Anna was proud of the fact that she could swear in several languages, particularly German and French, and a few choice words in Gaelic and, if she could keep her head a moment longer than usual, Swahili. These little explosions were rare at home, and seemed to happen most frequently just when she’d been able to concentrate on some rare document, some archival file rooted out from the collection of an arcane dungeon. She was a little hot-headed, yes, but she liked to think that by channeling her rage into other tongues she appeared academic, esoteric, even terrifyingly calm. Her brother George had always liked to trick her into letting one escape in English, some obviously profane petard, and he found this especially funny in the reading room at the British Library, an event which happened exactly once since the librarians had escorted both Anna and George from the premises with firm frowns, arms folded like pretzels.


There was something comforting, Janice thought, about seeing that rumpled towel on the edge of the counter. On the one hand, it was annoying that Brad crumpled it up and left it there, unworried about its proper place; but on the other, it was nice to know that she could still take care of him, still provide some kind of structure in an otherwise forward-moving life. Janice lay the towel flat on the counter and folded it, carefully creasing each fold so that at last she had a neat square bundle before her. Then, hands shaking, she poured his coffee, plunged his bread into the toaster to make toaster, set his lunch bag out for him to take on his way out the door. Brad may have surpassed his family’s expectations for his career but he would never outgrow his grandmother’s aegis.