Necessary Errors: A Novel

Necessary Errors: A Novel by Caleb Crain Read Free Book Online

Book: Necessary Errors: A Novel by Caleb Crain Read Free Book Online
Authors: Caleb Crain
hadn’t given Ota his number.
    —No, replied the speaker, in Czech. —Luboš here. Am I speaking with Jacob?
    “Yes, sorry,” Jacob answered, in English. “I didn’t recognize your voice.” He was upset with himself at the misstep. He had thought of Ota because it was Ota who had explained the nickname Kuba to him. Of course he had been hoping for Luboš.
    —Please? asked Luboš, not having understood.
    —Nothing, nothing, Jacob assured him hurriedly. It was much harder to communicate on the phone than in person, Jacob realized. There was an awkward pause. Jacob’s eyes were caught by two African-style wooden masks on the opposite wall, one smiling, another frowning, like Tragedy and Comedy. He nervously pressed his fingers between adjacent revolutions of the phone cord’s cool spiral.
    —Want to meet? Luboš asked, speaking as simply as possible.
    —Yes, said Jacob. —When?
    —Tomorrow, at eighteen hours. At.
    —No. In the street. Under the clock, across from the Automat.
    —Yes, Jacob said again, knowing the large, ugly clock that Luboš had in mind. It sat on the roof of a glass building at the foot of Wenceslas Square, where the word DISCO , in a sans-serif font, appeared in the windows of the top floor, one letter per pane.
    He and Luboš fell silent again. Having succeeded in their negotiation, it was now a comfortable silence, maybe even a confident one. There was a thrill in arranging a date while in a room that spoke so much of family, even if the family wasn’t his. On the near wall hung a medieval Slavic icon, or a replica of one, a madonna’s face painted in oil and set in a costume and landscape of silver, like one of those old sideshow attractions where a cousin pokes her head through a hole in a signboard so that her face appears over the body of a circus strongman, or under the top hat of a lion tamer cracking a whip, another cousin’s face figuring as the lion.
    —I look forward, said Luboš.
    —I, too. A great deal. The energy that ordinarily went into complicating or refining one’s speech instead had to be devoted to simplifyingit. It wasn’t possible to mislead each other, Jacob decided, when it took so much effort merely to reach across the space between them.
    *   *   *
    Jacob left thesubway station and walked up Wenceslas Square, away from where Luboš would be waiting, in order to buy a Western newsweekly he liked at one of the few stands that sold it. The sun had not gone down, but it could not be seen. So neutral was the twilight, in fact, that instead of fading from behind the leaden clouds above, it seemed to be settling out of the air one walked through, as if it were a kind of dust. It sharpened the outlines and details of the buildings but dissolved what little color they had into a uniform gray. Jacob couldn’t have said why he was going out of his way. As he had traveled toward, his wish to buy the magazine had grown more and more urgent, until, upon arrival, he had had no choice, even though he was late and the detour would make him later. Only when he had it in hand did he feel armed. He waved it, rolled in a fist, at Luboš when he sighted him. Running across the granite bricks, he wondered if Luboš had seen him. There were so many eyes carved in Prague’s façades, belonging to caryatids, masks, reliefs of politicians, and the figures of ideals, that one was never free of the sense of being observed.
    They greeted each other in Czech. Jacob searched Luboš’s face for a sign of what would happen between them tonight, a hint of what footing they stood on. It was not a soft or a warm face, though it was not unkind. The suggestion in it of toughness excited Jacob. As he looked into the face, he saw by the change in its shading that the mild and even twilight was, even as he watched, at last lapsing, and leaving exposed, as a tide might leave rocks and shells, the sharp and fragmented lights cast by street lamps and shop signs. After they had

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