This is part of the soon completed novel, “History Artist.”
Sick to the spine of touring, Charlotte stopped in at the Powder Tower, cold stone once crammed to its corners with gunpowder, winds scattered around the massive bell, which could not make ring without the clapper living in emptiness up to its bronze limits. Regular, the slow repeated agony of the bell, like boots on the steps, up to the winding dizzy lens on the city, that looks down as three white youths, booted and studded, kick an African immigrant under the echoing rainslick overpass, and continue, as his hearing turns static and ringing, drone and high-pitched wail, across from the Symphony Hall, the conductor’s baton slashing the air, the tympany matching his beating, the ground—more slick now than before, jumping up towards him with the force of the kicks, the night enveloping him in its sack to be flung into the river.
This was the Prague Charlotte would someday find in a short visit, echoing her own time there, the sweets burning, the crystal whining, the boots ever hopscotching from one cobble to another. The scissors to cut cloth, slashing the air in front of her face. The barkeeper grim, rusty with rage, at the snakes of her hair. She could be anything, anything he hated. The tower with its jagged eye looked down at every move she made, even when she fled across the river to the huge moving photo of Franz Kafka, shaking somehow with breath and the tension of living in-between, always. The copper grill across the ticket window, no joke. She knew she was behind it, not looking in.
The clock let her keep count until it made her lose count. This was the place, medieval and grim under the stars; false and golden, inkpoint spires and pitched tile roofs in the sunlight. All castle, all hatreds.
She could not be fair. This place did not make her so. She would not drink here; she would not eat flesh in this place. She crossed every bridge and river because she could, and spat on the bridge, and spat in the river, poor river, rushing for cleaner beds, but they were far off and far between.
Enough. She’d never go back, city of castles and literature and their poor moneymaking Kafka, under whose feet they ripped away his ghetto, and, after his death, made path for the Nazis to kill Ottla, his favorite, in Auschwitz; Ellie and Valli in Chelmno; his three sisters.
She would go to the Jewish Museum, like any tourist. But she was a museum. Already. Simple. She flew home knowing it, clear as a bell.
ANYA ACHTENBERG is an award-winning fiction writer and poet whose publications include the novel Blue Earth; novella The Stories of Devil-Girl; poetry collections The Stone of Language and, I Know What the Small Girl Knew. Individual pieces are published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Tupelo Quarterly; Beltway Poetry Quarterly; Harvard Review and Poet Lore. Writing awards and distinctions have come from Southern Poetry Review; Another Chicago Magazine; Coppola’s Zoetrope: All-Story; New Letters; the Raymond Carver Story Contest; the Minnesota State Arts Board, and others. Close to completion: her novel History Artist, with an ensemble cast of characters centered around a young Cambodian woman born at the moment the U.S. invasion began; and a poetry collection, Matadors at the Crossing. Her occasional blog Writing in Upheaval explores Anya’s organic approach to writing craft that expands creativity; counters historical amnesia; and examines how trauma and narration connect, and how history sits in us. Anya teaches two series of fiction, memoir, and multi-genre creative writing courses, Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World; and, The Disobedient Writer Workshops; and consults with writers individually. See https://anya-achtenberg.com/