Friday, October 9, 2009

Bullet-Point Friday: The Bewitching Hour

  • When I still lived in Kansas all those years ago, I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified out of my skin because of the witch sitting in the chair next to the bookcase in the hallway that connected my room to my parents’. Her profile was unchanging; she seemed frozenly slumped there. Yet I knew she would reach her bony hand out to grab me should I try to walk past. The only thing I knew to do was to scream for them to wake up and come rescue me. But I too was scared that the witch would take hold of them if they came for me in the night. I could only stare fixedly at her profile. Unblinkingly. Trying to sense just when she would twitch a foot or tap a finger or softly clear her throat. Then all bets were off: I would most definitely scream. But sometimes I couldn’t wait that long. Shrieking, I would take my chance that my parents’ magic was somehow stronger than the powers of the witch frozen in the hallway shadows.

  • A few years ago a friend, who was beclouded by personal problems and anti-depressants, killed himself. I’ve been thinking about Theo lately because the fifth anniversary of his death was a few days ago. The rainy, overcast sky of early October—as well as the sounds and smells of the Texas State Fair—reminds me of the knots in my stomach when Stephen told me he was dead. Thinking of bewitchment in general reminds me of the ritual burning his seven (or “several”) sisters performed a few months after his death. Gathering together photographs of his estranged wife-cum-widow, they threw them into a barrel leaping with flames. I refused to participate: not because I wanted to defend someone I really didn’t know or care about but rather because I didn’t want to dilute the magic his family was effecting on their own. My feelings for this woman was nothing compared to theirs. I didn’t want to water down the blackness of their magic with my meager toss of her photo into the fire.

  • At 19 Lukáš was busily cruising for men several years his senior around Hlavní nádraží, the main train station in Prague. It was the summer of 2001—the season after Timothy McVeigh was put to death for the “worst terrorist attack in American history” and just a few weeks before what came to be known as the “worst terrorist attack in American history”—and I was studying political and economic theory at Charles University through a disreputable and ideologically-driven program through Georgetown. My colleagues and I referred to our economics course as “Fat Bastard Economics” because it was after all taught literally by a fat bastard of a professor who was only interested in indoctrinating his students in the fallacies of “free market” capitalism. In fact, one of his insipid graduate assistants had a tattoo of the significantly uninteresting supply-and-demand graph on his shoulder. Needless to say, after I suffered through finals and the compulsory social gathering that evening, I escaped during the middle of a conversation with Miruna from Bucharest with a “I’ll be right back.” I immediately headed for the elevator and ran as fast as I could as soon as I got to the sidewalk. I was in the all-night club district for the next several hours, drinking and carousing my way across this golden city of a hundred spires. Finally sometime around 4:00 in the morning, I started heading back to the subway, knowing that the trains wouldn’t start running for a couple more hours. That’s when I caught sight of Lukáš standing above me on a pedestrian bridge. Because our eyes met, he started to follow me. Down the hill and over to the east side of the train station commonly known as a park where both straights and gays cruise. When I walked through, I saw one heterosexual couple fucking next to a tree. He kept following me. When I finally entered the station to try to catch a little shut-eye before a train could return me to the dorms on the outskirts of town, he walked up to me and said something in Czech. I responded in Czech that I didn’t speak Czech, that I was an American. Then I switched to Polish, knowing that my Polish was considerably more fluent than my self-taught Czech. He couldn’t follow much of what I said, but somewhere during the halting conversation we figured out that we knew about the same amount of Ukrainian, so that became our lingua franca of the early morning. We shared a bag of chips and a Coca Cola. He gave me a tiny photograph of himself with bleached hair. Eventually I started hearing the trains rumble beneath the dingy Art Nouveau ticket hall. We shook hands—we hugged—goodbye. Things more bizarre than an American and Czech stranger having a conversation in Ukrainian have happened in Prague. I’m almost certain of it.

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