Katherine had seen them many times, at international airports, with their mountains of cheap luggage, their faces merging worry with bewilderment with exhaustion, their children slumped, fathers clutching handfuls of red or green passports that set them apart from blue-passported Americans.
They were immigrants, immigrating.
She'd seen them departing from Mexico City after a bus from Morelia, or air transfers from Quito or Guatemala City. She'd seen them in Managua and Port-au-Prince, Caracas and Bogotá. Everywhere in the world she'd gone, she'd seen them.
Now she is one of them.
Now this is her, curbside at the airport in Frankfurt-am-Main. Behind her is a pile of eight oversized mismatched suitcases. She'd seen such gigantic suitcases before in her life, and had thought, Who in their right mind would ever buy such unmanageable, hideous luggage? Now she knows: someone who needs to pack absolutely everything, all at once.
Strewn around her mountain of ugly person-size suitcases are carry-on bags and a purse and two computer bags and two little-child knapsacks, and, on low-lying outcroppings, jackets and teddy bears and a Ziploc filled with granola bars and fruit, both fresh and dried, plus brown M&M's; all the more popular colors had been eaten before Nova Scotia.
This is her, clutching her family's blue passports, distinct from the Germans' burgundy, standing out not just because of the vinyl colors, but because locals don't sit around on piles of hideous luggage, clutching passports.
This is her, not understanding what anyone was saying, the language incomprehensible. After a seven-hour flight that allowed two hours of sleep, spent and hungry and nauseated and excited and fearful.
This is her: an immigrant, immigrating.
She'd begun by taking Dexter's family name. She'd acknowledged that she no longer needed her maiden name, her professional name. It would be easier to navigate bureaucracies, to live in a Catholic country, if the husband and wife shared the same name. She was already giving up the rest of her identity, and the name was merely incremental.
So she is someone she's never before been: Katherine Moore. She'll call herself Kate. Friendly, easygoing Kate. Instead of severe, serious Katherine. Kate Moore sounds like someone who knows how to have a good time in Europe. For a few days she'd auditioned Katie, in her mind, but concluded that Katie Moore sounded like a children's book character, or a cheerleader.
Kate Moore orchestrated the move. She froze or canceled or address-changed dozens of accounts. She bought the luggage. She sorted their belongings into the requisite three categories — checked baggage, air-freight, sea-freight. She filled out shipping forms, insurance forms, formality forms.
She managed to extract herself from her job. It had not been easy, nor quick. But when the exit interviews and bureaucratic hurdles were cleared, she endured a farewell round of drinks at her boss's Capitol Hill house, which Kate was both relieved and disappointed to discover was not noticeably larger, nor in much better condition, than her own.
This, she tells herself again, is my chance to reinvent myself. As someone who's not making a half-assed effort at an ill-considered career; not making an unenergetic, ad hoc stab at parenting; not living in an uncomfortably dilapidated house in a crappy unneighborly neighborhood within a bitter, competitive city — a place she chose when she shipped off to her freshman year at college, and never left. She'd stayed in Washington, in her career, because one thing led to another. She hadn't made her life happen; it had happened to her.
The German driver turns up the music, synthesizer-heavy pop from the eighties. "New Wave!" he exclaims. "I love it!" He's drumming his fingers violently against the wheel, tapping his foot on the clutch, blinking madly, at nine A.M. Amphetamines.
Kate turns away from this maniac, and watches the pastoral countryside roll past, gentle hills and dense forests and tight little clusters of stone houses, huddled together, as if against the cold, arranged into tiny villages surrounded by vast cow fields.
She will reboot herself. Relaunch. She will become, at last, a woman who is not constantly lying to her husband about what she really does, and who she really is.
# # #
Katherine didn't know how to react. So she decided on the default, deflection via ignorance. "Where is Luxembourg?" Even as she was asking this disingenuous question, she regretted it.
"It's in Western Europe."
"I mean, is it in Germany?" She turned her eyes away from Dexter, from the shame at the hole she was digging for herself. "Switzerland?"
Dexter looked at her blankly, clearly trying — hard — to not say something wrong. "It's its own country. It's a grand duchy," he added, irrelevantly.
"A grand duchy. You're kidding."
"It's the only grand duchy in the world. It's bordered by France, Belgium, and Germany," Dexter continued, unbidden. "They surround it."
"No." Shaking her head. "There's no such country. You're talking about — I don't know — Alsace. Or Lorraine. You're talking about Alsace-Lorraine."
"Those places are in France. Luxembourg is a different, um, nation."
She redirected her attention to the cutting board, the onion in mid-mince, sitting atop the counter that was threatening to separate entirely from the warped cabinetry beneath it, pulled apart by some primordial force — water, or gravity, or both — pushing the kitchen over the brink from acceptably shabby to unacceptably crappy plus unhygienic and outright dangerous, finally forcing the full kitchen renovation that, even after editing out every unnecessary upgrade and aesthetic indulgence, would still cost forty thousand dollars that they didn't have.
From The Expats by Chris Pavone. Copyright 2012 by Chris Pavone. Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishers.