You Are Not A Stranger Here
the bag safely in hand, she says,
    "You're American."
    Paul stares at her, as if at an apparition.
    "Come for the course, have you? . . . Have you come over for the golf?"
    He shakes his head.
    "Air force? Over at Leuchars, are you?"
    "No. My wife. She's . . ."
    "She's what, dear? . . . At the university?"
    He nods.
    "Right. Lots of the foreigners over for that. Nothing like the golf, though. Last summer was dreadful. We had the British Open. You'd think Christ had risen on the eighteenth green. More telly people than putters as far as I could tell. Awful. You live in Texas?"
    He shakes his head. "Pennsylvania."
    "Is that near Texas?"
    "No."
    97
    She leans down to pat the head of her terrier, who has scurried up to meet them. "Your wife's in the books and you've got the day to yourself."
    Paul says nothing. She comes a step closer, barely two feet from him. "Not an easy place to entertain yourself," she says, leaning her head forward. "Without the golf, I mean."
    She searches his face, as though straining to read the fine print of a map. "Would you like to come for a cup of tea?"
    H E D O E S N O T know why he goes with her. She is here and has asked and so he goes.
    They walk down past the clock tower. She moves slowly, stopping to look back for the dog, checking her bags and packages. She speaks of the university students, complains of the noise they make during term, says the tourists are generally polite but she doesn't like all the coach buses. They take a right turn, then a left down a narrow street of two-story houses. At the door of one, the old woman pauses and finding the key in the pocket of her coat, inserts it in the lock. The dog runs ahead into the darkened hall and the old woman follows, leaving Paul standing at the entrance. As he steps into the house, a heavy, warm odor envelops him. His first reaction is to close his nostrils, breathe only through his mouth. Then, tentatively, he sniffs. It is flesh he smells, not sweat or the dankness of a locker room, but something close. A rotting. Breathing through his mouth, he advances down the hall toward a light that has come on in the next room. He won't 98
    want to stay long, he thinks, wondering how anyone could live with such a smell. She'll comment on it, make an apology of some sort, he feels sure. But when he reaches the kitchen, she is calmly stowing her groceries.
    "Have a seat, dear. Tea won't be a moment."
    Though it is day, the curtains are drawn and a naked bulb provides the only light. He perches on the edge of a chair by the kitchen table, sampling the air again. The stench tickles his nostrils.
    The kitchen looks a bit disheveled, the counters cluttered with jars and mugs, but otherwise it is like any other kitchen. There is nothing here to explain such an odor. He imagines naked, sweating bodies packed into the other rooms of the house.
    "I've got some biscuits round here somewhere, what did I do with them? Do you take milk and sugar?"
    Watching the old woman shuffle past the sink, he feels disoriented and tries to confirm to himself where he is, the day of the week, the country they are in.
    "Milk, dear?"
    "I saw you in the restaurant last night, didn't I?" he says.
    "Yes, dear, you did. Sometimes I come and sit in the evenings, if I can find someone for Albert. He's my grandson. You'll meet him."
    She arranges cookies on a plate. "Have you been visiting elsewhere, then?"
    "We passed through Edinburgh," he says.
    "Terrible place. Full of strangers. What do you do in the States?"
    99
    Paul has to repeat her words to himself before replying.
    "I used to teach," he says.
    For a moment, he sees the classroom on the third floor of the high school, its scratched plastic windows, chairs of chrome metal, beige desks affixed, a map of America, the portrait of Lincoln tacked to the back wall. The students staring, waiting for him to speak.
    "How wonderful. Noble profession, teaching is," she says, placing a mug on the table beside him. "There's sugar there if

Similar Books

Wish You Were Here

Stewart O’Nan

Toby

Todd Babiak

On Best Behavior (C3)

Jennifer Lane

Navidad & Matanza

Will Vanderhyden Carlos Labb

Different Class

Joanne Harris

Riding Rockets

Mike Mullane

Choke: A Thriller

Dani Amore