The Crocodile

The mood first thing is a merry one – because, more than anything else, everyone is happy the week is almost over. Bára is looking forward to seeing R., Jitka to seeing Conker, Adéla to seeing her mum, Petr to seeing Klára. Johana is happy with the way things are, a good sign in itself.

We can put up with one more day, they tell themselves. Not an attitude that augurs well.

They go out early, and Jitka doesn’t walk away from the others, she sits with them and feels no awkwardness – this, too, suggests that what is come is a matter of chance rather than the result of hidden intent.

Johana has left her inflatable armbands in the apartment, but she’s too lazy to go back up the hill for them. She tells Petr in a whiny voice that she won’t go in too deep, and anyway, she can use the crocodile lilo. Fine, says Petr dismissively, just make sure you stay where it’s shallow, I’m sure Adéla’ll keep an eye on you. He wants to finish his book, the collected short stories of Raymond Chandler, before they leave for home, and he’s still got two hundred pages to go. Sunday’s the last day of his holiday, and work is bound to pile up in his absence.

As she lies there sunbathing, Bára tries to keep her mind clear. She’ll be seeing him the day after tomorrow, and thinking about it makes her nervous. As he hasn’t – she’s pretty sure – been in touch (if he has, all is forgiven), things are less than straightforward.

Jitka has her sketch-pad out. Usually she draws plants and sometimes animals, but now she wants to have a go at Johana. But as Johana won’t keep still, she turns her attentions to Petr, who moves hardly at all.

Adéla is on the lilo, splashing about in the water, taking care to keep her back out of the sun’s glare. But since it started peeling her back doesn’t hurt so much anyway.

It’s about half-past ten when Johana decides she wants to go back into the water.

Petr calls Adéla and tells her to keep an eye on Johana because Johana hasn’t got her armbands on. So Adéla holds her hand and takes her down to the water, sits her on the crocodile where it’s still shallow. Jo-jo presses herself against her sister like she did yesterday with Petr.

As she swims a little way out to sea, Adéla swims pushes the crocodile before her. Then she swims under the crocodile and otherwise starts playing about, and Johana, too, finds this fun.

Then they go a little further away from the shore.

“I’m scared,” says Jo-jo, but Adéla tells her to calm down, she’s on the lilo after all so what’s there to worry about. But Jo-jo feels insecure without the reassuring pressure of those chambers of air on her arms, her armbands or water-wings, or whatever you want to call them.

Watching them from the shore, Petr knows that they’ve gone out a fair way, but he’s not that worried because Jo-jo is on the lilo and Adéla’s there with her.

Then Adéla swims under the lilo again, but somehow, because she’s mucking about and being careless, she miscalculates and gets water in her nose, and she has to cough and splutter. Nothing strange in that. But the thing is, at the very moment she stops being able to swim because she needs to come up for air, she’s underneath Johana, and her head goes right into the lilo, and the lilo capsizes and so does Johana.

There’s a moment when Adéla is still spluttering and Johana is going under. Normally Johana would probably manage to keep her head above water, but she can’t now because she’s panicking so much.

Things are happening terribly quickly. Luckily Petr has seen the whole thing from where he’s sitting, and he’s running to the water and leaping in and swimming towards Jo-jo, and managing to save her.

She’s perfectly OK, just scared, that’s why she starts crying. Petr returns to shore with Johana, sniffling and moaning, on his back with her arms around his shoulders. Adéla is right behind them pulling the lilo, her nose and mouth full of sand because she got her breathing wrong. She’s not crying, but she is scared.

As soon as they get back to their things, Petr wraps Johana in a towel, whispering words to soothe her, then sits her on the rug. Adéla stays in the water up to her ankles – she knows she’s in deep trouble, that as soon as he’s done with Johana, Petr will turn his attention to her.

And so it is. Petr hands Johana over to Bára and Johana plays the baby, letting Bára rub her down and pamper her. Bára doesn’t get involved, she didn’t see the incident, though once Petr launched himself into action she stood up and watched.

Petr turns to Adéla, grabs hold of her arm and shakes her. He bawls her out even though it’s out of character and against his beliefs.

“What the hell do you think you were doing? Come on, tell me!”

But Adéla can’t tell him. It all happened so fast. All she did was get her breathing wrong. She couldn’t help it. But she says none of this because she sees how furious Petr is, all red in the face. So she starts to apologize. He shakes her again and she knows she’s about to cry, no matter how much she’s trying not to.

“Why? Just tell me why!” Another shake and she’s crying, pulling herself free, running off towards the apartment.

And suddenly Petr is tremendously tired, furious no longer. He watches Adéla’s clumsy escape.

By the time she reaches the apartment, Adéla has stopped crying. She was only crying anyway because Petr was shouting at her, something he hardly ever does.

But she’s terribly sad because she didn’t do it on purpose. And she’d’ve sat Johana back on the crocodile, no problem. (She’s probably right about this because Adéla really is a very good swimmer and more than capable of calming Johana down. Besides, Adéla is much stronger than Johana.)

Back at the apartment she takes a shower, gets changed and sits outside on the terrace with some bread and butter, which – incredibly – she finds she can’t eat. That’s when the crying starts again. She’s feeling really sorry for herself.

On the beach Johana has calmed down. Petr has gone back to his book, but, having just been given one of the biggest shocks of his life, he’s struggling to concentrate on it. What he needs is a stiff drink. Johana snuggles up against him and he puts his arm around her.

Bára feels sorry for Adéla and thinks about going to her, but she’s worried Adéla would cling to her again and not stop talking. Besides, basically she’s just too lazy to bother.

Jitka feels sorry for Adéla, too, but she’s no idea how she could help her, she just hasn’t got the skills. So although she feels bad about it, she doesn’t go to Adéla either. She finishes her drawing of Petr.

Johana is not yet quite over her shock, but by now it’s more about Petr bawling at Adéla, which has made the whole thing seem more important than it was. Still, she does feel that something terrible almost happened to her.

As Petr is still struggling to concentrate on his book and won’t allow Jo-jo back into the water, the two of them play a few games of cards. Then they go back to the apartment for lunch.

After a spell of blubbing and feeling sorry for herself out on the terrace, Adéla pulls herself together and goes back to the bedroom. She doesn’t have a book (she left the only one she hasn’t read yet on the beach); after a few moments of feeling bored, for the first time in her life she decides to write down her experiences.

She’s doing this when the others get back. She stays where she is, not even bothering with lunch. When Jo-jo tells her it’s lunch-time, she says she’s not hungry. Tell Dad she’s sorry, but she’s staying where she is. When Jo-jo gives Petr the news, he just shrugs and puts it out of his mind – Adéla’s probably eaten already.

Before they go back down to the sea, Jo-jo goes into the bedroom for Adéla, and Adéla gets the feeling that because he keeps sending Jo-jo as his messenger Petr’s not speaking to her, so she feels even more rejected and hurt. She apologized, didn’t she? So she says she’s not going, and Jo-jo tells Petr, and Petr gets cross again – is she sulking in there or what? But Petr does the right thing, he goes to her and tells her to come on. Adéla waits for him to talk her into it, and when he doesn’t, she says, “No”. After that Petr’s had enough – he’s not going to try to persuade her.

“Do as you like,” he says, and goes. Then Adéla starts crying like a little girl because she wants her mummy. And she wants her dad to forgive her – she’s worried he’s stopped liking her because something nearly happened to Johana, his pet, and it was her fault.

Petr realises earlier than before, as they’re on their way out, that Johana hasn’t got her armbands with her. He tells her to go and fetch them while he waits. Bára and Jitka go on ahead.

Johana goes back into the bedroom, where Adéla – who thinks she’s on her own – is blubbing loudly.

“What’s going on?” says Jo-jo in surprise, making Adéla jump. Now she doesn’t like Johana at all – besides, she’s prettier and Dad prefers her even though she, Adéla, is the one who scratches his back for minutes on end, the one who does her best to talk to him about things he’s interested in.

Adéla lashes out. “What are you doing in here?”

But Johana isn’t like Jitka – she reacts in a different way.

“What do you think? It’s my room, too.” Her expression is provocative. Then she goes up to Adéla and gives her a little slap on the shoulder, as if she means it as a joke. Seeing that Adéla is cross and unhappy Johana wants to wind her up, because she’s like that.

She slaps her again. Then Adéla grabs her and slaps her back. Harder.

“Stop it!” says Johana, her tone suggesting shock that Adéla can do this to her. And this makes Adéla crosser still.

“Daddy’s little pet, aren’t you? But Daddy’s not here now. Nobody to tell tales to. Besides, you started it.” She slaps her again, still not very hard, but this time in the face.

Johana throws out her arms and tries to clout Adéla as hard as she can, but Adéla defends herself. Adéla’s stronger, of course, but Johana is lashing out left and right. In the end Adéla gives her a proper smack.

Johana bursts into tears. What Adéla doesn’t know is that these are tears of rage.

“Stop screaming, it wasn’t that bad,” says Adéla, letting go of her. She’s beginning to worry that Johana will tell tales on her again.

But that not what she’s going to do. Suddenly, and for the first time, Johana feels big – she doesn’t want to tell tales, she wants to cause hurt.

“Do you know why Dad doesn’t love you?” she says calmly. Adéla just looks at her – she doesn’t know. Then Johana hisses, “You’re adapted.”

She doesn’t wait for a reaction. She picks her armbands up from the floor and runs out before Adéla can gather her wits.

(How does Jo-jo know this? She doesn’t really, she was just trying it on. She overheard Mum telling her friends something. She’s not even sure what the word means, but she’s a good idea that it has the power to hurt Adéla. And she’s right about this.)

Petr is waiting for her outside.

“What took you so long?”

“I couldn’t find them,” says Jo-jo, putting Adéla out of her mind.

Adéla has stopped crying and started thinking. Suddenly every little thing her parents ever scolded her for seems to her evidence of their lack of love. Because she’s not one of them. Given to self-pity as she is, she has found the greatest of all reasons to feel lousy.

She sits there all afternoon searching her memory for ‘evidence’ that proves Jo-jo right. She doesn’t doubt for a moment that Jo-jo is right. And she’d still have no doubts even if she wasn’t adopted.

She feels like a stranger. Even though she’s not one.

In the meantime Johana has reached the beach in a mood of contentment. She never suffers from pangs of conscience – as far as she’s concerned, the whole matter ended when she hurt Adéla (just as Adéla hurt her when she smacked her) and won the argument. As she splashes about in the water, she even thinks it would be nice if Adéla was there to play with her.

At her insistence Petr larks around with her, but only for a little while, as he had that drink – two of them, in fact – after lunch. Now he just wants to lie there and read himself to sleep.

Bára, too, ignores Johana. She just lies there feeling like she’s walked twenty kilometres. It’s this stupid holiday that’s making her feel tired. Her stomach clenches every time she imagines herself seeing him the day after tomorrow. She’s looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time, and she can’t understand why.

Jitka goes for a last walk and a last, long swim. After that she even manages to sit on the beach for a while without pulling her jeans on over her swimsuit straight away. She’s got this foggy idea there’s something up with Adéla, but it’s been a long time since she let other people’s sorrows get her down – that’s their concern, she’s not going to feel bad on someone else’s behalf.

She’s looking forward to seeing Conker, and even Grandma.

They return to the apartment in the late afternoon, a little earlier than on the days before. Johana keeps waving and shouting, “Bye for now, sea!” because they’ve agreed they’ll go back in the evening to say goodbye to it properly.

Everyone showers and gets dressed. Everyone except Adéla, who stays holed up in the bedroom, lying on the bed, praying that Petr won’t come in to her because she’s afraid of bursting into tears if he does, and she wouldn’t want him to see her like that. Johana goes in and out of the room, but it’s quite normal for the two of them to ignore each other after even the pettiest of arguments. Anyway, Adéla is turned towards the wall.

Petr is in the bathroom, washing himself thoroughly in the knowledge that he won’t be getting any more salt on him. Then he rubs in his creams and puts on his cologne, as he always does when there’s company. Bára goes into the bathroom after him, and for a moment she feels quite dizzy – memories of smells stay with us the longest, and all of a sudden she’s a little girl again getting ready for school, when the bathroom always smelt exactly like this when Petr had been in there before her.

Jitka uses the bathroom after Bára, but she has no such sensation. Bára’s soap and perfume have taken over the space, and besides, she’s too young to remember the time when Petr used their bathroom.

When everyone’s used the bathroom except Adéla, Petr goes in to her. She’s still lying with her face turned to the wall.

“What’s going on?” says Petr. “Why aren’t you getting ready?”

Adéla just mumbles that she doesn’t want to.

“Come on now,” says Petr encouragingly. “We’re going out to dinner.” He thinks perhaps Adéla has forgotten this and just didn’t notice that the rest of them were getting ready.

So he’s pretty surprised when she yells, “Just leave me alone, will you? I don’t want to go anywhere!” There are tears in her voice, but she manages to keep them under control.

Adéla does tend to yell sometimes, but never has she yelled at him. It’s not even as if anything much has happened.

Petr has no idea what to say next, so he just says, “We’re going, then. See you.”

He leaves quietly and closes the door behind him. The others are already fully dressed and waiting, and for a moment he forgets what has just happened. Lovely girls I’ve got, he thinks. Shame Klára isn’t here to see it. I mean Magda, he realises.

“What about Adéla?” Bára turns his mind back.

Petr shrugs.

“I did ask her. She doesn’t want to come. I don’t know why.”

They leave. As soon as the door clicks to behind them, Adéla bursts into tears again.

She’s really suffering. Never has she felt so alone. She’s still too young to have had a stand-up row with her parents and hated them, as is common in puberty. For now she just feels very sad …

As soon as they’re seated at one of the open-air restaurants – which smells of grilled meat and fish – Petr phones Klára and tells her they’re at dinner. He asks her if she wants to speak to Jo-jo, and she does so he hands the phone over. Jo-jo tells her mother how she said goodbye to the sea and about the castle she built in the sand, and then she says, Adéla nearly drowned me today. And Klára thinks, Jesus Christ! My poor child! For a moment Adéla isn’t her child, her child is Johana and she’s in danger, but it really is only a moment and the thought dissolves so quickly that Klára won’t even remember it. Jo-jo prattles on about how the lilo turned over, and then Klára wants to speak to Adéla. “Adéla stayed at the apartment,” says Jo-jo. “D’you want Dad again?”

Klára does – she asks him why Adéla isn’t with them, and Petr doesn’t know what to tell her but he thinks of something (which he’s quite proud of as a product of logical thinking). Perhaps she’s gone on a diet, he says. But Klára thinks this unlikely – she knows Adéla, and she knows she’d never pass up an opportunity to eat at a restaurant.

She says goodbye to Petr and lies in her sick-room thinking what could be the matter with Adéla. Why didn’t she go with them and why did she say nothing to Petr? She considers ringing her, but then she decides against it because of the expense. She writes her a text: Everything OK? Why didn’t you go with the others? Are you ill? Let me know. Can’t wait to see you. M. XXX

Adéla reads the text, but she’s not in the mood to reply to it. I’m not yours, so why are you bothered? she thinks.

That evening, on top of her self-pity for not being theirs, which is why they don’t love her as much as they love Johana, she wonders why they never told her. How come Johana knew and she didn’t?

This makes it feel like a double betrayal.

It was Klára who decided not to tell Adéla for the time being that her parents were killed in a car accident, that her – Adéla’s – father brought about the death of four people including himself, that she – Klára – hates Adéla’s father for killing her parents and sister. Besides, Adéla is not someone else’s – they didn’t take her because they needed a child from somewhere but because she was theirs. Another reason Klára didn’t tell Adéla she was adopted is because she doesn’t see it like this – Adéla is family.

Petr has no settled opinion on the matter. It’s Klára’s concern, and when the time comes, she’ll be the one to tell her.

As far as Petr’s concerned, Adéla’s long been theirs, and if not his exactly, then Klára’s for sure.

Because she’s nosey and listens at keyholes and knows very well what’s secret and what she shouldn’t hear. When she’s older she’ll rummage in other people’s things and read Adéla’s diary. And hold on to what she knows until she can use it to her own best advantage.

“I want pizza,” said Jo-jo as soon as the phone call was over.

Petr shakes his head. “I’m afraid they don’t do pizza here,” he says. Johana pulls a face and wants to leave, but Bára fancies fish and so does Petr, whose favourite restaurant food is fish and frutti di mare. Besides, this place specialises in fish and things that are grilled. Still he is prepared to go elsewhere. But Bára and Jitka want to stay where they are.

“You can have chips if you like,” says Petr, trying his best, studying the menu for something else Johana might like. “Or spaghetti.” But Jo-jo’s face is still set in a frown. When they bring the drinks she doesn’t even touch her juice.

“How about I fetch you a pizza from somewhere else and bring it here?” Petr tries as a last resort.

Isn’t that it a bit much? thinks Bára, looking critically at cross little Jo-jo. But in fact Petr would do the same for any of them.

Jo-jo shakes her head. It’s as if Petr’s obvious willingness has softened her attitude.

“I’ll have the chips,” she says, and Petr is relieved. At last he can think about what he’s going to have himself.

Bára compares the weights of the different dishes because she fancies something big. Her appetite and her good mood have returned. She, too, likes going to restaurants, but the main thing is it’s the last evening and everything’s about to take a turn for the better. But the lost telephone still bugs her – how many messages are gone forever? She must buy a new one on Sunday, as soon as she gets back. More expense, worst luck.

But she can live with that this evening. It’s as if all the bad stuff is behind her. She has a steak from the grill. Two hundred grammes’ worth.

Jitka isn’t hungry so she’ll have something small. She opts for the little fried fishes, which she should be able to manage.

Although they’re all in a fairly good mood (except Jo-jo, who is hungry and tired, probably because of what she went through earlier), once they have ordered and the waiter has taken away the menus, they find they have nothing to say to one another.

Bára and Petr exchange a few words on the tree whose branches reach over the restaurant and its strange blossom, the nice atmosphere of the restaurant and the like. Jitka says nothing and feels embarrassed at how hard they are trying – far better to keep quiet than to talk about nothing. Jo-jo fiddles with her cutlery and the tablecloth, yawns and looks about the restaurant. She feels tired enough to sleep.

Nor does Bára see much point in talking about trees and tablecloths, but what else is there to talk about? She could try films, but Petr doesn’t know that much about them and she doesn’t know anything about literature. What else do they have in common? Nothing.

They could reminisce, she supposes.

The arrival of their meals is a kind of liberation – it’s OK not to talk while you’re eating. But there are loads and loads of the little fried fish.

Luckily Bára helps Jitka out.

By now Adéla can hardly weep or pity herself any more – her eyes are burning and her head is aching and muzzy. She tries reading again. Better than just sitting there thinking about it. But it’s too much of a struggle – she can’t keep her mind on it. So she turns back to her writing, writes down everything in great and exact detail. After today she’ll write this diary every day until she dies.

And still she doesn’t know what she’s going to do, how she’s going to tell them that she knows.

After the meal Petr would be happy to stay in his seat for a while, to have another glass of wine and some coffee. He’s not bothered that they’re not saying anything important or interesting. When there’s nothing he has to do, when he doesn’t have to think about anything or solve any problems, Petr is able to keep quiet and enjoy the moment.

But Jo-jo has had enough. She gives the impression she could fall asleep right there at the restaurant. So they gather their things and go as soon as they’ve finished eating. Petr carries Johana to the car.

Bára and Jitka go back with them. Bára has eaten slightly too much but she’s still in a good mood after drinking almost a whole bottle of wine. She’s looking forward to falling asleep and even more to waking up.

Jitka wanders down to the sea as soon as they reach the apartment. And though the sea is as black as coffee and usually she’d be afraid even to dip her toe in it, today she has no such fear (she will tomorrow) and goes for a bathe. Strange how her white body is luminous in the dark water.

Adéla is surprised when they get back so early. She pushes herself into a corner and tries to make herself small, and the whole time Petr is undressing Johana and getting her ready for bed, she stays stock-still. But her heart is thumping. Mindful of how she yelled at him earlier, Petr thinks it best not to ask her anything.

Johana falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow.

In Prague, Klára is waiting for a text from Adéla. Something’s not right – usually Adéla writes back straight away.

Out on the terrace Bára and Petr share another bottle of wine, but they no longer try to make conversation. Petr reads (he’s not going finish the book after all, so it seems) and Bára just sits there, making no attempt to distract Petr from his book. He’s done with talking for today anyway. And tomorrow – at last – they’ll be going home.

When she feels she’s just as drunk as she wants to be, Bára goes to bed.

When he’s on his own, Petr can read and read. In the end he does finish his book, and he goes to bed at three. Oh well, Bára can do some of the driving. Because all he does is read, he doesn’t have much time to consider how the holiday went. Only as he’s cleaning his teeth does he spare it a thought. He doesn’t know what’s going on with Adéla – he’s never seen her like this before. (But how could he know? He only spends the evenings with her after work and the weekends, and Adéla spends much of that time reading.)

He’s happy things turned out OK with Bára and Jitka. Or least that there were no problems. He doesn’t know that Bára is sorry all they ever do is talk, not converse, nor does he know that he means practically nothing to Jitka.

He’s quite pleased he was able to relax. And to read.

He managed OK without Klára, or so he thinks.

All evening, to the sound of Johana’s breathing, Adéla thinks about going out to Petr on the terrace and asking him about the whole business. But like Bára she knows there’s no way they could speak of their feelings just like that. Like Bára, Adéla is not used to speaking with him about important things. So she just lies there thinking about it all until she falls asleep.


Translated by Andrew Oakland, taken from