Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Twenty-five

Thursday, 6:25 PM Kyiv, Ukraine

   Hannah woke to a loud knock from her door.

   At least she thought the knock might be at her door. Hannah tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed to rise, but her will to move did not make it as far as her muscles. She struggled to sit, fell back. She thought she should respond to the knock, but could not think of what to say. Or how to say it. Or what language to use. Language?

   Was the knocking coming from her door, or another? Or perhaps there was no knocking at all.

   Suddenly, Young Cleo was at the side of Hannah’s bed, hollering into Hannah’s ear.

   “Stop yelling,” Hannah said.

   “What was that?” asked Cleo. “Wake up, Hannah. Are you dreaming? Hannah, are you alright? You have such precise speech, even in sleep, I’d expect you to enunciate.”

   “Stop yelling.”

   “I can’t understand you, Hannah. Are you speaking Ukrainian? Never mind. Sorry to wake you. I know I barged in, but I had to talk with you before dinner.”

   “You are yelling. It is not necessary.”

   “What? Just listen a moment. Maybe your mouth will catch up to your thoughts. Just give it a moment and listen. Anton wants you here for some other reason than he’s let on. It’s not your work that he wants. At least, I don’t believe it is. Can you think of anything he might want from you? Or some reason he needs you here? Something private, maybe?”

   Hannah managed to push herself up into a sitting position, then stood. Why couldn’t the young woman comprehend her? Why was she being so discourteous? Hannah slowly looked up at Cleo’s waistline, only two feet away, so close that the comparison between them – tall and short – was too obvious. Hannah looked up and up and up, all the way to Young Cleo’s face. She seemed to be much taller than the last time Hannah had looked at her.

   “What happened to you? Why are you so far up?”

Hannah seemed to be slowly, very slowly, pulling back from the blur of sleep.

   “English. Good for you,” said Cleo. “It’s the shoes. Sorry about the height, but I couldn’t resist. Nice color, right?”

Cleo struck a ridiculous pose, one foot forward, ankle turned one way, then the other. Why was she talking about shoes?

“No shoes.”

“Hannah, listen. Think about what else might interest Anton, other than your work. There must be something.”

   “No. There is nothing.”

Hannah reached to the burning spot, tucked her chin and faced away from Young Cleo.

Cleo Twenty-five

Thursday, 6:30 PM Kyiv, Ukraine

   Cleo had noticed that movement from Hannah before. Protective, hiding. The chin tuck, and then the hand motion. What did it mean? Hannah, like Anton, was talking in one direction and meaning another.

   “Maybe we should sit.”

Cleo pulled up a nearby chair and sat, motioning Hannah to do the same. Hannah plopped back on the bed. At least her speech was settling down into English. What had she been speaking when she first woke? Maybe it hadn’t been just mumbles from the verge of sleep. Another language?

   “Why are you here?” asked Hannah.

   “Again, I’m sorry. I startled you. But you and I need to get some things straight. Have you asked Anton why you are here?”

   “Yes.”

   “Did he give you an answer?”

   “No.”

   “Well, that’s not surprising. Did you request the tour this morning? Because it seems to me that tour was just a cover for something else. Do you know what?”

   “You are talking so fast.”

   Cleo saw Hannah raise her hand to her neck again. She seemed to wince at Cleo’s words, or maybe her presence in the room. But Hannah would have to put aside her discomfort so they could figure out why they were in Ukraine. Cleo tried again.

   “Think, Hannah. Did you notice what was going on at that university? You must know it wasn’t really a university. A lab, maybe.”

   “Notice what?” Hannah asked in a slow, distracted voice.

   “Well, for example, the woman in the bathroom. It was almost like she was a nurse evaluating you. Or testing you. Or taking samples. Did you notice anything?”

   “Nothing,” said Hannah. “There was nothing.”        

   “You are being so passive I hardly recognize you. Maybe you are still just waking up.”

   Hannah surprised Cleo by a sudden distracted look, then she slowly tilted her head one way then the other, an odd movement for such a purposeful woman. Hannah then stopped all motion and clamped her eyes shut.

“I should sit,” she said.

   Cleo took a deep breath and considered her companion.

“You’re already sitting, Hannah. I think I’m pushing your jet lag. After dinner, though, you and I need to talk. I think right now you need some nourishment, and we both know the food this country offers is the best. Come on. Up you go.”

   Hannah resisted Cleo’s hand at her elbow. She swayed, then steadied as Cleo offered support.

   “I don’t need your help,” said Hannah.

   Cleo dropped her hand, but stayed near. She looked quizzically at Hannah, wondering about this odd and brilliant woman, whose every action before had seemed so deliberate.

   “Are you using that accent on purpose?” asked Cleo.

   “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Hannah, again in that accent Cleo could not identify.          

An aroma from the dining room spoke Cleo’s name. Hollered for attention. Ukrainian food for dinner, this realization called for action.

   “Come on. Let’s go,” she said. Cleo smiled at the older woman, who grumbled a word or two, but ones Cleo could not understand. “I may not know that many languages, but I can interpret a growl when I hear it.”

   A second stream of sounds came from Hannah.

   “Alright. Enough with the word play. Let’s go eat,” said Cleo.

She reached again for Hannah’s arm, patted it as she hooked her own around Hannah’s. She started down the corridor, holding onto Hannah, guiding her, heading them both toward the delectable smells. She may not be able to interpret the speech in this country, but the food, Cleo understood quite well.

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