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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 5 chapter 18)

2006-08-22 20:56

  18

  The holiday from the operating table was also a holiday from Tereza. After hardly seeing each other for six days, they would finally be together on Sundays, full of desire; but, as on the evening when Tomas came back from Zurich, they were estranged and had a long way to go before they could touch and kiss. Physical love gave them pleasure but no consolation. She no longer cried out as she had in the past, and, at the moment of orgasm, her grimace seemed to him to express suffering and a strange absence. Only at night, in sleep, were they tenderly united. Holding his hand, she would forget the chasm (the chasm of daylight) that divided them. But the nights gave him neither the time nor the means to protect and take care of her. In the mornings, it was heartrending to see her, and he feared for her: she looked sad and infirm.

  One Sunday, she asked him to take her for a ride outside Prague. They drove to a spa, where they found all the streets relabeled with Russian names and happened to meet an old patient of Tomas's. Tomas was devastated by the meeting. Suddenly here was someone talking to him again as to a doctor, and he could feel his former life bridging the divide, coming back to him with its pleasant regularity of seeing patients and feeling their trusting eyes on him, those eyes he had pretended to ignore but in fact savored and now greatly missed.

  Driving home, Tomas pondered the catastrophic mistake he had made by returning to Prague from Zurich. He kept his eyes trained on the road so as to avoid looking at Tereza. He was furious with her. Her presence at his side felt more unbearably fortuitous than ever. What was she doing here next to him? Who put her in the basket and sent her downstream? Why was his bed chosen as her shore? And why she and not some other woman?

  Neither of them said a word the whole way.

  When they got home, they had dinner in silence.

  Silence lay between them like an agony. It grew heavier by the minute. To escape it they went straight to bed. He woke her in the middle of the night. She was crying.

  I was buried, she told him. I'd been buried for a long time. You came to see me every week. Each time you knocked at the grave, and I came out. My eyes were full of dirt.

  You'd say, 'How can you see?' and try to wipe the dirt from my eyes.

  And I'd say, 'I can't see anyway. I have holes instead of eyes.'

  And then one day you went off on a long journey, and I knew you were with another woman. Weeks passed, and there was no sign of you. I was afraid of missing you, and stopped sleeping. At last you knocked at the grave again, but I was so worn down by a month of sleepless nights that I didn't think I could make it out of there. When I finally did come out, you seemed disappointed. You said I didn't look well. I could feel how awful I looked to you with my sunken cheeks and nervous gestures.

  T'm sorry,' I apologized. 'I haven't slept a wink since you left.'

  ' You see?' you said in a voice full of false cheer. 'What you need is a good rest. A month's holiday!'

  As if I didn't know what you had in mind! A month's holiday meant you didn't want to see me for a month, you had another woman. Then you left and I slipped down into my grave, knowing full well that I'd have another month of sleepless nights waiting for you and that when you came back and I was uglier you'd be even more disappointed.

  He had never heard anything more harrowing. Holding her tightly in his arms and feeling her body tremble, he thought he could not endure his love.

  Let the planet be convulsed with exploding bombs, the country ravished daily by new hordes, all his neighbors taken out and shot-he could accept it all more easily than he dared admit. But the grief implicit in Tereza's dream was something he could not endure.

  He tried to reenter the dream she had told him. He pictured himself stroking her face and delicately-she mustn't be aware of it-brushing the dirt out of her eye sockets. Then he heard her say the unbelievably harrowing I can't see anyway. I have holes instead of eyes.

  His heart was about to break; he felt he was on the verge of a heart attack.

  Tereza had gone back to sleep; he could not. He pictured her death. She was dead and having terrible nightmares; but because she was dead, he was unable to wake her from them. Yes, that is death: Tereza asleep, having terrible nightmares, and he unable to wake her.

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