“I want you to get my deposit ready,” I said. “I’m moving out.”
His red hair brightened.
“When?!” he barked.
“I’ve paid till the 23rd of this month (September). I’ll be out by then.”
“Fine. Are you vill leave Prague?”
“No, just here.”
“Ugh, ok I vill begin the searching for new guy.”
“What about my deposit?”
“Yeah, yeah, I give you later.”
I thought about pressing him for the money. I still had three weeks and change so I decided to let it slide. I grinned cheaply at him and walked off. The stench of cuticle-rot followed me down the hall.
At 9:00 the next morning, I viewed the first flat. It was a tiny dump and it stunk of balls. On top of that, the owner was a prick. I thanked him for showing me the place and split.
The next flat was close by. It was on a quiet street in a pretty white building. I sent the owner (Julia) a text. She came down quick and opened the door. She was wearing stonewashed jeans and a cotton blouse. Her silver hair was in a tight pony tail and I could tell by the shine of her cleavage that she had fake boobs. She wrinkled her face into a smile. We introduced ourselves and I followed her up the stairs. We stopped at the second floor and she opened the door to her flat. I immediately smelled homemade cookies … then animal urine.
“Good God,” I mumbled.
I followed her in and slipped my shoes off. Despite the smell, the place wasn’t half bad. It had a big kitchen and living room. Its floors and carpets were clean. Julia motioned to her right and opened a door.
“This will be your room,” she said, in heavily accented Czech.
I looked inside. It was a nice room with a blue foldout couch. The bookcase in the corner was filled with peeling first editions. A plant like a giant octopus sat on the windowsill. I could see myself writing there. I turned around and asked her the price.
“6600 crowns a month,” she said. “This includes everything.”
“Yeah, I had to lower it because my Sabrina moved out suddenly. She was the tenant before you but she hurt her ankle badly and had to move back to Ostrava. Now it’s just me and little Vaclav.”
“Vaclav is your son?”
“No, my son lives in Australia with his wife. This is his room you’ll be taking.”
“OK. So then Vaclav is your husband?”
“Well, yes … but he died years ago, so …”
Julia looked like she was about to cry. I didn’t want to pry any further so I changed the subject. I asked her to show me the rest of the flat. She showed me the kitchen first. There was a small table there with two wine bottles and an ashtray on it. Dried paprika and garlic hung around the stove. The walls were yellow with love. It reminded me of my grandmother’s kitchen. I could see Julia in there cooking for me. I could see us drinking and chatting about life. I smiled and nodded her on. She led me to the living room next. It had a big flowery sofa and a widescreen TV. Off in the corner was a tall bookcase. I spotted a book I liked on the shelf nearest the windowsill. I reached for it and Julia freaked.
“Watch out!” she cried.
I jumped back and looked to my left. There behind the see-through curtains was an enormous iguana. Its skin was lime green with black splotches. It was peeling everywhere and covered with warts. It glared at me with bloodshot eyes. I flashed it the finger and it snapped at it.
“You must be careful with my Vaclav,” she said. “He bites!”
“This is Vaclav?!”
“Yes,” she said, picking him up. “And he only loves me.”
She cradled him like a newborn and nuzzled the crown of his warty head. He poked his bottom lip out pompously and slipped me a downcast eye.
“Anyways,” she said, putting him back on his windowsill. “You don’t have to worry about him. He only walks around the flat at night.”
“Great,” I said. “Got any more surprises?”
She scratched her neck.
“Well … just one. But she’s the sweetest little girl. I know I said it was only me and Vaclav here but Sabrina found her in the gutter so she really isn’t mine. Anyways, let me show you.”
She opened the door to her bedroom. There was a king-sized bed in there with a fluffy white comforter. A large lump was purring underneath it. Julia reached in and pulled it out.
“This is ‘No-Namey’” she said. “Isn’t she precious?”
The thing was ball of unruly fur-licks with an anus for a face. It looked like a shrunken mob boss in a secondhand mink.
“’Precious’ doesn’t leap to mind,” I mumbled.
Julia petted the cat and laid it on the bed. Then she walked me to the door. As I put my shoes on she chatted me up.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“California. But I’ve lived here for almost four years.”
“Oh, well you speak nice Czech.”
“Thanks. And where are you from?”
“Hungary. But my husband was Czech so I moved here 30 years ago with him. It was communism during that time so we could only stay in communist countries. But I wanted to go to California and see the national parks and all the animals. I love animals. Before I retired I was a vet … What do you do?”
“I teach during the day. But mainly I’m a writer.”
“A writer?” she said. “My husband was a writer …”
She stepped into me and grinned. Her teeth were booger green. The stench of Marlboros and vinegar reeked from her gums. I squinted my eyes and smiled painfully. She clenched her index finger and raised her shoulder to her cheek. Despite the hideous state of her mouth, she was pretty for an old lady. To add to this, her place was very homey (minus the pets). I thought about how I missed my own home. I imagined Julia bringing me plates of chicken paprikash while I wrote. I imagined her folding my clothes and laying them out neatly across my bed. I imagined her giving me hugs and telling me to be careful before I went out on weekend nights. Then I imagined this …
I’d come back one Friday night filthy drunk and horny. I’d stagger into the living room and find Julia on the couch. She’d be sipping sherry with No-Namey on her lap and Vaclav around her shoulders. One thing would lead to another and we’d all end up on the big bed – me taking Julia from behind while No-Namey shivered under the covers and Vaclav nipped up angrily at my swinging balls. The next day things between us would devolve into this strange oedipal relationship. Julia would be icing my crotch with one hand and spoon-feeding me goulash with the other, while I penned out sentences and tried not to get a stiffy.
I swallowed these images with a grimace. I thanked Julia for showing me the room and told her I’d get back to her.
The next week brought zilch. Not only did I not find a place, but I spent two full days showing my room to idiots under the supervision of Junit’s annoying wife, Saafi. The two of us must have shown the place to a dozen different people. Only one - a delicate little Thai boy with a feline smile – seemed at all interested. The next day he called saying he’d take the place. But unsurprisingly, Junit tossed him on the shit pile because he suspected the guy of not liking vaginas. This meant more flat-searching and more room-showing. Thankfully, that Monday, I found a nice looking place in Vršovice (Bert’s new hood) for 6 G’s a month. I texted the guy (Pavel) and asked for a viewing. He told me to come by at 17:45 that day.
After work, I took the tram down there. I found the building near a street corner not three blocks from Bert’s. I look up Pavel’s name on the tenant list and buzzed him. He came running down the stairwell and yanked open the door. He was thin as wires and wore box-cut glasses. His skin was wrinkly orange and his teeth, rum-brown. He gave me a jittery handshake and introduced himself. Then he walked me up five flights of stairs.
“I forgot to mention we have no elevator,” he said.
“No problem. I need the exercise.”
We got to the door and went inside. He showed me the room first. It had a nice big desk and plenty of book space. The closest was huge and the bed wide. I liked the room right off. Pavel took me to the window and opened it.
“You said you were a writer?” he asked.
“Well as you can see, it’ll be very quiet here for you.”
I looked out the window. There was an empty courtyard ringed with flowers. I didn’t see a single shittin’ dog anywhere. I grinned sweetly.
“Does anyone else live in the flat?” I asked.
“Just my girlfriend,” he said. “But we live in the opposite half and we keep to ourselves.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll take it.”
“Wonderful! Now there’s just a couple things …”
The couple things weren’t too bad; no cooking smelly food, and to do laundry it was an extra 200 kc a month. I told him this was fine. He said he had a few more viewers that evening but he would let me know his final decision by 9:00 pm. We shook hands and he let me out. When I got on the street I had mixed feelings. Part of me felt this was a wise choice. Living with an older couple would certainly be a quiet environment, perfect for writing. Then again, I could see myself getting stifled and bored. The party animal and the hermit in me were strangling each other simultaneously while doing somersaults down a hill. In the end, the hermit won. I decided that if Pavel and his lady friend would have me, I’d take the place.
When I got home, I knocked on Junit’s door. I asked him about the deposit and he scowled.
“When I vill find anyone you vill get money.”
“Once you find someone?! Saafi told me the Thai guy wanted the place but you refused him because you thought he was gay.”
“Of course I did this!”
“Because. I don’t want to live with Asian Gay! Would you?”
“Man, I wouldn’t give a shit.”
Junit choked on his words.
“A-anyways,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter. I can choose who vill living in this flat. It vill be either when I find anyone or thirty days after you are telling me you leaving, which vill be first October, then you vill getting deposit.”
“But I think I found a place. I need the money now.”
“I’m sorry, but this is normal deal.”
He slammed his door. I flipped him off and walked back to my room.
9:00 pm came and went. I still hadn’t heard from Pavel so I texted him. He texted back saying he’d tell me his decision the next morning. I decided to set up another viewing just in case. I found a flat on the other side of Žižkov with a fully-furnished room for rent. I texted the guy (Petr) and he told me to come by at 8 pm the next day.
The following morning I got another text from Pavel. In it he was asking me for an extra 1000 kc a month. His reasoning was that I was a writer, which meant I’d be home more and thus using more utilities. I told him this was nonsense, as I had a fulltime teaching job and would be out during weekdays. He apologized for not having considered this. He said the room was still mine for the original price if I wanted it. I told him I did and that I’d come by for the keys the next day. I neglected to mention my other viewing.
At 7:45 I took the bus to North Žižkov. I got off at my stop and after some effort, found the right building. I quickly texted Petr. As I waited for him, I prayed he wouldn’t be a crumbling old fart or a honking douche bag. He came down five minutes later and greeted me. He was smartly dressed and had a shaved head. He couldn’t have been older than thirty. I breathed a sigh of relief as he led me up the stairs.
His place was on the third floor. It had a small hallway and a kitchen with the bare essentials. There was a bathroom with a new washing machine in back. The shower was a piece of shit but at least it ran hot water. After the grand tour, Petr showed me the room. It was a bit narrow for my taste but the hardwood floors were nice and the bed looked comfy. I asked the final price.
“5500 kc,” he said.
“And this includes everything?”
“Yes. But you have to pay a month in advance.”
“Ok. Well, what about the noise level? There won’t be a bunch of barking dogs or screaming drunks outside my window, will there?”
“This is still Žižkov, but don’t worry, we’re on a pretty quiet street. Plus, I visit my girlfriend in Moravia during the weekends so you’ll have the place to yourself.”
I frowned big with satisfaction.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
We agreed to meet the following week. I would sign the contract then and hand over the deposit. The only catch was, I couldn’t move in till the end of the month. This meant I’d be spending a full week on Bert’s couch. Under normal circumstances, this could be fun. But with all my shit packed into his room it could easily turn into a nightmare. I thought about this as I left the building. I also thought about having told Pavel I’d be by for the keys the next day. I had promised two different people that I’d take their rooms-for-rent. I was caught in the middle of a tug-of-war with the endearing black-hole that was Žižkov on one side and the prospect of a new beginning amidst two old fucks in Vršovice on the other. I meandered down Koněvova – Žižkov’s filthy, neon-slicked artery. I looked up meekly at the TV Tower. It just stood there in its tall, crooked ugliness, blinking its red eye at me. My head slowly folded in on itself. I collapsed on the steps of the police station and thought hard. An answer finally came.
“I gotta call Bert,” I said.
He answered the phone with a grunt. There was a strange echo to it.
“Where the hell are you?” I asked.
“In the bathroom taking a shit.”
I told him my predicament with much angst and detail. He listened quietly between plops. When I finished, I heard him flush. Then he broke it down for me.
“First off,” he said. “Fuck that old couple. They’re just gonna tack on charges and clip your party balls. Second off, FUCK THAT OLD COUPLE! Why would you want to live with them anyways?”
“Well, I need a change …”
“Dude, just moving outta that shithole and away from Junit is huge change. Why would you wanna go ruin it by shacking up with a buncha’ damn geriatrics? That shit’ll gettem within a week. I’m tellin’ya, take the Žižkov place. You belong there, bro.”
The motherfucker was right. I thanked him for the advice and we hung up. I then texted Pavel and told him I wouldn’t be taking the room in Vršovice after all. He never responded.
Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.