Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:
When tens of thousands of refugees from East Germany had begun pouring into Czechoslovakia in November 1989, Alex had brought his mother round to their flat so they could watch together the events unfolding on the television. For a few nights Margita slept in their spare bed. Zachary had telephoned from New York; Alex had stayed home from his classes in the language school and walked from room to room with the radio pressed to his ear in case he missed anything. Christine sat breastfeeding Isobel, watching the abandoned Trabants blocking the Prague streets, the tent city growing in the courtyard of the West German Embassy, the police trying to stop the men and women climbing over the embassy walls. There were mass demonstrations, the crowd jangled their key rings, Alex thought you could pick out on the television the StB men moving against them, taking photographs. In Bratislava they broadcast dissident music via television signals from Vienna. Alex and Margita and Christine couldn’t turn their eyes away from the police in their white helmets breaking up demonstrations, using tear gas, pulling the peaceful demonstrators down by the hair, kicking at them and beating them with their truncheons.
Then Havel in his leather coat was addressing the crowds in Prague, and the crowds were waltzing in slow motion and waving sparklers. Havel was embracing Dubček, recalled from his desk job working for the Forestry Service – somehow he had not been hanged or shot. A bust of Stalin was paraded with Nic Netrva Vecne written on a paper strung around his neck; the cameras loved that, Nothing Lasts Forever. Margita turns to look at Christine on the sofa, tears running down her face, making runnels in the pink powder. She said she’d thought it would last another hundred years, or four hundred. She was still handsome at sixty, with her fierce stare and thick shock of hair, home-dyed, streaked blonde; her hand was pressed to her heavy bosom in its close-fitting jazz-print dress as if she were holding in something fighting to get out, and she pulled her cardigan tight across her chest, squeezing its buttons in her fist, in tense concentration on the TV screen. She and Alex spoke together in their own language, which Christine hadn’t often heard him use. The family had always tried to speak in English, it had been the first rule Margita and Tomas adopted on arriving in the new country, to save their son. Stesk was homesickness, Margita explained to Christine, it was for sentimentalists, she’d refused to feel it on principle. But on a day like this . . .