I stopped actually going to the office last May, but from time to time I see some of my ex-staff. I like to have lunch with Maja, my Croatian lady, Amel, my blond boy from Bosnia and, of course, my secondee from the Canadian federal government, Benton. Benton also comes over to the house from time to time for dinner on the weekends, all the better to be among other Canadians.

 

All my Canadian paraphernalia in my house amuses him: the beer mug with the RCMP coat of arms, the babushka dolls painted like Mounties, the Canadian flag kitchen clock, the photograph of me standing between two very tall Mounties who agreed to pose with me at the Musical Ride.

 

But Ive given up trying to match him up with either of my daughters. At 44 hes a little too long in the tooth for my subunits of 18 and 22. As a matter of fact hes closer to The Moos own age, but, sadly, hes too much of gentleman to make a move on a married woman.

 

He was over for his most recent visit a few days before we left Vienna for Trawna. We always go back to Canada for the holidays. Picture The Moo in her kitchen washing up the dishes after dinner while Benton sits at the table making conversation with her. Mister Moo has retired for the evening, secure in the knowledge that nothing is going to happen between his wife and her ex-staff Mountie. The girls have made their excuses and escaped to meet their boyfriends. Its just as well they arent interested in Benton. Having him as a son would be majorly Freudian.

 

So, youre leaving Sunday, says Benton. And coming back when?

 

I pause in my washing, wipe my hands on a dish towel and turn to face him.

 

Actually, Benton, Im not coming back.

 

He widens his eyes and gives me a tell me about it look.

 

I sit down with him at the kitchen table. Being unemployed is making me buggy. I havent had an office to go to since last spring. Its not healthy for me to be out of work.

 

Whats your plan? he prompts.

 

The plan for now is to spend the holidays with the family in Trawna like usual. Then after New Years Im going back to Ottawa whence I came.

 

He nods his understanding. I suspected you might be doing that, he confesses. I processed the reimbursement for your plane ticket for the trip home. (I used to be in charge of the Payment and Payroll section. I myself taught him how to process reimbursements. They grow up so fast.)

 

You know, Benton, all that time you were working for me, Human Resources never told me when your assignment was supposed to end. How long are YOU planning to stay in Vienna?

 

After youre gone, you mean? he asks.

 

Im not sure what he means by that. Its as though his actions are somehow dependent on mine. What a silly thought. I guess so. You must have some plans. I cant see you spending the rest of your life as a bean-counter.

 

Theres leftover apple strudel on the table. He picks up one of the dessert forks Ive just cleaned and starts poking at the strudel with it. Go ahead and finish it off, I assure him, gratified that he feels comfortable enough in my house to pick at the leftovers. Im also going to be sending him home with dinner remnants: a Tupperware tub of chicken soup and matzoh balls, slices of roast beef, potato pancakes.

 

I guess not, he says, finally. Im going back at the end of December. Ive had some offers.

 

Oh dear. Is that really embarrassment in his eyes? Bentons so sweet. Im going to miss him even though Im looking forward to being a useful citizen again.

Im going to have the same email address, so we can keep in touch, I say.

 

What I really want to hear him say is that hell miss me. I mean, its only the polite thing to say and Benton is nothing if not polite.

 

Ive been thinking of taking a post in Ottawa myself. His tone is non-committal. Hes still eating strudel. He eats the apple filling first. I like the soggy pastry better. To each his/her own.

 

The nations capital, eh? Mountie Mecca. I quip.

 

Now he smiles. Really smiles. If I come to Ottawa, youll still make me matzoh balls, wont you, Moo?

 

Hes never called me Moo before. How does he know that nickname? At the office Im Marilyn, Mister Moo calls me Poof and the girls call me Mummy.

 

I address him by the nickname I used to use at the office. You can bet on it, Ben-ee-shore.

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