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WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND

 

 

Monday, December 18, 2006/Sunday, January 2, 1994 (Henry is 43)

 

HENRY: I wake up in the middle of the night with a thousand razor-toothed insects gnawing on my legs and before I can even shake a Vicodin out of the bottle I am falling. I double up, I am on the floor but it’s not our floor, it’s some other floor, some other night. Where am I? Pain makes everything seem shimmery, but it’s dark and there’s something about the smell, what does it remind me of? Bleach. Sweat. Perfume, so familiar—but it couldn’t be—

 

Footsteps walking up stairs, voices, a key unlocking several locks (where can I hide?) the door opens, I’m crawling across the floor as the light snaps on and explodes in my head like a flashbulb and a woman whispers, “Oh my god.” I’m thinking No, this just can’t be happening, and the door shuts and I hear Ingrid say, “Celia, you’ve got to go” and Celiaprotests, and as they stand on the other side of the door arguing about it I look around desperately but there’s no way out. This must be Ingrid’s apartment on Clark Street where I have never been but here is all her stuff, overwhelming me, the Eames chair, the kidney-shaped marble coffee table loaded with fashion magazines, the ugly orange couch we used to—I cast around wildly for something to wear, but the only textile in this minimal room is a purple and yellow afghan that’s clashing with the couch, so I grab it and wind it around myself, hoist myself onto the couch and Ingrid opens the door again. She stands quietly for a long moment and looks at me and I look at her and all I can think is oh, Ing, why did you do this to yourself?

 

The Ingrid who lives in my memory is the incandescent blond angel of cool I met at Jimbo’s Fourth of July party in 1988; Ingrid Carmichel was devastating and untouchable, encased in gleaming armor made of wealth, beauty, and ennui. The Ingrid who stands looking at me now is gaunt and hard and tired; she stands with her head tilted to one side and looks at me with wonder and contempt. Neither of us seems to know what to say. Finally she takes off her coat, tosses it on the chair, and perches at the other end of the couch. She’s wearing leather pants. They squeak a little as she sits down.

 

“Henry.”

 

“Ingrid.”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I just—well, you know.” I shrug. My legs hurt so much that I almost don’t care where I am.

 

“You look like shit.” “I’m in a lot of pain,”


 

 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

“That’s funny. So am I.” “I mean physical pain.”

 

“Why?” For all Ingrid cares I could be spontaneously combusting right in front of her. I pull back the afghan and reveal my stumps.

 

She doesn’t recoil and she doesn’t gasp. She doesn’t look away, and when she does she looks me in the eyes and I see that Ingrid, of all people, understands perfectly. By entirely separate processes we have arrived at the same condition. She gets up and goes into another room, and when she comes back she has her old sewing kit in her hand. I feel a surge of hope, and my hope is justified: Ingrid sits down and opens the lid and it’s just like the good old days, there’s a complete pharmacy in there with the pin cushions and thimbles.



 

“What do you want?” Ingrid asks.

 

“Opiates.” She picks through a baggie full of pills and offers me an assortment; I spot Ultram and take two. After I swallow them dry she gets me a glass of water and I drink it down.

 

“Well.” Ingrid runs her long red fingernails through her long blond hair. “When are you coming from?”

 

“December, 2006. What’s the date here?”

 

Ingrid looks at her watch. “It was New Year’s Day, but now it’s January 2. 1994.” Oh, no. Please no. “What’s wrong?” Ingrid says.

 

“Nothing.” Today is the day Ingrid will commit suicide. What can I say to her? Can I stop her? What if I call someone? “Listen, Ing, I just want to say....” I hesitate. What can I tell her without spooking her? Does it matter now? Now that she’s dead? Even though she’s sitting right here?

 

“What?”

 

I’m sweating. “Just...be nice to yourself. Don’t...I mean, I know you aren’t very happy—”

 

“Well, whose fault is that?” Her bright red lipsticked mouth is set in a frown. I don’t answer. Is it my fault? I don’t really know. Ingrid is staring at me as though she expects an answer. I look away from her. I look at the Maholy-Nagy poster on the opposite wall. “Henry?” Ingrid says. “Why were you so mean to me?”

 

I drag my eyes back to her. “Was I? I didn’t want to be.” Ingrid shakes her head. “You didn’t care if I lived or died.” Oh, Ingrid. “I do care. I don’t want you to die.”

 

“You didn’t care. You left me, and you never came to the hospital.” Ingrid speaks as though the words choke her.


 

 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

“Your family didn’t want me to come. Your mom told me to stay away.” “You should have come.”

 

I sigh. “Ingrid, your doctor told me I couldn’t visit you.” “I asked and they said you never called.”

 

“I called. I was told you didn’t want to talk to me, and not to call anymore.” The painkiller is kicking in. The prickling pain in my legs dulls. I slide my hands under the afghan and place my palms against the skin of my left stump, and then my right.

 

“I almost died and you never spoke to me again.”

 

“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me. How was I supposed to know?”

 

“You got married and you never called me and you invited Celia to the wedding to spite me.”

 

I laugh, I can’t help it. “Ingrid, Clare invited Celia. They’re friends; I’ve never figured out why. Opposites attract, I guess. But anyway, it had nothing to do with you.”

 

Ingrid says nothing. She’s pale under her makeup. She digs in her coat pocket and brings out a pack of English Ovals and a lighter.

 

“Since when do you smoke?” I ask her. Ingrid hated smoking. Ingrid liked coke and crystal meth and drinks with poetic names. She extracts a cigarette from the pack between two long nails, and lights it. Her hands are shaking. She drags on the cigarette and smoke curls from her lips.

 

“So how’s life without feet?” Ingrid asks me. “How’d that happen, anyway?” “Frostbite. I passed out in Grant Park in January.”

 

“So how do you get around?” “Wheelchair, mostly.”

 

“Oh. That sucks.”

 

“Yeah,” I say. “It does.” We sit in silence for a moment. Ingrid asks, “Are you still married?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Kids?” “One. A girl.”

 

“Oh.” Ingrid leans back, drags on her cigarette, blows a thin stream of smoke from her nostrils. “I wish I had kids.”

 

“You never wanted kids, Ing.”


 

 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

She looks at me, but I can’t read the look. “I always wanted kids. I didn’t think you wanted kids, so I never said anything.”

 

“You could still have kids.”

 

Ingrid laughs. “Could I? Do I have kids, Henry? In 2006 do I have a husband and a house in Winnetka and 2.5 kids?”

 

“Not exactly.” I shift my position on the couch. The pain has receded but what’s left is the shell of the pain, an empty space where there should be pain but instead there is the expectation of pain.

 

“Not exactly,‘” Ingrid mimics. “How not exactly? Like, as in, ’Not exactly, Ingrid, reallyyou’re a bag lady?‘”

 

“You’re not a bag lady.”

 

“So I’m not a bag lady. Okay, great.” Ingrid stubs out her cigarette and crosses her legs. I always loved Ingrid’s legs. She’s wearing boots with high heels. She and Celia must have been to a party. Ingrid says, “We’ve eliminated the extremes: I’m not a suburban matron and I’m not homeless. Come on, Henry, give me some more hints.”

 

I am silent. I don’t want to play this game.

 

“Okay, let’s make it multiple choice. Let’s see... A) I’m a stripper in a real sleazy club on Rush Street. Um, B) I’m in prison for ax-murdering Celia and feeding her to Malcolm. Heh. Yeah, ah, C) I’m living on the Rio del Sol with an investment banker. How ‘bout it Henry? Do any of those sound good to you?”

 

“Who’s Malcolm?”

 

“Celia’s Doberman.” Figures.

 

Ingrid plays with her lighter, flicking it on and off. “How about D) I’m dead?” I flinch. “Does that appeal to you at all?”

 

“No. It doesn’t.”

 

“Really? I like that one best.” Ingrid smiles. It’s not a pretty smile. It’s more like a grimace. “I like that one so much that it’s given me an idea.” She gets up and strides across the room and down the hall. I can hear her opening and shutting a drawer. When she reappears she has one hand behind her back. Ingrid stands in front of me, and says, “Surprise!” and she’s pointing a gun at me.

 

It’s not a very big gun. It’s slim and black and shiny. Ingrid holds it close to her waist, casually, as though she’s at a cocktail party. I stare at the gun. Ingrid says, “I could shoot you.”

 

“Yes. You could,” I say.

 

“Then I could shoot myself,” she says.


 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

“That could also happen.”

 

“But does it?”

 

“I don’t know, Ingrid. You get to decide.” “Bullshit, Henry. Tell me,” Ingrid commands.

 

“All right. No. It doesn’t happen that way.” I try to sound confident. Ingrid smirks. “But what if I want it to happen that way?”

 

“Ingrid, give me the gun.” “Come over here and get it.”

 

“Are you going to shoot me?” Ingrid shakes her head, smiling. I climb off the couch, onto the floor, crawl toward Ingrid, trailing the afghan, slowed by the painkiller. She backs away, holding the gun trained on me. I stop.

 

“Come on, Henry. Nice doggie. Trusting doggie.” Ingrid flicks off the safety catch and takes two steps toward me. I tense. She is aiming point blank at my head. But then Ingrid laughs, and places the muzzle of the gun against her temple. “How about this, Henry? Does it happen like this?”

 

“No.” No!

 

She frowns. “Are you sure, Henry?” Ingrid moves the gun to her chest. “Is this better? Head or heart, Henry?” Ingrid steps forward. I could touch her. I could grab her—Ingrid kicks me in the chest and I fall backward, I am sprawled on the floor looking up at her and Ingrid leans over and spits in my face.

 

“Did you love me?” Ingrid asks, looking down at me. “Yes,” I tell her.

 

“Liar,” Ingrid says, and she pulls the trigger.

 

Monday, December 18, 2006 (Clare is 35, Henry is 43)

 

CLARE: I wake up in the middle of the night and Henry is gone. I panic. I sit up in bed. The possibilities crowd into my mind. He could be run over by cars, stuck in abandoned buildings, out in the cold—I hear a sound, someone is crying. I think it is Alba, maybe Henry went to see what was wrong with Alba, so I get up and go into Albas room, but Alba is asleep, curled around Teddy, her blankets thrown off the bed. I follow the sound down the hall and there, sitting on the living room floor, there is Henry, with his head in his hands.

 

I kneel beside him. “What’s wrong?” I ask him.


 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

Henry raises his face and I can see the shine of tears on his cheeks in the streetlight that comes in the windows. “Ingrid’s dead,” Henry says.

 

I put my arms around him. “Ingrid’s been dead for a long time,” I say softly.

 

Henry shakes his head. “Years, minutes...same thing,” he says. We sit on the floor in silence. Finally Henry says, “Do you think it’s morning yet?”

 

“Sure.” The sky is still dark. No birds are singing.

 

“Let’s get up,” he says. I bring the wheelchair, help him into it, and wheel him into the kitchen. I bring his bathrobe and Henry struggles into it. He sits at the kitchen table staring out the window into the snow-covered backyard. Somewhere in the distance a snowplow scrapes along a street. I turn on the light. I measure coffee into a filter, measure water into the coffee maker, turn it on. I get out cups. I open the fridge, but when I ask Henry what he wants to eat he just shakes his head. I sit down at the kitchen table opposite Henry and he looks at me. His eyes are red and his hair is sticking out in many directions. His hands are thin and his face is bleak.

 

“It was my fault,” Henry says. “If I hadn’t been there...” “Could you have stopped her?” I ask.

 

“No. I tried.” “Well, then.”

 

The coffee maker makes little exploding noises. Henry runs his hands over his face. He says, “I always wondered why she didn’t leave a note.” I am about to ask him what he means when I realize that Alba is standing in the kitchen doorway. She’s wearing a pink nightgown and green mouse slippers. Alba squints and yawns in the harsh light of the kitchen.

 

“Hi, kiddo,” Henry says. Alba comes over to him and drapes herself over the side of his wheelchair. “Mmmmorning,” Alba says.

 

“It’s not really morning,” I tell her. “It’s really still nighttime.”

 

“How come you guys are up if it’s nighttime?” Alba sniffs. “You’re making coffee, so it’s morning.”

 

“Oh, it’s the old coffee-equals-morning fallacy,” Henry says. “There’s a hole in your logic, buddy.”

 

“What?” Alba asks. She hates to be wrong about anything.

 

“You are basing your conclusion on faulty data; that is, you are forgetting that your parents are coffee fiends of the first order, and that we just might have gotten out of bed in the middle of the night in order to drink MORE COFFEE.” He’s roaring like a monster, maybe a Coffee Fiend.

 

“I want coffee,” says Alba. “I am a Coffee Fiend.” She roars back at Henry. But he scoops


 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

her off of him and plops her down on her feet. Alba runs around the table to me and throws her arms around my shoulders. “Roar!” she yells in my ear.

 

I get up and pick Alba up. She’s so heavy now. “Roar, yourself.” I carry her down the hall and throw her onto her bed, and she shrieks with laughter. The clock on her nightstand says 4:16 a.m. “See?” I show her. “It’s too early for you to get up.” After the obligatory amount of fuss Alba settles back into bed, and I walk back to the kitchen. Henry has managed to pour us both coffee. I sit down again. It’s cold in here.

 

“Clare.”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“When I’m dead—” Henry stops, looks away, takes a breath, begins again. “I’ve been getting everything organized, all the documents, you know, my will, and letters to people, and stuff for Alba, it’s all in my desk.” I can’t say anything. Henry looks at me.

 

“When?” I ask. Henry shakes his head. “Months? Weeks? Days?” “I don’t know, Clare.” He does know, I know he knows.

 

“You looked up the obituary, didn’t you?” I say. Henry hesitates, and then nods. I open my mouth to ask again, and then I am afraid.


 

 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

HOURS, IF NOT DAYS

 

 

Friday, December 24, 2006 (Henry is 43, Clare is 35)

 

HENRY: I wake up early, so early that the bedroom is blue in the almost-dawn light. I lie in bed, listening to Clare’s deep breathing, listening to the sporadic noise of traffic on Lincoln Avenue, crows calling to each other, the furnace shutting off. My legs ache. I prop myself up on my pillows and find the bottle of Vicodin on my bedside table. I take two, wash them down with flat Coke.

 

I slide back into the blankets and turn onto my side. Clare is sleeping face down, with her arms wrapped protectively around her head. Her hair is hidden under the covers. Clare seems smaller without her ambiance of hair. She reminds me of herself as a child, sleeping with the simplicity she had when she was little. I try to remember if I have ever seen Clare as a child, sleeping. I realize that I never have. It’s Alba that I am thinking of. The light is changing. Clare stirs, turns toward me, onto her side. I study her face. There are a few faint lines, at the corners of her eyes and mouth, that are the merest suggestion of the beginnings of Clare’s face in middle age. I will never see that face of hers, and I regret it bitterly, the face with which Clare will go on without me, which will never be kissed by me, which will belong to a world that I won’t know, except as a memory of Clare’s, relegated finally to a definite past.

 

Today is the thirty-seventh anniversary of my mother’s death. I have thought of her, longed for her, every day of those thirty-seven years, and my father has, I think, thought of her almost without stopping. If fervent memory could raise the dead, she would be our Eurydice, she would rise like Lady Lazarus from her stubborn death to solace us. But all of our laments could not add a single second to her life, not one additional beat of the heart, nor a breath. The only thing my need could do was bring me to her. What will Clare have when I am gone? How can I leave her?

 

I hear Alba talking in her bed. “Hey,” says Alba. “Hey, Teddy! Shh, go to sleep now.” Silence. “Daddy?” I watch Clare, to see if she will wake up. She is still, asleep. “Daddy!” I gingerly turn, carefully extricate myself from the blankets, maneuver myself to the floor. I crawl out of our bedroom, down the hall and into Alba’s room. She giggles when she sees me. I make a growling noise, and Alba pats my head as though I am a dog. She is sitting up in bed, in the midst of every stuffed animal she has. “Move over, Red Riding Hood.” Alba scoots aside and I lift myself onto the bed. She fussily arranges some of the toys around me. I put my arm around her and lean back and she holds out Blue Teddy to me. “He wants to eat marshmallows.”

 

“It’s a little early for marshmallows, Blue Teddy. How about some poached eggs and toast?”


 

 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 

Alba makes a face. She does it by squinching together her mouth and eyebrows and nose. “Teddy doesn’t like eggs,” she announces.

 

“Shhhh. Mama’s sleeping.”

 

“Okay” Alba whispers, loudly. “Teddy wants blue Jell-O.” I hear Clare groan and start to get up in the other room.

 

“Cream of Wheat?” I cajole. Alba considers. “With brown sugar?” Okay. “You want to make it?” I slide off the bed.

 

“Yeah. Can I have a ride?”

 

I hesitate. My legs really hurt, and Alba has gotten a little too big to do this painlessly, but I can deny her nothing now. “Sure. Hop on.” I am on my hands and knees. Alba climbs onto my back, and we make our way into the kitchen. Clare is standing sleepily by the sink, watching coffee drip into the pot. I clamber up to her and butt my head against her knees and she grabs Alba’s arms and hoists her up, Alba giggling madly all the while. I crawl into my chair. Clare smiles and says, “What’s for breakfast, cooks?”

 

“Jell-O!” Alba shrieks.

 

“Mmm. What kind of Jell-O? Cornflake Jell-O?” “Nooooo!”

 

“Bacon Jell-O?”

 

“Ick!” Alba wraps herself around Clare, pulls on her hair. “Ouch. Don’t, sweetie. Well, it must be oatmeal Jell-O, then.” “Cream of Wheat!”

 

“Cream of Wheat Jell-O, yum.” Clare gets out the brown sugar and the milk and the Cream of Wheat package. She sets them on the counter and looks at me inquiringly. “How ‘bout you? Omelet Jell-O?”

 

“If you’re making it, yeah.” I marvel at Clare’s efficiency, moving around the kitchen as though she’s Betty Crocker, as though she’s been doing this for years. She’ll be okay without me, I think as I watch her, but I know that she will not. I watch Alba mix the water and the wheat together, and I think of Alba at ten, at fifteen, at twenty. It is not nearly enough, yet. I am not done, yet. I want to be here. I want to see them, I want to gather them in my arms, I want to live—

 

“Daddy’s crying” Alba whispers to Clare.

 

“That’s because he has to eat my cooking” Clare tells her, and winks at me, and I have to laugh.


 



The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

 

 


Date: 2016-04-22; view: 194


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