The Foreigners

The Foreigners by Maxine Swann

Book: The Foreigners by Maxine Swann Read Free Book Online
Authors: Maxine Swann
sensitive issue for her, Isolde would have undoubtedly understood by now that most Argentines would never pose a question like that, considering it bad manners, and would be perfectly content to learn weeks later, for example, that a newfound friend was responsible for assuring the security systems of the U.S. government or worked in a Turkish restaurant as a cook.
    â€œI’m developing a project related to art and charity for children,” Isolde said.
    â€œSounds fantastic,” Leonarda answered, her enthusiasm taking an abrupt nosedive. Neither “charity” nor “children” were at all her thing.
    â€œGood, good,” Isolde said, relieved not to have to elaborate.
    In the end, things never worked out between Leonarda and Isolde. The three of us attempted to meet a few times, but something always went wrong. For starters, Leonarda was always afraid that people would find her weird.
    â€œShe’s sort of weird, right?” Isolde asked me right away.
    I shrugged, as befitted my role as the cipher, the malleable, mediating one.
    Unsurprisingly, in Leonarda’s case, it was more complicated. She would go into raptures, dreaming up her image of Isolde, the innocent Austrian woman in distress. “She’s adorable, her accent. She’s so alone. I can picture her so well wearing a dirndl.” But when face-to-face with Isolde, something always jarred. Isolde did not cooperate with the dream. She kept getting in the way, asserting her will. “No, let’s meet at this restaurant instead.” “Let’s only speak in Spanish.” “I’m not going to be ordered around by some poorly instructed Austrian” was Leonarda’s conclusion.
    On seeing Leonarda at the party, a slim man with dirty-blond hair got down on one knee.
    Isolde, on my right, appeared agitated. “Do you know that guy, Alfonso?” she whispered in my ear.
    â€œNo,” I said. “Do you?”
    She put her hand on my arm, a bit flushed. “Here,” she said. “Can we talk over here?”
    We moved backward toward the bookshelves. “I’ve made out with him a few times at parties, always drunk, of course,” Isolde said, her eyes half on me, half on Alfonso. “And then he asked me on a date. I knew about his family. You know, he’s from a very old Argentine family.” It seemed that Isolde had memorized this whole new set of nomenclature, so different from the European one. “He plays the role of the upper-class eccentric. But what I hadn’t realized was that the family was poor.”
    â€œThey are?”
    â€œCan you believe it?”
    â€œHow did you find out?”
    â€œBecause I got all wet. There was a big storm and the car window wouldn’t close. Alfonso got out one of those tools, what is it, a screwdriver. He told me to put it in the door handle and turn, while he went around outside, getting soaked of course, and pulled the window up with his hands. But it wasn’t a new thing. The window had been broken like that for years.” She looked up and gazed at Alfonso again, still mooning over him. “He never called again. Someone told me that Alfonso only likes dark-skinned women, so maybe that’s what happened, I don’t know.”
    Leonarda rejoined us, as a shaggy-haired man sauntered in the front door.
    He wore a long dark green leather coat and a thin scarf around his neck. It was an interesting concoction, cool dude mixed with dandy.
    â€œOh, gross,” Leonarda said. “Look who it is. Hi, pig.”
    The guy turned. “You’re looking rather monkey-ish yourself,” he said. He pointed to the tufts of hair under Leonarda’s arms.
    Leonarda turned to us. “This is Diego, a horrible guy I used to date.”
    Diego snickered. “I don’t think ‘date’ is the word. That sounds pretty harmless. What you did was much worse.”

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