Vinegar Girl (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Anne Tyler Page 0,1

spelled out the names of various offbeat organizations and obscure little magazines. There was no plaque for Louis Battista, though. He had been shunted around to so many different buildings over the years, landing finally in this orphan location near the university but miles from the medical complex, that he’d probably decided it just wasn’t worth the effort.

In the foyer an array of mailboxes lined one wall, and sliding heaps of flyers and takeout menus covered the rickety bench beneath them. Kate walked past several offices, but only the Christians for Buddha door stood open. Inside she glimpsed a trio of women grouped around a desk where a fourth woman sat dabbing her eyes with a tissue. (Always something going on.) Kate opened another door at the far end of the hall and descended a flight of steep wooden stairs. At the bottom she paused to punch in the code: 1957, the date Witebsky first defined the criteria for autoimmune disorders.

The room she entered was tiny, furnished only by a card table and two metal folding chairs. A brown paper bag sat on the table; another lunch, it looked like. She set her father’s lunch next to it and then went over to a door and gave a couple of brisk knocks. After a moment, her father poked his head out—his satiny bald scalp bordered by a narrow band of black hair, his olive-skinned face punctuated by a black mustache and round-lensed, rimless spectacles. “Ah, Kate,” he said. “Come in.”

“No, thanks,” she said. She never could abide the smells of the place—the thin, stinging smell of the lab itself and the dry-paper smell of the mouse room. “Your lunch is on the table,” she said. “Bye.”

“No, wait!”

He turned from her to speak to someone in the room behind him. “Pyoder? Come out and say hello to my daughter.”

“I’ve got to go,” Kate said.

“I don’t think you’ve ever met my research assistant,” her father said.

“That’s okay.”

But the door opened wider, and a solid, muscular man with straight yellow hair stepped up to stand next to her father. His white lab coat was so dingy that it very nearly matched Dr. Battista’s pale-gray coveralls. “Vwouwv!” he said. Or that was what it sounded like, at least. He was gazing at Kate admiringly. Men often wore that look when they first saw her. It was due to a bunch of dead cells: her hair, which was blue-black and billowy and extended below her waist.

“This is Pyoder Cherbakov,” her father told her.

“Pyotr,” the man corrected him, allowing no space at all between the sharp-pointed t and the ruffly, rolling r. And “Shcherbakov,” explosively spitting out the mishmash of consonants.

“Pyoder, meet Kate.”

“Hi,” Kate said. “See you later,” she told her father.

“I thought you might stay a moment.”

“What for?”

“Well, you’ll need to take back my sandwich box, will you not?”

“Well, you can bring it back yourself, can you not?”

A sudden hooting sound made both of them glance in Pyotr’s direction. “Just like the girls in my country,” he said, beaming. “So rude-spoken.”

“Just like the women,” Kate said reprovingly.

“Yes, they also. The grandmothers and the aunties.”

She gave up on him. “Father,” she said, “will you tell Bunny she has to stop leaving such a mess when she has her friends in? Did you see the TV room this morning?”

“Yes, yes,” her father said, but he was heading back into the lab as he spoke. He returned, pushing a high stool on wheels. He parked it next to the table. “Have a seat,” he told her.

“I need to get back to my gardening.”

“Please, Kate,” he said. “You never keep me company.”

She stared at him. “Keep you company?”

“Sit, sit,” he said, motioning toward the stool. “You can have part of my sandwich.”

“I’m not hungry,” she said. But she perched awkwardly on the stool, still staring at him.

“Pyoder, sit. You can share my sandwich too, if you want. Kate made it especially. Peanut butter honey on whole-wheat.”

“You know I do not eat peanut butter,” Pyotr told him severely. He pulled out one of the folding chairs and settled catty-corner to Kate. His chair was considerably lower than her stool, and she could see how the hair was starting to thin across the top of his head. “In my country, peanuts are pigs’ food.”

“Ha, ha,” Dr. Battista said. “He’s very humorous, isn’t he, Kate?”

“What?”

“They eat them with the shells on,” Pyotr said.

He had trouble with th sounds, Kate noticed. And his vowels didn’t seem to last long enough. She had no