Swing for the Heart

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Over the cool waters

Dear Davídek and Alinka,

I couldn’t write sooner, but believe me, I’m thinking about you all the time. I think about how Kačenka is doing at school, whether she understands everything they’re studying. But she’s a smart and clever girl and, most importantly, she’s got you two. Is it possible to buy those caramels there that she likes so much? But you can probably find everything there, probably even all kinds of caramels….

“When did it come?”

“About five days ago. It’s been here since Tuesday, David. But I couldn’t give it to you, you know that.” David nodded.

“I can’t wait to move. This won’t happen anymore. It makes me sad. I should call. But how can we call from Mrs. James’? It ticks me off.” David got up from the chair in that single room and took the letter outside.

“Only a few days left. We can make it, and then we’ll be able to call home. It’ll be our phone and our phone account, nobody will interfere and we won’t have to ask anybody.”

“Those two months the guy got out of us, that’s the price for the few hundred we knocked off the purchasing price,” explained again David as he walked outside to read the letter in the tranquility of the garden.

It was the last Saturday evening of August, year two thousand and one. David gazed at the sky as dusk was setting in. It was peculiar. Low clouds were moving along the distant horizon, soaked up in dark purple and red stripes. The wind was strangely warm and was bringing the smell of drying grass. David was gazing into the distance, letting the breeze remind him of rowen and the lightly spiced smell of smoke. Unusually strong, strangely exciting and almost hot wind pushed on his face and in it, David caught the trace of a forgotten scent from childhood. As though it was speaking to him and wanted to remind him of something. The image of a haystack materialized in David’s mind, the one where they used to sit with the neighborhood boys. Their bikes were down below, tossed about on the field. They would watch the distant apartment buildings, behind which the enflamed sky glowed just as strangely. The air smelled the same. How old were they then? Ten? Something like that. Standa Prošek had said he’d definitely become a famous actor and know personally all the famous actresses. David and Jarek listened, letting Standa colorfully describe all the scenes in which he’d star. They would all be dangerous stunts – he would jump from one plane to another during flight. They were lying on their backs and let the bizarrely colored clouds flow over their heads into the night. They arrived home later than they should’ve that evening. David remembered that his mom had baked a plum pie and dad chastised them for riding their bikes in the dark, without headlights. It didn’t matter that they lived on the edge of a small town. His mom instructed him – he could hear her voice as clearly as if she were standing next to him: “Davídek, don’t eat the pie before bedtime, when they’re warm like this. You’ll have a stomach-ache.” And she caressed his cheek. David involuntarily touched his cheek, as though he’d wanted to find her hand there. That was the message the wind was bringing to him.

The night had advanced, but not so much that David couldn’t continue reading the letter. Alice peeked into the garden, but left David alone. She saw his slouched back and the letter in front of his serious and concentrated face. He wanted to be alone with the letter.

…but you can probably find everything there,probably even all kinds of caramels. I would like to send her some. To you and Alice I’d like to send some songs on cd’s. Some are old and some new that you probably don’t know. I don’t know how to package the cd properly, and mail is very expensive. I also have some jams and canned fruit for you, Mrs. Mášová brought me some fruit again, so I made jams. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make more next year, because the pot is heavy and I had a difficult time lifting it. For dad or for you it’d be nothing, but dad is no longer here and you’re far away and I’m an old hag. But maybe I could ask Mr. Máša to help me with the pot.

David was sitting on the garden chair and was only vaguely aware of the background noise generated by the constantly passing Fords, Dodges and Chevrolets. A soft glow was rising above the sky-scrapers in the downtown, and from inside Mrs. James’ house David could hear the faint sounds of the English-spoken news channel. He gazed towards the sky, which had turned a crimson purple color, as the wind suffused David with the scent of drying leaves.

I have been having some health problems. I had to go see Dr. Horešovský. I couldn’t understand all those Latin words that you would’ve understood and explain them to me. I will have to have a surgery; there’s something wrong in the stomach, in the intestines, apparently the surgery is urgent, so I don’t know. But hopefully everything will be fine. Then they will stick a bag from my intestines onto my belly. Dr. Horešovský was also saying that I have to be really careful about my spine, because it’s full of that same disease I’ve got in the intestines; it probably spread into the spine, somehow. I don’t really understand it, but as long as they do.

David put the letter down on his knee and blew his nose. Then he turned the leaf and continued reading.

But maybe they won’t need to do the surgery. They say it’s spread to a high degree. So I don’t know.

Imagine, Davídek, that someone knocked over the blue flower pot on dad’s grave, so that it broke. I don’t think it was the wind, even though it was strong enough. But I’ll buy a similar one. I have trouble walking, I feel weak, I lost almost fifteen kilos.

David placed the letter in his lap and stared into the wind that was pushing a breath of fall into his face. Alice offered she would drive him to the airport tonight. There’s time. He works at the airport and still doesn’t let any of the planes take him home? He should go there. What’s he waiting for? What is he waiting for! He took the letter and again read the familiar handwriting.

…I feel very weak, I lost almost fifteen kilos. I have no appetite; everything makes me nauseous, that’s the age I guess. Dr. Horešovský is sending me for a CT scan now, says he wants to see my bones. What can he see there, I wonder? Only how old I am.

The crane on my kitchen window broke yesterday. I put an elastic on it, but it keeps falling. Mrs. Zatratilová – from the first floor – her husband left. They were fighting for a long time. He was travelling to Ostrava a lot and she was seeing some man. So they were fighting a lot over there. Davídek, you still have your skates here. Would you like me to send them to you? It would be a shame to get rid of them, don’t you think?

Davídek, take care of yourselves, all of you, I have those jams here for you. I can’t eat it all, it’s here for you; if someone were going to visit you I’d give it to them.

I’m sending you kisses and am thinking of you, your mom.

P.S. I added a little pocket money for Kačenka, so you can find her something for Christmas.

David folded the letter into thirds and put it back into the envelope. Only now did he notice the hundred-crown bill. He pulled it out and bit his lips. He was glad that nobody could see him. He had to give it a moment before he returned into the house. He didn’t want Alice to notice anything. He should fly there. He absolutely has to plan a trip back, while…, while…, as soon as possible. He can’t postpone it. He’s constantly making promises to himself and conjuring up distant plans, but now won’t come back again; it will flow into the past and will drag with it everything that is happening now, over there across the ocean. Everything that he’s reading in the letter.

From the garden David returned with a desire that he wasn’t yet ready to articulate the way he wanted to.

“Alice, next Thursday we’re moving into a new place. Our place. On Friday we’ll have them bring all our stuff from storage, boxes and everything that’s there. We’ll unpack it all, at least a little bit.” He ended his sentence in the middle, somewhat strangely.

“David, what do you mean? Only unpack a little bit?” She sensed that he was pondering something, but in light of their situation he doesn’t dare articulating it.

“Nothing, nothing. My mom sends her love and says to look after ourselves, all of us. I think she’s sick. A lot.” And he handed her the letter. Alice took it, sat down in the kitchen on the edge of the chair and began reading. David was walking around, straightening the cups in Mrs. James’ shelf.

Alice folded the letter into the envelope. They were both silent. She took another look and saw the hundred-crown bill. David began from another end, on a seemingly unrelated note.

“I think that now in September I’ll have a much better chance of finding a job as an electrocardiological technologist. That will bring a meaningful addition to my income, Alice.” She understood where he was going.

“I’m glad you passed the test. That’s so great.”

“Now we’re just waiting to move.”

“I’m really looking forward to it, even though I’m a little nervous, too.”

“Why? Now there’s nothing to be scared about. That nobody was responding to my applications, I’m actually not that surprised. I was counting on that a little, in fact. Everyone’s on vacation, nobody hires during the summer holidays. It’ll be fine. The important thing is that I’ve successfully completed the exam. That’s the key to our door.”

They were silent and David wanted Alice to suggest it. He felt his secret wish was selfish. Their situation was far from stable. Large expenses were ahead of them, for which they didn’t have enough income. They’ll have to furnish the house, from utensils to washer and dryer and light bulbs.

“David, you’d like to fly over there, wouldn’t you?” she picked up the envelope.

“It…I think…, but it’s a difficult thing. I don’t think it’s the right time.”

“David, there may not be a better time. I would like you to fly there. You’re a doctor and can see further and more correctly than me or than your mom.” He nodded.

“But the trouble is that we don’t have the money for it.”

“We could put the flight ticket on credit. And then, when you have the better job, we’d easily pay it off.” He was happy she was saying this and understood the urgency of the situation. Still he felt a sense of selfishness. Alice has parents too. But they’re a lot younger and her sister’s there with them at least.

“I think it’s a bit of a luxury for me to go.”

“I don’t think so. Fulfill my wish, and go. We’ll figure it out.” He nodded.

“Alright then. This week we’ll move in, take our things from storage and bring them into our own place. That will be the weekend. The ninth is a Sunday, on Monday I’ll take a day off and I’ll buy a ticket for Tuesday the eleventh.”

“But now I think it’s time for me to drive you to the airport.”

David grabbed his orange safety vest, tossed a thermos with tea into his bag and they were on their way.

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