by Pebbles


It was a bright and sunny morning and it promised to be a beautiful day. Luka whistled to himself as he shaved in the shower. Today he was going to have a day out – do what ‘normal’ people did on a public holiday.

Alice had agreed to come out with him and it felt good to have a friend to share his day. He had felt a little hypocritical when he lectured her about allowing your friends to help you when he had been ignoring this advice himself. So he had prescribed them both an outing.

Luka decided to leave the car at home. It was just as convenient to take The El and it might be hard to park on a public holiday. He made his way to the apartment block where Alice was now ‘house-sitting’, running up the front steps two at a time. She must have been looking out for him as the door was flung open just as he reached the top.

 “Hi Luka, you in training for the Olympics!?” she laughed. Luka leant against the doorframe for a moment to catch his breath. “Maybe I should have quit smoking a little sooner”

“So where are we going – do I need to smarten up?” Alice gestured at her sleeveless T-shirt and embroidered and cropped jeans. “No, I wasn’t planning on taking you to The Sheraton Towers” he hastily added ”– not that you wouldn’t look fine anyway” as Alice wrinkled up her nose.

“So we’re not going to The Sheraton Towers – come on don’t keep me in suspense.” “Well, I thought we could check out this Navy Pier that everyone seams to go to. We can take a look at an exhibition, maybe go to a theatre, get something to eat – you know - just ‘hang-out’” “Sounds fine to me – lead on.”

It was such a beautiful day and anyone watching the young couple as they larked about on Pier Walk would never have believed they had a care in the world. The man, tall with dark Mediterranean looks, complementing the girl who was also tall, perhaps 5’10”, with shoulder length honey-blonde hair.  Two unselfconsciously beautiful people delighting in one another’s company completely unaware of the interested looks directed their way.  

They had decided to check out an exhibition of sculpture. “The largest outdoor sculpture exhibition in the world” Luka read from the publicity leaflet “And entry is free – well that gets my vote!”

The pieces were large and various and both Luka and Alice took an irreverent approach. It started out with the reading out of pretentious titles for each piece of work and some of the blurb from the catalogue. “This one’s called ‘Yikes’” read out Alice. “Is that a reaction to the price? – Only $45,000!” asked Luka

“Nah, I reckon it’s what the porters said when they told them they’d have to carry a nine foot high bronze all the way down here. Looks like a guy with a hula hoop embedded in his back!”

“How about this one?” Luka asked “It’s called ‘Flower’ and is very reasonably priced at just $20,000” “Looks like a row of coat hooks,” thought Alice aloud. “Yes, but an eleven foot high row of coat hooks!”

“Nah, not today thank you. Mind you I really like this one.” She stood next to a massive disk of steel and glass like a sun from a horological chart. “Well, I would buy it for you but I haven’t got $15,000 on me! How about we go get some lunch now” Luka suggested.

“Good idea. My stomach is beginning to think my throat’s been cut” laughed Alice. “What shall we have? Hot dog, pizza, er…...” Luka ran through the options.  “Pizza will be fine. Can’t stand hot dogs!”  Soon they were comfortably seated with a view of the lake and a huge Margarita to share between them. Two bottles of cold beer completed the picnic.

“D’you know, this is the most fun I’ve had in a long time, probably since I came to America.” Alice grinned at Luka, a small piece of cheese dangling from the corner of her mouth. He watched with amusement as she tried to remove it with her tongue. “Let me” Luka carefully wiped it away with the corner of a paper serviette. “How long have you been here, in America I mean?”

“Oh, golly it must be nearly six months now. It was just after New Year. Would you like to hear my sad little story – I warn you it’s pretty pathetic.” Luka nodded and smiled in encouragement.

“Well I grew up on the West Coast of Scotland in a small town called Oban. My father was a Minister (of the church) and I was brought up fairly strictly – both my parents were pretty old and in fact they’re both passed away now. I have one brother, Robbie. He went into the Army and I was supposed to go to college and be a teacher. Well, I had other ideas. I always loved to sing and spent more time rehearsing with my friends – we had a band – than studying. Of course I flunked my exams and instead of going to college I ended up in Glasgow working the clubs and doing a fair bit of session work.” Alice paused for a moment to study Luka’s reaction. He didn’t say anything just nodded slightly for her to continue.

“Well, actually I was doing OK. Our band was never going anywhere but I was getting regular work doing backing vocals for some fairly big names. I even went on tour with Annie Lennox – fifteen dates all over the UK. She’s my idol so I was in heaven!  I even made enough to go to college on my own terms. I did a course in music therapy which was amazing and then I go and throw it all away for a no good sweet talking American!”  Alice broke off to take a swig of beer. “I always had a weakness for a tall, dark and handsome stranger” Luka smiled at this. Alice continued “He was so full of it. He was an agent – supposedly. He had all these contacts. If I came with him to the States I was going to make it big time, etc, etc . etc. And I fell for it”

“So what happened?” Luka gently urged her to continue. “Well nothing really. That was the problem. It turned out that he was more interested in doing Coke than promoting my career and before I knew it he was in big trouble with some seriously nasty people. He owed them a lot of money. And then he turned on me. He took my passport – I guess he sold that. He tried to….” Alice dropped her head, her expression hidden behind a curtain of hair “to pimp for me. But I wasn’t having that. He was so mad with me all the time, kept threatening to throw me out or report me as an illegal alien, stuff like that. It was a nightmare really. I’m so glad I got away from all that but I’m still in the shit. No passport, no visa, no money.”

“But you have friends now Alice.” Luka spoke at last “And I know people – in the Croatian community – who know about visas and stuff like that. We can sort something out I’m sure, find you a sponsor, what ever it takes.”

 “You’re a really kind man, Luka Kovac. I can’t believe you’d want to bother with an idiot like me!  And Corrine has been really good to me too. My problems seam really trivial now – but you know there were times when I thought I was going under. It was getting harder and harder to keep going – much easier to just give up –you know?”

“Yes, I do.” Luka left it at that and changed the subject. “So what would you like to do this afternoon?” “Oh, whatever. What’s on at the theatre?” Alice squinted up at Luka who was now on his feet. He offered her his hand to help her up off the grass. “Well I think I read that there is a production of Hamlet. But I don’t know if we would be able to get tickets – shall we go and see?” Alice took his hand and as they walked back towards the theatre they continued to hold hands. It wasn’t a romantic thing just companionable.

The signs outside the theatre announced the new production of The Chicago Shakespeare Company: ‘Hamlet – The Musical’. “You have got to be joking!” Alice exclaimed. “It could be fun – what do you think?” Luka was not really sure it would be as ‘rib-splittingly funny’ as the billboard claimed. “Nah, perhaps some other time. How about we try and get out on the water as it’s such a beautiful day – we could hire a boat.”

Not long afterwards Luka was in his element, expertly sculling a small rowboat out on the lake. Alice sat in the stern trailing her hands in the cool water enjoying the warmth of the sunshine on her bare arms. “You’ve done this before?” Alice smiled at Luka squinting slightly in the bright sunlight. “When I was a child I virtually lived on the water.”

 “Tell me about your childhood Luka” He was silent for quite some time the only sound being the gentle splashing of the oars as they cut through the water.

“I was always messing about on or in the water. We lived right on the coast. One of my uncles was a fisherman so we used to help him at the weekends or school holidays. He paid us a few Dinars and we used to spend it all on petrol for our little speedboat. We used to offer our services to the tourists – take them up river to see the famous waterfalls. They were mostly German and we would try and charge them as much as we thought we could get away with!” Luka chuckled softly as he remembered one particular incident.

“One day we were taking a group of German tourists up the river when some of them demanded that we give their friends a tow. My older brother, Viktor was steering and he kept his face completely deadpan. Their friends were in a canoe and he steered over to them, took the line they gave him and tied it on the back of the boat. Well I knew what was going to happen and I had to dive into the cabin so they couldn’t see me shaking with laughter. All the time Viktor just stared ahead and gradually increased the throttle.

 “The canoe started to dive about from side to side and then it lurched up in the air and capsized giving them all a dunking!” Luka struggled to finish his story as he laughed at the vivid memory “They were shrieking ‘My camera! My camera’ and I was still hiding in the cabin almost crying with laughter by then. Viktor just calmly waited whilst they all got hauled out of the water and then continued up to the falls. Mind you we didn’t get a tip for our trouble.”  

All the time that Luka was telling his story Alice studied his face. It was if ten years had dropped off him. She wasn’t really sure how old he was. When she had first seen him at Doc Magoos he had seamed so worn down by life, he could have been over 40. Now she wasn’t sure. She guessed that he was mid thirties – much older than she was anyway – but their sense of humour was so similar, age didn’t seam to matter. His eyes were shining as he remembered happier times and Alice thought he was the most handsome man she had ever met.

Luka offered the oars to Alice “How about you row us back to the shore?”  “OK” Alice swapped places with Luka – an operation that required them to carefully manoeuvre their bodies past each other with a fair amount of physical contact. Alice suddenly began to feel shy. <Oh God Alice, don’t start getting goofy about this guy> she firmly told herself. She then proceeded to put all her concentration into rowing the boat – pleased that she hadn’t forgotten the skill.

“Hey, you’re no beginner are you!” Luka was impressed. “Well Oban is on the coast too you know. Although the Atlantic is a sight colder than the Adriatic!”

By the time they reached the shore it was getting quite late. “I can’t believe I’m hungry again!” Alice had to admit. “It’s all this fresh air and exercise – just what the doctor ordered!” Luka grinned. “How about a drink first? We can watch the sun go down over the lake.” “That would be lovely, Dr Kovac” Luka smiled at the way Alice pronounced his name. In fact he loved listening to her talk, her accent was so soft, almost musical. He was enjoying her company so much. She made him feel young again.

The bar they had chosen for its view of the water was in fact a Karioke bar. Although it was still early the bar was thronging with people and there was a constant stream of would be singers trying out their vocal talents. During a particularly painful rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’ Luka clapped his hands over his ears and demanded that they find somewhere quieter.

Alice wasn’t quite ready though. “Just one more song – I think you might enjoy it.” And she got up from the table and took the microphone from the last performer. She smiled at Luka hoping that she wasn’t about to make a total ass of herself.

The music began – it was Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’. As Alice sang the first lines the bar fell silent, her soulful voice filling the room:

Just a perfect day

drink Sangria in the park

 And then later

when it gets dark, we go home

Just a perfect day

feed animals in the zoo

 Then later

a movie, too, and then home


Oh, it's such a perfect day

I'm glad I spend it with you

 Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on

 You just keep me hanging on


Just a perfect day

problems all left alone

Weekenders on our own

it's such fun


Just a perfect day

you made me forget myself

I thought I was

someone else, someone good

Oh, it's such a perfect day

 I'm glad I spent it with you


Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on

You just keep me hanging on

You're going to reap just what you sow

You're going to reap just what you sow

You're going to reap just what you sow

You're going to reap just what you sow

As the final notes faded away the whole bar erupted into applause. Luka stood at the table clapping his hands for all he was worth, tears stinging his eyes. Never had he felt so moved by a song – it was as if Alice had reached out and touched his soul.

Alice ignored the calls for an encore and returned to the table, feeling a little flushed. She had forgotten how much of a thrill she got from performing. Luka was grinning from ear to ear. “That was wonderful!” was all he could think to say although he felt much more. “Thank you. It <was> a thank you – I meant every word” Alice was sure she was blushing now. “Shall we get out of here now?”

Leaving the Karioke Bar, Luka was reluctant to let the day end. It had been really special and he wished it could go on forever. “How about a ride on the Ferris Wheel? – You’re not afraid of heights I hope?”

Alice grinned up at Luka. “How could I be afraid with you to take care of me” This brought a smile to Luka’s lips. “I’m no knight in shining armour you know!” He then gallantly guided her through the crowds, one arm protectively wrapped around her waist.

The whole pier area had become really crowded and it was a relief to ride high above the throng into the night air. They had been lucky to get a ride all to themselves and neither spoke as they took in the view of Chicago 150 feet below – a mass of twinkling lights reflecting in the still water of the lake.

Suddenly the sky erupted into dazzling display of fireworks and the air was filled with the deafening noise of their explosions. “Wow!” Alice was thrilled – fireworks were one of her favourite things - and turned to share the moment with Luka but he was no longer beside her.

Alice spun around. At first the car seamed to be empty then she spotted Luka crouched on the floor his hands thrown up protectively over his head. She sank down beside him. Struggling to make her self heard above the uproar of the fireworks, she almost shouted, “What’s the matter?” She couldn’t hear an answer from him so Alice reached out to touch his shoulder and was startled when Luka flinched away.

 “Luka! It’s alright.” Alice was frightened by his reaction. “What’s the matter?” she asked again. Still there was no response. He appeared to be shaking all over and Alice suddenly realised that the noise of the fireworks must be like mortar fire. “Oh my God!” She said out loud, realising he must be having a flashback to the war.

Alice gently wrapped her arms around him. This time he didn’t react to her touch. She could feel him trembling and, putting her face close up against his she could hear him muttering something in Croatian. “Luka, it’s alright. It’s just fireworks.” She held him tighter hoping that she could calm him down. He relaxed a little and, pulling him towards her Alice began to rock him gently whispering over and over “It’s alright, you’re safe here, nothing’s going to hurt you now.”

It seamed like an age but it can’t have been more than fifteen minutes as Alice felt a slight jerk and their ‘ride’ was over. “Can you get up now Luka?” At first he didn’t respond then he grunted slightly and began to straighten up. Like a couple of drunks they struggled up off the floor and out of the car – eliciting curious glances from the next passengers waiting in line. Pushing their way through the crowds it was now Alice who guided Luka. He seamed to have shrunk in stature and, for the first time Alice noticed a slight limp in Luka’s gait.

At last they found a quiet spot in the foyer of the theatre. The noise of the fireworks was completely muffled by the acoustics of the building. A string quartet was playing quietly in the background. Luka sat down heavily, his head hanging so that Alice could not see his face.

She sat opposite him, not sure what to do or say. Finally she reached over and took his hands in hers. Turning them over she caressed his palms with her thumbs admiring the elegance of his long fingers. Looking up she met his gaze. His eyes had taken on the same tired and defeated look, which she had noticed back at Doc Magoos.

“Oh, Luka I’m so sorry” was all that she could think to say. Silently they searched each other’s eyes. Luka, seeing compassion and tenderness in Alice gradually began to let his fear go breathing out raggedly. 

“It is I that am sorry, for frightening you” He spoke at last

“No!” Alice protested “You have nothing to be sorry for!” her voice cracking as tears flooded her eyes. She felt anger that he had had to suffer – was still suffering – and another emotion that welled up in her chest like sorrow and love all mixed up. She threw herself into his arms and cried bitterly against his chest. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” she gasped through her sobs. Luka gently stroked her back. “Steady on Alice, you’re soaking my shirt” he whispered in her ear.

At last they broke apart. “I could do with a drink!” Luka smiled at last. “How about you?” Alice nodded “Whatever you’re having.” Later as they quietly sipped their scotch Alice plucked up courage. “Would you…could you tell me about the war? What were you remembering”

Luka stared at Alice for a while, trying to make sure that he could reveal himself to her. Encouraged by her apparent empathy he began. “It was like the shelling – the fireworks, I mean.” Luka kept his gaze firmly on Alice’s face. He hoped it would stop him becoming engulfed by the memories. “We were in Vukovar in 1991.” Alice nodded her head to register that she had heard of it. “The shelling was relentless. Day after day, night after night. There was no escape.”

Alice listened intently to his story. He told it so vividly that she could almost imagine herself there. With horror she heard of the plight of his family. The sound of the shell that took out the apartment building, how he dug frenziedly in the rubble with his bare hands only to find his wife had been fatally injured and finally the nightmare siege of the hospital and the taking and butchering of his tiny children. 

At last Luka stopped. There was more to tell but he was exhausted. Perhaps he should not have burdened her with this so soon or at all – her spirit was so fragile. Luka searched Alice’s face for a reaction. Her eyes were shining as if tears threatened to pour forth.

 At first Alice could not speak – what could she say in response to this tragedy? There were no words to adequately convey how she felt. Instead Alice gently cupped his right cheek with her hand hoping to express with touch what words would fail to do. Luka in turn planted the softest of kisses on her wrist.

“I guess we should be heading home soon” Alice spoke at last. “Yes, I guess so.” Luka stood up and offered Alice his hand. Later as they rode the El he put his arm around her shoulder and Alice rested her head against his chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart.

Ever the gentleman, Luka walked Alice right to her door. “Thank you for a perfect day Luka” “You’re welcome. And thank you. Perhaps we could do it again some time? Maybe check out ‘Hamlet – the musical’?” The humour had returned to Luka’s voice. “Yeah, that would be fun. You know where to find me” “Yeah. Night, night Alice.” Luka planted a kiss on the top of Alice’s head and jogged off into the night.

“Sleep tight, Luka” Alice whispered into the darkness.  Later as she lay awake going back over the day Alice wondered how Luka had managed to keep going all these years alone with such terrible memories. He was a very strong man for sure. And he had found room in his heart to take care of her.

 Alice felt very small and chastened. How pathetic she was to think she had problems. Apart from anything else she had brought them on herself. It was her fault. No one had made her go with Lennie. She was her own worst enemy – way too trusting. Luka must think she was really stupid. In the end, Alice cried herself to sleep – wracked with self-loathing and guilt.


to part 3

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