The time travelers wife, p.33
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.33

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  "Tell me." Her face is inches from mine. I kiss her, very roughly. She is resistant. I release her, and she turns her back on me.

  "That wasn't very nice," she says in a small voice.

  What is wrong with me? Clare, at fifteen, is not the same person who's been torturing me for months, refusing to give up on having a baby, risking death and despair, turning lovemaking into a battlefield strewn with the corpses of children. I put my hands on her shoulders. "I'm sorry. I'm very sorry, Clare, it's not you. Please."

  She turns. She's crying, and she's a mess. Miraculously, there's a Kleenex in my coat pocket. I dab at her face, and she takes the tissue from me and blows her nose.

  "You never kissed me before." Oh, no. My face must be funny, because Clare laughs. I can't believe it. What an idiot I am.

  "Oh, Clare, Just--forget that, okay? Just erase it. It never happened. Come here. Take two, yes? Clare?"

  She tentatively steps toward me. I put my arms around her, look at her. Her eyes are rimmed red, her nose is swollen, and she definitely has a bad cold. I place my hands over her ears and tip her head back, and kiss her, and try to put my heart into hers, for safekeeping, in case I lose it again.

  Friday, June 9, 2000 (Clare is 29, Henry is 36)

  CLARE: Henry has been terribly quiet, distracted, and pensive all evening. All through dinner he seemed to be mentally searching imaginary stacks for a book he'd read in 1942 or something. Plus his right hand is all bandaged up. After dinner he went into the bedroom and lay face down on the bed with his head hanging over the foot of the bed and his feet on my pillow. I went to the studio and scrubbed molds and deckles and drank my coffee, but I wasn't enjoying myself because I couldn't figure out what Henry's problem was. Finally I go back into the house. He is still lying in the same position. In the dark.

  I lie down on the floor. My back makes loud cracking sounds as I stretch out.

  "Clare?"

  "Mmmm?"

  "Do you remember the first time I kissed you?"

  "Vividly."

  "I'm sorry." Henry rolls over.

  I'm burning up with curiosity. "What were you so upset about? You were trying to do something, and it didn't work, and you said I wouldn't like it. What was it?"

  "How do you manage to remember all that?"

  "I am the original elephant child. Are you going to tell me now?"

  "No."

  "If I guess will you tell me if I'm right?"

  "Probably not."

  "Why not?"

  "Because I am exhausted, and I don't want to fight tonight."

  I don't want to fight either. I like lying here on the floor. It's kind of cold but very solid. "You went to get a vasectomy."

  Henry is silent. He is so silent for so long that I want to put a mirror in front of his mouth to see if he's breathing. Finally: "How did you know?"

  "I didn't exactly know. I was afraid that might be it. And I saw the note you made for the appointment with the doctor this morning."

  "I burned that note."

  "I saw the impression on the sheet below the one you wrote on."

  Henry groans. "Okay, Sherlock. You got me."

  We continue to lie peaceably in the dark. "Go ahead."

  "What?"

  "Get a vasectomy. If you have to."

  Henry rolls over again and looks at me. All I see is his dark head against the dark ceiling. "You're not yelling at me."

  "No. I can't do this anymore, either. I give up. You win, we'll stop trying to have a baby."

  "I wouldn't exactly describe that as winning. It just seems--necessary."

  "Whatever."

  Henry climbs off the bed and sits on the floor with me. "Thank you."

  "You're welcome." He kisses me. I imagine the bleak November day in 1986 that Henry has just come from, the wind, the warmth of his body in the cold orchard. Soon, for the first time in many months, we are making love without worrying about the consequences. Henry has caught the cold I had sixteen years ago. Four weeks later, Henry has had his vasectomy and I discover that I am pregnant for the sixth time.

  BABY DREAMS

  September, 2000 (Clare is 29)

  CLARE: I dream I'm walking down stairs into my grandmother Abshire's basement. The long soot mark from the time the crow flew down the chimney is still there on the left-hand wall; the steps are dusty and the handrail leaves gray marks on my hand as I steady myself; I descend and walk into the room that always scared me when I was little. In this room are deep shelves with rows and rows of canned goods, tomatoes and pickles, corn relish and beets. They look embalmed. In one of the jars is the small fetus of a duck. I carefully open the jar and pour the ducking and the fluid into my hand. It gasps and retches. "Why did you leave me?" it asks, when it can speak. "I've been waiting for you."

  I dream that my mother and I are walking together down a quiet residential street in South Haven. I am carrying a baby. As we walk, the baby becomes heavier and heavier, until I can barely lift it. I turn to Mama and tell her that I can't carry this baby any farther; she takes it from me easily and we continue on. We come to a house and walk down the small walkway to its backyard. In the yard there are two screens and a slide projector. People are seated in lawn chairs, watching slides of trees. Half of a tree is on each screen. One half is summer and the other winter; they are the same tree, different seasons. The baby laughs and cries out in delight.

  I dream I am standing on the Sedgewick El platform, waiting for the Brown Line train. I am carrying two shopping bags, which upon inspection turn out to contain boxes of saltine crackers and a very small, stillborn baby with red hair, wrapped in Saran Wrap.

  I dream I am at home, in my old room. It's late at night, the room is dimly illuminated by the aquarium light. I suddenly realize, with horror, that there is a small animal swimming round and round the tank; I hastily remove the lid and net the animal, which turns out to be a gerbil with gills. "I'm so sorry" I say. "I forgot about you." The gerbil just stares at me reproachfully.

  I dream I am walking up stairs in Meadowlark House. All the furniture is gone, the rooms are empty, dust floats in the sunlight which makes golden pools on the polished oak floors. I walk down the long hall, glancing in the bedrooms, and come to my room, in which a small wooden cradle sits alone. There is no sound. I am afraid to look into the cradle. In Mama's room white sheets are spread over the floor. At my feet is a tiny drop of blood, which touches the tip of a sheet and spreads as I watch until the entire floor is covered in blood.

  Saturday, September 23, 2000 (Clare is 29, Henry is 37)

  CLARE: I'm living under water. Everything seems slow and far away. I know there's a world up there, a sunlit quick world where time runs like dry sand through an hourglass, but down here, where I am, air and sound and time and feeling are thick and dense. I'm in a diving bell with this baby, just the two of us trying to survive in this alien atmosphere, but I feel very alone. Hello? Are you there? No answer comes back. He's dead, I tell Amit. No, she says, smiling anxiously, no, Clare, see, there's his heartbeat. I can't explain. Henry hovers around trying to feed me, massage me, cheer me up, until I snap at him. I walk across the yard, into my studio. It's like a museum, a mausoleum, so still, nothing living or breathing, no ideas here, just things, things that stare at me accusingly. I'm sorry, I tell my blank, empty drawing table, my dry vats and molds, the half-made sculptures. Stillborn, I think, looking at the blue iris paper-wrapped armature that seemed so hopeful in June. My hands are clean and soft and pink. I hate them. I hate this emptiness. I hate this baby. No. No, I don't hate him. I just can't find him.

  I sit at my drawing board with a pencil in my hand and a sheet of white paper before me. Nothing comes. I close my eyes and all I can think of is red. So I get a tube of watercolor, cadmium red dark, and I get a big mop of a brush, and I fill a jar with water, and I begin to cover the paper with red. It glistens. The paper is limp with moisture, and darkens as it dries. I watch it drying. It smells of gum arabic. In the center
of the paper, very small, in black ink, I draw a heart, not a silly Valentine but an anatomically correct heart, tiny, doll-like, and then veins, delicate road maps of veins, that reach all the way to the edges of the paper, that hold the small heart enmeshed like a fly in a spiderweb. See, there's his heartbeat.

  It has become evening. I empty the water jar and wash the brush. I lock the studio door, cross the yard, and let myself in the back door. Henry is making spaghetti sauce. He looks up as I come in.

  "Better?" he asks.

  "Better," I reassure him, and myself.

  Wednesday, September 27, 2000 (Clare is 29)

  CLARE: It's lying on the bed. There's some blood, but not so much. It's lying on its back, trying to breathe, its tiny ribcage quivering, but it's too soon, it's convulsing, and blood is gushing from the cord in time with the beating of its heart. I kneel beside the bed and pick it up, pick him up, my tiny boy, jerking like a small freshly caught fish, drowning in air. I hold him, so gently, but he doesn't know I'm here, holding him, he is slippery and his skin is almost imaginary, his eyes are closed and I think wildly of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, of 911 and Henry, oh, don t go before Henry can see you! but his breath is bubbling with fluid, small sea creature breathing water and then he opens his mouth wide and I can see right through him and my hands are empty and he's gone, gone.

  I don't know how long, time passes. I am kneeling. Kneeling, I pray. Dear God. Dear God. Dear God. The baby stirs in my womb. Hush. Hide.

  I wake up in the hospital. Henry is there. The baby is dead.

  SEVEN

  Thursday, December 28, 2000 (Henry is 33, and 37, Clare is 29)

  HENRY: I am standing in our bedroom, in the future. It's night, but moonlight gives the room a surreal, monochromatic distinctness. My ears are ringing, as they often do, in the future. I look down on Clare and myself, sleeping. It feels like death. I am sleeping tightly balled up, knees to chest, wound up in blankets, mouth slightly open. I want to touch me. I want to hold me in my arms, look into my eyes. But it won't happen that way; I stand for long minutes staring intently at my sleeping future self. Eventually I walk softly to Clare's side of the bed, kneel. It feels immensely like the present. I will myself to forget the other body in the bed, to concentrate on Clare.

  She stirs, her eyes open. She isn't sure where we are. Neither am I.

  I am overwhelmed by desire, by a longing to be connected to Clare as strongly as possible, to be here, now. I kiss her very lightly, lingering, linking about nothing. She is drunk with sleep, moves her hand to my face and wakes more as she feels the solidity of me. Now she is present; she runs her hand down my arm, a caress. I carefully peel the sheet from her, so as not to disturb the other me, of whom Clare is still not aware. I wonder if this other self is somehow impervious to waking, but decide not to find out. I am lying on top of Clare, covering her completely with my body. I wish I could stop her from turning her head, but she will turn her head any minute now. As I penetrate Clare she looks at me and I think I don't exist and a second later she turns her head and sees me. She cries out, not loudly, and looks back at me, above her, in her. Then she remembers, accepts it, this is pretty strange but it's okay, and in this moment I love her more than life.

  Monday, February 12, 2001 (Henry is 37, Clare is 29)

  HENRY: Clare has been in a strange mood all week. She's distracted. It is as though something only Clare can hear has riveted her attention, as though she's receiving revelations from God through her fillings, or trying to decode satellite transmissions of Russian cryptology in her head. When I ask her about it, she just smiles and shrugs. This is so unlike Clare that I am alarmed, and immediately desist.

  I come home from work one evening and I can see just by looking at Clare that something awful has happened. Her expression is scared and pleading. She comes close to me and stops, and doesn't say anything. Someone has died, I think. Who has died? Dad? Kimy? Philip?

  "Say something," I ask. "What's happened?"

  "I'm pregnant."

  "How can you--" Even as I say it I know exactly how. "Never mind, I remember." For me, that night was years ago, but for Clare it is only weeks in the past. I was coming from 1996, when we were trying desperately to conceive, and Clare was barely awake. I curse myself for a careless fool. Clare is waiting for me to say something. I force myself to smile.

  "Big surprise."

  "Yeah." She looks a little teary. I take her into my arms, and she holds me tightly.

  "Scared?" I murmur into Clare's hair.

  "Uh-huh."

  "You were never scared, before."

  "I was crazy, before. Now I know..."

  "What it is."

  "What can happen." We stand and think about what can happen.

  I hesitate. "We could..." I let it hang.

  "No. I can't." It's true. Clare can't. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.

  I say, "Maybe it will be good. A happy accident."

  Clare smiles, and I realize that she wants this, that she actually hopes that seven will be our lucky number. My throat contracts, and I have to turn away.

  Tuesday, February 20, 2001 (Clare is 29, Henry is 37)

  CLARE: The clock radio clicks on at 7:46 a.m. and National Public Radio sadly tells me that there has been a plane crash somewhere and eighty-six people are dead. I'm pretty sure I am one of them. Henry's side of the bed is empty. I close my eyes and I am in a little berth in a cabin on an oceanliner, pitching over rough seas. I sigh and gingerly creep out of bed and into the bathroom. I'm still throwing up ten minutes later when Henry sticks his head in the door and asks me if I'm okay.

  "Great. Never better."

  He perches on the edge of the tub. I would just as soon not have an audience for this. "Should I be worried? You never threw up at all before."

  "Amit says this is good; I'm supposed to throw up." It's something about my body recognizing the baby as part of me, instead of a foreign body. Amit has been giving me this drug they give people who have organ transplants.

  "Maybe I should bank some more blood for you today." Henry and I are both type O. I nod, and throw up. We are avid blood bankers; he has needed transfusions twice, and I have had three, one of them requiring a huge amount. I sit for a minute and then stagger to my feet. Henry steadies me. I wipe my mouth and brush my teeth. Henry goes downstairs to make breakfast. I suddenly have an overpowering desire for oatmeal.

  "Oatmeal!" I yell down the stairs.

  "Okay!"

  I begin to brush out my hair. My reflection in the mirror shows me pink and puffy. I thought pregnant women were supposed to glow. I am not glowing. Oh, well. I'm still pregnant, and that's all that counts.

  Thursday, April 19, 2001 (Henry is 37, Clare is 29)

  HENRY: We are at Amit Montague's office for the ultrasound. Clare and I have been both eager and reluctant to have an ultrasound. We have refused amniocentesis because we are sure we will lose the baby if we poke a huge long needle at it. Clare is eighteen weeks pregnant. Halfway there; if we could fold time in half right now like a Rorschach test, this would be the crease down the middle. We live in a state of holding breath, afraid to exhale for fear of breathing out the baby too soon.

  We sit in the waiting room with other expectant couples and mothers with strollers and toddlers who run around bumping into things. Dr. Montague's office always depresses me, because we have spent so much time here being anxious and hearing bad news. But today is different. Today everything will be okay.

  A nurse calls our names. We repair to an examining room. Clare gets undressed, and gets on the table, and is greased and scanned. The technician watches the monitor. Amit Montague, who is tall and regal and French Moroccan, watches the monitor. Clare and I hold hands. We watch the monitor, too. Slowly the image builds itself, bit by bit.

  On the screen is a weather map of the world. Or a galaxy, a swirl of stars. Or a baby.

  "Bien joue, une fille," Dr. Montague says. "She is sucking her thumb. She is very pretty. A
nd very big."

  Clare and I exhale. On the screen a pretty galaxy is sucking her thumb. As we watch she takes her hand away from her mouth. Dr. Montague says, "She smiles." And so do we.

  Monday, August 20, 2001 (Clare is 30, Henry is 38)

  CLARE: The baby is due in two weeks and we still haven't settled on a name for her. In fact, we've barely discussed it; we've been avoiding the whole subject superstitiously, as though naming the baby will cause the Furies to notice her and torment her. Finally Henry brings home a book called Dictionary of Given Names.

  We are in bed. It's only 8:30 p.m. and I'm wiped out. I lie on my side, my belly a peninsula, facing Henry, who lies on his side facing me with his head propped on his arm, the book on the bed between us. We look at each other, smile nervously.

  "Any thoughts?" he says, leafing through the book.

  "Jane," I reply.

  He makes a face. "Jane?"

  "I used to name all my dolls and stuffed animals Jane. Every one of them."

  Henry looks it up. "It means 'Gift of God.'"

  "That works for me."

  "Let's have something a little unusual. How about Irette? Or Jodotha?" He riffs through the pages. "Here's a good one: Loololuluah. It's Arabic for pearl."

  "How about Pearl?" I picture the baby as a smooth iridescent white ball.

  Henry runs his finger downs the columns. "Okay: '(Latin) A probable variant of perula, in reference to the most valued form of this product of disease.'"

  "Ugh. What's wrong with this book?" I take it from Henry and, for kicks, look up "'Henry (Teutonic) Ruler of the home: chief of the dwelling.'"

  He laughs. "Look up Clare."

  "It's just another form of 'Clara (Latin) Illustrious, bright.'"

  "That's good," he says.

  I flip through the book randomly. "Philomele?"

  "I like that," says Henry. "But what of the horrible nickname issue? Philly? Mel?"

  "Pyrene (Greek) Red-haired."

  "But what if she isn't?" Henry reaches over the book and picks up a handful of my hair, and puts the ends in his mouth. I pull it away from him and push all my hair behind me.

 
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