The Americans will beat him up later. Now the Swede is still a sloppy kind of charming. After a certain number of drinks, he usually grabs the knife behind the bar, running after some unlucky customer. Last week it was Bryce and so Keren had to push her friend along the alley and into a cab while the Blue Shell staff held back the Swede. He had struggled there, in the doorway, bellowing expletives. For now, though, he is docile. So Bryce and Keren sit at the bar and keep an eye out as they talk their Friday-night talk: this strange city, the university and faculty chatter, the cameras that were installed today.
Bryce is telling Keren how he has checked his room. “It’s not bugged,” he says. “I’ll check yours if you want.” The faculty are being kept in the Hotel Dynasty while they wait for their apartments to be ready. There has been no real explanation as to why it is taking so long—two months this week. When anyone asks Eugene, he only apologizes.
“How do you check?” Keren pinches a few black seeds from a dish and puts them into her mouth. When she chews, they splinter, tasting like salt and earth. “Did you take everything apart?” She is imagining Bryce kneeling on the carpeting, gathering up the pieces of a lamp as his wife and children side step around him. Sometimes, when she is limited to a single room like this, she is glad to be single.
There are two men sitting further down the bar. As Bryce explains that he uses software and how the software works, one of the men casually turns toward them, pretending to text on his phone. He is taking a picture. Bryce flashes an enormous smile, and the man, not embarrassed at being caught, hands the phone to his friend and positions himself between Bryce and Keren, arms around shoulders. Bryce makes a joke about assuming the position as the friend clicks away. Then they trade places. When they have had enough photos, the men sit down and everyone returns to their own business.
“Do you think this is affecting our egos?” Keren says. “The photos, the surveillance.” She can’t believe they are quite so interesting. They are drinking watery Tsingtao like everyone else here. She thinks about living in the hotel, the too-bright Skype calls she has made home, the pile of books and papers that she keeps on the right side of that enormous bed, the half-assed push-ups she does next to the mini-bar. If anyone is surveilling her, they’re probably bored.
End of excerpt
To read this story in its entirety, access weekly exclusive content, and receive free contest submissions, subscribe to Fiction Attic through Beacon.
Just want this story? Download it instantly as a PDF file. [purchase_link id=”854″ style=”button” color=”green” text=”Buy now.” direct=”true”]
Jennifer Marquart’s work has appeared in New World Writing, Revolution House, Product, and elsewhere. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Wenzhou-Kean University in Wenzhou, China.