In the House of Glass
IT WAS, after all, a remarkable piece of apparatus. Hagen grabbed the brass ring; tricklingly the flush began.
He made his way back to his chair and sat, like the foreigner he was, not in but on it. The wine had assisted in the business of making him tenu- ous, and so had the names. It was not a country where candles were lit, and as the faces around the table darkened and faded, their corresponding names smoothly slipped from Hagen’s memory.
The wine was a gulpable red and its name, per- versely, was unforgettable: Vaviinecke.
He was a little unsteady here. He was forty-two, and this was less peculiar than it had been. The group was seven, and he was the odd note: he was the youngest, the American, and probably he was the drinker.
The others were artists, gathered together by his old friend Vlastimil; they were supposed to be Hagen’s sources. They had been having a wonder- ful evening, roaring in a language that sounded like something being played backward, drinking herds of these liter bottles (Vavfinecke), eating and much appreciating the thin leathery meat, the purple cabbage, the raw and astonishingly hot green peppers.
The apartment too was raw, new and raw. It had taken Vlastimil and Ludmila years to get a place, since they couldn’t get on the list of Social Cases-they had enough money and no children.
For months Ludmila studied techniques involved in becoming a Social Case, but in the end it was sheer luck. The Lord Mayor had had such a fine time in a restaurant he promised the brilliant chef a flat for the chef’s daughter; the daughter was set to move in, when it was discovered she was twelve. In the confusion there wasn’t time to find a proper Social Case-a good solid Social Case was a rare commodity. Vlastimil and Ludmila were ecstatic about their apartment, which was a three-room concrete business with linoleum floors, KEN CHOWDER, here making his first appearance in COM- MENTARY, has published three novels. His most recent one, adis (Harper & Row, 1985), will be issued in paperback by Penguin in June of this year, as part of its Contempo- rary American Fiction Series.
a toilet but no bath, and a view of a ravaged land- scape where the only things that grew were new apartment buildings.
As Hagen looked out, dusk was flushing the sky pink, providing a near match for the petunias overflowing window boxes on the balcony. Lud- mila’s white laundry hung beyond the petunias, but between the sheets he could make out the blank face of a fortress-style apartment building, the double of this one-and beyond that another, and then the edge of another, stepping like jack- boots down the hill toward Prague.
The small bony man sitting on Hagen’s left turned to him for the first time. He was of in- determinate later age, with straight and spectacu- larly white hair. "My name, to recall to you, is Cervinka. Also a friend of Vlastimil. I think this is your first trip to Prague?" he asked. Hagen nodded. "Very beautiful," Cervinka said, omitting the antecedent question. "So. You have seen the Charles Bridge, swans swimming under below, the Wenceslas Square with amusing clock, the Jewish cemetery, the great trees in Valdstejn’s garden, the birthhouse of Franz Kafka?" "Not Wallenstein’s garden." "Yes. Not necessary. But perhaps you have walked up the narrow street to the Castle and come down on stone stairs?" "Other way around," Hagen said.
The old man’s eyebrows, white wings slanted in a V, mimicked astonishment. "It is not usual," he said. "But acceptable." He held up his glass in salute. Vavfinecke. "How do you like the Czech wine?" Cervinka asked.
"Very much," Hagen said. He considered add- ing another "Very much," because he was speak- ing a solemn truth, and because he enjoyed a little repetition as much as the next man. Twenty- five years before, his best painting teacher had told him: do the same thing fifty times in a row, and you end up in the Museum of Modern Art.
It had not been a criticism.
"Very much," Hagen said.
The little man shrugged. "Of course you could say no other thing. You like the Czech white wine more than the red?" "Other way around," Hagen said.
58IN THE HOUSE OF GLASS/59 Cervinka was pleased. "Not usual. But accept- able." "Highly acceptable," Hagen said, hoisting his glass and nodding at the old man, at the glass, nodding at the familiar state of drunkenness itself. Vaviinecke.
"It is good for a man to enjoy these things. In Czecho we do enjoy. What else have you enjoyed here?" Hagen recalled his notes. "The patience of people on line," he said. "Patience is not a virtue of mine. So I’ve enjoyed standing on line just to be allowed into a supermarket." "The Spofilov supermarket?" "Yes." "It is a very excellent one, I think." Hagen did not have the criteria to judge Czech supermarkets, but, remembering the chocolate he’d bought there, so much like an expanded and impossibly cheap Chunky, he said "Yes" with great enthusiasm. "And other things," he said. "I like the way people say Ahoy, ahoy for hello, like a countryful of 19th-century sailors. I like the graffiti-sometimes you see the names of Ameri- can cigarettes scrawled on walls. High decadence, for here. I enjoy riding on the overcrowded buses, and the smell there, of alcohol on women’s breath." Hagen poured again.
The old man took off his glasses, wiped them on his shirt pocket, and replaced them on his nose. He seemed to look at Hagen for the first time. "You know, we do not mind the Americans so very much here," he said. "For obvious reasons.
You are doing here what?" "I’m a painter and a writer. I’m going to write about the arts here." "Yes? And you change the names of the artists?" "I write nonfiction," Hagen said, uncomfortably.
i:ervinka was plainly amused. "That is admir- able. To write truth only. But we have a folk- saying here in Czecho. It is this: ‘If you know, don’t tell. If you tell, don’t write. If you write, don’t sign. If you sign, don’t wonder.’" "Right," Hagen said. "I understand. But I’m strictly avoiding politics. I’m interested in abstract art." "I paint what you call abstract," o:ervinka said calmly. "But I think nothing is more political than abstractions. Because the vacuum does not exist in Czecho." He removed his glasses again and held them up, inspecting them. To Hagen it was clear the problem was darkness itself.
The old man replaced his glasses. On his nose were many small red stars, a network of burst blood vessels. That much was just visible. "You know this automobile of Czechoslovakia, the Skoda?" he asked, "It is the most selling auto here." He smiled briefly. "The word Skoda. It means ‘shame.’" He closely watched Hagen, who could only nod as if he could confirm this trans- lation. Cervinka said, "In Czecho, we always make the reference." "I’ll keep that in mind." "Please do not. Please forget it. This is what we like about the Americans." It was going to be impossible to write the article.
Probably he’d known this even before he’d come.
So he had come to Czechoslovakia to not write an article. He was an inveterate modernist, and this coming silence was an appropriate form of tech- nology. Not to mention, of course, a great relief.
Here’s to it. Down the veritable hatch.
iervinka slapped the table suddenly with his palm. "1 will help you," he said. "You can use my words and my art." "Really?" Hagen said. "But what will happen to you?" "Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps my daughter can make my support. Perhaps I will have luck with old friends. Perhaps the food in jail is better than it was. Many wonderful things are yet possible." Hagen thought about the wonderful things.
"How can your daughter help you?" he asked.
The lines on ervinka’s face straightened sud- denly with pride. "This is because my daughter is Milena ervinkova." He seemed to reflect on this fact for a second. "I believe you will meet my daughter," he said importantly.
"That will be nice." "Yes," Cervinka said. "As you will see." He emptied the bottle into Hagen’s glass. "Possibly even she cannot help me if you write these things.
But what is to do?" Finally the Vavfineckd had got Hagen: he found himself pondering the principle of what was to do or not to do. It appeared that in Czechoslovkia this principle had been mastered long ago. The helpfulness of it was in some doubt, like all philosophies. It had the ring of Buddhism-in-the- socialist-bloc and then again it reminded Hagen of Hamlet, and finally of a graffito he’d seen- "Nietzsche says to be is to do; Lao-Tze says to do is to be; Frank Sinatra says doo-bee-doo-bee-doo…." He couldn’t place the graffito. Maybe NYU.
An insect made a sudden appearance on the wooden table. It rounded the sharp edge and came up from below, then scuttled quickly along the length of the table, antennae waving wildly in the perception of fear.
"It’s a kind of vermin," ervinka said, though he regarded the creature with some fondness.
"Rather a beetle. It comes forth in the dark. You have such in America?" "You bet," Hagen said. "They own substantial portions of New York City." "Prague too," sighed the old man. "But," he said cheerfully, and ended his sentence. "What to do. What to do." T HE bus left Hagen at the bottom of Barrandov at noon exactly. He checked his watch and amused himself with the thought that no church bells would toll the hour. Perhaps60/COMMENTARY FEBRUARY 1986 it could be said that socialism was trying to silence time itself? And this was why new cars here were dead ringers for ’57 Chevys and the men walked around wearing socks with clocks? And that Marxism was not the inevitable beneficiary of time, but its enemy? What nonsense he spouted, even internally. Still, he had shaved, and the mere reappearance of his big pink chin, shorn of blue shadow, gave him a feeling of cleanliness and life. This was certainly an illusion, but just the kind of illusion he sought to nurture.
Barrandov wasn’t like Spofilov. Small streets coasted around the hill’s knobby green anatomy, among immaculate gardens and high new houses.
The hillside houses rested on stilts, and their architectural styles ran a contradictory gamut; Hagen was reminded most of all of Southern California. The higher up the hill he climbed, the more the place exuded the familiar flowery odor of wealth. Hagen was sweating; he often sweated around money.
He took the street called Slivenecka, as Cervinka had told him to do. Near the crest of the hill, by a French chateau and a Mission-style ranch, the road forked, and both forks were labeled Sli- venecka. When in doubt, Hagen went left, and in three houses came to the right number: 68. A three-story job in white stucco, its mansard roof gleaming under the sun. Luxuriant roses in hot hues lined up before the house like debutantes in chiffon. Beside a cherry tree a man in blue jeans stood atop a free-standing ladder. The cherries were abundant and superbly ripe, and the man was smiling to himself as he yanked them free and dropped them into a wicker basket. It was Cervinka.
Hagen called a greeting. ervinka came down the ladder with an adroitness that seemed im- possible. Unshaven, he looked slightly glazed and quite excited; Hagen knew that look well. er- vinka held up his basket of cherries in triumph.
"I make the blackbirds a great competition," he said. "Free trade, no restraints. The one who works hardest gets most cherries. The system pleases the blackbirds; they get most of the cherries. The system pleases me; I get some, and I don’t need so many cherries." "Capitalism doesn’t always work that well," Hagen said.
"Not speaking of capitalism," ervinka said.
"Speaking of cherries and blackbirds." "You said Czechs were always making refer- ences." "True. But we do not put our signatures in ink at the bottom of the page." Cervinka slid his wicker basket onto the kitchen counter. The room was empty but for three white cups, with echoes of coffee at bottom, reposing on saucers in the sink. The house was lovely, lovely for anywhere: light, spacious, with shimmering white walls and cool green trim. Here was the living room-Italian wicker furniture, upholstery in blue and white pinstripes, a long coffee table in blonde wood, Cartier-Bresson photos.
"Nice room," Hagen said, not mentioning the strange absence of track lighting and potted ferns.
They went up a flight of steps, then another.
On the staircase walls hung a series of black-and- white photos. Hagen was caught by her halfway up the flight.
Pale eyes, later to become very blue, and dark hair, later deep black: elegance and distance. A woman stood on a train platform, wearing a feathered hat; behind her, Nazi soldiers hung in mid-goosestep. "You have seen it?" Cervinka asked.
"The one called War Decorations. Her best, I think." In this one the same woman was waltzing in a black evening dress. Soft focus. The halo behind her lit stray hairs; the pursed lips of her painted mouth, almost palpably red, looked like a cupid’s heart. "You know that film," Cervinka said, nod- ding. "She Laughs Last. In American translation called Kiss Me at Once. This version of Cinderella.
Yes?" Hagen pulled his gaze off of the photo. "Ac- tually, no." He was imagining holding this wom- an’s calf, sliding a glass slipper onto her naked foot. Hagen liked women’s feet, but he remem- bered how that story had terrified Maureen, the pale third of his three daughters, and he went on.
Here the woman was smiling; the archaic smile, with the corners turned up just slightly, the kind of smile that says: I am not really happy at all.
AT THE head of the stairs was ervin- ka’s atelier, a small white thing. He brought out his pictures, painterly color fields.
The only odd thing was how tiny they were: small- er than Klee’s magic squares. But how could Hag- en tell him nobody painted tiny color fields? Hagen looked at twenty of them before being able to engage his critical faculties; just then the old man opened a bottle of wine. No cork; just plastic that hissed as the knife shaved it. Hagen’s critical remark dissipated in his mind unsaid, leaving just one word: petillant, sparkling.
Cervinka let out a one-syllable chuckle. "Look out here," he said, tapping the window. Hagen leaned and the old man poured into ceramic mugs.
He was looking down on another cherry tree freckled with bright fruit. Rows of roses, white and profuse. An ivied alley; in the alley a black car, gigantic.
"There’s a car out there that looks like a Lin- coln Continental," Hagen said.
"To be exact, it is a copy of a 1969 Chrysler New Yorker," Cervinka said. "It is truthfully a Russian Zil 114." "Your daughter’s?" Hagen asked. Then he saw two soldiers. They were leaning idly against the hood, submachine guns casually slung over shoulders.IN THE HOUSE OF GLASS/61 Hagen’s heat rose. "They’re here for us," he said.
The old man peacefully held out a mug. "No, not for us," he said. "Frankovka," he added.
"What?" "This wine. Frankovka. No, not for us. They arrive with the car, and the car belongs to my old friend Jifi. No. Pardon. The car belongs to the state, and my old friend Jifi is the servant of the state." One of the soldiers seemed to be scratching his rifle. "In what capacity?" Hagen asked.
Cervinka indicated a stack of newspapers on the floor beside the easel. "Card trick," he said coyly.
"Pick one." Hagen slid a newspaper from the pile’s middle. ervinka scanned the front page.
"There," he said, stabbing a photo of three men in overcoats, arms around each other. Two of them waved. "He is the small man," Cervinka said. The small man was dark, puff-chested, with- out hat or eyebrows. The small man did not wave; he stared like a lover wronged.
Noises from below: flushed toilet, door opening, slamming shut. "Ah," Cervinka said. "Would you like now to go down and meet the Party Secretary at the home of his mistress?" Hagen set down the mug. "I am an American journalist," he said slowly. "I should think that Party Secretary Kovafik would not be altogether pleased to meet me under these circumstances. I should think that protocol would certainly de- mand a different set of procedures." "’I should think,’" ervinka echoed. "Sud- denly you speak in a beautiful formality. My old friend Jifi appreciates always this formality." One of the soldiers leaned over, checking his reflection in the glossy black paint of the hood.
The soldier pushed his cap to a rakish angle, then with both hands pulled it snug and square. Hagen found a brutality in the gesture. "I don’t want to go down there," Hagen said. "I only write about art." "Think on this. You are an American journal- ist, as you say. You have nothing for fear. I per- haps do. My friend Jifi has warned me not to use him for shield." Hagen’s curiosity went by his fear. He knew about the fear but was mildly surprised to find himself curious about anything at all. "How do you know Kovafik, anyway?" he asked.
"We were four years classmates together," Cer- vinka said. "In jail." "Jail," Hagen said.
"For four years we shared the prison room. We played some chess." His voice was oddly affec- tionate. It was only then that Hagen realized Cervinka had the trick or habit of seeming fond of everything. Perhaps it was part of the principle of What to Do? "We played chess," Cervinka said again. "Once each morning. Once each evening. Jifi was not able to refuse my sacrifices. He loved to take my pieces, no matter what he was cost." Cervinka glanced outside again, down on roses and soldiers.
"So I am careful," he said. "But in the fin de partie I do not lose to him. Never." "In chess." "In life," Cervinka insisted. "After all. Jifi does not wish to make some problem for me. Four years is a long time. And of course my daughter is a very beautiful woman." I N REAL LIFE the Party Secretary had eyebrows. Under sunlight they were a disappearing gray. The rest of his hair was colored a black so rich it was almost blue.
"He’s a type, he’s a type, he’s a type," Kovafik was saying. "Our friend Josef inervinka. He lives to amuse himself, I think." He swished his white wine in little circles, a faint smile on his face, and then put the glass back on the white-painted iron table without drinking. He wore a white shirt and behind him was a wall of ivy and a soldier.
Sun sparkled in the glasses of pale wine and Milena, black hair and blue eyes, wore a flowing yellow dress.
Hagen titled the painting Vuillard With Ivy and Party Secretary.
"And I do very well," Cervinka said. He added something in Czech.
Milena spoke English for the first time. "’Al- most as well,’" she translated, "’as my old friend Jifi.’ " She smiled, more or less at Hagen; alone, it seemed, among Czech women, she had not tinted her hair a brazen blonde; and Hagen changed the painting’s title to: Milena. Vuillard would have to forgive him. The title was Milena.
Kovafik reached over and wrapped his fingers around her bare wrist; his cufflinks were red stars.
Milena and he exchanged an apparently blank look. When the Party Secretary turned to Hagen, he was smiling again. "There is no need for anger," he said pleasantly. "You are here to write about the art." "That’s right," Hagen said.
"It must be a great pleasure," Kovafik said. He placed his index finger on his cheekbone, and his tone hardened. "So you are here to write about the art, and you will simply write about the art." "Absolutely," Hagen said.
"Best for us all," Kovafik said.
"That’s right." "The Party Secretary’s wife," Milena said, "is said to be a wonderful cook. Did you know," she asked Hagen, "that the Party Secretary is married?" Cervinka alone smiled. "Excellent the knedliky she makes," he said.
Kovafik carried a great deal of tension in his jaws. He appeared sometimes to be chewing the inside of his cheeks.
The soldier by the ivy thoughtfully touched the stock of his rifle. Of course it was not likely that he spoke English.62/COMMENTARY FEBRUARY 1986 "Yes, one should always have a wife," Kovatik said. "Always one wife. It prevents the women from wanting to marry one. It is a necessary equipment. Have you a wife, Mr. Hagen?" Milena rose and swept into the house.
"Just one," Hagen said.
"Hold on to your wife," Kovafik instructed.
"Yes sir," Hagen said.
After a minute Milena came out again carrying a glossy black vase and a pair of scissors. She set the vase on the table and went around the garden cutting the best white roses from the snowy mul- titude. Her snips seemed pointed.
"I’m interested in the new art of Prague," Hagen tried. The sun was in his eyes, but he was trying. "Modern work." The look of confusion on the Party Secretary’s face was short-lived. "Ah yes. The art of the pres- ent day. So you must go to visit the house of glass. There is such an exposition in Belveder just now. Only the best and most new of the Czech glass." "That sounds just perfect," Hagen said care- fully.
Milena approached with her arms full of roses.
She laid the white flowers on the white table with, if it was possible, some sadness. On the one hand, Hagen had put down an amount of wine by then; on the other, the soldiers had scared all hopes of true drunkenness out of him, and her actions may have been, after all, sad. White roses tumbled onto the white table.
Kovarik’s voice rose to a sort of oratorical ami- ability. "1 have told Mr. Hagen," he said to Milena and the rest of the garden, "that he must visit the exhibition of glass. This is a good idea?" Milena didn’t look at Hagen. "Very good," she said. "And I will accompany Mr. Hagen to the exhibition." Hagen considered telling her his name was Andy, and then, all but instantaneously, decided that this had been one of the more suicidal ideas to come into his head in some time.
Party Secretary Kovafik regarded the woman and the roses and the cherry trees and perhaps the soldiers and the car; his eyes seemed to see exactly what they wanted to see, as if he had created this garden from atoms, and it was good.
He said nothing, and a small breeze blew.
Cervinka sipped. Hagen saw again the red pat- terns splashed on the skin of his nose and the white stubble emerging from his chin and cheeks in oddly-whorled patterns. Cervinka smiled and said something in Czech to Kovafik.
Milena translated proudly. "My father says, ‘Don’t you think these brave soldiers would enjoy a good glass of Rulandsk Bile?’ " HE cab driver seemed glad to see Milena. He must have been: when he let them out in Prague he did an odd thing. He opened the trunk and pulled out a little wicker basket of russet chanterelles. He gave the basket to Milena; serenely she accepted, showing no surprise.
She did not seem surprised when the half-dozen people in the street all stared openly. Apparently this was very old news.
And she did not seem surprised to be with Hagen. He felt her electrically; but then it was her business to give off radiance, pass it imper- sonally on with her person, a moon giving the message that somewhere in the galaxy the sun is shining.
Hagen renounced the idea of speaking to her.
They walked into the cul-de-sac, toward a build- ing quietly labeled Dum Pnt KunSgttu. Milena said something to the boatlike woman afloat be- hind the desk; the woman smiled tenderly and pushed a button, and suddenly an English voice was blaring data. The building a perfect Roman- esque. See the vaults, the walls. One room com- pleted in. Another in. House owned by. In this room happened. Dungeon an example of.
Hearing the English, Milena smiled thinly, not exactly at him, and Hagen was visited by an unlikely thought: she’s shy. He disdained it, came back to it. She clicked on hard heels through a door and into the next room; Hagen’s Vibram soles squeaked after her. The voice droned on above them, colorless as facts. The next room was oddly dark, dreamlike. But in his dreams this woman would be receding in the distance, about to vanish by untold means. Milena stopped at a glass display case. As he came up he saw her face palely illuminated from the case below: her hair was pulled back, and all her bones were showing.
Unwillingly he looked down at the art.
"What is this?" he said, speaking before think- ing.
She often paused before saying anything, as if to give the words weight with a dreadful silence.
"Glass," she said.
"But it’s all broken." "It’s very old glass," she said. "From the happy time of Charles the Fourth. Before the Hapsburgs won Bohemia." Case after case of pieces of glass: bits of green goblets, half a bland bowl, prettily-painted shards, an hypothesized ewer. "Of course it’s lovely," he said. "Beautiful stuff. But the Party Secretary was talking about modern work." She gave a little sigh and put her hands to- gether as if about to pray: an almost Japanese gesture. Meekness. "I did not hear this," she said.
"I was with the roses." She was clipping white roses in the garden-roses, soldiers, ivy, Vuillard: Milena. She said, "I think you are speaking of the exhibition in Belveder. The new glass is there." "That’s actually what I’m interested in." "It’s a pity," she said. "This"-this smile was wistfulness; this little movement, her cool hand indicating the room with a tiny flick, was resigna-IN THE HOUSE OF GLASS/63 tion–"is more correct. The other is all things to drink from and to put in the flowers, but this one is Bohemia. It is truthfully Czecho." In Czecho they always made the reference.
"Why?" Hagen said. "Because everything is old and beautiful and smashed to pieces?" Her shrug was a replica of her father’s. "In some way," she said, and paused, and paused. "At other places," she said, "they throw out the broken glass. After the shattering, these things become dangerous. But here we hold everything." She placed her palm closely over her heart. "So we have a place like this." She lifted her chin, the- atrical shorthand for pride. "But I will take you to the other exhibition if you like." He couldn’t place it: that quality in her face.
It had something to do with the fact that she never quite looked at him. She presented her full face, the ghostly composition that the elements white skin, black hair, blue eyes always produce, but she focused elsewhere. T’he wall behind him, the collar of his shirt. And her focus was nowhere close to his as she said, "I have a question. What is your Christian name?" After the shattering, things become dangerous.
"Andy," Hagen said soberly.
S OMEONE must have seduced Hagen, for one fine morning he found himself lying in bed beside an arresting woman.
She touched his cheek tenderly, then rose and wrapped herself in a shiny white robe-silk, or else satin, Hagen wouldn’t know. With both hands she pulled her hair from her neck, letting it pour over her shining robe, and sunshine flowed in the white room, and Hagen, eyes narrowed against the brightness, felt enveloped by a Lubitsch film, title forgotten. He did not know his lines.
There were glasses on the twin bedside tables, empty on his side, half full (he was an optimist on occasion) on hers. He rolled over and drained it, and his stomach ceased fluttering.
He’d been a little miscast. He was depressive but not manic; in his wardrobe he’d long since accomplished an indolence that aptly represented the inner man; he had a correctly complacent wife and three daughters with small eyes, an over- stuffed chair he occupied more often than he liked to admit, a diminishing interest in what he’d supposed was his life’s work, and a growing pre- occupation with the temperature of his toes. He was not a candidate for this scene. But this much was true: she’d been in the bathroom for ten minutes, yet he could still see her dressing gown swirl as she walked across the room, erect, poised, elegant.
So it was a dressing gown now, not just a bath- robe. What in God’s name next? He was thinking of a figurative work, though he did not do figurative work. Mostly white, modulations of off-white, a white dressing gown, possibly an indication of black hair. He was going to call it Modernist Visited by the Ghost of Romanticism.
Two places had been set at the table in the garden. Baskets of half-flutes, cheese, sausage, a pot of coffee, bowls of cherries. At one place was a brimming glass of red wine.
"You have servants?" Hagen asked her.
"No. My father has done this." "So one place is for him?" Hagen asked, eyeing the wine.
"You," she said.
He took up the glass of wine. Frankovka. Some- thing made him look up; Cervinka was standing at the atelier window. He nodded and waved in papal fashion.
Stroboscopically Hagen saw her bedroom as they had entered it the night before. A carafe of chilled wine stood on a tray, two upside-down glasses beside it. In the bathroom was a little pile of clean towels-washcloth, hand towel, bath towel -and on the bed a neatly-folded pair of men’s pajamas. Too small.
"Your father is very kind." "Yes," she said, and Hagen wanted to ask: how kind? HAGEN, as requested, put his hands into the air.
The soldier softly slapped Hagen’s armpits, ribs, pockets, thighs, calves, ankles. Briefly he put his hands between Hagen’s legs.
"But he does it very sweetly," cervinka said.
The soldier frisked C:ervinka but not Milena, then waved the Party Secretary into the garden.
Kovafik saw Hagen and said, "Again" instead of hello. He stood a bottle of wine on the table and sat. "Would you care for a drink?" he asked Hagen.
"Please," Hagen said.
The Party Secretary did not move. He said something in Czech, Milena answered, the con- versation was animated. Hagen looked steadily at the bottle of wine on the table, as if it might escape without his supervision. Kovafik, chewing his cheeks, rolled up a newspaper and held it as you would when about to teach a puppy a lesson.
He began slapping his open palm with the paper.
He was speaking in Czech, but three times Hagen heard a French word: imbecilitS, imb&cilitd, imbecilite.
Kovafik pushed his chair back. "The Party Secretary has to go now," Milena said.
Kovafik left the bottle unopened on the table.
The blackbirds and sparrows seemed to whistle more confidently from the cherry trees. "Would you like to try the other glass exhibition today?" Hagen asked her, his casualness elaborate.
"No. Not today." Hagen could not help wondering, as Milena sat without blinking in the sunshine, what it was she kept looking at. Her face was apparently turned toward the spot where the Russian version64/COMMENTARY FEBRUARY 1986 of a Chrysler New Yorker had been, sitting as quietly among the ivy as a tiger yawning and sated in its cage.
HAGEN was sitting in the Barrandov restaurant by himself, and what he was trying to do was think about what a pretty place it was, what with real roses and red tablecloths and pink cloth napkins and postcard view of the Vltava, and what he was doing was remembering an argument he’d had with his wife Joan about whether a strong aesthetic sense was really only a justification for emotional sterility (he said no, she said yes, and he got angry because he thought she was right), which was odd, because they almost never argued, and what he was trying not to do was think about Milena. Hagen told the waiter in English that he was waiting for a friend, and meanwhile would like a bottle of red wine. The waiter re- plied in polite German, left him, and no bottle came.
It was the wrong friend. ervinka still hadn’t shaved and behind his glasses was a dazzled look.
Dazzled: exactly what did he mean by that? er- vinka’s eyes seemed particularly moist, almost dewy; they were shot with a tracery of blood, strokes of small lightning; they were bright, over- bright.
OCervinka sat down. "She cannot come to here," he said.
Hagen became aware of some of his organs, sources of the foul humors, in throb. This, now: this was too much. He had internalized his foolishness.
"She will meet you this afternoon. At the glass exhibition in Belveder. It is in a part of the Castle." "So the exhibition is in the Castle," Hagen said, and he thought he was thinking about the Castle until he said, "Why couldn’t she come here?" Cervinka shrugged his standard shrug. "A very busy woman," he said. "With obligations." "She’s seeing Kovafik," Hagen said quickly.
Cervinka’s moony smile showed up. "Don’t be the idiot," he said, but Hagen was already wiping his face with his napkin, crumpling it and throw- ing it on the table, even while thinking, But I haven’t eaten anything. "One question," he said.
"Sit. Drink a glass of wine." Hagen found he could ignore the glass of wine.
Such was his backward and ludicrous heroism.
"One question," he repeated. "Why are you doing this?" 4nervinka didn’t hesitate. "I still enjoy the chess with my old friend Jifi," he said. "And we are near now the fin de partie. But also. I thought also you would like it with her." "I did like it," Hagen said. "Now I’m stuck with it." "No no no. You are an American. Never stuck with it." The lines on the old man’s face were sliding, working independently of expression, under an agitation all their own. "You must really be a lunatic," Hagen said.
"We all must be," Cervinka said. "There is no other way." Hagen left him. He strode resolutely out of there, and it was only when his body was again swaddled in the hot blanket of sun that he realized: he didn’t know when to meet her. By the time he got back inside Cervinka had ordered a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Hagen sat.
ACEN went early to the Castle. He knew now that, contrary to his liter- ary assumption, it was not difficult to enter the Castle. There were several ways, none of them difficult, although all were uphill and he had not bothered with lunch, or come to think of it break- fast, and he had on the other hand bothered with some wine. He plodded, he could say, up stone steps. But of course you could not call each of these motions one plod. There was no noun that way. A plod. Applaud. Aplomb. He shook off the word and trudged, or walked laboriously, up the steps. Buildings began to sail slowly by on both sides, part of the Castle but not the Castle: the towers themselves were still in front of him.
There were signs to galleries, signs to more gal- leries, but nothing telling him about Belveder or glass.
He had a map. He did have a map. Or he had had a map. He did not have a map. Last time here he’d had a map; but he’d been with Vlasti- mil, who knew the Gothic cold. In the 13th cen- tury there had been a king named something much like Autocar the Second. Skoda.
Of course it had not been so hot in the 13th century. Hagen was sure the Middle Ages had been cold ages.
He found himself walking in the midst of a tour-bus-load of Japanese, all well-dressed, all happy. And their Nikons were happy too. Hagen was passing for Japanese. He was treading water among them, lifted up by them. In this way he would slip quietly out of the socialist bloc. He would learn brush painting and rake sand in a Shinto monastery.
A tanned young man, specimen of good health in white polo shirt, black rugby shorts, and Adidas, picked Hagen out and came right up to him, mut- tering and mumbling in secretive German, which meant he was a black-marketeer. "No thanks," Hagen said reflexively. "I don’t want to change." Then he had to think about his words, as al- ways. He shook off these words too and asked where Belveder was.
"There is not such a place," the black-marketeer said. "But I offer thirty crowns for the dollar." In front of a restaurant a sign read, "Engaged: Wait a Moment Please" in four languages. Inside,IN THE HOUSE OF GLASS/65 the restaurant was almost empty. The bowtied maitre d’ approached Hagen flourishing his hands.
Hagen said, "Could you please tell me where Belvedr is?" "Lunch for one?" the maitre d’ answered.
"The exhibition of new glass," Hagen said.
"Step this way, please." Hagen did not step this way. He stepped an- other way. The situation called for and brought on great delicacy. He watched his feet and fol- lowed them. He imagined it possible to say: he wobbled.
He felt he could feel her there somewhere. She was in the area, and he could feel it. Don’t be the idiot. But he could. After the shattering, things become dangerous. Imbecilite. But he could.
Hagen saw a black car in leisurely cruise along the narrow street and made an immediate as- sumption. Cars were forbidden on this street, but this one glided along, parting the tourists.
Hagen buried himself alive among another group of Japanese tourists, or perhaps the same group of Japanese tourists, and the car eased by.
There was a soldier at the wheel, but that was all Hagen saw. Conversely, it was entirely possible they hadn’t seen him. Hagen went on walking around the Castle, bumbling was one word he could use; he was inextricably late, she had cer- tainly left by now. The car would be back for him soon, but Hagen continued. That is, if you could call it continuing. Hagen was almost physically overpowered: the heat, the wine, the sense of loss.
The Zil came up from behind him and the first sign of it he had was its fat honk. He turned dumbly and beheld the faces of soldiers. The one driving was laughing; the other one had no true expression. They wore no caps, and Hagen saw no guns. The Zil swerved around Hagen and then bumped slowly down the cobbled street, taking with it the fading sound of the soldier’s laugh.
Hagen had been about to put his hands up; his mind now allowed them to hang freely. He was free, after all. He was free, he was wretched, and for a second Hagen had to restrain himself from running, like the idiot, after the big black car.