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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 193-200

I walked through the double doors and headed toward a door that opened into the backyard that was built out of an old courtyard. It was bucolic in a druggy kind of Warholian fashion. Blankets were spread over the small grassy plot. To one side of the courtyard was an actual garden with leafy greens sprouting from the ground and thin tall sticks with twine to make tepees for beans and flowers. The remainder of the small yard was a hard patchwork of grass and dirt. I sat on an empty blanket and drank my wine looking at all the various people that were sitting, laying or milling about. There was a mellow bohemian air to the crowd. People spoke in quiet tones and intimate gestures. I didn’t know any of them. I adjusted my shirt a bit, sat crossed-legged and stared off into the garden. There was a scent of lilacs and cake in the air. Sandy had baked a traditional beranek cake for Easter. I was told it had looked like a lamb, but what I saw passing from hand to hand was more like a slaughtered ameba. A guy wearing a black top hat and stripped bell bottomed pants walked into the garden carrying a guitar and a folded wooden chair. He placed the chair at the edge of the garden, between tomato plants and dangling beans, and sat down. He strummed a few strings of his guitar before he began to play The Velvet Underground’s, What a Perfect Day. I felt suddenly like I was sitting in a photograph.

Sandy ran out giggling and holding up a bottle of white. “Hold yor glasses up if you want wine.” She yelled.

People cheered and held up their glasses. I held up my empty glass and Sandy poured it to the top then moved to the next group. Someone made a joke about her needing a wine skin. Jiri rushed out and grabbed Sandy around her waist and maneuvered her and the wine back into the hostel to the soft boos of those sitting outside. I took a large drink to keep my wine from spilling. A woman with glittery face paint held out her hands; she had a crayon in one palm and an egg in the other. I smiled but shook my head with an involuntary wrinkle of my nose.  I didn’t want to color on eggs. I was certain that this crayon coloring business was not a Czech tradition in the decorating of eggs. I was certain it was a “we don’t have any money for dye so let’s use crayons instead” tradition because other than Demitri not one person could color a decent egg, and he was Russian not Czech. I watched the guitarist’s fingers slowly strumming over the strings, his brush so light it seemed as if he wasn’t really touching them. I started to notice a heady feeling, like a contact high, from all the milky people clouding around me. Either that or I was already feeling drunk from the wine. I looked down into my overflowing glass that was more like a chalice by the abundant pour that Sandy offered in her short-lived role as Bacchus.

Endres stumbled through the door in his usual fashion. He wasn’t sober today. He noticed me, trip-walked his way over, and sat beside me on the blanket. He inhaled deeply and then exhaled with a hum.

“I had a nice picnic in the park Annnnnna.”

“Hmmm.” I said, not having any response. I took a gulp of wine and set my glass on the ground. I thought about getting up, but Endres stopped me by laying his head in my lap. I looked down at him, and held my arms up in question. I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t expected to have Endres’ head in my lap. He had his eyes closed and a smile played over his lips. I looked to my wine glass then back to Endres.

“I need to be on drugs, Annnnnna, so I do not think of my first time in Prague.” He mumbled.

Endres’ eyes were almond shaped, and when they were closed they looked like smiles on a happy face. He was really very beautiful. His skin was smooth like porcelain, not a blemish. It was his coloring that was off sometimes, like he would appear blue-grey or with light plum circles under his eyes. But most of the time he was a soft ceramic white with just a faint dusting of blush. Something about his fine features, his sharp nose and chin reminded me of the feminine. I wondered what it would feel like to pull my fingers through his messy hair, and I moved a hand toward his forehead, but I stopped short and set both of my hands on the ground behind me. Now I had a male drug-addicted angel’s head in my lap. Seemed like a perfect scenario for Easter. I looked up at the sky. We stayed like this in silence for a moment until my leg began to get uncomfortable.

“Endres, I’m sorry but my legs are falling asleep. Here you can use my bag as a pillow.” He lifted his head as I removed my legs and placed my bag under him. I stretched my legs in front of me, massaging them for a bit. Endres kept his eyes closed. I wondered what time it was. How late had I slept this time? Endres had already had a picnic in the park. I had thought it was still early since the streets were so quiet, but maybe it was just that everyone was at home with their families. I flipped over onto my stomach beside Endres.

“How long were you in Thailand?” I asked pulling out a blade of grass and wrapping it around my finger.

“Mmm. Nearly a year.” His eyes were still closed.

“How long have you been traveling?”

“Nearly three years. But I do go home in between.”

“How old are you?”

“I am four and twenty.”

“Can you guess how old I am?” I asked still playing with the blade of grass. That was a stupid question; I wish I hadn’t asked it. I sounded juvenile. I realized I was flirting. This was my flirting. Terrible.

Endres turned to his side facing me and leaned his head on his palm. “It is hard to tell.”

I felt a blush wash over me as Endres examined my face looking for my age. I caught sight of Francisco from the corner of my eye as he walked from the door into the courtyard. I sat up in relief at the chance of breaking this awkward moment, and waved to him. He smiled at me, and tossed an orange in my direction. I caught it over Endres. Francisco turned back inside.

“It must be night.” I said looking up at the dusky sky. “How’d I not notice?” I began to peel the orange by first puncturing it with my nails then tearing back the skin. The rind perspired sweating drips of citrus odor onto my fingers.

Francisco returned holding two glasses of wine. He handed the white one to me.

“How’d you know?” I asked surprised.

He shrugged and set his wine down, then picked up an egg and a crayon. He sat behind me and leaned his back against mine. I could feel the heat from Francisco’s body beating against my back. Even with my initial apprehension on meeting Francisco I felt comfortable leaning up against him for support. I couldn’t figure it out. I had a sense that Francisco wasn’t to be trusted and yet he felt protective, like a guardian almost. I decided to stop fixating on it and just let it go.

I peeled off a part of the orange and handed it to Francisco. I fed a slice to Endres as he lay looking up at me. I was not the kind of woman to feed orange slices to a man, but this was not real life. This was an art film. His eyes were hard blue, striking and somewhat insane. His pupils dilated with a rapid pulse.

“Whoa.” I said, “Your eyes just did something freaky.” It was freaky like a snake’s or cat’s eye.

He smiled up at me. I fed him another orange as if pupils pulse into the size of a dime and then back to the size of a pinhole all the time. What kind of drug did that? Whatever it was it made him mellow. I took a drink of my wine. I felt Francisco move against my back as he scribbled with brisk jerks over his egg.

“I remember things I say Annnnna.” Endres said to me.

“That’s nice Endres.” I said feeling pretty warm from the wine.

“What I said to you the other night.”

“That you thought I was attractive?” I said.

I felt Francisco chuckle his back shaking mine. I felt a flush of embarrassment. I handed him another slice of orange from over my shoulder. He took it from my fingers. I took another drink of wine. I really felt like Francisco and I were bonding.

“Where’s Marco?” I felt Francisco shrug.

The sky was continuing to darken as people passed around ribbons to tie onto sticks. It was that perfect light — the magic time that photographers and filmmakers love when the light is bouncing off the spectrum and pulling out the deepest, sharpest colors.

I felt Francisco growl in frustration over his egg.

“You know I think it is going to be too dark for an Easter egg hunt.” I said.

Francisco tossed his egg and crayon into the grass and abruptly rose and headed into the bar.

It was now dark and starting to get chilly. I lay back down onto the blanket beside Endres. I felt fine being alone with him out in the Easter night. I was drunk on wine.

“I love Prague.” He said up to the sky. “Don’t you love Prague, Annnna?”

“I don’t know if I do.” I said.

“Really?” He sat up and looked at me, his expression hidden in the shadow. “You are the first person I have met that hasn’t loved Prague.”

“Well, I don’t know if I do or don’t yet. I mean, I guess it’s not what I expected. I mean my street is kinda trashy.” I said taking a drink. I was drunk and starting to feel a little cold. “Can I wear your shirt?” I asked.

“What? Are you cold Annnnna?”

“Yep.” I said feeling a shiver move up my back.

“I have a shirt you can borrow up in the room. You know Annna, a lot of beautiful art comes out of trash.”

“Yes. Yes it does.” I knew he was right.

Endres stood up and helped me to my feet and led me, wine glass in hand, into the hostel. He walked me up the first few steps into the hostel then asked me to wait for him for a second as he went to grab the shirt. I leaned on a window ledge and finished my wine. I set the glass down on the ledge beside me. I wondered where Marco was and why he wasn’t here. Endres returned. Handing me the shirt he sat next to me on the ledge. I drunkenly pulled it over my head.

“Would you like to share a splif with me Annnna?”

“Sure.” I said.

We sat on the staircase and shared the splif in silence. Once we finished Endres stood up and helped me to my feet.

“I think for tonight I am going to bed.” Endres’ said.

“Oh are you leaving?” I felt my weight sway back just slightly.

“Yes. Tonight I am tired.”

“Well, can I stay the night with you?” If I hadn’t felt so drunk and stoned I would have been surprised at my boldness. My sober side gave me a thumbs up on the forwardness- you go girl– it said.

“What Annnna? Oh no. It is not nice. It is not a private space. It is full of people.”

“I don’t care. It’s not like we’re going to do anything. I just want to sleep.” We were facing each other holding hands like we were about to play London Bridges.

“I don’t know Annnna. Why would you want to sleep there?”

I shrugged. I didn’t have a smooth answer or any answer.

He looked at me for a minute and then dropping one hand and grabbing the other tighter he led me up the stairs to the communal room.

It was a large room with multiple bunk beds and backpacks, sleeping bags strewn around. We stepped hand and hand over bags, and some people who were on floor cots. Endres let go of my hand and made up the bed as I swayed from one side to the other like a top winding down.

“I’m sorry Annnna,” he whispered, “I told you it wasn’t that nice.”

I shrugged and climbed onto the bottom bunk where Endres was assigned to sleep. I pulled up the covers and scooted in toward the wall. Endres got in after me and snuggled up behind me spooning me with his body. He pushed my hair aside and put his face into the back of my neck, and that is how we fell asleep with 25 strangers.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 181-187

We fought our way into the birth canal bar. I thought about calling it the fallopian tube, but it had a little more space than that. It was three in the morning, and the place showed no sign of emptying out. Sedik lead the way to a table that was occupied by a couple, and everyone squeezed in till the couple was nearly pushed out.

“Anna, Annabelle.” Ian was yelling into my face. “Yeh worked today r’oight?”

“Yes” I yelled back.

“Can yeh buy me a beer?”

“Christ, Ian. Sure.” I got up and pushed past him to the bar fighting to get attention from the bartender. I ordered a pivo, and a coke for me. I turned to hand the beer to Ian.

“Wot’s that?” He yelled at me.

“It’s a coke.” I yelled back.

“Just a cola?”

“I need caffeine.” I yelled.

“I ‘ave somefing bet’er for ya. Keep ya up all night.” He yelled.

“Not now.” I yelled back.  “But on second thought.” I turned back to the bartender and ordered a glass of wine. Then pushing Ian aside I fought my way back to the table. I sat across from Sedik. His eyes were dying coals — the burning veins showing even in the dark light. His head swung back and forth on a pendulum to the rhythm of the music. Sometimes in a sudden jerk he would pause and press the back of his head against the wall and close his eyes then open them again and sway his head back and forth. Everyone was dancing in whatever space they could find. Francisco was dancing with the two girls in between tables, Marco was dancing in the aisle between the bars and the rows of tables, and Endres was all over the place.

“Annabelle?” Sedik called across to me. I reached my hands over the scared and graffiti wooden table to touch his long black fingers. They were rough from age and hard work but they had a security to them. “You are not dancing tonight?”

“Not yet. I’m a little tired.” I yelled back at him. “How about you Sedik?”

He slowly pulled a cigarette from a pack that had been lying on the table beside our hands and placed it between his lips. After what seemed an eternity to light he took a long and slow deliberate drag; he made smoking look desirable. As he blew the smoke out above his head he swayed it back and forth and looked back down at me. “Maybe later,” He yelled, and then he closed his eyes and nodded off with the lit cigarette between his lips. The room had gotten so crowded that people had spilled out into the space between the two bars. The strong scent of sage and hash filled the room. I turned to watch Francisco as he stomped and threw his arms up and down in a kind of punching action. It was hard to believe less than an hour earlier he had been knotted in a sick ball. Whatever was in Endres’ doctor’s pill revived him. He danced erratically about, his arms and legs stiff and straight like they were fused at the joints. I didn’t know if this was a result of the drugs or if he was really that bad of a dancer. This thought made me laugh at myself. He caught my smile and a grin tore over his face. It was kind and familiar like we had been friends since childhood. I could tell already that he had several personalities. There was a force in that body that couldn’t stay under the skin. I also could tell it was unpredictable, but that smile was overflowing with wicked charm. He came over and danced in front of me till the girls pulled him back into the crowed. Ian pulled a chair up directly in front of me, blocking my view of all the dancing. He started yelling something at me.  I scowled a bit at not being able to watch everybody, and attempted to look over his shoulder as he spoke.

“I ‘ope I didn’t insult ya the other night.” He said yelling into my ear.

I felt like getting a real drink. “Lets get a shot of Bechorovka!” I yelled back to him. “Watch my chair.” I yelled down to him as I forced my way into the crowd to the bar. A few minutes later I was back with two shots of Bechorovka and another glass of wine. “Salute!” I yelled and toasted him. Ian threw the shot back and slammed his glass down on the table, jolting Sedik awake. With a startled expression Sedik mumbled something about leaving, and he got up and rushed out the door. As soon as he moved people filled up the space where he had been sleeping.

“So Annabelle- like I was sayin.” Ian started yelling again.

“Annnnnnna!” Endres was dancing next to my chair. He was moving like a blouse in the dryer swaying dangerously close to people but somehow not making contact with anyone. He started dancing around me as I started laughing.

“Yeh look like a roight fool.” Ian growled.

I continued to laugh as Endres danced. He danced his way to a white wooden chair, pulled it up beside me, and sat down. But as he did it shattered and splintered under him tossing him to the ground in such a force that he slid under the table behind him. Everyone bent at the waist to get a look at the angel boy under the table.

“Are you okay?” I laughed as I got down to my knees to help pull him out.

Ian crossed his arms over his chest. “Wot a fuckin idjet.”

I pulled him to his feet.

“I’m okay Annnnnna.” He said looking around for another chair, which he found and pulled over, but before sitting, he pressed his hand to the seat to check for stability. “Hi Annnnnna”

“Hey Endres.” I yelled.

Marco danced over, grabbed my hand and pulled me to him in a dance. This was familiar. We used to dance together all the time, especially when we lived together in Paris. Anywhere there was dancing, even if it was playing from the window of a building, he would grab me and pull me into a dance and there we would dance on the street. It was a favorite thing to do together. I threw my arms over his shoulders as he wrapped his around my waist, and our legs slipped between each other’s. Marco shimmied me down to the floor and back up. Our hips pressed together as Marco moved me around the room then back to the table. As he dipped me, I dropped my arms over my head. Endres ran his fingers along the inside of my arm from the soft dent of my elbow to my wrist.

“Wot the fuck.” Ian yelled at Endres.

Marco pulled me back up to him and pressed me into his chest till we were nose to nose. We laughed into each other’s mouths, and he pushed me out into a spin, pulled me back into his arms, and dropped me into a final dip. We bowed to each other after we finished dancing. A girl ran up to Marco and begged him to dance with her. He grabbed her forcefully around the waist and pulled her tightly to him, turned to wink at me, then danced the girl onto the dance floor.

Endres had his hand on the chair where I had been sitting to save it. He beckoned me to sit back down.

“I think I want another drink,” I yelled.

“Are you and Marco lovers?” Endres yelled to me.

“No. Why do you ask?” I yelled back.

“Oh well, the way you dance together. It is so nice the way you move together. You look like lovers.” He yelled.

“No.” I yelled back, “We are best friends. We just happen to dance well together.”

He smiled. Then grabbing my arm he pulled himself to my ear and leaned in close enough that his lips brushed against my earlobe. “Annnnna, I think I am attracted to you. But I must go to the bar. I can no longer stand on my own.”

“Okay.” I yelled. He used my shoulder to help himself stand. “I’ll see you soon?”

He nodded and then stumbled to the bar.

Ian, with his arms still crossed, was scowling next to me. I jumped up from the table and danced over to Francisco and his two girls. Marco reappeared from the dance floor to join all of us. I felt a tug at my jeans and then one at the back of my shirt by the elbow. I turned to see Ian still sitting.

“I fink yer very beu’itful!” He yelled.

“What?” I yelled back. I had heard him, but wasn’t comfortable with the attention. I preferred to dance.

“Nofing,” he said turning away from me.

I returned to the music.

Once the lights came on people forced themselves through the double front doors like a flood rushing onto the morning streets of Žižkov.

“I’m too old for this shit!” Marco yelled, straining his neck and head back toward the morning sky.

Francisco, Marco, and I linked arms and walked home together.

“You and Marco perform well on the dance floor,” Francisco said, leaning into my ear. “I am an excellent dancer you know, but not so excellent when I have to share the dance floor with another body like you and Marco do. I have a great envy over it.” He paused and looked out over the buildings as they rose to greet us in our homeward stumble. “But I still get plenty of vagina.”

Marco and I started laughing.

“I just do not want any tonight. I have that right.”

“Yes. Yes. You do.” I said still laughing.

“You a muthafucka.” Marco laughed.

I heard the sound of laughter fading behind us, and looked back to see through the morning haze. Ian and Endres had their arms draped over each other’s necks and shoulders as they stumbled and fell on their way to the nearest non-stop. At least they had each other.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 177-181

After washing my hands in the upstairs bathroom I headed to the lower level of the bar. I didn’t see anyone I knew in the DJ room. I peeked my head around the corner into a room lit by candles placed on a large table surrounded by people that looked like they were falling asleep in a business meeting. The room smelled of booze, beer, and smoke. Heads bobbed to music from the other room rising and falling in jerking motions like fishing flies nibbled by fish too small to catch.

“Yer just in time.” Ian was sitting in darkness at the far end of the table. “I’m rolling a splif right now.”

I found Marco at the end of the table, too, and I pulled a chair up in between them.

“How was work?” asked Marco, his words slurring.

“Fine. You know, it was beef stew, Guinness, and lesbian jokes all night.”

“Hmm. Nice.” He whispered.

I looked around the table. It was like joining the living dead after a feast. Sedik was sitting at the other end staring straight ahead at a blank wall as if he was waiting for something. His look was so intense I couldn’t help but look at the wall with the same anticipation. A dark-haired girl was sitting beside Sedik. She had her head down on the table with her arms draped over her head, and her long dark hair wrapped like a shawl over her shoulders that weaved through her fingers and spilled onto the table. The girl who had licked Francisco’s face had her head arched back over her chair with her mouth opened, and her eyes were closed like she was asleep. No one made any introductions. Marco was salivating as he stared at Ian’s fingers watching intently as he rolled the splif back and forth between his fingertips. The only one talking was some rotund sweaty dark-haired guy with a thinning comb over and wild darting eyes, and an Irish accent. He kept scratching at his double chin speckled with patches of grey and black whiskers at the top of his head. He was fidgety and kept squirming around in his seat like he was itchy. He was wearing a heavy wool overcoat that had what looked like animal hair covering it in large swaths like someone ran a cat over his body in long even strokes. It wasn’t exactly warm in Prague at the moment, but it wasn’t wool overcoat weather either. I watched his eyeballs dart back and forth in the sockets like black beta fish in round fish bowls. I was waiting to see if he would eventually go cross-eyed. He muttered to no one in particular.

“Did you see Francisco when you came in?” asked Marco without taking his eyes off Ian’s fingers.

“No.” I said still staring at the new guy in the overcoat.

Both the girls looked at me. The already silent room came to a stop, if that was possible, even the mutterer stopped talking and looked at me.

“He wasn’t outside?” Asked Marco. He was sitting up straight and alert.

“I didn’t see him.” There was a strange urgency and tension as all eyes, except Sedik’s who was still staring at the spot on the wall, were focused on me. “We’ll I did see some dark mass of a person folded over like a blob against the wall across the street. I guess that could have been him.”

Both of girls got up knocked into each other, and half pushed, half helped one another to their feet, and then they headed out. It was like I had just walked into a farce only I wasn’t written into the play.

“Is everybody fucking stoned or something?” I asked.

“Annnnnnnnnnna, where were you Annnnnnnnna?” Endres fell into the space between Ian and I.

“Bugger off.” Ian mumbled.

“I was at work.” I said, watching him swaying above me like his old self.

“Oh it was your first day, how was it?” Endres’ breath was labored and his words slurred.

“It was fine.”

Ian handed Marco the splif. He took a drag, handed it back to Ian, then jumped up. “Let’s go to the A-Krop.”

“Are you going to the A-Krop, Annnnnna?” asked Endres. His fingers wrapped around my wrist, that I had resting against my thigh.

“Apparently so.” I said.

“You bring us any gifts from the Joyce?” Ian asked inhaling his splif.

“No, Ian, I didn’t.”

“Bugger, bett’a luck next time, r’oight?”

“Right, right.” I said brushing him off.

Outside Seven Wolves, Francisco was crumpled in half and holding himself up with the building. His arms were like tangled ribbons knotted at his side. The dark-haired girl was helping to lift him to his feet as the other one stood swaying next to him. As soon as he was standing Endres walked to him and pressed himself to Francisco then whispered into his ear as he slipped something into his mouth. Francisco swallowed it with a shake of his head, and pushed Endres off, as he tried to regain stability. As he started to stumble forward, the two girls were lifting him under their arms and they dragged him along toward the A-Krop. Everyone, aside from me, walked in a cyclical weave or stumble. They were all so fucked up, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was on. It didn’t seem like just alcohol. In a few short minutes Francisco stood up straight and disentangled himself from the girls. He started walking with a hop in his step till he was passing everyone and eventually leading the way to the bar.

“What the hell did Endres give him?” I asked Marco who just shrugged in response.

“Whatever you do.” He said with a sigh, “Don’t take any drugs from Irish Bill.”

“Who?”

“The sweaty fat guy scratching at himself at the table.” He said.

“The guy in the wool overcoat? He was sweating because he’s in a wool overcoat in springtime.” I said looking around for Irish Bill.

Endres who was walking on the other side of me smiled and kicked at a pebble then stumbled over his foot, but quickly righted himself.

“Endres?” I asked, “What did you give to Francisco?”

“Oh. It was from my doctor.” He said.

“You have quite the doctor.” Marco said.

Yes, yes, was Endres response before he skipped up ahead toward the rest of the group.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 170-174

Dor had been working the day shift and greeted me with a hearty hello then a quick good-bye as she walked through the large open windows that opened up the bar.

A dark-haired, hard-looking English woman walked over to me. She introduced herself as Lynn and pointed to Jana, a girl standing in the back of the bar. She was talking to the cook while eating a bowl of soup. Lynn was the front of the house manager, and Jana was going to train me.

Lynn gave me a once over, “Ya, American right?”

“Yes” I said.

“You an expat or you thinkin’ of movin’ on?” She asked me.

“I’m not sure.” I answered a little hesitant, uncertain if being ambiguous was going to cause me to lose my job. “I don’t think I am an expat. I think I may be an immigrant. ” I said.

“Is there a difference?” She asked.

“I don’t know.” I said, “Perhaps I should look it up in the dictionary.”

“Perhaps.” She said.

She gave me a dubious glance, and then handed me a menu to look over. “Czechs never come in here so ya’ll be fine with language.” She walked away. Then turned back, “If you don’t speak Czech that is.”

“Um. No I don’t. Not yet.”

“Not yet.” She snorted.

Then she stepped into the kitchen. I watched the two women have a terse conversation. Jana looked over to me rolled her eyes and looked back to Lynn with a glare. Then headed out toward me.

Ahoj.” She said, “I’m Jana.” She flashed a full seemingly genuine smile. She had this crazy English/Czech/Irish accent that I hadn’t encountered yet. She looked like she was about sixteen years old. She wore her hair in a Bettie Page cut with bangs cut bluntly across her forehead. Even though her accent was a mash-up of several accents, she was born and raised in Prague. She led me over to the bar to show me the table arrangements.

Tips were pulled, and in the evening they were passed out by Johnny, the bartender. I would be paid cash in hand at the end of a workweek. The main rule was to never stand still even if the place were dead. Always act like you are doing something. I was to shadow Jana and Lynn for my first two shifts then on the third shift I would be on my own with Johnny, and they would decide then if I were good enough to stay. I was only to get fifteen percent of the tips until I made it past the third shift. The menu had traditional Irish food, such as blood sausage and Shepard’s pie along with salads and of, course, Irish whiskeys and Guinness, and other cocktails and European beers.

“So why don’t Czech people come in here?” I asked Jana as we went over the menu.

She looked at me and placed a hand on her hip. “What’s yer wages?”

“Umm. 50 krowns an hour plus tips.”

“Did you look at the prices here? You couldn’t even afford to buy a Gunnies with your first hour’s wages.”

“What?” I looked back at the prices.

“It’s too expensive. These are high prices. There’s a bar downstairs that is Czech and you can get a pivo for 17 krowns. Who’s gonna pay 60? But people do and the tips are better here.”

“I don’t make shit.” I said. “I’ll probably have to get a second job.”

“Tips can sometimes be good.” Said Jana with a shrug.

Around eight in the evening, the bar was full to capacity, mostly, with men from England and Ireland. Tourists visited during the lunch hours, but as the evening grew late I noticed that the Joyce seemed to have a strong of ex-pat vibe. The volume in the bar had risen to a roar and people stood in the pathways and erratically danced from space to space. It had been a very long time since I had waited tables, and my first time working in an actual pub. I had several moments of panic while carrying a tray of pints and hot steaming bowls of Irish stew. I was beginning to question whether or not I was going to make it to my third shift.

“Hey. Hey lass!” A table of Irish men called me over. “You’re new.” One of them said to me.

“Yes.” I said. “Can I get you anything?” I pushed a stray hair away from my face and tucked it behind my ear. The heat in the room had risen at least two degrees since I started my shift. I felt flushed and tense.

“Ye hear that?” Another one said, “Can I get yooou anything?” He said exaggerating my accent. “She’s American.” They laughed. Another guy lifted his head from his beer; his eyes were bloodshot with drink. “What the fuck you doin’ in Prague Ami, whyn’t you go home?”

I looked at him for a slow minute kind of frozen in a stasis of awe. Go home? Who the fuck was he to tell me to go home? Did he forget he was also from another country?

“Oh, ho, ho,” Another laughed, “Miss, Miss- I jes have one question, jes one.’

“What is it?” I asked, my annoyance rising. I felt the back of my neck begin to burn.

“Are you a lesssbian?” The table burst into a fit of laughter like someone actually sad something funny.

“Does it matter?” I asked. “Do you want to order anything?”

“Yeah, yeah.” One guy held up his hand for silence from the table. “I’d like to order two lesbos in a porno.”

This set the table off roaring. I thought each man except the angry one was about to fall out of his seat. How was it that these grown men could have the maturity of a twelve year old and the sensitivity of a lizard. They reminded me that there were problems in the evolutionary chain. I stood up straight just as Jana rushed over grabbing their ashtrays.

“Jana! Jana!” They yelled.

“What are you cunt’s goin on about? You have to make an order or what?” She yelled flirting with them.

“Drinks. A round! Anoter round.” They were talking over one another.

“No no-“ said the guy that had told me to go home. He lifted his hand in protest. He already had a full beer and two shots in front of him. He had tears in his eyes.

“Fuck off ye cunt. Give this cunt a whiskey.” A man ordered a round for everyone. He patted me on the thigh,” we’re jes takin’ the piss.”

Takin the piss? I was about to take a piss in the guy’s whiskey. Only I thought it would be pretty difficult to pee in one of the shot glasses, but the intention was there all the same, and that was half the battle.

“Their harmless.” She said, “just flirt with them and you’ll get more tips.”

I had the feeling I wasn’t going to be making a lot of money here.

When the night ended I handed my apron to Jana, and waited as she counted out the tips and gave me my fifteen percent. I watched as Lynn swept the floor with violent heavy swings of the broom. Then I turned and walked out through the glass doors into the early night. I hoped I would be able to keep the job even with the shitty regulars.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 155-158

The orange moon was hanging low in the sky, so low it felt as if we were walking directly into it. It caused the night to glow like dark rust. Rachele and Ian dragged me through the cobblestone streets as Jiri walked at a steady pace unaffected by the squeals and shouting of the other two. As we passed a restaurant, I noticed the bars on the windows and doors. The sidewalk was made from mosaic tiles, arranged in geometrical images and words. I was feeling tired and out of breath. The ground looked even, but I felt as if we were climbing up a small hill. I looked behind us to see if Francisco was following us, but there was nothing but empty streets that vanished into the night. He could still be back there I thought to myself. I felt a tug at my arms as Ian pulled me toward him.

Inside the A-Krop I spotted Sedik and Zuzana mashed onto the tiny dance space. There was a DJ and a short MC in a white baggy t-shirt and a white cap cocked to the side of his head, stage rapping with a reggae rant. His harsh gravelly voice sounded like an old blues man’s but he looked like he was 16 or 17. The place was packed and we could barely move. Rachele, Jiri, and Ian headed toward the bar, as I started to make my way toward the front where Sedik and Zuzana were dancing. I felt a tug at my elbow. I looked back to see Ian.

“Wanna drink?” He yelled.

I shook my head. Zuzana spotted me and pull me in with her and Sedik. A few minutes later Ian and Rachele joined us on the dance floor and everyone started moving to the music. Ian grabbed at me and tried to dance me to him, but I wasn’t interested. I would dance away toward Zuzana or Sedik. This went on for the remainder of the evening. The flirting effects of the wine were wearing off and Ian’s pawing was making me tired. Rachele grabbed my arm and pulled me toward her yelling into my ear. All the pulling and yanking was beginning to make me sick.

“My boyfriend is strange.” She yelled. The music was pulsing and loud and it was difficult for me to hear her communicate. “I don’t understand him.” She yelled. “He just got pissed and went home.”

I didn’t understand him either. I didn’t even know him.

Ian pulled me toward him. “You’re a great dancer.” He screamed.

I felt a rise of bile in my throat.

“Oh god.” I said. My eyes grew wide with a sickening feeling. “I gotta go home.” I yelled to Rachele. “Now!”

Rachele took me by the hand to lead me off the dance floor with Ian following closely behind. We headed up the stairs to the front double doors of the A-Krop. It was early morning but the sky was still orange, a soft warm orange. I felt a wave of nausea. I just wanted to get back to Marco’s place. Rachele took my hand and Ian occasionally rubbed my back as we walked in the cool morning air.

“I don’t know how to get to my place.” I said.

“We’ll stay at Jiri’s.” Rachele said. “He lives right ‘round the corner.”

We reached the building where Jiri lived. A faded lavender building with graffiti spray-painted at the base of every barred window on the ground floor. Rachele had to buzz a few times before he would answer.

“Come on.” She pleaded. “Just let us stay the night.”

“The mornin’.” Ian laughed.

Rachele glared at him. After a couple of minutes Jiri buzzed us in. He lived on the top floor. My stomach flipped. Why did everyone have to live on the top floor of these old elevator-less buildings? He had the door propped open, and a pot of tea heated up and ready for the three of us.

Ian and I sat on the floor in the kitchenette drinking tea as Jiri and Rachele pulled some cushions off the couch and threw them on the ground. I stared down at the large checkered floor. Jiri pulled out a blanket and threw that on top of the cushions.

“Sorry. It’s all I have.” He said.

He climbed into bed and Rachele slipped in beside him, burying her face into his neck. He turned on his side away from her. Ian and I gave each other an uncomfortable glance then finished our teas in silence. We set our cups down on the small counter near the single sink and then crawled onto the cushions.

The flat was small, a room with a kitchenette and a bathroom. Jiri’s hide-a-bed, when pulled out, took up most of the room. The couch cushions, where Ian and I were lying, took up the remainder of the floor space.

I curled up on my side under the single blanket and began to drift off.

“Do ye mind if I take my trousers off.” Ian whispered to me.

“I don’t care.” I said.

There was a gap between the cushions so no matter how hard Ian tried to cuddle up to me he couldn’t avoid falling in between the space onto to the cold wood floor. I had turned to my stomach and started to pass out. He settled with placing his hand on the small of my back where my shirt had lifted and my skin was exposed. I was too tired to tell him to move his hand, and it was hot, relaxing, and harmless, and helped me to drift off into sleep.

Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 150-155

I went away to school first to get away from home. That seemed like the smartest and only choice. I had done well in high school, and received a scholarship to go to the State college closest to my hometown. In truth I wanted to get away as far as possible, but I didn’t really know my options. My college was seven hours away from my home. At first it seemed like I lived on the other side of the world, but soon my restless feelings returned and once again I felt trapped in a role or an expectation. I dropped out after a year and a half of college. It wasn’t that I was doing badly in school; it was that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was trying to follow a common path that was designed to create happiness. Yet, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy with the idea. The pattern was laid out, but what about all the pieces in-between? What happened between kids and retirement? What was my life going to be really? I had no idea. I had needed to find something different.

 

The boys had all disappeared into various pockets of the bar, and I was now sitting in a rickety wooden chair in an even smaller alcove around a tiny wooden table. I had been sleeping and dreaming about my past so deeply that I forgot where I was in the present. We had been drinking for a while, and Feste’s had swirled around me like a kaleidoscope with marionettes of dancing people and voices. I felt a little bit like I was in a Punch and Judy show. Through a series of seat changing and table greeting, I ended up with Ron. I think I had still been avoiding Marco and Francisco, but I convinced myself I was just giving them some catch-up-time. I knew that was bullshit. I didn’t know how to be around Francisco. He would be eerily silent as his eyes scanned the room and then he would explode into a raucous diatribe of tales of his life adventures. I could tell he was examining me. Sometimes from across the room I could feel his eyes on me. I was sitting with a bunch of strangers who had just checked into Feste’s hostel. I had no idea who the hell these people were. They were all Australians, except Ron who was sitting beside me, and, like Ron, they were polished and clean and wearing outdoor gear. There was the sound of a roar, a pounding on wood, and then laughter.

“What is going on over there?” A woman asked looking back toward the bar.

“Those screaming people on the other side of the bar?” Said Ron looking back over his shoulder. “Those are Annabelle’s friends and they are all crazy.”

I scowled, feeling the skin tighten between my eyes, his condescension and overt familiarity had worn thin, and I wondered what had prompted me to join him at this table of non-crazy people. I scratched at my neck, I’d returned to focusing on feeling dirty and now that I was drunk I felt worse. I began to drown out their voices. I could hear Ron talking about corporate America and his new audience seemed to be more engaged than his last. I grabbed my empty wine glass and headed over to the bar to find Marco to see if I could get him to buy a round. Rachele, the albino woman I had met on my first day, was standing at the end of the bar laughing at something Ian had just said. She was dressed in the same pale blue outfit she had been wearing the day I met her. Ian threw his arm drunkenly over my shoulder and pulled me to him.

“A glass of wine, please.” I yelled past Ian to Canada Mike who was working. The music was filling the room and the roar of the conversations caused everyone to yell.

“Rachele. ‘ave you met Annabelle yet?” Ian asked.

“Yeah. We are already of acquaintance.” She looked to me. “You seem to be fittin’ in so far.” She was drunk, and smiling, and holding onto the arm of a shorthaired sandy blonde guy standing beside her. The wine was coursing through my blood stream, and I felt a brief wave of weakness in my body. The room shifted to the left then righted itself. I shook my head to clear my senses.

“This is my boyfriend, Jiri.” She bumped the guy next to her with her shoulder.

“Hi. Nice to meet you.” I said, taking a sip of wine.

Francisco appeared out of nowhere, and pushed me aside to pull Ian into a full open-mouthed kiss.

Rachele screamed with applause. “Men loving men! I love it.”

“Has anyone seen Marco?” I asked.

At that moment the doors that lead toward the hostel swung out as Marco stumbled into the room.

“My shit is fucked.” He yelled.

He stood kind of teetering a bit like he was going to fall forward. A petite girl I hadn’t seen before ran up to Marco and jumped into his arms. He looked at her with surprise as if he was trying to place her face. He started to say something when she smashed her mouth to his. They stood there in the doorway making out.

“Who’s that?” I asked swaying toward Francisco and Ian.

They shook their heads both of them pushing out their bottom lips and holding identical dumb expressions on their faces.

“More drinks!” Francisco yelled to the bar.

The bar cheered as he stumbled toward the girl who had licked him on the coffee table, her arms open wide to catch him.

The room swirled gently and I took another gulp of wine. I felt a hand on my arm and I turned to look at Endres. I could feel his sobriety and it was relaxing.

“Annnnna, I thought you had left.” He said.

I smiled at him. I liked the way he said my name. I didn’t like to be called Anna but Endres dragged out the A and the N like it was a silk ribbon.

“I’m still here.” I said. I was beginning to feel weighed down. Like my body was 30 pounds heavier.

“Well I am going to bed so that I may see the sun.”  He said. “Goodnight Annnnnna.”

“Okay.” I said. “Night.” I watched as he walked through the swinging doors to the hostel half wanting to follow him. Marco grabbed me violently on the shoulder, and pushed me into Ian who was standing beside me. His hand was pressed over his mouth as he ran toward the swinging doors. Ian ran behind him screaming about how he was going to watch Marco puke.

“Gross,” I said to no one in particular.

A couple of minutes later Ian came out laughing.

“God. Wha’ a riot. Marco jus’ puked all ova’ the bleedin’ lou! It was like the fuckin exorcist. I though’ I was gonna die laughin’. Look at me I’m fuckin cryin.” He bent over to hold his knees, he was laughing so hard he was coughing.

“And you just stood there laughin’ at him?” Rachele looked over at Ian who was now doubled over.

“Ov’ course.” He cried.

She shook her head disgusted. “You an asshole.”

This made him laugh harder.

Marco came stumbling out from the doors. His face was sagging and gray. He was bent over at the waist like an old man. He stood up, as straight as he could, and walked over to me.

“I’ve gotta go. I’m leaving.” He put his hand on my shoulder to help balance himself. With what looked like great pain and concentration, he leaned into my ear to speak to me. “You wanna go?”

“No! Let her stay with us!” Rachele cried.

“Yeah!” Said Ian. “let’er stay.”

“We’ll take care of her.” They both said. “We’ll get her home.”

“I’ll stay.” I said excited that people wanted me to stay out.

“Yeah!” Rachele and Ian yelled dancing around each other. I hadn’t caused this much excitement ever that I could remember.

Jiri who was still standing in the far corner of the bar signaled to Canada Mike to pour him another beer.

“Suit yourself.” Marco said, and he turned to stumble toward the stairs that lead up to the street.

“Marco,” I called to him, “Can I borrow some money?”

He stumbled back. He shoved his fist into his pocket then pulled out a bill and slapped it into my hand. He turned and stumbled out of Feste’s.

“Let’s go to the A-Krop!” Rachele yelled.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 144-150

“So where are you from?” He asked Endres.

“Norway.”

“Oh cool. You guys have a handle on your economy. Man you must be traveling high in this city. What’s your currency called?”

“Kroner.”

“So you guys decided you’re not going to be a part of the EU when it happens, huh? Crazy. That’s going to be nuts. I just hope the dollar stays strong.”

“Is Ron your friend Annnnna?” Endres asked me.

“We just met. I’m drinking wine.” I said taking a gulp.

“His hair smells nice.” Endres said.

“I’m from Minneapolis,” Ron interrupted he reached his arm across my body to grasp Endre’s hand. “You ever hear of it before?”

“Annnna?” Endres whispered into my ear.

“Yes, Endres?”

“You look nice this evening.”

“Why thank you, Endres.” I didn’t think so, but it was nice to hear the compliment.

“Hey,” Said Ron- “I never asked where you guys are from.”

“No kidding?” Said Marco. “I think you did.”

“No. No I don’t think so. Anna where are you from?”

“It’s Annabelle, and I’m a Viking.”

“Really Annnnna?” said Endres. “Are you Scandinavian?”

“Maybe,” I said, “but don’t I look like a Viking?”

Ian sauntered into the alcove with his arm around the shoulders of a heavyset Slovak boy.

“Oi!” He yelled drawing all eyes on them. “This is Armin. Armin everyone.”

“Heloo, Marco,” Armin said, “sipping yor beer like a woman I see.”

Marco lifted his beer in a toast and took a small sip while daintily elevating his pinky.

“Cheers an all that shite! Helllllllo Annabelle. ‘eard you got ‘ired at the Joyce, brilliant place to work. I used to work there washin up.”

“Till you got fired.” Said Marco

“Till I got fired. It’s good yer there. Now we got’a new drug connection bein that Dor ‘ardly comes round no more.”

“Yeah. Why is that?” Asked Armin.

“Ahh, she says we ony ask ‘er ‘bout getting us drugs.” Said Ian.

“That is all we ask her.” Said Marco.

“Well, aint I a fool. Guess I shoulda asked ‘er ‘bout ‘er day?” Ian laughed. “Well aint like she’s got anyfing interestin’ to say any’ow, but the drugs were always grand. But ‘ey we got Annabelle ‘ere an not ony are you a connection, yer intrestin’.”

“Thanks Ian you’re a generous man of words.” I toasted him.

“Yeh, I knows. After alls I’m a romantic. Enough shite!” He threw his arms up into the air. “I ‘ave a surprise! ‘ere e is back from the institution—”

Armin and Ian stepped aside and a tall thin man in a white low cut v-neck shirt and shredded blue jeans stepped into the alcove.

“Francisco!” Ian announced.

For a moment his face was hidden behind the slanted archway. He quietly stepped out of the dark corner and scanned our faces. Francisco was tall and sinewy with muscles like a long-distance runner. His olive complexion and black hair contrasted his limestone-colored eyes that invaded whomever he was looking at. His face was unshaven, and the dark stubble framed his determined jaw line. He had strong handsome features under the scraggly half beard and shaggy unwashed hair that fell over his forehead.

He swaggered over to the coffee table and stepped on top of it then stared down at everyone for a second before slowly crouching down to our eye level. He stared at the three of us on the couch with steely examination. It felt like a test. As if he was daring one of us to say something about him standing on our table. He could kick our drinks, he could grab one of us, he could make a joke. He could do anything. He was silent. His unkempt bangs fell into his eyes as he scanned our faces from Endres, to me, to Ron, and then back to me. He snarled, showing a mouth full of jagged and crooked teeth. It was as if the room turned silent with his presence, and I wasn’t sure if it was really happening as I was seeing it. I was filled with a sense of unease and ambivalence. I thought of the park outside of the train station on my first night. I thought of the shadows and having the sense that someone was standing in the darkness watching me, watching to see what path I would take, waiting to see what I would do. I was thinking, “This dude would totally hang out in the park at the train station.

I looked at Endres; he had his usual dazed expression and appeared completely unfazed that Francisco was crouched on our table. I rolled my eyes, of course Endres didn’t care. This was probably something he’d do, but jauntily swaying upward and buoyant instead of couched tight, pressed in, and barbarous. I took another drink of my wine then looked to Ron whose expression was like that of a cow: eyes wide and mouth open in mid cud chew. I snorted an unexpected laugh, spilling a small trickle of wine over my lips. Francisco focused his intense gaze on my face, as I wiped the drops of wine from my chin and looked to see if any had fallen to my shirt. I felt his eyes follow mine.

“Ah for fuck’s sake!’ Marco yelled. “What are you? A fuckin’ animal? Muthufucka’ be comin’ in and crawlin’ all over the tables an’ shiiiit. You needs a bath. You stink.”

Francisco spun and jumped down from the table. He grabbed Marco by his shoulders then leaned in and gave him an aggressive kiss on his cheek with an exaggerated smack of the lips.

“Francisco, this is Annabelle.” Marco said wiping his cheek. I still had my nose in my wine glass.

“Whelcome.” Francisco said, relaxing his eyes. He sat on the table facing me then he reached out his hand for a handshake.

As I opened my mouth to say hello and offered my own hand, a young woman pounced onto the table beside him nearly knocking him over. She wrapped her arms around him then licked his cheek — a long slow lick. I could not suppress the sneer of disgust that washed over my face. This man had just returned from some crazy military institution, and she was licking his face. She had no idea the last time the cheek was scrubbed. This was the man whose bed I was sleeping in. A man having his face licked like a cat by some chick on the coffee table. I had no idea how to feel right at that moment.

Ron, still with his mouth open, made a little coughing sound.

Francisco pushed the girl off, and she comically rolled onto the table. He stood up, and stretched his arms over his head and roared, “I’m ready to DRRRRRINK!” He thundered over to the bar with the girl following closely behind him.

“Are you shitting me?” I said looking at Marco who shrugged in response. “He’s our roommate? I’ve been sleeping in his bed? When were the sheets last washed?” No wonder I felt so dirty.

Ian and Armin followed after Francisco who was already surrounded by people cheering his return and patting him on his back and arms. Armin returned shortly and squeezed onto the couch. He slammed down three shots of Bekorovka. The shot glasses clacked against the table and the liquid reverberated like miniature tremors. He threw back the first shot. “Tonight I drink! I think I drink a lot!” Then he slammed back the other two shots in quick succession. “You with me?” He said pointing across to Marco.

Marco stood.

Armin rose and moved in toward Marco throwing his weight around his body in a bear-like embrace. He half dragged Marco, who was willingly cooperating, to the rowdy party that had gathered at the bar.

Endres pushed himself off the couch and looked down at me. “I think I need some air. Are you leaving tonight Annnnna?”

“Eventually.” I said uncertain if I wanted to join the celebration. I wasn’t sure how things were going to be now that Francisco was home.

“Perhaps you will.” Said Endres. I looked up at him as he walked away, and moving in a perfectly straight line he walked toward the stairs completely sober.

“Who is this Francisco guy?” Asked Ron. I had forgotten he had been sitting on the couch. “And what’s the big deal with him? I feel like I’m supposed to know the guy or something.”

“He’s Marco’s roommate.” I said with a heaving sigh. “And mine, too, I guess. He’s been missing for a bit. Voluntarily.”

“Crazy.” He snorted.

“Yep.” I said watching the crowed of merry makers yelling and laughing at the bar. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Francisco. Was he real? Was he safe? Time would tell, I knew that much. It always does.

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