When the news of his father’s death arrives in a square envelope, Elijah doesn’t cry. I’m perched on the kitchen stool, reading about NATO airstrikes in Bosnia in an American newspaper I’d gotten from a colleague at the language school, when I notice he freezes, his spoon of yogurt halfway to his mouth.
“What?” I ask when he puts it down. “Elijah?”
“It’s my dad,” he says, sliding the letter across the counter.
I recognize his mother’s calligraphy – I can hear her tone in the calculated curves of her pen strokes. I thought you might want to be informed was how she began. When I look up for Elijah, I’m met instead by the sound of the apartment door closing, then the clock, ticking in a new kind of silence.
The letter is dated October 3rd; two weeks have passed since his mother stamped it for Dejvice, Prague. By now, Mr. Levin is already underground in the country we once called home. I imagine the flowers on his grave – chrysanthemums gone tissue thin – now being scattered by a wind. And I, an ocean away, holding an ending in my hands. I haven’t thought of Elijah’s parents, nor about my own father, in what only now strikes me as too long. The distance Elijah and I had always sought together, and were now living, that rift we had voluntarily dug in the geographies of our lives, imbues me with a sense of irrelevance, of being too far-removed from something that matters. Near the end of the letter, Elijah’s mother had written send my regards to Aiden. It must have been the first time she addressed me with a name, let alone my own.
I slip into my boots and overcoat and head out to find Elijah after ringing the language school on his behalf.
“A death in the family. Yes. His father. I know. Yes. I will. Thank you.”
I expect to find him walking the Strelecky ostrov by the Vltava, where the old women in kerchiefs feed leftover bread to the swans. Where we had walked after dinner one night, his arm around my shoulder, and kissed in the dark where no one could see. The amber lights of Stare Mesto, the Old City, shone in the river like blurred flames. I remember feeling like I was in a Van Gogh painting, and since then I sometimes catch myself looking at the black parts of his works, wondering what furtive shapes are kissing there.
But this morning the park is nearly empty. Only a young mother is crouching in front of a toddler, her head tilted as she speaks to him. The swans stretch their wings in the chilled autumn waters, specked with fallen leaves. If there was a place to mourn a father, I think, this would be it. But Elijah has gone elsewhere.
I cross the bridge into the Old City. While waiting for the lights to change in front of the National Theatre, a jangling streetcar passes – a brush stroke of red across the city’s face – bustling with early commuters. It strikes me then how small my odds are of finding him. On the other side of the street, in the space left by the receding streetcar, sits the empty Café Slavia, its familiar interior now dust-lined and dark.