A twenty-five-year-old unmarried graduate student is on vacation in Yugoslavia with Peter Piper, a married professor of classical history who is her thesis adviser and also her lover. The purpose of the trip is ostensibly to recover from the past year’s “sexual and moral torments” but really to let Peter decide whether to leave his wife of many years for the narrator. They have already visited Serbia and Croatia. They are now in Sarajevo, Bosnia. They plan to go on to Montenegro to swim and lie in the sun. So far, though, they have met with nothing but rain.
The narrator finds—and Peter struggles to see—the water-filled footprints incised in the pavement near the Princip Bridge in Sarajevo where the assassin Gavrilo Princip stood as he fired the shots that killed the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in 1914 and thereby triggered World War I. The couple would have preferred to jump into their rented car, drive off somewhere in the countryside, eat a picnic lunch, and make love alfresco, but the unending downpour forces them into an undistinguished restaurant.
While they wait for their wild-boar dinners to arrive, they chat desultorily. Peter complains about the ubiquity of cucumber salad in Yugoslavian restaurants, and the narrator notices—for the first time, apparently—that she has become accustomed to his complaints. When she changes the subject to a more serious matter—whether the archduke’s...
(The entire section is 587 words.)