Wherein Eva discusses the future past
In the weeks following the invasion my mother took to sitting by the airshaft to eavesdrop on conversations as people had done in my grandmother's day, families gathered for an evening's entertainment, the whole building gone quiet waiting for something to happen.
It was the end of 'socialism with a human face.' A drugged President Dubcek, after having disappeared for two weeks, renounced his liberal policies on Soviet TV. But it was a crackdown with a paradox: Those who wanted to were subtly encouraged to leave, given two-week visas to the West with the understanding that if they violated the terms they would renounce their citizenship and all claims to property left behind. Each person was allowed 22 kilograms of luggage which was closely scrutinized. This served the dual purpose of weeding out the malcontents and keeping the wealth in the country.
My mother suddenly became politically high-minded, vociferous on the subject of personal freedom and oppressive regimes. At last an opportunity to escape, and in the pitiable guise of political refugees. "We are political refugees," she practiced in front of the mirror, holding the stem of her imaginary martini with both hands. "There were tanks in the streets! We came to America with two suitcases each."
My father refused to leave. He was not so naive that he didn't realize that the unmentioned husband in his wife's cocktail party was Jerry, not him.
"Well, I don't see how you can expect me to go on caring for you." She turned to the mirror: "Oh, it was terrible, my husband was too frightened to leave."
"I don't like the Americans you see in that mirror."
"You hate everybody. Can't you for once see past yourself? Think of your precious daughter."
"She used to be our daughter."
"You have succeeded in turning her against me. What opportunities are there for her here?"
"This is our home..."
"No, it is not. Home is where you are free."
"Home is where you are from."
"My husband was very old-fashioned," she explained to the mirror. "If only he had come with us. I'm sure they could have saved him."
"People die in America, too."
"They were burning tires. Ach, the smell. It was in your clothes. In your hair." She answered an imaginary question: "Just my daughter. She is living with my parents. They have a farm." She looked through the mirror at my sister who, though she understood very little English, knew she was being talked about. Eva added in Czech: "She rides a pony all day. She can have all the chocolate she wants."
"Leave her out of this." In English.
"It was difficult for her to see her father so dispirited but children are ... how do you say?" She turned from the mirror to look at my father. "What is the English? You could at least answer my question."
"The child stays here with me."
"Why? So she can bury you? You won't be satisfied until you have widowed me and orphaned her." She turned back to the mirror. "Please to forgive me, my English is not perfect. Children are... they are... "
"Resilient," my father said resignedly.
"Resilient!" my mother repeated, "I knew it all along."