(Editor's Note: this story concludes with Flights.)
“Bloody hell,” I scream and I hit the goat. He is crossing a major road but this is Slovakia after all. The brakes are screeching, the windshield is a spider web, the goat is bouncing off; I careen to a stop just before hitting the front door of a garage. I stumble out of the car, trip over a carcass. My stomach lurches; I take a few deep breaths. A man in overalls ambles out. He looks at the dead goat, at my BMW, at me, says, “Goat stew tonight. You hurt?” I stretch, touch my arms, my ribs. Somehow my head has not hit anything.
“The goat jumped out. I could not stop,” I tell him. He waves his hand, dismissive. “I’m not hurt. But that windshield is shot. Can you fix it?”
He snorts, shrugs in the age-old way of Slovak peasants faced with impossible demands by the gentry. “It’s Saturday afternoon, chief. Shop is closed. No one works Saturday afternoons. Monday. Monday I can fix your nice car. Till then…,” he shrugs again.
I grew up in the godforsaken country though I don’t live here anymore. I pull a hundred euro note out of my wallet. “This Saturday you work. I have an important meeting in Kosice tomorrow; I’m not waiting till Monday.” He glances both ways as the money disappears in his pocket. He rubs non-existent sweat off his brow, “Of course, chief, of course today. My house is next door. Open the door carefully, wait there. I’ll work on your car.”
I grab my briefcase, look up at the village sign. Mosovce nad Vahom, population 357. Shaking my head, I open the door of the house. I am hit with a smell and then the cacophony explains it. Bird cages and birds and screeching and flutters of wings everywhere. “Your mother.” “No, you shut up.” “Pass the rum.” “Who asked you?” The air reeks even though the screened windows are all open. I look around for a place to sit, settle on a love seat under a bird painting, Leda.
I am poring over my notes when an inside door opens and she walks in. She shimmers in a haze. Alabaster neck. Icy stare. She rubs a shoulder blade against the door frame, asks if I want a drink. My throat is suddenly dry; my leg shakes with a jolt of electricity.
“What’s your name?” I croak.
Linguistics is my field; my TV show popularizes language history for the hoi polloi. At Yale I teach a course on Latinate influences in Slavonic languages. Parched, I tell her that while the word “andulka” is now common usage for parrot, it traces back to “angel”. She snorts, “You want a drink or not?”
I want her. I want her the way I have never wanted any woman. I’ve partied throughout the world and divorced three. But I burn, staring at her, my life forgotten and irrelevant. She looks out the window at nothing to see, plays idly with her hair. I resolve to become a goatherd, live in a mountain hut with her, drinking zincica and making cheese, never leave the village.
“You filthy rich?” she drawls. “The dove-grey BMW, she’s yours?” I nod. “Businessman, millionaire, live in the West?” I will be anything she wants me to be. None of those are true but I nod just the same.
Her father comes to say he cannot get the windshield in, that I will have to wait till Monday after all; I do not protest. My Sunday engagement can wait; everything can wait. He wants my business.
The father shuffles in, reeking. “Chief, it can't be done. The Almighty could not get that windshield in today. Your appointment ...” His voice rises to a whine, strangled. He is expecting me to yell at him, to threaten.
I wave him off. “Monday will be fine. Don't worry.”
He sits down with relief, pulls a bottle out of a back pocket, takes a swig.
“The nearest hotel is in Kosice, nearest decent one back in Bratislava,” he says. “My goat attacked your car. You stay with us while I get it fixed.”
I give in and we go into the house. I don’t look at her. Her icy exterior stokes my fire. He brings out bottles of borovicka, slivovica, pours us shots. “Na zdravie,” we clink glasses. She does not drink, goes from cage to cage talking to parrots. “No hospitality like Slovak hospitality,” he says, pouring me another shot, but swigging from the bottle himself. I sip; he is on a second and third bottle in no time. He brings out a loaf of bread and salt. “Not by bread alone,” he slurs, waving his bottle. Angel lets some birds out of their cages; their wings flutter about us. We don’t talk. By suppertime he is snoring, sprawled on the table.
“He’ll be out till morning,” she says. “Come upstairs.” We mount the stairs.
“Mates for life,” I promise her that night.
Monday afternoon the car has a new windshield and Andulka is on the seat next to me, long fingernails tapping the dashboard, giving a royal half-wave to her father, eyes staring ahead.
published 25 August 2011