The Visit (by Jiri Landovsky)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

'Her look convinced me, it was indeed that look in her eyes that invited me to say it, to say this particular story.'

"The Visit"


"Now it's your turn", said the hostess with slight German accent,  still smiling, amused by the story of the gentleman on my left whose name I do not remember.  She was about seventy, elegantly dressed, with fine gray hair and nice sympathetic face showing the traces of her age, but at the same time reflecting clearly her delightful and refined life, from which she earlier shared some stories with us four, who were sitting at her table. Although my predecessors picked rather amusing stories, I decided to be serious and describe the day that changed my life with full honesty from the depth of my soul. Even today, I still do not fully understand why - whether it was due to the comfortable feeling I had at the time, the feeling of mutual trust; or due to fact that, although we'd spent several hours together and shared a lot of our life stories, all the people at our table were still strangers to me and it is always easier to confess to strangers. Or was it finally that look in the eyes of our hostess which was inviting me to say it, to say this particular story? In any case, after I had a sip of wine from my glass, I started my story:
It was my usual morning - the buzz of an alarm clock started the routine of sounds: moving blanket, steps on a carpet, bathroom doors, shower, towel brushing my skin, noise of hangers in a closet, whistling kettle, cereals dropping into a bowl, tooth-brush cleaning my teeth and at the end shoe laces and final slam of the doors.
Three floors down, I appeared on a high street in the middle of a sea of people rushing to their work. But you can still recognize me - smartly dressed, confident slow walk, ignoring everything and everyone around me. I walked just across the square to my office, where my full control, reason, confidence and admiration of others mingle in new combinations every day, creating images to my liking like a giant kaleidoscope. That was my kingdom.
What happened during the day I do not really recall, and in fact, it is not important. Important is that later in the evening, I was standing in the dark back garden watching people inside a house through big french windows. I was visiting my business partner to celebrate his birthday. That was not my 'kingdom'. All these boring people and affected conversations were repulsive to me. So I always found a quiet spot remote from it all, like this one in the garden. From there the inside of the house looked like a mute film, a grotesque - half-drunk people with exaggerated gestures, people desperately trying to be funny, clumsy coquetry, embarrassing attempts to dance. Through the dark glass and from a distance, the body language was telling the stories instead of the words. How pathetic all this seemed to me, how much better it felt to be outside. "Why did I even agree to come here?", I thought aloud for myself. "I have nothing in common with any of them and never will". Then I slowly finished the drink I had been holding in my hand and, after I put the glass on the wooden garden table, I started to walk towards to house to say good-bye to the host and escape from this torture. But when I was about to open the doors to enter the house, I noticed a woman standing in the corner of the room. Her character didn't seem to fit into the grotesque I was watching earlier. She was standing a bit aside, not talking to anyone, not noticed by anyone. I paused. But precisely at that moment she turned around and disappeared into the other room inside the house. Without thinking I decided to follow her. While I was making my way through the crowd in the vast living room, I tried to rationalise why am I following her. What was so interesting about her? Strangely, I couldn't even recall how she looked.

Eventually, I found her in the corridor adorned with reproductions of classical paintings. She was standing in front of one of them right at the opposite end of the corridor. She seemed to be absorbed in it, so she didn't appear to notice me approaching.
"How funny, people paint pictures of her and do not even know how she looked", I said when I stopped next to her.
"Why is it so important how she looked?" she answered calmly, without any sign of surprise, with a mild smile on her lips.
"Well, it's a picture, so it should depict the subject verily." was my answer, pronounced with a hint of pride.
"How do you know she is the subject?"
"What else would it be, there is nothing else in the picture?" I answered almost mockingly.
"Perhaps it depicts a deeper message, her whole life and destiny or a parallel with our lives."
Although I wasn't really interested in what the message was supposed to be, I asked her anyway, just to keep up the conversation flow.
"First, as a young bride, she was approached by an angel who delivered her a message from a God she's never seen. Accepting the message consequently meant that her marriage and earthly happiness would be most likely destroyed. Would you be able to do that?"
"To sacrifice all I have for someone I've never seen by agreeing on something that doesn't seem possible? That's foolishness."
"And what about later on, when she was bringing up the son, that wasn't truly hers, whose mission was to sacrifice himself for everyone else and who caused her the greatest pain imaginable for a woman and mother - to watch her son being tortured for hours and dying in agony later on."
"But it was her decision earlier, so that was just a consequence of it, wasn't it?"
"Now look at the picture again", she continued calmly ignoring my cynical response. "Although it's not a part of the picture, this is the moment when she has his dead body on her lap. But she is not crying, she is looking at him with love. She accepts her pain and destiny, as well as his, with dignity, not blaming anything or anyone. Quite on the contrary, she is sorry for everyone else." She looked at me once again with that mild smile and slowly walked away from the corridor.

When I found her again she was just leaving the house. She resisted all my attempts to persuade her to stay or to go to another place with me, but allowed me to walk her to her car at the end of the driveway. It was still warm outside. Light breeze was playing with leaves on the trees next to the driveway like a string orchestra and our steps on the gravel path were adding to the rhythm. I walked half a step behind her and only there I realised, that I hadn't been paying any attention to the way she looked so far. It was most likely due to the unexpected and for me unusual conversation we were engaged in earlier. But now, when there was no conversation between us, I had a chance to observe her in more detail. She was not particularly beautiful, definitely not according to my high standards, but there was something attractive about her. Was it her confidence? Was it the fact she was so different from the other women I met before? Was it the fact she did not seem to be attracted to me at all?
Before I was able to list all the possibilities we reached her car. All sounds, as well as my thoughts, suddenly faded away and only the muted noise from the house could be heard in the distance. She opened the car's door and slowly turned around. I tried to kiss her. It was a rushed, clumsy move. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't really attracted to her physically, so it was more of a result of an opportunistic habit rather than sudden passionate urge. She withdrew herself, giving me a deserved look, expressing an absolute disappointment, but that mild smile was still on her lips. "I have a better good-bye present for you", she said and reached for the book that was on the passenger seat.
I stood there without a move, watching the departing car disappearing from my sight, and only then I looked at the book's title and whispered to myself with contempt: "Poems".  

The next morning, as I slowly opened my eyes, I realised  I was sitting in my clothes in the armchair. It was still dark outside. I was unable to move, but it was not a consequence of the late arrival or drinks at the party, but rather a lethargy, almost like a starting melancholy. My eyes started to wander around the room and finally stopped on the book I had dropped on the table when I came home. "Why poems? Was it supposed to be a joke?" I was thinking to myself and then I recalled her mild smile and dismissed any such suspicion. At that moment a car turned in at the opposite end of the street and its lights shone through the window, on the book, on the table, creating a big shadow on the wall. The shadow was moving as the car was driving down the street until the light faded away completely. Darkness again. After watching the same, almost hypnotising, dance of shadows couple of times, as more cars were driving down the street, and remembering different details from the last night and from my life, I fell into half-asleep, half-awake state, unable to find any strength to fight it or control it. The memories and emotions started to mix together - the discussions from yesterday, the Pieta painting, my office, the ridiculous people from the party, the success of my work, the hurt ego from the refused kiss, the beautiful lovers from the past...when suddenly, instead of the expected pleasant feeling, a chilling cold covered all my body. But it was not only the sensation of cold, it almost had a physical presence. It felt like something or someone was holding me, creeping over me and trying to strangle me. Was I asleep? Was I awake? I could not tell, I could not move, I was completely paralised. The cold sweat covered my body and I could not breath for quite a while. But strangely, it was not the fear of death, but her smile I was thinking of at these moments. The pressure and the cold suddenly started to move away from my body, in the same creeping way as they appeared, and I fell asleep deeply and peacefully.

It was only the annoying buzz of the alarm clock that woke me. This time, it was not only the signal to wake up, but also something like a reminder of outer reality, something from the world I used to know, the world I seemed to leave behind in the early morning hours, while I was drowning in the feverish thoughts. Albeit, I was positively awake now it was still quite difficult for me to distinguish between the dreams, last night events and my life before. The sounds of the morning routine were out of tune, nothing resembling the regular symphony, but nevertheless, I eventually appeared three floors down on the street again. It was there when all the confusing sensations and mixed feelings vanished and I started to be fully aware of the present time and space. I had to stop for a moment to take a deep breath to be able to walk again.
Although I walked here so many times before, only on that day I realised and discovered many of its details, and people, mainly the people. How interesting every one of them seemed to me! I was almost overwhelmed by it all and I felt a sudden urge to unite with them all. These pleasant, newly discovered feelings were interrupted but a sudden cry of the woman walking next to me. Someone tried to get in front of her and shoved her from behind. It was a young man who, when getting in front of the woman, looked into her eyes, and then in mine, probably assuming we were a couple, and immediately apolgised in a very nice tone of voice. She wasn't upset at all and accepted the apology with a friendly smile without saying a word. So did I. Only then, both the woman and I realised the young man was being escorted in shackles by two policemen, who were pushing him around.
After our eyes, equally expressing surprise, parted, I was left being so ovewhelmed by astonishment, by the sheer power and beauty of that moment, that I had to stop and sit down on a nearby bench for a moment.

Here I finished my story. I realised immediately that I wasn't really telling the story to my company. I wasn't paying any attention to them during the narrative, I wasn't looking now to the left, now to the right and asking for approving looks from their eyes like the previous speakers did. Instead I was just staring at a blank spot in front of me. So, as if to correct that,  I instinctively turned my head to where I expected to meet the the eyes of our hostess - her look convinced me, it was indeed that look in her eyes that invited me to say it, to say this particular story.


Submitted: November 04, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Jiri Landovsky. All rights reserved.

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