You Are Not A Stranger Here
disease: eventually a doctor will find the right formula. From the window, he sees a man across the street depositing a letter in a mailbox and he wonders what the inside of the man's leather glove would smell of. He runs a hand under his nose, sniffing his palm.
    "Do you want to call Dr. Gormley?" Ellen asks.
    His glance drops, freezing on the wool ticking of the armchair; strands of dust settle on the blue fibers. He shakes his head.
    T H AT N I G H T, W H E N he cannot sleep he goes into the bathroom and pees. He splashes urine on the edge of the bowl, then gets on his hands and knees to sniff the rim. He smells the cracks in the tile, the damp bath mat, his wife's underwear, the hair and skin in the drain of the tub. He runs his fin103 ger along the back of the medicine cabinet's shelf and tastes the gray-white dust. None of it comes close to the stench in that house.
    A L L T H E N E X T morning it rains, as the old woman said it would. They eat lunch in the nearly empty dining room of the hotel. Across the way, a German couple argues quietly over a map. Ellen suggests that Paul come back to the library with her, he could read the British papers there. She only needs a day or two, she says, then they can take the train back to Edinburgh, see more of the city.
    There is a fragment of tea leaf on the rim of her cup; a sheen to the softening butter; a black fly brushing its feelers on the white cloth of the table. He pictures the library and at once fears some constriction he imagines he will experience there. It is the familiar fear of being anywhere at all, of committing to the decision to stay in one place.
    "I think I'll take a walk," he says.
    "Did you take the pill this morning?" she asks. There is no impatience in her voice. She has trained herself over the years to control that, which only reminds him of how he's weighed on her, whittled her down to this cautious caring. He nods, though once again he's disposed of the tablet in the bathroom, knowing she will count them.
    After she leaves for the library, Paul sets out across the square, past the tables of books and china, heading into the narrow lanes. As he comes to the house and reaches out to 104
    knock on the low door, it opens and the old woman steps aside to let him enter.
    "Good afternoon," she says. "We never made our introductions yesterday. I'm Mrs. McLaggan."
    "Paul Lewis," he says.
    "Right. Mr. Lewis. I'm glad you've come." They walk down the hall into the kitchen. "I'll just be a minute," she says, heading into the other room. It's then he sniffs the air, finding it as thick and rank as the day before. A light comes on in the next room, the old woman calls to him, and Paul walks through the doorway.
    Running along the far side of the room, completely obscuring the windows, is a wall of clear plastic gallon buckets filled with what appears to be petroleum jelly. They've been arranged in a single row and stacked from floor to ceiling. Along the adjacent wall stands a metal clothes rack on wheels holding twenty or more identical blue track suits. A sideboard across from this is laid with dishes of lamb, potatoes, and string beans. Mrs. McLaggan stands in the middle of the room under another naked lightbulb. At the center is a table set for two.
    The low ceiling, the electric light, the pale brown walls, the strange provisions all give the room the feel of a way station on some forgotten trade route, or a bunker yet to hear news of the war's end.
    "Now, dear, I hope you'll just help yourself to everything," Mrs. McLaggan says, standing by her chair. He is not hungry but fills a plate anyway and sits. 105
    "Mrs. Lewis is getting on well at the university, then, is she?" she says, once she's served herself and taken a seat.
    For a minute or two, they eat in silence.
    "I was thinking perhaps you might meet Albert today,"
    she says. "I've told him about you. Difficult to know sometimes, but I think he's keen to see you."
    "Do you do this often?"

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