Middle - Part V

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THEY PACK the few leftovers that the dinner meal produces into more plastic containers. These go into a cloth sack, and Basil adds a small loaf of crusty bread, some plastic bottles of juice, and a plastic bag of Gwen's brownies.

Basil calls it a "picnic lunch" for tomorrow's trip to London. After dinner, Basil must adjourn to the office space in his bedroom to complete tasks that must be finished for Monday, and Kalp stands beside Gwen at the sink and carefully dries the dishes and utensils and drinking vessels that she hands him. He learns the lay of the kitchen in putting them away, where each object goes, what is in the cabinets and under the stove and above the refrigerator.

Kalp feels that the meal was not his best attempt, but he is proud of the results considering his limitations. Basil's distended tummy and the soft smile on Gwen's face seem to underscore this achievement.

Gwen is still staring at the dissipating soap bubbles in the grey water when she speaks. She has been opening and shutting her mouth, drawing breath and sighing for the past ten minutes. Kalp is guessing that she has something important that she wants to say and is working up towards vocalizing it. He remains quiet and waits.

Finally she says, "How do you feel about what happened today?" Kalp is not completely surprised by this inquiry. He carefully arranges the drying towel on its rack on the handle of the stove and formulates his answer.

"You and Basil were far more upset than I."

"What that man said and did was inexcusable," Gwen says, and she is weary from her own anger. "And unfortunately, common. For such a bloody enlightened race of people we're still a big group of back-stabbing bigots."

"Not you and Basil."

"No," Gwen allows, and takes her bottom lip between her teeth, biting lightly. Kalp is uncertain about the significance of this gesture, but finds it strangely endearing.

"Then I am unconcerned," Kalp says, pulling his attention back to the conversation. "Would he have attacked me physically?"

"Probably not," Gwen says. "Men like that are all hot air."

The idiom is unfamiliar, but Kalp supposes he understands the meaning all the same.

"Are there any who would seek to harm me?"

"Of course there are!" Gwen says. She still does not turn around. "Fuckers with baseball bats and tasers... did you know there was a riot last week in Dallas?"

This is not new information — Kalp has been warned that there are those on Earth who are not pleased with his people's presence. Then again, they are also displeased with the presence of other humans whose skin or moral or spiritual or sexual values do not match their own, so Kalp supposes there is no pleasing everyone. Even among his own people there used to be dissent between the citizens of the different continents. That dissent has fizzled in the wake of the disaster, and they have become one race rather than different nationalities. He hopes Earth's nationalities will follow suit soon enough, without the impetus of a similarly horrifying tragedy.

"I am capable of defending myself," Kalp says. He chooses not to click his nails or bare his teeth to indicate so. He is sure Gwen is more than adequately aware of them. "In the meantime, I will not fear walking in the open street. Some people are unpleasant. But most are not. I enjoyed the child in the park today."

Gwen is staring at her water-shriveled fingertips.

He reaches out and touches the back of Gwen's neck, a possessive, caring gesture that he has seen Basil perform. It is very intimate, according to the pornography book, and Kalp's fingers tremble as he does it.

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