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Fiction

Turned away

The Third Component: Part II, Chapter 27

Alison Christy 26 April 2009

www.lablit.com/article/495

Photo Credit: Tim Christy

He probably just disappeared because it seemed convenient – but that is the kind of thing women find fascinating

Editor's note: We are pleased to continue the weekly serialization of The Third Component, a novel by Alison Christy: a scientist at loose ends after earning her PhD sets off to Russia in search of a missing piece of her family's past.

Chapter 37

Consistency in Female Mate Preference Despite Variation in Female Genotype

The Presidential Suite is exactly as Michael described it: glasses and china displayed in the sitting room, a double bed in the bedroom, a small private bathroom with a shower right next to the toilet. And since the Presidential Suite has a door between the bedroom and the sitting room, and Frank is used to sleeping on an old Soviet couch-bed anyway, there was no reason to get separate rooms. This way they can share the shower, which is a simple shower head emerging from an otherwise normal bathroom wall with no bathtub or surrounding plastic; although when Frank turns the taps the water that comes from the shower head is as yellow as urine and the entire room is filled with the rancid stench of sewage.

“Maybe we should let it run for a little while,” he says, but the smell only intensifies as more and more water pours down the drain. Finally Frank turns the taps off.

“Michael Perch didn’t say anything about yellow water,” Anna says, watching the yellow stuff swirl down the drain in the center of the floor.

Frank doesn’t respond.

They walk across the small lawn to the short blocky building that is the Kolpashevo Airport, where Michael Perch said they could find a cafeteria. The cafeteria serves only pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a full dinner for two costs less than a dollar; they take their trays and sit down at one end of the hall, away from the three old men scooping mashed potatoes into toothless mouths at a plastic table.

The gravy is salty and greasy and the pork is tough and dry. “Why Russia?” Anna asks suddenly. “Why didn’t you study French or German or something?”

Frank takes a second to respond; he was apparently eavesdropping on the conversation across the room.

“It just happened,” he says quietly. “I took a class, and I liked it.”

“But how do you live here?” she asks. She presses her uneaten potatoes with her fork.

“I don’t live here,” he says. “I live in Moscow.”

She wants to ask how he lives in Moscow, but he is clearly concentrating on the old men, and she waits, quietly stirring her potatoes, thinking about potatoes – from the New World, yet the major cuisine of Russia – until the three men finish their meals, and stand up and walk out of the cafeteria.

“What were they saying?” Anna asks.

Frank says they were talking about the war. She waits for him to go on, but he doesn’t; he asks her if she’s done and stands up to go.

“So tomorrow,” he says as they walk back across the lawn, “Dima is going to come to town in the morning, and he’ll be leaving at one. I told him we’d meet him at the Central Market at twelve.”

“Fine,” Anna says, and then her heart skips and she remembers the man who is waiting for her in the museum with his courage and his soulful eyes. “I’m going to go to the Kolpashevo Ethnographic Museum in the morning,” she says. “You can come with me if you want.”

“The Kolpashevo Ethnographic Museum?” Frank says. “Why would you want to go there?”

Maybe if he hadn’t been so quiet during dinner, maybe then she wouldn’t have told him, but the silence makes her feel awkward, as if she had displeased him somehow, and so she finds herself telling him all about Michael Perch. She tells him her various theories: that he was killed by the government, that he was killed by big business, that he was killed by the mafia, or maybe by all three, in a vast conspiracy; or maybe he ran away. She tells him about the articles she’d discovered and the things Yelena said.

She expects Frank to be interested, she expects him to get excited, but he just listens in silence, so she keeps going, on and on, talking about the things Michael wrote, about his insight and perception, and when they get back up to the room she takes out the articles she copied and her books and the book Frank lent her, and shows him all of her notes: who might have killed him, and why. And then she explains her newest idea, about the Kolpashevo Ethnographic Museum – but only that she thinks she might find Michael there, not that she expects him to fall in love with her. She keeps that part to herself, but she finds herself swelling with hope anyway, unable to suppress a little giddy smile when she glances at his author photo.

“So what do you think?” she asks finally as Frank flips slowly through her stack of articles. “What do you think happened?”

He doesn’t say anything at first, and Anna is about to repeat her question. But then he shrugs and asks, “Why would you go to all this trouble?”

“I don’t know,” she admits with a smile. “I can’t explain it. I just find him fascinating. I think he’s amazing.”

Frank nods slowly. “Of course you do,” he says, and his voice is cold and flat. “Personally, I think he’s kind of a jerk, and probably just disappeared because it seemed convenient. But that is the kind of thing women find fascinating.”

Anna looks up from the book in her hand, startled.

“I’ll never understand what it is about that guy that turns normal women into twelve-year-olds with their first crush on a pop star.” Frank drops her stack of articles on the couch. “Well, I hope you find him,” he says, and he stands up and walks to the door.

“Where are you going?” Anna asks.

“For a walk,” he says, and the door closes behind him.

Anna sits down on the couch, stunned, among her books and her papers. It should have occurred to her that Frank would know Michael – they were both Americans, living in Moscow – but she never would have thought that they might not have liked each other. She is sorry, at first, that she upset him, and then she becomes self-righteous. She was only trying to share something with him, something she would have preferred to keep private. How could she have known that Frank would be so jealous, of Michael’s intellect and accomplishment and charisma?

She stays there on the couch and waits for him to come back, rehearsing the things she will say to him when he walks through the door: first accusing, then contrite, then angry. She tries to read, but she is so close to Michael now, to being with him forever, that when she looks at his words she is almost overwhelmed by her own anticipation. She takes out Frank’s guitar, instead, and practices strumming her three chords until her fingers ache, and then she just sits and holds the guitar in her arms. When he comes back she plans to tell him that she is sorry and that she understands, that her sister was the pretty one and she was the smart one who always wanted to be the pretty one.

Eventually she takes her books back into the bedroom and packs them into her bag, and she crawls into the big double bed and falls asleep. When she leaves in the morning she sees Frank sound asleep on the couch, his face turned away from her.

{Continued next week}