Werner’s brother Bedrich met us at the airport in Prague. He was a sweet-faced man with warm blue eyes and neatly cut brown hair. While Werner was fiery and a bit of a prima donna, Bedrich was quiet, reliable and very kind. I’d met him a few times before, but he spoke no English, so we’d just smile and nod at one another as if there was an unspoken agreement between us: we both loved Werner, so we loved each other, too.
I’d entered the country on a business visa. If the Czech government had known Werner and I were married, there could have been trouble so we didn’t tell anyone except Bedrich. Ostensibly I was there to meet with a publisher, but that never happened. In fact, very little happened. We were to be in Prague for a week. I stayed in a hotel by myself while Werner stayed with his father. I barely saw him the whole week.
Bedrich would pick me up each morning and drive me around the city — awkward since we had no common language. My mouth would hurt from having to smile so much. It was a gloomy time of year, cold, dark, inhospitable. This was not the Prague of today, a beautiful tourist city. People were on edge, wary, suspicious of one another. The streets were deserted and there was a continuous feeling of being watched. Bedrich would drop me back at the hotel and I’d have the rest of the day to myself. I’d go out to wander around on my own and inevitably get lost. The last thing I wanted was to be questioned by the police, so I’d have to find my way back without asking directions. I began to get more and more paranoid, frightened to leave the hotel or talk to anyone. Every night I had dinner alone in the hotel dining room. I went through countless packs of cigarettes and at least a bottle of wine a night plus some of the whiskey I’d brought with me on the plane.
On the third or fourth day Werner came to visit me at the hotel and let it drop that he was not staying with his father, as originally planned, but with his former woman friend, Trude. I pitched a fit – quietly because it was common knowledge that hotel rooms were bugged, and Werner and I had to act under the pretense that we were merely business associates. Ha! I wanted to slap him, punch him out, scream till I had no breath left. Werner had to put his hand over my mouth to shut me up.
Granted I had pushed for this trip to Prague. Werner had a lot of business to attend to in a short period of time, and my presence there didn’t make things easier. But we had just gotten married. And it didn’t seem cool for him to be staying with his ex, while I was in the same city going a little coo coo in a hotel. He explained that it was very difficult to stay with his father — the place was tiny and jammed with medical equipment. He and Trude were just friends; it was more practical for him to spend the week in her apartment.
He sent Bedrich over later in the day to mollify me, not that that did much good with the language barrier. Sweet, kind Bedrich. I could see from his eyes that he couldn’t bear for anyone to be in pain. That night we had dinner at his house. His wife, Ludmilla, cooked. She was an attractive, dark-haired woman who looked me over slyly and made remarks in rapid Czech to Werner. “What are you doing, you fool!” “She’s young enough to be your daughter!” “Cradle-robber!” I assume she said stuff like that, but Werner just brushed her off, rubbing his chin and laughing. I smoked in silence, thankful to Bedrich who kept refilling my glass of Slivovitz. It was not a good situation. We had three more days left in Prague, each of them achingly slow. On the very last day, Werner came unannounced to my hotel and told me to get ready. We were going to visit his ex, Trude.
To be continued…