The time travelers wife, p.41
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.41

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  "I don't believe it," I finally say. "How could you?"

  "I had to" Henry says. His voice is quiet. "She--I couldn't leave her without at least--I wanted to give her a head start. So Kendrick can be working on it, working for her, just in case." I walk over to him, squeaking in my galoshes and rubber apron, and lean against the table. Henry tilts his head, and the light rakes his face and I see the lines that run across his forehead, around the edges of his mouth, his eyes. He has lost more weight. His eyes are huge in his face. "Clare, I didn't tell her what it was for. You can tell her, when...it's time."

  I shake my head, no. "Call Kendrick and tell him to stop."

  "No."

  "Then I will."

  "Clare, don't--"

  "You can do whatever you want with your own body, Henry, but--"

  "Clare!" Henry squeezes my name out through clenched teeth.

  "What?"

  "It's over, okay? I'm done. Kendrick says he can't do anything more."

  "But--" I pause to absorb what he's just said. "But then...what happens?"

  Henry shakes his head. "I don't know. Probably what we thought might happen...happens. But if that's what happens, then... I can't just leave Alba without trying to help her...oh, Clare, just let me do this for her! It may not work, she may never use it--she may love time traveling, she may never be lost, or hungry, she may never get arrested or chased or raped or beat up, but what if she doesn't love it? What if she wants to just be a regular girl? Clare? Oh, Clare, don't cry..." But I can't stop, I stand weeping in my yellow rubber apron, and finally Henry stands up and puts his arms around me. "It's not like we ever were exempt, Clare," he says softly. "I'm just trying to make her a safety net." I can feel his ribs through his T-shirt. "Will you let me at least leave her that?" I nod, and Henry kisses my forehead. "Thank you," he says, and I start to cry again.

  Saturday, October 27, 1984 (Henry is 43, Clare is 13)

  HENRY: I know the end, now. It goes like this:

  I will be sitting in the Meadow, in the early morning, in autumn. It will be overcast, and chilly, and I will be wearing a black wool overcoat and boots and gloves. It will be a date that is not on the List. Clare will be asleep, in her warm twin bed. She will be thirteen years old.

  In the distance, a shot will crack across the dry cold air. It is deer-hunting season. Somewhere out there, men in bright orange garments will be sitting, waiting, shooting. Later they will drink beer, and eat the sandwiches their wives have packed for them.

  The wind will pick up, will ripple through the orchard, stripping the useless leaves from the apple trees. The back door of Meadowlark House will slam, and two tiny figures in fluorescent orange will emerge, carrying matchstick rifles. They will walk toward me, into the Meadow, Philip and Mark. They will not see me, because I will be huddled in the high grass, a dark, unmoving spot in a field of beige and dead green. About twenty yards from me Philip and Mark will turn off the path and walk towards the woods.

  They will stop and listen. They will hear it before I do: a rustling, thrashing, something moving through the grass, something large and clumsy, a flash of white, a tail perhaps? and it will come toward me, toward the clearing, and Mark will raise his rifle, aim carefully, squeeze the trigger, and: There will be a shot, and then a scream, a human scream. And then a pause. And then: "Clare! Clare!" And then nothing.

  I will sit for a moment, not thinking, not breathing. Philip will be running, and then I will be running, and Mark, and we will converge on the place:

  But there will be nothing. Blood on the earth, shiny and thick. Bent dead grass. We will stare at each other without recognition, over the empty dirt.

  In her bed, Clare will hear the scream. She will hear someone calling her name, and she will sit up, her heart jumping in her ribcage. She will run downstairs, out the door, into the Meadow in her nightgown. When she sees the three of us she will stop, confused. Behind the backs of her father and brother I will put my finger to my lips. As Philip walks to her I will turn away, will stand in the shelter of the orchard and watch her shivering in her father's embrace, while Mark stands by, impatient and perplexed, his fifteen-year-old's stubble gracing his chin and he will look at me, as though he is trying to remember.

  And Clare will look at me, and I will wave to her, and she will walk back to her house with her dad, and she will wave back, slender, her nightgown blowing around her like an angel's, and she will get smaller and smaller, will recede into the distance and disappear into the house, and I will stand over a small trampled bloody patch of soil and I will know: somewhere out there I am dying.

  THE EPISODE OF THE MONROE STREET PARKING GARAGE

  Monday, January 7, 2006 (Henry is 43)

  HENRY: It's cold. It's very, very cold and I am lying on the ground in snow. Where am I? I try to sit up. My feet are numb, I can't feel my feet. I'm in an open space with no buildings or trees. How long have I been here? It's night. I hear traffic. I get to my hands and knees. I look up. I'm in Grant Park. The Art Institute stands dark and closed across hundreds of feet of blank snow. The beautiful buildings of Michigan Avenue are silent. Cars stream along Lake Shore Drive, headlights cutting through night. Over the lake is a faint line of light; dawn is coming. I have to get out of here. I have to get warm.

  I stand up. My feet are white and stiff. I can't feel them or move them, but I begin to walk, I stagger forward through the snow, sometimes falling, getting back up and walking, it goes on and on, finally I am crawling. I crawl across a street. I crawl down concrete stairs backwards, clinging to the handrail. Salt gets into the raw places on my hands and knees. I crawl to a pay phone.

  Seven rings. Eight. Nine. "'Lo," says my self.

  "Help me," I say. "I'm in the Monroe Street Parking Garage. It's unbelievably fucking cold down here. I'm near the guard station. Come and get me."

  "Okay. Stay there. We'll leave right now."

  I try to hang up the phone but miss. My teeth are chattering uncontrollably. I crawl to the guard station and hammer on the door. No one is there. Inside I see video monitors, a space heater, a jacket, a desk, a chair. I try the knob. It's locked. I have nothing to open it with. The window is wire reinforced. I am shivering hard. There are no cars down here.

  "Help me!" I yell. No one comes. I curl into a ball in front of the door, bring my knees to my chin, wrap my hands around my feet. No one comes, and then, at last, at last, I am gone.

  FRAGMENTS

  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, September 25, 26, and 27, 2006 (Clare is 35, Henry is 43)

  CLARE: Henry has been gone all day. Alba and I went to McDonald's for dinner. We played Go Fish and Crazy Eights; Alba drew a picture of a girl with long hair flying a dog. We picked out her dress for school tomorrow. Now she is in bed. I am sitting on the front porch trying to read Proust; reading in French is making me drowsy and I am almost asleep when there is a crash in the living room and Henry is on the floor shivering, white and cold--"Help me," he says through chattering teeth and I run for the phone.

  Later:

  The Emergency Room: a scene of fluorescent limbo: old people full of ailments, mothers with feverish small children, teenagers whose friends are having bullets removed from various limbs, who will brag about this later to admiring girls but who are now subdued and tired.

  Later:

  In a small white room: nurses lift Henry onto a bed and remove his blanket. His eyes open, register me, and close. A blond intern looks him over. A nurse takes his temperature, pulse. Henry is shivering, shivering so intensely it makes the bed shake, makes the nurse's arm vibrate like the Magic Fingers beds in 1970s motels. The resident looks at Henry's pupils, ears, nose, fingers, toes, genitals. They begin to wrap him in blankets and something metallic and aluminum foil-like. They pack his feet in cold packs. The small room is very warm. Henry's eyes flicker open again. He is trying to say something. It sounds like my name. I reach under the blankets and hold his icy hands in mine. I look at the nurse. "We need to warm him up, get his
core temperature up," she says. "Then we'll see."

  Later:

  "How on earth did he get hypothermia in September?" the resident asks me.

  "I don't know," I say. "Ask him."

  Later:

  It's morning. Charisse and I are in the hospital cafeteria. She's eating chocolate pudding. Upstairs in his room Henry is sleeping. Kimy is watching him. I have two pieces of toast on my plate; they are soggy with butter and untouched. Someone sits down next to Charisse; it's Kendrick. "Good news," he says, "his core temp's up to ninety-seven point six. There doesn't seem to be any brain damage."

  I can't say anything. Thank you God, is all I think.

  "Okay, um, I'll check back later when I'm finished at Rush St. Luke's," says Kendrick, standing up.

  "Thank you, David," I say as he's about to walk away, and Kendrick smiles and leaves.

  Later:

  Dr. Murray comes in with an Indian nurse whose name tag says Sue. Sue is carrying a large basin and a thermometer and a bucket. Whatever is about to happen, it will be low-tech.

  "Good morning, Mr. DeTamble, Mrs. DeTamble. We're going to rewarm your feet." Sue sets the basin on the floor and silently disappears into the bathroom. Water runs. Dr. Murray is very large and has a wonderful beehive hairdo that only certain very imposing and beautiful black women can get away with. Her bulk tapers down from the hem of her white coat into two perfect feet in alligator-skin pumps. She produces a syringe and an ampoule from her pocket, and proceeds to draw the contents of the ampoule into the syringe.

  "What is that?" I ask.

  "Morphine. This is going to hurt. His feet are pretty far gone." She gently takes Henry's arm, which he mutely holds out to her as though she has won it from him in a poker game. She has a delicate touch. The needle slides in and she depresses the plunger; after a moment Henry makes a little moan of gratitude. Dr. Murray is removing the cold packs from Henry's feet as Sue emerges with hot water. She sets it on the floor by the bed. Dr. Murray lowers the bed, and the two of them manipulate him into a sitting position. Sue measures the temperature of the water. She pours the water into the basin and immerses Henry's feet. He gasps.

  "Any tissue that's gonna make it will turn bright red. If it doesn't look like a lobster, it's a problem."

  I watch Henry's feet floating in the yellow plastic basin. They are white as snow, white as marble, white as titanium, white as paper, white as bread, white as sheets, white as white can be. Sue changes the water as Henry's ice feet cool it down. The thermometer shows one hundred and six degrees. In five minutes it is ninety degrees and Sue changes it again. Henry's feet bob like dead fish. Tears run down his cheeks and disappear under his chin. I wipe his face. I stroke his head. I watch to see his feet turn bright red. It's like waiting for a photograph to develop, watching for the image slowly graying into black in the tray of chemicals. A flush of red appears at the ankles of both feet. The red spreads in splotches over the left heel, finally some of the toes hesitantly blush. The right foot remains stubbornly blanched. Pink appears reluctantly as far as the ball of the foot, and then goes no farther. After an hour, Dr. Murray and Sue carefully dry Henry's feet and Sue places bits of cotton between his toes. They put him back in bed and arrange a frame over his feet so nothing touches them.

  The following night:

  It's very late at night and I am sitting by Henry's bed in Mercy Hospital, watching him sleep. Gomez is sitting in a chair on the other side of the bed, and he is also asleep. Gomez sleeps with his head back and his mouth open, and every now and then he makes a little snorting noise and then turns his head.

  Henry is still and silent. The IV machine beeps. At the foot of the bed a tent-like contraption raises the blankets away from the place where his feet should be, but Henry's feet are not there now. The frostbite ruined them. Both feet were amputated above the ankles this morning. I cannot imagine, I am trying not to imagine, what is below the blankets. Henry's bandaged hands are lying above the blankets and I take his hand, feeling how cool and dry it is, how the pulse beats in the wrist, how tangible Henry's hand is in my hand. After the surgery Dr. Murray asked me what I wanted her to do with Henry's feet. Reattach them seemed like the correct answer, but I just shrugged and looked away.

  A nurse comes in, smiles at me, and gives Henry his injection. In a few minutes he sighs, as the drug envelopes his brain, and turns his face toward me. His eyes open so slightly, and then he is asleep again.

  I want to pray, but I can't remember any prayers, all that runs through my head is Eeny-meeny miney moe, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers, let him go, eeny meeny miney moe. Oh, God, please don't, please don't do this to me. But the Snark was a boojum. No. Nothing comes. Envoyez chercher le medecin. Qu'avez-vous? Il faudra aller a l'hopital. Je me suis coupe assez fortement. Otez le bandage et laissez-moi voir. Oui, c'est une coupure profonde.

  I don't know what time it is. Outside it is getting light. I place Henry's hand back on the blanket. He draws it to his chest, protectively.

  Gomez yawns, and stretches his arms out, cracking his knuckles. "Morning, kitten," he says, and gets up and lumbers into the bathroom. I can hear him peeing as Henry opens his eyes.

  "Where am I?"

  "Mercy. September 27, 2006."

  Henry stares up at the ceiling. Then, slowly, he pushes himself up against the pillows and stares at the foot of the bed. He leans forward, reaching with his hands under the blanket. I close my eyes.

  Henry begins to scream.

  Tuesday, October 17, 2006 (Clare is 35, Henry is 43)

  CLARE: Henry has been home from the hospital for a week. He spends the days in bed, curled up, facing the window, drifting in and out of morphine-laced sleep. I try to feed him soup, and toast, and macaroni and cheese, but he doesn't eat very much. He doesn't say much, either. Alba hovers around, silent and anxious to please, to bring Daddy an orange, a newspaper, her Teddy; but Henry only smiles absently and the small pile of offerings sits unused on his nightstand. A brisk nurse named Sonia Browne comes once a day to change the dressings and to give advice, but as soon as she vanishes into her red Volkswagen Beetle Henry subsides into his vacant-lot persona. I help him to use the bedpan. I make him change one pair of pajamas for another. I ask him how he feels, what he needs, and he answers vaguely or not at all. Although Henry is right here in front of me, he has disappeared.

  I'm walking down the hall past the bedroom with a basket of laundry in my arms and I see Alba through the slightly open door, standing next to Henry, who is curled up in bed. I stop and watch her. She stands still, her arms hanging at her side, her black braids dangling down her back, her blue turtleneck distorted from being pulled on. Morning light floods the room, washes everything yellow.

  "Daddy?" Alba says, softly. Henry doesn't respond. She tries again, louder. Henry turns toward her, rolls over. Alba sits down on the bed. Henry has his eyes closed.

  "Daddy?"

  "Hmm?"

  "Are you dying?"

  Henry opens his eyes and focuses on Alba. "No."

  "Alba said you died."

  "That's in the future, Alba. Not yet. Tell Alba she shouldn't tell you those kinds of things." Henry runs his hand over the beard that's been growing since we left the hospital. Alba sits with her hands folded in her lap and her knees together.

  "Are you going to stay in bed all the time now?"

  Henry pulls himself up so he is leaning against the headboard. "Maybe." He is rummaging in the drawer of the nightstand, but the painkillers are in the bathroom.

  "Why?"

  "Because I feel like shit, okay?"

  Alba shrinks away from Henry, gets up off the bed. "Okay!" she says, and she is opening the door and almost collides with me and is startled and then she silently flings her arms around my waist and I pick her up, so heavy in my arms now. I carry her into her room and we sit in the rocker, rocking together, Alba's hot face against my neck. What can I tell you, Alba? What can I say?

  Wednesday and Thursday October
18 and 19, and Thursday, October 26, 2006 (Clare is 35, Henry is 43)

  CLARE: I'm standing in my studio with a roll of armature wire and a bunch of drawings. I've cleared off the big work table, and the drawings are neatly pinned up on the wall. Now I stand and try to summon up the piece in my mind's eye. I try to imagine it 3-D. Life size. I snip off a length of wire and it springs away from the huge roll; I begin to shape a torso. I weave the wire into shoulders, ribcage, and then a pelvis. I pause. Maybe the arms and legs should be articulated? Should I make feet or not? I start to make a head and then realize that I don't want any of this. I push it all under the table and begin again with more wire.

  Like an angel. Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you, almost deadly birds of the soul... It is only the wings that I want to give him. I draw in the air with the thin metal, looping and weaving; I measure with my arms to make a wingspan, I repeat the process, mirror-reversed, for the second wing, comparing symmetry as though I'm giving Alba a haircut, measuring by eye, feeling out the weight, the shapes. I hinge the wings together, and then I get up on the ladder and hang them from the ceiling. They float, air encompassed by lines, at the level of my breasts, eight feet across, graceful, ornamental, useless.

  At first I imagined white, but I realize now that that's not it. I open the cabinet of pigments and dyes. Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Viridian, Madder Lake. No. Here it is: Red Iron Oxide. The color of dried blood. A terrible angel wouldn't be white, or would be whiter than any white I can make. I set the jar on the counter, along with Bone Black. I walk to the bundles of fiber that stand, fragrant, in the far corner of the studio. Kozo and linen; transparency and pliancy, a fiber that rattles like chattering teeth combined with one that is soft as lips. I weigh out two pounds of kozo, tough and resilient bark that must be cooked and beaten, broken and pounded. I heat water in the huge pot that covers two burners on the stove. When it is boiling I feed the kozo into it, watching it darken and slowly take in water. I measure in soda ash and cover the pot, turn on the exhaust hood. I chop a pound of white linen into small pieces, fill the beater with water, and start it rending and tearing up the linen into a fine white pulp. Then I make myself coffee and sit staring out the window across the yard at the house.

 
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