Jacek: An excerpt from Polska, 1994

Author: • March 20, 2014 • Novel Excerpts

Jacek was one of them.

“Cześć mała.”  His voice sounded exactly as I remembered it.  He kissed me on both cheeks.  The girl eyed me from behind spider-leg mascara.  I was so horribly underdressed.

He introduced me to his friends. She was Jadwiga, but she’d already lost interest in me.  He crooked his head toward the doorman and they passed beneath the angel—into Pod Aniołem.

Jacek stared down at me.  “You coming?”

“Coming where?”

“Inside.”  He gestured toward the large wood door as it closed behind the last of his crew.

“Inside Aniołem?”  I didn’t know anything about that place except that it admitted adults only.  I didn’t think it was a den of iniquity—not exactly anyway…

He sealed my lips with a finger.  “Shh, follow me.”

“But Jacek, I’ll never get in, there’s no way…”

He slid his ID out of his wallet and the doorman nodded without even looking at me.  A cloud of smoke hit my face as Jacek held open the door, and before I knew it we were walking down and down worn stone steps into the bricked arches of a former wine cellar, or maybe a dungeon.  I ran my hand along the rough bricks—people had walked down these steps for nearly a millennium.

Jacek urged me along with a tug at the elbow.  The music thumped loud but not deafening.  Blue neon highlighted the bar that ran the full length of one wall.  Jacek’s friends encircled a table in the far west corner.  He squeezed us in next to them and pulled the centerpiece candle toward the cigarette between his lips.

“No!”  His friend in grey pulled Jacek’s hand away from his face, “You’ll kill a sailor.”  Someone passed him a lighter.  He blew smoke in a slow stream at my already stinging eyes.

Jadwiga leaned across the table and said to me, “You know what that means, right?  He wants to have sex with you.”  Sex?  I didn’t even know his last name.

Jacek ordered a UB 40 from the waitress and asked what I wanted.  I had no idea what to order.

“A Coke?”

The waitress popped her gum and stared at the wall.  She hadn’t heard me.

Jacek said, “She’ll have a rum and Coke.”

I didn’t plan on drinking, but I wanted to blend in.  I remember thinking how badly I wanted to be there—to be near him.  Once or twice his knee accidentally brushed mine.  I hoped he would linger.  Jadwiga sat on the lap of the guy in green and whispered in the ear of the one in dusty blue.  He had his hand farther up her skirt than I even thought possible.

Stories flew across the table and eighty proof bravado rounded out their voices.  Jacek paid.  I took a small sip of my drink—it tasted kind of like a sweeter Coke, like there was no alcohol in it at all.  After a while and a few drinks, my head started to spin.  I tried to focus on Jacek’s face but it kept moving.



About the Author

Ilsa McKettaAuthor: Isla McKetta

Country of residence: United States of America

Nationality: American

Mother tongue: English

Isla McKetta is a novelist who has lived on three continents and traveled across four. Her first novel, Polska, 1994, was researched while she lived in Poland. She reviews books at A Geography of Reading.

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