In Paris we have time to deplane and walk around to stretch our legs. I get two cups of coffee and croissants, and start to rejoin Katie, when I see that Wasserman has found her. He‘s carrying a light carry-on and looks even older than I remembered. They seem natural enough together. Maybe it won’t be so bad. We greet each other as best we can, and board again. The nun is already in her seat, head down.
After a while I say, “Does anyone even know where we are landing?”
“Samarkand,” says Wasserman.
“Oh. That’s the actual name of the place. I saw it on the ticket and thought it was some sort of typo. I’m pretty ignorant of this part of the world. Samarkand,” I say and wonder where I have heard it before.
“Frankly, this is an odd place to have a speedbathing competition. I’ll be surprised if the natives don’t kill us,” says Wasserman.
“The natives?” asks Katie. “Livingston I presume?”
“The locals there are majority Muslim, and I don’t know how well they will take to seeing nude bathers. Especially in a mixed league. There have already been protests.”
“Eek,” says Katie.
“It’s mixed?” I ask. “Fuck. I didn’t realize that went through!”
“Whose idea was this?” she asks.
“Not sure,” I say. “After they set the board up, and suggested that I do some PR, not being in competitive shape, I took a pretty laissez-faire approach – what with the internal politics and all between the loofahs, and the mixed league. So this is probably somehow all my fault. Since I think I’m the one that mentioned it. But you know what they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.”
“I suppose we’ll see,” says Wasserman. He retrieves a dog-eared book from his bag: Adventures with U-235.”
“What’s that,” I say.
“A book about a submarine in World War II,” he says. “U-boats, specifically.”
“What do you make of the rumors that each competition has had less water pressure than the one before,” I say. “Some people on the message boards are talking it up like a big conspiracy to help the Europeans.”
“I’d say it’s troubling,” says Wasserman, putting his book down and looking a little agitated about the interruption. “It’s something to look into for sure.”
“The board highly recommended Korangar Water Supplies,” I say. “If this jeopardizes the games, heads are going to roll.”
He shakes his head. “The locals don’t even bathe with water and soap. They use oil and a primitive strigil for scraping.”
Here he is the professor again, and I the student, and he says with heat, “Who put the board together?”
“My ex-wife,” I say. “She was always better at organizing things.”
He makes a poor attempt to hide his disdain.
“You’re a librarian by trade,” he says. “What kind of librarian can’t organize things?”
“I must have missed that class,” I say and smile to try to ease the tension.
“You’re a librarian?” asks Katie.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Weird,” she says.
“I know,” I say.
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Editor’s note: Technically it is her vulva, not her vagina.