The time travelers wife, p.26
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.26

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  And what of Henry, my Odysseus? Henry is an artist of another sort, a disappearing artist. Our life together in this too-small apartment is punctuated by Henry's small absences. Sometimes he disappears unobtrusively; I might be walking from the kitchen into the hall and find a pile of clothing on the floor. I might get out of bed in the morning and find the shower running and no one in it. Sometimes it's frightening. I am working in my studio one afternoon when I hear someone moaning outside my door; when I open it I find Henry on his hands and knees, naked, in the hall, bleeding heavily from his head. He opens his eyes, sees me, and vanishes. Sometimes I wake up in the night and Henry is gone. In the morning he will tell me where he's been, the way other husbands might tell their wives a dream they had: "I was in the Selzer Library in the dark, in 1989." Or: "I was chased by a German sheperd across somebody's backyard and had to climb a tree." Or: "I was standing in the rain near my parents' apartment, listening to my mother sing." I am waiting for Henry to tell me that he has seen me as a child, but so far this hasn't happened. When I was a child I looked forward to seeing Henry. Every visit was an event. Now every absence is a nonevent, a subtraction, an adventure I will hear about when my adventurer materializes at my feet, bleeding or whistling, smiling or shaking. Now I am afraid when he is gone.

  HENRY: When you live with a woman you learn something every day. So far I have learned that long hair will clog up the shower drain before you can say "Liquid-Plumr"; that it is not advisable to clip something out of the newspaper before your wife has read it, even if the newspaper in question is a week old; that I am the only person in our two-person household who can eat the same thing for dinner three nights in a row without pouting; and that headphones were invented to preserve spouses from each other's musical excesses. (How can Clare listen to Cheap Trick? Why does she like The Eagles? I'll never know, because she gets all defensive when I ask her. How can it be that the woman I love doesn't want to listen to Musique du Garrot et de la Farraille?) The hardest lesson is Clare's solitude. Sometimes I come home and Clare seems kind of irritated; I've interrupted some train of thought, broken into the dreamy silence of her day. Sometimes I see an expression on Clare's face that is like a closed door. She has gone inside the room of her mind and is sitting there knitting or something. I've discovered that Clare likes to be alone. But when I return from time traveling she is always relieved to see me.

  When the woman you live with is an artist, every day is a surprise. Clare has turned the second bedroom into a wonder cabinet, full of small sculptures and drawings pinned up on every inch of wall space. There are coils of wire and rolls of paper tucked into shelves and drawers. The sculptures remind me of kites, or model airplanes. I say this to Clare one evening, standing in the doorway of her studio in my suit and tie, home from work, about to begin making dinner, and she throws one at me; it flies surprisingly well, and soon we are standing at opposite ends of the hall, tossing tiny sculptures at each other, testing their aerodynamics. The next day I come home to find that Clare has created a flock of paper and wire birds, which are hanging from the ceiling in the living room. A week later our bedroom windows are full of abstract blue translucent shapes that the sun throws across the room onto the walls, making a sky for the bird shapes Clare has painted there. It's beautiful.

  The next evening I'm standing in the doorway of Clare's studio, watching her finish drawing a thicket of black lines around a little red bird. Suddenly I see Clare, in her small room, closed in by all her stuff, and I realize that she's trying to say something, and I know what I have to do.

  Wednesday, April 13, 1994 (Clare is 22, Henry is 30)

  CLARE: I hear Henry's key in the front door and I come out of the studio as he walks in. To my surprise he's carrying a television set. We don't own a TV because Henry can't watch it and I can't be bothered to watch by myself. The TV is an old, small, dusty black and white set with a broken antennae.

  "Hi, honey, I'm home," says Henry, setting the TV on the dining room table.

  "Ugh, it's filthy" I say. "Did you find it in the alley?"

  Henry looks offended. "I bought it at the Unique. Ten bucks."

  "Why?"

  "There's a program on tonight that I thought we should watch."

  "But--" I can't imagine what show would make Henry risk time traveling.

  "It's okay, I won't sit and stare at it. I want you to see this."

  "Oh. What?" I'm so out of touch with what's on television.

  "It's a surprise. It's on at eight."

  The TV sits on the floor of the dining room while we eat dinner. Henry refuses to answer any questions about it, and makes a point of teasing me by asking what I would do if I had a huge studio.

  "What does it matter? I have a closet. Maybe I'll take up origami."

  "Come on, seriously"

  "I don't know." I twirl linguine onto my fork. "I would make every maquette one hundred times bigger. I'd draw on ten-foot-by-ten-foot pieces of cotton rag paper. I would wear roller skates to get from one end of the studio to the other. I'd set up huge vats, and a Japanese drying system, and a ten-pound Reina beater..." I'm captivated by my mental image of this imaginary studio, but then I remember my real studio, and I shrug. "Oh well. Maybe someday." We get by okay on Henry's salary and the interest on my trust fund, but to afford a real studio I would have to get a job, and then I wouldn't have any time to spend in the studio. It's a Catch-22. All my artist friends are starving for money or time or both. Charisse is designing computer software by day and making art at night. She and Gomez are getting married next month. "What should we get the Gomezes for a wedding present?"

  "Huh? Oh, I dunno. Can't we just give them all those espresso machines we got?"

  "We traded those in for the microwave and the bread-making machine."

  "Oh, yeah. Hey, it's almost eight. Grab your coffee, let's go sit in the living room." Henry pushes back his chair and hoists the television, and I carry both our cups of coffee into the living room. He sets the set on the coffee table and after messing around with an extension cord and fussing with the knobs we sit on the couch watching a waterbed commercial on Channel 9. It looks like it's snowing in the waterbed showroom. "Damn," says Henry, peeking at the screen. "It worked better in the Unique." The logo for the Illinois Lottery flashes on the screen. Henry digs in his pants pocket and hands me a small white piece of paper. "Hold this." It's a lottery ticket.

  "My god. You didn't--"

  "Shh. Watch." With great fanfare, the Lottery officials, serious men in suits, announce the numbers on the randomly chosen ping pong balls that pop one by one into position on the screen. 43, 2, 26, 51, 10, 11. Of course they match the numbers on the ticket in my hand. The Lottery men congratulate us. We have just won eight million dollars.

  Henry clicks off the TV. He smiles. "Neat trick, huh?"

  "I don't know what to say." Henry realizes that I am not jumping for joy.

  "Say, 'Thank you, darling, for providing the bucks we need to buy a house.' That would work for me."

  "But--Henry--it's not real."

  "Sure it is. That's a real lottery ticket. If you take it to Katz's Deli, Minnie will give you a big hug and the State of Illinois will write you a real check."

  "But you knew."

  "Sure. Of course. It was just a matter of looking it up in tomorrow's Trib."

  "We can't...it's cheating."

  Henry smacks himself dramatically on the forehead. "How silly of me. I completely forgot that you're supposed to buy tickets without having the slightest idea what the numbers will be. Well, we can fix it." He disappears down the hall into the kitchen and returns with a box of matches. He lights a match and holds the ticket up to it.

  "No!"

  Henry blows out the match. "It doesn't matter, Clare. We could win the lottery every week for the next year if we felt like it. So if you have a problem with it, it's no big deal." The ticket is a little singed on one corner. Henry sits next to me on the couch. "Tell you what. Why don't you just
hang on to this, and if you feel like cashing it we will, and if you decide to give it to the first homeless person you meet you could do that--"

  "No fair."

  "What's no fair?"

  "You can't just leave me with this huge responsibility."

  "Well, I'm perfectly happy either way. So if you think we're cheating the State of Illinois out of the money they've scammed from hard-working suckers, then let's just forget about it. I'm sure we can think of some other way to get you a bigger studio."

  Oh. A bigger studio. It dawns on me, stupid me, that Henry could win the lottery anytime at all; that he has never bothered to do so because it's not normal; that he has decided to set aside his fanatical dedication to living like a normal person so I can have a studio big enough to roller-skate across; that I am being an ingrate.

  "Clare? Earth to Clare..."

  "Thank you," I say, too abruptly.

  Henry raises his eyebrows. "Does that mean we're going to cash in that ticket?"

  "I don't know. It means 'Thank you.'"

  "You're welcome." There is an uncomfortable silence. "Hey, I wonder what's on TV?"

  "Snow."

  Henry laughs, stands up, and pulls me off the couch. "Come on, let's go spend our ill-gotten gains."

  "Where are we going?"

  "I dunno." Henry opens the hall closet, hands me my jacket. "Hey, let's buy Gomez and Charisse a car for their wedding."

  "I think they gave us wine glasses." We are galumphing down the stairs. Outside it's a perfect spring night. We stand on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building, and Henry takes my hand, and I look at him, and I raise our joined hands and Henry twirls me around and soon we're dancing down Belle Plaine Avenue, no music but the sound of cars whooshing by and our own laughter, and the smell of cherry blossoms that fall like snow on the sidewalk as we dance underneath the trees.

  Wednesday, May 18, 1994 (Clare is 22, Henry is 30)

  CLARE: We are attempting to buy a house. Shopping for houses is amazing. People who would never invite you into their homes under any other circumstances open their doors wide, allow you to peer into their closets, pass judgment on their wallpaper, ask pointed questions about their gutters.

  Henry and I have very different ways of looking at houses. I walk through slowly, consider the woodwork, the appliances, ask questions about the furnace, check for water damage in the basement. Henry just walks directly to the back of the house, peers out the back window, and shakes his head at me. Our realtor, Carol, thinks he is a lunatic. I tell her he is a gardening fanatic. After a whole day of this, we are driving home from Carol's office and I decide to inquire about the method in Henry's madness.

  "What the hell," I ask, politely, "are you doing?"

  Henry looks sheepish. "Well, I wasn't sure if you wanted to know this, but I've been in our home-to-be. I don't know when, but I was--will be--there on a beautiful autumn day, late afternoon. I stood at a window at the back of the house, next to that little marble topped table you got from your grandmother, and looked out over the backyard into the window of a brick building which seemed to be your studio. You were pulling sheets of paper back there. They were blue. You wore a yellow bandanna to keep your hair back, and a green sweater and your usual rubber apron and all that. There's a grape arbor in the yard. I was there for about two minutes. So I'm just trying to duplicate that view, and when I do I figure that's our house."

  "Jeez. Why didn't you mention it? Now I feel silly."

  "Oh, no. Don't. I just thought you would enjoy doing it the regular way. I mean, you seemed so thorough, and you read all those books about how to do it, and I thought you wanted to, you know, shop, and not have it be inevitable."

  "Somebody has to ask about termites, and asbestos, and dry rot, and sump pumps..."

  "Exactly. So let us continue as we are, and surely we will arrive separately at our mutual conclusion."

  This does eventually happen, although there are a couple tense moments before then. I find myself entranced with a white elephant in East Roger's Park, a dreadful neighborhood at the northern perimeter of the city. It's a mansion, a Victorian monster big enough for a family of twelve and their servants. I know even before I ask that it's not our house; Henry is appalled by it even before we get in the front door. The backyard is a parking lot for a huge drug store. The inside has the bones of a truly beautiful house; high ceilings, fireplaces with marble mantels, ornate woodwork--"Please," I wheedle. "It's so incredible."

  "Yeah, incredible is the word. We'd be raped and pillaged once a week in this thing. Plus it needs total rehab, wiring, plumbing, new furnace, probably a new roof... It's just not it." His voice is final, the voice of one who has seen the future, and has no plans to mess with it. I sulk for a couple days after that. Henry takes me out for sushi.

  "Tchotchka. Amorta. Heart of my heart. Speak to me."

  "I'm not not speaking to you."

  "I know. But you're sulking. And I would rather not be sulked at, especially for speaking common sense."

  The waitress arrives, and we hurriedly consult our menus. I don't want to bicker in Katsu, my favorite sushi restaurant, a place we eat at a lot. I reflect that Henry is counting on this, in addition to the intrinsic happiness of sushi, to placate me. We order goma-ae, hijiki, futomaki, kappamaki, and an impressive array of raw things on rice rectangles. Kiko, the waitress, disappears with our order.

  "I'm not mad at you." This is only sort of true.

  Henry raises one eyebrow. "Okay. Good. What's wrong, then?"

  "Are you absolutely sure this place you were in is our house? What if you're wrong and we turn down something really great just because it doesn't have the right view of the backyard?"

  "It had an awful lot of our stuff in it to be anything but our house. I grant you that it might not be our first house--I wasn't close enough to you to see how old you were. I thought you were pretty young, but maybe you were just well-preserved. But I swear to you that it's really nice, and won't it be great to have a studio in the back like that?"

  I sigh. "Yeah. It will. God. I wish you could videotape some of your excursions. I would love to see this place. Couldn't you have looked at the address, while you were at it?"

  "Sorry. It was just a quickie."

  Sometimes I would give anything to open up Henry's brain and look at his memory like a movie. I remember when I first learned to use a computer; I was fourteen and Mark was trying to teach me to draw on his Macintosh. After about ten minutes I wanted to push my hands through the screen and get at the real thing in there, whatever it was. I like to do things directly, touch the textures, see the colors. House shopping with Henry is making me crazy. It's like driving one of those awful toy remote control cars. I always drive them into walls. On purpose.

  "Henry. Would you mind if I went house hunting by myself for a while?"

  "No, I guess not." He seems a little hurt. "If you really want to."

  "Well, we're going to end up in this place anyway, right? I mean, it won't change anything."

  "True. Yeah, don't mind me. But try not to fall for any more hellholes, okay?"

  I finally find it about a month and twenty or so houses later. It's on Ainslie, in Lincoln Square, a red brick bungalow built in 1926. Carol pops open the key box and wrestles with the lock, and as the door opens I have an overwhelming sensation of something fitting... I walk right through to the back window, peer out at the backyard, and there's my future studio, and there's the grape arbor and as I turn around Carol looks at me inquisitively and I say, "We'll buy it."

  She is more than a bit surprised. "Don't you want to see the rest of the house? What about your husband?"

  "Oh, he's already seen it. But yeah, sure, let's see the house."

  Saturday, July 9, 1994 (Henry is 31, Clare is 23)

  HENRY: Today was Moving Day. All day it was hot; the movers' shirts stuck to them as they walked up the stairs of our apartment this morning, smiling because they figured a two-bedroom apartment would
be no big deal and they'd be done before lunch time. Their smiles fell when they stood in our living room and saw Clare's heavy Victorian furniture and my seventy-eight boxes of books. Now it's dark and Clare and I are wandering through the house, touching the walls, running our hands over the cherry windowsills. Our bare feet slap the wood floors. We run water into the claw-footed bathtub, turn the burners of the heavy Universal stove on and off. The windows are naked; we leave the lights off and street light pours over the empty fireplace through dusty glass. Clare moves from room to room, caressing her house, our house. I follow her, watching as she opens closets, windows, cabinets. She stands on tiptoe in the dining room, touches the etched-glass light fixture with a fingertip. Then she takes off her shirt. I run my tongue over her breasts. The house envelops us, watches us, contemplates us as we make love in it for the first time, the first of many times, and afterward, as we lie spent on the bare floor surrounded by boxes, I feel that we have found our home.

  Sunday, August 28, 1994 (Clare is 23, Henry is 31)

  CLARE: It's a humid sticky hot Sunday afternoon, and Henry, Gomez, and I are at large in Evanston. We spent the morning at Lighthouse Beach, playing in Lake Michigan and roasting ourselves. Gomez wanted to be buried in the sand, so Henry and I obliged. We ate our picnic, and napped. Now we are walking down the shady side of Church Street, licking Orangsicles, groggy with sun.

  "Clare, your hair is full of sand," says Henry. I stop and lean over and beat my hair like a carpet with my hand. A whole beach falls out of it.

  "My ears are full of sand. And my unmentionables," Gomez says.

  "I'll be glad to whack you in the head, but you will have to do the rest yourself," I say. A small breeze blows up and we hold our bodies out to it. I coil my hair onto the top of my head and immediately feel better.

  "What shall we do next?" Gomez inquires. Henry and I exchange glances.

  "Bookman's Alley" we chant in unison.

  Gomez groans. "Oh, God. Not a bookstore. Lord, Lady, have mercy on your humble servant--"

  "Bookman's Alley it is, then," Henry says blithely.

  "Just promise me we won't spend more than, oh, say, three hours..."

  "I think they close at five" I tell him, "and it's already 2:30."

 
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