The time travelers wife, p.23
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.23

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  As my eyes adjust I realize that the entire place is full of women. Women are crowded around the tiny stage watching a female stripper strutting in a red sequined G-string and pasties. Women are laughing and flirting at the bar. It's Ladies' Night. Celia is pulling me toward a table. Ingrid is sitting there by herself with a tall glass of sky blue liquid in front of her. She looks up and I can tell that she's not too pleased to see me. Celia kisses Ingrid and waves me to a chair. I remain standing.

  "Hey, baby," Celia says to Ingrid.

  "You've got to be kidding," says Ingrid. "What did you bring her for?" They both ignore me. Celia still has her arms wrapped around my books.

  "It's cool, Ingrid, she's all right. I thought y'all might want to become better acquainted, that's all." Celia seems almost apologetic, but even I can see that she's enjoying Ingrid's discomfort.

  Ingrid glares at me. "Why did you come? To gloat?" She leans back in her chair and tilts her chin up. Ingrid looks like a blond vampire, black velvet jacket and blood red lips. She is ravishing. I feel like a small-town school girl. I hold out my hands to Celia and she gives me my books.

  "I was coerced. I'm leaving now." I begin to turn away but Ingrid shoots out a hand and grabs my arm.

  "Wait a minute--" She wrenches my left hand toward her, and I stumble and my books go flying. I pull my hand back and Ingrid says, "--you're engaged?" and I realize that she's looking at Henry's ring.

  I say nothing. Ingrid turns to Celia. "You knew, didn't you?" Celia looks down at the table, says nothing. "You brought her here to rub it in, you bitch." Her voice is quiet. I can hardly hear her over the pulsing music.

  "No, Ing, I just--"

  "Fuck you, Celia." Ingrid stands up. For a moment her face is close to mine and I imagine Henry kissing those red lips. Ingrid stares at me. She says, "You tell Henry he can go to hell. And tell him I'll see him there." She stalks out. Celia is sitting with her face in her hands.

  I begin to gather up my books. As I turn to go Celia says, "Wait."

  I wait.

  Celia says, "I'm sorry, Clare." I shrug. I walk to the door, and when I turn back I see that Celia is sitting alone at the table, sipping Ingrid's blue drink and leaning her face against her hand. She is not looking at me.

  Out on the street I walk faster and faster until I am at my car, and then I drive home and I go to my room and I lie on my bed and I dial Henry's number but he's not home and I turn out the light but I don't sleep.

  BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY

  Sunday, September 5, 1993 (Clare is 22, Henry is 30)

  CLARE: Henry is perusing his dog-eared copy of the Physicians' Desk Reference. Not a good sign.

  "I never realized you were such a drug fiend."

  "I'm not a drug fiend. I'm an alcoholic."

  "You're not an alcoholic"

  "Sure I am."

  I lie down on his couch and put my legs across his lap. Henry puts the book on top of my shins and continues to page through it.

  "You don't drink all that much."

  "I used to. I slowed down somewhat after I almost killed myself. Also my dad is a sad cautionary tale."

  "What are you looking for?"

  "Something I can take for the wedding. I don't want to leave you standing at the altar in front of four hundred people."

  "Yeah. Good idea." I ponder this scenario and shudder. "Let's elope."

  He meets my eyes. "Let's. I'm all for it."

  "My parents would disown me."

  "Surely not."

  "You haven't been paying attention. This is a major Broadway production. We are just an excuse for my dad to entertain lavishly and impress all his lawyer buddies. If we bowed out my parents would have to hire actors to impersonate us."

  "Let's go down to City Hall and get married beforehand. Then if anything happens, at least we'll be married."

  "Oh, but...1 wouldn't like that. It would be lying...1 would feel weird. How about we do that after, if the real wedding gets messed up?"

  "Okay. Plan B." He holds out his hand, and I shake it.

  "So are you finding anything?"

  "Well, ideally I would like a neuroleptic called Risperdal, but it won't be marketed until 1994. The next best thing would be Clozaril, and a possible third choice would be Haldol."

  "They all sound like high-tech cough medicine."

  "They're antipsychotics."

  "Seriously?"

  "Yes."

  "You're not psychotic."

  Henry looks at me and makes a horrible face and claws at the air like a silent movie werewolf. Then he says, quite seriously, "On an EEG, I have the brain of a schizophrenic. More than one doctor has insisted that this little time-travel delusion of mine is due to schizophrenia. These drugs block dopamine receptors."

  "Side effects?"

  "Well...dystonia, akathisia, pseudo-Parkinsonism. That is, involuntary muscle contractions, restlessness, rocking, pacing, insomnia, immobility, lack of facial expression. And then there's tardive dyskinsia, chronic uncontrollable facial muscles, and agranulocytosis, the destruction of the body's ability to make white blood cells. And then there's the loss of sexual function. And the fact that all the drugs that are currently available are somewhat sedative."

  "You're not seriously thinking of taking any of these, are you?"

  "Well, I've taken Haldol in the past. And Thorazine."

  "And...?"

  "Really horrible. I was totally zombified. It felt like my brain was full of Elmer's Glue."

  "Isn't there anything else?"

  "Valium. Librium. Xanax."

  "Mama takes those. Xanax and Valium."

  "Yeah, that would make sense." He makes a face and sets the Physicians' Desk Reference aside and says, "Move over." We adjust our positions on the couch until we are lying side by side. It's very cozy.

  "Don't take anything."

  "Why not?"

  "You're not sick."

  Henry laughs. "That's what I love you for: your inability to perceive all my hideous flaws." He's unbuttoning my shirt and I wrap my hand around his. He looks at me, waiting. I am a little angry.

  "I don't understand why you talk like that. You're always saying horrible things about yourself. You aren't like that. You're good."

  Henry looks at my hand and disengages his, and draws me closer. "I'm not good," he says softly, in my ear. "But maybe I will be, hmmm?"

  "You better be."

  "I'm good to you." Too true. "Clare?"

  "Hmmm?"

  "Do you ever lie awake wondering if I'm some kind of joke God is playing on you?"

  "No. I lie awake worrying that you might disappear and never come back. I lie awake brooding about some of the stuff I sort of half know about in the future. But I have total faith in the idea that we are supposed to be together."

  "Total faith."

  "Don't you?"

  Henry kisses me. "'Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow/my least desires unto the least remove.'"

  "Come again?"

  "I don't mind if I do."

  "Braggart."

  "Now who's saying horrible things about me?"

  Monday, September 6, 1993 (Henry is 30)

  HENRY: I'm sitting on the stoop of a dingy white aluminum-sided house in Humboldt Park. It's Monday morning, around ten. I'm waiting for Ben to get back from wherever he is. I don't like this neighborhood very much; I feel kind of exposed sitting here at Ben's door, but he's an extremely punctual guy, so I continue to wait with confidence. I watch two young Hispanic women push baby strollers along the pitched and broken sidewalk. As I meditate on the inequity of city services, I hear someone yell "Library Boy!" in the distance. I look in the direction of the voice and sure enough, it's Gomez. I groan inwardly; Gomez has an amazing talent for running into me when I'm up to something particularly nefarious. I will have to get rid of him before Ben shows up.

  Gomez comes sailing toward me happily. He's wearing his lawyer outfit, and carrying his briefcase. I sigh
.

  "Ca va, comrade."

  "Ca va. What are you doing here?"

  Good question. "Waiting on a friend. What time is it?"

  "Quarter after ten. September 6,1993," he adds helpfully.

  "I know, Gomez. But thanks anyway. You visiting a client?"

  "Yeah. Ten-year-old girl. Mom's boyfriend made her drink Drano. I do get tired of humans."

  "Yeah. Too many maniacs, not enough Michelangelos."

  "You had lunch? Or breakfast, I guess it would be?"

  "Yeah. I kind of need to stay here, wait for my friend."

  "I didn't know any of your friends lived out this way. All the people I know over here are sadly in need of legal counsel."

  "Friend from library school." And here he is. Ben drives up in his '62 silver Mercedes. The inside is a wreck, but from the outside it's a sweet-looking car. Gomez whistles softly.

  "Sorry I'm late," Ben says, hurrying up the walk. "Housecall."

  Gomez looks at me inquisitively. I ignore him. Ben looks at Gomez, and at me.

  "Gomez, Ben. Ben, Gomez. So sorry you have to leave, comrade."

  "Actually, I've got a couple hours free--"

  Ben takes the situation in hand. "Gomez. Great meeting you. Some other time, yes?" Ben is quite nearsighted, and he peers kindly at Gomez through his thick glasses that magnify his eyes to twice their normal size. Ben's jingling his keys in his hand. It's making me nervous. We both stand quietly, waiting for Gomez to leave.

  "Okay. Yeah. Well, bye," says Gomez.

  "I'll call you this afternoon" I tell him. He turns without looking at me and walks away. I feel bad, but there are things I don't want Gomez to know, and this is one of them. Ben and I turn to each other, share a look that acknowledges the fact that we know things about each other that are problematic. He opens his front door. I have always itched to try my hand at breaking into Ben's place, because he has a large number and variety of locks and security devices. We enter the dark narrow hall. It always smells like cabbage in here, even though I know for a fact that Ben never cooks much in the way of food, let alone cabbage. We walk to the back stairway, up and into another hallway, through one bedroom and into another, which Ben has set up as a lab. He sets down his bag and hangs up his jacket. I half expect him to put on some tennis shoes, a la Mr. Rogers, but instead he putters around with his coffee maker. I sit down on a folding chair and wait for Ben to finish.

  More than anyone else I know, Ben looks like a librarian. And I did in fact meet him at Rosary, but he quit before finishing his MLS. He has gotten thinner since I saw him last, and lost a little more hair. Ben has AIDS, and every time I see him I pay attention, because I never know how it will go, with him.

  "You're looking good," I tell him.

  "Massive doses of AZT. And vitamins, and yoga, and visual imaging. Speaking of which. What can I do for you?"

  "I'm getting married."

  Ben is surprised, and then delighted. "Congratulations. To whom?"

  "Clare. You met her. The girl with very long red hair."

  "Oh--yes." Ben looks grave. "She knows?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, great." He gives me a look that says that this is all very nice, but what of it?

  "So her parents have planned this huge wedding, up in Michigan. Church, bridesmaids, rice, the whole nine yards. And a lavish reception at the Yacht Club, afterward. White tie, no less."

  Ben pours out coffee and hands me a mug with Winnie the Pooh on it. I stir powdered creamer into it. It's cold up here, and the coffee smells bitter but kind of good.

  "I need to be there. I need to get through about eight hours of huge, mind-boggling stress, without disappearing."

  "Ah." Ben has a way of taking in a problem, just accepting it, which I find very soothing.

  "I need something that's going to K.O. every dopamine receptor I've got."

  "Navane, Haldol, Thorazine, Serentil, Mellaril, Stelazine..." Ben polishes his glasses on his sweater. He looks like a large hairless mouse without them.

  "I was hoping you could make this for me." I fish around in my jeans for the paper, find it and hand it over. Ben squints at it, reads.

  "3-[2-[4-96-fluoro-l,2-benizisoxazol-3-yl)...colloidal silicon dioxide, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose...propylene glycol--" He looks up at me, bewildered. "What is this?"

  "It's a new antipsychotic called risperidone, marketed as Risperdal. It will be commercially available in 1998, but I would like to try it now. It belongs to a new class of drugs called benzisoxazole derivatives."

  "Where did you get this?"

  "PDR. The 2000 edition."

  "Who makes it?"

  "Janssen."

  "Henry, you know you don't tolerate antipsycotics very well. Unless this works in some radically different way?"

  "They don't know how it works. 'Selective monoaminergic antagonist with high affinity for serotonin type 2, dopamine type 2, blah blah blah.'"

  "Well, same old same old. What makes you think this is going to be any better than Haldol?"

  I smile patiently. "It's an educated guess. I don't know for sure. Can you make that?"

  Ben hesitates. "I can, yes"

  "How soon? It takes a while to build up in the system."

  "I'll let you know. When's the wedding?"

  "October 23."

  "Mmm. What's the dosage?"

  "Start with 1 milligram and build from there."

  Ben stands up, stretches. In the dim light of this cold room he seems old, jaundiced, paper-skinned. Part of Ben likes the challenge (hey, let's replicate this avant-garde drug that nobody's even invented yet) and part of him doesn't like the risk. "Henry, you don't even know for sure that dopamine's your problem."

  "You've seen the scans."

  "Yeah, yeah. Why not just live with it? The cure might be worse than the problem."

  "Ben. What if I snapped my fingers right now--" I stand up, lean close to him, snap my fingers: "and right now you suddenly found yourself standing in Allen's bedroom, in 1986--"

  "--I'd kill the fucker."

  "But you can't, because you didn't." Ben closes his eyes, shakes his head. "And you can't change anything: he will still get sick, you will still get sick, und so wiete. What if you had to watch him die over and over?" Ben sits in the folding chair. He's not looking at me. "That's what it's like, Ben. I mean, yeah, sometimes it's fun. But mostly it's getting lost and stealing and trying to just..."

  "Cope." Ben sighs. "God, I don't know why I put up with you."

  "Novelty? My boyish good looks?"

  "Dream on. Hey, am I invited to this wedding?"

  I am startled. It never occurred to me that Ben would want to come. "Yeah! Really? You would come?"

  "Beats funerals."

  "Great! My side of the church is filling up rapidly. You'll be my eighth guest."

  Ben laughs. "Invite all your ex-girlfriends. That'll swell the ranks."

  "I'd never survive it. Most of them want my head on a stick."

  "Mmm." Ben gets up and rummages in one of his desk drawers. He pulls out an empty pill bottle and opens another drawer, takes out a huge bottle of capsules, opens it and places three pills in the small bottle. He tosses it to me.

  "What is it?" I ask, opening the bottle and shaking a pill onto my palm.

  "It's an endorphin stabilizer combined with an antidepressant. It's--hey, don't--" I have popped the pill into my mouth and swallowed. "It's morphine-based." Ben sighs. "You have the most casually arrogant attitude toward drugs."

  "I like opiates."

  "I bet. Don't think I'm going to let you have a ton of those, either. Let me know if you think that would do the job for the wedding. In case this other thing doesn't pan out. They last about four hours, so you would need two." Ben nods at the two remaining pills. "Don't gobble those up just for fun, okay?"

  "Scout's honor."

  Ben snorts. I pay him for the pills and leave. As I walk downstairs I feel the rush grab me and I stop at the bottom of the
stairs to luxuriate in it. It's been a while. Whatever Ben has mixed in here, it's fantastic. It's like an orgasm times ten plus cocaine, and it seems to be getting stronger. As I walk out the front door I practically trip over Gomez. He's been waiting for me.

  "Care for a ride?"

  "Sure." I am deeply moved by his concern. Or his curiosity. Or whatever. We walk to his car, a Chevy Nova with two bashed headlights. I climb into the passenger seat. Gomez gets in and slams his door. He coaxes the little car into starting and we set off.

  The city is gray and dingy and it's starting to rain. Fat drops smack the windshield as crack houses and empty lots flow by us. Gomez turns on NPR and they're playing Charles Mingus who sounds a little slow to me but then again why not? it's a free country. Ashland Avenue is full of brain-jarring potholes but otherwise things are fine, quite fine actually, my head is fluid and mobile, like liquid mercury escaped from a broken thermometer, and it's all I can do to keep myself from moaning with pleasure as the drug laps all my nerve endings with its tiny chemical tongues. We pass ESP Psychic Card Reader, Pedro's Tire Outlet, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and I am a Passenger runs through my head weaving its way into the Mingus. Gomez says something which I don't catch and then again, "Henry!"

  "Yes?"

  "What are you on?"

  "I'm not quite sure. A science experiment, of sorts."

  "Why?"

  "Stellar question. I'll get back to you on that."

  We don't say anything else until the car stops in front of Clare and Charisse's apartment. I look at Gomez in confusion.

  "You need company," he tells me gently. I don't disagree. Gomez lets us in the front door and we walk upstairs. Clare opens the door and when she sees me she looks upset, relieved, and amused, all at once.

  CLARE: I have talked Henry into getting into my bed, and Gomez and I are sitting in the living room drinking tea and eating peanut butter and kiwi jelly sandwiches.

  "Learn to cook, woman," intones Gomez. He sounds like Charleton Heston handing down the Ten Commandments.

  "One of these days." I stir sugar into my tea. "Thank you for going and getting him."

  "Anything for you, kitten." He starts to roll a cigarette. Gomez is the only person I know who smokes during a meal. I refrain from commenting. He lights up. He looks at me, and I brace myself. "So, what was that little episode all about, hmm? Most of the people who go to Compassionate Pharmacopoeia are AIDS victims or cancer patients."

  "You know Ben?" I don't know why I'm surprised. Gomez knows everybody.

 
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