…and so they held their breath

“A coffee please” she said and smiled.
“And which one?” a waitress asked.
“Why, the Americano, of course – we are in America” the woman denounced as if no other option was acceptable.
“And one espresso for me darling, if you would be so kind” said an elderly man in an attempt to mask a glint of shame for his friend’s manners.
“I’ll be back in a minute” waitress replied and scuttled away.
“So what do you think, Doug?”
Douglas leaned back making his plastic chair squeak and narrowed his eyes, watching the horizon.
“I don’t know, so far there is only one Sun up in the sky.”
“You expect some more?”
“One day an eternal darkness will fall upon the world and all I do is hope it is not today.”
He sighed.
“How come things did got so far, so out of hand?”
“They always do, haven’t you noticed? It sneaks in from the back and grabs your throat. By the time you say hello there’s already a finger on the trigger. And then…”
Waitress interrupted her with a tray, two coffees and some biscuits.
“On the house” she said, “due to the special occasion we are living through.”
“See how kind people can be Mafalda?”
“I never doubted their ability, I only doubted their will to do so.”
“You better enjoy that coffee, it may as well be the last one we ever drank together.”
“Oh, no way, you make it sound so terrible” she giggled.
“Why don’t you go back to the Capitol Hill and leave me alone, heh? Oh wait, I know, you are a rank too low to participate in any meeting that actually matters.”
“Says who?” Mafalda snarled.
“Mere poet, observer and a helpless passenger on this voyage.”
“Please, feed someone else with your excuses, you lame, spineless dumb fellow with no concept of initiative, who hides behind artsy rhymes in an attempt to seduce a woman.”
“Oh yeah, what have you accomplished besides managing a company of cleaning ladies, heh?”
“Hey, you two” barked a man who sat at the next table, “why don’t you appease? Look at what’s going on” he cried and pointed at a newspaper headline.
“Yeah, yeah, we know… it’s just a friendly banter” Doug claimed and sipped his coffee.
“It is always a friendly banter until a fight breaks out” the man mumbled and returned to his newspaper.
“If you were to write a poem Doug, now, what would you focus on?”
Doug, taken by surprise, stopped chewing a biscuit and stared at her.
“Why are you so surprised? I even read some of your… collections, and I figured if this is the day I die, well, I better tell you from time to time, you know how to hit a nail on its head.”
“Blimey! The situation must be far more serious than I dared imagine. You read my poetry?”
“Don’t get carried away Doug. Now back to my question.”
“I… I don’t know what to say. Let me think.”
Douglas wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, drank the rest of his espresso and hummed some kind of a melody. Mafalda gave him a queer look.
“What? I’m getting into the mood.”
What an utter pillock Mafalda thought and looked around whilst he hummed around. Cafeteria and its garden were full of excited people, however avenues under Capitol Hill seemed deserted. She kept hearing voices from TV blasted to the max from a pub across the street. The whole nation was holding its breath, hell, maybe even the whole world. And Cuba is in the middle of this madness, who would have thought? At least the weather was beautiful, in those peculiar days of October.
“I’ve got it, I think. Are you ready? Errhm” he cleared his throat, “…the lightness of the air, and yet, the heaviness of breathing. The fullness of taste, but an empty feeling. And… letters unsent left on a table, but the postman is will never come to pick them up. One chokes up on the things left unsaid, the other has a guilty conscience. A reflex to flee, and a desire to stand a watch the destruction. No blossoms, only the brightest light before the greatest darkness… that is what I would focus on.”
“Hmm, let me ponder on it for a bit” Mafalda whispered.
“No matter the side of the Wall, a common checkpoint awaits.”
“I love it Mafalda! A final punchline or a heading title?”
“A truth, I am afraid. I wonder how folks in Berlin are coping.”
“Perhaps they are storming the wall?”
“Nah, more likely they are sitting in gardens or by lakes, musing, what sort of strange, agonizing occurrences they witnessed in their beloved Berlin.”
“It is a busy city, no doubt.”
“How can you be so cynical?”
“What else is there to do in a world when we might cease to exist in a matter of hours?”
“Ugh, I don’t know, maybe it will pass away and there will be tomorrow and since you opted for being a cynical pigshit of today you will become a soulless dude on the morrow?”
“Goddammit, it’s you two again, hey?” the man growled.
“Sir, why don’t you mind your own business, alright?” Mafalda retorted.
“Here, let me read it for you: RUSSIA SAYS BLOCKADE ‘STEP TO NUCLEAR WAR’. A nuclear war, you understand? The end. Finito. So please, if you have to argue, take it to the bed and let me enjoy my tea.”
“That’s gross.”
“Look at it this way, no one will ever know.”
Doug couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“He might be onto something Mafalda”
“NO. NO, he might not. In fact, he isn’t. Forget about it.”
“Excuse me.”
The waitress again.
“Would you like something else?”
“Yes, coffee please” Mafalda responded.
“Ah, Americano?”
“No way, this muddy water is hardly drinkable. I’ll have an espresso.”
“And for you, sir?”
“Oh nothing, thanks.”
“Sometimes, Mafalda,” Doug said as the waitress was leaving, “you are a difficult act to follow.”
“Nevertheless you are still trying.”
“I am a cursed man, I wish I could just get up and walk away. Anyways, you think they have gone too far?”
“After the Bay of Pigs? We’ve opened the door and they got their foot in. We’ve got nukes in Turkey, some say others will be placed in West Germany, B52s are located on Okinawa, don’t forget the subs & air carriers… No, my friend, they are just reacting to our offensive movements on the chess board. However, and this is the source of friction, we are unable to take our own medicine and therefore, we won’t back down.”
“I understand, right, I mean… back on my high school football team a defeat was unacceptable, but today, we are facing total annihilation for Pete’s sake!”
“Forget about it.”
“My oh my, Mafalda” Doug uttered as he checked his watch, “I better go, otherwise I will be late to work.”
“I can’t believe you are stressed about work.”
“What if there is tomorrow? I will have a mortgage to pay.”
“Are you serious, Doug?”
“Tomorrow, same place at the same time?”
“Hopefully…”
“I will see you later, Maf” Douglas shouted over his shoulder and walked away in haste.
“Yeah, you wish…” Mafalda murmured to herself.
“Excuse me sir, may I read your newspaper, if you have finished?”
“Of course. It’s a gloomy read, though…” he responded and handed them over.
She smiled and began reading.
Tuesday morning, October 22, 1962
Kennedy Orders Cuba Blockade,
Calls Island Soviet Missile Base;
Navy to Sink Defiant Red Vessels

Mafalda closed her eyes and shook her head. The checkpoint was waiting.

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About Petr Klíma