Are You Jealous (final)
“Uranium,” said the man, with a certain tenderness. “Manganese, also, fluoresces weakly.” They spoke as though memories of a profound shared experience had been stirred. “And yet, in the great furnace, elemental traces—water, ink, the blue of a butterfly’s wing, the nameless color, softer than silver . . . ” He was quoting, himself likely enough (if not Emil Reiff); or composing, for some publication of the firm.
“ . . . beryllium, you know, thorium.”
“It may be so.”
Gabriel, head turned auditing this exchange, was startled when someone grabbed his hand.
“Why won’t you say hello?” Eva smiled at the woman, nodded at the man. “Dr. Cjevac.” She tugged. Gabriel stood. She tucked her arm through his and propelled him. He puzzled over which half of the couple answered to that name, or whether they answered to it collectively.
“You embarrass me,” Eva whispered.
“Much of little note,” Presby was saying to Henderson Young. “Yet . . . ”
He turned. He cast upon Eva a look of warm sympathy; he extended the eyeglasses, sketching encompassing circles. “We find desirable items from the interwar era.” His vowel-work on the word “era” was extraordinary. “Individuals, rather than starve, relinquished heirlooms.”
“It was a period of great poverty in Europe,” Young remarked.
“Great poverty,” Presby agreed. “Factories unable to obtain capital. Whole inventories sold below cost.” The sequence was pronounced orotundly, a melodious tone poem.
Gabriel, smote once by the suspicion that Presby had locked eyes with Eva on the word “desirable”, was struck again. Presby affected her like the chiming clock. Her face was the same.
“Gabe,” said Presby, acknowledging him.
“Klaus,” he answered, unthinking.
Presby stood straighter, peering. He scrutinized Gabriel. He placed the eyeglasses on his nose, and scrutinized a second time, finding doubtful provenance.
Eva gave an exasperated snort.
(copyright 2014 Stephanie Foster)