James W. Wyatt
Gordon reached across the jumble of plates for the bottle of raki. He’d lost track of the conversation around him. The taverna sat high on a hill, its balcony overlooking the Sea of Marmara, but even at a height the smell of murky water and dead fish reached his nostrils. Citronella candles flickered on the tables. Gordon filled the bottom of his glass with the aniseed liqueur and then splashed in mineral water. He swirled the glass in his hand and watched the mixture cloud. How did it happen? How did two clear liquids combine to form a hazy one?
So many things had become unclear. Three weeks ago he’d been in Missouri. Now here he was in Turkey, drinking late at night, no longer ensnared by thoughts of wife or child.
Earlier in the evening, Gordon had eaten stuffed grape leaves. He’d dipped flat pita bread, still warm to the touch, into an eggplant puree that tasted of wood smoke and garlic. After clearing the dinner plates, the waiter had brought out a handheld vacuum sweeper and, as if he were holding a silver brush and pan, had run the whirring Dustbuster across the tabletop. For dessert, Gordon had been served sweet Turkish coffee, but he’d drunk too far down into his cup and tasted the bitter grit of coffee grounds on his tongue.
Across the table, one of the experienced teachers—Matt, a pockmarked twenty-something— licked the rolling paper and twist-sealed the ends of a joint. He wore a red t-shirt with an emblem of a crescent moon and a single star, the Turkish flag. His biceps were the size of Gordon’s thighs. Matt looked up and met Gordon’s stare. He nodded his head toward a Ziploc full of grass on the table. “I scored it today in Martiköy.”
“Obviously you haven’t watched Midnight Express.”
Matt clicked the wheel on his Zippo. “Dude,” he said in mock-surfer, “you so need to chill out.” He lit the joint, dragged deep, and passed it to Kari, his girlfriend. Gordon felt certain that Matt had swapped place cards in order to sit next to her tonight.
The restaurant had been rented for the night by the school’s director. This was the first party of the year, one she called “a mixer.” In her officious manner, she’d stood at the start of the evening and announced, “I’ve jumbled you up, new teachers and old-hands.” She’d clapped. “Go. Find your places.”
A bit later, a band had played and Gordon had watched the Turkish women on the faculty dance to frenetic Eastern rhythms played on instruments he couldn’t identify—lutes and zithers, perhaps. Unlike the expats, the Turks had dressed for the evening, and many of the women had worn short skirts and tight blouses. As he’d watched their hands snake overhead, he’d felt a sexual frisson, although he knew that they weren’t dancing for him.
Now only this table of diehard drinkers remained—the others, both Turks and expats, had taken the minibuses back to campus. He wasn’t even entirely certain where they were. Somewhere beyond Martiköy. A little village on the coast. How had he missed that last bus? He was drinking too quickly, he thought, and not paying attention. Tierney had a car; he’d said he would drive them all back to campus. Tierney was ass-falling drunk, but Gordon had no choice but to wait for the man to give him a ride.
The waiters were gathered around a television at the corner of the bar where they watched a soundless soccer game, waiting, apparently, for the table of inebriated Americans to go home. The skunk-sweet scent of burning cannabis drifted across the table, and Gordon wondered how long it would be before the waiters smelled it too and called the police. “Don’t you teach civics?” Gordon asked. “And ethics?”
Matt exhaled a lungful of smoke. “I only teach the theory.”
The woman who sat to Gordon’s right was named Sheryl, and she was the new librarian. Like him, this was her first overseas job. She was divorced. Childless. She wore Birkenstocks and a linen dress, and her dark hair, parted in the middle, hung around her face. She reeked of patchouli oil, and her legs were unshaven, but he was willing to overlook those faults because she kept herself fit; because she was attractive in an earthy way. He’d decided that she might be his only reprieve from a year of sexual abstinence. The younger people had already coupled up, and the other women close to his age—thick-ankled and graying—repulsed him.
“Let’s go down to the sea,” Sheryl said suddenly.
Gordon looked down the hill to the sea. It was a steep descent along a narrow dirt path. The trail disappeared into darkness. He doubted they could hike it in their street shoes. “Sure,” he said. “If you like.”
All night he had been filling her glass when it got low, telling jokes, cupping his hand around a match to light her cigarette. He wanted to reach out casually; to wrap his hand around her upper arm and feel under his thumb the scarred circle of her smallpox vaccination, but he was unsure of his timing. Perhaps he was too drunk to make good choices. But then, he thought, that I’m aware of being drunk means I’m not too far gone.
“I love the water,” Kari said. She pinched the joint between thumb and forefinger. “I want to live on the water.”
This was Kari’s first trip outside of the U.S., and earlier in the evening she had told the group stories of her adventure: “On the flight, there was a picture of a little airplane on the television screen that showed you just where you were. We flew over Greenland!”
A cat mewed near Gordon’s feet—a group of strays had gathered on the balcony. Two of the braver ones jumped to a nearby tabletop where leftovers still remained. Others swished their tails around the perimeter of Gordon’s table. They were filthy-looking creatures, their faces puffed with scar tissue.
“I’m going to forage for food,” Matt said. He took an empty plate and began to travel from table to table.
On the other side of Sheryl sat Tierney, a man a bit older than Gordon, a long-term expatriate. A fat poseur, in Gordon’s estimation. Tierney was drinking Turkish gin, spelled on the label with a “c” instead of a “g,” a gut-rot concoction that Gordon couldn’t stomach even when mixed with Schweppes. “You know, last year’s math teacher vanished,” Tierney said. “One day he just didn’t show up for school.”
Gordon realized that he was being addressed. He had heard the story of his predecessor. He knew the man had packed a single suitcase and taken a cab to the airport, leaving the rest of his belongings in his apartment. Gordon had heard the story, and he knew the point of it: Tierney thought that he, too, wouldn’t last out his contract.
Tierney motioned for the joint and Kari handed it across the table. As she leaned forward, Gordon caught sight of her breasts under her loose blouse. The pink of her nipples. “Turkey will do that to you,” Tierney continued.
Matt returned with a plateful of odd appetizers—dolmas, half-eaten pita bread, fried fish. “We’re not just expatriates, you know,” Matt said. He plunked the plate onto the middle of the table. “We’re, like, refugees from reality.”
“Stop trying to scare us,” Gordon said. He reached again for the bottle of raki. “I think we can all cope.” He could tell what these two thought of him—that he was a naïf, a romantic, not tough enough for the expat life. It was ridiculous; as if anyone couldn’t start anew. Gordon sloshed the raki into his glass, surprising himself with the unsteadiness of his aim.
Tierney flicked a bit of fish off the table and the cats leapt upon it, fighting and hissing.
“Does nobody else want to go down to the sea?” Sheryl reached out and took the joint from Tierney. She took a toke and blew smoke out through her nose. Gordon wondered what it would be like with her. Her armpits, he thought, like her legs, would be unshaven.
“You’ve heard there’s a spook on campus?” Tierney seemed to be speaking directly to Sheryl.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Kari announced, as if this opinion were a sign of her intellectual integrity. She wasn’t pretty, Gordon decided. Her lips were full and her eyes were large, but her features were overexaggerated.
“He means a spy,” Matt said. “CIA. One of my students says he heard it from his father, who works in intelligence. If you believe that.”
Sheryl held out a forkful of salmon and a large black cat inched toward it. “What would those fuckers be doing at our school?”
“I’m betting on Gordon here,” Tierney continued. “A neo-con James Bond for the new millennium.”
Gordon wondered if he really might be the spook that Tierney was talking about. That would be fitting irony, wouldn’t it? Tierney would have to revise his opinion of Gordon as a Midwestern know-nothing.
Spook wasn’t the right word. He hadn’t been recruited, not exactly. There had been no papers signed, but he had been in contact with a woman who worked for the CIA—Marnie, an old classmate. She had been interested when he told her that he was moving to Turkey, and she’d suggested they talk again. Unlike Matt and Tierney, she valued his opinions about the world.
Suddenly one of the waiters ran from the bar, shouting, clapping his hands, towards their table. Shit, Gordon thought, we’re busted. The waiter must have caught the scent of the marijuana. But no—the man kicked at the cats, which scattered and leapt over the wall of the balcony into the brush, and then he returned to the television at the bar.
Matt pinched out the last of the joint and threw it over the balcony. He picked up the bag of pot from the table and crammed it in his pocket. “The sea,” he said. “To the sea.”
“Let’s take the bottles,” Tierney said. “We’ve paid for them.” He picked up the gin in his left hand and handed the bottle of raki to Gordon. “Be careful with that, Gordon,” he said. “Drinking is the expat’s disease.”
Gordon rose to his feet. He took a step and realized that he would have to concentrate to walk a straight line to the door. As he passed the bar, he noticed their waiter reaching for the telephone.
Tierney stopped in front of Gordon at the exit and turned back to face the waiters. He touched the top of his head. “Allahaismarladik,” Tierney said.
The waiter covered the receiver with his hand. “Güle, güle,” he replied.
They walked around the back of the taverna to the seaside path. “What was that you said?” Sheryl asked.
“It’s a kind of goodbye,” Tierney said. “The person leaving says, ‘Allahaismarladik,’ which means something like ‘God watch over you,’ and the person left behind says, ‘Güle, güle,’ which is ‘smilingly, smilingly.’”
“It sounds like it’s easier to be the person who stays than to be the person who goes,” Sheryl said. “‘Güle, güle’ I can say.”
Staying and going, Gordon thought. Jeanne had stayed; he had gone. The memories sneaked up on him when his guard was down—when he lay in bed waiting for sleep or, like now, when he was drunk.
He had been fixing breakfast when Jeanne had come into the kitchen. “There’s a puddle in the bed,” she’d said. “It doesn’t smell like pee.”
He’d looked at her, not understanding.
“I think my water broke.”
She was only in her twenty-third week. They rushed to the hospital, but the baby was coming too early, far too early. “Not viable,” the doctors said, an ugly term that he still couldn’t shake from his memory. Jeanne went into labor; she seemed to be in shock when the contractions started. “Push,” the nurse shouted. “Think about what you’re doing.” When the baby was born, the nurses wrapped it in a blanket and let Jeanne hold it. A girl. Gordon had held out his pinkie finger to the baby, and she grasped it with her tiny hand. She lived only a few minutes.
Jeanne never recovered. After the baby died, her milk came through, just as if she had a child to feed. It leaked through her bras and T-shirts. It left stains that wouldn’t let her forget the child that they had to bury. Gordon couldn’t escape his vision of the baby, its flesh almost translucent, but Jeanne’s pain was deeper, unfathomably deeper. There was no consoling her.
She started smoking again, buying cartons of unfiltered Chesterfields. Her skin was bad and her complexion sallow. When he suggested therapy, she turned on him, like a cornered animal. “What do you know about it? When have you ever grieved?” He was shocked by her anger; it was as if she was another person.
Gradually he gave up. He wasn’t wanted. He took the dog, and he found a single trailer outside of the city in an area surrounded by woods. It meant a long commute to school, but the rent was cheap, and he liked the feeling of living in the country.
* * *
The descent to the beach was even steeper than Gordon expected. The path was a soft silt that gave way under his feet; he found himself grabbing at clumps of stiff grass to keep from sliding all the way down the hill. His eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, and he could barely see what lay in front of him. Gordon took a swig from the bottle and slipped again, spilling some of the raki onto his shirt. He felt the cool alcohol evaporating against his chest.
Sheryl stopped suddenly and Gordon bumped into her. In the darkness, his hand brushed against her ass. “I’m going to kill myself in these,” she said. She took off her sandals and carried them.
“Fuck!” he heard Matt yell. “Fuck, I’ve lost the goddamned bag of pot.” Gordon could hear him shuffling his hands around. “Shit. It cost a fortune.”
Gordon thought again of Sheryl, the momentary contact, the firmness of her flesh under his hand. He imagined them together; would she want to be on top? The thought excited him.
“Found it,” Matt said. “It’s okay. Let’s go.”
Gordon was already so sick of him. Matt, who had lived in Istanbul for one year and hence regarded himself an expert on all things Turkish. And then there was Tierney, with his practiced blasé air. They thought Gordon was a Missouri hick—poorly traveled, poorly read. But he knew about Turkey. He’d read histories and guidebooks; he’d always wanted to travel. After Gordon had gotten the job in Istanbul, he’d watched the opening scene of From Russia with Love on DVD—Bond arriving in Istanbul by rowing through the Basilica Cistern. And when he first arrived in Turkey, he’d stood in the cistern, amid the myriad columns, thinking that he had done it. Istanbul was no longer a pipedream.
The trail flattened out at the bottom. Gordon’s eyes had begun to adjust to the dark. The beach was rocky and littered with plastic bottles and beer cans. At the water’s edge, they picked their way across huge slabs of stone. They sat on the seawall.
“I’m going to roll another one,” Matt said. He took out the bag from his pocket. “Shit. I can’t see if there are seeds in here or not.”
“Let’s chance it,” Kari said.
Gordon took a swig from the bottle of raki. Drunk straight up, the taste of licorice was overpowering. He sat on the rock wall and listened to the waves.
“The cats were pretty,” Kari said. “I’ve hardly seen an animal since I got here. Except lizards.”
“Muslims don’t keep dogs.” Matt flicked open his lighter. His face was briefly illuminated by the flame. “They think they’re unclean.” He blew out the end of the joint, letting it fade to a glow, and then passed it to Tierney.
“You want to see a dog?” Tierney pinched the joint and took a long toke. “Go to the zoo at Topkapi. They’ve got dogs in cages.”
A flashlight combed the beach some distance down the coast from them. Crabbers, Gordon thought. At night, after the tides, one could spotlight crabs on the beach. They froze in the light as if mesmerized and waited to be netted.
“My dog died last year,” Gordon said. He wondered why he had begun this story. He knew it was a bad idea. “She was an Irish setter, and my wife named her Priscilla, after Priscilla Presley. Our first dog had been named Elvis.”
“Do you know,” Tierney said, “that in Turkish you drink a cigarette instead of smoking it?”
“Then you must be fucking thirsty,” Matt said, reaching for the joint.
Gordon took another drink from the bottle. The story was unlikely to maneuver him any closer to Sheryl’s bed, but still he blundered ahead. “Priscilla’d had pups that I’d given away, but she still had her milk. And then this kitten came into the house. It was just tiny, but Priscilla adopted it. The dog used to nurse the kitten. I’d never seen the likes.”
This would be a good place to stop, he thought, while the story was still cute, but the raki had loosened his tongue. “Then Priscilla disappeared. One day she just didn’t come home.” He paused, hardly able to speak. “And the kitten didn’t understand that all dogs weren’t his friends. He got torn apart. Strays.” Gordon felt the tears coming, but he wouldn’t be caught crying over the story. He took a swig of raki from the bottle and pretended to choke. He held his hand up to his throat.
Sheryl pounded his back. “Can you breathe?”
“Give him some water,” Kari said.
“Fuck that,” Matt said. He flicked the roach into the sea. “If it’s not mixed with raki, he won’t know what to do with it.”
The beam of a flashlight swept across the area where they sat. “Oh shit,” Tierney said.
It was the polis, two young cops. They looked like boys, brothers perhaps, barely old enough to shave. The shorter cop aimed his flashlight from face to face, and Gordon held up his hand against the glare. Bigger brother spoke brusquely in Turkish. No one answered, and it occurred to Gordon that the others were too drunk, or too fucked up, to be of much use. “Do you speak English?” he asked.
The taller one spoke again. Gordon could recognize only the anger in the voice.
Tierney turned to Matt and whispered, “Itch-day e-thay ot-pay.”
“Speak English,” Matt said. “They don’t.”
“Get rid of the smoke!” Sheryl hissed. “Get a brain.”
“I’ve dropped it. Don’t worry.”
Tierney seemed to be waking up to the situation—he began to speak to the cops in Turkish. The cops pointed up and down the beach, talking loudly. At last Tierney turned back to the group. “Drunk sweep,” he said. “They say we can’t have liquor here.”
Gordon thought back to the empty beer cans littering the beach. “Tell them we didn’t know.”
The shorter cop suddenly grabbed Tierney’s arm and pulled him towards the road. “I don’t think he cares.”
The other policeman gestured for the bottles. He took the gin in one hand and the raki in the other, and then he gestured with the whole of his outstretched arm, pointing up the beach, across the rocks and to the road, where a paddy wagon sat.
Although he’d made a fool of himself by talking about the dog and the kitten, Gordon thought, at least there were a few parts of the story he’d had the sense to censor. He hadn’t told them about moving away from Jeanne. And he hadn’t told them that the dog hadn’t simply disappeared—when Priscilla didn’t come home, he’d gone looking for her.
Gordon had walked through the woods that surrounded his trailer park. “Priscilla! Here girl,” he’d called out, listening to hear her scurrying through the brush towards him. He walked hours before he found her. She looked unmarked, but she was dead. And then he saw the dark wire wrapped around her neck. Strangled to death. Poachers had set a snare under this fence to catch whatever animals might be using the run.
He had called Jeanne, drunk. “Priscilla died,” he’d said. “Can we talk?”
“Let me get this straight. You’re upset because the dog died.” She’d begun to cry. “Gordon, just leave me the fuck alone.”
It was soon after that Gordon had remembered his dream of Istanbul. He’d realized he was free—no wife, no pets, nothing to tie him down.
* * *
The paddy wagon smelled of drink and body odor. Three dirty, ragged men, habitual drunks from the look of them, sat glumly on the bench that lined the far side of the van. Gordon took a seat on the bench opposite them. Sheryl and Kari sat next to him, and then Matt and Tierney pushed in.
The taller of the two cops climbed into the wagon and sat opposite Gordon, still holding a bottle in each hand. The short cop climbed into the front of the van, a wire screen separating him from them.
The paddy wagon lurched forward onto the road. The van braked hard and he slid into Sheryl. “Sorry.” He wondered if he might put his arm around her.
“Are they really going to run us in?” Sheryl asked.
“Cool,” Matt said.
Gordon felt horribly, painfully sober. The raki had left him with a licorice slosh in his stomach, but his mind felt clear. The others, incredibly, seemed not to understand their situation. “Look around at these people,” Gordon said. The hard-looking Turks in the wagon stared at the floor and did not speak. “They’re scared shitless. This is no joke.”
“What?” Kari asked. “Is drinking some kind of hanging crime here?”
The van picked up speed again, and Gordon looked for a handhold. His back bounced against the hard backrest. The van slowed suddenly and then thumped through what seemed to be an open trench. Gordon went airborne.
“These roads are un-fucking-believable,” Kari said. “There are more potholes than road.”
“Once, on the way to Martiköy, I flatted two tires,” Matt said. “The second time I bent a rim.”
Sheryl laughed. “There must be a good Roman road down there somewhere.”
“If it was a Roman road, it’d be straight,” Tierney said. “These things are goddamned goat paths.”
“Can none of you focus on what’s happening?” Gordon said. This trip was bad news—he didn’t know much about the Turkish police, but he had a feeling that there would be no reading of Miranda rights.
“We’re being taken to a Turkish jail.”
“Dude, chill,” Matt said. “We were drinking on a beach. They’ll make us pay a fine.”
“Maybe the waiters phoned in the marijuana,” Gordon said. “Have you thought of that? You all weren’t very subtle about it.” Through the front window Gordon could see headlights coming straight at them. The driver made no move to change lanes.
“Do you think we should offer up some baksheesh?” Tierney asked. “I’ve bribed my way out of a speeding ticket but never out of a Black Maria.”
The headlights in the windscreen grew larger and brighter. Gordon gripped the bottom of his bench with both hands. Shit, he thought, we’re going to die before we’re even interrogated.
“Maybe I really should have ditched the pot,” Matt said.
“You don’t still have it,” Kari said. “Do you?”
“Fuck, yes.” Matt patted a noticeable bulge in his front pocket. “I only got it today, and I paid way too much for it.”
The headlights seemed to be right on top of them. “Allah, Allah!” the driver shouted. He twisted the wheel hard. Kari slid off the bench and went to one knee on the floor. Sheryl clutched at Gordon’s arm. He could feel the van begin to tip. The driver jerked the wheel again and the van rocked from side to side before settling on its suspension.
“Holy shit!” Sheryl said.
The taller cop had also toppled to the floor. He knelt now by the wire mesh, still holding their bottles, and shouted at the driver.
“They drive like children in pedal cars,” Matt said. “They don’t steer, they just point their cars in a direction.”
“Lane markers and road signs are just advice here,” Tierney said.
Gordon wanted out of the van. He wanted to go home to his lojman and lie down; he wanted this day to end. So many things had gone wrong, starting with his morning classes. In Kansas City, Gordon’s strength as a teacher had been that he made math fun. Every teacher wanted to be liked—it was the great secret of education—but a math teacher had to work so much harder than most. Gordon had kept a pair of Groucho glasses in his desk. He’d played Jeopardy with the homework answers. Each March, he celebrated Pi Day.
But here, the students weren’t amused by him. They insisted that they had exams to prepare for, pressing him to move faster, but the math was more advanced than anything he’d looked at in years. There were problems in the book he couldn’t solve. Sometimes he’d resorted to asking his best students to show their work on the board and then nodded appreciatively. But today he’d been caught—two of the students had disagreed on a proof and had asked Gordon who was right. “Let me double-check my work and get back to you on Monday,” he’d said lamely.
How the fuck could Matt have held onto the marijuana? What if they were searched at the station?
He thought again of his meeting with Marnie. If the worst happened, if they were jailed, would she have some pull? Could he mention her name to the embassy? Perhaps that would somehow compromise her.
The paddy wagon seemed to have reached a town. Gordon could see streetlamps overhead, and the driver turned down one road and then another. At last they stopped. The short cop opened the back door, and the Turkish men began to pile out. The other policeman motioned for Gordon to follow.
Outside the van, the night air was cool. “Where are we?” Sheryl asked.
The Turks began to single file into the police station, as if it was a drill they knew well.
Tierney glanced up and down the street. “Welcome back to Martiköy, Gordon.”
* * *
During Gordon’s first days in Turkey, the school had organized a bus to Martiköy so the new teachers could do their shopping. The Saturday market had sprawled throughout the city, and Gordon had left the group to explore. Vendors’ tables filled every available space on the sidewalks. In America, food was wrapped, sanitized, sealed; here, huge bags of spices sat open, whole sacks of saffron, stick cinnamon, and cumin. Pigeons pecked at sunflower seeds until they were shooed away. Gordon went a block further and the smell of the fishmongers’ stalls assaulted him.
Women haggled over prices and men walked arm in arm. Despite the heat, the men wore long trousers; some had jackets and woolen skullcaps. Many of the women wore headscarves and their bodies were made shapeless by long raincoats. He saw one woman dressed head-to-toe in black being led by a man—no slit was cut into the veil for her eyes. Gordon had worn shorts, and a white-haired man slapped his cane into Gordon’s bare legs as he passed.
He tried to make his way back to where the bus had parked. Before setting out, he had picked out a merchant selling huge stainless steel pots as a landmark, but since then he had come across others selling identical goods. Was this mosque the same one that the van had parked near? The world had become a mass of the unfamiliar. Surely this was what it was like to grow old, to become senile and confused. He felt nauseated as he realized that the bus had surely departed. At last he found a taxi driver who understood where he wanted to go. “Twenty dollar,” the driver said. Gordon nodded. He was probably being ripped off, but what else could he do?
When the taxi had pulled up at his lojman, a group of teachers sat on folding chairs in his lawn. They’d cheered as he got out of the taxi. “Gordon! Gordon!” Matt had handed him a can of Efes beer, and Tierney had said, “We always have a bet at the start of the year—who’ll be the first person to get lost.” He’d motioned to the others. “We’re your backers.”
* * *
Inside the police station, the group was herded into a dimly lit room filled with Turkish men, picked up, apparently, on earlier sweeps. The men stood quietly, heads bowed. Many held their hands protectively in front of their genitals.
“This isn’t looking so good,” Tierney said.
No shit, Gordon thought. Already he was wondering how he would explain this to the headmistress. In the country for less than a month and already busted. Matt with his fucking marijuana. Were they allowed to call the embassy? “I should tell you something,” he heard himself say, but then he stopped and began again, whispering. “If this gets bad, I may be able to help. Before I came here, I talked to a CIA agent,” he said. “An old girlfriend. She says she works for AID, but everyone knows it’s some kind of light cover. When I told her I was coming here, she asked me to keep my eyes open. I can contact her.”
The others stared at him for a long moment without speaking. At last Tierney said, “So you think you’re the spook?” There was a laugh in his voice.
“Maybe,” Gordon said. “I don’t know.”
“Haven’t you just blown your cover?” Kari asked.
“Dude, I never took you for a snitch.”
Gordon studied Matt. “What do you mean?”
“A snitch. A fink. A narc.” He patted at his bulging pocket. “Who do you think she wants you to spy on? It’s not like you speak Turkish. You don’t have access to secrets. If she wants you to spy on anybody, it must be on us. The other expats.”
“Maybe she was just talking,” Sheryl said. “‘Keep your eyes open.’ I mean, it doesn’t sound like you’re on the payroll.”
This wasn’t the reaction Gordon had expected. He’d pictured himself as a quiet hero, helping with national security, fighting terrorism. He’d thought they might be grateful for his help. He’d thought Sheryl might be impressed.
The two young cops sprawled in folding chairs, smoking strong cigarettes. The room was quiet. At last, a mustachioed policeman entered. He looked around at the silent group. When his stare fell on Gordon and the others, he called out in Turkish. The brothers sprung to their feet. They dropped their cigarettes on the floor.
“We’re foreigners,” Tierney said. “Yabanciyiz.”
The police officer spoke in harsh tones to the two young cops, who looked away. After a moment, he walked up to Gordon’s group, motioning with his hand. “Gelin,” he said. “Come.” He led them out of the room. At the exit, he pushed the door open and wagged his finger in their faces. “Only a drunk on bar,” he said. “Never in beach.”
“Right,” Matt said. “On bar only.”
“We understand,” Gordon said. Matt, the idiot, was asking to be searched. “It won’t happen again.”
Sheryl sniggered, at what Gordon was unsure.
“Iyi Geceler,” the policeman said. “Goody night.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Gordon said. He walked down the street and the others followed, laughing. At the corner, he heard footsteps behind him. “Bakarmisiniz?” the tall policeman called. “raki. Cin.” He handed the bottles to Tierney and jogged back towards the station.
Maybe Tierney’s right, Gordon thought; maybe there is some kind of madness to this place. Gordon had arrived thinking only of the adventure, but these past days had been harder than he had expected. Chaotic.
Already he was sick of living out of a suitcase. He’d brought only a few days’ worth of clothes; he had nothing for the colder weather that was approaching. In his shipment there was a trench coat that he’d bought in Kansas City, a Humphrey Bogart kind of coat, replete with epaulets and belt. He’d chosen it not only for its practicality but also because he associated it with foreign correspondents and spies. But his shipment had never arrived. He was using a jam jar as a drinking glass. He had to wash out his few clothes in the kitchen sink.
Yesterday, Gordon had left school early and caught a ride into Istanbul. He’d gone to the shipping agent’s office with the belief that he might get a firm answer if he spoke to the man face-to-face. “Very good news,” the agent had enthused. He was sweaty and beer-bellied. “We are only waiting for your shipment to clear customs. Perhaps tomorrow.”
Gordon felt his jaw tighten. It was the same thing he’d heard every day for the past weeks. Always tomorrow, Gordon thought. “Does a bribe need to be paid?”
“We take care of baksheesh,” the man said. “Don’t worry. Soon. Perhaps tomorrow.”
“So I can call you tomorrow?”
“Yes, yes, call. But perhaps not tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow tomorrow. We will let you know.”
And then Gordon had begun the trek back to school. Without a car, the journey took hours: a ferry ride across the Bosporus, a crowded commuter train, and then a minibus. Near the ferry station he’d been surrounded by a pack of grubby shoeshine boys calling out “Shiney? Shiney?” Gordon had waved them off. “Suede,” he said. “Don’t shine.” But one of the kids daubed brown polish on the leather regardless. Gordon had shoved him, perhaps harder than he’d intended, and the boy had tumbled face first, his shoeshine equipment clattering on the cobblestones. Gordon had turned quickly and walked away, but the boy had followed him, reciting all the English words of abuse that he had heard others hurl at him, words he probably didn’t fully understand: “Piss off! Bugger off you little prick. Go to hell.”
* * *
Gordon looked down the street. No traffic. No pedestrians.
“We’re miles from my car,” Tierney said.
Most of the shop windows were dark or shuttered, but opposite them, a window display of headless mannequins dressed in puffy wedding gowns glowed violet-blue under an ultraviolet light.
“We’re not going to find a taxi now,” Matt said. “We might as well wait until morning.”
“What a window dressing,” Sheryl said. “It certainly makes me want to get married.”
Tierney held up the half-empty bottles. “Let’s have a drink.” He sat on a park bench facing the bridal gowns.
“I just want to get home,” Gordon said. “I want to find my bed.” His wave of sobriety had passed. He realized that he would feel very, very sick tomorrow. Or perhaps it was today.
Sheryl slumped onto the bench next to Tierney. She held her head in her hands. Gordon hesitated a moment, and then sat next to her. Kari and Matt glanced at one another and folded themselves up cross-legged on the sidewalk, facing the bench. Tierney placed the two bottles on the ground in the middle of the group. “Serefe,” he said.
Gordon leaned forward for the raki. As he reached for it, his hand outstretched, he watched the liqueur begin to slosh inside the bottle. The entire bottle, he realized, was vibrating. He sat back and put his hand against the wooden bench; it too trembled. And then in the shop window the black lights flickered off; the wedding dresses vanished. The streetlights, too, faded to a glow and then went out.
As suddenly as it began, the vibration ceased. He became aware of the din of the street. Sirens wailed and horns honked, each with its own steady cadence. Car headlights flashed on and off along the otherwise dark street.
“Holy fuck!” Sheryl shouted above the hubbub. “Was that an earthquake?”
“A little temblor,” Tierney shouted in response. “We get them all the time.”
One by one the alarms began to quiet. “I’m so freaked,” Kari said.
Matt said, “Don’t worry. It’s over. It was nothing.”
“I don’t know what happened to the power, though,” Tierney said. “That’s unusual.”
As Gordon’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized that Matt and Kari had begun to make out. He could just see Matt’s hand moving under her blouse. He couldn’t stop himself from watching.
The lights flickered back on in the shop window, and Matt and Kari separated. Gradually, the overhead lamps began again to glow. Tierney picked up the gin and took a swig. “You see? All’s well that ends well.”
“Does it end well?” Sheryl asked. “Is this a major fault zone? I worried about lots of things before I took this job—terrorism, hospitals, the blood supply. I didn’t think about earthquakes.”
Tierney shrugged. “Someday there’ll be a big one, and then Istanbul will be screwed. A lot of these buildings will collapse like sandcastles. I’ve seen trucks hauling used rebar—they wait for the concrete to set a little, and then they pull out the rods to use somewhere else.”
Gordon reached out his hand to touch Sheryl’s arm. He meant it as a gesture of reassurance, but she stiffened. “What are you doing?” she asked.
He had failed so miserably this evening to impress her. He reached for the bottle of raki and took a pull. He felt suddenly dizzy. Why was he so unable to make a connection with this group?
No matter where you go, there you are, he thought. There would be no secret dockings in the Basilica Cistern. He wasn’t James Bond, only a would-be snitch. He wasn’t free, only alone. No one gave a good goddamn about him.
Matt and Kari engaged in another embrace, no longer worried about an audience. She moaned softly. “I’m going for a walk,” Gordon said.
He put the bottle on the ground and rose unsteadily to his feet. The sidewalk seemed to move with him, and he stumbled forward. He made his way across the street. In front of the bridal shop he stopped and studied the oddly-glowing dresses.
Gordon thought again of his dog lying dead under the fence. The snare, a cable with a locking slide, had been designed to tighten as the animal struggled. It gave back no slack. If Priscilla had stayed still, if she hadn’t tried to fight her way out, she might have lain there until he’d found her. Instead, she had twisted and turned, pulled against the wire, until it strangled her to death.
Gordon tried to force the image from his mind. He leaned forward and rested his head against the shop window. From behind him, across the street, he heard again the clink of bottles. A burst of laughter. Gordon lifted his head and turned to face the group.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro