The time travelers wife, p.6
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       The Time Traveler's Wife, p.6

           Audrey Niffenegger
 

  He's instantly petrified. "I can't."

  "Sure you can. Look around. Find someone." We are standing in the Japanese Print Room. It's full of old ladies.

  "Not here."

  "Okay, where?"

  He thinks for a minute. "The restaurant?"

  We walk quietly to the restaurant. I remember this all vividly. I was totally terrified. I look over at my self and sure enough, his face is white with fear. I'm smiling, because I know what comes next. We stand at the end of the line for the garden restaurant. Henry looks around, thinking.

  In front of us in line is a very tall middle-aged man wearing a beautifully cut brown lightweight suit; it's impossible to see where the wallet is. Henry approaches him, with one of the wallets I've lifted earlier proffered on his outstretched hand.

  "Sir? Is this yours?" says Henry softly. "It was on the floor."

  "Uh? Oh, hmm, no," the man checks his right back pants pocket, finds his wallet safe, leans over Henry to hear him better, takes the wallet from Henry and opens it. "Hmm, my, you should take this to the security guards, hmm, there's quite a bit of cash in here, yes," the man wears thick glasses and peers at Henry through them as he speaks and Henry reaches around under the man's jacket and steals his wallet. Since Henry is wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt I walk behind him and he passes the wallet to me. The tall thin brown-suited man points at the stairs, explaining to Henry how to turn in the wallet. Henry toddles off in the direction the man has indicated, and I follow, overtake Henry and lead him right through the museum to the entrance and out, past the guards, onto Michigan Avenue and south, until we end up, grinning like fiends, at the Artists Cafe, where we treat ourselves to milkshakes and french fries with some of our ill-gotten gains. Afterwards we throw all the wallets in a mailbox, sans cash, and I get us a room at the Palmer House.

  "So?" I ask, sitting on the side of the bathtub watching Henry brush his teeth.

  "O ot?" returns Henry with a mouth full of toothpaste.

  "What do you think?"

  He spits. "About what?"

  "Pickpocketing."

  He looks at me in the mirror. "It's okay." He turns and looks directly at me. "I did it!" He grins, largely.

  "You were brilliant!"

  "Yeah!" The grin fades. "Henry, I don't like to time travel by myself. It's better with you. Can't you always come with me?"

  He is standing with his back to me, and we look at each other in the mirror. Poor small self: at this age my back is thin and my shoulder blades stick out like incipient wings. He turns, waiting for an answer, and I know what I have to tell him--me. I reach out and gently turn him and bring him to stand by me, so we are side by side, heads level, facing the mirror.

  "Look." We study our reflections, twinned in the ornate gilt Palmer House bathroom splendor. Our hair is the same brown-black, our eyes slant dark and fatigue-ringed identically, we sport exact replicas of each other's ears. I'm taller and more muscular and shave. He's slender and ungainly and is all knees and elbows. I reach up and pull my hair back from my face, show him the scar from the accident. Unconsciously, he mimics my gesture, touches the same scar on his own forehead.

  "It's just like mine," says my self, amazed. "How did you get it?"

  "The same as you. It is the same. We are the same."

  A translucent moment. I didn't understand, and then I did, just like that. I watch it happen. I want to be both of us at once, feel again the feeling of losing the edges of my self, of seeing the admixture of future and present for the first time. But I'm too accustomed, too comfortable with it, and so I am left on the outside, remembering the wonder of being nine and suddenly seeing, knowing, that my friend, guide, brother was me. Me, only me. The loneliness of it.

  "You're me."

  "When you are older."

  "But...what about the others?"

  "Other time travelers?"

  He nods.

  "I don't think there are any. I mean, I've never met any others."

  A tear gathers at the edge of his left eye. When I was little, I imagined a whole society of time travelers, of which Henry, my teacher, was an emissary, sent to train me for eventual inclusion in this vast camaraderie. I still feel like a castaway, the last member of a once numerous species. It was as though Robinson Crusoe discovered the telltale footprint on the beach and then realized that it was his own. My self, small as a leaf, thin as water, begins to cry. I hold him, hold me, for a long time.

  Later, we order hot chocolate from room service, and watch Johnny Carson. Henry falls asleep with the light on. As the show ends I look over at him and he's gone, vanished back to my old room in my dad's apartment, standing sleep-addled beside my old bed, falling into it, gratefully. I turn off the TV and the bedside lamp. 1973 street noises drift in the open window. I want to go home. I lie on the hard hotel bed, desolate, alone. I still don't understand.

  Sunday, December 10, 1978 (Henry is 15, and 15)

  HENRY: I'm in my bedroom with my self. He's here from next March. We are doing what we often do when we have a little privacy, when it's cold out, when both of us are past puberty and haven't quite gotten around to actual girls yet. I think most people would do this, if they had the sort of opportunities I have. I mean, I'm not gay or anything.

  It's late Sunday morning. I can hear the bells ringing at St. Joe's. Dad came home late last night; I think he must have stopped at the Exchequer after the concert; he was so drunk he fell down on the stairs and I had to haul him into the apartment and put him to bed. He coughs and I hear him messing around in the kitchen.

  My other self seems distracted; he keeps looking at the door. "What?" I ask him. "Nothing," he says. I get up and check the lock. "No," he says. He seems to be making a huge effort to speak. "Come on," I say.

  I hear Dad's heavy step right outside my door. "Henry?" he says, and the knob of the door slowly turns and I abruptly realize that I have inadvertently unlocked the door and Henry leaps for it but it's too late: Dad sticks his head in and there we are, in flagrante delicto. "Oh," he says. His eyes are wide and he looks completely disgusted. "Jesus, Henry." He shuts the door and I hear him walking back to his room. I throw my self a reproachful glare as I pull on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I walk down the hall to Dad's bedroom. His door is shut. I knock. No answer. I wait. "Dad?" Silence. I open the door, stand in the doorway. "Dad?" He's sitting with his back to me, on his bed. He continues to sit, and I stand there for a while, but I can't bring myself to walk into the room. Finally I shut the door, walk back to my own room.

  "That was completely and totally your fault," I tell my self severely. He is wearing jeans, sitting on the chair with his head in his hands. "You knew, you knew that was going to happen and you didn't say a word. Where is your sense of self preservation? What the hell is wrong with you? What use is it knowing the future if you can't at least protect us from humiliating little scenes--"

  "Shut up," Henry croaks. "Just shut up."

  "I will not shut up," I say, my voice rising. "I mean, all you had to do was say--"

  "Listen." He looks up at me with resignation. "It was like...it was like that day at the ice-skating rink."

  "Oh. Shit." A couple years ago, I saw a little girl get hit in the head with a hockey puck at Indian Head Park. It was horrible. I found out later that she died in the hospital. And then I started to time travel back to that day, over and over, and I wanted to warn her mother, and I couldn't. It was like being in the audience at a movie. It was like being a ghost. I would scream, No, take her home, don't let her near the ice, take her away, she's going to get hurt, she's going to die, and I would realize that the words were only in my head, and everything would go on as before.

  Henry says, "You talk about changing the future, but for me this is the past, and as far as I can tell there's nothing I can do about it. I mean, I tried, and it was the trying that made it happen. If I hadn't said something, you wouldn't have gotten up..."

  "Then why did you say anything?"

 
"Because I did. You will, just wait." He shrugs. "It's like with Mom. The accident. Immer wieder." Always again, always the same.

  "Free will?"

  He gets up, walks to the window, stands looking out over the Tatingers' backyard. "I was just talking about that with a self from 1992. He said something interesting: he said that he thinks there is only free will when you are in time, in the present. He says in the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there."

  "But whenever I am, that's my present. Shouldn't I be able to decide--"

  "No. Apparently not."

  "What did he say about the future?"

  "Well, think. You go to the future, you do something, you come back to the present. Then the thing that you did is part of your past. So that's probably inevitable, too."

  I feel a weird combination of freedom and despair. I'm sweating; he opens the window and cold air floods into the room. "But then I'm not responsible for anything I do while I'm not in the present."

  He smiles. "Thank God."

  "And everything has already happened."

  "Sure looks that way." He runs his hand over his face, and I see that he could use a shave. "But he said that you have to behave as though you have free will, as though you are responsible for what you do."

  "Why? What does it matter?"

  "Apparently, if you don't, things are bad. Depressing."

  "Did he know that personally?"

  "Yes."

  "So what happens next?"

  "Dad ignores you for three weeks. And this"--he waves his hand at the bed--"we've got to stop meeting like this."

  I sigh. "Right, no problem. Anything else?"

  "Vivian Teska."

  Vivian is this girl in Geometry whom I lust after. I've never said a word to her.

  "After class tomorrow, go up to her and ask her out."

  "I don't even know her."

  "Trust me." He's smirking at me in a way that makes me wonder why on earth I would ever trust him but I want to believe. "Okay."

  "I should get going. Money, please." I dole out twenty dollars. "More." I hand him another twenty.

  "That's all I've got."

  "Okay." He's dressing, pulling clothes from the stash of things I don't mind never seeing again. "How about a coat?" I hand him a Peruvian skiing sweater that I've always hated. He makes a face and puts it on. We walk to the back door of the apartment. The church bells are tolling noon. "Bye," says my self.

  "Good luck," I say, oddly moved by the sight of me embarking into the unknown, into a cold Chicago Sunday morning he doesn't belong in. He thumps down the wooden stairs, and I turn to the silent apartment.

  Wednesday, November 17/Tuesday, September 28, 1982 (Henry is 19)

  HENRY: I'm in the back of a police car in Zion, Illinois. I am wearing handcuffs and not much else. The interior of this particular police car smells like cigarettes, leather, sweat, and another odor I can't identify that seems endemic to police cars. The odor of freak-outedness, perhaps. My left eye is swelling shut and the front of my body is covered with bruises and cuts and dirt from being tackled by the larger of the two policemen in an empty lot full of broken glass. The policemen are standing outside the car talking to the neighbors, at least one of whom evidently saw me trying to break into the yellow and white Victorian house we are parked in front of. I don't know where I am in time. I've been here for about an hour, and I have fucked up completely. I'm very hungry. I'm very tired. I'm supposed to be in Dr. Quarrie's Shakespeare seminar, but I'm sure I've managed to miss it. Too bad. We're doing Midsummer Night's Dream.

  The upside of this police car is: it's warm and I'm not in Chicago. Chicago's Finest hate me because I keep disappearing while I'm in custody, and they can't figure it out. Also I refuse to talk to them, so they still don't know who I am, or where I live. The day they find out, I'm toast because there are several outstanding warrants for my arrest: breaking and entering, shoplifting, resisting arrest, breaking arrest, trespassing, indecent exposure, robbery, und so weiter. From this one might deduce that I am a very inept criminal, but really the main problem is that it's so hard to be inconspicuous when you're naked. Stealth and speed are my main assets and so, when I try to burgle houses in broad daylight stark naked, sometimes it doesn't work out. I've been arrested seven times, and so far I've always vanished before they can fingerprint me or take a photo.

  The neighbors keep peering in the windows of the police car at me. I don't care. I don't care. This is taking a long time. Fuck, I hate this. I lean back and close my eyes.

  A car door opens. Cold air--my eyes fly open--for an instant I see the metal grid that separates the front of the car from the back, the cracked vinyl seats, my hands in the cuffs, my gooseflesh legs, the flat sky through the windshield, the black visored hat on the dashboard, the clipboard in the officer's hand, his red face, tufted graying eyebrows and jowls like drapes--everything shimmers, iridescent, butterfly-wing colors and the policeman says, "Hey, he's having some kinda fit--" and my teeth are chattering hard and before my eyes the police car vanishes and I am lying on my back in my own backyard. Yes. Yes! I fill my lungs with the sweet September night air. I sit up and rub my wrists, still marked where the handcuffs were.

  I laugh and laugh. I have escaped again! Houdini, Prospero, behold me! for I am a magician, too.

  Nausea overcomes me, and I heave bile onto Kimy's mums.

  Saturday, May 14, 1983 (Clare is 11 almost 12)

  CLARE: It's Mary Christina Heppworth's birthday and all the fifth-grade girls from St. Basil's are sleeping over at her house. We have pizza and Cokes and fruit salad for dinner, and Mrs. Heppworth made a big cake shaped like a unicorn's head with Happy Birthday Mary Christina! in red icing and we sing and Mary Christina blows out all twelve candles in one blow. I think I know what she wished for; I think she wished not to get any taller. That's what I would wish if I were her, anyway. Mary Christina is the tallest person in our class. She's 5'9". Her mom is a little shorter than her, but her dad is really, really tall. Helen asked Mary Christina once and she said he's 6'7". She's the only girl in her family. and her brothers are all older and shave and they're really tall, too. They make a point of ignoring us and eating a lot of cake and Patty and Ruth especially giggle a lot whenever they come where we are. It's so embarrassing. Mary Christina opens her presents. I got her a green sweater just like my blue one that she liked with the crocheted collar from Laura Ashley. After dinner we watch The Parent Trap on video and the Heppworth family kind of hangs around watching us until we all take turns putting on our pajamas in the second floor bathroom and we crowd into Mary Christina's room that is decorated totally in pink, even the wall-to-wall carpet. You get the feeling Mary Christina's parents were really glad to finally have a girl after all those brothers. We have all brought our sleeping bags, but we pile them against one wall and sit on Mary Christina's bed and on the floor. Nancy has a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps and we all drink some. It tastes awful, and it feels like Vicks VapoRub in my chest. We play Truth or Dare. Ruth dares Wendy to run down the hall without her top on. Wendy asks Francie what size bra Lexi, Francie's seventeen-year-old sister, wears. (Answer: 38D.) Francie asks Gayle what she was doing with Michael Planner at the Dairy Queen last Saturday. (Answer: eating ice cream. Well, duh.) After a while we all get bored with Truth or Dare, mainly because it's hard to think of good dares that any of us will actually do, and because we all pretty much know whatever there is to know about each other, because we've been going to school together since kindergarten. Mary Christina says, "Let's do Ouija board," and we all agree, because it's her party and cause Ouija board is cool. She gets it out of her closet. The box is all mashed, and the little plastic thing that shows the letters is missing its plastic window. Henry told me once that he went to a seance and the medium had her appendix burst in the middle of it and they had to call an ambulance. The board is only really big enough for two people to do it at once, so Mary Christina and Helen go first. The rule is y
ou have to ask what you want to know out loud or it won't work. They each put their fingers on the plastic thing. Helen looks at Mary Christina, who hesitates and Nancy says, "Ask about Bobby," so Mary Christina asks, "Does Bobby Duxler like me?" Everybody giggles. The answer is no, but the Ouija says yes, with a little pushing by Helen. Mary Christina smiles so hugely I can see her braces, top and bottom. Helen asks if any boys like her. The Ouija circles around for a while, and then stops on D, A, V. "David Hanley?" says Patty, and everybody laughs. Dave is the only black kid in our class. He's real shy and small and he's good at math. "Maybe he'll help you with long division" says Laura, who is also very shy. Helen laughs. She's terrible at math. "Here, Clare. You and Ruth try." We take Helen and Mary Christina's places. Ruth looks at me and I shrug. "I don't know what to ask," I say. Everybody snickers; how many possible questions are there? But there are so many things I want to know. Is Mama going to be okay? Why was Daddy yelling at Etta this morning? Is Henry a real person? Where did Mark hide my French homework? Ruth says, "What boys like Clare?" I give her a mean look, but she just smiles. "Don't you want to know?" "No," I say, but I put my fingers on the white plastic anyway. Ruth puts her fingers on too and nothing moves. We are both touching the thing very lightly, we are trying to do it right and not push. Then it starts to move, slow. It goes in circles, and then stops on H. Then it speeds up. E, N, R, Y. "Henry," says Mary Christina, "who's Henry?" Helen says, "I don't know, but you're blushing, Clare. Who is Henry?" I just shake my head, like it's a mystery to me, too. "You ask, Ruth." She asks (big surprise) who likes her; the Ouija spells out R, I, C, K. I can feel her pushing. Rick is Mr. Malone, our Science teacher, who has a crush on Miss Engle, the English teacher. Everybody except Patty laughs; Patty has a crush on Mr. Malone, too. Ruth and I get up and Laura and Nancy sit down. Nancy has her back to me, so I can't see her face when she asks, "Who is Henry?" Everybody looks at me and gets real quiet. I watch the board. Nothing. Just as I'm thinking I'm safe, the plastic thing starts to move. H, it says. I think maybe it will just spell Henry again; after all, Nancy and Laura don't know anything about Henry. I don't even know that much about Henry. Then it goes on: U, S, B, A, N, D. They all look at me. "Well, I'm not married; I'm only eleven." "But who's Henry?" wonders Laura. "I don't know. Maybe he's somebody I haven't met yet." She nods. Everyone is weirded out. I'm very weirded out. Husband? Husband?

 
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