The engraving and in the hole. The way it was with She-Dog. We see them go. She held me.
We were the People of the Secret. And we were waiting. Then David lost his mind. Maybe the reason his head cracked was because it was the best, sending out the signals that propelled the whole crew, the whole community, forward. That's what we told ourselves, that we were going forward, getting somewhere, but we soon lost all concept which way we were headed.
Some of us might have noticed we had stopped going in a straight line and were turning in a circle. It also struck me several times that time was fading in the pale light, turning more translucent, losing its color and taste again, and I was horrified by that. Probably Sharky was the only one who had a tangible goal: to rid himself of the box and its phantoms. Me, I went like a bear on a treadmill, the whole thing was scary, but it was fun and charged me up. Micka couldn't afford to stop glowing, and he never glowed more than when the metal flowed.
The thing with David happened after the Ministry cleaned out our well. Not only did he constantly sniff at his thumbs. But I also noticed a change in his face, his eyes starting to bulge while his chin seemed to be caving in. His lips hung open loosely, you look like a gourd, I kidded, he didn't respond.
I found him down in the storeroom, sitting under the fabrics like he was in some Bedouin tent, one hand in brocade, it all feels the same, he said, it's exactly the same, it's all the same to me.
What're you talkin about, I asked.
There's no difference. It's all the same. You did the cars, right?
See, he said, you or Novák. You're both the same to me. That's the way it feels to me, physically an mentally. An that's all I'm gonna say.
I gave up and went back upstairs where we sat around and talked the way we always did after work.
So how did it all begin? If I'm going to retrace my footsteps back then in the Stone Age I have to talk about the time me and Bára walked through the square full of Germans, and I will, because that was the place where I began to feel the motion, where time took on taste and color, where the carnival started for me.
We walked through the square full of refugees. Now Prague, the hemmed-in city, the Pearl, a dot on the map behind the wires, had its very own refugees. I'm going to write about how it began, and I have to grab the table with one hand and gouge my fingernail into my thumb, I will, and I have to do the same with the other hand too, and feel the pain so I feel something real. If I want to know how it was. Because the main part of the story, the end, is vanishing into the void where the future and all the dead dwindle into nothing.
It started with the sweeping away of walls and the exchanging of souvenirs, I'll trade you a piece of the wall for a bullet shell from the square, a lump of candle wax, a piece of phone-tap wire, as time went by I lost my collection, it only made sense at first, amid the joy and exhilaration, what use is there in saving splinters, iron scales, an besides: obvious symbols only work for things closed by time. Yet you haven't left that reality. You're still walkin the boards in the same performance, on the same familiar set, your rankled nerves detect the presence of the board of directors, the ones that're runnin the show, and is it? or is it not? part of a plan? is it by design? You still sense the nasty looks on the other side of the curtain, the sneering, the rat, the wicked uncle's grin. The Face.
You still feel the pain in your chewed-up fist, the one you stuff in your mouth to keep from talking, to keep from telling yourself what it really is, what's going on: with you. And you'd just as soon take your share and bury it.
I look into the mirror, a gift from the Chinese, on back is an inscription, letters to the wall. I take a slug of the Fiery, still a long way to the bottom.
Whenever I feel time losing its power, whenever it stops sucking me in and the swirl of chaos and noise in the tunnel falls still, the Fiery always helps. And the next day that rigor mortis is proof that time is dead for me again. Like the way the Chippewas gripped their paddles after they drank the Fiery, seated stiffly in their canoes, heads shattered from inside. They needed it too: rifles and steel knives and smallpox were what smashed time for them. They maybe wanted a circle; I longed for a straight line.
Reaching up to the shelf for the Firewater, I touch a hand groping for it from the other side, a bracelet, fingers chewed like mine, but his hand's dusky, smells of smoke, it's calloused and scraped, mine doesn't have callouses, not anymore. We clutch the bottle, each from one side, but it doesn't want war: this demon wants us both. The bottle splits in two, each of us tugging the cold glass onto our side of the darkness, and on the spot where my hand and the Chippewa's touched, a new bottle stands now, there will always be a new one, as long as we die.
Not anymore, we said. Together. That time with her. I don't know anymore which one of us said it.
As the hangover recedes, everything picks up again, you come to life, feeling that time and motion are back again, you know that it's false but only at the base of your mind, up above the lights are beginning to come back on, falling flatly over the everyday scenery, but you toy with the illusion for a little while longer. You drink because of the hangover, it's an edge, like twilight, not quite day, not quite night. Every instant still sharply fractured. This time still has an end, too far off for me to see, this time can still be reckoned from the moment the first crack in the concrete showed.
The concrete block, stifling anything that tried to move on its own, is gone, you know very well how everything was rotting, gasping for freedom, mutating in the stench, in the bush, in the bushes, the roly-polies under the rock. The bushes: the especially robust runners found chinks in the slowly cracking concrete and squeezed their way out, twisting, creeping, it was doable. That's me too of course, I'm one of the bushes, and for a long time I expected the blow, the command, the deafening whistle, the pounding on the door.
I don't get it, I don't know why it didn't happen to me. Why me, how come you didn't get eight years, an iron bar in the head, a one-way plane ticket out of the country? But it's gone now.
Or is it? And now do we live like this or like that? I saw an old woman and a German shepherd in the morning haze by the train station. Everyone else had just cleared out. A fire blazed in a trash can. The woman was feeding it. Burning old grass, ma'am? I asked. No, these're my files, my documents. The dog growled, a beetle crept along the sidewalk, the wind rolled softly over the windowpanes.
Aha, so that's how we're going do it now, people thought to themselves. That before was nothing, that we had to do. After all, on the outside you're one thing and at your underlying source you're something else, everybody knows that, it's like ABC. So open up your sources, now, the whole world is theirs. Aha, so what's reality? And what's just scenery? What do we do? And what am I gonna do now? I asked myself in unison with the rest.
Our friendship was the dawning of the firm, the company to be, that was the foundation. I lived with Little White She-Dog back in the days when I knew nothing and had nothing to lose. She made me so in turn I could make someone else, so there would be a tribe. She knew we needed a tribe if we wanted to survive without giving away all our time, and she also knew how to save at least a piece of time for ourselves.
It also works with objects, she taught me. Back then I kept time tucked away in shards of broken glass in the pockets of my shorts. Sitting at home or in class, I'd unwrap a shard from my handkerchief and watch as time began to unwind, gently at first, like a feather floating to the ground (later on she taught me that for gentleness it works best to put time into feathers), and then the time in the shard would accelerate and I'd be inside it with Little White She-Dog, with the grass and the trees, in our hole in the hillside, with her touches, in reality.
She also saw the green eyes of the woman I was to meet in the future, which gifted females can see into. You'll probly end up with some wrestler, she said, examining her bruises in bed one day. I won't toss an turn anymore, I said, yeah you will, she told me back.
Long before I tossed and turned and ground my teeth in my dreams, I was a gimp, in the autumn of my childhood, and my being lame only before her and for her was the beginning of our games, our exploration of human power, it was the origin of the perversion. I would sit motionless while Little White She-Dog set the nerves in my body to tingling, sitting still as long as possible so that she could learn my body, so she could teach my body to feel. My role model was a cripple from an engraving. A medieval engraving peopled with knights and cripples. It was the time of St George the dragon slayer, and I was a child cripple with a twisted soul and a studiously acquired schizophrenia because what was permitted and required inside was undesirable and dangerous outside. Family pride was a weight around my neck. I was to be the future that would pay back the humiliation, in this I was just like thousands of others.
Just like them, something drove me to bury deceased pigeons and sparrows, making crosses for their little graves and reeling off the words, but She-Dog brought me back to myself, through herself, through her movements and voice and touches, just like a little wife.
Elsewhere I had to pull off the role of the cheerful, inquisitive little boy, bringing home top grades to honor my obligations. The Communists mopped up the floor with families like ours, but that was precisely why fathers and mothers forced their children to study Latin. Fathers waged long-winded de-bates on whether it was best to teach Latin or English, and always concluded that both were essential. Latin, church, languages; dual geography, dual history, and religion: it was a pretty shabby arsenal for battling the world around us. George at least had a lance. And the dragon wasn't even trying to take away his time, it only wanted to kill him.
With Little White She-Dog I was no one again, a shape born of vapor, wind, moisture. She stroked nerves I didn't know I had, my face took on a new appearance, I started to feel my body. I started to dance. For a cripple, just stretching your hand is a dance. She drew me in, forming me, and that in turn shaped her nature.
As the well-mannered little girl walked to her lesson in classical languages with the former priest, at the time a stock clerk because he hadn't signed out of fear of the Devil, or to the church of the priest who had signed because only the Church is eternal and every regime eventually topples, ending up on the bottom like grains of sand in the infinite ocean of grace in her mouth she could still taste the seed of the little man of her tribe, because not even the Church is older than the tribe, and we were closer to each other than to those broken-backed families of ours. The present, which our families felt was a world built on falsehood, and the period prior to the invasion, which they clung to, were both the same gobbledygook to us. We weren't afraid of anything. We didn't care about blood and lineage, just like Romeo and Juliet.
With death whizzing by on all sides, we had to duck down and send out feelers, picking up and transmitting the tribal signal. In our hole in the hillside, eyes shut: What do you see? Darkness. Is it far away? No, it's right here. What do you see? You. Other people, small, they've all got the same face. My darkness is red now. Mine too.
Our petting, culminating in orgasm for me and then, much later, for her as well, was more than just the giving and receiving of bliss, it was the ritual of an encircled tribe. Like all my loves, Little White She-Dog was brunette, I called her white because of her skin. I still call her that in my thoughts, even now that everything I'm trying to capture here is gone and I found my sister and Little White She-Dog turned into a ghost, a good she-demon with inscrutable intentions.
He put a wafer on my tongue, the sign of God, she said, and I still had semen in there with your kids, they might not all've been dead yet, I ran the whole way.
Later she wiped off the taste, no longer needing that mosquito net in the jungle, that coating on the tongue we lied with so often, to our families, teachers, priests, to everyone outside the community, and instead she ate an apple, or took a sip of water, using other, more elaborate masks and disguises. Don't move, she'd say, I'm not, I'd lie, reaching for her, the tip of her deceitful tongue vibrating in my ear, still ringing opidda opiddum, puera pulchrum, ghetto ghettum as excitement would transform me from a gimp in an engraving where time stood still into a hunk of live flesh gorged with blood, starving and prepared to devour. She was older and liked to toy with me, leaving me inside her, teaching me to sense the powers one eventually prefers to sharpen oneself so as not to burden psychiatrists: the little boy learned when and how to use girl power, the childlike power of the word no, and when to be a warrior. As the little boy got older, he didn't just dance the way she wanted. And only then did she really begin to glow, becoming Beautiful She-Dog, with breasts. Until then they had the hole in the ground, curled up in there like embryos, sensing the earth's motion. Afterwards they would go home to their families, living their lives in the wings.
We slept together and played together, actually we lived together, but there was such a flood of filth and futility to fight, the magic stayed somewhere down below, glowing inside her like coals, and in me too, only cooler, kind of like amber, and sometimes when we were alone a long time the magic would show itself, and the day we went to look at the Germans I saw the red darkness again.
Here I am handin out cookies like some pensioner when we oughta be flailin those guys over there, said Sinkule.
The cops were removing a haggard man in a suit from the wall above the embassy entrance, he wanted to take the shortcut, resisted, they pummeled him with their truncheons. He picked himself up off the ground and obediently joined the procession of Germans patiently marking time in front of the embassy. There were thousands of them. The rows wound down the crooked lanes all the way to the square, where traffic had been stopped for days now.
Hey, here they come again, Sinkule slugged my shoulder. A row of white helmets with long truncheons began setting up barricades in the crowd. The Germans who were cut off from the embassy got nervous, tensing up, horrified that this was the end, that after everything had gone so smoothly, like a miracle, like a dream, it was finished, now came the clampdown, the ones who'd gone in could leave, but for the ones they hadn't gotten to yet, it was too late this was the selection, you in, you out, you yes and you no, the crowd let out a howl and leaned into the cordon, mothers passing children over the cops' helmets to the people on the other side, probly relatives, I figured.
Once the kid's inside, I guess they let the mother in too. That must be why they're doin it. Yeah, but it's not like the kids've got ID. How do the mothers prove they're theirs?
Let's get lost, c'mon.
What if some other lady snatches the kid so she can get out. How do they decide? Like back in the days of King Sollie?
Let's take off, c'mon.
Nah, said Sinkule, it'll calm down again. The cops don't care about the Germans. I been watchin. They'll hassle folks a while an then pull out. They just wanna show us they're here.
I'd rather not stick around. Wouldn't wanna get nailed.
They won't come down this far, take it easy.
Sinkule had been at the embassy every day, he was one of those people the exodus fascinated.
He glanced at me. Anyway, you look German, they won't mess with you. Do you speak it?
Nah, just stuff like Hände hoch, Los schweine, Achtung minen, Arbeit macht frei, that crap from the movies. An Meine liebe kommen ficken, never used that one though.
Sinkule was right, the cops pulled out, and an eerie silence settled back over the crowd.
How bout me, think I look German?
You? I almost cracked up. Sure, an Goebbels was German too.
I speak it though, my mom was German.
They're back again.
The cops, surrounded by the crowd in the space between the West German and U.S. embassies with the cameras of every TV station on earth humming monotonously, were evidently uncomfortable. These four characters looked like reinforcements from the countryside. Normally the cops didn't take the narrow passageway down from the Rychta beer hall. And if they did, then only in larger groups. The Germans in front moved slowly, working their way up the slope, the rest of them tread in place. Ordinarily a crowd murmurs, the individual utterances intertwining, it's a little like water, you can lap up the words. But these people were silent, as if they'd decided not to talk until they made it through the gate. Suddenly someone in the crowd broke into loud laughter. Then a child burst into tears. Then another. All at once the square was full of weeping children, it struck me that maybe it was like dogs: once one starts, the rest join in. But these kids weren't crying on account of a few silly Czech policemen. Some had been traveling for days now, on overcrowded trains, in Trabants and Wartburgs piled high with junk, on their way out of the cage, on the road to Paradise. Some of them must've been hungry, sleepy, and sensed the anxiety of their parents, wearily lugging them on their shoulders, tugging them by the hand uphill toward the embassy. The laughter didn't let up, it was a high-pitched nervous female laugh, like the wailing of some faraway bird, in an interrupted dream, in the country, in the woods, at night.
Sluggishly the crowd shifted uphill, leaving the lower part of the square empty except for a group of young Germans sitting on the ground drinking tea. Some had spent the cold night on the square and didn't look like they cared much about waiting another hour or two. One or two even looked like they didn't have a care in the world. A pair of cops stopped next to them. The officer lost his patience, knocking the thermos out of the hand of an elderly Czech woman who was pouring tea for the Germans. Where's your permit? he bellowed. A ripple went through the crowd again, and in a blink the old lady was standing alone. I admired her calm heroism in the face of the officer's distasteful outburst.
That's old Vohryzková from our building, said Sinkule. At least now she'll give up that Mother Teresa act, stupid cunt.
Stick it to her, you savage! he roared at the cop, and we bolted.
Thank the Lord they always send those hicks to Prague, we never would've made it through the passageways otherwise.
Just to be safe, though, I crossed myself. We came out gasping for breath by the church with the Christ Child.
Hey, Sinkule, you notice they're startin to lock up the passageways?
Yeah an that's what did it for me. I've been sneakin through these things like a rat all my life an now those fuckers're lockin em up. You're the only one I'm tellin: I'm goin too. I'm tellin you so you can watch, so I got some backup, so I don't disappear down some hole.
You're goin? With the Germans?
Yeah, so what? I mean it's a farce an you're an actor, right?
You're gonna split with the Germans, huh?
Yeah, ulc already made it. Went yesterday an he's in there.
Are you guys crazy? I mean this is the end!
Nobody knows that. The Germans're goin over to the Germans, but our guys aren't gonna let go that easy. I donno, but I mean we could all be dead. I mean they got the concentration camps ready. Or they might, an everyone knows it. I mean we're on the list. I mean anyone that does anything's scared these days. Maybe it'll turn out okay an we'll forget it ever happened, but I'm gettin sick an tired. I'm just scared they'll start shootin. You're the one that told me about the tanks.
Hey, I'm gonna stick it out here.
Hey, it could easily go Chinese-style.
C'mon, this is Europe!
Yeah, says who?
So you're goin, huh?
I got it all worked out, me an Majsner're goin together, I mean half of us here're German anyway. Nobody's checkin, an if they do I'll just say they took my papers away at the border, it's such a mess in there at the embassy they're just shovin em on the buses an shippin em out.
So the Bohos've finally got what they wanted, Germans crowdin onto buses an settin out into the great unknown, motherfuckers!
Don't get hysterical. I'll be with Majsner, so if one of us gets into trouble the other one'll clear right out, alles is gut, don't get hysterical, I'll send you back some chocolate an come ridin in on a white tank. Just keep an eye out that we get in.
So the Christ Child was where it began. We walked back to the square and up to the embassy. They waited a long time. I saw them going in.
Glaser got in too, he'd done a year in jail, got caught under the wires in umava after lying buried in the sand all day, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, but he picked the wrong time to crawl out, got hog-tied and left for hours in a cell full of shit now he passed through the gate and just for good measure spat on a cop, the Germans picked up on it and started doing it too, after a while the cop looked like he was covered in cum or something, his truncheon hung impotently from his belt, he was scared Glaser went over to watch but then I had to stop, he told me later, it was weird all of a sudden, like somethin outta the war, Germans spitting on a Czech, even if he was a Commie mercenary, an I started it it was weird, my first step in freedom, an instead of breathing it in I spat there were others who went too, most of them had some German ancestry but even that idiot Novák got in, got in and then came back out again to go for a beer at U Schnell, just did it because he liked being able to go back and forth.
And it was then, while that clown was hollering all over the pub, that I realized it had begun the motion there was something of a carnival feel to the Germans' exodus that lingers on to this day, from the moment time exploded, bursting out of that locked-up city, time with its own taste and color that you don't know about until you taste it, until you're there inside the color. Exploding time can not only crush you, you can swim in it, or hold it in your hand, like a piece of fabric or a coin. It can be like a gas, or like earth, some-times you can feel it like wind.
Little White She-Dog and I walked through the streets, sometimes holding hands.
The exodus continued, here and there panic seized the incoming Germans that the Czechs had put a stop to their departure that there were machine guns on the rooftops that the Stasi were roaming the streets of Prague along with the StB, dragging off Germans and Czechs that the StB was foment-ing hatred among the Czech people against the traitors to communism the same way the Gestapo had fomented hatred among the German people against the vermin of the Reich the Germans, stretching through the streets and across the square, and the Czechs, observing them from windows and balconies, surrounding them down on the sidewalks, silently watching the flight from communism with nowhere to go themselves because this was their only country all of them well aware that the whole thing could still be stopped, aware of the force that could cut them off from one another, from that silent contact when the Germans filled the streets they dragged, slow and sluggish, crews of long-haired boys and girls, holding hands, sometimes, like me and She-Dog, only going somewhere else old ladies with purses, parents with little children clutching teddy bears and dolls but when the crowd thinned out into smaller groups, alarming reports caught up to them from behind, from all over the city, maybe it was strange vibrations from the Prague train stations, from their homes back there in Dresden, Karl-Marx-Stadt, Gera, Zwickau, from bor-der towns and villages where they were hastily packing their last things, jewelry food and clothing, and for the last time nervously examining their passports and taking flight, fleeing Big Brother, who seemed to have nodded off for a spell, probably after downing a large bloody nightcap as they picked off another, shot him dead, left him lying there by the Wall Die Unbekannten. But the Monster could awake at any time, refreshed and ready, to dole out punishment here and there reports spread that it was over, that they were too late, that they were going in vain, into a trap and the clusters of Germans began to move faster, some even sprinting the last hundred, twenty, ten meters, and then it was triumph, a game leaving behind in the streets of Malá Strana their heavy bags and suitcases, blankets they'd huddled in at night when the embassy was too full, inflatable pillows, propane-butane tanks, all the things they wouldn't need in the West of their dreams forgotten toys lay strewn about the street, a teddy bear with its head twisted off and rubber duckies flung out of the bolshevik pond of the gee-dee-ar onto the cobblestones of Prague, lost in the rush and confusion, no doubt since replaced by that silky-haired slut Barbie I saw a skillet and a schoolbag, the square was full of cars, a Trabant with a comforter on the roof lay on its side
stride after stride
pots and pans knocking at their side
children with comforters in wagons ride
flaming crosses up in the sky
days with salty anguish undone
and no one here can tell them why
where to go or what will come,
Well, I dunno if it's all that dramatic.
Hanu Bonn wrote that, said Little White She-Dog. Only these gee-dee-ar porkers aren't goin into any flaming ovens.
Hey, they're goin into the unknown, they're fugitives, just take a look at those two old women holdin each other up.
What, like she's some Ilse Koch? An I spose that granddaddy there is Mengele?
I know it's stupid, said She-Dog. But Germans just piss me off. I was helpin em out at the train station this morning, but still they piss me off. German pisses me off. When my grandpa got back, he weighed 40 kilos. Not for long. Plus Hanu Bonn was a family friend. We've got a copy of Distant Voice with a dedication from him. Anyway it's the Communists' fault for fuckin us up with those movies, I've never even talked to a German actually.
Yeah. Some cabs bring em here for free, others rip em off like crazy.
Some help em out like you, some break into their cars.
That's the thing about the human tribe, like we used to say when we were little She-Dog spread her red lips wide, flicking her tongue when some-thin's goin on, that's when people of a tribe find each other. As soon as there's a threat, people divide.
Till then, though, people can be pretty awful.
Yep, anything goes, right up until there's somethin at stake.
So what's at stake now, She-Dog?
I donno, God I guess, or maybe everything.
The thing is, people bring on bad stuff by actin crazy.
You never know, there's various paths an everyone's gotta choose for themselves.
That's our contract.
The contract's valid.
Sinkule thinks they're gonna lock everyone up.
The contract's valid, even if we're not scared anymore.
Of what, machine guns on the rooftops? Good luck puttin a halt to that.
Halt. It's wild how many German words we use. I could go for a lager right now, how bout it?
Let's duck into a building first.
Yeah yeah, said She-Dog, nudging open the door of a place with a lion on a shield, how bout here?
Here it smelled of wood, another place it was a septic tank, we searched out cellars because we longed for that hole in the ground where she had taught me, where for the first time the world had been real, where our bodies had grown up together, where we had come to know every centimeter of each other's body and our own as they grew larger and coarser there was also time preserved in those cellars, intact and compacted, in corners and under vaults, in every nook and cranny, even in the spiderwebs that served as the delicate dress for our wedding, our intercourse. Often it was damp with groundwater, sometimes old as time itself, time had a heavy fragrance, it slaked our thirst. I would hold Little White She-Dog on top of me, or she would sit down in an alcove, spreading apart her legs, and in that clench of male and female, in the motion, the screwing, slowly the rhythm would come and in it the red darkness, and in the darkness images. We set the time around us in motion, it swirled and spoke to me. Sometimes She-Dog would whisper into my ear, today she spoke of fear, and as she ran her nails down my sides, shredding my skin, it was like lightning flashing down through the red darkness under my eyelids. I couldn't hear her voice, it was like the sounds were forming letters, but it was only the idea of them, just her speech echoing in my brain, now it was the speech of fear, fear of losing power, losing it as the city set against it the power of all the others' fear, the fear of the crowd, it's sour, I heard She-Dog's mind echo. We knew that time also flowed up above, but we didn't have the strength to reach up there anymore up above the rooftops, where there might be machine guns and might not it wasn't so much them, though, as the nests full of mutant pigeons born with the plague, chemical freaks, plunging to the pave-ment on their first try at flying, without any soft palm between them and the world, nests full of little birds peeping in terror, and it wasn't a bird's cry but the wheeze of a new sort of creature, nobody heard them except maybe Starry Bog, they were born into nothing but terror and hopelessness, and they didn't know it, but I did, and that was why I couldn't go that high.
We were also losing power because the reign of cruelty glowed in colors as bright as the sky when the twilight is aflame and filled with the demons that descend on the city at the first stroke of nightfall.
We aged in those twilights, by now every cell in our shared body was a combat veteran and She-Dog's power was turning against her because she wasn't living just for herself anymore, she wanted to go farther and take me with her. But I was afraid to be in the world the way she wanted me to, to give it to her, to be inside someone else I was losing my power by acting, feeling out the world in assorted costumes and characters because I was fearful of direct contact.