The time travelers wife, p.32
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.32

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  "Yes. Would you mind if I got out of the water?" We all follow Henry to the shore, Henry swimming and the rest of us walking along beside him on the pier. He climbs out of the water and stands dripping on the beach like a wet rat. I hand him his shirt, which he uses to dry himself off. He puts on the rest of his clothes, and stands calmly, waiting for the police to figure out what they want to do with him. I want to kiss him and then kill him. Or vice versa. Henry puts his arm around me. He is clammy and damp. I lean close to him, for his coolness, and he leans into me, for warmth. The police ask him questions. He answers them very politely. These are the Evanston police, with a few Morton Grove and Skokie police who have come by just for the heck of it. If they were Chicago police they would know Henry, and they would arrest him.

  "Why didn't you respond when the officer told you to get out of the water?"

  "I was wearing earplugs, Captain."

  "Earplugs?"

  "To keep the water out of my ears." Henry makes a show of digging in his pockets. "I don't know where they got to. I always wear earplugs when I swim."

  "Why were you swimming at three o'clock in the morning?"

  "I couldn't sleep."

  And so on. Henry lies seamlessly, marshaling the facts to support his thesis. In the end, grudgingly, the police issue him a citation, for swimming when the beach is officially closed. It's a $500 fine. When the police let us go, the reporters and photographers and TV cameras converge on us as we walk to the car. No comment. Just out for a swim. Please, we would really rather not have our picture taken. Click. We finally make it to the car, which is sitting all by itself with the keys in it on Sheridan Road. I start the ignition and roll down my window. The police and the reporters and the elderly couple are all standing on the grass, watching us. We are not looking at each other.

  "Clare."

  "Henry."

  "I'm sorry."

  "Me too." He looks over at me, touches my hand on the steering wheel. We drive home in silence.

  Friday, January 14, 2000 (Clare is 28, Henry is 36)

  CLARE: Kendrick leads us through a maze of carpeted, drywalled, acoustical-tiled hallways and into a conference room. There are no windows, only blue carpet and a long, polished black table surrounded by padded swivel chairs. There's a whiteboard and a few Magic Markers, a clock over the door, and a coffee urn with cups, cream, and sugar ready beside it. Kendrick and I sit at the table, but Henry paces around the room. Kendrick takes off his glasses and massages the sides of his small nose with his fingers. The door opens and a young Hispanic man in surgical scrubs wheels a cart into the room. On the cart is a cage covered with a cloth. "Where d'ya want it?" the young man asks, and Kendrick says, "Just leave the whole cart, if you don't mind," and the man shrugs and leaves. Kendrick walks to the door and turns a knob and the lights dim to twilight. I can barely see Henry standing next to the cage. Kendrick walks to him and silently removes the cloth.

  The smell of cedar wafts from the cage. I stand and stare into it. I don't see anything but the core of a roll of toilet paper, some food bowls, a water bottle, an exercise wheel, fluffy cedar chips. Kendrick opens the top of the cage and reaches in, scoops out something small and white. Henry and I crowd around, staring at the tiny mouse that sits blinking on Kendrick's palm. Kendrick takes a tiny penlight out of his pocket, turns it on and rapidly flashes it over the mouse. The mouse tenses, and then it is gone.

  "Wow," I say. Kendrick places the cloth back over the cage and turns the lights up.

  "It's being published in next week's issue of Nature," he says, smiling. "It's the lead article."

  "Congratulations," Henry says. He glances at the clock. "How long are they usually gone? And where do they go?"

  Kendrick gestures at the urn and we both nod. "They tend to be gone about ten minutes or so," he says, pouring three cups of coffee as he speaks and handing us each one. "They go to the Animal Lab in the basement, where they were born. They don't seem to be able to go more than a few minutes either way."

  Henry nods. "They'll go longer as they get older."

  "Yes, that's been true so far."

  "How did you do it?" I ask Kendrick. I still can't quite believe that he has done it.

  Kendrick blows on his coffee and takes a sip, makes a face. The coffee is bitter, and I add sugar to mine. "Well," he says, "it helped a lot that Celera has been sequencing the whole mouse genome. It told us where to look for the four genes we were targeting. But we could have done it without that.

  "We started by cloning your genes and then used enzymes to snip out the damaged portions of DNA. Then we took those pieces and snuck them into mouse embryos at the four-cell-division stage. That was the easy part."

  Henry raises his eyebrows. "Sure, of course. Clare and I do that all the time in our kitchen. So what was the hard part?" He sits on the table and sets his coffee beside him. In the cage I can hear the squeaking of the exercise wheel.

  Kendrick glances at me. "The hard part was getting the dams, the mother mice, to carry the altered mice to term. They kept dying, hemorrhaging to death."

  Henry looks very alarmed. "The mothers died?"

  Kendricks nods. "The mothers died, and the babies died. We couldn't figure it out, so we started watching them around the clock, and then we saw what was going on. The embryos were traveling out of their dam's womb, and then in again, and the mothers bled to death internally. Or they would just abort the fetus at the ten-day mark. It was very frustrating."

  Henry and I exchange looks and then look away. "We can relate to that," I tell Kendrick.

  "Ye-ess," he says. "But we solved the problem."

  "How?" Henry asks.

  "We decided that it might be an immune reaction. Something about the fetal mice was so foreign that the dams' immune systems were trying to fight them as though they were a virus or something. So we suppressed the dams' immune systems, and then it all worked like magic."

  My heart is beating in my ears. Like magic.

  Kendrick suddenly stoops and grabs for something on the floor. "Gotcha," he says, displaying the mouse in his cupped hands.

  "Bravo!" Henry says. "What's next?"

  "Gene therapy," Kendrick tells him. "Drugs." He shrugs. "Even though we can make it happen, we still don't know why it happens. Or how it happens. So we try to understand that." He offers Henry the mouse. Henry cups his hands and Kendrick tips the mouse into them. Henry inspects it curiously.

  "It has a tattoo," he says.

  "It's the only way we can keep track of them," Kendrick tells him. "They drive the Animal Lab technicians nuts, they're always escaping."

  Henry laughs. "That's our Darwinian advantage," he says. "We escape." He strokes the mouse, and it shits on his palm.

  "Zero tolerance for stress," says Kendrick, and puts the mouse back in its cage, where it flees into the toilet-paper core.

  As soon as we get home I am on the phone to Dr. Montague, babbling about immuno-suppressants and internal bleeding. She listens carefully and then tells me to come in next week, and in the meantime she will do some research. I put down the phone and Henry regards me nervously over the Times business section. "It's worth a try," I tell him.

  "Lots of dead mouse moms before they figured it out," Henry says.

  "But it worked! Kendrick made it work!"

  Henry just says, "Yeah," and goes back to reading. I open my mouth and then change my mind and walk out to the studio, too excited to argue. It worked like magic. Like magic.

  FIVE

  Thursday, May 11, 2000 (Henry is 39, Clare is 28)

  HENRY: I'm walking down Clark Street in late spring, 2000. There's nothing too remarkable about this. It's a lovely warm evening in Andersonville, and all the fashionable youth are sitting at little tables drinking fancy cold coffee at Kopi's, or sitting at medium-sized tables eating couscous at Reza's, or just strolling, ignoring the Swedish knickknacks stores and exclaiming over each other's dogs. I should be at work, in 2002, but oh, well. Matt will have to co
ver for my afternoon Show and Tell, I guess. I make a mental note to take him out to dinner.

  As I idle along, I unexpectedly see Clare across the street. She is standing in front of George's, the vintage clothing store, looking at a display of baby clothes. Even her back is wistful, even her shoulders sigh with longing. As I watch her, she leans her forehead against the shop window and stands there, dejected. I cross the street, dodging a UPS van and a Volvo, and stand behind her. Clare looks up, startled, and sees my reflection in the glass.

  "Oh, it's you," she says, and turns. "I thought you were at the movies with Gomez." Clare seems a little defensive, a little guilty, as though I have caught her doing something illicit.

  "I probably am. I'm supposed to be at work, actually. In 2002."

  Clare smiles. She looks tired, and I do the dates in my head and realize that our fifth miscarriage was three weeks ago. I hesitate, and then I put my arms around her, and to my relief she relaxes against me, leans her head on my shoulder.

  "How are you?" I ask.

  "Terrible," she says softly. "Tired." I remember. She stayed in bed for weeks. "Henry, I quit." She watches me, trying to gauge my reaction to this, weighing her intention against my knowledge. "I give up. It isn't going to happen."

  Is there anything to stop me from giving her what she needs? I can't think of a single reason not to tell her. I stand and rack my brain for anything that would preclude Clare knowing. All I remember is her certainty, which I am about to create.

  "Persevere, Clare."

  "What?"

  "Hang in there. In my present we have a baby."

  Clare closes her eyes, whispers, "Thank you." I don't know if she's talking to me or to God. It doesn't matter. "Thank you," she says, again, looking at me, talking to me, and I feel as though I am an angel in some demented version of the Annunciation. I lean over and kiss her; I can feel resolve, joy, purpose coursing through Clare. I remember the tiny head full of black hair crowning between Clare's legs and I marvel at how this moment creates that miracle, and vice versa. Thank you. Thank you.

  "Did you know?" Clare asks me.

  "No." She looks disappointed. "Not only did I not know, I did everything I could think of to prevent you from getting pregnant again."

  "Great." Clare laughs. "So whatever happens, I just have to be quiet and let it rip?"

  "Yep."

  Clare grins at me, and I grin back. Let it rip.

  SIX

  Saturday, June 3, 2000 (Clare is 29, Henry is 36)

  CLARE: I'm sitting at the kitchen table idly flipping through the Chicago Tribune and watching Henry unpack the groceries. The brown paper bags stand evenly lined up on the counter and Henry produces ketchup, chicken, gouda cheese from them like a magician. I keep waiting for the rabbit and the silk scarves. Instead it's mushrooms, black beans, fettucine, lettuce, a pineapple, skim milk, coffee, radishes, turnips, a rutabaga, oatmeal, butter, cottage cheese, rye bread, mayonnaise, eggs, razors, deodorant, Granny Smith apples, half-and-half, bagels, shrimp, cream cheese, Frosted MiniWheats, marinara sauce, frozen orange juice, carrots, condoms, sweet potatoes...condoms? I get up and walk to the counter, pick up the blue box and shake it at Henry.

  "What, are you having an affair?"

  He looks up at me defiantly as he rummages in the freezer. "No, actually, I had an epiphany. I was standing in the toothpaste aisle when it happened. Want to hear it?"

  "No."

  Henry stands up and turns to me. His expression is like a sigh. "Well here it is anyway: we can't keep trying to have a baby."

  Traitor. "We agreed..."

  "...to keep trying. I think five miscarriages is enough. I think we have tried."

  "No. I mean--why not, try again?" I try to keep the pleading out of my voice, to keep the anger that rises up in my throat from spilling into my words.

  Henry walks around the counter, stands in front of me, but doesn't touch me, knows that he can't touch me. "Clare. The next time you miscarry it's going to kill you, and I am not going to keep doing something that's going to end up with you dead. Five pregnancies... I know you want to try again, but I can't. I can't take it anymore, Clare. I'm sorry."

  I walk out the back door and stand in the sun, by the raspberry bushes. Our children, dead and wrapped in silky gampi tissue paper, cradled in tiny wooden boxes, are in shade now, in the late afternoon, by the roses. I feel the heat of the sun on my skin and shiver for them, deep in the garden, cool on this mild June day. Help, I say in my head, to our future child. He doesn't know, so I can't tell him. Come soon.

  Friday, June 9, 2000/November 19, 1986 (Henry is 36, Clare is 15)

  HENRY: It's 8:45 a.m. on a Friday morning and I'm sitting in the waiting room of a certain Dr. Robert Gonsalez. Clare doesn't know I'm here. I've decided to get a vasectomy.

  Dr. Gonsalez's office is on Sheridan Road, near Diversey, in a posh medical center just up the way from the Lincoln Park Conservatory. This waiting room is decorated in browns and hunter green, lots of paneling and framed prints of Derby winners from the 1880s. Very manly. I feel as though I should be wearing a smoking jacket and clenching a large cigar between my jaws. I need a drink.

  The nice woman at Planned Parenthood assured me in her soothing, practiced voice that this would hardly hurt a bit. There are five other guys sitting here with me. I wonder if they've got the clap, or maybe their prostates are acting up. Maybe some of them are like me, sitting here waiting to end their careers as potential dads. I feel a certain solidarity with these unknown men, all of us sitting here together in this brown wooden leather room on this gray morning waiting to walk into the examining room and take off our pants. There's a very old man who sits leaning forward with his hands clasped around his cane, his eyes closed behind thick glasses that magnify his eyelids. He's probably not here to get snipped. The teenage boy who sits leafing through an ancient copy of Esquire is feigning indifference. I close my eyes and imagine that I am in a bar and the bartender has her back to me now as she mixes a good single-malt Scotch with just a small amount of tepid water. Perhaps it's an English pub. Yes, that would account for the decor. The man on my left coughs, a deep lung-shaking sort of cough, and when I open my eyes I'm still sitting in a doctor's waiting room. I sneak a look at the watch of the guy on my right. He's got one of those immense sports watches that you can use to time sprints or call the mothership. It's 9:58. My appointment is in two minutes. The doctor seems to be running late, though. The receptionist calls, "Mr. Liston," and the teenager stands up abruptly and walks through the heavy paneled door into the office. The rest of us look at each other, furtively, as though we are on the subway and someone is trying to sell us Streetwise.

  I am rigid with tension and I remind myself that this is a necessary and good thing that I am about to do. I am not a traitor. I am not a traitor. I am saving Clare from horror and pain. She will never know. It will not hurt. Maybe it will hurt a little. Someday I will tell her and she will realize I had to do it. We tried. I have no choice. I am not a traitor. Even if I hurts it will be worth it. I am doing it because I love her. I think of Clare sitting on our bed, covered in blood, weeping, and I feel sick.

  "Mr. DeTamble." I rise, and now I really feel sick. My knees buckle. My head swims, and I'm bent over, retching, I'm on my hands and knees, the ground is cold and covered with the stubble of dead grass. There's nothing in my stomach, I'm spitting up mucous. It's cold. I look up. I'm in the clearing, in the Meadow. The trees are bare, the sky is flat clouds with early darkness approaching. I'm alone.

  I get up and find the clothes box. Soon I am wearing a Gang of Four T-shirt and a sweater and jeans, heavy socks and black military boots, a black wool overcoat and large baby blue mittens. Something has chewed its way into the box and made a nest. The clothes indicate the mid-eighties. Clare is about fifteen or sixteen. I wonder whether to hang around and wait for her or just go. I don't know if I can face Clare's youthful exuberance right now. I turn and walk toward the orchard.

 
It looks like late November. The Meadow is brown, and makes a rattling noise in the wind. Crows are fighting over windfall apples at the edge of the orchard. Just as I reach them I hear someone panting, running behind me. I turn, and it's Clare.

  "Henry--" she's out of breath, she sounds like she has a cold. I let her stand, rasping, for a minute. I can't talk to her. She stands, breathing, her breath steaming in front of her in white clouds, her hair vivid red in the gray and brown, her skin pink and pale.

  I turn and walk into the orchard.

  "Henry--" Clare follows me, catches my arm. "What? What did I do? Why won't you talk to me?"

  Oh God. "I tried to do something for you, something important, and it didn't work. I got nervous, and ended up here."

  "What was it?"

  "I can't tell you. I wasn't even going to tell you about it in the present. You wouldn't like it."

  "Then why did you want to do it?" Clare shivers in the wind. "It was the only way. I couldn't get you to listen to me. I thought we could stop fighting if I did it." I sigh. I will try again, and, if necessary, again.

  "Why are we fighting?" Clare is looking up at me, tense and anxious. Her nose is running.

  "Have you got a cold?"

  "Yes. What are we fighting about?"

  "It all began when the wife of your ambassador slapped the mistress of my prime minister at a soiree being held at the embassy. This affected the tariff on oatmeal, which led to high unemployment and rioting--"

  "Henry."

  "Yes?"

  "Just once, just once, would you stop making fun of me and tell me something I am asking you?"

  "I can't."

  Without apparent premeditation, Clare slaps me, hard. I step back, surprised, glad.

  "Hit me again."

  She is confused, shakes her head. "Please, Clare."

  "No. Why do you want me to hit you? I wanted to hurt you."

  "I want you to hurt me. Please." I hang my head.

  "What is the matter with you?"

  "Everything is terrible and I can't seem to feel it."

  "What is terrible? What is going on?"

  "Don't ask me." Clare comes up, very close to me, and takes my hand, one pulls off the ridiculous blue mitten, brings my palm to her mouth, and bites. The pain is excruciating. She stops, and I look at my hand, Blood comes slowly, in tiny drops, around the bite mark. I will probably get blood poisoning, but at the moment I don't care.

 
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