The time travelers wife, p.31
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.31

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  Saturday, March 13, 1999 (Henry is 35, Clare is 27)

  HENRY: Charisse and Gomez have just had their third child, Rosa Evangeline Gomolinski. We allow a week to pass, then descend on them with presents and food.

  Gomez answers the door. Maximilian, three years old, is clinging to his leg, and hides his face behind Gomez's knee when we say "Hi Max!" Joseph, more extroverted at one, races up to Clare babbling "Ba ba ba" and burps loudly as she picks him up. Gomez rolls his eyes, and Clare laughs, and Joe laughs, and even I have to laugh at the complete chaos. Their house looks as though a glacier with a Toys "R" Us store inside it has moved through, leaving pools of Legos and abandoned stuffed bears.

  "Don't look," says Gomez. "None of this is real. We're just testing one of Charisse's virtual reality games. We call it 'Parenthood.'"

  "Gomez?" Charisse's voice floats out of the bedroom. "Is that Clare and Henry?"

  We all tromp down the hall and into the bedroom. I catch a glimpse of the kitchen as we pass. A middle-aged woman is standing at the sink, washing dishes.

  Charisse is lying in bed with the baby in her arms. The baby is asleep. She is tiny and has black hair and a sort of Aztec look about her. Max and Joe are light-haired. Charisse looks awful (to me. Clare insists later that she looked "wonderful"). She has gained a lot of weight and looks exhausted and ill. She has had a cesarian. I sit down on the chair. Clare and Gomez sit on the bed. Max clambers over to his mother and snuggles under her free arm. He stares at me and puts his thumb in his mouth. Joe is sitting on Gomez's lap.

  "She's beautiful," says Clare. Charisse smiles. "And you look great."

  "I feel like shit" says Charisse. "But I'm done. We got our girl." She strokes the baby's face, and Rosa yawns and raises one tiny hand. Her eyes are dark slits.

  "Rosa Evangeline," Clare coos to the baby. "That's so pretty."

  "Gomez wanted to name her Wednesday, but I put my foot down," says Charisse.

  "Well, she was born on a Thursday, anyway" explains Gomez.

  "Wanna hold her?" Clare nods, and Charisse carefully hands her daughter into Clare's arms.

  Seeing Clare with a baby in her arms, the reality of our miscarriages grabs me and for a moment I feel nauseous. I hope I'm not about to time travel. The feeling retreats and I am left with the actuality of what we've been doing: we have been losing children. Where are they, these lost children, wandering, hovering around confused?

  "Henry, would you like to hold Rosa?" Clare asks me.

  I panic. "No," I say, too emphatically. "I'm not feeling so hot," I explain. I get up and walk out of the bedroom, through the kitchen and out the back door. I stand in the backyard. It is raining lightly. I stand and breathe.

  The back door slams. Gomez comes out and stands beside me.

  "You okay?" he asks.

  "I think so. I was getting claustrophobic in there."

  "Yeah, I know what you mean."

  We stand silently for minutes. I am trying to remember my father holding me when I was little. All I can remember is playing games with him, running, laughing, riding around on his shoulders. I realize that Gomez is looking at me, and that tears are coursing down my cheeks. I wipe my sleeve across my face. Somebody has to say something.

  "Don't mind me," I say.

  Gomez makes an awkward gesture. "I'll be right back," he says, and disappears into the house. I think he's gone for good, but he reappears with a lit cigarette in hand. I sit down on the decrepit picnic table, which is damp with rain and covered with pine needles. It's cold out here.

  "You guys still trying to have a kid?"

  I am startled by this until I realize that Clare probably tells Charisse everything, and Charisse probably tells Gomez nothing.

  "Yeah."

  "Is Clare still upset about that miscarriage?"

  "Miscarriages. Plural. We've had three."

  "'To lose one child, Mr. DeTamble, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose three looks like carelessness.'"

  "That's not really all that funny, Gomez."

  "Sorry." Gomez does look abashed, for once. I don't want to talk about this. I have no words to talk about it, and I can barely talk about it with Clare, with Kendrick and the other doctors at whose feet we've laid our sad case. "Sorry," Gomez repeats.

  I stand up. "We'd better go in."

  "Ah, they don't want us, they want to talk about girl stuff."

  "Mmm. Well, then. How about those Cubs?" I sit down again.

  "Shut up." Neither of us follows baseball. Gomez is pacing back and forth. I wish he would stop, or, better yet, go inside. "So what's the problem?" he asks, casually.

  "With what? The Cubs? No pitching, I'd say."

  "No, dear Library Boy, not the Cubs. What is the problem that is causing you and Clare to be sans infants?"

  "That is really not any of your business, Gomez."

  He plunges on, unfazed. "Do they even know what the problem is?"

  "Fuck off, Gomez"

  "Tut, tut. Language. Because I know this great doctor..."

  "Gomez--"

  "Who specializes in fetal chromosomal disorders."

  "Why on earth would you know--"

  "Expert witness."

  "Oh."

  "Her name is Amit Montague," he continues, "she's a genius. She's been on TV and won all these awards. Juries adore her."

  "Oh, well, if juries love her--" I begin, sarcastically.

  "Just go and see her. Jesus, I'm trying to be helpful."

  I sigh. "Okay. Um, thanks."

  "Is that 'Thanks, we will run right out and do as you suggest, dear Comrade,' or 'Thanks, now go screw yourself'?"

  I stand up, brush damp pine needles off the seat of my pants. "Let's go in," I say, and we do.

  FOUR

  Wednesday, July 21, 1999/September 8, 1998 (Henry is 36, Clare is 28)

  HENRY: We are lying in bed. Clare is curled on her side, her back to me, and I am curled around her, facing her back. It's about two in the morning, and we have just turned out the light after a long and pointless discussion of our reproductive misadventures. Now I lie pressed against Clare, my hand cupping her right breast, and I try to discern if we are in this together or if I have been somehow left behind.

  "Clare," I say softly, into her neck.

  "Mmm?"

  "Let's adopt." I've been thinking about this for weeks, months. It Ferris like a brilliant escape route: we will have a baby. It will be healthy. Clare will be healthy. We will be happy. It is the obvious answer.

  Clare says, "But that would be fake. It would be pretending." She sits up, faces me, and I do the same.

  "It would be a real baby, and it would be ours. "What's pretend about that?"

  "I'm sick of pretending. We pretend all the time. I want to really do this."

  "We don't pretend all the time. What are you talking about?"

  "We pretend to be normal people, having normal lives! I pretend it's perfectly okay with me that you're always disappearing God knows where. You pretend everything is okay even when you almost get killed and Kendrick doesn't know what the hell to do about it! I pretend I don't care when our babies die..." She is sobbing, bent double, her face covered by her hair, a curtain of silk sheltering her face.

  I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of watching Clare cry. I am helpless before her tears, there is nothing I can do that will change anything.

  "Clare..." I reach out to touch her, to comfort her, to comfort myself, and she pushes me away. I get out of bed, and grab my clothes. I dress in the bathroom. I take Clare's keys from her purse, and I put on my shoes. Clare appears in the hall.

  "Where are you going?"

  "I don't know."

  "Henry--"

  I walk out the door, and slam it. It feels good to be outside. I can't remember where the car is. Then I see it across the street. I walk over to it and get in.

  My first idea was to sleep in the car, but once I am sitting in it I decide to drive somewhere. The beach: I will drive to th
e beach. I know that this is a terrible idea. I'm tired, I'm upset, it would be madness to drive...but I just feel like driving. The streets are empty. I start the car. It roars to life. It takes me a minute to get out of the parking space. I see Clare's face in the front window. Let her worry. For once I don't care.

  I drive down Ainslie to Lincoln, cut over to Western, and drive north. It's been a while since I've been out alone in the middle of the night in the present, and I can't even remember the last time I drove a car when I didn't absolutely have to. This is nice. I speed past Rosehill Cemetery and down the long corridor of car dealerships. I turn on the radio, punch through the presets to WLUW; they're playing Coltrane so I crank up the volume and wind the window down. The noise, the wind, the soothing repetition of stoplights and streetlights make me calm, anesthetize me, and after a while I kind of forget why I'm out here in the first place. At the Evanston border I cut over to Ridge, and then take Dempster to the lake. I park near the lagoon, leave the keys in the ignition, get out, and walk. It's cool and very quiet. I walk out onto the pier and stand at the end of it, looking down the shoreline at Chicago, flickering under its orange and purple sky.

  I'm so tired. I'm tired of thinking about death. I'm tired of sex as a means to an end. And I'm frightened of where it all might end. I don't know how much pressure I can take from Clare.

  What are these fetuses, these embryos, these clusters of cells we keep making and losing? What is it about them that is important enough to risk Clare's life, to tinge every day with despair? Nature is telling us to give up, Nature is saying: Henry, you're a very fucked-up organism and we don't want to make any more of you. And I am ready to acquiesce.

  I have never seen myself in the future with a child. Even though I have spent quite a bit of time with my young self, even though I spend a lot of time with Clare as a child, I don't feel like my life is incomplete without one of my very own. No future self has ever encouraged me to keep plugging away at this. I actually broke down and asked, a few weeks ago; I ran into my self in the stacks at the Newberry, a self from 2004. Are we ever going to have a baby? I asked. My self only smiled and shrugged. You just have to live it, sorry, he replied, smug and sympathetic. Oh, Jesus, just tell me, I cried, raising my voice as he raised his hand and disappeared. Asshole, I said loudly, and Isabelle stuck her head in the security door and asked me why I was yelling in the stacks and did I realize that they could hear me in the Reading Room?

  I just don't see any way out of this. Clare is obsessed. Amit Montague encourages her, tells her stories about miracle babies, gives her vitamin drinks that remind me of Rosemary's Baby. Maybe I could go on strike. Sure, that's it; a sex strike. I laugh to myself. The sound is swallowed by the waves gently lapping the pier. Fat chance. I'd be groveling on my knees within days.

  My head hurts. I try to ignore it; I know it's because I'm tired. I wonder if I could sleep on the beach without anyone bothering me. It's a beautiful night. Just at this moment I am startled by an intense beam of light that pans across the pier and into my face and suddenly

  I'm in Kimy's kitchen, lying on my back under her kitchen table, surrounded by the legs of chairs. Kimy is seated in one of the chairs and is peering at me under the table. My left hip is pressing against her shoes.

  "Hi, buddy," I say weakly. I feel like I'm about to pass out.

  "You gonna give me a heart attack one of these days, buddy," Kimy says. She prods me with her foot. "Get out from under there and put on some clothes."

  I flop over and back out from under the table on my knees. Then I curl up on the linoleum and rest for a moment, gathering my wits and trying not to gag.

  "Henry...you okay?" She leans over me. "You want something to eat? You want some soup? I got minestrone soup... Coffee?" I shake my head. "You want to lie on the couch? You sick?"

  "No, Kimy, it's okay, I'll be okay." I manage to get to my knees and then to my feet. I stagger into the bedroom and open Mr. Kim's closet, which is almost empty except for a few pairs of neatly pressed jeans in various sizes ranging from small boy to grown-up, and several crisp white shirts, my little clothing stash, ready and waiting. Dressed, I walk back to the kitchen, lean over Kimy, and give her a peck on the cheek. "What's the date?"

  "September 8, 1998. Where you from?"

  "Next July." We sit down at the table. Kimy is doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

  "What's going on, next July?"

  "It's been a very cool summer, your garden's looking good. All the tech stocks are up. You should buy some Apple stock in January."

  She makes a note on a piece of brown paper bag. "Okay. And you? How are you doing? How's Clare? You guys got a baby yet?"

  "Actually, I am hungry. How about some of that soup you were mentioning?"

  Kimy lumbers out of her chair and opens the fridge. She gets out a saucepan and starts to heat up some soup. "You didn't answer my question."

  "No news, Kimy. No baby. Clare and I fight about it just about every waking moment. Please don't start on me."

  Kimy has her back to me. She stirs the soup vigorously. Her back radiates chagrin. "I'm not 'starting on you,' I just ask, okay? I just wondering. Sheesh."

  We are silent for a few minutes. The noise of the spoon scraping the bottom of the saucepan is getting to me. I think about Clare, looking out the window at me as I drove away.

  "Hey, Kimy."

  "Hey, Henry."

  "How come you and Mr. Kim never had kids?"

  Long silence. Then: "We did have child."

  "You did?"

  She pours the steaming soup into one of the Mickey Mouse bowls I loved when I was a kid. She sits down and runs her hands over her hair, smoothes the white straggling hairs into the little bun at the back. Kimy looks at me. "Eat your soup. I be right back." She gets up and walks out of the kitchen, and I hear her shuffling down the plastic runner that covers the carpeting in the hall. I eat the soup. It's almost gone when she comes back.

  "Here. This is Min. She is my baby." The photograph is black and white, blurry. In it a young girl, perhaps five or six years old, stands in front of Mrs. Kim's building, this building, the building I grew up in. She is wearing a Catholic school uniform, smiling, and holding an umbrella. "It's her first day school. She is so happy, so scared."

  I study the photo. I am afraid to ask. I look up. Kimy is staring out the window, over the river. "What happened?"

  "Oh. She died. Before you were born. She had leukemia, she die."

  I suddenly remember. "Did she used to sit out in a rocker in the backyard? In a red dress?"

  Mrs. Kim stares at me, startled. "You see her?"

  "Yes, I think so. A long time ago. When I was about seven. I was standing on the steps to the river, buck naked, and she told me I better not come into her yard, and I told her it was my yard and she didn't believe me. I couldn't figure it out." I laugh. "She told me her mom was gonna spank me if I didn't go away."

  Kimy laughs shakily. "Well, she right, huh?"

  "Yeah, she was just off by a few years."

  Kimy smiles. "Yeah, Min, she a little firecracker. Her dad call her Miss Big Mouth. He loved her very much." Kimy turns her head, surreptitiously touches her hand to her eyes. I remember Mr. Kim as a taciturn man who spent most of his time sitting in his armchair watching sports on TV.

  "What year was Min born?"

  "1949. She died 1956. Funny, she would be middle-aged lady with kids now, herself. She would be forty-nine years old. Kids would be maybe in college, maybe a little older." Kimy looks at me, and I look back at her.

  "We're trying, Kimy. We're trying everything we can think of."

  "I didn't say nothing."

  "Uh-huh."

  Kimy bats her eyelashes at me like she's Louise Brooks or somebody. "Hey, buddy, I am stuck on this crossword. Nine down, starts with 'K'..."

  CLARE: I watch the police divers swim out into Lake Michigan. It's an overcast morning, already very hot. I am standing on the Dempster Street pier. There a
re five fire engines, three ambulances, and seven squad cars standing on Sheridan Road with their lights blinking and flashing. There are seventeen firemen and six paramedics. There are fourteen policemen and one policewoman, a short fat white woman whose head seems squashed by her cap, who keeps saying stupid platitudes intended to comfort me until I want to push her off the pier. I'm holding Henry's clothes. It's five o'clock in the morning. There are twenty-one reporters, some of whom are TV reporters with trucks and microphones and video people, and some of whom are print reporters with photographers. There is an elderly couple hanging around the edges of the action, discreet but curious. I try not to think about the policeman's description of Henry jumping off the end of the pier, caught in the beam of the police car searchlight. I try not to think.

  Two new policemen come walking down the pier. They confer with some of the police who are already here, and then one of them, the older one, detaches and walks to me. He has a handlebar mustache, the old-fashioned kind that ends in little points. He introduces himself as Captain Michels, and asks me if I can think of any reason my husband might have wanted to take his own life.

  "Well, I really don't think he did, Captain. I mean, he's a very good swimmer, he's probably just swimming to, um, Wilmette or someplace"--I wave my hand vaguely to the north--"and he'll be back any time now..."

  The Captain looks dubious. "Does he make a habit of swimming in the middle of the night?"

  "He's an insomniac."

  "Had you been arguing? Was he upset?"

  "No," I lie. "Of course not." I look out over the water. I am sure I don't sound very convincing. "I was sleeping and he must have decided to go swimming and he didn't want to wake me up."

  "Did he leave a note?"

  "No." As I rack my brains for a more realistic explanation I hear a splash near the shore. Hallelujah. Not a moment too soon. "There he is!" Henry starts to stand up in the water, hears me yell, and ducks down again and swims to the pier.

  "Clare. What's going on?"

  I kneel on the pier. Henry looks tired, and cold. I speak quietly. "They thought you drowned. One of them saw you throw yourself off the pier. They've been searching for your body for two hours."

  Henry looks worried, but also amused. Anything to annoy the police. All the police have clustered around me and they are peering down at Henry silently.

  "Are you Henry DeTamble?" asks the captain.

 
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