socks and shoes

There’s the blackness of her red toenails. Her foot… the duvet… a background of dark furniture, dark plant shapes. The door’s rattling with the draft from the kitchen which means there’s no towel on the floor. And I’m remembering sitting up and saying to her that I don’t see them, I don’t see your socks and she’s saying no not the duvet not the duvet.

I start to laugh, I try to laugh quietly and it becomes a cough, it wakens the stain of spirits behind my eyes. Fuck-ing freezing. Why is it so cold… I move closer. I pull the duvet towards me, and my thighs touch against her pajamas. A lycra-cotton mix from Debenhams. They were in the sale.

I’m getting hard. I lower my boxer shorts to take away the fabric friction and I’m thinking about waking her up. I’m feeling the curve of her hip and she’s breathing deeply, she’s deep in sleep and I’m aware that I need to drink some water. I’m craving water and isn’t there a bottle of water… yeah, there is a bottle of water… there. Next to my feet. In the gap between the mattresses. Neperliva. Nae bubbles. There’s a third of it left and I’m unscrewing the top. The dull light from the street glows through the green plastic. Cold. Water. Drinking. And I’m drinking and I’m drinking and I breathe and I’m screwing the top back on the bottle and I’m remembering the first time she came round here, when she noticed that the legs of the bed were tied together and oh look she’d said, indicating the gap between the mattresses. A handy space for things.

A handy space indeed. Mainly, we’d established, for securing opened bottles of Gambrinus, mugs of tea, coffee, cup a soups. But more recently, upon a most excellent discovery, it had become a mattress groove that was perfect for the anchoring of knees.

Scraping metal ringing, whistling. The sound of a tram passing the end of the road. It’s after half four. It’s tomorrow. Some hours ago it was yesterday and we were sitting in the Portuguese bar drinking beer and downing shots… how come we were doing shots… and I remember that they were playing nineties grunge videos. Or at least they had a channel on that was. We’d had our coats on, we were about to head back via the pizza place when one of the tracks from Bleach came on the bar screen and how often does that happen I’d thought and I’d had the idea of cutting the price of my Playstation Portable on that online ad. Someone’ll buy it if I knock a thousand koruna off. Within a day, two days max. Def-in-et-ly. And Lucy was like yeah, do that. So hooray more pivo prosim barman, a couple of shots of Becherovka too cheers and we’re sat there learning new Czech words from the bar staff and we’re chatting to people and I’m saying neni zach, that’s cool, to a fellow Soundgarden fan and I’m aware that it’s pushing it a bit to be buying drinks for randoms. That PSP better sell.

A Sonic Youth song in my head and the playstation advert’s very much on my mind. We were quite drunk. I’m thinking I’d better check that I got the price right and I’m pulling my boxers up and I’m giving her the rest of the duvet. I’m unplugging the power cable, I’m picking up my laptop from the other mattress, I’m standing next to my desk. I’m pressing the power button, I’m shaking my legs about, stretching out my arms, shaking my legs about. I’m stretching. I’m looking out the window and my laptop beeps. I’m looking across the road at the way the snow’s mapping the branches of the trees. It’s covered the cars, the benches, the grassy area, the flower beds. There’s various hues of orange blotched about the neighbourhood, and there’s nobody about at all. I’m thinking I should get some curtains.

There’s a loud noise. There’s a sudden loud noise that continues and it’s so fucking loud. I whirl round. Fuck bollocks fuck shit! It’s the tune from Green Wing and I press eject, eject-eject-eject-eject. It’s so fucking loud. Lucy turns over and groans in Becherovkan. Eject. Eject. Fucking eject ya bas. And the DVD player whirrs, it clatters, and oh for fuck sake come on, and it releases the disc with nonchalant sigh.

My laptop’s fucked. It’s missing the left shift button and two keys from the middle row. The USB ports are scatty as fuck and to maintain a picture you have to keep the screen at a very precise angle. This time it’s there and Stevie G appears, the Champions League trophy held above his head. The Champions League trophy. Istanbul ticker tape frozen all around. And the metro passes, the Saudek tickets, the nightclub flyers, the pens, the pork bones, the crusty mashed potato, they all look on. I sit on the blue material black plastic office swivelly chair. Fuck off auto update. The cursor. The internet icon. Click click.

I’d already had two replies to the ad. The first was from someone called Dan. Daniel, Danielle, they didn’t say. They wanted to know if the PSP was available without the games and films and for a lot less than the asking price. I answered that it wasn’t. The other reply hadn’t contained any reference to the games or the films. It was a personal message from the former mistress of the President of the Philippines, requesting help retrieving a metal box from the Ivory Coast. A diplomatic metal box containing twelve million dollars. All I had to do at this stage was send a message to her email address. My cut of the cash would be twenty five per cent. She’d let me know how to retrieve the box and we’d rendezvous afterwards.

It’s cold. I’m logging into the Prague website. I’m thinking ahead, thinking worst case scenario, thinking what if, because with my savings gone and Lucy’s grant a week away we’re running low. I should work on that website, email people about my film based language lessons. It was a good idea. A free not at all pirated DVD and a copy of the film’s script with the first lesson. And okay… right… I’ll do that whether I sell the playstation or not I’m resolving, I’m all earnest as I hit enter and the screen changes and there’s a white number two on the blue message icon. Two messages. Click click. Two messages. The first with the title drumming next week question mark and the second oh yeah here we go, fucking yaas… PSP. Click. Is the PSP still available question mark. Omar. Star Wars avatar. Yaaaas!

And all at once I’m thinking about food, I’m at the supermarket picking out jam doughnuts from the bakery, I’m putting them into one of those brown paper bags with the see through bit, I’m buying a tub of Czech Onken style yoghurt, I’m at the tabac shop saying two hundred and fifty in Czech to the cashier, I’m in one of the city’s pool halls drinking beer with my friends, I’m with Lucy and we’re on a trip somewhere, we’re sitting on a train and we’ve got weed, it’s wrapped up in my bag but it’s still stinking out the carriage and we’re laughing about it. The ticket inspector’s laughing too. Yaaas. We could go out for dinner tonight. I type a reply. Yes it is. Want to meet up later on today question mark.

The other message’s about a drumming meet next week. Can I make it on Tuesday afternoon at four question mark. Yes I could. Send. Click. Hover. Words and pictures. Click. Click. A page about next Friday night, the night when all the museums and galleries are open till twelve and click and click and I’ve been meaning to check out that Cubism museum. I’d passed it a couple of times. I should check it out. Cubism was new to me. I liked the paintings in Veletrzni Palace. The colours. The everyday subjects. The complicated idea but no not really. And then there were the names of some of the artists. Kubista. Kubin. Those were the names of cubist painters I’d thought. Kubista and Kubin? Like what the fuck had been my reaction at the time and I’d even mentioned this outrageous coincidence to the room’s floating Zen woman. She was very nice. She spoke to me for a while about art.

A new message. Click. From Omar. Anytime is fine. I live near the centre. Hmm… anytime is fine… he’s awake… the trams are running… so… okay… twenty minutes or so plus say ten minutes waiting about, so half five? Yeah half five and the decision cuts through the strange association of time and place. I can get a tram now I type. How about meeting outside the New Yorker question mark. Send. The number three. It stopped next to Wenceslas Square. It was only a few minutes walk from there. Half five was doable.

A reply. Sure. See you then. Then a Czech mobile number.
I type my mobile number. I type that I don’t have any phone credit though. Send.
An instant reply. Okay. Haha.

I pick up my trousers. The ends are wet, frayed, gritty. I drop them and pick up a sock. I pick up another sock but it’s wet. The heap of clothes next to my wardrobe. Is there… yes there’s a sock on the heap of clothes and it’s dry. I sit on the edge of the bed. I’m putting my socks on and I notice that there’s a scrape mark across the laminated floor boards. My mind tracks back to an image of Lucy and I’m saying wait a sec and I’m shuffling back. My back’s against the headboard. We can see each other in the wardrobe mirror. She’s moving in the way that mmm and it’s so good. She’s playing with her hair, I’m tonguing her nipples and we’re going for it, we’re banging away and the mirror on the wardrobe’s going out of range. It’s gone.

It’s cold she says from under the duvet. Brrrr.
I pull up my trousers and laugh. Did you just say brrr?
Yes I did she says. Brrrr… It’s freezing.
I tell her that I’d had a reply about the playstation. I’m off into town I say as I button my coat and look for the bag with all the stuff in it. I’ll be back in a wee while.
Weeeee she sings. Weeeee. I love it when you say that.
I’ve got to go I say. I’ll bring you back some breakfast.
You’re crazy she says and she falls asleep.

The cold tiles of our kitchen floor. A smell of coffee machine and washing powder, spice and bread. I’m rolling up a dishtowel. I’m putting the dishtowel into the gap between the door and the floor. The radiator’s on the opposite wall. And my trainer shoe… oh no. The radiator’s cold. Fuck fuck fuck. My trainer shoe’s still sodden wet. Oh shit. It’s four forty eight.

I’m walking through the hall. I’m at the front door. At the rack of shoes. There’s six pairs of shoes on the rack. Quick. I pick one of them up. A green and white pair of puffy trainers. They’re probably Flo’s. They’ve got exams just now. He won’t be up for a few hours yet. It’ll be alright. I’ll be back in an hour, an hour and a half max.

I sit at one of the chairs at the kitchen table. They look new. The grips are good. Loop and pull. All swishy and cushiony with deep contour grips. They feel a bit small though. Oh well. Fuck it. They’ll do for this trip. Loop and pull. Intriguingly there’s a light on in one of the rooms of the neighbouring flat. It’s shining into their kitchen, then through their griddy small paned window and through our griddy small paned window and I’m feeling all dizzy and biley as the squares shift about. I need food. We never did get that pizza last night.

I’d remarked to Tom the other day that the flat across had been empty for over a month and he’d jumped ahead of me, saying that it wouldn’t be a good idea to use it as a squat. A squat he’d said. Which was a bit unfair. I was only thinking of having a party. But yeah, it wouldn’t have been very practical. Agency people turning up, dialing up the police from their contract phones. Stern. Empty eyes. I hope nothing’s been broken they’d be saying in their suits. Or this will be even more serious they’d be saying in their suits.

My flatmates were sound. Mature students. Second year medics. Not the preachy kind though. Tom and Flo had a healthy amount of hedonism mixed in with their studies thank fuck.

Tom was from Cork. A fan of classical literature, westerns, and wearing shirts all day every day. He read a lot, he studied a lot, he hung up his shirts on wire hangers to dry. We talked about books and football and politics. And music. His favourite band was Elastica. He called his friends the lads and he met up with them in town most weekends. They’d get drunk and they’d talk like loud drunk Irish people and more often than not they’d acquire narcotics from a friend or from a friend of a friend.

Flo was from Munich. It was easy for him to go back there to visit his girlfriend or for her to come to see him in Prague. He said the word yourself early on in conversation with people he’d just met so he could avoid talking about himself. When we chatted in the kitchen we’d discuss ways to get round the maximum streaming times on the websites we used. I associated Munich with the beer festival and each time I mentioned it Flo replied that it got very busy. Sometimes when I was drunk I’d go on about maybe getting a job there one day. It was Flo’s coffee machine. Every so often I had to go to a shop in town to replace his nespresso pods.

I’m putting the lid on the nutella jar. The flat’s very quiet. I’m walking through the hall as I take a bite of nutella sandwich. I’m checking that I have my keys. I do have my keys and I’m opening the front door. We live on the fifth floor. It’s dark on the landing. This is where people ask so why did I have to go and move to a flat on the fifth floor pant pant or say that hey you never told me you lived on the fifth floor pant pant. Then they’d give me back my keys and the sock I’d dropped them to the street in. I touch the switch on the wall. The stairway lights up and I close our door softly. It’s cold.

Stairs stairs stairs. I’m aware of my toes being crushed as I descend the stairs and pass ornately plated doors. Sobolik. Pavliceka. Tomanek. One of the plates looks like it has a Charles Rennie Macintosh design. More stairs. The cracked window between the second and third floors. The second floor. The front door of that couple we’d spoken to a few times. Dobreee den. Dobreee den. Dobrooo nots. Dobrooo nots. They were very smiley. They had expensive looking mountain bikes in their hall.

And stairs and stairs and stairs. There’s a red sledge on a dark patch of concrete at the foot of the first flight. And a trail of melted snow leading to the outside door. My hand’s wrapped in my coat sleeve as I open the door to the street. It’s black and orange and white outside. And so cold. The door bangs shut. Our street’s quiet. Prague is full of quiet streets. My feet press into the powdery snow and I look down at the patterns Flo’s trainers have made. I’m walking along and I can hear some music from our local bar. We have a bar on our block and it’s one of the ones that’s open all the time. They have a stenciled window and the light’s shining backwards letters and reverse playing cards onto the snowy pavement. I’m looking in the window at a hooded top and long blonde hair. It’s Eva working tonight and she’s cleaning the coffee machine. Her book’s face down on the bar. Eva the geology student who likes AC/DC and ice hockey.

They served good beer here. They had a wide range of bar snacks and an excellent jukebox. The slot machines were in an adjacent room. I’d only played them once, that time when I was drinking absinthe with one of my mates. Two joints stoned, sitting on high stools next to one of the puggies and we’re putting coins in, we’re watching the pyramids, the sphinxes, the hieroglyphics, all this Egypt stuff spin around and around and we’re in agreement that this is totally amazing. Check out the colours. Yeah I know, it’s amazing. Imagine this on acid. Yeah, we need to come back and play this machine again on acid. Yeah, but it has to be this one. Yeah, totally. And then all our coins gone and we moved to one of the tables to talk about our vegan burger van idea. A van selling burgers that were made from vegans. One hundred per cent vegan burgers in homemade rolls and with a side salad. Beans. Olives. Blue cheese..? Yes definitely. Blue cheese would compliment vegan burgers perfectly.

Snow snow, snow snow, snow snow. I’ve rounded the corner. I can see a tram at the stop. There’s a woman in a black coat stepping off. It’s the number five tram. It goes past the bars and bazaars of Zizchov and then up the hill to Flora. In the other direction it goes to Stromovka Park, the park of trees. It turns around and stops amongst the trees. People rollerblading past. The driver reading a book.

The six sets of collapsing doors meet and there’s the noise of tram acceleration and it’s on its way. I pass the woman in black and it’s as if I’m not there. She’s carrying a small white dog. I’m crossing the cobbley side road that the cars swerve round. I’m at the stop. I’m reading the timetable and it says that the number three is due to arrive in four minutes time. The one, the three, the five and the twenty five, they’re the trams that leave from this stop. The one and the twenty five both go through Letna, they go past the Sparta stadium and then on to Hradchanska. Lucy’s university accomodation is near there. She’s at the end of a corridor on the ground floor. She shares a room with a girl called Erica and she refers to Erica as her roommate. And I get this. Erica is her roommate. But when Lucy mentions Tom or Flo she calls them my roommates too. Even though I don’t share a room with them. But my confusion about this confuses her so I just put it down to being another one of those Americanisms. It’s not as endearing as when she says anyways instead of anyway and it’s not as funny as when she says transportation instead of transport. Trans-por-tay-tion. Hahaha.

A couple of people arrive at the stop. It was so cool how we’d met. Outside that Lucerna club. Lucy and her three pals. Me and my three pals. An impromptu party at Paul and Alex’s flat, our trip to inverted commas buy cigarettes and our subsequent stumbling upon, stumbling into this bar called Tulip. We liked the decor, we liked the people, we liked the music, we liked it so much. And that was before we knew there was a downstairs room where you could buy weed at very affordable prices. Aaah. The downstairs bar at Tulip. Now that would be something to write home about.

It’s soo cold. I’m swiveling my feet about to warm my toes. I did need to choose something to write about. I’d moved to Prague to write in the city’s bars and cafes. That and to experience some more Czech culture, to meet people, to play pool and to drink beer in the city’s bar and cafes. And now I’d achieved all of those things apart from getting anything down on paper. I’d had some ideas that I could write about and I’d grouped them in a few chapter headings but had I had anything published people I met would say and I’d say no with a tone that was intended to convey that that wasn’t the point, that it didn’t matter as much as people made out. I’ve made some short films I’d maybe say. Oh yeah? Yeah.

The tram’s in the distance. It’s one of the older ones. It looks like a music box, the lower half red, the frames of the windows white and a decorated roof. I’m looking at the tram and I’m thinking that I could make a start. I could write about this experience, about the snow, the darkness, about this tram approaching. This tram. Right now. Oh-kay. And I’m writing with an imaginary pen on some imaginary paper. The tram’s approaching full stop. It’s winding its way round the corner this tram, like a red and dirty white music box with windows that you couldn’t see clearly yet, with the driver at the front looking along the street and it’s like a snake… it’s like a mechanical snake gliding along the blanket ground towards the three people waiting in the cold and the scene was like… the scene was like a juxtaposition of the… of the…

And I decide to stop writing for now. The doors are opening. The two people waiting are getting on. And I’m stepping onto the tram, onto the step of the tram, into the tram. I’m sitting down on one of the red seats and the doors are closing.

There’s a few other people on the tram. I’m sitting at the front. Five oh nine says the digital clock. A poster tells me that you can buy tickets by texting to nine oh five oh five and they take the price of the ticket from your phone credit. The clock changes to five ten as we pass the copying and printing shop. I was intending to go there to print out some business cards and posters. A picture from Trainspotting and another from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That one where he’s scooshing water from a fountain. Then below in a bold font the words Conversational English dash Conversational Scottish. I’d probably have to explain that I didn’t mean Gaelic, but that yes we had our own words and phrases. Glaikit. Gallus. Glen. The glaikit cunt walked through the glen and greeted the three gallus bams. An emphasis on fluency and pronounciation I’d put underneath in smaller letters and italics. And then the price per hour, a list of films and a contact email address.

The tram sweeps to the right as we reach the river Vltava and across the water there’s the island where they have techno festivals in the summer. Those tatty posters you still see about the place. On lampposts, underneath bridges, outside the metro stops.

It’s cold. I’m feeling my tiredness now. I put the hood of my hoodie up and I rest my head on the window. Trams rides are so smooth. Trams. I’m on a tram. My eyes are closing. I’m falling asleep. And suddenly I’m thinking about shoes and I open my eyes. We’re outside the Vietnamese market, the dozens and dozens of stalls and they sell shoes don’t they. I could get buy some shoes there. That djembe had been a bargain. Yeah, I’ll check out their shoes at some point. My eyes are closing again… three hours sleep. The dregs of my drunkenness. The happening of my hangover. So tired… I’m sleeping. Was I asleep and the tram stops and I open my eyes. It’s the stop next to that McDonalds and I’m thinking about McDonalds. When was the last time I was in a McDonalds… obviously I’d been in for a piss plenty times, but buying something… maybe not for ten years, fifteen years. Probably the one in Dunfermline when we were on the way to a game. At the start of my drinking career, haha yeah… we’d be sitting upstairs. That red Glenmuir jumper I used to wear. And I’m thinking about the time when I threw one of their slimey gherkin things at the mirror and it stuck to the mirror and someone harder than me’s laughing so I throw another one and then a third but I’m aiming more with the third one and there’s some kids over there in the corner, they’re having a party and one of the adults is giving me the eye those bloody football hooligans he’s probably thinking. Check it out, it looks like two gherkin eyes and a gherkin nose. So I get one of those tomato sauce sachets and I bite into it and I push the sauce onto my fingers and I’m standing next to the mirror, giving the face a big red smile and Glyn or Drew or someone’s laughing and saying to sign it, so I smear a jay and an em onto the bottom right of the mirror and that’s my art finished for the day, ciao for now diners and we’re laughing down the stairs and a table at the kids party are being told that yea-ess those aare bad people.

That was the season when we’d made a good start in the league and we’d got to the final of the Skol Cup via a very dodgy penalty at Tynecastle in the semi-final. Jimmy Sandison chesting the ball outside the area and the referee pointing to the spot. An appalling decision. Folk talking about it for weeks afterwards. But that had made it one one and we’d gone on to win on penalties. We had some good players that year. Rhodes in goal, Moyes and McNamara in defence, Kozma in midfield, O’Boyle up front. But we got beat by Hibs in the final at Hampden and Kozma got signed by Liverpool to sit on the bench for the rest of the season. Defeat after defeat after nil nil draw followed. Trudging out the ground through the open gate and walking to the bus station. Pish. We had a French writing class on a Monday morning and once I’d nailed the directions to the beach I’d write about football. J’aime le foot I’d say. Je suis supporter de l’equipe de Dunfermline I’d add. Then that nous sommes en premiere division mais je pense que c’est la relegation cette annee pour nous. Zut alors! Such authenticity said the exam board. Such pain said the exam board. Grade one.

We’re at Vltavska metro station. Half the people on the tram are getting off. I’m looking at the graffiti on the surrounding walls. It’s really good. There are people waiting to get the tram.

I went to Dunfermline games with friends I’d made on our school’s trip to Germany. We’d get there early on a Saturday afternoon. We’d be walking through the Kingsgate shopping centre and I’d get my CD buying in early, maybe a Smiths or an REM album, and then we’d meet up with the notorious Jonesy and his friends and the local lads would be talking about fighting and shagging. I’d be trailing at the back listening to their exotic stories about so and so getting stabbed and about the guy from somewhere punching someone in the teeth with a snooker ball. Then we’d stop for one of them to talk to a girl with a pushchair or a girl without a pushchair but they were equally out of range or in any way aware that I existed so I looked forward to sitting in the pub with Blondie on the video jukebox and a bottle of Becks planted in front of me. Packets of cigarettes on the table and a crowd of Dunfermline fans at the bar talking and laughing. By half two we’d be heading down the road, me three drinks drunk, staring at the shapes that cigarettes form in the packet once you’ve pull off the metal paper bit. Lighting a cigarette. Smoking a cigarette. Feeling lightheaded and I should get something to eat and are those Hearts fans shouting at us? Is that Jonesy shouting back? Fuck.

The huddle of stone people at the bridge is covered in snow. We start crossing the bridge. The whole getting served or not getting served thing, now that would be fun to write about. There’s cars coming the other way, dirty cars spraying salted sleet, they approach and pass. The nightclub on the island has a few cars in the car park but the neon sign’s off. And beyond the cars and the bridge there’s the murky river with the jazz boats and the tourist boats all moored up and trees laden with snow running alongside. In the distance the castle’s illuminated, the neighbouring buildings too, and you can just about see the line of the hill leading to the Petrin Tower, the tower on the hill that did look exactly like the Eiffel Tower.

I hadn’t climbed it yet but Lucy had. She’d uploaded her photos to the internet, onto this site called Facebook. One of her sorority friends had commented on the photos, she’d written wow you never told me you were going to Paris exclamation mark you’re so lucky exclamation mark exclamation mark. And Lucy had replied underneath that haha no it’s in Prague and then she’d cut and pasted a link to the Wikipedia page for the tower. It was a near scale replica the page said. It was built after a club of Czech tourists had returned from Paris with a really good idea, a velmi dobre napad. The panel on the right of the page said that the tower was sixty three point five metres tall, but because of the hill it was much higher.

So it was built at the end of the nineteenth century I’d said to Lucy. Don’t say it you better not say it she said back, her hands over her ears. But I hadn’t tired of the joke yet. So Lucy… the end of the nineteenth century… doesn’t that make the Petrin Tower a fin de siècle construction? And she glared at me. Fuck you. You bastard. Fuck you. Because she hated that phrase. She really hated it. It’s like some kind of buzz phrase she’d say. It’s one of those academia things. Oh did you know about the fin de siècle, that Kafka grew up in fin de siècle Europe and that fin de siècle this and fin de siècle that and enough already. Enough already.

Through the tunnel, under the river. Lucy’s class had been studying Kafka’s Metamorphosis and she’d developed her own ideas about the meaning of the story. I’ve never heard this mentioned before she’d said one evening. But it seems sooo obvious. What’s that I said. Oh-kaay she said, putting the book down and sitting up. So you’ve got this guy who wakes up one morning. And on the wall next to his bed he’s got a framed picture of a woman in a feather boa. A feather boa. So one he’s got a burlesque picture on his wall and two he’s just woken up from, and I quote… troubled dreams. Troubled. Dreams. Uh-huh. And oh what’s this, there’s been a transformation. He’s had a transformation and suddenly there’s all this imagery about hardness and awkwardness and rigidity. So yeah, what’s happened is he’s woken up with a case of… how did you call it… oh yeah haha… with a case of morning wood and it’s all about that, the entire story’s an allegory about his erection and at the end when he dies that’s about ejaculation. She looked at me for a response. Did you not get that?

I’d replied that I wasn’t disagreeing, that it could be, but that I hadn’t read it yet. And she’d got a bit pissed off at that. She said that it was my copy for fuck sake and that I was watching way too much football, like all the time and that I should be reading more, especially if I wanted to be a writer. Then I’d protested that I’d read that Bohumil Hrabal book about the paper crusher and I’d read her book about Czech history too. But I remember thinking that she might be right. I was watching a lot of football. Midweek games, Saturday games, Sunday games too sometimes. But going to the Zlata bar was as much about the social scene. And Lucy liked to join me for the Champions League games. She hadn’t watched soccer before. She really liked that Polish goalkeeper from the Celtics.

The roads and rail that swooped about the junction district of Florenc. The tall corporate buildings with their prominent logos. We turn right into town. One of the newer sleeker trams passes. There’s more people about here. People walking through the snow in their duffel coats and their furry hoods, in their hats and gloves and scarves. We pass a bank, a supermarket, an erotica shop, a couple of jewelers, a Pilsner pub and then another and there’s umpteen kavarnas here and there. All closed. And we’re at the building with the vast mural on its side. It’s about fifteen metres by fifteen metres. It’s of a JCB digger following behind a tank which is following behind a JCB digger which is following behind a tank. And on and on and on and on to form the shape of an infinity sign. The doors of the tram close. We pass pastelly buildings with figurative sculptures. Were they art deco buildings and I’m thinking that I could try some haiku poetry. What were the numbers again. Three lines with syllables. My eyes are closing. I’m falling asleep. I’m thinking about haiku. Syllables. Five then seven then five. Something something snow and Lucy naked in bed and streaming South Park and something something.

Vaclav Namyesti says the tram announcement woman and I’m awake again and we’re here. I look left and catch a glimpse of the second of the two roads up the hill. A grey trail of car through the snow to the vast grey domed building at the top that made me think of butterflies striking very similar poses in amber. I’m yawning. Some people are standing up. The tram’s stopped. We’re at the arcade of coffee and confectionary, ice cream, posters and cinema. The Svetozor cinema. I remain in my seat as the standing up people get off. Outside there’s about a dozen colourfully dressed people with skis. I’m standing up. Fucking shoes. I’m stepping down from the tram onto the snow. I’m at the kiosk that’s tiled with DVDs. Hundreds of Czech and international films for ninety nine koruna. We’d seen some good ones. Who Wants to Kill Jessie was an absurdist pop art film with comic book characters that came to life and spoke in speech bubbles. It looked liked it had been a lot of fun to make.

They didn’t have many adverts or trailers before the films at the Svetozor cinema and one time at bandcamp we’d arrived a few minutes late. Down the stairs and we’re moving through the curtain door and I’m saying to Lucy that there’s folk sitting on the floor, it must be full. Oh wow it’s crazy full she says as we go in and she sees all the rows of heads. We find a place on the floor and we sit against the wall. The lights go out, the opening credits begin and I’ve got my hand in her pants. She has to tell me to stop so I go to the bar and bring back two pints of beer in plastic glasses. So we’re sat there. Drinking beer on the cinema floor. Magic.

The metal tables and chairs of the cafe on the corner are all stacked up. They’re all wet and snowy. The guys flyering for the strip clubs are away home and the food stall that’s always open is open. There’s the sound of drum and bass and the smell of frying onions and klobasa sausages. An array of menu pictures on a red background. Sausages, fried breaded chicken, and the fried breaded cheese that they ate a lot of here… smazeny it says next to the picture. There’s a line of sauce and mustard dispensers along the counter and a couple of baskets of bread. A tower of napkins and behind the counter are fridges with rows of beer and juice. Three thirty mill cans of Staropramen. Dobre hudba I say to the woman scraping carbonised onions from the grill plate. She smiles.

I’m walking down the square. The pavement’s a bit sludgey. Dark trees and metal bins heaped with snow. To the left a money changing booth. A restaurant. This place where you can sit on a chair with your feet in a tank and the small fish eat the dead skin from your feet. That would be a good hangover thing to do one day I’m thinking. But imagine you shat in the tank though. That would be awkward and what the fuck am I thinking. Fuck sake. I’m so tired. I should have grabbed a coffee at the food stall place and do they sell coffee there. They probably sell coffee there. I’m walking down Wenceslas Square. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered here in November nineteen eighty nine. They had banners that said svobodne volby. Free elections.

I put my foot on a window alcove and I massage my toes. I’m next to one of the Bata shoe shops. Loads of different shoes in the window. Smart shoes. Dressy shoes. Lacey shoes. Buckley shoes. Shoes and shoes and shoes. Too many shoes. Usually I go into a shoe shop, look at the designs of the Etnies and then ask for a pair in my size. I’d been doing that for years. The shop assistants never minded putting my old pair in the bin. That’s fine. We can do that. Okay thanks. Bye.

The mantelpiece clock on the officey building at the foot of the square says five thirty five. Below it the New Yorker clothes shop is saying fuck you with fries to the history of state communism. I’m at the bit where the roads from the museum meet. There’s a few cars parked here, and the snow from the pedestrian area’s been piled up next to them. I’m walking across the compressed snow. There’s not many people about. The tourist groups won’t be mustering here for few hours yet. The shops are all closed. I wander over to the restaurant across the lane from the New Yorker. It has a printed menu outside. It’s so cold.

I wipe the ice from the plastic with the sleeve of my coat. Chesnek polevka. How much I would love a garlic soup right now. To be sitting somewhere warm. The garlicky salty stock. The croutons… the herbs… the stringy cheese… the slanina. I scan down the menu and recognise the word for duck and the word for chicken and there’s various potato side dishes listed at the bottom. They serve bramboraky. Potato pancakes. I’d go into some places and the waiter would be happy to serve me a portion with my beer. And then in other places you’d get a look and a patient explanation that bramboraky was a side dish, that I had to order something from the main menu first.

I look down the lane that leads to Old Town Square. A couple of my friends worked in crystal shops there. They had tourists arriving from everywhere. So many people buying stuff. They’d become fluent in over twenty shop languages. All those windows of crystal…. all that crystal I’m thinking and what a mental thing to buy on holiday. Especially when you consider all the wrapping and everything and I’m wondering if people put things into the crystals vases when they packed them. Maybe socks. That’s what I’d do. Stuff the crystals full of socks and toothpaste and maybe some razors. I need to buy some razors. There’s a guy walking towards me from the direction of Narodni Trida. I must look like I’m selling a playstation.

Alright I say, how’s it going. He’s good thanks, he’s been at the pub, he’s still a bit drunk. Good night I ask and he’s saying that yeah it was, that they went out after work and that he’s after a girl who he works with. He works in a call centre and she talks dirty on the phone, it’s driving all the guys crazy. I empathise with a smile and a laugh and he’s saying it was a surprise to get a reply so soon and I’m saying it was good timing, that I’m so skint, that I really needed to sell this, and he’s telling me that he left his PSP on the metro, such a stupid thing to do.

I give him the bag and I explain that for reasons of luggage allowance the games and film cartridges don’t have their boxes. He’s fine about it, just that the power pack’s there he says and it is and he takes the bag and he hands me the banknotes. Phone credit. Breakfast. Tram. Sleep…

Micromachines is a great game I agree and he says it’s a bonus that you have Liberty City Stories, he says that he was thinking of buying it. I tell him that I rate the game, that there’s some fun missions in it, and that it’s got Wu Tang on the soundtrack. And then I add that obviously it’s not San Andreas though and so we’re talking about playing San Andreas, we’re talking about the off road racing and the different missions, that one where you fly those toy planes about and kill postal couriers, that’s a tough one he says. And I’m talking about the first flying mission, that I forgot to raise the plane’s landing gear and I had to circle right round to get enough altitude, that I went through the mission five times before I realised what I was doing wrong. He laughs and we’re talking about the last mission, the one where you’re shooting your way through the crack factory and there’s the car chase and yeah you know you can walk through the flames if you have the body armour on I’m saying and he’s saying something that sounds like a quote from somewhere. That that’s what matters. How you walk through the fire.

We’re saying goodbye and enjoy the playstation and enjoy your bacon baguette. A crispy bacon baguette. They sold them in the cafe next to the tramstop. It opened at six. I’d have one there plus a cappuccino and then take two away for our breakfast. I’m not as tired now. I’m thinking about where to get phone credit and isn’t there a tabac shop a block away from the tram stop. I could go there first. Top up my phone credit. Reply to my texts. Say to Paul about playing pool over the weekend and reply to Pedro… haha my friend Pedro had visited the Portuguese Bar that we went to and he’d texted me back full of consternation because it had nothing to do with Portugal, absolutely nothing at all and he was there on a date with a Portuguese girl and there wasn’t anything Portuguese about it, there really wasn’t. We were in Kutna Hora and I laughed when I got the message, imagining him sat there on his date. Frowning. Okay we stay here for a beer and then we go. Haha.

A taxi driver standing next to his yellow taxi asks me if I’d like a taxi and I shake my head. Nay. Deku. There’s a blister forming on my heel. So… tonight. We could go for dinner at that place that Jan had recommended. Tulip later on for sure. But I’d better give these shoes a run under the tap when I get back. Give them a wipe with a cloth.


~ by erskinebeach on February 23, 2013.

One Response to “socks and shoes”

  1. Great short story , I want to read more.

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