A sparkling frost-clear landscape exists between them under a soft and smudged sky. Irises exist, blue and yellow, and those that wither in a hurry. Tufted grass and quaking grass exist and the night-blue sloe berry that pulls sour coldness into the face and frosts over the teeth. Muddy water and clear springs exist; language that captivates and shoves aside exist, words that beg for mercy, make demands, that regret and apologise, shove aside and once again captivate.
A light that uncovers everything exists. Darkness exists.
And they have been through it all, from one end to the other, over and over again. While years replace years and lay new tracks in their handwriting, in their bodies’ falling lines.
Now she’s lying in bed. She’s sleeping. The hotel room is grimy and worn, and outside: the city, traffic, a surge of movement and sound. At last they’ve met, God would’ve sworn it was impossible after all this time. Their advances, so cautious, at an incredible distance. She’s sleeping, still warm from his hands; she’s lying on her stomach, the bony stretch of her spine protruding hard from her skin in the twilight. He can’t remember when he last slept and he’s smoking with iron lungs and a coated tongue. This is killing me, he thinks.
‘Love is so huge that you can only dream about it,’ she said before falling asleep.
Perhaps she was already asleep.
But once in awhile it happens. It succeeded an hour ago, when Prague disappeared in the sound of the tremendous passion that gushed from their throats, a choral masterpiece, so tender and brutal. A sacred place and a spellbinding music. Now reverberating between them.
He lights another lousy Czech cigarette, trying to get the feeling out of his chest: that this might last forever.
She, lying on the sheets, he, leaning against the wall, naked for each other, all the way to the bones.
It’s taken a long time, and he had sworn it was impossible. That he would let someone in where he himself doesn’t know what’s there; that someone like her would open up to him, reluctantly, but to the innermost.
And now there is the skins’ parchment between them. The thighs’ beauty and her shins’ shaved smoothness. Arms that won’t let go exist and clammy palms’ nervous searching. The impossibility of conflicting movements exists and the extraordinary moment of ice melting and dissolving. The nails’ white half moons. The scent of hyacinths, and also winter aconite; small suns breaking through a black field.
A child’s peaceful sleep exists like a gift to the sleepless, satiation to the always hungry.
Shaking, he realises it has happened. An hour ago, and so exceptional in this world. And now he’s at a loss because he’s smart enough to know where the body’s longing leads. It has no patience. Won’t put up with it.
In the morning when he gets on the train and waves to her, she’ll be standing there freezing on the platform and will give him the final image: dark eyes inside the hood of her coat, a white hand that keeps waving, then all hell will let loose and it won’t be as easy as before. Letters will not be enough. Blood and fruit will be missing from the landscape.
Oh, well, he thinks, there’s always a price to pay. For everything. Instead I could’ve stayed home. I could’ve sent a postcard. I’m not 25 any more, let alone 17. We both have our stuff to take care of.
Afraid. He’s been so from the beginning. But this . . .
She turns in her sleep, her face comes into view with its red, half-opened mouth, the line of her cheekbone stretching the skin.
He walks over to the window; they really are in Prague, they’re really here, in the same hotel room with the dripping water faucet and the toothbrush cups that smell of whisky for good reason.
It begins to snow.
He thinks: she’s right. Perfect love cannot exist among imperfect people.
She wakes up and stretches her hands out to him.
She’s almost melting into the bed and he’s by the window shining like a torch.
He’s thinking: we must be angels then . . .
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Denise Newman is a translator and poet who has published three collections of poetry. Her translation of Naja Marie Aidt’s short story collection Baboon won the 2015 PEN Translation Prize.