“And you will ask me if these reporters will be detrimental to my creative capacity …”
“I could have asked you, but I know that you can always turn a banal thing into a captivating subject. And you will go in order to write about a border field of the scientific world that is not covered enough by the journalists’ guild.”
“I’ll go… And, will you tell me where this event is going to be held?”
“Of course. Now you will have the occasion to visit Switzerland. The organizers of the conference have chosen the hotel Les Trois Rois, in Basel.”
“Oh, Switzerland …, said James in a low voice.”
“Do you have a problem with this country?”
“No. It reminded me about my ex-girlfriend, the one with whom I was planning to marry before I knew Betty. We were planning to visit the „chocolate country”. Until I realized that the underhand plan was her suggestion. How naive I was… Naive and in love… The girl wanted to travel on my expense to Switzerland, and there she would visit her first lover, who had been a resident there for two years. I was lucky to “have figured it out” in due time.”
“Yeah, do not tell me about women and about what they are capable of,” said Lloyd with an irreverent tone.
“I speak about some women, not all of them. I have anyway avoided such generalizations in order not to risk to become the greatest misogynist alive.”
“With a wife like yours it is impossible to be misogynist”, said Lloyd quickly, hoping not to have committed such a big blunder. “By the way, you had a wonderful wedding. Could I thank you once more for having invited me? Sincerely, everything was perfect. You know how many people envied you that day?”
James smiled shyly and started to blush slightly.
“I would like to thank you too for your compliments, Mr. Lavington.”
“Ah, this is a thing that might be important. It is for the first time when you go abroad, for one week. And it might happen that you have other such departures, if the interests of the magazine ask for it. How would Betty feel about it? Have you discussed such aspects with her?”
“No, we haven’t… But… she will understand, won’t she? And you said that there is one more week until I need to be at the airport. Meaning that there is enough time for me to explain to her how important the magazine is for me. You know, I do not like too much the idea of boasting about my wonderful wife all the time… But I tell you that she is a woman who knew to read my way of being. How many women are nowadays capable of such a thing?”
“Right. Well, this is what I wanted to say. You are a very good professional. And I want absolutely no impediment interfering between you and the magazine. Many years ago I had a guild colleague whose wife put him to choose: family or career. The poor wife could not understand that the “hot” events might occur even thousands kilometers away from the dear home. And the fact that they appear suddenly, when you expect them the least. James, please excuse me for yesterday when I announced everything to you by means of a text message, I was very agitated. My head was roaring with figures and accounting explanations. Until I saw a clearer solution, I was feeling that all our work until now was going to rack and ruin.”
“It’s all right, Mr. Lavington.”
“Good. This is what I wanted to tell you, for the moment. Take the file home. When you think you have the time and when the family allows you to, have a look over it. But, I want you to rest a few days, too, before you leave. I will be waiting for you next week, James.”
Lloyd rose from the armchair and stretched out his hand to James, who was also rising and answered politely with the same gesture. It was then when a discreet knock was heard at the door.
“Yes, said Lloyd, yelling a little.
A thin man entered the office; he had thinning black hair and wore glasses with very thick lenses, behind which two small black eyes seemed to want to grasp any movement, as small as it may be.
Lloyd headed towards the new-comer, in order to welcome him.
“You came in the nick of time, Brian,” said Lloyd. “I was just discussing with James about the departure to Switzerland. Let’s make the introductions. James Hoover, the scientific reporter who I told you about. Brian Moine, the new bookkeeper of the magazine, the one who opened my eyes.”
“Well, let’s save such compliments for later on,” said Brian quickly. “Without articles of a better quality than the ones until now, it will be difficult, even for me, to save something. Glad to meet you, Mr. Hoover.”
Brian shook James’s hand and stared at him with a careful look.
“It has been a pleasure for me, too, Mr. Moine,” said James. “I was just leaving. I have just accomplished the mission of today. Mr. Lavington, we’ll see each other next week.”
“Of course, James. I am waiting for you with renewed energy.”
James left the manager’s office with a weird feeling.
“I do not know why this Brian was looking at me as if he had known me for a long time... or maybe it just seemed like that to me…”
After having arranged a virtual haircut for her third virtual client, Alice, a nice blonde-haired woman, with curly hair, closed with a click her preferred on-line hairdressing game and logged into her email account. She started to write to Andreas the usual message where she explained how much she was missing him.
It was just then when she saw Betty getting closer to her desk.
“I’ll be ready in a jiffy,” said Alice. “I will only write a few lines to Andreas. Later this evening I will have to help Laura with a project for school. I will not be able to go online again until tomorrow. And you know that I won’t let anything disturb our shopping day.”
Betty moved the direction of her eyes from the display Alice was carefully looking at, to the window with light blue blinds in the room where they used to spend their workdays.
“We will only have one hour in the Mall,” said Betty arranging with a clumsy movement the blinds that probably had been moved from their place by a colleague. James was also called to the magazine, but returned home pretty quickly. Can we make a little exception today?”
Alice sent the message and switched off the computer.
“Ready, we can go now. Of course, Betty, if you want, we can give up everything that we have planned for today and postpone it until next week.”
“On the contrary. We’ll go to the Mall for one hour. I’ll call James and I’ll tell him that I will be home soon. I won’t let my best friend and colleague spend the day alone, especially when she has to forget about loneliness…”
“Oh, I almost forgot about the contracts that I have to bring to the manager. Can you wait for me?”
“Look, while you go there, I will tell James when I will be home. And I will wait for you in the car, ok?”
“Of course. I will see you in a minute.”
The two women left the office, going in different directions. While walking, Betty took out the mobile phone from her small leather purse and called James. He answered after the phone rang twice.
“It was a quiet day, James. I hope that it was the same for you. Will you get upset if I accompany Alice on our weekly shopping tour? But the program will be shorter, just an hour and then I will come home so that you can tell me what happened. I will be home at seven o’clock. Is that okay?”
“Yes, I have just spoken to Anthony about the reservation for tomorrow at the tennis club. I have one week at my disposal. I will tell you this afternoon what’s all about.”
Betty frowned a little.
“One week? And then what are you going to do?...”
Out of the corner of her eye, Betty noticed Alice approaching her, waving her hand.
“Ok, never mind, you will tell me everything this evening. Only tell me that it’s nothing serious.”
“On the contrary, I see an opportunity on the horizon. It is exactly what I was hoping to obtain without ever humiliating myself.”
“Interesting. I hope I will enjoy it too when I find it out,” said Betty not quite so enthusiastically. “We will talk in about an hour, ok? Alice is waiting for me.”
“Of course. I will be waiting for you, too.”
James hung up the mobile phone and put it again on the little table next to the bedroom, the place that he had established since they moved in together, he and Betty, in the apartment that was a perfect fit for their wish for space and light. From a state of contentment, once he switched off the mobile phone, James passed suddenly to a confusing feeling of fear and puzzlement. He was trying to understand why Betty told him that she was hoping to enjoy the news too, when she found out what he had to tell her, because he had not yet told her anything specific.
He did not feel like looking at the file that Lloyd gave him. He sat on his favorite sofa in the living room, thinking how to make the waiting pass more quickly, at the end of which the woman whom he felt he loved from the depth of his heart will be right next to him and they will spend a few more moments of tenderness and intimacy together.
Suddenly, a cold shudder ran down his spine. His breath froze for few seconds. His eyes remained stuck on the wall next to the library on the opposite site of the sofa he was sitting on.
“Oh, not again…,” he said.
James knew that he had to fight mentally in order to get rid as quickly as possible of the weird feeling that was testing him exactly in the moments that he was least expecting it.
A portion of about four palms of the wall started to move, very slightly, hardly perceptible.
James tried with all his strength to shift his eyes, but without success. The surface of the wall that he pinned with his eyes started to swing and to wave more and more visibly.
The lugubrious silence that fell made him uneasy.
“Why isn’t the phone ringing now or at least a police or ambulance siren, to put an end to it?...” said James desperately.
Suddenly, the wall became again smooth and still. The awful sensation had also disappeared.
James realized, after his body began relaxing, how stressed he was during those few weird moments.
He rose from the sofa and went to the window, hoping to drive away, in any manner, as soon as possible, the memory of the strangeness that he has just endured. The sun was still heating the city. He decided to stay at the window and to look elsewhere to the buildings and the traffic of cars at their feet, until Betty arrives home.
“I am trying to get used to Andreas’s departures. At the beginning of our marriage, I could not envisage the days when another two dear people will accompany me, my daughter and my best friend. But the longing still hurts, regardless of what you do. Have you ever felt how you melt with love for your beloved one?”
Betty was listening to Alice without saying anything, paying attention to a traffic jam that they were getting closer to. She slowly reduced her speed, looking at the back of the car in front of them.
“Of course, you are now at the beginning,” continued Alice. “How could you answer this question?”
“I know that I love my husband very much,” said Betty. “James hadn’t been away from home for more than two days since we were married. We are still a couple where communication is everything. I am ready to discuss anything.”
“Really anything? Is there really any relationship where there isn’t anything unclear? Betty, I have the advantage of experience. I’m sorry, I do not want to upset you.”
“Upset me?... How could I forbid James to go on long trips if the work requires it?”