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H w Freedman

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Irina's Eye
by H w Freedman   

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Category: 

Literary Fiction

Publisher:  HWF ISBN-10:  1447847210 Type: 
Pages: 

189

Copyright:  April 15, 2005 ISBN-13:  9781447847212
Fiction

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Vaclav and Irina, both age fifteen, flee from behind the Iron Curtain. Irina is shot in the back and falls. He goes to help her but as he takes her in his arms another bullet enters her head and at that moment she orders him "Go!". He puts her down gently and runs. He reaches West Germany, then he travels to Rome and to New York in his quest for enlightenment and freedom from the guilt that haunts him for his soulmate Irina's fate.

 The first draft of Irina's Eye was a semi-finalist in the 2006 William Faulkner writingcompetition for unpublished works of fiction.

 "Bohemian border with Bavaria, West Germany, 1948

He should have known. If only he had trusted his intuition. That was the problem, telling the difference between intuition and fear, and he was not about to give into fear. There was no time; they had to flee and it had to be in that moment or they might never have another opportunity.

They ran into the night."

Vaclav and Irina, both age fifteen, flee from behind the Iron Curtain. Irina is shot in the back and falls. He goes to help her but as he takes her in his arms another bullet enters her head and at that moment she orders him "Go!". He puts her down gently and runs. He reaches West Germany, then he travels to Rome and to New York in his quest for enlightenment and freedom from the guilt that haunts him for his soulmate Irina's fate.

Excerpt
Chapter 1
Bohemian border with Bavaria, West Germany, 1948

He should have known. If only he had trusted his intuition. That was the problem, telling the difference between intuition and fear, and he was not about to give in to fear. There was no time; they had to flee and it had to be in that moment or they might never have another opportunity.
They ran into the night.
The searchlights and rifle shots far behind them seemed unreal until a bullet tore off his right earlobe and he heard that terrible grunt next to him and glimpsed Irina as she lurched forward and fell into the silence. A sick feeling erupted in him, along with a fresh rush of adrenaline as he ran.
At least Irina wasn't going to be tortured; even those monsters wouldn't defile a dead girl. If they did, it was only her body. Wherever Irina went, if she went anywhere, she was released from this terrible pain of living.
Vaclav knew Irina wouldn't make it. Or did he? His sense of foreboding may have been his selfish fear that she would leave him after they escaped; they would no longer be bound together by the necessity for survival and the hunger for love once they escaped the brutal reality of the regime. So what was he to do? If he had confessed his foreboding about her fate she would have laughed at him in that way she had of making him feel like a silly child, or she may have doubted he wanted her to be with him, which couldn't be further from the truth. He could never have gone without her. She gave him courage. She was his reason for being. She was his only trusted friend and as of last night she was his lover and he was hers. She had given him his first taste of sex.
Well, you couldn't really call what happened at first 'sex'. He had come so quickly. It was involuntary. Her sensuality took his breath away and before he could do anything about it he was pumped out and ashamed. He was devastated, but she seemed happy; he began to apologise, but she stopped him and they drifted into sleep. Hours later he thought he was still dreaming when he sensed her mouth making him hard. Then she mounted him and she pleasured herself and he had his first experience of the uninhibited bliss of a mutual climax.
Now she had fallen and he felt the sickness in him and the guilt; he should have trusted his intuition about the danger, but she had made him promise not to give into fear.
He ran back to her, zigging and zagging to avoid the bullets. He picked her up and as he looked into her eyes to search for life he heard another rifle shot and felt her body jolt; the bullet entered her right temple, her eyes electrified and bulged and her mouth opened and she made a sound that vibrated from her depths and entered him "Go!"; it was a command as the bullet tore through her head and exited and he had to obey and put her down and run with her eye clenched in his right hand.
When his legs and body gave out he was in the middle of a forest in West Germany. He was free of Czechoslovakia and the repressive communist regime, but for him the Germans were still the enemy, the same Nazis who had executed his father.
He huddled against the icy wind and tried to keep warm and he dreamed of Irina. He wouldn't remember the dream, his exhaustion was too deep and his body too hungry for the rejuvenation of sleep. There was another deeper layer unreachable by his body and she was there in the darkness with him. It wasn't an ordinary dream of action and colours or a nightmare of his vision of her electrified eyes and her blood. It was a dream wherein he realised that Irina's life was behind her eyes at the place where breath, thought and feeling converged and he searched for that same place in himself.
When he awakened it was dawn and he could taste her presence. Her stark sad eye was stuck in his clenched hand. He didn't want to let it go and he couldn't, it was adhered by the morning frost and he couldn't bring himself to pull it off and cause her pain. It was her eye! He couldn't separate his fingers and when he tried to unfold his hand he had to stop or he would tear it. He sat freezing with his dilemma and his sorrow and her eye was an endless deep he wished he could enter into and disappear.
He decided to bury it. He had to. If he kept it in his hand it would eventually be shredded and scattered amongst the filth of life. He cupped his hands and warmed her eye with his breath. Then he tore his shirt and gently pried her eye from his hand as if it were alive and sensitive. He wrapped the eye in the cloth and buried it in the cold hard ground under a tree and carved "Oko d'Irina" (Irina's eye) into the thick root. He wanted to say a prayer for Irina's Jewish soul, but he knew only Catholic prayers. He whispered "Shalom" as he placed the palm of his right hand on the little mound of earth and he could sense the heat of her life radiate up his arm and through his body.
Then he ran.
It was Germany and he was afraid, so he hid in the forest during the day and at night he stole into the fields, dug up frozen turnips, and ate them raw.
It was Germany after all and he remembered when the Nazis had come to his town. He was nine years old. At first he was anti-fascist because his father was a socialist, but when he saw the fascists arrest old people and families with children, brutalise them and then shoot them he knew for himself they were evil. The day they hanged his father he brought Irina home with him. They had been standing in class with their teacher who was now wearing a Swastika armband, reciting a passage from Mein Kampf. The words came mechanically from their mouths. He recited knowing at that moment his father was being hanged. Irina reached through his grief and took his hand in hers and he could see her eyes were angry and frightened and sad, but more than that they were intense and watchful. He took her home with him. She couldn't go back to her home, everyone was gone, dragged away, and another family had already moved into her house.
She hid in his room. That was the beginning of their friendship. They were nine and they comforted each other. She never asked for anything. She was grateful to him for bringing her home, and she loved his mother for letting her stay and for taking care of her those several weeks before she was arrested.
It happened the night she removed all traces of her presence from his room and then climbed out of the window into the darkness and fled.
Not more than an hour after she left German soldiers barged in and tore his house apart. Someone had tipped them off about his mother hiding a Jewess, some monster of a neighbour.
As soon as the soldiers entered, his mother pulled him tightly to her; he clung to her and buried his nose in her dress as if he could burrow inside of her to hide. When the soldiers kicked in the door to his bedroom and rushed inside he began to cry.
Irina was gone without a trace. He was shocked and happy until the German officer slapped his mother across the face, wrenched him away from her and threatened to kill him if she didn’t tell them where they could find Irina. His mother screamed, “Please don’t hurt him! I don’t know anything! I don’t know anything! Don’t hurt him! Mary mother of Jesus help us!” Fortunately the German officer was soon fed up with this hysterical Catholic woman and her sniveling son. After they left he was frightened the Germans would discover that his father had been born a Jew and converted to Catholicism; he was sure they would return and execute him and his mother.
Irina came back two years after the war ended. Early one morning Vaclav was awakened by his mother’s scream. He jumped out of bed and ran out of his bedroom at full speed. His mother was standing in the open doorway in her nightgown hugging a thinner Irina with short black hair. In that moment he realised how much he had missed her.
Irina and Vaclav hugged, then she held him at arms’ length and studied his eyes and face and he studied hers. Her eyes were bigger than he remembered them, more intense, her full oval face was now gaunt and paler than ever in contrast to her black hair, her full lips were ashen. He could sense she had been through something painful, terrible. He couldn’t speak.
His mother insisted that Irina live with them — she had no other family anywhere. They partitioned Vaclav’s room so she could have privacy. Vaclav and Irina resumed their friendship, but it was different now because Vaclav was deeply in love with her although she treated him like a brother.
Vaclav soon discovered he was as anti-communist as he was anti-fascist. It was 1948, the year the Czech Communist Party grabbed power in a coup d’etat. Their first official act was to arrest several thousand people they suspected of being anti-communist, and they executed more than a thousand of them. Next they took over the education system and now in school Vaclav and Irina were compelled to learn the Marxist dogma. Vaclav never knew from one minute to the next if he or his mother or Irina would be denounced and arrested. Dissent of any kind was forbidden. Vaclav felt trapped in a world of madness.
His love for Irina was the only thing that kept him sane and hopeful. They were friends; she was like a sister to him, like a daughter to his mother. But he was infatuated with her – he was obsessed with her peppery scent, the mysterious volatile energy behind her brown eyes, her mischievous mouth that would change moods in a flash.
He was so possessed by Irina that although he hated the fascists and communists and wanted desperately to escape, deep in himself he knew that if Irina were a communist — not that she ever could be — he would be one too, just to be near her, not to lose their friendship. He would do anything for her.
He could and did and would always trust his mother and Irina, but no one else on earth. It was more than most people could say. The three of them had a bond they didn't have to talk about.
When he asked Irina who had warned her that the Gestapo were coming that night she said she just knew.
He understood her in his own way. After all he had brought her home because he somehow knew at age nine she needed help and she would never put him or his mother in danger, not willingly, not knowingly, not ever.
His mother knew Irina would be discreet and if need be even sacrifice herself to keep them safe.
Irina admitted she was trembling with fear as she climbed out of his first floor window, jumped into the back garden and ran into the night. She told him she had no alternative. If she gave into her fear and stayed she would have placed him and his mother in danger. She would never be able to live with the guilt.
Irina warned him they would be confronted with the opportunity to escape and would have to go in that moment. He agreed, but he secretly feared he would not be able to leave his mother behind.
The day before he and Irina ran for their lives his mother told them firmly, “You must find a way to leave the country. There is no future here.”
He had never heard his mother speak with such resolve. He was shocked. He told her he couldn't leave her behind, but she insisted it was his only chance for a good life and she made them promise to find a way.
He accused Irina of telling his mother about their plans, but Irina only smiled and his mother told him not to be so naïve as to think that she didn't know what was going on.
After his mother went to bed Irina told him she knew the moment of escape would come unexpectedly and very soon. She looked him in the eyes and warned him that the opportunity would come mixed with a powerful fear and she made him promise not to waver, not to back out. They must use the energy of fear to drive them into action.
He promised without knowing if he could go through with it. Then she kissed him full on the mouth for the first time and he was overwhelmed.
Just one kiss, and when it was over she laughed at his erection. It was the first time she had been intimate with him in that way, and then she took his hand and they went to his room. That's when he had that premature ejaculation and then witnessed her bliss.
So he tried not to cry as he carefully scraped her eye off his hand with a piece of his shirt and buried her under that tree somewhere in Germany, in the dawn in the mist with the dew frost on the grass and on his skin, and he left her there under that ancient oak tree, where he awakened that first morning of his freedom.

Chapter 2
Greenwich Village, NYC, 1966

The nurse closed the curtain around Vaclav’s bed and helped direct his penis into the plastic container so he could urinate. He was surprised he didn’t get a hard-on when she touched him — she was good looking, no more than forty years old — and he was suddenly afraid that he might be impotent.
He wasn’t supposed to change position without help. He had stitches in his neck, face, arms, chest, back and legs, but thank God his vital organs were intact, and his testicles and penis had somehow escaped injury. He must have passed out just before he hit the tile floor. The last thing he remembered after being brought to consciousness with the sharp stab of ammonia in his nostrils was crashing through the glass wall of the shower cabin, falling with slabs of broken glass piercing his body, the sounds of glass shattering, blood spurting out of him as he tried to protect his eyes with one hand and his penis and testicles with the other. While he was falling he felt completely calm, even tranquil, he seemed to have all the time in the world, as if time stood still or rather that his experience of the fall occurred in the infinite space between one breath and the next. This was how he had felt during his escape when he held Irina in his arms as the bullet pierced her head and he was left holding her eye.
When he finished peeing — at least that was functioning — and the nurse pushed open the curtain, there was Sara leaning over him and kissing him. As he took in the musk scent of her long red hair he immediately became hard and thanked God for it.
She whispered, “Hi.” She was nose to nose with him. She kissed him again. “I can’t stay long. I’ve got that audition this morning.”
“Remember not to act.”
“I’ll try.”
He pinched her arm hard and she pulled away. “Real like that.”
Sara’s face was momentarily transformed; she was angry, he had really hurt her arm, but she knew this was his way of helping her by shocking her into reality. She needed to be real and believable if she were to be a great actress. Sometimes he frightened her with his unexpected fits of temper. But she was in love with him. She liked his dark good looks and his missing earlobe that reminded her he had risked his life trying to save that fallen wounded girl. He excited her sexually, and she was turned on by his primal energy when he directed theatre. She remembered when they had been rehearsing the death scene from ‘Woyzeck’ by Georg Buchner.1
The scene takes place on the evening Woyzeck takes Marie to a remote spot near a pond at the edge of a wood. Woyzeck and Marie have been living together for two years and they have a small child. Woyzeck is deeply in love with Marie, but she has lost respect for him because he is a naïve and sincere soul and has allowed himself to be bullied by the men in the town; she despises him for this and hasn’t allowed him to make love to her for a long time. That afternoon Woyzeck had been humiliated in public by a group of local army officers who told him that Marie was a whore and had been unfaithful to him. Later when he noticed that Marie was trying to hide a new earring her lover had given to her he realised she had been unfaithful.
Now Woyzeck and Marie are alone at dusk near the pond.
Woyzeck: ‘Are you freezing, Marie? Your lips are as hot as coals! Hot as coals, the hot breath of a whore! And still I’d give up heaven just to kiss them again. Are you freezing? When you’re cold through you won’t freeze anymore.’
Marie: ‘What are you talking about?’
Woyzeck: ‘Nothing.’
Here there is a silence, and then,
Marie: ‘Look how red the moon is! It’s rising.’
Woyzeck: ‘Like a knife washed in blood.’
Woyzeck pulls out a knife.
Marie: ‘What are you going to do? Franz, you’re so pale.’2
At that moment Vaclav yelled, “Be real!” and he threw a heavy glass ashtray directly at Sara’s head, which she managed to avoid and it smashed against the back wall of the stage.
Sara began to run off stage, “You could have killed me! You crazy bastard! You’re crazy!”
“Get back and finish the scene now!”
“Go to hell!”
“Finish the fucking scene!”
“Fuck you!”
“Finish the scene!”
Sara, still shaken up, returned to the stage and to Woyzeck.
Vaclav yelled again. “Woyzeck, speak now! ‘Like a knife washed in blood!’ and take the knife out, but don’t raise it to stab her until after her next line! Do it!”
Woyzeck pulls out the knife and Marie sees it.
Marie: ‘What are you going to do? Franz, you’re so pale.’
Woyzeck lifts the knife over his head to stab her; she tries to get away from him but he holds her.
Vaclav yelled, “Marie, get the fuck out of there! He’s going to stab you to death!”
Marie struggles with all her might to break free from Woyzeck, but he is too strong.
Marie: ‘Franz! Stop! Help me! Help me!’
“Stab her! Kill the fucking whore! Kill the cunt! Kill her! She humiliated you you prick! Kill her!! Kill!”
Marie tries to protect herself, but she can’t. Woyzeck stabs her madly, again and again. She screams, and then whimpers.
Woyzeck: ‘There! There! Why can’t you die?! There! There! She’s still shivering! Still not dead? Still not dead? Still shivering?’ He stabs her again and again. ‘Are you dead? Dead! Dead!’3
Woyzeck kneels to check her pulse, then he places his cheek next to her mouth and nose to see if she is breathing.
“Kiss the dead bitch passionately on the lips! You still love her!”
Woyzeck takes her in his arms, embraces her, kisses her passionately, places her body on the ground, drops the knife and runs away.
“It was fucking real. Good work. It was real.”
Sara felt she had finally experienced Marie’s fear and helplessness and so she forgave Vaclav for almost hitting her with the ashtray; she convinced herself that he threw it to open her to real emotions and not to hurt her.
“I’ve moved your things to my apartment so when you get out of here I can take care of you. Don’t say a word. You have no choice. Now I really have to go.” She gave him a brief but passionate kiss. “See you later.”
“Break a leg.”
As soon as Sara was gone the nauseating smells of his open ward at St. Vincent’s Hospital hit him with their mixture of antiseptics, unwashed bodies, urine, alcohol and cleaning detergents. He couldn’t wait to get out of there, but he couldn’t move or he would break his stitches. He was trapped in this alien environment and in his own body, a fitting, if not ironic, metaphor for his life as an exile. He felt he was being punished.
He looked over at the next bed where a drunk who had been rolled and badly beaten was snoring away. In another bed he could see the innocent face of the 18-year-old girl who was in a coma, and there was her red-eyed exhausted mother whispering into her ear. Across from him the old woman with a broken hip was gazing into space. He knew the other beds were occupied because from time to time he could hear moans and he could hear other patients eating or talking to each other or to the nurses, but he couldn’t see who the people were because he was unable to shift his position.
The girl in a coma fascinated Vaclav. To him she was pure and innocent the way he imagined Faust’s Margareta to be. He was sure her mind and feelings were alive behind those closed eyelids. He hoped she would wake up one night while the ward was quiet so he could get to know her in whispers and fall madly passionately in love with her. Then he would crawl into her bed, slip under her covers, kiss her neck, lips, breasts and between her legs. He would pleasure her with all of the tenderness he wished to lavish on Irina. He was always driven by conflicting desires and he was determined to explore them through the legends of Dr. Faustus and his innocent Margareta and the innocent Woyzeck and his fiery whore Marie. He planned to turn his energies to a definitive production of Dr. Faustus as soon as he completed his work on the Woyzeck play. He had directed a student production of Faust as part of his doctoral thesis when he was in graduate school at Columbia University, and it had been considered a success, but he wasn’t satisfied with the result. His professional stage version of the legend would be his magnum opus.

Dr. Faustus is a great scholar who feels he has learned everything there is to learn from books of philosophy, metaphysics and science, and so he turns his attention to black magic. Faustus makes a pact with Mephistopheles: he is granted his wish for the power of magic and the ability to have, experience or see anything he desires, all the pleasures of the world, whether in the past or the future, on the condition that if he at any moment wants to hold on to an experience rather than letting it go completely to get on to the next, at that moment his soul would be forfeit to Satan forever. One of Faustus’ first requests is to have the experience of seducing the perfect woman, a virgin, beautiful, warm, sincere, and pure of heart, and so with the help of Mephistopheles he meets and courts fourteen year-old Margareta. He convinces Margareta of his love and devotion, and she finally confesses she would have him come to her bedroom, but she is afraid he will wake her mother. Mephistopheles gives Faustus a sleeping powder for Margareta to give to her mother so she and Faustus will have privacy for the night. Unbeknownst to Faustus the powder is actually a powerful poison and the mother dies. Margareta blames herself, confesses, is arrested and placed in prison for murder. That same morning Margareta’s brother returns from the army and finds the tragedy unfolding. He learns the truth from Margareta, searches for and finds Faustus, and challenges him to a duel. Faustus kills the brother with the sinister help of Mephistopheles. Margareta is overwhelmed with guilt over the death of her mother and brother. While in prison awaiting the gallows she discovers she is pregnant with Faustus’ child, gives birth, suckles the child, then smothers it to death and completely loses her mind. Faustus discovers this state of affairs, tries to rescue Margareta from prison with the help of Mephistopheles, but she is too far gone, she doesn’t recognise him and refuses to escape. She wants and needs to be punished for her sins. Faustus won’t give up trying to bring her to her senses and to rescue her; he is unable to let go of his guilt and remorse at having brought shame and tragedy to his perfect woman, and so he must forfeit his soul. 4

When Vaclav saw Sara for the first time he thought she might be his Margareta, but he soon learned she was too sophisticated. He had his own way of looking at women. There was his mother and other mothers who were to be respected and revered, but these were mainly women from his mother’s generation. Then there was Irina who was in a category of her own, the real woman, the one with the mystique of sexual power and romantic love, worthy of loyalty and respect. Then there were the Margaretas and the Maries, both categories being targets of his lust.
He thought about Sara and how it was strange that this beautiful girl thirteen years younger than himself, until recently just one of his acting students, had become one of his main links to the outside world. According to the doctor, she had saved his life. She had run into the bathroom when she heard the crash and found him on the tile floor unconscious and bleeding. Then she had called an ambulance and used towels to staunch the bleeding. If not for her he would have bled to an ignominious death, pathetically naked on the floor of her bathroom. He had been soaping his body and having an erotic daydream of being Faust seducing Margareta with the help of Mephistopheles. The bar of soap had popped from his hand, he tried to catch it, but he slipped and lost his balance. It was a miracle that he hadn’t been blinded or castrated or both by the shards of shattering glass, and that he had survived without permanent damage, a miracle that he felt he didn’t deserve.

Chapter 3
Kdyne, Bohemia, 1948

Lenka awakened suddenly and sat up in bed. Her heart was racing and she was wet with perspiration despite the bitter cold. She knew something terrible had happened, but she had no idea what it was. She got out of bed, wrapped herself in her blanket, lit a candle, and went to check on Vaclav and Irina. They were gone! She knew they were planning to escape, but they hadn’t told her when they would do it. She didn’t know she had awakened at the precise moment that the bullet had struck Irina.
She couldn’t go back to sleep. She felt she had to talk to someone. She hurried back to her bedroom, dressed, put on her overcoat, rushed out onto the dark deserted street, and began to walk. The biting arctic wind quickly penetrated her layers of clothing; she used part of her scarf to protect her face. The only sounds were her footsteps breaking the frozen crust of the shallow snow, and the wind rattling the shutters on the otherwise sleeping houses. Her heart was beating wildly, and she struggled to keep her mind from conjuring up tragic scenarios. She started to pray, but stopped herself — she knew that her prayers were an empty gesture for the purpose of sustaining hope. Hadn’t she prayed endless times with teary promises to Lord Jesus and the Virgin Mary to save Milos from execution, to save Irina from capture, to save them all from the Nazis, then from the Russian soldiers who had supposedly liberated Czechoslovakia, and now from the communist regime, to keep Vaclav and Irina from danger and to save their souls? Her prayers had been as barren as these desolate frozen streets. But she still believed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and the Virgin Mary, and she felt she must pray, because if God forbid something terrible did happen and she hadn’t she would blame herself. Maybe this feeling that something terrible had happened came from her fear and not from her intuition. Irina and Vaclav were clever. They were probably in West Germany by now — they were safe. But deep in herself she knew better. So all she could do was to hope that whatever had happened or happened now would be bearable for Vaclav, for Irina and lastly for herself. First in importance came Vaclav and Irina — she considered Irina her daughter — and then came her sister Martina and her nieces Anezka and Anastazia whom she adored.
She could see the outline of the hills of Kdyne against the starlit sky. Vaclav and Irina were out there somewhere under this same winter sky, freezing, hiding, running. Maybe she should have gone with them. At least she would know what was happening to them. It was the not knowing that was torturing her. Martina had urged her to find a way to leave the country. Once Vaclav and Irina were gone, she would be alone with her memories for the rest of her days. A few years after Milos was executed Martina thought she should stop mourning and begin to socialise, to find a man, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was living in their house, hers and Milos’, and she would never violate it. Martina told her that her sentiments were sweet but crazy, all the more reason to leave and to start over. But she didn’t have money. She would be a beggar or dependent on Vaclav and Irina. Here she had a home, she was able to manage, and she had Martina and the girls nearby.
Wherever she went she would have to speak the language. She spoke some German, but she wouldn’t want to live in Germany. She knew how to work in a law office after all those years helping her father, but that was in the Czech language only, she had no other skills. She supposedly had a beautiful singing voice, but so what? Many people could sing. She laughed. Milos had bought her the piano and paid for lessons — her father had always refused to pay for piano lessons. Milos had to listen to her clumsy practicing hour after hour. After her practice, he would take her place at the piano and she would sing. He was a natural with the piano, he could play anything by ear, but he had no voice. They used to joke that if they ever wanted to get rid of guests, she would play the piano and he would sing. Her eyes were now hot with tears. After they took him from her she found refuge at the piano, she had practiced religiously so she could play their favourite songs the way he did. Now when she played she could feel his presence. How could she leave?
Lenka passed a shop window and glimpsed her reflection in the moonlight. She wasn’t a pretty sight bundled up in her overcoat and scarves, and her long black hair windblown in all directions. She gathered her hair and tucked it under her scarf to keep it in place. Martina had insisted that she was still attractive, a young forty-five-year-old, but even if that were true how long would her looks last if she ran across the border with Vaclav and Irina and had to live rough and eat badly? She would look sixty-five in no time, that is, if she survived.
Lenka began to walk quickly again. She knew she would never remarry, and certainly not to any of the men in Kdyne. She had seen how most of them had groveled in front of the SS when the Germans had occupied Bohemia, and now with the Communist regime they were groveling again. Milos had tried to keep a low profile with the Germans, but he couldn’t avoid them, he was a doctor, he had to treat them when they were ill or injured. But he never groveled; he had done his job with dignity.
Lenka stood huddled in her overcoat in front of Martina’s house. It was dark and quiet. She stamped her feet and rubbed her hands together to try to warm them. She desperately wanted to speak to Martina; she would knock at this hour if it weren’t for her husband Jan. She loathed Jan. She was convinced he was the one who had tipped off the Gestapo that night they came for Irina. Jan would be suspicious about her waking them up at four in the morning. She didn’t trust him. She began to walk up and back in front of the house to keep warm. She could never understand how Martina could stay with Jan. Their parents had never liked him. But they hadn’t liked Milos either and in this she knew they were expressing prejudice, which she wouldn’t tolerate or yield to. As soon as she had told them about Milos having been born a Jew she had regretted it. How could she have been so foolish as to confide in them? She had never liked her father. He was a womaniser and a bully and her mother was under his thumb. They had accused her of selfishness and spite for marrying ‘that convert — once a Jew always a Jew’. Her parents had insisted on keeping Milos’ Jewish background secret. She had been angry with them for this. She wanted them to like Milos for what he was, to stand up for him, not to hide the truth out of shame. She didn’t want to pander to their prejudice, but Milos had thought it a wise decision no matter the motivation. It hadn’t mattered to her parents that Milos was a wonderful doctor, that she and Milos loved each other and that he made her happy. They had mistrusted him.
Lenka’s toes and fingers were numb. She was afraid to disturb Martina’s family so she began to walk along the icy streets, protecting her face with one hand and alternately warming the other in her pocket.
As far as Lenka knew the Germans had never found out that Milos was a Jew by birth, he had been right about keeping his identity a family secret. From the beginning of their relationship she and Milos knew that he had to be more Catholic than the Pope, better behaved than others when they socialised, and at Church services and community events. She had marveled at how Milos always managed to maintain a good-natured demeanour with his patients and colleagues. She still resented the efforts she and Milos had needed to make to be accepted. But she never for a moment regretted having fallen in love with and marrying him.
Lenka arrived in front of the church. It was locked and dark, empty of life, of God. But had it been open she would have gone inside and prayed for Vaclav and Irina, and lit a candle for Milos. The cold was unbearable. She hurried home to build a fire in the kitchen to warm herself and to brew tea.
When her hands and feet had thawed she sat at the upright piano and looked at the photo of Milos’ handsome face with his dark eyes and skin, black mustache, curly black hair. She whispered, “Vaclav takes after you, you would be proud of him.” She began to cry. Then she began to play the piano very quietly and to immerse herself in the music, but her feelings caused her to play with more force, she had to stop, she didn’t want to disturb her neighbours. She stayed at the piano and made an effort to study the musical score she was trying to learn. The photo of Milos was now her company in the same way as when he would sit in the easy chair on Sunday afternoons and read a book while she practiced. She whispered to Milos, “Something terrible has happened.”
It was daylight. She decided to go outside no matter how cold it was.
She made her way through the freezing streets to the local market. By now Vaclav and Irina had been gone several hours. She was certain that at any moment the Secret Police would be at her door to question her about their escape, or God forbid, failed escape. The Secret Police would never tell her the truth. They would probably arrest her and pull her house apart. They would interrogate her, maybe even torture her to reveal what she knew, which was nothing, absolutely nothing! The only way she could find out the truth about what had happened was if Irina and Vaclav had succeeded to escape and one or the other of them managed to get a message back to her. But how could they send a message without exposing themselves and her? It was impossible!
Lenka finally reached the market. She politely greeted Ruza, the stout woman standing as always in her dirty apron next to her wooden wagon with its meagre offering of cabbage, turnips and potatoes. Lenka mechanically examined the potatoes, and struggled to shake off her dark thoughts.
Ruza came close to her, and as she rearranged the potatoes she whispered, “The Jewess is dead — shot in the back.”
Lenka felt the ground shift under her. She grabbed hold of the wagon to keep from falling.
Ruza continued in a louder voice, “Those are the best potatoes we’ve had since the frost.”
“No! Lord Jesus! No!” Lenka whispered. She felt sick, she suppressed her impulse to scream with grief.
Ruza quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching or listening, but there was no one. She whispered, “The western frontier.” Then in a louder voice, “The price is the price, potatoes don’t grow on trees you know.” Ruza laughed loudly at her own joke, but Lenka could see behind her toothless smile that she was afraid.
Lenka’s hands trembled as she groped in her purse for coins to pay for the potatoes, and as she paid she touched Ruza’s hand for an instant and looked into her eyes to convey her gratitude. There was a soul in that stout woman with her missing front teeth, her broad expressionless face framed by a worn and filthy headscarf.
Lenka rushed home, quickly gathered together cheese, bread, salami and a flask of water. She mounted her bicycle, and without regard to the sub-zero temperature began to peddle toward the Western frontier fifteen kilometres away.


Professional Reviews

5 Stars - Irna's Eye
Irina's Eye is an exciting page turner. Utterly fascinating from beginning to end, it brings together so many worlds as it tussles with the past and present waving its way though relationships between man and the Church, the carnal verses the spiritual. It depicts a search for who we really are; our personality, our profession. What is our true essence. It is a thought provoking MUST READ.


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