The time travelers wife, p.28
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.28

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  I stare at my fingernails. When I look up, Roberto is staring out the window. "I don't know what to do with you, Henry. I would hate to lose you; when you are here and fully clothed you can be quite...competent. But this just will not do!"

  We sit and look at each other for minutes. Finally Roberto says, "Tell me it won't happen again."

  "I can't. I wish I could."

  Roberto sighs, and waves his hand at the door. "Go. Go catalogue the Quigley Collection, that'll keep you out of trouble for a while." (The Quigley Collection, recently donated, is over two thousand pieces of Victorian ephemera, mostly having to do with soap.) I nod my obedience and stand up.

  As I open the door Roberto says, "Henry. Is it so bad that you can't tell me?"

  I hesitate. "Yes," I say. Roberto is silent. I close the door behind me and walk to my office. Matt is sitting behind my desk, transferring stuff from his calendar into mine. He looks up as I come in. "Did he fire you?" Matt asks.

  "No," I reply.

  "Why not?"

  "Dunno."

  "Odd. By the way, I did your lecture for the Chicago Hand Bookbinders."

  "Thanks. Buy you lunch tomorrow?"

  "Sure." Matt checks the calendar in front of him. "We've got a Show and Tell for a History of Typography class from Columbia in forty-five minutes." I nod and start rummaging in my desk for the list of items we're about to show. "Henry?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Where were you?"

  "Muncie, Indiana. 1973."

  "Yeah, right." Matt rolls his eyes and grins sarcastically. "Never mind."

  Sunday, December 17, 1995 (Clare is 24, Henry is 8)

  CLARE: I'm visiting Kimy. It's a snowy Sunday afternoon in December. I've been Christmas shopping, and I'm sitting in Kimy's kitchen drinking hot chocolate, warming my feet by the baseboard radiator, regaling her with stories of bargains and decorations. Kimy plays solitaire while we talk; I admire her practiced shuffle, her efficient slap of red card on black card. A pot of stew simmers on the stove. There's a noise in the dining room; a chair falls over. Kimy looks up, turns.

  "Kimy" I whisper. "There's a little boy under the dining room table."

  Someone giggles. "Henry?" Kimy calls. No answer. She gets up and stands in the doorway. "Hey, buddy. Stop that. Put some clothes on, mister." Kimy disappears into the dining room. Whispering. More giggles. Silence. Suddenly a small naked boy is staring at me from the doorway, and just as suddenly he vanishes. Kimy comes back in, sits down at the table, and resumes her game.

  "Wow," I say.

  Kimy smiles. "That don't happen so much these days. Now he's a grown-up, when he comes. But he don't come as much as he used to."

  "I've never seen him go forward like that, into the future."

  "Well, you don't have so much future with him, yet."

  It takes me a second to figure out what she means. When I do, I wonder what kind of future it will be, and then I think about the future expanding, gradually opening enough for Henry to come to me from the past. I drink my chocolate and stare out into Kimy's frozen yard.

  "Do you miss him?" I ask her.

  "Yeah, I miss him. But he's grown-up now. When he comes like a little boy, it's like a ghost, you know?" I nod. Kimy finishes her game, gathers up the cards. She looks at me, smiles. "When you guys gonna have a baby, huh?"

  "I don't know, Kimy. I'm not sure we can."

  She stands up, walks over to the stove and stirs the stew. "Well, you never know."

  "True." You never know.

  Later, Henry and I are lying in bed. Snow is still falling; the radiators make faint clucking noises. I turn to him and he looks at me and I say, "Let's make a baby."

  Monday, March 11, 1996 (Henry is 32)

  HENRY: I have tracked down Dr. Kendrick; he is affiliated with the University of Chicago Hospital. It is a vile wet cold day in March. March in Chicago seems like it ought to be an improvement over February, but sometimes it isn't. I get on the IC and sit facing backwards. Chicago streams out behind us and soon enough we are at 59th Street. I disembark and struggle through the sleety rain. It's 9:00 a.m., it's Monday. Everyone is drawn into themselves, resisting being back in the workweek. I like Hyde Park. It makes me feel as though I've fallen out of Chicago and into some other city, Cambridge, perhaps. The gray stone buildings are dark with rain and the trees drip fat icy drops on passersby. I feel the blank serenity of the fait accompli; I will be able to convince Kendrick, though I have failed to convince so many doctors, because I do convince him. He will be my doctor because in the future he is my doctor.

  I enter a small faux-Mies building next to the hospital. I take the elevator to Three, open the glass door that bears the golden legend Drs. C. P. Sloane and D. L Kendrick, announce myself to the receptionist and sit in one of the deep lavender upholstered chairs. The waiting room is pink and violet, I suppose to soothe the patients. Dr. Kendrick is a geneticist, and not incidentally, a philosopher; the latter, I think, must be of some use in coping with the harsh practical realities of the former. Today there is no one here but me. I'm ten minutes early. The wallpaper is broad stripes the exact color of Pepto-Bismol. It clashes with the painting of a watermill opposite me, mostly browns and greens. The furniture is pseudocolonial, but there's a pretty nice rug, some kind of soft Persian carpet, and I feel kind of sorry for it, stuck here in this ghastly waiting room. The receptionist is a kind-looking middle-aged woman with very deep wrinkles from years of tanning; she is deeply tanned now, in March in Chicago.

  At 9:35 I hear voices in the corridor and a blond woman enters the waiting room with a little boy in a small wheelchair. The boy appears to have cerebral palsy or something like it. The woman smiles at me; I smile back. As she turns I see that she is pregnant. The receptionist says, "You may go in, Mr. DeTamble," and I smile at the boy as I pass him. His enormous eyes take me in, but he doesn't smile back.

  As I enter Dr. Kendrick's office, he is making notes in a file. I sit down and he continues to write. He is younger than I thought he would be; late thirties. I always expect doctors to be old men. I can't help it, it's left over from my childhood of endless medical men. Kendrick is red-haired, thin-faced, bearded, with thick wire-rimmed glasses. He looks a little bit like D. H. Lawrence. He's wearing a nice charcoal-gray suit and a narrow dark green tie with a rainbow trout tie clip. An ashtray overflows at his elbow; the room is suffused with cigarette smoke, although he isn't smoking right now. Everything is very modern: tubular steel, beige twill, blond wood. He looks up at me and smiles.

  "Good morning, Mr. DeTamble. What can I do for you?" He is looking at his calendar. "I don't seem to have any information about you, here? What seems to be the problem?"

  "Dasein."

  Kendrick is taken aback. "Dasein? Being? How so?"

  "I have a condition which I'm told will become known as Chrono-Impairment. I have difficulty staying in the present."

  "I'm sorry?"

  "I time travel. Involuntarily."

  Kendrick is flustered, but subdues it. I like him. He is attempting to deal with me in a manner befitting a sane person, although I'm sure he is considering which of his psychiatrist friends to refer me to.

  "But why do you need a geneticist? Or are you consulting me as a philosopher?"

  "It's a genetic disease. Although it will be pleasant to have someone to chat with about the larger implications of the problem."

  "Mr. DeTamble. You are obviously an intelligent man... I've never heard of this disease. I can't do anything for you."

  "You don't believe me."

  "Right. I don't."

  Now I am smiling, ruefully. I feel horrible about this, but it has to be done. "Well. I've been to quite a few doctors in my life, but this is the first time I've ever had anything to offer in the way of proof. Of course no one ever believes me. You and your wife are expecting a child next month?"

  He is wary. "Yes. How do you know?"

  "In a few years I look up your child's birth certificate. I travel
to my wife's past, I write down the information in this envelope. She gives it to me when we meet in the present. I give it to you, now. Open it after your son is born."

  "We're having a daughter."

  "No, you're not, actually," I say gently. "But let's not quibble about it. Save that, open it after the child is born. Don't throw it out. After you read it, call me, if you want to." I get up to leave. "Good luck," I say, although I do not believe in luck, these days. I am deeply sorry for him, but there's no other way to do this.

  "Goodbye, Mr. DeTamble," Dr. Kendrick says coldly. I leave. As I get into the elevator I think to myself that he must be opening the envelope right now. Inside is a sheet of typing paper. It says: Colin Joseph Kendrick

  April 6, 1996 1:18 a.m.

  6 lbs. 8 oz Caucasian male

  Down Syndrome

  Saturday, April 6, 1996, 5:32 a.m. (Henry is 32, Clare is 24)

  HENRY: We are sleeping all tangled together; all night we have been waking, turning, getting up, coming back to bed. The Kendricks' baby was born in the early hours of today. Soon the phone will ring. It does ring. The phone is on Clare's side of the bed, and she picks it up and says "Hello?" very quietly, and hands it to me.

  "How did you know? How did you know?" Kendrick is almost whispering.

  "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Neither of us says anything for a minute. I think Kendrick is crying.

  "Come to my office."

  "When?"

  "Tomorrow," he says, and hangs up the phone.

  Sunday, April 7, 1996 (Henry is 32 and 8, Clare is 24)

  HENRY: Clare and I are driving to Hyde Park. We've been silent for most of the ride. It's raining, and the wipers provide the rhythm section for the water streaming off the car and the wind.

  As though continuing a conversation we haven't exactly been having. Clare says, "It doesn't seem fair."

  "What? Kendrick?"

  "Yeah."

  "Nature isn't fair."

  "Oh--no. I mean, yeah, it's sad about the baby, but actually I meant us. It seems not fair that we're exploiting this."

  "Unsporting, you mean?"

  "Uh-huh."

  I sigh. The 57th Street exit sign appears and Clare changes lanes and pulls off the drive. "I agree with you, but it's too late. And I tried..."

  "Well, it's too late, anyway."

  "Right." We lapse into silence again. I direct Clare through the maze of one-way streets, and soon we are sitting in front of Kendrick's office building.

  "Good luck."

  "Thanks." I am nervous.

  "Be nice." Clare kisses me. We look at each other, all our hopes submerged in feeling guilty about Kendrick. Clare smiles, and looks away. I get out of the car and watch as Clare drives off slowly down 59th Street and crosses the Midway. She has an errand to do at the Smart Gallery.

  The main door is unlocked and I take the elevator up to Three. There's no one in Kendrick's waiting room, and I walk through it and down the hall. Kendrick's door is open. The lights are off. Kendrick stands behind his desk with his back to me, looking out the window at the rainy street below. I stand silently in the doorway for a long moment. Finally I walk into the office.

  Kendrick turns and I am shocked at the difference in his face. Ravaged is not the word. He is emptied; something has gone that was there before. Security; trust; confidence. I am so accustomed to living on a metaphysical trapeze that I forget that other people tend to enjoy more solid ground.

  "Henry DeTamble," says Kendrick.

  "Hello."

  "Why did you come to me?"

  "Because I had come to you. It wasn't a matter of choice."

  "Fate?"

  "Call it whatever you want. Things get kind of circular, when you're me. Cause and effect get muddled."

  Kendrick sits down at his desk. The chair squeaks. The only other sound is the rain. He reaches in his pocket for his cigarettes, finds them, looks at me. I shrug. He lights one, and smokes for a little while. I regard him.

  "How did you know?" he says.

  "I told you before. I saw the birth certificate."

  "When?"

  "1999."

  "Impossible."

  "Explain it, then."

  Kendrick shakes his head. "I can't. I've been trying to work it out, and I can't. Everything--was correct. The hour, the day, the weight, the...abnormality." He looks at me desperately. "What if we had decided to name him something else--Alex, or Fred, or Sam...?"

  I shake my head, and stop when I realize I'm mimicking him. "But you didn't. I won't go so far as to say you couldn't, but you did not. All I was doing was reporting. I'm not a psychic."

  "Do you have any children?"

  "No." I don't want to discuss it, although eventually I will have to. "I'm sorry about Colin. But you know, he's really a wonderful boy."

  Kendrick stares at me. "I tracked down the mistake. Our test results were accidentally switched with those of a couple named Kenwick."

  "What would you have done if you had known?"

  He looks away. "I don't know. My wife and I are Catholic, so I imagine the end result would be the same. It's ironic..."

  "Yes."

  Kendrick stubs out his cigarette and lights another. I resign myself to a smoke-induced headache.

  "How does it work?"

  "What?"

  "This supposed time travel thing that you supposedly do." He sounds angry. "You say some magic words? Climb in a machine?"

  I try to explain plausibly. "No. I don't do anything. It just happens. I can't control it, I just--one minute everything is fine, the next I'm somewhere else, some other time. Like changing channels. I just suddenly find myself in another time and place."

  "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

  I lean forward, for emphasis. "I want you to find out why, and stop it."

  Kendrick smiles. It's not a friendly smile. "Why would you want to do that? It seems like it would be quite handy for you. Knowing all these things that other people don't know."

  "It's dangerous. Sooner or later it's going to kill me."

  "I can't say that I would mind that."

  There's no point in continuing. I stand up, and walk to the door. "Goodbye, Dr. Kendrick." I walk slowly down the hall, giving him a chance to call me back, but he doesn't. As I stand in the elevator I reflect miserably that whatever went wrong, it just had to go that way, and sooner or later it will right itself. As I open the door I see Clare waiting for me across the street in the car. She turns her head and there is such an expression of hope, such anticipation in her face that I am overwhelmed by sadness, I am dreading telling her, and as I walk across the street to her my ears are buzzing and I lose my balance and I am falling but instead of pavement I hit carpeting and I lie where I fall until I hear a familiar child's voice saying "Henry, are you okay?" and I look up to see myself, age eight, sitting up in bed, looking at me.

  "I'm fine, Henry." He looks dubious. "Really, I'm okay."

  "You want some Ovaltine?"

  "Sure." He gets out of bed, toddles across the bedroom and down the hall. It's the middle of the night. He fusses around in the kitchen for a while, and eventually returns with two mugs of hot chocolate. We drink them slowly, in silence. When we're done Henry takes the mugs back to the kitchen and washes them. No sense in leaving the evidence around, When he comes back I ask, "What's up?"

  "Not much. We went to see another doctor today."

  "Hey, me too. Which one?"

  "I forget the name. An old guy with a lot of hair in his ears."

  "How was it?"

  Henry shrugs. "He didn't believe me."

  "Uh-huh. You should just give up. None of them ever will believe you. Well, the one I saw today believed me, I think, but he didn't want to help."

  "How come?"

  "He just didn't like me, I guess."

  "Oh. Hey, do you want some blankets?"

  "Um, maybe just one." I strip the bedspread off Henry's bed and curl up on the floor. "Good night.
Sleep tight." I see the flash of my small self's white teeth in the blueness of the bedroom, and then he turns away into a tight ball of sleeping boy and I am left staring at my old ceiling, willing myself back to Clare.

  CLARE: Henry walks out of the building looking unhappy, and suddenly he cries out and he's gone. I jump out of the car and run over to the spot where Henry was, just an instant ago, but of course there's just a pile of clothing there, now. I gather everything up and stand for a few heartbeats in the middle of the street, and as I stand there I see a man's face looking down at me from a window on the third floor. Then he disappears. I walk back to the car and get in, and sit staring at Henry's light blue shirt and black pants, wondering if there's any point in staying here. I've got Brideshead Revisited in my purse, so I decide to hang around for a while in case Henry reappears soon. As I turn to find the book I see a red-haired man running toward the car. He stops at the passenger door and peers in at me. This must be Kendrick. I flip the lock and he climbs into the car, and then he doesn't know what to say.

  "Hello," I say. "You must be David Kendrick. I'm Clare DeTamble."

  "Yes--" he's completely flustered, "yes, yes. Your husband--"

  "Just vanished in broad daylight."

  "Yes!"

  "You seem surprised."

  "Well--"

  "Didn't he tell you? He does that." So far I'm not very impressed with this guy, but I persevere. "I'm so sorry about your baby. But Henry says he's a darling kid, and that he draws really well and has a lot of imagination. And your daughter's very gifted, and it will all be fine. You'll see."

  He's gaping at me. "We don't have a daughter. Just--Colin."

  "But you will. Her name is Nadia."

  "It's been a shock. My wife is very upset..."

  "But it will be okay. Really." To my surprise this stranger begins to cry, his shoulders shaking, his face buried in his hands. After a few minutes he stops, and raises his head. I hand him a Kleenex, and he blows his nose.

  "I'm so sorry," he begins.

  "Never mind. What happened in there, with you and Henry? It went badly."

  "How do you know?"

  "He was all stressed out, so he lost his grip on now."

  "Where is he?" Kendrick looks around as though I might be hiding Henry in the back seat.

  "I don't know. Not here. We were hoping you could help, but I guess not."

  "Well, I don't see how--" At this instant Henry appears in exactly the same spot he disappeared from. There's a car about twenty feet away, and the driver slams his brakes as Henry throws himself across the hood of our car. The man rolls down his window and Henry sits up and makes a little how, and the man yells something and drives off. My blood is singing in my ears. I look over at Kendrick, who is speechless. I jump out of the car, and Henry eases himself off the hood.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
  • 11 749
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment