end, I knew I could never go back to Prague, and I could see myself, not being lynched exactly, but hanging myself on the first lamppost, or at the very least sentencing myself to ten years and maybe more. So I stood there in the early morning at the railroad station, which was empty, looking at myself as a guest who was coming toward me, and I who had served the Emperor of Ethiopia was condemned to face the truth, because just as I had been curious about the suffering and indiscretions of other people, so now, using exactly the same method, I looked at myself, and the sight made me sick, especially since I had a dream of becoming a millionaire and showing Prague and all those hotel owners that I was one of them, and perhaps even better than they were. It was entirely up to me now what I would do, go back home and buy the biggest hotel and be equal to Mr. Šroubek and Mr. Brandejs and all those Sokol people who looked down their noses at me, people you could only talk to from a position of strength, and use my little suitcase containing those four stamps that Lise had plundered in Warsaw or somewhere in Lemberg to buy me a hotel, the Hotel Ditie--or instead should I buy something in Austria or Switzerland? And as I deliberated like this with my own image in the mirror, behind me, silently, a train pulled into a station, an express train, a military-hospital train from the front, in fact, and when it stopped I could see in the mirror that the blinds all the windows were down. Then one blind went up, the hand holding the cord let go, and I saw a woman in a nightgown lying on the berth. She yawned so widely she almost put her jaw out of joint, then rubbed her eyes and when she had finished rubbing them she looked out the window to see where the train had stopped. I looked at her and she looked at me and it was Lise my wife. I saw her jump up and before I knew it she was out of the train just a s she was and hanging around my neck and kissing me the way she did before we were married, and I who's served the Emperor of Ethiopia saw that she had changed, just as all the officers who had gone to the front after a pleasant week at Košíček with their wives or their mistresses had changed. Lise, like them, must have seen and lived through unbelievable things that had come true. She was escorting a military transport of crippled men to the place where I was going, to Chomutov, to a military hospital by a lake. So I simply got on the train with my little suitcase, and when the train pulled out of the station I went tot he compartment with Lise and drew the curtains and locked the door, and when I took off her nightgown she trembled the way she used to before we were married, because the war must have made her free and humble again. And then she undressed me and we lay naked in each other's arms and she let me kiss her lap and do everything to her in the rhythm of the ride, moving and touching like the bumpers between the cars.

At the nation in Chomutov, ambulances, cars, and buses, mobile hospitals on six wheels, were already waiting. I didn't obey Lise but stood at the end of the platform which had been cleared of people, and they let me stay there only because I'd got off the train with Lise, who reported to the stationmaster, and then they unloaded a fresh batch of transportable cripples from the front, all those who couldn't walk, who had one or both legs amputated--a platform full of cripples--and loaded them all into the cars and buses. Though I didn't recognize anyone in particular, I knew these were the same ones who'd been on stud duty in that little town above Dêčíin and who'd said their last farewells at Košíček. And this was the final scene in their comedy, their play, their movie. I went off with the first busload to the place I'd been assigned to, a canteen in the military hospital, and I kept my little suitcase on my lap and tossed my leather suitcase on the roof rack among the military duffel and kit bags. That day I walked through the countryside and the camp, which was laid out along the edge of a hill, in an orchard of sweet and sour cherry trees that went right down to the bank of a small lake in a quarry. The lake resembled the Sea of Galilee or the sacred River Gages, because attendants would bring out the cripples with gangrenous amputation wounds and carry them down long wooden jetties branching into the lake. There wasn't a single insect or a single fish in the water, because everything had died and nothing would grow as long as water flowed into the lake from the stone quarry. The cripples whose wounds were already slightly healed would lie in the water or paddle gently about. some were missing one leg or both legs below the knees, and others had no legs at all, just stumps. They moved their arms in the water like frogs, with their heads poking out of the blue lake, and they were handsome young men again, but when they swam to the edge, they would pull themselves out with their arms and crawl up the bank like turtles to lie on the shore, waiting for the attendants to wrap them in bathrobes and warm blankets and carry them, hundreds of them, back across the jetties and to the main patio in front of the restaurant, where an all-woman orchestra was playing and meals wee being served. I was most moved by the ward for men with severed spinal cords, who dragged their whole lover bodies after them on dry land, and in the water they looked like mermaids. Then there were the legless ones who loved playing ping-pong, and some had small chrome-lated folding carts that allowed them to move about quickly enough to play soccer, except that they would use their hands instead of their feet. As soon as they'd recovered a little--the one-legged and armless ones, and those with badly burned heads--they developed a tremendous appetite for life, and they would play soccer and ping-pong and handball until dark, and I would call them to supper by playing a tattoo on a trumpet. When they approached in their carts or hobbled up on crutches, they radiated health. I was working in the rehabilitation department, but in the three other departments the doctors were still putting the wounded back together with operations and then electrical and iontophoresis treatments. And sometimes I'd have an opposite vision of those cripples and see only the arms and legs they'd lost, the missing arms and legs and not the real ones that were there. I'd put my finger to my forehead and ask myself, Why are you seeing things that way? Because you served the Emperor of Ethiopia, because you were trained by one who served the King of England.

Once a week, Lise and I went to see our son in Cheb, at the City of Amsterdam Hotel. Lise had now gone back to her swimming and she was in her element, always splashing about in the lake. The swimming had made her so tat and beautiful, like a bronze statue, that I could hardly wait until we were together again. She'd bought a bookby some imperial German athlete named Fouré or Fuké or something, about the cult of the naked body, and because Lise had a beautiful body she became a nudist, though without actually joining a club. in the morning she'd serve me coffee wearing nothing but a skirt, or sometimes we'd pull the curtains and she'd walk around the house completely naked, and when she looked at me, she would nod contentedly and smile, because she could see in my eyes that she pleased me and was beautiful. but our little son Siegfried caused us a lot of worry. Everything he picked up he threw down again, until one day, when he was crawling around the floor of the City of Amsterdam, he picked up a hammer. His old grandfather gave him a nail, just for fun, and the boy set the nail up and drove it into the floor with one blow. From then on, while other little boys were playing with rattles and teddy bears and running around, Siegfried would lie on the floor and throw a tantrum until he got his hammer and nails, which you could only get for coupons or on the black market. He didn't talk, he didn't even recognize his mother or me, and as long as he was awake the City of Amsterdam would tremble with the blows from his hammer, and the floor was full of nails he'd driven into it. I found our weekly visits unbearable, and each blow would drive me to distraction, because I could see right away that this child, this guest who was my own son, was a cretin and would always be a cretin. When other children his age were going to school, Siegfried would barely be learning how to read, and when others were getting married, Siegfried would still e learning how to tell the time and fetch the newspaper. But there was more to it than a little boy obsessed with pounding nails into the floor. Whenever the air-raid siren went off and everyone else rushed into the shelter, Siegfried got excited and glowed with pleasure. And while other kids were messing their pants out of fear, Siegfried would clap his little hands, laugh, and pound nail after nail into the board they'd brought into the cellar for him, and suddenly he was beautiful, as though the convulsions he had suffered as a baby and the defect in his cerebral cortex had vanished. And I, who had served the Emperor of Ethiopia, was pleased that my son, though he was feeble-minded, could prophesy the future of all the German cities, because I knew that most of them would end up exactly like the floors of the City of Amsterdam hotel. I bought three kilos of nails, and in a single morning Siegfried drove them all into the kitchen floor. In the afternoon, as he was driving nails into the rooms upstairs, he would carefully pull the nail out of the kitchen floor, rejoicing secretly as the carpet bomging of Marshal Tedder drove bombs into the earth in exactly the same way, precisely according to plan, because my boy would rive nails in along straight lines and at right angles. Slavic blood had triumphed once again, and I was proud of the boy, he was already like Bivoj, a hammer in his strong right hand.

Now I began to see pictures, images from long ago that I'd forgotten about, and suddenly they were right before me, so fresh and clear that I would stand there by the quarry with my tray of mineral water, thunderstruck. I saw Zdenêk, the headwaiter at the Hotel Tichota, who enjoyed having a good time so much that when he was off work that to get it he'd spend all the money he had with him, which was always several thousand. Then I saw his uncle, a military bandmaster now retired, who split wood on his little plot of land in the forest where he had a cottage overgrown with flowers and wild vines. This uncle had been a bandmaster at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and still wore his uniform when he split wood, because he had written two polkas and several waltzes that still got played all the time, although nobody remembered who the composer was and everyone thought he'd died along time ago. Zdenek and I, as we were riding along in a rented buggy on one of our days off, heard the sound of a military brass band playing one of his uncle's waltzes, and Zdenek stood up and signaled the driver to stop, then went over to the band and had a little talk with the bandmaster. He offered to give him all the money he had, four thousand crowns, for the soldiers to buy themselves beer, if they would do what he asked. Buses were waiting, and the whole band was getting ready to climb aboard to go to a band tattoo, so we left the buggy there and got on the first bus with them. After an hour's drive we stopped in a forest, and soon a hundred and twenty uniformed musicians with their shiny instruments were advancing slowly down a road through the woods. Then they turned onto a footpath lined with thick bushes and pine trees that towered overhead and Zdenek signaled them to stop and slipped through some loose planks in a fence, disappeared into the bushes for a few moments, then came back and told them his plan. When he gave the sign, the soldiers climbed one by one through the hole in the fence into the bushes while Zdenek, like a soldier at the front, directed them to take positions around the tiny house. They could hear the sound of an ax striking wood, and the entire band silently surrounded the chopping block and an old man in an ancient Austrian bandleader's uniform. When Zdenek gave the signal, the bandmaster flung his golden ceremonial baton in the air, gave a loud command, and out of the bushes rose a glistening array of brass instruments and the band began to play a clamorous polka by Zdenek's uncle. The old bandleader stood transfixed over the piece of wood he had just split, while the band moved forward a couple of steps, still up to their waists in pine and oak shrubs. Only the bandmaster stood in the greenery up to his knees, swinging his golden baton while the band played the polka and their instruments flashed int he sunlight. The old bandleader slowly looked around with a heavenly expression on his face, and when they finished the polka the band started right in on one of his concert waltzes, and the old bandleader sat down, put his ax across his knees, and began to cry. The bandmaster came up and touched his shoulder, the old man looked up, and the bandmaster handed him the golden baton. Now the old man got to his feet and, as he told us afterward, he thought he'd died and gone to heaven with a military band all around him, and he thought they must play military music in heaven and that God Himself was conducting the band and was no turning His own baton over to him. So the old man conducted his own pieces, and when he'd finished, Zdenek stepped out of the bushes, shook hands with his uncle, and wished him good health. Half an hour later the band climbed back into their buses and as they were driving away they played Zdenek a farewell ceremonial fanfare. Zdenek stood there filled with emotion and bowed and thanked them, and finally the buses, and with them the fanfares, faded down the road through the woods, lashed by beech branches and shrubs.

As a matter of fact, there was something of the angel in Zdenek. Once he financed a wedding for a stone cutter's daughter, and another time we went to a clothing store and brought some white sailor's uniforms for all the boys at an orphanage. During a fair he would pay the expenses for all the merry-go-round and swing operators so everyone could ride for nothing all day. One of our days off we bought jars of jelly and the most beautiful bouquets we could find in Prague and went from one public toilet to another, congratulating all the old women attendants on name days they didn't have and birthdays that had come and gone, though Zdenek always managed to strike it lucky with at least one of them. One day I decided to go to Prague, take a taxi out to the Hotel Tichota, and ask if Zdenek was still there and if not where I could find him, and I also planned to visit the mill by the Charles Baths where I once lived with Grandma, to see if the little room was still there where the shirts and underwear flew past the window. While I was standing at the station in Prague I pulled my sleeve back to see what time it was, and when I looked up I saw Zdenek over by a newsstand, and I stiffened, because here it was again: the unbelievable was coming true. I stood frozen in that position, with one hand holding up the other sleeve, and I saw Zdenek looking around as though he had been waiting a long time for someone, then he raised his arm and was just about to look at his watch too when three men in long leather coats stepped up and grabbed me by the arm. I saw Zdenek staring at me as though he couldn't believe his eyes. He was pale and just stood staring as the Germans bundled me into a car and drove off, and I wondered where on earth they were taking me and why. They drove to Pankrác prison, the gates opened, and they led me in like a criminal and threw me into a cell. I was dazzled by what had happened to me, I rejoiced, hoping against hope they wouldn't let me out right away. What I really wanted, since war was coming to an end anyway, was to be arrested and sent to a concentration camp, and now it seemed my lucky star was shining. The cell door opened and I was led off to interrogation, and after I had given them all my particulars and my reason for coming to Prague, the investigating officer grew serious and asked me who I had been waiting for. I said, Nobody. The door opened and two men in civilian clothes rushed in, punched me in the nose, knocked two of my teeth, and I fell back to the floor. They leaned over me and asked me again who I was waiting for and who I was supposed to pass the message to, and when I said I'd just come to Prague for a visit, one of them brought his face down close to mine, lifted my head up, grabbed me by the hair, and pounded my head on the floor while the interrogating officer screamed that glancing at my watch and been a prearranged signal and that I was connected with the underground Bolshevik movement. When they tossed me back in the cell the SS men shouted, You Bolshevik swine! And the words were sweet and tender music to my ears, because I was beginning to see that this could be my return ticket to Prague, an eraser that would wipe away what I'd got myself into when I married a German and had to stand before the Nazi doctor in Cheb, who examined my penis to see if I was worthy of having sexual intercourse with a Teutonic Aryan, and I laughed and laughed, because somehow I hadn't felt the beating or the wounds, and because now my battered face was a passport that would allow me one day to return to Prague as an anti-Nazi fighter. The main thing was that I'd be able to show all those Štoubeks and Brandejses and all the hotel owners that I was one of them, because if I survived this I would buy a big hotel, not in Prague perhaps, but certainly somewhere else, because with the stamps in that little suitcase, as Lise had intended, I'd be able to buy two hotels and have my choice of Austria or Switzerland. In the eyes of those Austrian and Swiss hotelkeepers I'd be a complete stranger, with no need to prove to them that there was nothing my past. If I had a hotel in Prague, on the other hand, and was a member of the Association of Prague Hotelkeepers, and worked my way up to executive secretary for all the Prague hotels, they'd have to respect me--not love me, perhaps, but at least respect me, and that was all I really wanted.

I was in Pankrác prison fourteen days in all, and after further interrogation they realized it had been a mistake, that they had been waiting for someone else who was supposed to look at his watch, and they'd already caught the contact man and got everything they wanted out of him, except the other person's identity, and I remembered that Zdenek had been standing there and that he was just about to look at his watch too. Zdenek had seen me get arrested for him, and that could be very important to me, because if no one from the cells vouched for me later, certainly Zdenek would. So when I came back from the interrogations and just before they pushed me into the cells, I started my nose bleeding again and I laughed and laughed while the blood flowed. When they let me go, the interrogator apologized but reminded me that in the interests of the Reich it was better to punish ninety-nine just men by mistake than to let a single guilty person slip through their fingers. Toward evening, Stood outside the gates of the Pankrac penitentiary, and another man was let out just after me, and when he came out he broke down and sank to the sidewalk. The streetcars were going by in the. purple twilight of the blackout, crowds flowed up and down the street, young people walked hand in hand and children played in the dusk as if there was no war going on at all, only flowers and embraces and loving glances. The girls wore their blouses and skirts in the warm twilight just so, and I too looked at them hungrily, because everything seemed prepared for men's eyes, deliberately put into an erotic frame. It's so beautiful, said the man when I came over to offer my help. How long? I asked. He said he'd just finished a ten-year stretch. Then he tried to stand up, but couldn't, and I had to help. He asked me if I was in a hurry, and I said no, and when he asked me what I'd been in for, I said illegal activity. So we walked to a Number 11 trolley, and I had to help him on, and everywhere, in the trolley and on the streets, were crowds of people who all seemed to be not he way home or going to a dance, and that was when I noticed that Prague girls were prettier than German girls, with better taste, because the German girls wore their clothes as if they were uniforms, all those dresses and dirndls, those green suits and hunter's hats. I sat down beside the man, who had grey hair though he couldn't have been much over thirty, and I told him he looked too young for his gray hair, and then I asked him out of the blue, Who did you kill? He hesitated for a moment, then stared at the prominent breasts of a girl who was hanging on to a strap with one hand, and finally asked me, How did you know? And I told him I had served the Emperor of Ethiopia. We went right to the end of the line, and the murderer asked me to come with him to his mother's, to be with him in case he fell on the way. We smoked as we waited for the bus, which wasn't long in coming, then went three stops and got out at Koničovy Mlyn, and the murderer told me that he'd rather go the back way, through the village of Makotrasy, to surprise his mother and ask her forgiveness. I said that I'd go with him to the edge o the village, to the gate of his house, and then return to the main road and hitchhike home. I was doing this not out of any kindness but to give myself as many allies as possible once the war was over, and it would be over before we knew it.

We walked together through the starry night, and the dusty road took us through a blacked-out village and then back into damp countryside as blue as carbon paper, with a narrow little moon that cast an orange light and made a thin, barely visible shadow behind us or in front of us or in the ditches beside us. Then we walked up to the top of a small rise, not much more than a sigh in the earth, and he said that from here we should be able to see his native village. But when we got to the top of the rise, not a single building was visible. The murderer hesitated, seemed almost alarmed, and stammered that it was impossible, or could he have made a mistake? Perhaps over the next rise. But after we'd gone a hundred meters or so, fear came over us both ad the murderer began trembling more violently than he had when he first walked through the gates of the Pankrác penitentiary. He sat down and wipes his forehead, which glistened as if sprinkled with water. What's the matter? I asked. There was a village here once, and there's not a trace of it now, babbled the murderer. Am I losing my mind, have I gone crazy, or what? What was the name of the village? I asked. Lidice, he said. That explains it, I said, the village is gone. The Germans blew it up and shot the men and took everyone else off to a concentration camp? Why? the murderer asked. Because the Reichsprotektor was assassinated and the assassins' trail led them here, I said. The murderer sat down, his hands hanging over his knees like two flippers, then stood up again and stumbled through that moonlit landscape like a drunk. He stopped by what looked like a post in the ground, fell down, and embraced it. It wasn't a post at all, it was what was left of a tree trunk with a stump of a single branch on it, as though it had been used as a gallows. This, said the murderer, used to be our walnut tree, this is where our garden was, and here--and he walked slowly around--somewhere here. And he knelt down and felt around with his hands for the crumbled foundations of the house and the farm buildings. He felt with certainty now as if he was reading Braille reinforced by memory, and when he had felt out the whole foundation of his family home on his hands and knees, he sat down under the tree trunk and yelled, You murderers! Then he stood up and clenched his fist until the blue veins stood out on his neck in the light of the sickle moon. After he had cursed the murderers, the murderer sat down on the ground, bent forward with his hands under his knees, rocked back and forth as in a rocking chair, and stared at the branch outlined against the moon, then he spoke as if he was making a confession: I had a handsome father who was better-looking than me, and I'm a failure compared with him, and Dad was crazy about women and women were even crazier about him. He had a ing with the neighbor's wife, and I was jealous of her, and my mother suffered, and I saw it all. See this branch right here? He'd grab it and swing himself over the fence to visit the neighbor's pretty wife. Once I waited for him, and when he swung back over the fence we had an argument and I killed him with an ax. It wasn't that I wanted to kill him, but I loved my mother and my mother was suffering. Now al that's left is the trunk of the walnut tree, and my mother, I'll be she's dead too.

I said, Maybe she's in a concentration camp, and she'll be coming back soon. So the murderer got up and said, Will you come with me to ask? And I said, Why not? I can speak German. So we set out for Kladno. Just before midnight we got to Kročehlavy and asked a German patrol where the Gestapo headquarters was. The patrol told us how to get there, and soon we were standing in front of the main door. There was some kind of party on the second floor--we could hear the hum of talk, the clinking of glasses, and piercing female laughter. Then the patrol arrived and the sentry changed. t was already an hour past midnight, and I asked the commander of the guard if we could talk to the head of the Gestapo, and he roars, Was? and told us to come back int he morning. Just then the door opened and a crowd of SS men in high spirits came pouring out, gaily saying their farewells as though they'd been at some kind o celebration or birthday or name-day party, just the way our exhilarated guests used to leave the Hotel Paris every day when it was time for them to leave. And on the very top step stood a soldier holding a candelabra with burning candles on it. He was drunk, his uniform was a mess, his hair fell over his forehead as he held the candelabra up in a gesture of farewell. When he saw us, he came down the stairs to the threshold and asked the sentry, who saluted him respectfully, who we were. The murderer told him, and I translated it, that he'd been in prison for ten years and had come home to Lidice and hadn't been able to find a single house or his mother, and he wanted to know what had happened to her. The commander laughed, and little tears of hot wax dripped to the ground from the tilted candelabra. He turned and started walking back up the stairs, but then he roared out, Halt! And the guards opened the door and the commander came back down the stairs and asked the murderer what he'd gotten tenders for. The murderer said he'd killed his father. Now the commander held the candelabra, with the candles still dripping wax, up to the murderer's face, and somehow he became sober, as though he was delighted that fate had sent him a man that night who was looking for his mother after he'd killed his own father, and who now was standing where the commander himself often stood as a murderer, whether he murdered on orders or of his own free will. And I, who had served an emperor and had often seen the unbelievable come true, I saw this imperial German state murderer, this wholesale murderer with decorations clanking on his chest, climb the stairs followed by a simple murderer, a patricide. I wanted to leave now, but the sentry took me by the shoulder and roughly turned me back toward the stairs.So I sat at a large table covered with the leftovers from the banquet, and it looked just the way tables look after a wedding or a large graduation party, with scraps of cake and bottles empty and half empty, and the drunken SS man sat down on the table and made the murderer tell him the story all over again, while I translated--everything that had happened ten years ago by the walnut tree--but what the commander got the biggest kick out of was how efficient the organization in Pankrác was, so efficient that the prisoner never learned about the people and the town of Lidice. And something even more unbelievable came true that evening. hidden behind the mask of a translator with a battered and healing face, unrecognized, I recognized in this Gestapo commander one of the guests at my wedding, t he military gentleman who hadn't even congratulated me or offered his hand, though I raised my glass and clicked the heels of my polished shoes and stood there with my arm and my glass extended, offering to drink to my own happiness, only to find the gesture not repeated. I had felt terribly humiliated, so I lushed to the roots of my hair, just as I'd done when Mr. Šroubek refused to drink to my health, and Mr. Skrivánek too, who had served the King of England. And now fate was offering another one, another of those who had ignored my offer of friendship in the glass. Here he was, sitting right in front of me, making a big thing out of getting up from his chair to wake up the archivist and have him bring out the registry book, and then flipping through the pages on the banquet table, getting them all smeared with sauce and liquor, turning the pages until he found the right page, so he could read what had happened and announce that the murderer's mother was in a concentration and that so far there was no date and no cross after her name to indicate her death.

The next day, when I got back to Chomutov, I found myself fired: they'd heard the news of my arrest and mere suspicion was enough to have me packing my bags. I also found a letter saying that Lise had gone to see Siegfried at his grandfather's in Cheb, in the City of Amsterdam hotel. She asked me to come too and said she'd taken the little suitcase with her. I got a ride by car right to the edge of Cheb, where I had to wait because an air-raid warning was in effect for Cheb and Aš. As I lay in the ditch with the soldiers, I heard a pounding like the regular and rhythmic working of a machine, and it came closer and closer, and my son appeared to me, and I saw how every day--today too, because I'd brought him five kilos of eight-inch nails--he would crawl along and regularly and rhythmically pound nails into the floor with powerful blows from his hammer, one beside another, with a single energetic blow for each, as if he were planting radishes or a thick row of spinach. When the air raid was over, I got back into the military automobile. Driving into Cheb, we saw people, old Germans, walking out of the city and singing songs. But they were happy songs, and I wondered if what they'd seen had driven them mad or confused them, or was it a custom of theirs to sing a happy song in the face of adversity? Then we ran into clouds of dust and yellow smoke, and there were dead bodies in the ditches, and then streets with houses ablaze, and ambulance crews pulling people out fo the rubble, and nurses kneeling and wrapping bandages around heads and arms. You could hear moans and wailing on all sides. I remembered how we'd driven past this place in carriages and cars on the way to my wedding, when everyone was drunk with the victory over France and Poland. And I saw red swastika flags with the flames licking at them, the banners burning and crackling as though the fire was devouring them with a special relish, and the fire advanced up to the red cloth, followed by the blackening end, which curled up behind it like the tail of a sea horse. Then I found myself standing in front of the collapsed and burning wall of the City of Amsterdam hotel, and a slight breeze came up and drew aside a curtain of beige smoke and dust, and on the top floor I saw my little sun still sitting, picking up nails and pounding them into the floor with powerful blows. Even from that distance I could see how strong his right arm was, and how that was all he really had, just a strong fist and a rippling bicep that could drive a nail right into the floor with a single blow, as if no bombs had fallen, as if nothing in the world had happened. And the next day, when people came out of their bomb shelters, Lise, my wife, had still not shown up. I asked about a small, scuffed suitcase and they told me Lise kept it with her all the time. So I took a pick and dug all day long. The next day I gave my little boy five kilos of nails and he gaily pounded them into the floor while I went on looking for my wife, his mother. I wasn't until the third day that I came across her shoes. Slowly--while Siegfried was having a tantrum because he'd run out of nails--I freed my Lise from the pile of rubble and dust, and when I uncovered half her body, I saw that she was curled into a ball to protect our little suitcase. First I carefully hid it, then I dug out the rest of her, all but her head. The blast had taken her head off, and we spent two more days looking for it while my son went on pounding nails into the floor and into my brain. On the fourth day I took the little suitcase and without saying goodbye to anyone walked away, and behind me the blows of the hammer grew fainter, blows I would hear for the rest of my life. That evening a society for mentally handicapped children was supposed to come for Siegfried. And Lise was buried in a common grave with a scarf wrapped around the stump of her neck so people wouldn't get strange ideas, because though I had dug up the courtyard, I never found the head.

I Served the King of England - Bohumil Hrabal