It was the summer after the fall when the Czech girl broke promises to the Man upstairs. The Czech boy was with the Czech girl because he lived with her. This was after he moved with the Czech girl into some other person’s basement. So far, he had lived with her for nine ordinary months of life. The Czech boy drove his Volvo at top speed, rolling through roundabouts where red and yellow signs were staked. There were babies inside the Czech girl sitting on plastic-lined seats. The babies were problematic. The problems were really showing. The Czech boy drove to one location, and then to another. He parked the Volvo outside a place that seemed like a motel. This was where the girl left him. Alone, he surfed radio channels, listened to the forecasts in Bucharest and Berlin, smoked, coughed, closed his eyes, pictured plane-shaped angels in the sky. He sat for forever until the babies were gone. Then, the Czech girl returned to him – a fetching animal with her hair tied-up. The Czech boy let her drive the Volvo and they got lost in the country. Something agricultural filled the voids inside them. Even though she didn’t know how to shift, he let her grind the gears. He didn’t even have a license. But he had her, now, again, without babies. All of this happened after everything else.
The girl had a mother in Salzburg who wouldn’t stop crying. The boy had a Croat for a stepfather who he hated and escaped. Before the girl, the boy went out with younger girls he met behind the counter at Chicago’s Pizza. His face was Slavic and never expressed ownership of its own thoughts. The girl’s labia looked like a tongue, so she had always avoided the embrace of boys in daylight.
The summer after commencement, the boy was sleeping in his Volvo behind a petrol station down the street from the girl. They knew each other from a class about God. What the nuns called it chapel, boys and girls called hell. She tapped on his window, and he let her in, and they smoked a whole pack of stale American cigarettes. Then she took him over to the basement where she had a bedroom. VHS tapes planked the floor like pirate ships. The girl showed the boy her clarinet, and she played a song, but he was not impressed. Her face was white like mayonnaise. His ears resembled the shapes of pears. The boy stepped backwards onto a plastic cassette; the cassette cracked, he looked at the girl apologetically. It took the girl years to learn this song. The pitch was melancholic. The boy had heard enough. All she wanted was to make music; all he wanted was private time. There was too much air conditioning in the basement; it made his particulars shrink.
It was only a little bit of sex; some extra sex would be saved for another time. They both found the basement cagey. The bedsprings chilled in alignment like a frozen waterbed. A few cakes of dander fluffed out from mattress’s lungs. There was a television on, ringing like a telephone. There was an insect wing stuck to the screen. The girl took the boy’s hand and cleaned it, like her mouth was a gummy dish sponge. He laughed and looked away from the girl. The bed’s hull rocked from side-to-side. Pillows were pushed and thrown onto the floor. The television hadn’t said anything good about the world for a while; it only squeaked like a parrot trapped inside a small room. The girl said the boy had a name like her mother’s. She said disgusting things about the men she used to smell. He said that the girl shouldn’t live in a basement all by herself, and he laughed. The girl didn’t laugh, because she never thought in funny ways. The boy was laughing because he was excited. There was pink place where the girl thought she could feel his laughter.
The boy went to the girl’s bathroom. There was a picture of the Czech Jesus above the toilet. Czech Jesus’ eyes watched the boy. They exuded a guilt-inducing glare, and the boy felt bad for feeling good. Czech Jesus’ hair was blonde. The boy’s was brown. He looked at mirror and noticed a pimple on his chest—a full bud asking to erupt white. The boy felt like air. He stuck his fingers down his throat, the tips feeling for something inside. Nothing. He used the same fingers to comb his hair, molding his scalp into a perfect mess. He leaned against the sink and saw a small black bug. Not even bathrooms offer real private time. When living inside his Volvo, there were always people watching through other windshields. On narrow roads at night, seemingly alone, someone could be seen watching him from the woods.
The girl made a sound at the bathroom from the bedroom to see if the boy was still alive. He listened through the bathroom door to the bedroom where so many movies and musical instruments lived. The boy touched the bathroom wall. It felt small and hard against his fingers. In his stomach, there was nothing; the little limeade from earlier had already passed through his kidneys. He thought about the shower but didn’t feel like a wash. Again, the boy looked at Czech Jesus. He felt like he was inside an old cathedral of some lost Czech orthodoxy. He thought about the blonde Jesus in the bathroom more and more. The boy felt like this was God’s bathroom, where he didn’t belong. Even God, he thought, won’t give me any private time. All the boy had were exclusive non-moments. Peaceful, but anxious—episodes ordered for no conclusions. The other boys the girl got off usually didn’t hide inside the bathroom. He, she thought, was neglecting her desire to nurse him. The girl turned the knob. The boy looked at Jesus and pictured God giving birth to things. The girl took off her clothes a little and stepped into the shower. The boy watched her turn and slowly slide a panel of glass between their bodies. The girl would normally shower after the boy had left, but now that he was here, she didn’t want him to leave. As the boy pissed in the toilet, he watched the girl’s eyes on his stream. The minerals slowly dissolved into the water and left bubbles floating into the shape of a burning bush.
For food, they did drugs. His lungs were thorny ones that punctured air. Her veins were thick and swallowed malformed platelets of blood. When there was gasoline, they drove the Volvo to Bohemia because they thought it was where they should be. They disregarded illuminated signage and got lost in strange Polish neighborhoods. The boy cleaned the mirror with a nice coat of Windex where the girl occasionally poured out powders that were sometimes stolen from other people in irrational states of consciousness. Real food was left in the refrigerator to make fungus brothers that pinched your nose if you opened their door. The girl and the boy had fallen into a heart-shaped hole. At the bottom, it felt like a well. There, the boy thought about Czech Jesus, who repeatedly pointed out a freckle on the tip of the boy’s penis whenever he went to drain. The girl liked the boy more than most of the boys from the petrol station; this was because he curled up like a toad whenever she went to rub his belly to sleep. When he awoke, there was a blissful moment of him recognizing her. She felt placated, a Scandinavian-minded content. She didn’t need to collect the VHS cassettes anymore. She didn’t have to pretend the television was paying attention. She could stop listening to everything it told her to do.
From the bible, the boy read the girl a verse about the Virgin Birth. Sometime later, black ink became red ink, and there were words about fruits and vegetables. She said it felt like they were meditating, like they had been meditating for two thousand years already. Drafts came and went. There were games of gin with incomplete card decks. The girl stripped and did her nails with a flimsy file. The boy won himself a reindeer taxidermy off E-bay from somewhere in Britain, but he never paid or went around to collect. One time, the boy felt his stepfather’s soul coming up through the earth after him. At night, the girl murmured vacant laminations for her mother into the empty cardboard cylinder of a toilet paper roll.
The girl gave drugs to the milkman for money. The milkman looked at the girl and asked, “Is that enough milk?” The girl felt scared. The milkman asked, “How much more milk do you want?” The girl said that she didn’t know or couldn’t remember. The milkman looked at the girl. She held her arms up in surrender. In the background, the milkman saw the boy. All they had was a basement and themselves, and now several gallons of milk. When the milkman left, it created a vacuum with a hole where all energy escaped. Their lives began missing a sense of action that provides existence its definition. Neither of them spoke to one another for a very long time. Bubbles of air filled the veins inside their brains. Hissing sounds filled the pockets surrounding their ears. Days passed. Once, the girl almost said something about babies, but there wasn’t anything to say.
One day when it rained, there was an enormous flood. The water rose fast and ran around their nipples. The television floated with the image of an electric guitar. The person playing it bayed with an obstinate confidence; it rubbed static against the screen. The boy was surprised by the strength of flow, but the girl had been underwater on several previous occasions. Each time she had waited for the notion of drowning to pan itself out. One minute she would be sinking one way, and the next she would be floating somewhere else. Right now, there was no option but to try and swim. Things drifting around the basement: The sheet music to a school musical, some lost stockings, a cassette case emblazoned with the image of Mel Gibson, but mostly just fuzz and pieces of paper. The boy had amazing buoyancy. He looked like he could go anywhere. The sex they had, she thought, apparently wasn’t enough to submerge him. It was natural—probably like animals mating in the wild before eating one another. Their cellar world was an underground nook like any other den of small animals. Wolves, she thought, with little tiny paws, huffing and puffing up little balls of neutral-colored hair. Like cubs they would tussle too; impromptu tag games would sometimes breakout in scratching. These scuffs would continue until someone drew blood.
The girl clung to a shelf and made a sound. The boy looked mostly like a feathery duck. He said nothing; then he rolled over. The girl dove down towards the floor where she saw a sunken forest of soiled bags from all the fast-food they had taken from restaurants with too much plastic glued to their walls. “Swim and get Jesus from the bathroom,” the boy said. She could hear him through brown layers of liquid. “See if he can stand when he tries to walk on this water.” When his mouth moved, it sounded full of hamburger. The girl came up to breathe some air. “We can’t live down here anymore,” she said. The boy looked at her and seemed to agree. They paddled in place for a while in complete silence. The girl wasn’t sure if the boy was serious. He knew she was, because she often had good initial instincts, but then, usually, she’d just go numb, like there was never a choice to begin with. All final decisions were left to the boy. He left them to Jesus.
Outside on the curb, a small troupe of Slovakian children waved around soccer cleats and kicked chunks of sod. The rain had ruined their game too. The girl and the boy passed them, walking through a submerged commons with a recreation ground. Haircut flyers floated on the surface of the water, refusing to sink. An ATM machine had puked out every euro it was worth. The girl found a cloud that looked like heaven. Her eyes glittered like Hasidic diamonds. Each tree was separated by a smooth ocean of glass. They waded through a shallow tide, over the soggy green soccer pitch, past bobbing cigarette butts and small icebergs of newspaper. Far away, a siren mewed Transylvanian koans. Water beetles drew Gregor Samsa zigzags along the submerged sidelines of white chalk. The nets in both goals were filled with local fish and eels, strung-out dead in the odd braids of the plastic European rope.
Later, the girl would give birth. When she did, she would be like a god.