Who did you think they were, these young men?
Dressed like this?
Students are rough.
Why so many in the cafeteria?
On how it troubled Joyce that English has no word to distinguish Frau from Weib.
Frau the social feminine, Weib the sexual feminine.
Ask James Joyce not me.
We begin again. When did it appear that things are not as usual in the cafeteria?
When they got out the ice picks.
No ice in the cafeteria?
Not at breakfast.
They spoke to you anything these young men getting out their ice picks?
A translation of Weib could be what?
Bit antiquated but yes.
Young men on the hunt for a wench?
Well. Not exactly.
Why not exactly?
The investigator’s small round eyeglasses gleam at her. She pauses. In the dorm room last night she’d found a copy of The Wind in the Willows in English. She thinks of quoting a line or two now. Just then an adjutant runs in with some papers in a folder. The investigator turns, takes the folder, waves her to the door. We resume later, he says.
Saturday a week ago she’d gone to six a.m. bike class at the gym. The room was cool and dark. People still blurred from sleep. She’d found a bike in the back corner, moved the bike next to it slightly further away, hoisted the handlebars to position 6.5, pushed the saddle to position 7, placed the seat post pin in the hole between ‘H’ and ‘I’. The others were joking about carbs and watts and a heat wave expected later in the week. By then I will have left Frankfurt for Zurich, sixty degrees and rainy, she smiled to herself. Not furtive in the sense criminal but still, once you start keeping your hands under the table, who knows.
Later, looking back, the cool dark of that room, its ordinary peace, its rows of knees and whir of pedals, seem another planet. When the investigator asks her, Who did you think they were, these young men, when they came in? she will answer, Spoilsports, and he will change his tone; she is an odd one, you learn to be careful of odd ones. But this comes later, after Frankfurt, after the Danube, after jet lag and several passport controls and two hotel rooms and three lectures followed by Q&A and all the while Valerie brooding on her haemorrhoids. The day in question they wake in the town of Visp. Outside the window are Alps. Alps, she decides, are not describable. They are not like anything. They just are. Wow, says Valerie. Light floods the hotel room (actually a college dorm) but the cafeteria where they find breakfast is down some old stone stairs to the basement, low and dark. The contrast puts her in mind of the bike class. Valerie is lowering herself gingerly into a chair by a table at the wall. Get me some muesli. And a banana if you see one, V says. Bananas good for you? she asks. Valerie glares at her. She goes to line up behind some students at the food counter. The trip to Visp by train had been difficult. As they boarded in Zurich Valerie suddenly said, I hate trains. She asked why. Valerie mentioned the shabbily uniformed conductors, the garbage by the tracks and several other things. I’d no idea you felt that way, she said. They settled into silence. Green woods, green foamy rivers flashed by. You check your ticket up? said the conductor in answer to her inelegantly worded question, which was, in essence, What next? What next if we are to survive this?