There was a white iPhone and a black iPhone and a blue Blackberry. A Blueberry. Kate herself hadn’t yet gotten around to procuring a local cell, and despite earlier assurances to the contrary from the Mumbai customer representative of her service provider based in Colorado, there was no dialling code, no combination of digits, no change to network settings, no anything she could do that would enable her French-designed Taiwan-produced Virginia-procured mobile telephone to make or receive calls here, in Europe.
It had been simpler when there had been other people to handle the tech aspects of her life.
But what was apparently not on this table was artificial sweetener; there was never any artificial sweetener on any table.
“Artificial sweetener” was not something she had learned how to say en francais. In her mind, Kate formed a French sentence that was translated from “Is there a thing to put in coffee like sugar but different?” She was trying to remember if the word sugar was masculine or feminine; the difference would change her pronunciation of the word for different. Or would it? With which noun should that adjective agree?
Is different even an adjective?
But “Is there a thing to put in coffee like sugar but different?” was, Kate feared, simply too retarded-sounding, so what the hell did it matter if she pronounced the final consonant sounds of different/differente? It didn’t.
There was, of course, an ashtray on the table.
“Kate?” The Italian was looking directly at her. “Have you seen her? The new Americana?”
Kate was stunned to discover she was the one being addressed. “No.”
“I believe that the new American woman does not have children, or at least none that attend our school, or she is not the person who is bringing the children to school or collecting them,” piped up the Indian.
“Correct,” said the other American at the table. Amber, maybe? Kelly? Something like that. “But she has a hot husband. The whole tall-dark-handsome thing. Right, Devi?”
The Indian tittered, her hand covering her mouth, actually blushing. “Oh I do not know anything about his handsomeness or lack thereof, I can tell you that for certain.” Kate was impressed with how many words this woman used to communicate her ideas.
She couldn’t help but wonder what these women had said about her and Dexter, two weeks ago, when they’d arrived for the first day of school. She looked around the strange café-bar in the large low-ceilinged room in the basement of the sports center. Upstairs, the children were taking tennis lessons from English-speaking Swedish coaches named Nils and Magnus. One was very tall and the other medium-tall, both could be accurately described as tall blond Swedish coaches. Apparently, all the tennis coaches here were Swedish. Sweden was six hundred miles away.
They did this every Wednesday. Or they will do this every Wednesday. Or this was the second Wednesday they were doing this, with the plan that this is what they will do, on Wednesdays.
Maybe there already was a routine, but she just didn’t recognise it yet.
“Kate I apologize if I already asked this so please forgive me if it seems rude but I cannot remember if I asked: for how long are you planning to live in Luxembourg?”
Kate looked at her Indian interlocutor, then at the other American, then the Italian.
“How long?” Kate asked herself for the hundredth time. “I have no idea.”
* * * * * *
“HOW LONG WILL you live in Luxembourg” Adam had asked.
Kate had been staring at herself in the mirror that covered the full wall of the windowless interrogation room – officially called a conference room, but everyone knew better – up on the sixth floor. She tucked a strand of wayward auburn hair behind her ear. Kate had always worn her hair short, as a matter of practicality, in fact a necessity when she’d travelled regularly. Even when she’d stopped going abroad, she was still a harried working mother, and short hair made sense. But it was generally difficult to schedule haircuts, so her hair was often at least a bit too long, and strands were always escaping. Like now.
Her cheeks looked flabby. Kate was tall and slender – angular, is how someone once put it, not particularly generously but undeniably accurately – and she wasn’t one of those insane types who thought she was fat, or pretended to think it. The flab was just in her cheeks, an extra sag that meant she hadn’t been eating well or exercising enough, but probably didn’t amount to anything more than an excess pound, maybe two.
Plus the bags under her gray-green eyes were more noticeable today, under those bright fluorescent lights. She’d been sleeping badly – awfully – and last night had been particularly disastrous. Kate looked like crap.
She sighed. “I explained this already, two hours ago.”
“Not to me,” Adam said. “So please, explain it again.”
Kate crossed her long legs, ankles knocking against each other. Her legs had always been one of her best physical assets. She’d often wished for fuller breasts, or more of an hourglass figure. But in the end, she had to admit that shapely legs were probably the most practical choice among the bizarre body forms men found attractive. Big boobs were clearly a pain in the ass, whereas the ass itself, if not small, had a tendency to droop into something absolutely dreadful in women her age who exercised as infrequently as she, and didn’t categorically deny themselves ice cream.
Kate had never seen this Adam character before, a squared-off ex-military type. But that was no surprise. Her company employed ten of thousands of people over the globe, with thousands in the D.C. area, scattered among who knows how many buildings. There would be a lot of people she’d never seen.
“My husband’s contract is for one year. As I understand it, that’s pretty common.”
“And after one year?”
“We’ll hope it gets renewed. That too is a common expat circumstance.”
“And what if his contract isn’t renewed?”
She looked over Adam’s shoulder into the large two-way mirror, behind which, she knew, was an array of her superiors, watching her. “I don’t know.”
Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Pavone