The Woman by Ania Vesenny
They found her body in the mountains, face burned. In her locker at the train station they found nine passports and three wigs. Her names: Vera, Claudia, Genevieve, Astra, Layla, Vera (again), Melinda, Layla (again), and Alexia.
Kathy is sitting through her son’s piano lesson. She’s supposed to be taking notes, but instead she thinks that she could see herself naming her daughter Alexia. Pretty. She doodles letters and shapes and glances at the clock. Her son would rather play hockey, but hockey is too early, and too cold, and it is not a life skill, not like music—this is what his therapists told her to tell him, if he asked. He is still on book 2, in his fourth year, and it’s getting tedious. She might give him a choice to quit by the end of the month.
The woman (Kathy calls her Claudia) traveled all over Europe. Mostly Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany. Some said she was a spy, others, a thief. Do spies have names like Claudia?
When she stayed in hotels she chose rooms on the first floor. Kathy thinks that at night Claudia imagined herself jumping out of the windows. A rustle in the hallway, a tap on her door, and she’s gone.
Out of the train window she’d see what Kathy imagines as endless dunes. Pale, smooth ocean at the distance. Silvery water under silvery sky. To people she met, she’d nod her head and say something in German. She was always a tourist.
The piano teacher tells her that she needs to make sure he practices daily. Kathy nods, and smiles, and nods again. As they walk to the bus station, it begins to drizzle. He skips ahead, his scarf streams behind him like a drawing. He is her Little Prince.
“Do you want to stop at the ice cream place?” she says. The maple leaves are falling, glistening red on the black sidewalk.
Some said she killed herself, but Kathy shudders at the thought. Someone stalked her from one hotel to the next, took the ferry with her, then the train.
It would be an evening, there would be a cafe. Claudia, sitting with her back to the corner, and he comes over and smiles. She longs for someone to know her real name, the place she was born, the food she adores. Their foreheads almost touch over the steam of her coffee.
Kathy likes to sit with her back to the room. She’d fail as a spy. The ice cream is melting on his spoon and he’s telling her something about computer games or that boy in his class who calls him “stupid.” “You are not stupid,” she says. He keeps talking.
She must have trusted him, to go for a hike with him, sit by the fire, gaze at the stars. It must have been a relief to be herself.
It’s dark outside, and Kathy examines her reflection in the window—the transparent face, the wisps of hair tucked behind her ears. Who would recognize her in a wig? No one.
Ania Vesenny lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband and three children. One day she’ll have a cat.