Greenhorn crazy caleb first submission (chapters 1-3)


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Greenhorn crazy caleb first submission (chapters 1-3)

  1. 1. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins 1I coughed my last forty Euros on the ticket to Praha - Hlavní nádraží. There was nothing toexchange when I got off the train. I pulled my last eidam and butter sandwich from my pocket,and chewed on it, walking down the platform. It was early yet. Climbing the stairs, I steppedinto the main concourse. My feet hurt—blisters. I hadn’t changed my socks in days. “Prosím. Máte nějaké změny?” An old beggar stood there with his wrinkly hand out. Hisface was gray, huddled inside the hood of his coat. He stunk like wine and looked like he hadn’tslept in a week. “Ne, promiň.” I shook my head. “Prosim,” he said. “Jste Američan, no?” He grabbed my arm. The old bastard wouldn’t let go. “Ne.” I jerked my arm away. He said something in Czech and grabbed hold of me. “Fuck off.” I shoved him, and he backpedaled, falling to the ground. I heard a clap on theconcrete. My phrasebook fell out of my pocket. I bent over to pick it up. When I rose, therewas a group of people circling around me and the beggar. 1
  2. 2. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Pardon,” I said, offering my hand. I hoisted the old man up, brushed him off, and offeredhim a cigarette. He thanked me, as I lit it for him. His teeth were rotten. He blew out a yellowcloud and thanked me again. The crowd dispersed. I lit a cigarette of my own and stepped outside. People shuffled back and forth across theconcrete in front of the station. The sun beat down, but it was a brisk day. A stiff breeze blewacross Vrchlického sady, stinging my cheeks. The trees were forming the first buds of theseason. Their skeletal branches held chirping birds. I pulled my collar up around my neck andwalked across the park. Men in suits strolled along paved paths; women pushed strollers. Bumssat huddled around the barren trees, sipping half liters of beer, laughing, coughing. My cigaretteburned down to the filter, and I flicked it across the brown grass. I had one contact in Prague. Stepping out of the park, I fell in with the foot traffic streamingdown Opletalova ulice. I nodded at a fat woman struggling to keep up with her dog. The bitterwind made my eyes water. It was only a couple blocks, I knew, having studied the map before Iboarded the train in the morning. My feet hurt. Every step made me wince. There was nothing Icould do, not till I found a place to crash, took a bath and got into some fresh clothes. At least Ididnt stink. Across Růžová, I rounded the corner and stood before a pharmacy. Four differentdoors spilled onto the sidewalk. A young guy with a bald head and a corduroy blazer swung oneof them open and stepped outside. “Dobrý den. To je Glossa.” “Second floor,” he said. He must have fingered my accent. Or maybe it was the eighty literhiking bag slung over my shoulders. I climbed the stairs and greeted the receptionist. “Dobrý den,” I said. “I’m coming from France. I traded some emails with you a coupleweeks back. Jana told me to ask for her when I arrived in Prague. She said there would likely be 2
  3. 3. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinssome teaching opportunities.” “What is your name?” the blonde asked. “I’ll tell Jana you’d like to speak with her.” “Caleb O’Connor.” She picked up the phone and pressed a few buttons. “Ahoj, Jano, mam tady Caleb O’Connor.” She talked some more and laughed, hanging upthe phone. I drummed my fingers across the glass countertop. “Yes, take a seat.” She extended a hand towards the couch and coffee table behind me.“Jana will be with you shortly. Can I offer you something to drink—coffee, tea?” I eyeballed the bloke sitting on the couch. “Is that all you’ve got?” “I’m sorry.” My comment took her by surprise. “Coffee, tea, or me,” I said. “That’s how the saying goes in America. I was wondering if Icould pass on coffee and tea.” She thought about it for a minute, and laughed. “Yes, well, I am married.” Raising her left hand, her gold ring glittered. “Take a seat andJana will be with you shortly.” I laughed. “That’s what I figured, beautiful girl like you. Can’t blame a guy for trying. Acoffee would be wonderful.” There’s a world of difference between looking for a place to stay when you have no moneyand trying to find love. The last few years had pretty well turned me off of love, anyway, so Igladly accepted my hot coffee when the blonde brought it over, and leafed through a magazineabout Czech film. I was deep into an article about noir cinema when I heard my name. 3
  4. 4. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Caleb, I am Zuzana, the Director of Studies. Jana will meet with you tomorrow, if that’sokay.” She brushed her brown locks over her shoulder. Slouching in my chair, she towered overme. “Right now, though, I have a pressing concern. I just had a teacher cancel. I need you tofill in for a lesson over near Florenc, if you are able.” “Yes, of course.” “Great. It’s a public class. They meet at fourteen hundred hours. If you leave now, youshould make it.” She gave me a map and sent me on my way. So much for lesson planning. I guess she tookme for a professional. I neglected to tell her I didn’t have enough money for tram fare. I didn’tthink it would serve me well in the future, so I stood outside on the sidewalk, inspecting the map.The sun was straight overhead by now. Its blinding sheen flashed off the cobbles and storefrontwindows. The wind hadn’t let up. I took a chill. The blisters on my feet stung like hell but itwas time to start walking. Past the restaurant on the corner, I smelled schnitzels and fresh bread.My stomach growled. I didn’t know where I’d find my next meal. The 24 train came along. Ifollowed the swarm of people, jumped on, and road away from the city-center, cars streamingby, cabs honking their horns, people on the sidewalk buying scarves, spilling out of pubs. Thetram rolled past a small Renaissance church. Its lone spire and weathered stone walls looked likethey’d seen a thousand years. I was digging life in Prague. There for a minute and already I’dfound work. When we rolled up to Praha Masarykovo, another railway in town, a hoard ofpeople got off the tram and two guys in drab coats boarded. I didn’t pay much attention, sittingthere, taking in the scene, beautiful buildings streaming by, until people rows ahead of me beganshuffling around and chattering. I saw the silver flash of a badge. It was time to jump. I didn’tcare how far away the school was. It was time to go. I had no money for a fine. And I didn’t 4
  5. 5. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinswant to go to jail. The tram kept rolling. The detectives meandered down the aisle. I lookedbehind me. Another detective was checking tickets in the back of the car. I was fucked. The oldladies rows ahead of me had their tickets out and ready. The detectives smiled. There was nostalling them. When they moved on to the students right in front of me, one of the kids got allshifty. A few kids stood up, sticking tram passes in the detectives’ faces, and talking all kinds ofshit. The cops weren’t having it. They shoved them aside and cornered the kid in front of me.They were shouting and the poor kid began shaking. His friends jumped up and swarmed thedetectives. The wheels of the tram screeched, metal whining. I got ready to spin around and boltout the side door. All the kids were screaming. The detectives sat them down. One of the copsstarted writing a ticket while the other one pressed the kid for his ID. The kid reached into hisback pocket, his face wrinkled like he would cry, when the tram pulled to rest. The othersstormed the cops and their buddy split and ran out the side door. I didn’t have the chance to getup. The others followed, stumbling over each other as they leapt onto the sidewalk. The copstook off after them. The kids scattered. People in the tram pressed up against the glass,watching the cops sprint down the street.I got off the tram at Florenc and studied my map. There would be blood when I peeled off myboots. Cars zipped by. I strolled past a few Herna bars, a shoe store, and finally made it toKarlínské náměstí. Benches lined the square. It was quiet. A couple guys were passing a bottleacross the way. I turned down Peckova ulice, overstepping piles of dog shit. A cathedral rose inthe middle of the square. Chain-linked fence guarded its stained-glass. Beer cans and brokenbottles littered the ground in front of its dingy facade. I crossed Křižíkova and looped around 5
  6. 6. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinsbehind the church. A couple guys stood in front of a four-story building, smoking cigarettes. Istrolled up with my bag and asked if this was the language school. “This is whorehouse. You must to be fresh meat.” I lit a smoke of my own. “Fresh as it gets,” I said. “Just arrived in Prague.” “Fresh off the train,” the other guy said. “They always send us greenhorn.” I took a drag. “I been around.” “You speak Czech?” “Mluvím trochu česky,” I said. “Ale mluvím špatně.” “Ahh, that is bull shit. You learn that from phrasebook. How you supposed to learn usanything if you don’t even know us.” “I am Russian. I give no dams.” “You shouldnt give a damn,” I said. “I can still teach you guys something even though Idon’t speak Czech.” “This is bull shit,” the smart ass said. “Class taken over first by Russian, now by greenhornAmerican. Czech history repeating itself. It is Velvet Revolution all over again.” We had a good laugh. “What are your names?” I asked. “I’m Caleb.” “I am Vadim,” the Russian said. “It is pleasure to meet you.” “And you?” I asked. “What’s your name, smart ass?” “This is Pavel,” Vadim said. “He is detective. Don’t mind him. He is just pissed hisgirlfriend fucks everyone else on police force.” I pitched my smoke aside and slapped them both on the back. 6
  7. 7. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Well, gentlemen, I’m your teacher for the day. Whattya say we do this?” “Fresh off the train,” Pavel said. “We pay good money and they send us always greenhorn.” I opened the door and followed them through. Up the stairs to the third floor, I trailed theminto the classroom. It smelled like chalk dust. There were two other students sitting down: a girland another guy. I flung my bag in the corner and opened the window. “I want to get to know you all,” I said. “Take out a piece of paper.” I stole a piece from Vadim. “Now fold it in half,” I said. “And fold it again, so it stands up like a sign.” I dropped my folded piece down on my desk. “You see that?” I asked. “Now you’ve got a nametag. Write your name on the front.” I wrote in big letters, CALEB, and stood my nametag on the desk. “Now I want you to think of two adjectives that begin with the first letter of your name, anytwo adjectives that begin with the same letter, and write them down on the back of your nametag.Don’t tell anybody. Keep them a secret for now.” I wrote down my own and gave them a minute. I had to holler at Vadim and Pavel forspeaking Czech. We went around the room. Jana was joyful and jumpy. The slim guy next toher, wearing glasses, said his name was Adam. He was still thumbing through his dictionarywhen I called on him. “I am awesome.” He flipped another page, found the word he was looking for, andstraightened his glasses. “I am awesome and anxious.” “Good, now, say them with me.” I wrote the adjectives on the board. “Awesome, anxiousAdam. Joyful, jumpy Jana. How about you, Pavel?” “I have only one.” 7
  8. 8. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Let’s hear it. We’ll help you out.” “I am powerful.” Vadim roared with laughter. “You are pussy.” “Guys, come on, there’s a lady in the room.” “She doesn’t care,” Vadim said. “You don’t care, do you, Jana?” “Pussy Pavel,” she said, laughing. “Powerful, pussy Pavel.” I took that for no, and wrote the words on the board. “You are bastard, Vadim.” “My name does not start with B,” Vadim said. “My name starts with V, you pussy. I amvillain.” “Villainous Vadim.” I wrote the word on the board. “What’s your other adjective, Vadim?” “That’s all I have. I am villain.” “You are villainous,” I said. “Let’s help him out, guys. What’s another adjective?” “You are Viagra,” Pavel said. “You have soft penis. You are Viagra Vadim.” It was no wonder they couldn’t keep a teacher around. “Villainous, Viagra-eating Vadim.” I wrote it down. “Now say them with me.” We drilledthe words. They wrote down the new vocabulary and I explained adjective endings, how to turna noun into a descriptor. “What are your words, teacher?” “Cute Caleb.” Jana laughed. “He is crazy greenhorn,” Pavel said. “Crazy Caleb.” “I am courageous.” I went to the board. “And here’s a new one for you. I bet you’ve neverheard this word.” 8
  9. 9. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins CONCUPISCENT “I am courageous, concupiscent Caleb. Say it with me. Con-cupe-ih-scent.” “What does it mean?” Adam asked, shifting his glasses. “Look it up.” Vadim was already tearing through his dictionary. He howled, laughing, and blurted outsomething in Czech. “It means nadrženy. You want for to make sex.” “That’s close.” I laughed. “It means I am lusty. I’m desirous.” “Jumpy Jana jump on cute Caleb.” Pavel clapped his hands. “Jumpy Jana jump for joy andmake greenhorn baby.” “All right. All right. Pipe down, you powerful pussy. We’ve got work to do.” “What is this pipe down?” Vadim asked. “I do not know.” “Exactly,” I said. “Take out another piece of paper. We’re going to learn some new phrasalverbs.” A couple hours later, I dismissed the class and stayed behind to erase the chalkboard. Janahad a couple questions about a letter she was writing for her boss. We read through the draft. Ipointed out a few errors, made some suggestions. She thanked me and left with a coy smile. Igathered my bag and flipped off the lights. When I got outside, Pavel and Vadim were smokingcigarettes. “You guys, again. Can’t I get rid of you?” “Caleb, you must to join us,” Vadim said. “We are going for to find bitches.” 9
  10. 10. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins I pulled out a smoke. “You are, are you?” “You said you are nadrženy,” Pavel said. “You do like bitches, no?” “I like bitches just fine,” I said. “Let me get a light.” Vadim dug through his pocket and handed over a book of matches. “From the looks of that ring on your finger, Vadim, you already went looking for bitches onetoo many times.” I sparked my cigarette. “And what about you, Pavel, I thought you had agirlfriend?” “Ahh, you really are greenhorn,” Pavel said. “You are in Czech Republic, man. When inPrague, do like Czechs.” “Yeah, I think I’ll pass.” I sucked down a piney drag. “Just got in town. I gotta findsomeplace to stay, get something to eat.” “You come with us,” Pavel said. “We get food at pub. You find someplace to stay later. Itis not hard. There are hostels.” “Sounds great. But I’ve got no money.” “You come with me,” Vadim said. “I take you my place. I have café in Nové Město. Weserve food and drink.” “I’ll pay you once I get money for this lesson.” “I give you gratis.” Pavel growled. “Lenka will be there, no?” “Yes, Lenka will be there.” They started arguing in Czech. Pavel stormed off. “Very well, then. We go to my place for food and drink.” I took the last drag from my smoke, nodded at Pavel, who was climbing into his car; he 10
  11. 11. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinsslammed the door. “What about him?” “Never mind him,” Vadim said. “He is racist bastard. He does not like my wife.”We parked his Beamer around the corner from his place. It was a quaint café along the VltavaRiver in New Town. Before going inside, we strolled across Rašínovo nábřeží and watched theboats pass. All the old bridges sprawled over the river and off in the distance I could see PragueCastle and the rising spires of St. Vitus’ Cathedral. Buildings fronted with plaster and roofedwith red tiles stretched across the opposite bank. Vadim was standing with his back against therailing. He said he’d inherited the property from his father, who’d moved to Prague when Vadimwas just a young boy. He’d lived upstairs for as long as he could remember. “U Trojická. It is called U Trojická because it is on corner of Trojická ulice.” I turned around to have a look at the place. “U Trojická,” I said. “That’s a catchy name.” “It mean place where is group of three. It be only wife and me since my father die.” The place was empty when we stepped inside. There was a band-riser by the front windows,a few booths along the wall and some tables. The Russian pulled out a stool for me at the bar. “Ahoj, Lenku, kde jsi?” She called out to him from the kitchen in back. He went around the bar and poured two pintsof beer. “Nazdravi” He lifted his glass. “To my new friend.” We toasted glasses. There was a strange look in his eye. 11
  12. 12. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “I must to go say hi to my wife. I will get you food. Give me minutes.” He disappeared around the corner. I pulled out a cigarette and sat there smoking anddrinking my beer. I could hear them talking in back. I had no idea what they were saying butthe Russian sounded excited. He had a beaming grin on his face when he came back out. “Here is food.” He set a plate of roast duck, bread dumplings and cabbage down before me. I dug in. Hestood there sipping his beer, watching me eat. “You like food?” he asked. “Lenka is good cook. You like?” “Yeah, it’s tasty.” “I hope you like.” I nodded and kept eating. It was my first solid meal since leaving Paris. “What you do in Prague?” “Teach for a while,” I said. “Till I get bored and go somewhere else.” “You like teach?” “I like it enough. It keeps me fed.” “What else you do?” I didn’t know what he meant. “You seem smart man,” he said. “You know business?” “Sure, I know a little.” “I need—how you say—I need manger.” “You need manger?” I asked. “What are you, farming sheep?” “I need manger for my café.” “Ohh, you need a manager.” 12
  13. 13. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Yes, manger. I need manger. Business is different these days. Many expatriates in café.You help?” I sat back and sipped my beer. “Hey, look, I appreciate the food. But right now I need someplace to sleep and I need to getsome classes so I can get paid.” “You sleep here,” Vadim said. “You sleep in guest bedroom. We have room upstairs. Youstay with us and learn me English and do me odd jobs and keep expatriates happy at nighttime.” He gave me some more about U Trojická being the place where there are three, how he hadthis English bloke working for him a while back, and how he couldnt figure out why hed left. “You like it here, no?” I’d put down my third beer by then, and lit the cigar he gave me. “Listen, I’m supposed tomeet this teaching coordinator tomorrow about work. These lessons are supposed to pay reallywell. But I’ll think about it, Vadim. I’ll definitely think about it.”She came in to clear my dishes. With her alabastrine skin and sleek black locks, she had adifferent look about her than the Czech beauties walking the sidewalk. In her eyes was a proudand damning beauty. I wanted to slap her in the face, shake her from her sleepy routine. “Meet my precious wife.” She never even glanced at me. I nodded at the Russian and puffed on my cigar as she walkedaway, and that was all. She disappeared as quickly as she’d arrived. It was like she wasn’t eventhere. Vadim kept trying to sell me on the job for the next half hour. By the end of his spiel, Iwas out in the courtyard in back, sanding chairs so I could touch them with a fresh coat of 13
  14. 14. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinsvarnish. “This is good,” Vadim said. “We make good business. What is last name, Caleb?” “O’Connor. Caleb O’Connor.” “I am Vadim Revnik.” We shook hands and he went inside. I had a piece of plywood splayed over a couple sawhorses. I got busy sanding. From my work station, I could see her back and forth through thekitchen window. 2 14
  15. 15. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason CollinsThe place was jumping by about ten o’clock at night. This three piece jazz band had themhowling. The tenor sax player set off on one of his runs, honking away, then he aired it out andlet the droning bass line coming through under his soft vibrato. All the while the drummer keptriding the hi-hat and laying down rim shots. People were bopping their heads to the steadythump of his bass drum. He beat the toms, rolled on the snare; the loud crash of his splashcymbal set the sax player off. The kitchen was open for another hour. Drinks were flowing. Wewere raking it in. Vadim set me up with another tray of beer. I dropped a few frothy half-liters at the cornerbooth, penned a few lines on their tab, and walked across the room to the group of Englishblokes waving me down. “How many, fellas?” “Better make it five, mate.” I dropped the beers down in a group. These guys had been doing some damage. I had to flipover their tab to mark their latest drinks. “Band’s killing tonight,” I said. “You guys picked a good night. You here on stag?” “Bloody right. I’m getting married soon as I get back to the UK.” “You’ll have to come back before you leave town. You having a good time?” “Bloody good time,” the groom said. “A right and proper lead in to the pussy I’m going tomunch tonight.” 15
  16. 16. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Right and proper if you served me the right fucking food.” “Shut up and eat, you drunken bastard.” The guy across from the groom wasn’t having it. “Fuck that. This isn’t what I ordered. Where am I, Beijing?” “Is there a problem?” I asked. “You’re fucking right, there’s a problem. I ordered the pork and you bring me this shite.”He shoved his plate across the table. The cabbage lobbed over the edge in a soggy heap. “Well, if you didn’t order the duck, I’ll be glad to get you what you ordered.” I snatched theplate from the middle of the table. “Your next round’s on me, guys.” “Thanks, mate.” The groom gave me a nod. I set the tray of beer on the bar. The Russian shot me a weird look when I walked past. He’dbeen setting me up with trays of food all night. Lodged behind the bar, he was the middlemanbetween his wife in the kitchen and me on the floor. I carried the plate through the swingingdoors in the back of the room. The stink of garlic and boiling fat pressed on the kitchen walls. “Roast duck. You people sure know how to make roast duck.” “What you talking, you people?” “You and Pan Revnik,” I said. “You stuffed me full of roast duck earlier—my first meal inPrague. And now you’re sending it out to customers who didn’t even order it.” “That’s not what you meant.” “It’s like it’s your national dish.” “You think I’m Chinese.” “No, I don’t.” “Yes, you do. You think I’m Chinese. You come back here talking about roast duck, my 16
  17. 17. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinsnational dish. You see my black hair, my dark skin. You think I’m Chinese, admit it. I’m notChinese. You want to last around here?” “You don’t look Chinese.” “I’m as Chinese as you are.” “You don’t look Chinese at all. Chinese women are all short with stumpy legs. They’ve gotthose round heads, like bowling balls. They’re always spitting all over the place. You don’tlook Chinese. Not at all. You’re tall, elegant. Got those long legs, Slavic cheekbones, poutylips. You don’t look Chinese at all.” “My name used to be Novatna before I got married. That sound Chinese to you?” “Not so much.” “My father’s Czech. My mother was Vietnamese. I come from Brno. You know where thatis?” I nodded. “Novatna, you say. Now it’s Revnikova. You have a proper name?” “Lenka. Call me Lenka.” There was an edge in her voice. It wasn’t her dark hair, or the roast duck. It was her Russianhusband who made her feel like she wasn’t Czech. She was worried I’d begin calling her Mrs.Revnikova, remind her that she was his. “Lenka, it is. You can call me Caleb.” She began swapping the duck on the plate with pork. Her shoulder brushed mine. I couldsmell a hint of lavender perfume. The way her shirt fell over her collarbone turned me on. Ileaned over real close, feeling the first pulse of an erection, and whispered into her ear. “Why’d you marry that Russian, anyway?” The gravy ladle fell from her hand splashing on the floor. 17
  18. 18. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “That is no business of yours.” “Sure, it is.” “Here’s your pork.” I thanked her and walked out. She heard what I had to say and it hit her hard. I knew sheunderstood, all right. Even if she wanted nothing to do with me, she’d know what I was about.After hours that night, we tipped our glasses at the table in front of the bar. The Russian washappy with all the money wed made. He poured shots of Becherovka and kept the beer flowing.We picked from the spread of food in front of us: pickled herring in sour cream, slices ofcucumber and chunks of cheese. He handed me a couple thousand koruny and told me to keepthem—pocket money. He was really proud, the Russian. When the bowl of herring was empty,he thumped his fist down on the table and got all excited. “Get him food, Lenka. He work hard tonight. See you not man is hungry?” “He knows where it is.” “Im fine. I dont think I could eat another thing.” The Russian kept at her. They were speaking Czech. I understood about every sixth wordthey said, and then gave up trying. It was about that time Lenka rolled her eyes and walked offin a huff. “You see her?” the Russian asked. “She is malá kočka. My little bird.” “Happy marriage,” I grumbled. “You two are made for each other.” “It is happy of happy.” “Happy of happy, hah?” 18
  19. 19. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Yes. Happy than happy you could know.” “That sounds pretty happy.” “Happy fucking sleď.” Lenka dropped the bowl of herring on the table and fell into her chair. Her knees caved intowards each other; her hands were draped limply over her thighs. She was a strong woman.Every inch of her breathed a vitality barely contained. I wondered how long it took the Russianto break her down. “She get angry sometime,” the Russian said. “But she is all right. My little girl. My littlekočka.” He got up and brushed her cheek on the way out. Her lips pursed, eyes closed. She lookedlike she was fighting not to turn away. The Russian walked through the kitchen. I could hear hiscreaking footsteps up the stairs. A pitiless fire burned in her eyes when she looked at me. I satthere with her, not saying a word, not moving, not till I felt a singe on my finger and had to quitlooking at her to stamp out my cigarette butt. I lit another one. She reached past her husbandspack for one of my smokes, lit it, and sat back, one leg crossed over the other, her head cocked tothe side, showing a long patch of neck, blowing lazy streams of smoke and watching it writhefrom her black fingernails to the tin ceiling. She grew bolder before my gaze. The Russian cameback with a bottle and a squeezebox slung over his neck. She didnt budge. The current ofsmoke interrupted, blown aside, she kept staring at her fingertips till the steady stream floatedskyward in fast and direct flight from our lonely tabletop. “You must to try this.” He slapped the bottle down and went behind the bar. When he came back, he filled thebottom of three glasses. 19
  20. 20. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “This is Russian wodka from homeland where was my father born. My uncle send me bottle,special. Velmi expensive. Very expensive Russian wodka.” “Ohh, no, I dont drink vodka.” “You must to try this.” He shoved the glass in my hand. “To my new friend. Nazdravi.” The vodka burned like gasoline in the pit of my stomach and I felt something come alive.My cheeks flushed. The Russian filled all three glasses. “To my little kočka.” I raised my glass and gave her a nod. She wouldnt look at me. She just gulped down hershot and dropped her arm down on the table, glass in hand, all nonchalant. The Russian pouredanother round. “To U Trojická. Place where should be—where is—three people.” He jumped from his chair. His feet shuffled along to the hoozah hoozah sounds of hissqueezebox. He started singing in Czech—in Russian, I dont know. The echo of his voiceboomed off the walls of the cafe and rang in my ears. Every once in a while, hed belt out thischorus: “To my new friend. To my little kočka. To U Trojická. To the three of us—hey!” Thenhe was right back to the foreign tongue. I couldnt take it anymore. What came alive in me withthat first shot of vodka was crawling and scratching to get out. He must have seen it in my face.He dropped the squeezebox—it wheezed, dangling from his neck—and hoisted me up by thearm. “We go outside. Get some air. You feel like million krowns.” A halo of light from the kitchen kissed the solemn black courtyard. I walked to the edge ofits shadowy reach and sat down. 20
  21. 21. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Just take yourself easy. You feel better.” His dark profile leaned up against the door jamb. “Ill be all right,” I said. “You guys go on up.” “Nonsense. I wait for you. We wait for you.” “Ill be up shortly. Im just going to get some air.” “Tomorrow you start me English lessons.” “You got it.” He ducked inside. The door swung clapping shut behind him. I let it all come up, a steamingpool of vodka, herring and cucumber at my feet. One of the neighbors cats rubbed against myleg, began lapping it up. I slid my chair back a ways. The lights on the second floor turned on;the lights on the third floor followed. Their silhouettes eased by the windows. It hollowed meout watching their shadows merge. I felt like hell.The courtyard was a mess the next morning. A storm had blown through in the middle of thenight. The winds whipping down the Vltava had ripped a piece from the roof over the back door.All the chairs Id varnished and left to dry were tossed about, scratched and scuffed, plasteredwith filth, and once more in need of sanding. A tree limb had fallen. Branches lay scattered allover the ground. Chards of ceramic roofing tile stuck out of the dirt like errantly sprayedshrapnel. One of the neighbors windows had shattered—struck by another felled tree limb. Thejagged remnants shimmered in a dusty heap along the back wall. “That was crazy storm. Most bad I see in months. Thunder and lightning keep me up allnight.” 21
  22. 22. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Yeah, it was pretty rowdy.” “What is this rowdy?” “It means wild, crazy.” “Like my wife?” “Sure, like your wife.” Vadim slapped me on the back. “Look at mess. We kill last night with you working floor asmanger and now I spend all money in repair.” “Yeah, its pretty bad,” I said. “You got a pair of gloves?” “What for you need gloves?” I took a sip of coffee. “Our English lesson’s outside today. Its time to clean this up.” We’d reframed and reshingled the overhang in the courtyard by noon. All the branches andbrush strewn about had been raked into a pile. I ran through present continuous and pastparticiple usages while plucking pieces of tile from the fecund soil. Vadim and I strolled aroundthe courtyard, giving voice to our present actions, why we were doing them, what had happened.Through tangible movement, his English progressed faster than it ever would in a dustyclassroom. “I pick up broken glass that fall to ground when tree limb break and smash.” He threwchards of glass crashing onto our pile of inorganic waste. “I am picking up broken glass,” I said, “that fell to the ground when the tree limb smashedthe window.” Vadim growled, scooped a handful of glass, dropped it chiming onto the pile. “I am pick upbroken glass that fell to ground when tree limb broke off and smashed.” 22
  23. 23. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Thats good,” I said. “You have any gasoline?” He looked at me like I had two heads. “Petrol. You have petrol?” “Ahh, mam tady petrol,” Vadim said. “I will get. But what for you need petrol?” “Weve got to burn this brush pile.” “Yes, big fire. Big fire and it like no storm.” The Russian and I stood around the crackling brush fire, warming our workworn hands. Thegas and stillgreen branches made the fire burn all violet and orange. A thick plume of smokewrestled violently into the sky, sparks flying, before diffusing into the gray horizon. “You know youre losing money.” “How I lose money?” I lit a cigarette. “Shouldve turned this courtyard into a beer garden by now.” Vadim shrugged off the suggestion. “I mean it. Think of all the afternoon customers you could shuffle into the cafe once theband was playing. A beer garden on the Vltava would kill.” “Beer garden is bull shit.” “All right. A beer gardens bull shit.” He left me outside sanding chairs. Half an hour later he was back out with a diagram heddrawn up. He had all these tables penciled in, and a fire pit, and overhead lighting. His wifecould see to the front room during the day and I could take care of the customers out back. Thiswould leave him free to attend to business in town. We could work on his English in theafternoon, when it was slow, and it would be business as usual at night. “Now youre talking. Theyre gonna be handing over their money.” 23
  24. 24. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “It is great idea, no?” “It sure is, Vadim. You should get supplies, hire an electrician. Let me at it. Just think. UTrojická—jazz bar, cafe, beer garden. The place where theres three.” “U Trojická, yes. I do it today.”The big hardware depot was only twenty minutes away, in Budějovická, but the Russian dandiedhimself up like he was going to a state dinner at Prague Castle. After eating lunch, he left and Ilocked the door behind him. I grabbed our dishes and carried them into the kitchen. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “Im doing well.” I dumped the plates rattling on the countertop. “That vodka takes getting used to.” “Not sure it was vodka made me sick.” “What was that?” I heard the front door rattling. “Sounds like somebodys trying to get in.” She wiped her hands off on a towel. “Did Vadim lock the door?” “I locked it.” She stepped back. Her fingers got all jittery around her waistline, her neck, till she collectedherself. The rattling stopped: whoever was pulling at the door knob left. “Were losing money.” “Who cares.” 24
  25. 25. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Yeah, well, its not yours to lose.” She stormed past me out into the dining room. I followed her. “You closed the blinds?” “Yeah, it got bright while we were eating.” She peeked through, apparently seeing no one at the door, and spun around. “What are youtrying to do?” “Whattya think Im trying to do? I moved towards her but she scurried past. She was almost in full sprint when I caught herby the booth in the back corner. “Let me go. Leave me alone.” I pressed my lips against hers. She clawed at my face and pushed me away. “Im going to tell Vadim.” I had her close, my arm around her back. I grabbed a handful of black hair and looked herstraight in the eye. Her legs kicked around me, arms flailed. Her body went soft. I let go andshe scrambled back, bracing herself against the back booths tabletop, her frock twisted over herframe. Her eyes burned with that same pitiless fire I saw the night before. I dont know who wasbreathing heavier. I reached for the back of her neck, pulled her close, and felt her legs wraparound me, drawing me near her on the tabletop. “The doors locked. Nobody can get in.” I reached under her dress, pulled off her panties. I was between her legs, my hand around herthroat. She tore at my fly. With her hand around my shaft, she drew me sliding through her wetlips, over coarse hair, and back between her soft flesh. I clutched her neck, bit her lip, and thrustdeep inside her. 25
  26. 26. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Hit me. . . . Hit me, please. . . . Hit me. . . . Do it.” My backhand fell smack across her mouth. Her head turned sideways, hair flying. I split herlip. Her eyes raged with desire. I fucked till she cried. By the time I was done, I couldnt move.I was lightheaded, ears ringing. I fell flat on top of her. We curled up in the back booth. 3 26
  27. 27. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason CollinsI was sore for days. It didnt help that the Russian had me working like a dog, around the clock.I had the idea that he was taking it out on me, my idea for the beer garden, his wife gettingsomehow jacked in the face. The first thing was to take the swinging doors in the kitchen off thehinges and jigsaw a couple diamond-shaped windows in them, so you could see when somebodywas coming in or going out. Now with the three of us running around the place, he didnt wantanybody else getting clocked in the mug, not after seeing the way Lenkas lip bruised andswelled up. I dont know if he bought the story she fed him. She told him she went running outto the floor, hearing a customer, about the time I came running in from the courtyard for anothertrash bag. It didnt matter. Id stuffed seven hundred krowns in the drawer, like wed servedsomebody, and the only time I caught a glimpse of her in the days to follow was after hours,when wed sit around eating and drinking in the halfdark before heading upstairs for bed. It waslike my first night there. She never even looked at me. The Russian and I would sit there talkingice hockey or George Bush and Lenka, with her everburning cigarette, would sit staring at thesteady stream of smoke rising from her fingertips. In the mornings, the Russian pulled me out ofbed with a cup of coffee so I could get down to the courtyard to supervise the electrician. In three days time I sanded and varnished all the tables and chairs in the dining room. I cutplanks and framed the canopy for the string of overhead lights outback. I bolted picnic tablestogether and built a bussing station to collect beer glasses. The laidrock firepit was my favoritetouch. Id come across a pile of old roofing slate in the back corner. Around the central ring ofboulders, I laid down a slate floor that extended a couple meters out from the firepit. It was areal beauty. After Jakub, the electrician, was done late in the afternoon, hed roll a spliff andwed get high watching the days scrapwood burn. Then Id be back inside, making the bandhappy, chatting with customers, serving food and drink all night. 27
  28. 28. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins That Friday, I brought Vadim out back after we locked the doors. “I want you to see this.” “I see earlier. It look good.” “It wasnt dark earlier.” “Dark, no dark, it no difference.” He must have thought I wanted a pat on the back. I made him close his eyes and draggedhim along behind me. I hit the juice, the canopy of white lights lit up the courtyard like stolenconstellations. Orange embers from that afternoons fire were still smoldering in the fire pit.“Have a look, Vadim.” I threw my arm over his shoulder. He opened his eyes and mutteredsomething in Czech. “Ive got to hand it to you, my man. Theyre gonna be begging you to taketheir money.” “Is beautiful. I make good idea, no?” “You sure did. This beer garden was a wonderful idea.” He nodded. “I make good idea.”I slept in the next morning. My lace curtains obscured the scene outside. The buildings acrossthe river rose like a pointillistic mirage. I crossed the room and, drawing back the curtains,pulled the brass lever down. The windows eased open on their own. The cool air filled mynostrils and gave me a jolt. The sun shimmered in corrugated bands across the Vltava River,waves of gold and black rolling over each other. I caught a strong whiff of garlic and paprika:Lenka was already simmering the days goulash downstairs. My stomach growled. A womanand her dog were walking along the riverside. The dog sniffed the foot of the Staropramen 28
  29. 29. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinsbillboard and raised its leg. I filled my lungs and closed the window. It was ten oclock. TheRussian was giving me a break. He and I must have been friends again. “Eat some strudel.” “I dont want strudel.” Vadim was sitting at the table outside my room. I took a piss and came back out to join him,eyes still heavy. He saw me yawning. “There is fresh pot of coffee.” “You know your sink upstairs is leaking into my bathroom—probably leaking into the bar.” “Why dont you fix?” He sat flipping through the morning paper. There was a grease-smeared plate in front of himlittered with bread crusts. I pawed through the refrigerator. “Dont yall have any eggs up here?” “I finish eggs. You must to go downstairs.” I ran down the hairpin flights of stairs dropping into the kitchen. It was the first time Idcaught her alone in days. I rushed up behind her and swung my fist into her hamstring so hardshe almost curled over. I held her up so she didnt fall. “Good morning.” “You bastard. Why are you such an animal?” I held her in my arms. “Your English is so much better than your husbands. You could really teach him a fewthings, if you cared.” “Fuck off.” She peeled herself away. 29
  30. 30. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “How are you, Lenka?” “How do you think?” I tapped her cheek in play. “A lot better since Ive been here.” “I am lousy.” I stroked her cheek and kissed her bruised lip. “I just came down for a couple eggs.” I brushed hair from her face. It was my first chance to really see her wounds. The skinsurrounding her lips was turning purple to yellow. She froze before my touch. Her dark eyeswere locked on mine, but they were hesitant. Her lips twitched. “You’re beautiful.” Her expression softened. “You’re a greenhorn American.” “You havent been able to look me in the eye.” Her head fell. I stroked her cheek and kissed her on the forehead. After grabbing my eggs, Iwas gone.The beer garden was a big hit. We wrote on the chalkboard sign out front that it was open. Acouple German tourists were the first to stroll in midafternoon. A group of English teachersfollowed them. Before long they were on their cell phones, texting friends about the new spaceand telling them to come by. The British blokes I met my first night came back. Even Jakub, theelectrician, stopped by with a few of his pals. By nightfall, every picnic table outback waspacked. I got the bonfire roaring. There was a collective gasp when I flipped the switch and thecanopy of lights came alive. 30
  31. 31. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins Once the band started playing, people shuffled inside. Vadim was loving it. He pulled measide to drink a shot with him. “We make killing! To U Trojická!” By the end of the set, the gypsy jazz quartet was playing to a standing-room-only crowd.The Russian was drunk. He disappeared upstairs. I served the band a drink and gave them theircash. The crowd petered out. After I cut the lights out back, the last few stragglers pissed on thefire and went on their way. I locked the front door and cut the lights. I didnt much feel like sitting around drinking bymyself. I went upstairs. The light was on in my room. Lenka was in my bed. She lay on top ofthe covers fully dressed. “Wheres Vadim?” “Upstairs sleeping.” “Thats early.” “He gets drunk every day. Saturdays are the worst.” “Arent you worried hell come down? “He passed out, naked. He only sleeps naked when he is too drunk to find his pajamas. Hesnot going anywhere.” I killed the light and crawled in beside her. “Im exhausted.” “Me too.” “Hold me.” I nuzzled my cheek against hers and wrapped my arm around her. When I woke in themiddle of the night she was gone. 31
  32. 32. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason CollinsSome go to church: Czechs go to the beer garden on Sundays. The April sun brought them out inforce. As fast as the Russian filled up trays with beer, they were sucking them down out back. Ihad all I could do to keep up. When I ran in for my fourth tray, Vadim was sitting in the cornerbooth with some guy in a business suit. I poured the beers myself and ran them outside. Inanother minute I was back in for more. “You be busy out there.” “Youre telling me.” The suit was gone and Vadim was behind the bar. He began filling another tray. “How you say, insurance man, go to asshole?” “Insurance man, go to asshole.” “You no understand, moj Kalebku. In Czech, we have saying, do pradele. It mean go toasshole.” “Wed say kiss my ass or suck my dick.” “I like that. Even on weekend they give no rest. Suck dick, insurance man.” “There you go, Vadim. Youre English is really coming along.” He set the last beer on the tray. “Hey, listen, I must to leave. I need you to take care forpeople inside while I am away. Is that okay?” “You got it.” I ran the beers out to a group of college kids. The bus bucket was full ofglasses, so I lugged it into the kitchen. Lenka hovered over the countertop, her back to me,preparing food. “Its just you and me for a while.” 32
  33. 33. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Where is Vadim?” “He had to run to town for something.” She spun around, her head hung low. When she brushed the hair from her face, I saw shehad a black eye. I dropped the bucket of glasses chattering on the counter. “So thats what youre into?” “You do not understand.” “Ohh, I understand. You look like a goddamned punching bag. Im down here busting myass all morning and you two are up there fucking.” “I did not have sex with him.” “What?” “I couldnt. He wanted to. But I could not let him touch me.” “So he hit you?” Her head fell. I crossed the room and held her in my arms.The next day, Monday, we closed up shop. The Russian told me they always took Monday offand I was exhausted. I wasnt going to argue. There was a big party the next day—somebirthday party, bridal shower, something—and he needed Lenka and me to run to town forsupplies. Once we finished breakfast, he rose up from the table and brushed her cheek, rightunder where hed cuffed her. “My little bird need to breathe air. It be good to get her out for while.” Her jaw clenched and she closed her eyes. The Russian ran his thumb over her thick lips. Arash breath shot through her nose; her shoulders tensed. 33
  34. 34. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “This cage get small sometime and little bird have to flap wings.” He walked off, laughing.“Take car. Keys on counter. I ride train into center. See you here tonight. We drink wodka,make song. It be good time.” He rapped his knuckles on the countertop and strolled down the stairs. His whistling hungbehind him. The kitchen door swung breezing, squeaking, thud thudding footsteps. The frontdoor slammed. Lenka shivered; her eyes shot open. “Fuck me.” “Youre crazy. Hes got you dialed like a mad woman.” “Fuck me, Caleb.” I sipped my coffee and lit a cigarette. “I need you.” “You need somebody to take you away from this Russian.” She slapped her hands down on the table. “I need you.” She came over and sat in my lap. I kept puffing on my smoke. She grabbed my head, lookedme in the eye, and got all serious. “I need you.” “You need an ice pack. You look like you went ten rounds with Tyson.” “Who is Tyson?” “Dont worry about it.” She tugged on my hair and lifted her leg, straddling me. I could feel her pelvic bone grindingon my flesh. Clothing on skin: the friction was killing me. I was hard. I had to have her soon. “I need you.” “You dont know me.” 34
  35. 35. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “You dont know me either.” “We havent wasted much time on chit chat.” I puffed on my smoke and turned it around so she could have a drag. She ran her fingersthrough my hair and gave it another yank. “Are you going to fuck me?” she asked. “Or would you rather talk all morning?” My cigarette burned to nothing in the ashtray.An hour later, she and I jumped in the Russians Beamer. I slid the seat back and gotcomfortable. I half expected horrid techno music when I turned the key, but I was pleasantlysurprised by Adams Apple, old Wayne Shorter with Herbie Hancock on keys. We shot acrossthe Vltava River on Palackého most and parked near Andél. All the candles, streamers and foodwe needed were found in the few block radius of shops. It was like a different world over therein Smíchov. I felt like I was back in America walking through a shopping a mall. The sight of asecond McDonalds gave me the creeps. “We done here?” Lenka nodded. We jumped in the car and started driving. “Turn left.” She turned down the volume of the music. “Turn left on Janáčkovo náměstí. Iwant to show you something.” We drove north along the bank of the Vltava. The grandiose walls of Prague Castle rose onthe hilltop ahead. A few spare islands cut off my view of the climbing spires and Renaissancebuildings across the river. “Turn left. Turn left here.” 35
  36. 36. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins I cut off a tram—it was close, but not that close—and we parked in what must have beenMalá Strana. “This is Petřín Hill. Come on. You are going to love this.” I slammed the car door shut. She grabbed me by the hand and led me up this sprawlingmountain, past a funicular car, along a winding path with apple trees littering the green hillside,on past a playground, the path still winding through some apple trees, the grass growing taller,until her playful steps slowed in front of a bench near the top of the hill. “Have a look.” I turned around, catching my breath, and caught view of Staré Město across the river, theglittery gold rooftop of the National Theatre, the Charles Bridge dumping hoards of tourists intothe winding streets, a thousand spires rising amongst the red-tiled roofs, their copper tarnishedpallid green through the centuries. “Thats Frank Gehrys Dancing House, no?” Lenka traced the line of my finger down the river. “It is. And take a look at the giant metronome on Letna.” She pointed north. From atop thehill overlooking the river, a needle fifteen meters in length tic-tocked back and forth through theafternoon sky. “There used to be a huge statue of Stalin on that hill but they knocked it down.” Across the lush orchard to my left, Prague Castle rose like a parapet supporting the toweringspires of St. Vitus Cathedral. The cathedrals flying buttresses and gothic arches cradledimmensed stained-glass windows: dull distant jewels, radiating. “I need to sit down.” “Here, have a seat.” She guided me to the bench and there we sat looking over the city. I squeezed her thigh; her 36
  37. 37. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collinsfingers locked with mine. “You dont see this in America, do you?” “This is better than Paris.” I leaned over and gave her a kiss. Before I knew it, she was on top of me on that park bench.The cityscape disappearing behind her curtain of black hair. There I was smelling the lavenderon her neck, the fresh grass, her thighs wrapped round my hips. Our lips were gliding over eachothers, tongues dancing. I had my hand up her shirt, and she was peeling off my belt, when Iheard scuffling footsteps up the hill. “Náhradní každou změnu? Mají cigaretu?” A beggar strolled up near our bench. Lenka howled and swung at him till she almost fellbackwards. I had to grab hold of her to keep her steady. The old man walked off. “I cant go on like this.” She straightened her clothes and dropped on the bench beside me;tucked under my arm, she stroked my chest. “I know. We should go back to U Trojická.” “I cant go on like this. Me and you.” “Go on like what?” “All this running around, hiding.” “Then weve got one choice.” “Whats that?” “You and me—we take off.” “I cant leave.” “Sure, you can. We can leave this afternoon.” “And go where?” 37
  38. 38. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “Anywhere. I came here from Paris. Lets go to France.” “Its not that easy.” “Easy as packing a bag.” “Maybe for you,” she said. “You pick up that duffle bag and go wherever you want. But itsnot that easy for me. You dont know me.” Her hardness cracked, and like a little girl she started crying. “I know you. I know what its like to be lonely when youre with other people.” “You dont know anything.” “Well, you’re right. I dont know why you married that Russian. She sniffled and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I was working in a massage parlor onWenceslas Square. You know the kind. A year in a place like that and you take the first offeryou got.” “When did you leave Brno?” “Four years ago. I got here and the only job I could get with my slanty eyes and dark skinwas in that massage parlor.” “So why didnt you go home.” “And do what?” “Youre telling me the Czechs are that racist?” She nodded. Not like she was pissed off; she nodded like somebody asked her if the sunshines and it gets dark at night. “This is a small county where no one could travel for fifty years.They hate Russians, want your greenhorn money, and despise anyone who does not look likethem.” “All the more reason to get you out of here.” 38
  39. 39. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “And go where?” “Anywhere.” “You know where anywhere is?” “You tell me.” “Anywhere is the massage parlor,” she said. “Anywhere with my Czech passport is rightback to those dark rooms with drunken tourists and their boozy dicks.” “Never again.” “Anywhere is the massage parlor, Caleb. You think youre going to support us both teachingEnglish?” “Well get married. You can find work with an American passport.” “Hell never give me a divorce. Dont you understand?” She shook her head. “I cannot getmarried with him around. You must leave.” “I cant leave. I love you.” “I love you, too. And you must go. Its too much. Its torture having you around. Unless—” That pitiless fire was back in her eyes. “Take a look at this. Isnt this beautiful?” I drew a deep breath, and sighed. “I cant live mylife behind bars.” “You don’t know what its like to live with that Russian.” “I have some idea.” “You know what its like to breathe vodka every night? You know what its like to fuck whenhe says he wants to fuck, or get slapped around?” I brushed hair from her face, tucked it behind her ear, and stroked her cheek. She was tooproud to hide her bruised eye from me. “I love you, Lenka.” 39
  40. 40. Greenhorn Crazy Caleb Jason Collins “I love you. Dont leave. Dont ever leave. I need you, Caleb.” “I’m not going anywhere. Right now what you and I need is to get our asses back. Its timeto drink wodka and make song.” “Im not leaving till you give me a proper kiss. I planted one on her lips. “That do it for you?” “For now.” I hoisted her up. “Come on, lets get out of here.” 40