When the air begins to

Sep 25 2001 Kelly Norton
When the air begins to chill every year, I think of Prague. There was a cold morning in March of 2000 when Kristen and I awoke in a musty modest room of the Hotel Prague Lion. It was a expansive room by European standards, with four small single beds - two positioned with their headboards against the wall and two others covering the opposite wall length-wise, foot-to-foot. The beds were low with thickset frames that dominated the bed so that your ribs were threatened if you rolled to close to the edge. The blankets were tattered brown like shag carpet with a dustiness, just like the blankets my MaMa used to keep in her closet, and the mattress was nothing past ordinary exhibiting a firmness that would challenge the binary categories of hard and soft. At night we closed the big padded door, which was coated in brown vinyl with rows of small buttons making two vertical spines along its full height. Otherwise the mouse that slept in the stuffing of chair where I sat reading Nebokov at night would keep us awake in his pursuit of crumbs. That morning we awoke to the sounds of a squeaky door at the central police station next door, and to the conformable optimism of a light snow falling on a soulful city. The day before we had arrived by train at Hlavni nádraží from Berlin and taken the first room we could find in Old Town. Our view was of two sterile offices in the upper floors of the police station, where a nervous man in plain clothes drug incessantly on a cigarette and nervously picked his way through stacks of papers. On occasion he would disappear, but he was there when we opened our window in the morning and rifled through his nicotine stained papers until well after dark. I never recall seeing him leave the office or the building; we would look up and the light would be out in the room with only two desks.

Those mornings we had assorted breads and jellies for breakfast, and tea, the best tea - not for taste, but for warmth. We drank from little plastic yellow cups that rounded over at the lip so that the rim was hardly noticeable when you sipped your tea. Some mornings there was cheese in little foil packets to accompany our bread, but most of time it was jelly in little flat round packets. After breakfast, we buttoned our jackets and began walking the city. In the light snow, we had dreams of seeing the statues of the Charles Bridge wearing cloaks of snow, but the snow eased off as we walked into the square. My feet hurt so bad, we were forced to stop at a shoe store for new shoes. Later we moved away from the main streets and had dinner in a little restaurant with old men dominating the small wooden tables in conversation, wearing sweaters with their coats and hats hanging over them on the wall, drinking pilsners with a tall spongy froth atop. I had soup and rabbit with dumplings, Kristen had soup and salad with bread. That night I read again in the brown chair, with the mouse living in the stuffing. It was that night my tendency to put "reality" in double quotes was somewhat validated. Like I said, it never snowed again that week, but the skies were full of endless promise…and that's what you expect from a winter sky.