Galia

In part, she will remember the incident on the balcony not so much for the moment itself, but for its recollection there in the hotel room and the event that follows. For the tears do not stop coming, the air does not stop blowing, and the sniffling — well, she cannot sniffle, inhale, exhale with Vladi lying right there in the bed. Indeed, she has little choice but to take up her sweater — beneath which her nightdress looks modest, even appropriate—and her silly bridal purse, to slip her feet into a pair of jelly sandals, and to leave her husband on their wedding night.

When I’m with you, I feel like I’m with nobody, he had said. Perhaps he won’t even notice she’s gone.

The hotel nightclub — Club Cosmos — is hardly Galia’s desired destination. On the contrary, she only goes there after she has tried the restaurant and lobby. Finding the former closed and the latter empty, she hides in a public bathroom long enough for the tearstains to fade. She might have stayed there all night were it not for the lady who comes to clean. Thus expelled, she follows a faint trickle of music down a flight of stairs and through a pair of heavy brown doors.

Galia might have preferred the frenzy; she feels frightfully conspicuous in this strange place. Of the ten or fifteen people huddled around tables, several have turned their heads to look at her.

She has been to nightclubs, of course. In certain instances —particularly in high school, when her whole class would go on the eve of a holiday and her parents would not let her stay home — going to nightclubs has been impossible to avoid. But this place is like no nightclub she has ever seen — no pounding music, no pulsing disco lights, no acned Russian girls taking off their clothes — none of the haze and frenzy you might expect. Rather, there are fat upholstered booths and small tables, and in the center of the room, a tiny stage, on which a single couple twirls beneath a rotating mirrored globe. Beside them is a quartet with a woman singing a ballad in thickly accented English.

Galia might have preferred the frenzy; she feels frightfully conspicuous in this strange place. Of the ten or fifteen people huddled around tables, several have turned their heads to look at her. Even the singer is watching Galia, the words to the song drifting involuntarily from her mouth. Just as Galia considers slipping away, a man in a dark suit asks, “Table for one?”

She has no choice but to allow him to seat her. As though sensing her need for escape, he does not give her one of the tables by the door, but rather leads her — in her nightdress and sweater, her bridal purse shimmering in the globe’s prismatic light — clear across the room to a table bordering the stage. When he pulls the chair out for her, she feels unbalanced; she is not inside her body as she tucks herself into the plush red velvet fold of the chair.

“Something to drink?” he asks.

She wants to say nothing — she does not want a smetka, a debt, even one she can pay — but she can see how strange it would be for her to sit here without even a drink. She orders a Coke, and when he asks her if she wants ice, she says “no” before it occurs to her that she is speaking English with this man, a Bulgarian. “No, thank you,” she says, the words sounding strange, smooth, even nice.

By the time her Coke comes in a tall thin glass with a wedge of lemon perched on the edge, she is starting to feel more in control. She feels anonymous in this strange place and oddly deserving of this Coke. She has earned nothing more, nothing less from the day’s hardships. Just a Coke and a lemon and a moment alone.

The spinning globe casts a soothing, silvery light. Vladi, Galia knows, does not mean to hurt her — not with his comments, not with the episode on the balcon. She, of all people, can understand his fury at the economics of tonight’s transaction: the two-ended arrow that connects buying and selling. He has seen through the porous screen that divides thinking that you’re taking from knowing what you’re giving in return. She, better than anyone, knows how he feels. At this recognition, Galia experiences a strange spasm of hope that maybe… oh, she should not wish for so much!

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