Folding attic stairs had been pulled down from the ceiling so the heavy boxes could be pushed
up them one by one, then shoved across the floorboards to form a shelf against the western
slope of the roof. The boxes, uniform light-brown rectangles with the weight distributed evenly
among them, were full of books, but also of photo albums (the missing photos were in a bulging
envelope she had placed in the middle of the suitcase) and mementos to show her children
The suitcase had no wheels or straps, just a handle. At first she put too few things in; her father
said it would rip. Then she added winter clothing until it pushed out too far and her mother said it
would rip. She pulled out a bulky sweater she would never wear anyplace but home and tucked
it back into the bottom drawer of the pine chest, on top of the blue and white scarf a senior boy
had wrapped around her freshman neck when he kissed her at a high-school basketball game
in the gym.
She stood surrounded by her family as she watched the suitcase bounce and jerk its way along
the conveyor belt, then she stood surrounded by her family at the entrance to the security corral.
Finally she stood alone before the wall of departure panels, waiting in the lounge.
Outside the arrivals exit stood her friend. Next to her stood an unfamiliar man, hugging her
friend familiarly. They all kissed each other’s cheeks, but did not hug. Her friend chattered,
eagerly waiting for her and the man to become friends. She smiled and rubbed her eyes,
apologizing for the jetlag. Lunch would be at a place the man knew out by the river. They would
In the one bedroom of her friend’s tiny apartment, she unloaded her things on the twin bed
nearest the wall. Because there was no desk in which to place her passport, her envelope of
photographs or her notebook and pen, she stowed them in the underwear drawer. The rest of
the clothes she hung in the section of closet she’d been allocated. There was a folding shelf for
shoes, and her empty suitcase, requisitioned as a repository for winter blankets, was hoisted
atop the closet.
Her friend gave her a small tour of the medicine cabinet and the half-kitchen’s half refrigerator.
She was shown where the packaged food was stored, where the plates and glasses were
stacked, and where the purse with money for household expenses was kept. With a smile, her
friend led her to a small shelf beside the black and white television set and placed the airplane
novel between a treatise on contemporary political thought and a dictionary.
She stood out on the wisp of a balcony hours before dawn and breathed in the foreign smell
of dry plateau, diesel and black tobacco. The empty street was bathed in an orange glow. She
listened to the grinding buses blocks away and then the steady drone of a Vespa, and thought
how impossibly far away it all was.