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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 5 chapter 21)

2006-08-22 20:56


  He went home, lay down, and fell asleep earlier than usual. An hour later he woke up with stomach pains. They were an old malady that appeared whenever he was depressed. He opened the medicine chest and let out a curse: it was completely empty; he had forgotten to keep it stocked. He tried to keep the pain under control by force of will and was, in fact, fairly successful, but he could not fall asleep again. When Tereza came home at half past one, he felt like chatting with her. He told her about the funeral, about the editor's refusal to talk to him, and about his encounter with S.

  Prague has grown so ugly lately, said Tereza.

  I know, said Tomas.

  Tereza paused and said softly, The best thing to do would be to move away.

  I agree, said Tomas, but there's nowhere to go.

  He was sitting on the bed in his pajamas, and she came and sat down next to him, putting her arms around his body from the side.

  What about the country? she said.

  The country? he asked, surprised.

  We'd be alone there. You wouldn't meet that editor or your old colleagues. The people there are different. And we'd be getting back to nature. Nature is the same as it always was.

  Just then Tomas felt another stab in his stomach. It made him feel old, feel that what he longed for more than anything else was peace and quiet.

  Maybe you're right, he said with difficulty. The pain made it hard for him to breathe.

  We'd have a little house and a little garden, but big enough to give Karenin room for a decent run.

  Yes, said Tomas.

  He was trying to picture what it would be like if they did move to the country. He would have difficulty finding a new woman every week. It would mean an end to his erotic adventures.

  The only thing is, you'd be bored with me in the country, said Tereza as if reading his mind.

  The pain grew more intense. He could not speak. It occurred to him that his womanizing was also something of an Es muss sein! -an imperative enslaving him. He longed for a holiday. But for an absolute holiday, a rest from a// imperatives, from all Es muss sein! If he could take a rest (a permanent rest) from the hospital operating table, then why not from the world operating table, the one where his imaginary scalpel opened the strongbox women use to hide their illusory one-millionth part dissimilarity?

  Your stomach is acting up again! Tereza exclaimed, only then realizing that something was wrong. He nodded.

  Have you had your injection?

  He shook his head. I forgot to lay in a supply of medication.

  Though annoyed at his carelessness, she stroked his forehead, which was beaded with sweat from the pain.

  I feel a little better now.

  Lie down, she said, and covered him with a blanket. She went off to the bathroom and in a minute was back and lying next to him.

  Without lifting his head from the pillow, he turned to her and nearly gasped: the grief burning in her eyes was unbearable.

  Tell me, Tereza, what's wrong? Something's been going on inside you lately. I can feel it. I know it.

  No. She shook her head. There's nothing wrong.

  There's no point in denying it.

  It's still the same things, she said.

  The same things meant her jealousy and his infidelities.

  But Tomas would not let up. No, Tereza. This time it's something different. It's never been this bad before.

  Well then, I'll tell you, she said. Go and wash your hair.

  He did not understand.

  The tone of her explanation was sad, unantagonistic, almost gentle. For months now your hair has had a strong odor to it. It smells of female genitals. I didn't want to tell you, but night after night I've had to breathe in the groin of some mistress of yours.

  The moment she finished, his stomach began hurting again. He was desperate. The scrubbings he'd put himself through! Body, hands, face, to make sure not the slightest trace of their odors remained behind. He'd even avoided their fragrant soaps, carrying his own harsh variety with him at all times. But he'd forgotten about his hair! It had never occurred to him!

  Then he remembered the woman who had straddled his face and wanted him to make love to her with it and with the crown of his head. He hated her now. What stupid ideas! He saw there was no use denying it. All he could do was laugh a silly laugh and head for the bathroom to wash his hair.

  But she stroked his forehead again and said, Stay here in bed. Don't bother washing it out. I'm used to it by now.

  His stomach was killing him, and he longed for peace and quiet. I'll write to that patient of mine, the one we met at the spa. Do you know the district where his village is? No.

  Tomas was having great trouble talking. All he could say was, Woods . . . rolling hills . . .

  That's right. That's what we'll do. We'll go away from here. But no talking now . . . And she kept stroking his forehead. They lay there side by side, neither saying a word. Slowly the pain began to recede. Soon they were both asleep.

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