|Chagrin River Review
Notes Toward a Revised Definition of Myself
Felicity Huber pulled the car to the side of the street and turned off the engine. The block of Calle Zucolillo where she stopped, between España and Mariscal López, belonged to rich people. You couldn’t actually see their mansions. High walls sealed them from the street. From what she had seen of them, she felt no particular love for Asunción’s moneyed elite but admired the way their gardeners trained flowering bushes to cascade down the adobe walls. Staring, your eye was rafted down a long, still river of red and purple and orange blossoms to a point of visual peace that did not seem quite real.
She didn’t have to show up at El Sátiro. It was her choice to make or unmake.
She rolled down the window. In Asunción the midsummer heat was brutal and wet. You wore it like a second skin. She loved it.
She sat in her car listening to the high drone of afternoon insects, incense for the ear. It was the siesta hour. In the rich people’s big, quiet houses their employees lay dreaming on cots. If her Spanish were better, there was an idea: write a book about the dreams of household servants. One way to know a country; better, really, than the reams of analysis Karl pumped out. Thinking about dreams brought back her own from the night before: an apple orchard crisp in fall, a powerful longing that blended wellbeing and desire.
She took the notebook from her purse and wrote, Her husband’s infidelity was the best thing that happened to her in twenty years. She read the sentence she had written, crossed out ‘best,’ and wrote ‘only liberating.’ Then she closed the notebook and put it back in her purse. Reflexively she looked at herself in the rear-view mirror, but she was not really interested in how she looked, just then.
It was a cheap trick, writing about yourself in the third person, but she found it stimulating. It fit with her mania for observation, which had kicked in when she and Karl were posted to Paraguay. What was I before I was an observer? she wondered. It no longer bothered her to ask questions she could not answer. She rolled up the window and started the engine.
At El Sátiro, Paolo dos Santos was waiting in the garden on an iron bench drinking a Campari & soda and frowning at a peacock in the emerald grass. As Felicity approached, the bird fanned its tail feathers and moved away. A waiter old enough to be her father hovered. She wished he didn’t feel obligated to smile obsequiously at her. Paolo stood and kissed her on both cheeks, Paraguayan style.
“What is it about peacocks that makes wealthy people keep them around?”
She came back quickly, as though this were the kind of conversation she was used to having. “They are beautiful for their own sake. It’s another form of luxury.”
Paolo smiled. He ordered her a mineral water, and she made mental notes she would transcribe later. Salt-and-pepper hair. A hulking strength that made him seem bigger than he was. Large, gentle hands. A mustache that somehow suggested he knew about the flaw in the kernel of everything that lived.
"What did you see today?” she asked him.
“Two men at a streetcorner fighting over a sack of oranges.”
He nodded. “Sadly, the oranges come from Brazil. A generation ago, the Paraguayans grew their own.”
“What about you?”
“I saw a woman asleep in a hammock holding a rope. At the other end of the rope was a brown monkey with a black tail. It had a patient expression. Supernaturally patient, I would say.”
They had agreed not to talk about their spouses. Paolo was in Asunción directing a medical research program on Chagas disease. His wife was a physician; Helenice had stayed behind in Rio. All Paolo knew about Karl was that he was the counselor for economic affairs at the American embassy. Felicity was never tempted to tell him the rest: that Paraguay was bitter exile for Karl, who had built his career in comfortable European capitals. That an affair with a colleague’s secretary in the embassy in Brussels had gone publicly bad, and the only way to rehabilitate himself was a tour at the ends of the earth in a job beneath his dignity and rank. Karl despised Paraguay: its people, its weather, even the food. Felicity had loved the place from the moment she stepped off the plane. Karl thought she was punishing him with her enthusiasm. He was wrong.
Around Paolo, everything was intense. The slightly oily taste of the mineral water was cut by a slice of lemon. The elderly waiter had the forbearance of a saint, as though he had a secret of great value and was biding his time before sharing it with the less fortunate. The crowd of early idlers at the walled and gated club seemed shipwrecked in luxury. The intense heat made sweat run in Felicity’s armpits and down her back. She felt free. The disaster in Brussels had allowed her to develop a form of intelligence she would not otherwise have known was in her.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep with you,” she told Paolo.
He looked away. “I am disappointed. How could I not be? But you attract me in other ways. Your candor, principally. When I am away from you, I think about our conversations.”
“Is all this generous understanding a tactic?”
He thought for a moment before saying, “I suppose it is. At the same time, it’s true. Your candor brings out my own. I have a vision, Felicity.”
“A vision of what?”
“A man and a woman. Together their ages add up to a century of living, a hundred years of human experience. They are sexual creatures, curious and demanding. And strangely honest. Even if nothing happens between them, they exist in an element of beauty.”
“I need to go.”
“Of course you do. Shall I call you?”
“No, let me call you.”
That night, during dinner at the ambassador’s residence, Felicity was not looking to make trouble. The guest of honor was in town to lecture on intellectual property rights. Dr. Thaddeus Milton from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln wore a bow tie and blazer, and his bald head shone under the electric candelabra. Under the influence of his topic he inflated like a pink balloon.
“Telling the Paraguayans they need to buy their software from Microsoft,” Felicity said as the thought occurred to her. “Isn’t that like telling slaves in the American south they needed to respect the social contract?”
It was no big deal. This was Nora Wilkerson’s first time out as ambassador, but she knew how to pilot a ship clear of rocky shoals. There was no need for Karl to feel mortified, but on the drive home he was miserable.
“Do you try to humiliate me, Fil, or does it come naturally?”
“If Professor Bow-Tie can’t answer a question like that he has no business being here.”
“I guess you need to go on punishing me for what happened with Liana. I can’t change that, can I? Not what happened, and not what it’s done to you.”
She would have liked to tell him how his fling had freed her but knew from experience he would hear only one more attempt to torture him. At home, Almudena opened the gate for them and Karl parked in the garage. Possibly there were tears in his eyes when he took the key from the ignition.
Felicity put a hand on his. “Let’s go for a swim.”
“Are you crazy? It’s eleven o’clock. I have to be back at the embassy by seven.”
“What’s the point of being here if we don’t enjoy it?”
In fact she loved the house. It was what the embassy called representational housing, meaning splendid enough to entertain people the U.S. government was trying to influence. The patio was a garden of tropical delight. Behind the pool was a bank of jasmine that spread a floating carpet of sweet scent at night. It was more house than they needed, especially with the girls away at college. But it was there, it was theirs. Karl’s unwillingness to enjoy the place frustrated her.
In the kitchen she embraced him. He pulled away.
“She’s already gone to bed. I can hear her snoring.”
“I’m tired, Felicity.”
Since Brussels, their lovemaking had been complicated. After the shock, she had forgiven him. The decision to stay married was easy. The pain of betrayal was a knife, but what it cut through was dead skin. Liana’s wonderful waggling ass was beside the point. She pulled her husband by the hand outdoors to the pool. She stripped him first, then herself. She dove into the pool. After a moment’s grumbling, Karl dove in, too. They swam, they climbed out, they made love in the grass. Felicity felt wise but did not know how to give him what she knew.
“You like this,” Karl said.
He sat up, swatted a mosquito, and lit a cigarette. He only smoked under stress, never more than half a pack in a day. He looked like a foreign service officer, cautious and introverted; the burden of ambition was heavier than he had expected it to be. Bliss did not figure in his equations.
“Our house? This starry night? Making love with my husband? Yes, yes, and yes.”
“I mean being in charge.”
She was about to deny that she was in charge but stopped herself. “You were in charge for a lot of years, Karl.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Last night I dreamed about the orchard.”
Any psychic apple orchard she found herself in had something to do with Huber Farms in Middleport, New York. Karl had been valedictorian at Roy-Hart High School before leaving for Princeton. No one expected him to take over the family business. He was destined for something grander than apples.
“I need to get some sleep, Fil.”
“I remember the date. October seventeenth. It was dark and cold, and all you could smell was apples. I can’t think of a better place to lose your virginity.”
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“In the dream, I had this strange sort of mixed feeling. On the one hand I was dying to make love, really craving it. But at the same time I felt a great sense of contentment. More than contentment, it was… I don’t know what it was. But I think the dream means you’re supposed to be happy in your desire. Learn to love the itch you can’t quite scratch. Does that make sense?”
She was being as generous as she knew how to be. She was letting him in. But he didn’t want in, or didn’t know how to go through the door. He stood up, patted her head as though she were a child, and went in the house to sleep.
She took notes at the kitchen table, watched by a cockroach. She felt like a queen, rich enough to bestow diamonds on her favorites. Despite their difficulties her husband was one of her favorites, but he closed his eyes to the sparkle of the jewels she held in her hand. When she noticed the cockroach out of the corner of her eye she threw her pencil at it but missed.
The reedy woman on the porch of the white house on Blankenberg Street in Middleport suffered from macular degeneration, but she recognized Felicity from her stride as she opened the gate and came up the walk.
“My Lord, what are you doing here? What’s wrong?”
When Felicity kissed her, the familiar lilac smell took her thirty years back. “Nothing, Mom. I wanted to see you, that’s all.”
“He couldn’t get away from work.”
Felicity had tried hard to get him to take a few days’ leave and come with her. No luck. Eileen Mueller moved over, and Felicity sat next to her on the porch swing, their thighs pleasantly warm against each other. It was October. After Asunción, the crisp, windy cold was an assault: on her skin, her memory, her sense of herself. Three ears of Indian corn hung on the storm door. Pumpkins were arranged in a row on the steps. Down the street someone was burning wood, and the smoke smell made her realize it was true, everything that ever happened to her was inside her, packed into a ball denser than steel.
“Do the girls know you’re here?”
“I’ll call them tonight.”
“They’re good children. You trained them well. Maddie calls me every Tuesday, and Rebecca calls on Saturday evening at seven, before she goes out to her parties.”
“Are you canning?”
“Some. My eyes won’t let me do much.”
So she settled in and canned vegetables with her mother. Growing up, she had hated the work. It was different now. Every sealed jar was a rescue from rot and satisfied her deeply. She was sleeping, dreamless, in the room she had slept in until she married Karl. The third morning home she asked about his father.
“Thomas doesn’t go to church so much as he used to. Our paths seldom cross. But he’s still working the farm.”
“I want to go see him.”
“Is something wrong between you and Karl?”
Felicity had kept her husband’s affair private, apart from the Brussels embassy, where everyone seemed to know about it before she did. She told her mother, “He got himself involved with a woman in Belgium. It’s over.”
She was relieved that her mother did not seem surprised, or scandalized, and seemed to understand that Felicity could not bear much sympathy. The daughter kissed the mother’s clouded eyes.
That afternoon Felicity drove her rented Corolla out to Huber Farms. The green-shingled farmhouse had shrunk. So had the barns, and the fields. The orchard had shrunk most of all. The smallness disconcerted her, as though someone were playing a trick on her. But as she wandered the fragrant rows, dry grass swishing at her legs, she surrendered to her memory of the place. There were still apples on the trees, which stood in rows like an army of eccentric uncles. Overhead, big-bellied clouds scraped the flat sky. Turning a corner, she startled six crows, and they rose jeering. At the next turn she ran into her father-in-law lugging a bushel basket of apples.
Thomas Huber was eighty, erect and angular with a bluff red face and blue eyes that had always seemed, when she was younger, to be scanning her for flaws.
“Hello, Vati,” she said, and he surprised her by pulling her to his chest and holding fast. He smelled like his orchard.
“Karl couldn’t come,” she told him.
The embassy was gearing up for a DAS visit. Deputy assistant secretaries seldom made the trip to Asunción, and this visit was important to Karl for another reason. Philip Riedenhour had messed up spectacularly in Prague. One night at eleven o’clock the marine on duty opened the door to the economic section and found Riedenhour on the carpet underneath his own secretary. The marine had no choice but to include the incident in his log. Yanked from the post, Riedenhour had performed acts of bureaucratic penance with cunning patience. Now, four years later, he was back strong. He would have a say in where Karl went next and presumably would not hold his Brussels lapse against him.
Thomas handed Felicity a Northern Spy from his basket. Why did she feel guilty, biting into it?
“I don’t like this business of traveling alone,” he told her. “Man and wife should travel together.”
“You know Karl. Work comes first.”
The old man shook his head. “Come to the kitchen,” he told her in the Low German she thought she had forgotten. She took his arm and they walked to the house.
They sat at the kitchen table as he boiled water for tea. She remembered the flecked pattern in the formica top, the decorative blue rim that ran around it. Thomas folded his hands and studied her for a long time.
“I’m old,” he said.
“Yes, you’re old old, Vati.”
“These days, I say what I want.”
“What do you want to say?”
“I’m worried you won’t take care of Karl any more.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Everybody believed Karl was a star. A man born to win great contests, and strong.” He was speaking in German, but she had no difficulty following him. “He is intelligent, and a little vain, but strong he is not. I knew it, I always knew. I used to worry you would leave him. Are you leaving him now?”
Before Brussels, she would have felt obligated to reassure him. Now she told him, “I don’t know.”
He nodded slowly and poured steaming tea into a porcelain cup for her. He set the sugar bowl where she could reach it, took a spoon from the drawer and slid it across the table to her.
“Whatever my son has done, I think he has probably paid the cost.”
It sounded like the judgment of God, delivered in His own compassionate voice. It was time to go back to Paraguay.
Colonel Duncan Phelps, the army attaché, and his wife Rita gave the best parties in the mission. They had been around Latin America for years. They spoke the language, got the culture, knew how to be comfortable. With symmetrically grayed temples and a soldier’s no-shit voice, Duncan was the local alpha dog. Felicity had watched her husband struggle to compete with the man. It was hard. Karl was a doughy fifty-year-old in a suit. His battles were conducted with telegrams and emails, or around meeting tables. But in the course of the year they worked together he had won Duncan’s respect, and Karl looked forward to the Phelps’ parties.
“In Honduras we called it the H factor,” Duncan was saying. “The Contras were bad, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the Hondos. Anything you planned you had to take the H factor into account. You knew out of the gate they were going to screw your operation up.”
He and Rita had invited five couples for steaks and speckled sunshine under their thatched quincho. Lucho, a short, bald man who worked the embassy party circuit, was grilling the meat, serving drinks, orchestrating the meal plan of attack with the woman who worked in the Phelps kitchen.
“So I guess now we’re dealing with the P factor,” said Karl.
That opened the door to a bitch session that stunned Felicity, it was so virulent. No one liked Paraguay or the Paraguayans, and they all piled on. The country was hopeless, and hopelessly corrupt. The economy was primitive, the infrastructure a shambles, the people maddeningly passive.
As Lucho handed her a gin and tonic, Felicity rummaged in her purse for her notebook.
“Did I tell you? I’m writing a book.”
“Fiction or non-fiction?” Rita Phelps asked.
Felicity admired Rita. She left her hair gray, which Felicity took as a sign of interior confidence. She’d figured out what it took to be the wife of an army officer years ago and gave the job the time it needed. But she had a separate life that fed a passion, volunteering long days at an Asunción orphanage.
“Non-fiction. It’s called The New Colonialists.”
Karl winced as she said it, and Felicity felt bad for him. These days he seemed to expect her to embarrass him. She could not make him understand the urgency that forced her to say out loud what she thought and saw.
“It’s like being in a Merchant-Ivory movie.”
She waited for Karl to tell her to stop, but he was too proud to let his dismay show. When all she saw was blank looks, she explained. “You know, a period piece: a bunch of British expats sitting around their club griping about the natives. The natives, in the meantime, are waving feather fans to cool the air.”
Singlehandedly she turned the tide of the conversation. The discussion she provoked was stimulating even if no one was willing to admit she might be right. It was unreasonable, an overreaction, for Karl to do what he did when he got home. He sent Almudena away – mission employees gossiped ferociously – took his suits and toothbrush and razor and moved into Maddie’s room. He closed the door. It stayed closed. The next morning he was gone when Felicity came downstairs.
She was glad she was alone that morning when the bag of Chilean apples showed up. A barefoot boy with a burn scar on his arm stood at the gate looking expectant until she remembered she should tip him. There was no note, but the apples had to be from Paolo. She had tried to explain to him what she felt, standing in the Huber orchard. This was his way of saying he understood.
That night Karl came home late, ate alone in the kitchen, then retreated to Maddie’s room. Felicity read A Passage to India, taking notes. The next two nights were the same. When Paolo called her the following morning she had forgotten the sound of his voice.
“Let’s get out of town.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tomorrow. Are you free? A friend of mine owns a ranch. It’s not far.”
That night she knocked on Maddie’s door. When he opened it, she tried to talk to Karl about her notebook.
“You think I haven’t seen you scribbling away like Sylvia Plath?”
She handed it to him. “Read it. I want you to see I’m not hiding anything.”
“I don’t want to read it, Felicity.”
Before he closed the door she saw papers spread across the bed, and an open laptop. He was working. Another man would have a television in there, or a radio. Karl worked.
“Here is my thinking,” Paolo explained when he picked her up the next day. “We never have more than an hour together. Why not see what happens when we have a whole day?”
An embassy person would have complained about the drive out of Asunción. The traffic was chaotic, the roads a mess. The third goddamn, messed up, nothing-ever-works world, Karl liked to call it. The dust coated, the heat baked. Paolo didn’t seem to mind, or maybe he didn’t notice, and forty five minutes later they were out of it. The fields were green and shining. The oxcarts were picturesque. Felicity was curious about herself and what she wanted. She had an open mind. Something was bothering Paolo, though.
“You seem sad.”
He shook his head. That meant it had to do with his wife, their off-limits subject.
“Go ahead, tell me.”
“I have just had a very tender telephone conversation with Helenice. Last night.”
“Why does that make you sad?”
“My contract is up for renewal. I am invited to stay another year. Helenice would like me to return to Rio.”
“What will you do?”
“Go home, of course. She is my wife.”
“So it’s now or never?”
“If something is going to happen between you and me, it has to be now. Today.”
“Would you rather I had lied?”
“I would rather you told me something about yourself that I don’t know. Something I couldn’t guess.”
“My surname, Dos Santos. It means ‘from the saints.’ It is the name the nuns give babies who are born bastards.”
“I suffer from, how do you say this in English? Snobbery in reverse. I believe I must be proud of my origin.”
He was not defiant, just curious about himself in the new way that Felicity was learning to be. In her condition of heightened awareness it was important to be precise. She had no word for the feeling that surged in her. There was something sexual in it, something affectionate. It had a clarifying effect.
“I just figured something out.”
“What is that?”
“All these notes I’ve been taking, the things I’m seeing. They have to do with power. Who has it, and who doesn’t. How it makes people behave.”
You like being in charge, Karl had said. But that was not quite right. She liked seeing how things worked, she liked understanding. But she did not care to be in charge of anyone, not even her own wayward self.
The ranch that belonged to Paolo’s friend was an oasis of quiet prosperity. Everything was well cared for: the barns and the beautiful horses that lived in them, the fields, the low, sprawling adobe house with a porch on three sides. The rifles in their racks, the antique maps framed on the study walls, the copper-bottomed pots in the kitchen.
“Arturo is a particular fellow,” Paolo explained. It sounded like an apology.
Eusebio, the caretaker, showed them around. He had bright black eyes in an old face and dragged a withered foot when he walked. His wife Borgonia was a lump of black who looked even older. She did not speak as she served them lunch. Felicity thought she must disapprove of the tryst she was forced to play a bit part in.
Paolo did not agree. “We are foreigners. She does not know what to make of us.”
He was unlike himself, nervous and abstracted, as though his mind were somewhere else. When Borgonia cleared the table he peered at the smudge on a wine glass. “Everyone here will sleep the siesta. Shall we lie down, too?”
Felicity followed him down a long hall to a guest room where the bed was freshly made up. To shield the room from the heat and the intense light, the heavy purple curtains were drawn. The furniture was heavy, too, like pieces from a Spanish castle. On a nightstand, a single blue rose was painted on a white porcelain ewer. Overhead, a fan agitated the warm air. Everything spoke eloquent non-words to her as though trying to convince her just how real they were, how right in their solid selves.
“I need to take some notes,” she told Paolo.
He unbuttoned his shirt, took off his shoes, turned down the coverlet and lay on his back in the big bed. She sat in a high-backed chair that was covered with stiff maroon embroidery, opened her notebook, and did not write.
“I won’t make love with you, Paolo,” she told him.
He sat up. His surprise surprised her; she wondered if she should be disappointed. “At least come lie by my side.”
She did. And she allowed him to fold her into a comfortable embrace.
“I have three reasons.”
He kissed her neck.
“First, adultery comes from a word that means to weaken. I looked it up.”
He slipped his hand into her blouse and tugged gently on the bra strap. She felt an overpowering calm that was like the feeling in her apple orchard dream.
“Second, it’s obvious, I’m still hurt because my husband cheated on me. It’s called being on the rebound.”
His hand stopped tugging. “And the third reason?”
"A fifty-year-old woman who has been married forever wants to be found attractive.”
His groan was theatrical. “You are attractive. My God, you are an attractive woman, Felicity.”
When she sat up, his hand brushed her breast, caught in her blouse, and a button popped.
“That’s as honest as I can get. Now you tell me something honest.”
“My vanity is wounded. It is bleeding, a little. A fifty-year-old man, married or not married, wishes to be found irresistible.”
“That’s not enough.”
“I think Helenice has become interested in another man.”
“Did she say she is?”
“It’s what she didn’t say, and the way she didn’t say it.”
“Let’s go back to Asunción.”
Because it felt like an elegy, she allowed him to hold and kiss her breasts, but she felt an odd detachment as he touched her. She was already distancing herself from him, and he knew it. The drive back to the city was the longest goodbye she ever said.
She felt a moment of panic when Paolo dropped her in front of the house, as though she had made a mistake she could never fix. All the houses in her neighborhood had high walls, and the sandy street was empty. She kissed him deliberately on the lips. But he could not bear her tenderness, and their leavetaking was jagged.
She showered for a long time and felt fresh when Karl came home from work. She tried to kiss him, but he pushed her away.
“Okay, Fil, here’s the plan.”
“The plan for what?”
“You go back to Middleport. Stay with your mother until you figure out what you want to do and where you want to go. We don’t have to tell the girls anything, for now.”
He was more than brisk, he was cold. She imagined him behind a desk informing an employee her performance was not up to speed, she was being let go. In such situations he would think bluntness was kindness.
“This doesn’t have to happen. You were the one who strayed, not me.”
He nodded. “And I accept my responsibility for the whole frigging mess. But it’s not working. I don’t think it can work any more.”
“Let’s eat something.”
But he didn’t want to eat, he wanted to pack. He was, in fact, a packing genius. Unlike most foreign service husbands, he did not shirk the pack-outs between posts, pleading work at the office to avoid the hassle of fitting a household into boxes. Karl was the most expert organizer and filler of suitcases on the planet. She had learned to let him handle the moves, he was so good at it.
She watched him lay two large suitcases on the bed and begin meticulously folding and arranging her clothes. He was a marvel of efficiency. She sat in a chair not knowing what she wanted to say except no.
It took him a long time. When he was through she asked him, “Would you like some dinner?”
He shook his head. She had never seen him this cold before. When he got angry, he could be cool, and hurtful, and bitter. He could be spiteful, and full of scorn. This was different. It was as though he had plunged into ice and frozen instantly in a position of flailing torment. She was afraid it would be a permanent distortion. She wished his father could see him now, this strong.
“Where are you going?” she asked him when he turned and left the bedroom.
He thought for a moment. “For a walk.”
She waited until she was sure he wasn’t looking back, then shadowed him. She kept her distance. He seemed to know where he wanted to go, though how could he? This was Asunción. There was nowhere for a man like him to go.
Half an hour later, it felt like a dream except she was sweating hard in the wet evening heat. You didn’t sweat like that in a dream. Karl reached a corner and stood under a big lapacho tree looking left and right. He chose left. When she reached the tree herself he was halfway down the block of Calle Migliorisi onto which he’d turned.
He had stopped walking. He was looking at a man in the street, in a hat with a tattered brim, who was lashing a dun-colored horse. The horse stood in the traces of a homemade cart on tractor wheels, and it quivered and started every time the quirt touched its flesh. On the seat in the cart a long-haired girl in jeans and a yellow blouse held the reins. She was crying. She must be pleading with the man to stop.
By the time Felicity got close enough to hear anything, Karl was screaming at the man. His Spanish was mediocre, and he kept throwing in French and Polish and Italian words, along with sounds that were word-like but had no meaning. Amazed more than offended, the man lowered the quirt and turned to face the unusual stranger who was berating him in a language he did not know. The girl was crying more quietly, stopping to gulp in air.
The horse’s flanks and back were bleeding, and big green flies settled to taste the wounds. The horse’s owner signaled with a gesture that he was ready to acknowledge his fault. It did not seem likely that he would lash the animal again, at least not in the stranger’s presence and maybe not after that. He was intently aware of something in Karl that had made him stop in the first place. Karl’s face was red. Sweat-drenched, his white shirt clung to his back. He had found his voice. The only trouble was that it came out in such a twisted jumble, no one understood him. Not Felicity, either, although she tried.
Transfixed, the man who owned the horse stood there and took it, punishment received for punishment inflicted. He did not move until Karl quit shouting, and that was a long time. When Karl did finally stop, the girl on the cart kept sniffling. Whatever had happened, however it had begun, it was not yet over for her.
Without a word, the man handed the quirt to the girl, climbed up next to her, and took the reins. He clucked softly, and the bleeding horse heard something in the sound that prodded it to move. Karl watched them disappear around a corner before he realized Felicity was there.
“I told him.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I told him it was wrong.”
She put her arm through his. “Let’s go have our dinner.”
He looked at her, puzzled. He was having a hard time making out her words, as though his own rush of them were still roaring through him, drowning out all other sound.
“Food,” she said.
He nodded. He got it.
They were walking. When the time was right, it would be Karl who took everything out from the suitcases he had just packed.
Mark Jacobs has published more than 90 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, The Iowa Review, The Southern Humanities Review, The Idaho Review, and The Kenyon Review. He has stories forthcoming in several magazines including Playboy. His fifth book, a novel set in Turkey entitled Forty Wolves, came out in 2010. A former U.S. Foreign Service officer, he currently works for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.