He lay in bed thinking about the new book by Zarko Radakovic and David Albahari, Knjiga o muzici, the “Book about Music.” He couldn’t read it because it was in Serbian. He thought about Albahari’s novel Ludwig, which he had just read in German translation. He thought about Radakovic’s Strah od Emigracije, frustrated at his inability to read the Serbian “Fear of Emigration.” He lay there thinking about Svetislav Basara’s The Cyclist Conspiracy, newly translated from Serbian into English by Randall Major. He couldn’t sleep because Dragan Velikic and Danilo Kis and Aleksandar Tisma and Miljenko Jergovic and Dragan Aleksic and Ranko Marinkovic and Aleksandar Hemon and other Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian wizards mocked him from their books. He counted critical but unfamiliar diacritical marks until he found himself floating down the Drina River toward the Visegrad bridge where Ivo Andric stood waiting for him.
And then he was in a large plane, forced to take over the controls for reasons he could not understand. His first slight pressure against the stick made the plane pitch suddenly toward the ground. They would all die. He experimented with the stick while watching out of a side window behind him where he got glimpses of the ground to guide his adjustments and finally they were flying again, after a fashion. Eventually the fuel gage reached empty and he landed the big plane, somehow, on the short dark runway of a tiny airport somewhere in Yugoslavia.
He tried to figure out how to refuel but couldn’t make sense of the hose connections on what he took to be the pump. While he went through the possibilities a man approached him and said he would fill up the fuel tanks if he would go in and sign the proper papers. He knew that was impossible. He was not the authorized pilot. Someone from the plane explained something to the man who had offered to help and he agreed to sign the papers himself. What was the explanation, he wondered? Had the man been told he was an American? Wouldn’t that have been more problematic than helpful?
The plane was eventually fueled up, but he could not make out the runway in the darkness. Telephone poles and a high building and thick trees crowded into what should be open space. He followed tracks through the trees, tracks that looked like they had been made by planes. There was, however, no room for the wings to have passed. He thought that his plane might be disassembled so it could be pushed along the trail. He emerged from the trees and watched a plane take off from a little field. It lifted off the ground at the last second and then pulled straight up, just missing the tall building.
He wondered whether he could make the large plane do that. He tried to calculate the necessary speed. He checked the wind direction. He wished he knew the weight of the plane. Could the passengers throw out their luggage. What if they dispensed with all diacritical marks?