Heading Out

I leave for my trip a few weeks later than planned, just as the weather takes a turn for the worse. Driving rain in Munich. As I head east, it clears but remains grey. Every car on the Autobahn overtakes me. After Deggendorf the road takes a sharp turn and heads steeply up the mountain. I look for a place to park and take one last look down at Germany, but there’s too much fog to see anything.

Želená Ruda is the Czech border town. Hand painted signs advertise cigarettes. There are two gas stations and two casinos. There are four nail salons with pink, blinking signs, and a dozen columns of blue wood smoke rising from brown, low houses. To the left and right of the only street, shacks are propped up like theater backdrops. Ornaments, bird houses and woven baskets dangle from their beams. Owners sit outside, wrapped from head to toe against the damp cold.

I drive through Harmanice, past wet fields ringed with birches. The road follows the black, narrow Otava river through Střelské Hoštice, Předotice, Zvíkovské Podhradi. Towns pass by in an instant and are gone forever. Apple trees heavy with fruit line the roads. Apples roll into the street and under my tires.

I stop to eat in Jistebnice. By now it’s evening, and Jistebnice is tiny and all dark, except for the bluish light of a bank machine, and the small yellow windows of a restaurant. A group of teenagers lean against a wall near my car. We get to talking and they invite me to a rave in a castle. I’m flattered but politely decline.

The restaurant is a small, packed room with an unlit fireplace in the corner. People shout and laugh and play cards. Children prop themselves up on muscular little arms and swing between the tables, yawning. I sit down and order fried trout and beer. When I’ve finished, I feel suddenly overcome with a sense of loneliness and decide to leave.

Voices and laughter follow me out into the street. The teenagers have left and the night is cold and quiet. I drive through the dark, and turn on the radio to keep from nodding off. The sky is as black as the Otava. No moon, no stars.

Somewhere between Munich and Elbančice. A windy day. Many people flying kites.
A country road.
Apple trees heavy with fruit line the roads. Apples roll into the street and under my tires.
A barn, somewhere near the border.