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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 1 chapter 13)

2006-08-22 19:13

  13

  He bought a bed for their empty flat (they had no money yet for other furniture) and threw himself into his work with the frenzy of a man of forty beginning a new life.

  He made several telephone calls to Geneva. A show of Sabina's work had opened there by chance a week after the Russian invasion, and in a wave of sympathy for her tiny country, Geneva's patrons of the arts bought up all her paintings.

  Thanks to the Russians, I'm a rich woman, she said, laughing into the telephone. She invited Tomas to come and see her new studio, and assured him it did not differ greatly from the one he had known in Prague.

  He would have been only too glad to visit her, but was unable to find an excuse to explain his absence to Tereza. And so Sabina came to Zurich. She stayed at a hotel. Tomas went to see her after work. He phoned first from the reception desk, then went upstairs. When she opened the door, she stood before him on her beautiful long legs wearing nothing but panties and bra. And a black bowler hat. She stood there staring, mute and motionless. Tomas did the same. Suddenly he realized how touched he was. He removed the bowler from her head and placed it on the bedside table. Then they made love without saying a word.

  Leaving the hotel for his Hat (which by now had acquired table, chairs, couch, and carpet), he thought happily that he carried his way of living with him as a snail carries his house. Tereza and Sabina represented the two poles of his life, separate and irreconcilable, yet equally appealing.

  But the fact that he carried his life-support system with him everywhere like a part of his body meant that Tereza went on having her dreams.

  They had been in Zurich for six or seven months when he came home late one evening to find a letter on the table telling him she had left for Prague. She had left because she lacked the strength to live abroad. She knew she was supposed to bolster him up, but did not know how to go about it. She had been silly enough to think that going abroad would change her. She thought that after what she had been through during the invasion she would stop being petty and grow up, grow wise and strong, but she had overestimated herself. She was weighing him down and would do so no longer. She had drawn the necessary conclusions before it was too late. And she apologized for taking Karenin with her.

  He took some sleeping pills but still did not close his eyes until morning. Luckily it was Saturday and he could stay at home. For the hundred and fiftieth time he went over the situation: the borders between his country and the rest of the world were no longer open. No telegrams or telephone calls could bring her back. The authorities would never let her travel abroad. Her departure was staggeringly definitive.

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