“The Chance Walker,” a story by me published in The Third Alternative back in 2003, is up now at Transmission from Beyond as a podcast. Read by me too!
I still like this story and since it’s never been reprinted anywhere, I’m really pleased it’s available again. The story comes from a couple of places. I taught English for a few months in the Czech Republic in the mid-90s, and while in Prague one day, I picked up a book of paintings by a Czech artist named Jiří Mocek. (In the past, googling him online I’ve found little out there. This time I found some nudes, but those aren’t representative of the book I have; my book is full of work more like this.) There’s so much amazing art and literature from that part of the world that never makes it outside its borders. Years later, I was sitting in my Portland, Oregon apartment, trying to write, and feeling blocked, and I picked up Mocek’s book and started flipping through it. One of his paintings was called “The Chance Walker” in translation, and from that and some of his other weird urban landscapes, parts of this story grew.
The story is set in a town about an hour away from Prague, where D and I lived in one of the grim Communist-era panelaks. A lot of real experiences made it into the story–including the WW II bunkers–and of course, as is always the case with fiction, plenty of it is made up as well.
Prague doesn’t figure into the story, but writing this makes me think of wandering its snowy winter streets. It is — or was then, I don’t know how the continuous influx of tourism and foreign residents has changed it — a fairytale of a city, with strange winding lanes full of odd little shops in the Staré Město, or Old Town. I remember looking down from Prague Castle at a sea of red rooftops and thinking that the whole place felt magical. Part of that magic was that it had been hidden from those of us in the West for so long, and when the revolution came even that felt like something out of a story–a Velvet Revolution, led by playwrights and punks! The buildings there, long-neglected during the Communist era, were all being restored, and the architecture was astonishing. I know I am being too romantic about the place, and Prague in the mid-nineties was already feeling wrung out by a burgeoning expat population, especially Americans. As a student said to me once, “First we were occupied by the Germans, and then the Russians, and now the Americans.”
The country did indeed feel haunted by its past, most especially by ghosts of its turbulent twentieth century. And so I wrote a story about that, and some other things, too.