The dial on the radio ran like a scale climbing all the frequencies their range took in. Vienna, Preßburg, Rome. Prague and Warsaw. Trn watched the boy run his forefinger along the names.
Do you want to get the atlas down? he asked. We can find them all there.
Bucharest, Munich, Berlin. Alexandria. Paris, Kiev, Stockholm. Back and forth, still the finger of a child, pale and tapered. Amsterdam and London, Lisbon, Algiers. It always stopped at Alexandria. The boy liked this best because it looked like his name.
Now we listen only to Vienna.
That’s right. And Prague. And a few others.
We used to listen to so many. In the evenings. Even if we didn’t understand the words. Once we listened to Albania.
Trn nodded. That’s right.
Viktor. I need you in the kitchen.
But now we listen only to Vienna. Mostly.
I’m coming in a moment, Trn called.
That is because the penalty for listening to the wireless broadcasts is death.
Where did you hear that?
Aleks’s eyes lifted, moved over the far corners of the room. He shrugged, his open hands rising.
Everywhere. It says so there around the knob.
He pointed at the plate of paper warning in Czech and German what Trn had thought the boy too young to read.
In the stairwell back from their walk they could hear the shouting. The boy looked up at him and said, Is that Grandfather? Trn took the steps two at a time.
He was in the sitting room with the neck of the bottle in his fist still raving over Alena’s pleas to be quiet. Trn laid a hand on Miroslav’s shoulder, and the old man looked at him like a stranger had put a finger in his face.
Fifteen million, Miroslav said. They mutilated a country of fifteen million people.
What began this?
He heard Benes from London, Alena said. Father, you must be quiet. She stared at Trn. Why do we even have that machine here? It’s caused nothing but grief. It was better when they took the short wave away.
How could they allow that to happen? Civilization. Ha. Miroslav slapped the table, and a pencil leaped to the floor. The whole of Europe has abandoned us.
Aleks picked up the pencil and stood holding it.
Aleks, why don’t you go out on the balcony.
It’s almost dark.
You’ve got a while. Go count the swallows. Take Grandfather’s spyglass so you can see them better.