Another Country
by Ishafel

"What happens in the Congo stays in the Congo," Gillian had told him cheerfully, and her chapped, bitten red lips had closed around him and Luka had thought that maybe the Congo was not such a bad place to be. But that had been a different man thinking that, a different man in a different country.

He lies in the bed beside her-this woman who has given up her dream to travel halfway around the world with him-and Luka thinks that in another country she had been beautiful. By torchlight, with the guns thundering, and death a heartbeat away, he had allowed himself to think that he could love her. Worse, he had allowed her to think it. She had been different, there where the heat made everything hazy around the edges. She had seemed softer, younger, her hair streaked blonde in the sun and her skin darkened by it. In Chicago she looked old and tired and hard; there were lines around her mouth and lines around her eyes and freckles on her back like a children's game.

He dreads saying what he is going to have to say to her, dreads seeing her destroyed. He has not made a woman happy since his wife died and until he felt the plane touch down outside O'Hare he had not realized he minded. He does not want-he wants-it is not Gillian he wants. John has given him Abby, has all but giftwrapped her and sent her Federal Express, and it is not Abby he wants either.

What happens in the Congo stays in the Congo, and Luka is very much afraid that what he does want has stayed there as well. If Gillian had been softer there, John was harder, and so bright in the sun it hurt to look straight at him. And Luka had not looked, not in daylight; it had been in the warm, sticky darkness that they had lain, laughing, side-by-side. Despite the heat they had slept so close their shoulders touched, John and Luka with only Gillian between them.

This is how you make a sandwich, even in America: something hard and something hard with something soft between. And Gillian had been so pleased by their attention, even grateful for it. But for Luka Gillian was only filling: even while they thrust into her body his hand was on John's back, his mouth on John's mouth.

What happened in the Congo stayed in the Congo, and Luka went back to Chicago, to trying to build a life for himself among people who noticed him only for his absence. He left Gillian and John behind, and he thought that part of his life was over forever. He left Gillian to fate and John to Kem, and he met a woman all his own, a family ready-built. He was good at leaving people behind, places behind, things behind.

Luka was in Chicago when Kem lost the baby, and he knew what it meant to John. He knew all about losing a child, a woman, a piece of the soul, and so he did what he could to comfort John. And he did not mention what had happened in the Congo, but he thought of it often and he hoped that John thought of it, too.


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