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Vol. 3, No. 3

by Ivan Klíma


The road wound upward with hairpin bends.
      The girl sat pressed to his shoulder. Smaller and more finely built, she was almost hidden by him.
      He drove with one hand, his other arm round the girl. Over the past year he had become used to driving in that mildly uncomfortable one-handed fashion, and the two of them had traveled like that across half of Europe, the German autobahns, the oddly deserted road between Chalons and Meaux lined with maple trees that seemed to have been gnawed by the wind (maybe they weren't even maples, it had been a misty night), and the wild mountain range of Olympus between Kozani and Tyrnavos, and amazingly, the whole time, even after endless hours of driving, he had always been aware of her, the touch of her hand or the trembling of her body, and would kiss her sometimes as they drove along—they would kiss while tearing along countless instantly forgotten roads and make love in that car on deserted country tracks at night, or in the middle of the day, when the sun beat down on her pale, not particularly beautiful face, while a Greek shepherd slowly passed on a lazy donkey. And now again they were approaching one of their destinations that was not really a destination, the roofs of a little town peeking out from behind the tops of colored trees, looking almost like a stage backdrop in the light of the setting sun.
      "So, you've gone and got married on me," he said, and it didn't sound like a rebuke, more like a recollection of her state, simply a sentence intended to break the silence for a moment.
      "I've gone and got married on you," she repeated. "But I'm on my honeymoon with you," and she opened wide her fishlike eyes as she always did when she declared something that was beyond doubt. "This is my honeymoon, because I've just got married, and yours because you're with me!"
      "Yes," he conceded, slightly amazed.
      "I couldn't have married you, could I?" she said, nudging him with her shoulder. "Or could I?"
      "I don't think so," he admitted.
      "With you I can just go on a honeymoon."
      "We've been on lots of honeymoons," he said.
      "You think we've already been on lots of honeymoons, then?" she asked.
      "It doesn't matter though," he added quickly. "This is the first time you've actually been married. This time it's a real honeymoon," he said, playing along, and then braked, turning the wheel with his free hand, and drove past a baroque fountain before pulling up in front of a house that might once have been Gothic.
      "It's not a particularly luxurious building for a wedding night," he observed. Overshadowing the square was a tall hill topped by a crumbling castle.
      "It's not a particularly luxurious building," she said as they walked through the gateway and she looked up at the whitewashed stone vaulting.
      In the barroom stood an enormous Italian jukebox—the only noticeable thing there apart from the brightly painted Gothic ceiling. Sixteen paper roses bloomed in sixteen identical vases on sixteen tables laid for dinner. Only the table adjacent to the bar broke the pattern—long and brown, without a tablecloth. Around it were seated four men and a woman. The men, one of whom was in uniform, were drinking beer.
      "Are you hungry?" he asked. He knew he was going to eat and drink slowly, for as long as possible, to delay to the utmost the moment she was also waiting for.
      She looked around the room as if trying to choose which of the identical tables suited her best. Then she said, "Shouldn't we have a wedding feast if we're on our honeymoon?"
      "Why not?" he said, still playing along. "But didn't you have a wedding feast last week?"
      "No, why should I have had a wedding feast last week?" she asked in surprise.
      "I thought you did," he said, puzzled. "After all, you did get married last week."
      "It didn't occur to me at the time," she said. "But there's no suitable table here."
      "They're all equally suitable," he countered. "We could ask them to bring a different tablecloth and different flowers, if they have them."
      "Yes," she said, "but where will the guests be put?"
      "There have to be guests at a wedding feast," she said. "Or don't you want to have the wedding feast here?"
      "But we don't know anyone here," he pointed out feebly.
      "They don't have to be people we know. The people at the table, for instance. Maybe they'd act as guests if we invited them."
      "Okay. How many guests do you want to have at your wedding feast?"
      "Five," she answered without hesitation, as if she had made up her mind long ago. "You're not cross, are you?"
      "No, why would I be cross?"
      "I bet you had a wedding feast, too," she said. "Didn't you?"
      "I don't remember anymore."
      "You don't remember?"
      "It was sixteen years ago," he calculated. "I was younger than you are now."
      He called the waiter and tried to explain to him what he wanted while looking at the big table. Three of the men were ordinary country bumpkins. Their tanned, unshaven faces, now ruddy from drink, were the sort he was never able to recall even minutes after seeing them, even though he did not have a particularly bad memory for faces. The soldier was dark-haired and thin almost to the point of gauntness, with pale cheeks. There were bluish bags under his watery eyes. He was almost too reminiscent of all her lovers, to judge from her stories and the crumpled photos she always carried around in her handbag.
      Sitting alongside the soldier was a girl whose hair had recently been permed by the local hairdresser. She looked like a sheep that had been given eye makeup and artificial lashes.
      He watched the waiter lean over the long table. Then, as if on command, the five heads turned as one toward their table. The strangers' gaze immediately settled on her face and remained there.
      He felt her touch his hand.
      "Darling," she said, "I love you for having come on this honeymoon with me. For the wedding feast we're going to have. And for inviting them all. Look, they're coming over. Don't they look funny!"
      The five of them rose from the big table and the soldier fastened his belt with a click. They approached rather hesitantly, wearing the requisite festive grins of guests coming to join the wedding party at the table. He noticed that one of the old gaffers had a bluish lump under his right ear (he would forget his face but he would never forget his ear) and the girl had a fine golden chain around her bare neck.

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