“For reason of my studies”, I ask to have dinner in my room. I can’t go to school totally unprepared, can I? Once alone, I phone Mirka, offer her to come over tomorrow and walk with her to school recounting her in detail my exciting life in Antibes. Then I call it a day, go to bed, sleep like a log, wake up mint-fresh and decide to make it last. In general, Egon’s aerobics suited me perfectly and it was plain foolish to throw his card away.
Dressing up for school, I determine to rule my fancies with an iron hand in the future, let memories be forgotten and get off to a flying start. Hence, I shall renounce Mirak’s dancing lessons and ask my grandmother not signing me up for the spring term. I don’t think she will raise any objections. I am engaged and thus, searching any new social contacts in view of an eventual marriage, is not just gratuitous but indelicate. As for my father he is in principle against any “waste of time”.
The Antibes extravaganza changed completely my former style of life and I feel awkward in my usual school-girl outfit. Eating my breakfast alone in the strangely vast and draughty morning room, I am homesick for the inviting Antibes’ breakfast room teeming with chatter, laughter and clatter of dishes. I miss its domestic cosiness, fragrant with alluring smells. Here I sit alone. Glamour is gone. So are the sun and the easy life.
The garden is veiled in greyness. There isn’t any hint of snow. Just freezing slush under the icy rain glazing the tawny branches of bare trees. I hate this gloom! I loathe going to school and being treated like anyone else! I! Irene, sweetheart, Laura, Lolita, babe! The “babe” cuts through me razor-sharp. Like blood-drops, tears trickle down my cheeks. I push the plate away and get up. Staying alone with me is a risk.
I run away to Mirka and paint my life in Antibes in such beguiling colours as to persuade myself that the loss of Milan is a trifle compared with the high-life I get renouncing him. I survive somehow until noon, flee home before the rising emptiness and hope that somebody, anybody, will be looking for me. I return to an empty house. Nobody needs me. All are gone. Even Mary who has her day off and laid my lunch out in the deserted dining room.
I should have invited Mirka. Now it’s too late. I hang about the house searching for a sign of life, a note with a message to call back, a couple of kind words telling me where to meet my next-of-kin or, at least, when to expect them back. Nothing! Neither by the phone, nor in my room. Mary must have forgotten to write the messages down. Mary, stupid old cow!
I munch on my lunch and try to let time pass, choking on my heart stuck in my throat in one sticky lump. Nobody calls. Nobody comes. Nobody is looking for me desperately! I move to my room, stare at a page in a textbook and wait. Day drags towards night. Was I not scared to miss a life-saving call I would go to the cinema. Wooden with tension, I open my father’s liquor-cabinet, pour myself a generous helping of his brandy, dump it down into my nervous stomach, shake myself up and decide to have one more. I help myself to a handful of his cigarettes from the silver Tiffany box on my father’s writing-desk and settle down in the leather armchair by the fire place littered with pale ashes.
“Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow,” I hum under my breath, sicker and lonelier with every second, until I can’t take it anymore, reach for the phone and dial Beda’s number.
“Yes, he’s back.”
“No, he isn’t home,” his mother answers with her usual set phrase and I am dead-sure she won’t tell Beda to call me back.
Now I could make use of Egon’s card. It will teach me to count my blessings while they last! In panic I could get desperate enough to consider seeing Milan I put on my coat and set for “The Flaming Heart”, even if I don’t know whether Beda is playing tonight. I renounce on a taxi, take a tram not to risk coming too early and waiting outside in front of a locked door. Passing through the streets tainted with my happier past I shiver with cold. Hunched upon themselves, the shabby passers-by glue their unseeing eyes to the pavement. Strange how drab and hostile Prague is when seen alone! Milan’s love has maimed me like a soul-killing witch working her way into my core, robbing me of my strength to live, to feel, to stay whole. I must get rid of it before it destroys me wholly. If not, it is only a matter of time till I get married to Milan because I love him! And it’s of no use persuading me that he is just a passing fancy, that our marriage will mean not only mine but also his ruin, that there are no two other people as totally mismatched as we are, and that when the desire had worn out, I shall despise him, and myself, so fiercely that it will destroy us both.
Now I have missed my stop and have to slide the slope from the Castle down to the Nerudova Street, slipping on the icy pavement. Balanced on the edge of a fall, I flee from Petrin Hill where this desperate muddle had started.
Out of breath, I hurl myself into “The Flaming Heart”.
“Oh, it’s you, Miss!” Mrs. Novakova is visibly astonished.
“I’m a bit early. May I have a cup of coffee in the meantime?”
“Don’t you know, Miss? Beda isn’t playing tonight. Though he promised he’d call when he comes back from Antibes, he hasn’t. The other pianist is quite good. But, of course, no match for Beda! We’re looking forward to his return. I’ll bring you the coffee, Miss.”
" Beda’s special, please, then cigarettes and a box of matches”.
I sip my coffee spiked with gin. My eyes burn, stung by the coarse tobacco. The chair starts pirouetting under me, a rather nice, exciting feeling, like riding a plaster hoarse on a merry-go-round.
I order another gin. Then still another, spied on by Mrs. Novakova disapproving eyes. The bar is getting crowded; the spot-lights are on. Piano is playing from afar. I lay my heavy head on the madly whirling table and abandon myself to my fate.
“Miss, Miss! Give me your telephone number. I’ll call your family and ...”
“No home. No family. I’m a motherless child,” I chuckle, gulping my tears down.
“I’ll try to reach Beda, then. Drink that coffee, Miss. You’ll feel better,” Mrs. Novakova puts a mug of steaming coffee to my lips. I take a sip and spit it out. My mouth is scorched. My tongue turned into a rubbery stump. In a fit of intense blues, I start to howl, blowing my running nose with the sleeve of my jacket, rubbing my swollen eyes red.
“Girl! Stop it! No use crying. I’ll take you home.”
“I blink into Beda’s distorted face.
“Play “Laura” for me! Play it again, Beda! For old times sake!”
“Of course I will. Drink your coffee, first.” He pours the gall-bitter liquid down my throat, lights a cigarette and puts it into my mouth. I am sucking on it, dying for a kiss.
“Tell me: “I love you, Laura”, Beda! Say it even if it isn’t true!”
“I love you, Laura,” he says in a coaxing voice like a mother soothing a crying baby. Yet in my heart of hearts I know that what he says is true.
“Take me in your arms! Warm me up! I’m so cold, Beda!”
He embraces me with an almost unbearable tenderness spreading through me in far-reaching warmth. He loves me. Therefore I am.
“Don’t leave me, Beda! Don’t ever leave me alone!”
“How could I, Laura? Now let me take you home.”
He hooks his arm under my shoulders and hauls me to the exit.
“Wait, Beda! I’m going to be sick,” I stop and vomit upon the pavement.
He unwinds a scarf from his neck and cleans me up.
“Well done, girl, now you’ll feel much better. I’m quite an expert in the subject, believe me.” He helps me into the taxi. I pass out in his arms.
“Is it okay if we’re seen together?” He stops by the entrance door.
“Nobody home. Here’s the key.”
More carried than walking, I stumble into my room. He opens the bed for me, undresses me and tucks me in. Clutching his hand, I fall asleep.