I was supine on the couch, as I have been for a couple of weeks now, recovering from my very near brush with the Void. I’ve given myself, with my doctor’s blessing, permission to be in a state of “rest” — that retro condition — without guilt, for a while at least; which seems at once naughty and luxurious.

Brian, my husband, made me chicken soup, as Dr Ealy has prescribed pretty much just smoothies, soups, and fermented foods for me, till I am stronger.

I noticed some chunky white strips floating in the soup, like thick little rafts. “What is that, honey?”

“Pork fat. It will give it flavor.”

“You know this is supposed to be Jewish chicken soup, right?” I asked, smiling.

“You have to respect my Irishness,” he declared.

I did, and the soup was delicious: “restorative”, as we say, half-joking, in our household. I felt the life force burn a little brighter in me as I blew on my spoon, and took it all in.

Chicken soup has a very allegorical presence in our history. A Jewish chicken soup I made long ago, it is not an overstatement to say, turned our relationship from that nervous status of “dating,” to the steady path to marriage.

Nine years ago, Brian and I had been courting for about six months. I was still incredibly jumpy about him, part delighted and part terrified. Half of me believed that he had been sent by some intelligence agency to infiltrate my life and my social network.

What was he doing hanging around me so consistently, I wondered? He was much younger than I, very handsome, sort of scary, extremely comfortable with a range of weapons, and strangely highly trained in many arcane white and black arts.

He was not like anyone I knew. He had hacker friends. He had spy friends, and mercenary friends, and special operator friends. And he was friends too, oddly, with a couple of governors, a couple of ambassadors, and some high-level businessmen; as well as being friends with riffraff of all kinds.

Surely he couldn’t be making the long train journey every week from Washington to New York to see me, just for my sake — just for me, an exhausted single mom, from a completely different milieu?

What was his real agenda?

Friends were continually warning me about just this scenario — of subversion via seduction. A friend sent me news stories about a detective in the UK who infiltrated a group of environmental activists by seducing a female member — he lived with her for months before she realized that the relationship was a setup. Other friends of mine would pepper Brian with probing questions when he accompanied me to parties. He patiently answered them, barely rolling his eyes.

I would ask him about my fears directly.

“How do I know you haven’t been sent here by the CIA, or by Mossad, to kill me?”

He’d answer with a mocking scenario, that always made me laugh in spite of myself.

“Well, if I have, I’m doing a terrible job, and I’ll probably get fired: “Agent Seamus here. What’s going on? Why isn’t she dead yet? It’s been months!” “Well, I was going to knock it out last week, but we had that thing at the Town Hall. Then I was going to take care of it last Wednesday, but we can’t miss Dancing with the Stars. I was going to do it this morning, but Starbucks didn’t open till 8:00 am, and you know I can’t function without that first cup of coffee…”’

So slowly, I let my guard down. I got used to the imponderable world of Brian O’Shea. I got used to finding three different passports on the shelf where he kept his toiletries. I got used to being put on Facetime to say hello to some wizened, sectarian warlord who had been tossing back vodka shots for some reason with Brian, as he was for some reason in Tbilisi. I got used to hearing that Brian had been detained at a local airport because he had forgotten that there were hollow-point bullets in his carry-on backpack (“Not my fault! I was packing so quickly, I forgot to check the bag.”) I learned to accept that when we stepped outside of a dance club in eastern Sarajevo, where we had travelled for a speaking engagement of his, he froze and turned white at the sound of a car backfiring. He did not go into detail about his reaction.

I got used to weird moments: we were in the elegant, 17th-Century, oak-paneled drawing room in the home of the Master of my then-college at Oxford; and we were introduced to a visiting Ambassador. Brian and the official looked at each other with simultaneous white-hot rage, leaving the Master and me standing by in a befuddled silence. A long-ago operation had gone awry, it seemed, in a way that left each of these men infuriated at the other.

There were other strange experiences that were becoming familiar to me. I went to a party in a massive, mostly empty mansion in the Virginia woods. Russians, Serbs, Frenchmen, Argentinians — everyone seemed to be a “tech CEO,” but had little interest in or conversation about technology. One fellow had tiny skulls embroidered as a pattern on his expensive, tailored shirt. I found out later these were grey arms dealers.

I got used to the barbeques in backyards in the suburbs in DC full of young men who were working in the embassies of certain European countries, and young women from those same countries who were all working as “au pairs,” but who all — the young men and the young women both — talked with intense, in-depth knowledge about geopolitics. I got used to meeting “couples” who seemed completely ill-matched, with zero chemistry between them, who indeed seemed hardly to know each other.

I got used to the fact that one of Brian’s colleagues was a gigantic young former Spanish army sniper, whose identity had been revealed by terrorists years before, in a troubled part of Spain. Hence his presence in Old Town, Alexandria, working for Brian. I got used to the fact that “Paolo” was now also a part-time baker. Indeed, he was the second sniper-baker to whom Brian introduced me (“Paolo”’s specialty was macaroons, whereas the second sniper-baker focused upon miniature cupcakes.)

I was scared of “Paolo,” for the same reasons I was scared of Brian; until “Paolo” showed up at the door, when I was looking after Brian; tall and immensely muscled and pleasant-looking, with an open, innocent face, and bearing a small, perfectly decorated pink paper box.

“I am not here to kill you,” he said solemnly, having been told of my fears. “I have brought you macaroons.”

Who were all of these people? What was happening in this world?

Slowly it dawned on me.

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